Beauty on Hold

Every morning I wake up and stand in front of the mirror.  For a brief moment, I am unrecognizable to myself. Then I realize that that woman in the reflection is me, a Covid-era version of me. Locks of hair hang like a straw curtain of blonde ombre that even when thrown into a ponytail stick straight out like crispy bits of platinum. In addition, the stress of the summer brought on a spout of eczema that I have contained yet not eradicated, and my toes are naked and left to fend for themselves; badly in need of cuticle treatments. Needless to say, I have not patronized the beauty establishments that once were regular appointments on my calendar.

Even in the midst of long hospitalizations with my son, Jordan, I still found time to get my hair done, if not regularly, at least within a three-month span. Seven months is painful. I’ve resisted using the bleach kit that sits under my bathroom sink. Luckily, I’ve book a hairdresser’s appointment for this weekend or else I might snap and paint the purple strips along my scalp. I feel both elation that large swaths of hair will be lying on the ground and trepidation at having to sit with another human being for two whole hours. She is a “new” hairdresser, although I have known her for years as a friend of my sister. One of the reasons that I’ve changed hairdressers is that she is in a solo room in one of those studio locales thus reducing exposure to other people. These are the new considerations to be taken.

Things that were once easy, now come with a heavy burden. I have to coordinate the appointment with my husband’s busy work schedule as we don’t have alternate child care. And I chose someone that I know will take precautions and be responsive to any requests I have regarding those precautions. And then there is just the question of whether the excursion is necessary? It this trip to the hairdressers worth the risk?

This question can be expounded to all areas of my life. Every action takes deliberation and strategic planning. For groceries or most things we purchase, we order delivery and wipe each foodstuff, clothing, etc. down with alcohol. If we order take-out, we make sure we can put it in the oven a few minutes to kill germs. To satisfy the travel bug we visit a local lake community with plenty of individual homes to rent; we can avoid airports, rest stops, and gas stations on the short drive there.  On occasion we physically visit church, but mostly watch services on Youtube.

When considering the question of beauty appointment, I get bogged down in the Orthodox Christian perspective of seeking greater humility and lessening our attachment to material things. Nuns cover their hair, and both nuns and monks wear the same black cassocks every day, truly rejecting the cultural standards of beauty of which we all engage.

Yet, as a non-monastic and as a woman, I have my vanity. I do. I like to look decent; have a haircut and color, a facial, a wax. I want to feel put together. It is part of how I coped with the world. Others are out doing all of these things without a second thought. But I struggle with the idea of putting myself and family at risk for beauty. My husband is not bothered by my unpolished appearance. Certainly, my daughter doesn’t care as long as I am ready to play with dinosaurs and hand her a juice box.

But the bottom line is this: I have to choose a little sanity. The dirty blonde of my natural color makes me feel old and dowdy. It always has. In addition, part of the appeal of the beauty salon is that someone else is taking care of you. I may slather on lotions and try at-home peels, but my aesthetician spends an hour prodding and massaging my face. The time is dedicated to only what I need. With the hairdresser, it will be just me sitting in the chair having someone pay an extraordinary amount of attention to my scalp. No rushing through a shower just to throw my hair into another ponytail before diving into caring for my daughter. With an appointment, that time is sequestered and sacred.

           At times I struggle with the validity of my desires—that what I want matters. That struggle is made even harder when I have to consider the ramifications of possible exposure to illness. But I’ve waited seven long months and the mirror is a bit of a torture right now. And in the end, I need to be taken care of. Just a little, all by myself.

Reluctant Memories

Sometimes I worry that by keeping this blog I am not not moving forward, not being present in my daughter’s life. That thought then brings on guilt that I am not keeping Jordan’s memory alive. This is the cyclic thought pattern that’s been stuck in my head the past few months. With the pandemic, we’ve been granted an inordinate amount of alone time. So with a stack of self-help books, my Bullet Journal, and the support of my husband, I’ve been in self-improvement mode. It sounds pretty cheesy, but there have been some real breakthroughs. One being that it’s okay for me to feel sad and miss my son even when I have this beautiful, funny girl in front of me. Those feelings are going to surface and I have just let them be, not try to distract myself or pretend they don’t exist.  And second is the realization that Jordan will always be with us. Sometimes he feels far away and I am terrified I will forget him.

Back in May, I was nominated for the 10 day Mama Celebration on Facebook. Each day, I was supposed to share an image, without explanation, of what it meant to be a mom.  I typically try to avoid any Facebook nomination situations, but it was close to Mother’s Day and it was quarantine.

I started by sharing entertaining photos, my toddler feeding me a popsicle, the washing machine filled with laundry. But then I felt the need to share pictures of Jordan as well. And I started scrolling through the 16 months of photos trying to land on one that exemplified my time as Jordan’s mom.

The process started as kind of sad; one photo taken after he was sick, another from after a major surgery, another when we were in the hospital, again.  Finally, I stopped on a photo from a day we had PT from First Steps, a wonderful organization in Missouri that helps families with special needs kids. I remember watching him grasp an Oball, a gripper ball for babies, and respond to our physical therapist, Peggy; and I started to cry. We had an exceptional nurse that understood him and we were able to keep him at home with us.  And that whole week we he was happy, and interacting and learning. I was so hopeful that his health would turn around. Of course, things didn’t turn around.

But I remember being so proud and overflowing with love for him.  I knew how his brain was trying to work and how much he understood and wanted to do but his body just couldn’t keep up.  Regardless of how it all turned out, I’d forgotten how much happiness and love there was between us: Jordan, my husband, and I. My mind had focused on all the pain and frustration, but that wasn’t what got me up every day. Love picked me up every moment that I felt exhausted or worried or lost. We say “God is love”, and maybe that’s why we could feel God’s presence so much during out time with Jordan. I don’t know, but the full feeling of a great big love? I felt that.

So thank you to the insidious and, so often, soul-sucking FB. My 10 day Mama Celebration was good therapy. And I am grateful to rediscover how much we loved and loved well.

Movement for Mental Health

Young woman doing yoga in morning park for Relaxing . Wellness and Healthy Lifestyle.

The body holds all kinds of secrets. Emotions coil in our stomachs, anxiety twists in our shoulders and neck, and trauma burrows into our joints and muscles. Our experiences are imprinted physically on each of us. This topic was discussed at length on Kristen Tippett’s podcast, On Being. She interviewed psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk about how the typical mode of therapy, mainly talk therapy, isn’t effective for treating the effects of trauma. Instead, Van der Kolk recommends methods that help reestablish connection between our bodies and our minds.

The idea of movement and exertion as mental therapy is not new. Many mental health asylums were built in country settings where patients worked in gardens as a restorative activity.  Today, recreational therapies including hiking and other outdoor adventures are used to help those with addiction to bridge the gap between talk therapy and everyday life.

“…When people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. And for me, that is a very important finding because it helped me to realize that if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language.” Dr. Van de Kolk

According to Helpguide.org, trauma can be caused by:

  • One-time events, such as an accident, injury, or a violent attack, especially if it was unexpected or happened in childhood.
  • Ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, battling a life-threatening illness or experiencing traumatic events that occur repeatedly, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect.
  • Commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, or a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel.

Everyone experiences some form of trauma. And now, with the pandemic of Covid-19, we are all struggling with anxiety, and what will ultimately be a traumatic time in our history.

The number one recommended way to heal from trauma on Helpguide.org is to “Get moving.” Instead of sitting on a couch and trying to talk out your feelings, trauma recovery specialist like Dr. Van der Kolk,  specifically recommend focusing on the body or “body awareness”. Particularly, activities that focus on the breath, such as yoga, tai chi, and martial arts which have proven more effective than other forms of exercise.

I’ve been practicing yoga for 16 years, and am a certified yoga instructor. Although I don’t currently teach, I do continue to practice and one of the reasons is the strong link between breath and movement. Yoga can be a powerful tool for self-awareness. Many times I found myself with tears in my eyes as I lay in the final pose at the end of class.

However, from my own experience, I think you have to be prepared to interface with your own emotions. Immediately after Jordan’s death, there is no way I could have practiced yoga. I would have been a wreck on the mat.  For my grief, I needed a way to vent the disappointment and bitterness, and the physical oppression of loss. So…I joined a MMA gym. I started my healing process by drop-kicking a padded opponent, learning how to use my weight to jab and cross, or sprinting in the parking lot behind the gym. There were times I cried as I pounded out a sequence of punches and kicks on the heavy bags. But it helped. Even five years later, I’m still disappointed that gym closed. However, I continue to understand how important physical endeavors are for mental health.

Now, this all becomes a little tricky when the gyms, yoga studios, and other indoor pursuits are all shutdown to avoid transmission of the Covid-19 virus. How can we find our mind/body connection? How can we release the angst of worry or frustrations?

1) Youtube. There is no shortage of workout videos on youtube. Yoga, Barre, HITT, interval, sculpting, on and on and on are available.

2) Apps such as Openfit and YogaSix Go offer live and OnDemand classes.

3) Check local studios and business as some are offering virtual classes. In St. Louis, if you are on the email list for Prana studio, they are doing a few classes a week online.

3) Get outside and back to basics. This New York times article breaks down why running is experience a mini-boom.   Don’t want to run? There’s always walking or hiking. The weather is a little temperamental right now but if you can layer and strap on some shoes, you can get your exercise on.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you do something. Get moving!

The Possibilities of 2020

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I have a fixation with stationary. Take a look at my desk and you will see stacks of multi-color post-its with lines, without lines, or small tabs. In one drawers, fresh, unused notebooks are stacked neatly.  Pristine office supplies like staples, pens, and more post-its fill another. There is something about the possibilities of untouched office supplies. What can I possibly get done with all these tools at my fingertips? What gems might blossom from flowing ink and empty pages?

So it should be no surprise how delighted I was to receive my 2020 planner in the mail today (thank you Amazon). My planner, a full-page 8×11, spiral-bound calendar is primed for unencumbered scrawling. I feel the spark of anticipation as I open the crisp sheets and smooth my hand over the pages.  “Anything can happen,” my planner seems to say. “This year, you’ll do amazing things,” it whispers. I search about for the perfect pen, the one that glides effortlessly, and I carefully enter the small, insignificant appointments, notes, and plans that make up my life. Perhaps, this year, they will add up to something big. I’ll complete that novel I’ve been working on for five years, submit a personal essay, or successfully travel with my family.

2020 has a ring of the magical to it. Already, this year has defied others in that I’m almost enjoying the month of January. Due to unseasonably warm weather and our delightful (and healthy) little toddler, my days are a 180 from the brutal emotional load of last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Yah, usual January is crushing. But 2020 is an exception. I’m hoping and praying that this year continues to be an exception. The last seven years have been draining, loaded down from the traumatic experience of fighting for then losing my son, Jordan after 16 months.

As I look at this planner of possibilities, I think, maybe this year, renewal is possible. The trauma of illness and loss has made us feel unsafe, distrustful and extremely cautious. To overcome what ultimately has eased itself into a mild form of PTSD, takes courage and effort. I’ve started researching the long term effects of trauma and its debilitating effects. I hope that by learning more and ultimately sharing on a more regular basis, our scars will start to be a place of strength. And we will find joy in the world, again. Yes, we find joy in our daughter, but the world beyond the four walls of our house looms with innumerable dangers. Maybe this year, like my planner, instead of dread, we will feel the spark of anticipation.

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The Era of the Fever

I’ve had a running argument with my husband about whether to expose our little darling to society and thus society’s germs, to our daughter now or later. He claims that children over the age of 2 survive and handle sickness, in particular flu and RSV, better than kids under 2. In addition, since full larynx maturity doesn’t happen until around 18 months, two is our magic number of when we will try real hard to be a normal part of society. Our pediatrician says that if you don’t give the immune system something to do, it will find something to do. Like horrible allergies will manifest or even autoimmune diseases. Is this not catalyst enough to let our kid just lick off the floors?

At least that was my thoughts until Mari got a virus and a full-blown, sky-high, fever. A week after her first birthday, the little girl got cranky and feverish. We thought it was related to the vaccines she’d received a few days earlier. But after three nights of high temps, we took her into the doctor. He said it was strange timing to be vaccine-related and thought that it was a virus called Roseola where infants have a high temp for a few days and then break out in a rash all over their body. We were sure it was related to the measles vaccine, but the next day Mariana’s whole trunk was covered in a rash. After a few days the rash was gone and she was back to normal.

We’d protected her so well during her first year, that she never had an elevated temperature. So it was more difficult than I anticipated as I waited for the fever to pass. During the nights of her fever, I had flash backs to Jordan and worried that the fever meant something worse than a virus or that she could have a febrile seizure from the high temps.  We gave Tylenol and Ibuprofen and I watched her video monitor closely as she slept, praying that this would pass soon. And after three nights, which seemed interminable, it did. And we survived.

Our wise pediatrician said that from now until age 5 is the era of high fevers. I will need to steel myself for the coming onslaught of early childhood illness. In fact, as winter rears its frosty head, illness has exploded around us. Everyone has a cold all the sudden. And somehow, Mari is sick too. A runny nose and a cough. She is, thankfully, acting fairly normal. But it shakes me from my high horse and makes me think more like my husband, that seclusion during the winter is a good idea, especially for a little nugget. But what about development? What about experiential learning? What will that look like in the next 6 month? And does it matter?

I don’t have any great answer today. This is something I struggle with daily. The world is a full of people and germs and viruses and perhaps what we are doing, a sort of incremental exposure, is the best way we can move forward. Inching towards a more normal lifestyle. I am always so idealistic and dreamy about how life is going to go, then–Smack! Reality hits and I backtrack to a safer vantage point. This is my process, I guess. Maybe come March, we’ll be ready to push our limits. In the meantime, I have to figure out ways to entertain an energetic, curious, little whirlwind named Mariana.

 

 

 

The Little Rainbow Girl

 

Over a year ago, a friend came over to visit. We were both pregnant at the time and she mentioned that people kept telling her this baby would be her rainbow baby.  She explained that babies born after miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss were considered Rainbow babies. “Like God’s promise to Noah after the flood?” I asked. She shrugged and said, “That means you are having a Rainbow baby too.” At the time, I didn’t connect with the concept. There was a pregnancy to worry about, something I did with vigor until the little cherub arrived to wreak havoc. Then, as her 1st birthday crept up, all I could picture in my head, was a party filled with rainbows.

Mariana’s beautiful birthday celebration came and went last Sunday, then days later an organization that supported us tremendously when Jordan was diagnosed with Trisomy, BNA, posted that August 22nd was Rainbow Babies Day.  It was impossible not to think about that conversation with my friend a year and a half ago and how that concept encompasses a lot of our journey through the last year and going forward.

‘It is called a rainbow baby because it is like a rainbow after a storm: something beautiful after something scary and dark…To create a life or bring a baby into the world after such a loss is amazing like a miracle for these parents,’ Dr. Lorde-Rollings states on Parents.com.  It’s a beautiful sentiment, even more so because the title of the Rainbow baby is meant to pay homage to the baby or infant that was lost. You can’t have a Rainbow baby with loss. You can’t experience the feeling of overwhelming blessing without the dark days. Survivingmiscarriage posted on their instagram feed on August 22nd,  “It is understood that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of any storm. When a rainbow appears, it does not mean that the storm never happened or that we are not still dealing with its aftermath…Storm clouds may still hover, but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy, and hope.”

For me, the idea of Mariana being a counterbalance solidifies what I have been struggling with this year. If I had read up on Rainbow babies I might have been more prepared for the emotional turmoil that would accompany this miracle of a (mostly) healthy baby. Instead, fear, guilt, and anger blew through a revolving door. Guilt is common that same Parents.com article states. “Parents can feel that being excited about the new pregnancy or loving this new baby when he or she arrives, is somehow a betrayal of the baby they lost.” (Parents.com) Yeah, a little warning on this emotional front could have been helpful…or maybe it was all going to be a load of heavy shit no matter what. Devan McGuinness writes,  “For so many of us, the rainbow baby is a fight to get through that grief. To navigate through anxiety and fear and anger that our baby has been forgotten. Then to be hit with so much love when you’re able to look your rainbow baby in the face and realize that there is bright and happy in the world again.”

All I know is that the past year was stormy. The years after Jordan left us were bleak. And now, we are finding some kind of equilibrium, unsteady some days, but a more balanced experience of emotions. Our little Rainbow girl is one. Thank God.

 

 

A Swiftly Tilting World

As an adolescent, I remember reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeliene L’EngleAlthough the plot line has faded from my memory, the title stuck with me and many times in my life I’ve felt like I’m standing on land in motion. At times, life swells with great waves and earthquakes of change. The last year is certainly one of those times and I am still trying to find my footing.

Our little family trio went to the zoo a few weeks ago.  It was our first big outing as a family.  And I was ridiculously grateful for the trip. We’ve visited a friend’s house, church (during the week), and nearby parks, but this was a trip into the city and into a very public place. We orchestrated it as much as possible: Got there early, on a very hot day (okay, we didn’t plan that but it kept the crowds down), and stayed for under an hour, making it back home in time for her morning nap. We survived. And I was so relieved that we pushed out of the tight cocoon we’ve created for ourselves.

When I wrote my resolutions back in March, I’d hoped that the cocoon would be dispensed with sooner. And although I could have written about the daily ups and downs,  I wanted to write about progress. I wanted to feel progress. A momentum towards something amazing and new.  And, for me,  I didn’t feel that click forward until the last month. Now, with a little more hope, a little more energy and delight I can review the goals from many months back.

First, lets’s start with the big one: Sleep! Sleep! Sleep! I can’t tell you she’s a perfect sleeper (in fact, last night was truly awful), but overall she has vastly improved in the last month and a half. Combine that with the end of breastfeeding, and you’re reading the words of a new, improved, caffeinated woman. Cue the confetti!

I assume her sleep has improved because her reflux and her larynx have gotten better as well. She is still on one medication for reflux but we hope to start weaning that in a few weeks. Her larynx is still a bit of a mystery. It is much improved (not as noisy, no apnea) but there is still improvement to be made. I guess. We will take her in to a doctor’s appointment in August, hopefully we will have more information then.

I am reading On Fire by John O’Leary. He has an incredible story about surviving a lethal fire when he was nine. And how he has used that experience to live, what he calls, “a radically inspired life.” That jargon is a little obtuse, but how he breaks that down in his book has helped to clarify issues I’ve been struggling with, no only the last year, not only after Jordan, but much of my life. There’s so much to be said, so much to share from this book, but I will just start with this simple realization: Having Mariana forced me to grow as a person, to stretch way beyond my comfort zone. And with stretching and growth comes pain. So all my complaining, my fear, my second-guessing, my frustration were a result of change. All my times of “Why me?” were opportunities to engage with God and work to be better. Yes, yes, you say, haven’t we already covered that? Yes, sort of. The problem is I’ve felt guilty about the struggle. I thought I should have been immediately joyful and content. But there was (and still is) too much to sift through. Too much baggage and fear of the unknown. It was normal and down right understandable for me to feel out-of-water and uncomfortable during the last year. Having said this, overall I do feel more courageous, and more buoyant. There are still times when I feel a rush of fear wash over me. I want to be the very best Mom! But I am trying to engage with it, and not feel like I am letting everyone down.

I do continue to miss Jordan. Although, I want to run far away from, what at times, feels like an anchor, I have to accept that feeling of loss will be a constant thread in my life. I am grateful for it…most days anyway. It means I loved greatly. That’s pretty amazing.

Lastly, although my husband may disagree (I give him such a hard time), I do feel more grateful for everything in my life. Do I lose sight of it? Yes, probably on a daily basis. But I think I am picking it back up and giving a little tug of gratitude on a daily basis as well. So, although my world has tilted with the arrival of my daughter, I’m going to grab on tight and enjoy the ride as much as possible.

Dughri-Straight Ahead

I know. Where have I been? It isn’t like I haven’t had lots and lots of thoughts–I’ve had thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands even.  But by the time I get a chance to write these fantastic, amazing, introspective reflections down, my brain is fried and all I want to do is shove a cookie in my face and watch Veronica Mars. So has the last couple of months gone…

I was overjoyed that January ended. The month was brutal, more so than usual. Be gone you dreaded days of frigid temperatures and darkness! February and now March have flown by and Mariana is 7 months old. Overall, the stress of her condition and the fear that have accompanied it, have eased. But there are moments. As the weather improves I am thinking about taking her out to parks and maybe for some visits, maybe more…But the worry of her catching something still permeates every corner of our lives. Which, to be honest, really sucks. I want to push passed the anxiety but she is still having noising breathing and pretty bad GERD and reflux. The doctor says to expect an improvement around 9 months, but there is no way I can continue in the bubble as it has been. I’m just praying for guidance and faith.

I didn’t make any New Years resolutions in January. As mentioned before, January stunk. But I am ready to make some now. As inspiration I draw on the Lebanese word: Dughri. It sounds more delightful than it looks in print. It sounds more like Dig-ga-ry. Say it fast, while jutting your hand forward. Congratulations, you just told someone to keep straight. I chose that word because it is about forward motion. No more languishing in the past, worrying, worrying, worrying. Instead, here are my ambitions for the near future:

1) I want to be courageous. Not fearful that something bad will happen. 2) I want to be happy. Not sad, missing Jordan. 3) I want to be grateful. This little baby dynamo we received is so full of joy and glee. 4) I want to sleep. This one might be tougher as she is still struggling with some issues, but I want to put it out in the universe and hope God says, “Absolutely, you should sleep!”

I worked hard to create a life after Jordan passed away, and it was difficult to let the comfort of that life dissipate amid the drama of a newborn.  It has taken almost 7 months to realize that that life is dead, and still longer to be excited about the blossoming of the new. I hope by putting these goals out there into the ether, positive energy will swarm and wrap around our lives. I am trying to be open and receiving for a different life. The idea stirs a little panic in my chest but I pray that God will fortify me for all the new, wonderful happenings that may arise.

 

A New Year and old problems

IMG_5735Mariana has evolved into a super cute little cherub who can babble, grab, swat, and pull a fist full of hair–hard. But although she has matured by leaps and bounds, she is still contending with serious GERD and reflux. When will it be over? I scream skyward. She was almost completely free of apneas until this last week when her GERD worsened. (sigh) Oh well, we will just keep doing what we are doing.

But it’s a bit depressing. For a moment, we felt a sense of things lightening, some of the weight lifted off our shoulders. We could worry a little less, get out a little more. But with the return of apneic episodes, everything feels as it was for the most part.

We did hire a nanny. And slowly (very slowly) I have been able to clean and organize the house, which helps my mental distress. This is only the nanny’s second week, so God willing things will feel better in a month or so. I am still sticking very close by. Mariana seems alright with the nanny but it will take time to build real trust.

I had a list of things I wanted to get done this month. But I guess I will be okay one more month without a haircut or exercise. What’s the point anyway? It’s January. Cold and snowy with nothing to do. I think I just need a sunny day…and a pedicure.

The Good Stuff

I have bombarded the internet with my parental insecurities, so I thought it was time to put out some of the good stuff. Mariana is 4 months and although this period is a little sticky, there are moments of amazing growth, cuteness, and love. I figured the best way to enjoy them was through photos. Some of you may have seen a few of these, but they are my favorite photos this week. Enjoy!