March Madness 2017

There is no easy way to jump into this so…I had a miscarriage this last month. After the blessings of having Father Archimandrite Sergios and the Icon of St. Anna visit us, we thought we should put our faith in God’s hands and try for a baby. I kept taking pregnancy tests but they were negative despite my overnight bloating (which is usually a tale-tell sign). Days passed my period due date, I took another test. It was one of those plus/minus deals and the plus was just a little too faint to be convincing. So, two days later, I took a digital test. No complicating plus-sign, minus-sign B.S. That Wednesday morning, I believed that stupid test when it said I was pregnant. I immediately downloaded those pregnancy tracking apps and tried to wait to tell my husband since he was at work. I couldn’t, so I took a picture of the test with the caption “So…surprise!?” I knew the result would bring on a load of worry for him but I hoped he would be happy too. He reminded me to call my fertility doctor. So I did and they said to come in for hormone testing.

Man, was I pumped. I pushed away a nagging feeling that I felt too good to be pregnant. By week 5, I am usually yelling at my husband for eating garlic while fatigue takes hold of over my limbs. But I felt great. Like better than I have in months. I just tucked that worry away and said, this is a miracle baby and maybe it will be one of those energizing pregnancies. Denial is a beautiful thing. Two hours after the blood test I got a call from the doctor. He did not have good news. My hormones were ridiculously low. Whatever pregnancy I had going was already on the way out. He was surprised I even got a positive pregnancy test. He told me I would probably start bleeding in the next couple of days. I couldn’t be delusional anymore. Hormone levels that low don’t make sense for a healthy pregnancy. Most likely, the embryo tried to implant but was not successful. I cried. My husband cried. The day was an emotional mindf*#@. Pardon my French.

But…some of the elation of being pregnant stuck with me for days afterwards. First off, having the miscarriage was, finally, a definitive answer: if I am going to try for pregnancy, I need to suck it up and take the fertility drugs. Second, the course we are on for adoption is the right one. Another answer, yeah! Third: I was so scared to have another loss. It was almost paralyzing. But we survived. I mean, I am feeling a little bitter about it today, and can’t say that I am emotionally at 100% but I am still putting one foot in front of the other. We are stronger than we think we are. Lastly,  it means that Jordan was a flipping miracle baby. He fought to be with us. He fought the conditions of my subpar womb so that he could be here and struggle with us. I don’t know why he chose to be our son and engage in the suffering of this life. I am beyond grateful. Really, there is no way to express my gratitude at having that little boy.

In the meantime: The Home study is almost complete. We have one more visit today. Then we just wait for the official write up that says we are on the market as parents. We have looked into some International adoption options as well as domestic. I think we are going to do both. Which means more paperwork and profiles and jumping through flaming hoops. I’m almost ready to face that all. Maybe just one more day of pouting and staring out the window…

Adoption Stage 1

I am sure there is plenty written on the dreaded home visits required for adoption . We have to have four in order to complete the home study, which is the basis for all things adoption. We were assured the first visit is the most time consuming. Part of the paperwork for the home study involves filling out questionnaires about your life, your childhood, your partner, your family, basically, everything. The social worker takes those questionnaires, reads through them, then marks the questions she thinks need clarifying. For this meeting my husband and I shared our answers together. In the same room, at least. For future questions, we will be divided and questioned. Presumably to make sure we are sharing the full truth? I suppose that is good to make sure everything is out in the open. At least, it will be interesting to see what our answers will be. Like the newlywed game. That is how I will picture it.

I ‘m not nervous about the future questions and I wasn’t nervous about the visit. I did clean like a possessed woman. But that is pretty near normal for me. However, it did prompt me to clean Jordan’s room. This would be the room a new baby would use as well. I wanted it to feel like it could be used, not like a shrine to our lost child. J-O-R-D-A-N is still plastered across the wall and his pictures are scattered around the room, but I did throw out more medical supplies. And more than that, I did the laundry that has been in his basket for almost two years. It was mostly, the washcloths we used for everything because babies are always sharing some kind of fluid. It actually felt good to have the room cleaned and attended to. I want to feel like there is hope, and I do.

The home visit took over three hours. We talked about everything: how we met, how we interact and make decisions, our roles, our differences, Jordan and the reasons why we are pursuing adoption now. Our social worker is kind and direct, which makes it easy. But we were wiped by the end of it.

Now this week Lent starts. For many Orthodox (including us) this means fasting for 40 days by abstaining from meat and cheese. It is meant to quiet the passions and focus on our relationship with God. I was looking forward to it. But life feels a little chaotic right now. There is more paperwork to fill out and books to read for the adoption, programs to develop and recruit for at church, plus the impending projects and maintenance of the estate I call my home. Sometimes I just want time to stop for a little bit. Wouldn’t that be nice? We are planning on slipping away to the Holy Dormition Monastery in a couple of weeks. God willing, we will find a little solace there. In the meantime, Happy Lent (if that is a thing), and enjoy the quietude of what has been called the Bright sadness of Lenten Spring.

There are a couple of great and easy books regarding Lent, if you’re interested:

Lenten Spring– Thomas Hopko

Great Lent– Andrew Schmemann

An Emotional Tilt-A-Whirl

January felt like an emotional Tilt-a-whirl and it is leaning right into February.  At this point, I just wanted to get off the ride. The adoption proceedings are actually going fine. We have our home study coming up and are still gathering the necessary paperwork. We even took a little jaunt down to New Orleans and that was very helpful in relieving this continual restlessness I’d acquired. I felt like I had all this built up energy that needed to go somewhere; I just wasn’t sure where. Getting out of town helped to relieve some of that uneasiness. My BFF says I am coming out of a two year emotional cocoon. But acknowledging that very idea creates a whole host of guilt and grief.

Part of me is so ready to let go and move forward. But then a part of me is anchored to the memory of Jordan. I don’t want to replace him. Sure, you can tell me that I’m not replacing him. That I could never replace him. You can tell me that until you’re blue in the face. But when I picture myself heating up milk or trying to soothe a new baby and I feel guilty.

Another part to the psychosis of anxiety is that I’m scared. I’m scared I’ve forgotten how to be a mom. I’m scared I won’t be as good a mom with another baby as I was with Jordan. It felt like we were tethered together. Will I have the same connection with another child, my own or adopted? My rational brain says, yes, but it will be different. But my irrational brain seems to be in charge right now and it is taking a lot of effort to subdue the misgivings.

Miracle working icon. St. Tikhon's Monastery, PA
Miracle working icon. St. Tikhon’s Monastery, PA

This weekend we had a retreat at our parish. The Abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery traveled with the Icon of St. Anna to give some lectures and offer an opportunity for people to venerate a miracle-working icon. The icon streamed Myrrh for a few years and still emanates the scent. Since I was part of the planning committee, I was running around making sure coffee was made and things were set during the morning session. But I stopped long enough to hear him speak about the hesychastic tradition of stillness. Instead of putting out a lot of prayers and words, we should allow God to reach out to us by being still for a little while. “Be still and Know that I Am God” (Psalm 46). I am so busy running my mind and being anxious, that I forget to let God guide me. I put a new picture of Jordan on my phone with the words “Be Still and Know…” God will reveal the “Know.” I just need to let it happen. I put that picture on my phone and then noticed one of the attending priest holding his toddler baby. He wsa Looking over his shoulder at me and I instinctually broke out my bag of goo goo’s and peek-a-boo. It felt natural and easy. And for that moment, I knew we were doing the right thing by pursuing more children. Just a simple moment. So, I will try to hold on to that vision and continue going forward. It feels a little like taking a machete to the Amazon, but going backwards is stupid. How is that for a succinct resolution?

Fertility Stonewall

I came down with the flu even though I had the vaccination. Harumpf! That was how December ended. Harumpf! I don’t know what happened. At the beginning of November I was feeling pretty optimistic about trying for a baby and about the future in general. But sometime in the midst of taking two prescription meds, two bouts of sickness, and the month that is holiday crazy, things took a turn.

We “tried” my last three cycles to get pregnant, watching for ovulation, taking Letrozole at the beginning of the cycle and progesterone at the end. I put tried in parenthesis because one thing or another caused a roadblock to the actually trying. The first cycle, I didn’t ovulate. We were traveling a little and sometimes that happens. Okay, I said to myself, the new cycle started on Jordan’s birthday and that’s auspicious. But when the ovulation came around for that cycle, my lady-parts broke down. TMI, but it was a yeast infection. Okay, I said to myself, we will fast for two weeks, wear the rope blessed on the belt of the Theotokos from Vatopedi Monastery. We will contact the Monastery of St. Irene of Chrysovalantou in New York for a piece of blessed apple which has been known to help women conceive. In addition to these pursuits, I made an effort to do my daily pray and prostrations. We broke the fast on Christmas Day, each eating a piece of the blessed apple slices sent from the monastery. Ovulation was schedule for the following weekend,  and I was feeling pretty good. Until two days later when my temperature spiked and I was hit with body aches and a sore throat. The doctor diagnosed the flu and the weekend of ovulation was obscured by coughing and sinus drainage. I am just now starting to feel better in the last couple of days.

Overall these last couple of months have felt very stressful. But if I think about the actually level of activity, yes it was a little  higher because of the holidays, but was it really bad enough for me to feel the stress and panic that I felt?  Was it bad enough for me to get the flu despite the vaccination?

After running my mind in circles the last couple of weeks, I have surmised the following theories: 1) Holidays and fertility don’t mix, 2) God allowed these roadblocks because it is not the time to try for pregnancy, or 3) I am too broken to be able to handle the possible complications of pregnancy and my body knew it.

Probably, I’m focusing too much on the last theory. But I had these great expectations. I have been waiting for my husband to be ready for over year. Waiting as we went to countless doctor’s visits and tests and supplements and then finally hormones. I tamped down my feelings of restriction and impatience and held it together while we waited and waited some more, only to fall apart when the time came to actually try. I hate the confines of modern fertility. But we did it my way before and look what we ended up with?  A miscarriage and my son passing away too early. So I thought I could manage to go through the doctors visits and the calendar watching and the pill taking but it feels confining and unnatural. I don’t want to feel like I am forcing a result. I want things to feel blessed and sacred.

Least you be concerned that I am going into a fatalistic tailspin, it’s not that bad. When I came down with the flu, I decided I had enough, at least for now. I know other women go through months and months and good for them. But for my sanity, I am putting pregnancy on the back burner. I am holding off on prescriptions and easing up on watching the calendar. For now, we have decided to pursue adoption. We are just starting  the process, going through the extensive paperwork and background checks. My feeling, as of now, are that we will go forward with this process as long as it feels right. We will fill out one form at a time, move through each step, and if it is God’s will, it will work out.

Forget the Holidays…Remember Hawaii

Oh man, the holidays are crap this year. I mean, nothing in particular is wrong. I am just an emotional mess. So, okay, nothing new. But it is just feels relentless. Maybe it is the hormones that I am taking to boost fertility. Let’s blame those. Then add in the pressure of trying to have another a baby.  It went downhill after Jordan’s birthday on Thanksgiving day. It was a full day of cooking, visiting his grave site, cooking some more, dinner, and then dessert which included the cakes we had from Jordan’s first (and only) birthday. Two tiny, lion-faced cakes kept company with pies and jello on the buffet. And I held it together ALL day. Even while my husband and I watched Jordan’s memorial video after everyone left. But I knew it was only a matter of time before a meltdown. I thought I might get a day or two before the inevitable…but the next day, tears erupted. And I can’t say it’s improved since. Memories are everywhere: the winter weather, the Christmas lights, the early darkness. Plus, the relentless demands of Christmas crap and I am starting to feel the itch to blow this pop-stand.

So in that spirit, I’m finally posting our trip to Hawaii and remembering how wonderful it was to explore the beauty and history of the islands or just sit with coffee on the deck watching the sunset.

View from room at Mauna Lani
View from room at Mauna Lani

Hawaii was a big trip we took at the end of August into September. We went to the Big Island and again to Kauai. The trip was amazing and wonderful. But chalk full of activities until we finally relaxed with a beach house on Kauai.  Before that we were scaling mountains and descending into valleys. We were discovering volcanic eruptions and kayaking up rivers and across bays. Whew!

We flew into one of our favorite spots, San Francisco, for a few days. We visited the New Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovich, then celebrated the Assumption (falling asleep) of the Theotokos (mother of God) at the Old Cathedral of the Holy Virgin. Visiting with the amazing Father James was such a wonderful boost before our trip across the Pacific. We needed the feeling of protection as we flew towards the Big Island knowing that two hurricanes were looming. But with the protection of God and the mountains of Hawaii, both Madelaine and Lester, skipped by the islands only leaving a few rain showers and humidity to dampen our trip. We stayed at the amazing Mauna Lani Bay resort on the Big Island. We’ve traveled pretty often and this is, right now, my favorite resort. It is built to maximize the breeze, the water, and the views. Plus the amenities were impressive, multiple pools and jacuzzis, plus a great workout facility. The grounds are also delightful and full of the history of the island. From our retreat at Mauna Lani we used the Big Island Revealed as a guide to the sites and hikes of the island. The highlights of the Northern section of the Big Island:

  1. Kiholo Bay– Once a fish pond for Kamehameha the Great, it is now a beautiful protected bay. There is a hike along the beach and a little bit of a lava field.

    Kiholo Bay
    Kiholo Bay
  2. Palolu Valley Lookout and Hike – One of the 5 big valleys in the North of the Big Island. The trail is one of the better maintained on the island.

    Polola Valley
    Polola Valley
  3. Waipio Valley Lookout and “Hike”– I use quotation marks because it is rough. You walk down a 20-25% incline road, which LOTS of 4×4’s use, then you continue on a muddy road to the beach or head to the back of the valley to catch a glimpse of a waterfall before you invade private land. It’s a little tricky, but it is beautiful and worth it.

    Waipio Valley
    Waipio Valley
  4. The historically quaint towns of Hawi and Kapa’au. Cute shops and restaurants.

    A great restaurant in Kohala
    A great restaurant, Minnie’s, in Kapa’au

Near Kona/Kailua is the famous Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook was killed. We rented kayaks and crossed the bay to the base of the Captain Cook memorial. Then we jumped out of the kayaks and snorkeled in one of the best spots on the island. I’m not a big fan of snorkeling in general. I don’t enjoy the snorkeling gear. Regardless, this was a great adventure and I was glad we did it.

img_0238We moved to the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano, the town right outside of Hawai’i Volcano National Park in the south of the island. This is the main reason why people come to visit the Big Island. And it is awesome. There are tons of lookouts, craters, lava tubes, and hikes. We did a few smaller hikes in the park:’Iliahi (Sandlewood) Trail and Kilauea Iki Trail . Then we signed up for the whopper, an 8-10 mile hike to view the current surface flow of lava with Epic Lava Tours.  We met the guide at 4 am, followed him to the start of the trail (which is a gravel service road through the lava field). After three miles straight on the road, we turned into the lava fields and headed towards the glow we spotted when we started the hike. There were only three of us plus the guide so we sprinted across cooled lava mounds until we reached the furnace of lava on the surface slowly making its way towards the ocean. It was amazing and intense. It wasn’t until we caught a glimpse of a skylight into the lava tubes below us that we started to think that maybe we shouldn’t be climbing all over tenuous lava mounds. But at that point the lava flow was slowing and it was time to head back to more stable ground. It was a once in a lifetime experience!
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From the Big Island, we flew over to Kauai and found our resting rhythm in a rental on Anini Beach. It was a great location near Princetown and Hanalei on the North Side. We cooked, kayaked, and ate. Our best Kauai discoveries:

  1. Happy Talk: It’s a weird name, but a great bar/restaurant in Princeville. It has a great view, good music, and decent food.
  2. Kauai Juice Co.: Fresh juice blends and you can get money off if you bring back their bottles.
  3. Kilauea Lighthouse: The lighthouse it perched at the end of a wildlife sanctuary.
  4. Waimea Canyon: We didn’t make it the canyon last time we visited, so we were ready to make a day of it. img_0565We picked a hike from our Kauai Revealed, Honopu Ridge Trail which is not an official trail. Which means it is maintained by volunteers. Eventually, we made it out onto one of the craggy precipices of the Napali Coast but it was a brute, lots of thick bushes and slippery pathways. We would have had a better time on a hike around the canyon.
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What I did best on Kauai…ahh, it was awesome.

Eventually, we had to head back home. But we took with us lots of souvenirs and a great tan.

My New Deal

My husband and I with Jordan in the NICU.
My husband and I with Jordan

Jordan’s birthday is coming up this week. It is actually on Thanksgiving this year, the 24th. I remember very clearly coming home from the NICU on Thanksgiving three years ago to meet my family. It felt surreal to sit down to a seemingly normal holiday meal when I had just given birth the Sunday night before. Jordan arrived 10 weeks early due to a placenta abruption. (If someone tells you that you will forget the pain of childbirth, they are lying). I got to hold this tiny little thing for a few moments after they intubated him. I wondered how long I would get to have him. When we sat down to that Thanksgiving, he was already 4 days old and I had already gotten to hold him on my chest. I was so optimistic and so happy. I need to remember that feeling more. More often I get lost in the what if’s of his death. I try hard not to stay lost for long. Somedays are better than others.

I was watching the TV show Lethal Weapon. Yes, I watch Lethal Weapon because it has great action, drama, and comedy, something that many shows neglect. Anyway, one of the characters lost his wife and he says that it’s not getting better, that time is not helping. His therapist asks, “Why should it?” and he answers, “That’s what everyone says.” She says that instead of relying on time, maybe he should try to reconnect with the living. Even though this is from a TV show, I actually think it’s good advice. I think “time” is prescribed for grief because we eventually let people into our lives that make living seem more purposeful. But very easily we could choose to hold tight to the grief, thinking we stay closer to our loved ones that way.

One way we hold tight, is keeping Jordan’s room pretty much the same since the day he passed. During my nightly routine of turning on his nightlight and saying some prayers in his room, I think about what I should do. Dust the tables and shelves, put his teething toys away, throw away the medicine bottles, the gauzes, or the half used tubes of ointments. But the thought is paralyzing.  It’s too hard. One night as I was thinking these recurring thoughts,  Jordan planted an idea (He’s always telling me what to do now) that instead of doing it all at once I should throw one thing away or pack up one thing each night. So I thought about it, and agreed it was a good idea. And so far so good. I’ve thrown away some medicine and an ointment they used to make special at the hospital. Today might be recycling some open tylenol or benadryl. I know it sounds so simple. But every little thing holds a memory good or bad. My motivation, though, is that I want him to know I am glad he is with God. I need to be joyful that he is an elder among angels and the Saints. Me, holding on to every scrape of his life here on Earth, is not going to do that. I know there is no “getting over” or “moving past” when it comes to death. But there is “letting go”…at least a little.

This is the tiny little man right after he was born
This is the tiny little man right after he was born

Albuquerque Revisions

 

Piedra Lisa trail
Piedra Lisa trail, Albuquerque, NM

I’ve been meaning to write for over a month. I practically finished an entry about our trip to Hawaii but I couldn’t quite wrap it up and publish it. The writing came out like an emotionless travel piece. And although we have indeed travelled a great deal the last 6 months, it wasn’t the hiking or the hotels I wanted to focus on. What I couldn’t quite verbalize was that for the first time, I dreaded coming back home after a trip. There was just too much to face. Jordan’s room still sat relatively untouched from the day he passed away. His photos scattered around the house, make me ache sometimes. Everyone in our lives knows we lost a baby. There are times when I just don’t want to be in the midst of all this grief. Not that I want to forget him, not that I can (the kid is tattoo’d on my heart). I just felt like it was a struggle to walk around like I am normal. I felt like I was carrying a heavy load around, shifting it from one hip to the next, trying to get comfortable. I just felt tired.

Then, October came and with it, a flurry of activities. One being my trip to Albuquerque to visit my BFF. We met our second year of college. Both part of the National Student Exchange, we were only supposed to stay in Albuquerque a year. Well, we both decided to stay longer: me for another year and a half, and she permanently. Since coming back to the Midwest, I miss the high desert. Particularly, I miss the fall with the scent of roasted chile or pinon burning in the air, the sunshine bringing a cold morning to toasty, and the vibrant color of the sky.

Me taking the two hounds for a walk along irrigation ditches.
Me taking the two hounds for a walk along irrigation ditches.

My BFF has a lot going on with her job and her family. She is an only child with parents that are like children, so it can be isolating for her. We are very similar and have a tendency to put on armor unconsciously. My job then is to be the sister she never had, listening, advising, giving some love. I guess I needed some nurturing too, so in an effort to help both of us relax, we indulged in a massage at Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe. It wasn’t until the masseuse was digging out a knot in my hip, that I remembered how connected our bodies and emotions are. My realization coming in the form of tears soaking, thankfully, into the head rest linens. As we were wrapping up the session, the masseuse said something along the lines of, “Only take what you need with you. Leave behind the rest.” Typically something like elicits a smirk from me and muttered “Yeah, right.” But, this time I said I would try and I meant it. The next day, felt like a brand new day. And so have the days since. What I realized is that I was holding on to past hurts, maybe beyond the loss of Jordan but certainly encompassing that. I was starting to grow bitter and that was dragging me down.

Bitterness is tricky, particularly with regards to grief. When we are in the midst of grieving, we are allowed to tread down the path of bitterness. We miss our loved ones, we are going to be angry about it. I actually didn’t think I was going down that path myself. I though I was focused on the fact that my son is among the Saints. And sometimes I was, but still bitterness insinuated itself. I can see it more clearly now. The underlying anger at the world was a weight. It came out by my withdrawing from the world or maybe lashing out at my husband. By letting go of that anger, I can still miss my son, but it feels different now. If I think about his smile or the connection we shared, I still cry but I don’t feel like closing the drapes or avoiding others. As the days have passed since my revelation, I can feel bitterness try to worm its way back in, but at least now I’m aware of it. I hope that as we take steps to have more kids, I can hold on to this lightness.

My BFF at Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe, NM
My BFF at Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe, NM