The Hierarchy of Suffering

This meme has been going around like wildfire lately. It expresses the common idea that the way not to judge others for their struggles is to think that maybe they are not as strong as you are. On the surface, the intention is great. The idea is to encourage people not to judge others’ suffering. Every time I see it though, or hear someone express the idea it visualizes, I get so frustrated about the more subtle issue with this idea.

In the picture, one dog is smaller than the other dog. There’s nothing wrong with that, he’s a Jack Russell terrier, they are meant to be smaller than a Golden Retriever. Of course, the mud comes up much farther on the Jack Russell Terrier than it does on the Golden Retriever because the Golden is taller. In the same way, many people comfort others who compare their struggles to others saying, “Maybe God gave you this cross because you are strong enough to carry it,” “Maybe she just couldn’t handle what you are going through,” and other variants of you-must-be-stronger-than-them-because-their-struggle-is-smaller-than-yours. That’s where I struggle.

There is this idea that there is a hierarchy of suffering. My dislocated elbow is not as intense as my friends breast cancer, my post-partum depression is worse than someone else’s anxiety, etc etc and so on. It leads to a kind of competition about suffering. There are real life consequences to this competition-who gets taken care of in a hospital, who is allowed to talk about their struggles, who doesn’t get judged for being tired, who gets help from friends or the Church. To be fair, we live in a world of limited resources, so to a certain extent this can be avoided, and to a certain extent there is a hierarchy of suffering, no one would argue that a paper cut or a dislocated elbow is as bad as cancer.

However, I do think that the hierarchy of suffering is much more complicated than we might think. There are so many unknown factors that go into suffering that sometimes a seemingly small thing can be monumental and something really big can be nothing. When I had a placental abruption and ended up in the hospital terrified that my baby and I were going to die and then went through a terrifying labor, it was honestly far less terrifying than the experience I had with my dislocated elbow, as ironic as that is. Recovering from the elbow has been actually much more difficult than recovering from what should have been a much more difficult trauma.

The reason for this is that there are countless factors that contribute to how intense pain and suffering feels. Researchers are finding more and more just how many things affect how the brain perceives pain. There are whole industries and books based on all the different ways we can affect the pain in our bodies.

As far as my example above about birth vs. my elbow, there are some big obvious differences. I got a baby out of the equation, not so with my elbow. I did fear for my life in a way I didn’t need to with my elbow. However, I DID fear for my life with my elbow, because I have already been struggling with Post Partum Anxiety that has been debilitating, and I wasn’t struggling with that as intensely during labor. This was not helped by the fact that when I fell I was actively praying, and it seemed like an answer to a prayer, which felt like God was a God of wrath who hated me, sending me into a terrified circle of spiritual crisis that haunted me the whole night, while the doctors and nurses encouraged me with prayer during labor.

Another huge difference is the care I got. When I went to the hospital for my placental abruption, I had been reading Hypnobabies which works really hard on preparing women to communicate with their doctors. Because of that I was able to communicate my anxiety and physical worries in a rational way, and did not feel guilty for forcing doctors and nurses to stop and listen to me if I felt like they were rushing. On top of that though, immediately when I got to the hospital, the nurses attending heard my requests and needs and did their best to meet them, even when they were silly. When I dislocated my elbow, the nurse immediately denied every request I had, rolled her eyes at me, and communicated her annoyance to a doctor who came to help. No other nurses came in contact with me until much later.

I believe the care I got for my elbow is a consequence of exactly what I am discussing in this post. A dislocated or broken elbow is nothing in the grand scheme of things. I am aware of that. I am aware that much much worse things happen to people every day. But the care I got reminded me of that every second of my struggle. Every second I felt reminded me, “you don’t matter because it’s not your femur, it’s not cancer, it’s not blood.”

I was also dehydrated, hungry and away from my baby while breastfeeding. All things I didn’t realize until much later, but that are probably the explanation for the random cold sweats and hormonal shifts that turned into panic attacks that plagued me all night on top of everything else, and probably made the care I got worse because the nurses couldn’t see what was happening so it just looked like anxiety to them.

When I dislocated my elbow, I had a veritable cocktail of things that are known to make pain worse, while during labor I had many that are known to make it better. On the surface and on paper the elbow should be nothing. Anyone comparing the two would have said that labor was worse, but after the traumatic labor I was joyful and relieved and felt invincible; after my elbow I felt that there was no hope in life, angry, and worthless.

My point is that what someone’s suffering looks like on the outside may be nothing compared to what it looks like on the inside. The assumption that someone’s pain is not as intense as yours, or you are just stronger than they are dismisses the fact that you have no idea what is going on in their story. You have no idea what is making their pain worse or better or different than yours. I think it’s comforting to us to feel like our pain is better than someone else’s because then our needs deserve to get validated, but that’s just part of the competition. We need to feel like our pain is enough to be worth taking care of, so we have to put down other peoples because it highlights how bad our own pain is. The problem is that that affects how we take care of the other person, and how we view them, as well as how we describe their problem to others and help them to get help. Their suffering grows and our need to justify our own gets more intense too.

I want to live in a world where we recognize that everyone’s suffering matters. In the Gospel, when Jesus was carrying His cross, about to be murdered in arguably the most monstrous way possible, He stopped to talk to weeping women. He told them not to weep for Him, but for their children. I have heard some say that He is telling them to weep for sins, but the way He says it tells me that isn’t the case. I believe He was genuinely expressing compassion for the suffering that women experience, while He was on the road that we would say is the worst suffering imaginable. I would like a world where everyone does that, where everyone accepts that we are all on an unimaginably and sometimes unbearable journey, where we accept our own suffering and that of others as worthy of healing, no matter what it is, where we acknowledge that our struggles do not make us better or worse than anyone else, just different. Then, we would have a spirit of sorrow for everyone’s tears even if we didn’t understand why it was so hard. We could show the same amount of compassion for someone who had to wait at the DMV as someone who got crushed in a car accident. We could heal all the big hurts and all the little ones too.

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T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E.

The

Hate

U

Give

Little

Infants

Fucks

Everyone.

-Tupac

Last night, I tried to watch The Hate U Give, the emotional true story of a black girl who watches her friend get killed by a police officer. Later, she is called to testify, but I haven’t gotten that far, because I had to take a break. (White privilege is that I was able to take a break.) The above line T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. is discussed just minutes before the shooting happens.

The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone.

This phrase resonates in my soul and it has taken up residence in my heart as a truth so powerful I almost can’t handle it, representing an anger in me that is boundless. For the last week, the image of the children of immigrants that got left at daycare because their parents were taken by ICE has been indelibly burned into my consciousness. There is also the image of black children being told by their parents how to act when a policeman comes so that they don’t get shot. Then, there’s the image of children wearing bulletproof backpacks so they have protection if there is a school shooting.

People call millennials entitled, but what does it do to a person to grow up with the fears we have? We watched as thousands of people died in New York City when we were little, and we were barraged with news coverage about the two kids who shot up Columbine. What will happen to the children that are suffering now? What does it do to a person to lose their parents to the government? What does it do to watch your child die because they went to Walmart?

The Hate U Give The Little Infants.

Our little ones are suffering in ways that are unimaginable. It is unbearable for me to even think of what is happening to them, the constant undercurrent of fear that must be crying out in their bones, and then all the people who are silent or who turn a blind eye, or say, “It’s not that bad!” If one child was abandoned because their parents suddenly disappeared, that is too many. If one child died in a shooting, that is too many. If one child saw the news coverage of any of this, and has to know they live in a world like this, that is too many.

The pain will come back to us. It already has in some ways. Our hope(as a country) is depleted, our children suffer from anxiety, our lives feel without meaning sometimes. We sit still while people are being hurt in unimaginable ways. I know we can’t spend every moment of our lives trying to fix every evil, but there are some really big evils going on, are we doing anything at all to fix them?

How to Stop Mass Shootings: ACTIVE LOVE

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-08-04/el-paso-dayton-gilroy-mass-shooters-data

Today, while researching what to do about mass shootings in America, I came across this article. The author of this article researched what the commonalities between the shooters were. Two of them, made my heart ache: most of the killers suffered from some sort of mental illness, and most of them suffered some sort of traumatic event. As someone who has a mental illness, and someone who has been alone through a traumatic event, I have been there, and I have lived moments where I just wanted to watch the whole world burn, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life. I didn’t know how to talk to my parents about it, or how to get help. They didn’t understand what was happening to me, and neither did I, so we just pushed through. I pushed through nightmares, stomachaches, paralyzing fear, fainting, and more. Sometimes, every day seemed like my worst nightmare.

It got worse as I got older. I had to take on more responsibility and more worries, when I was already crushed under the weight of what I was already struggling with. I was constantly yelling at myself for not being able to get it together like everyone else could. I tried to go to counseling, even made it a couple of times, one was really helpful, the other was really not. Counseling was expensive though, really expensive, and I was struggling with money and years of built up money anxiety, so it wasn’t an option.

Something that I think a lot of people don’t understand about depression and anxiety is the brain fog that complicates everything. While some people may just say, “Oh, I’m going to a counselor,” it may not be that simple for someone who really needs it. They may be paralyzed with fear of what the counselor might do if they say the wrong thing, they may be terrified about how the heck they are going to afford the counseling, they may be worried about how they are going to get to appointments, if the counselor is going to judge them, or even if the counselor’s office is going to smell weird. It could be anything, but it’s terrifying. If the person also can’t afford it, or has a hard time affording it, on top of that, it’s really hard to see it as an option.

The thing that sucks the most, though, about depression is the loneliness and isolation. Our culture, especially Christian culture, is hellbent on positivity. We talk about “energy vampires” and negative people, and “debbie downers,” and we encourage each other to back away from them, to keep ourselves healthy. This makes me so angry I could literally spit. These people are the ones who need help the most, and they are the ones who are not getting it. When I was going through my very worst period of depression, nearly all of my friends stopped talking to me. Completely. Then at the end of the year, they were like, “Why didn’t you tell us it got so bad?” This is how we treat people who are struggling, and then, we are surprised that they are losing their minds?

This brings me to a part of my history that is really hard for me to talk about. My miscarriage. When I lost Emma Rose, I was a newlywed with big hopes and dreams for the future that all came crashing down around me. We were navigating the complicated time of figuring out new family relationships while everything I believed in seemed to me to be a lie. We were grossly mistreated at the hospital after waiting for 6 hours, so much so that even three years later, when I complained too late, the hospital held a training session for the doctors.

It’s not just the medical field though, Catholics are great at helping out the people that they think need help. The people that they see as good and holy and fun get an abundance of help when they need it. They get meals delivered to them, flowers, money sometimes, all kinds of things. I DO NOT IN ANY WAY BEGRUDGE THEM THIS. I AM HAPPY FOR THEM, AND I EVEN HELP. However, I was the unpopular Catholic. I got the facebook “I’m sorry’s” and a meal from my mom(who did offer to help more, but we just were so lost we didn’t even know how to ask.) Worse though, my husband and I were treated horribly by the Catholics in our area. A youth group ganged up on us making nasty side comments about birth control and bragging about who got pregnant earliest. We said nothing, though we were pregnant first, but we cried on the way home. Priests gave homilies over and over again about how holy the families with a lot of children were, and I couldn’t bear staying in Mass for one second longer than I had to.

Now, I am struggling with post partum depression, on top of the depression and anxiety I already had, on top of being low income and figuring out motherhood. After months of searching, I finally found a counselor I could afford, then the entire world fell apart every time I tried to go, and then my car broke down and my mom got a job, so now I don’t have the time to go, and even if I did, I’d have to take both toddlers. I have called multiple remote therapy places, and their discount rates are absurd. If you are low income, $180 a month is NOT going to happen. Seriously. Even Catholic Psych’s low income option at $120 a month is crazy. If you are living on a low income with anxiety and depression, this is your worst nightmare.

My point is not to ask any of you to feel sorry for me. My point is that, in a lot of ways, I am a person with MORE help than usual. Not less. In fact, a LOT more help than most people have. People who are dealing with traumatic events, and dealing with mental illness, or heaven forbid, both, are falling through the cracks. I can promise you that is the truth because I am fighting a hard battle to try not to fall through the cracks and I am seeing the other people who fall.

We HAVE to get more and better help out there for people who are struggling. We HAVE to have people looking for those who are struggling and offering them a helping hand instead of turning them away. WE HAVE TO HELP THEM. We are all struggling, I know, and we are barely holding our heads above water, but we all have to help each other, and we have to watch out for the people who are getting missed.

Please, next time a friend of yours is upset more often than you want her to be, or a guy friend is acting weird, or struggling, don’t turn them away. Please give them a shoulder to cry on, not just to prevent the violence, but to heal the hurt that is all over this world right now. Please do whatever you can to help the mentally ill. Use your talents. Whatever you are good at, DO IT. Help them. Help our world to be a better place. There is so much pain, please help anyone you can.

Depression and The Boundaries Book

I started to read a book called “Boundaries” a couple of months ago. I had bought it a long time before that, but I hadn’t read it. I was nervous because I have talked to several people who were very callous and used this book as their excuse, but I have also talked to others who say it changed their life. Now that I’m actively reading it, although slowly, I have to say I understand why.

“Boundaries” is simultaneously comforting and terrifying for me. Te first time I read it, I had a legit panic attack that I am such a worthless human being who does nothing but take from others and I have nothing to give and I don’t deserve to live. That’s dramatic, but honestly, it was kind of dramatic. I got so lost in the way they break down how much help to take and not take, and grew terrified that I take too much, or not enough, and I talk about my problems too much but not in the right way, etc, etc, etc.

The basic thesis of the book is that it is ok to set boundaries, and say “No” to someone who violates them. It gives Biblical support for that which is incredibly necessary for Christians especially who are taught to “Give until it hurts.” It was comforting in some ways to hear that I don’t have to just always give in, and it’s ok to take care of my needs too. I needed that. However, it is a hard time for me to be reading the book, because I hate needing help, and I am in a season on life where it seems like no matter how hard I try not to, I need more and more of it.

My senior year in college, I went through what I now know must have been an incredibly severe period of depression. I had nightmares, a weird kind of sleep paralysis, anxiety, thoughts of worthlessness, and at the same time, I lost many of my friends to a crazy whirlwind of drama. Meanwhile, I was writing my thesis about Hell, so that was great. Every time I tried to talk to anyone about what was going on, it seemed like they would stop talking to me. I had very few friends left by the end, and I still treasure every single one of them for sticking with me.

One Sunday, at a household meeting(for those who don’t know, households are a religious version of a sorority, basically) I broke down. I started sobbing in the middle of the meeting(and I was leading it so that was bad.) I ran out of the meeting and collapsed in tears on the floor. No, I don’t know why I broke down on the floor instead of the perfectly good bed next to me. Maybe the cold felt good on my body, sad people do weird things. Minutes later, a couple of my sisters came in and they listened to my story. Really listened. They heard out what was happening throughout my year. I will never forget what one of them said.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

I will never forget that, because I DID. I told them, over and over and over again. I tried my hardest, but I couldn’t get across what was happening. I couldn’t express the magnitude of what was going on in a five minute conversation, and I was paralyzed by the feeling that they were done with me because I was talking about my hard time.

This book has brought that feeling back to me over and over again in the last few months. I will read one page and feel like a monster for talking about my feelings, while the next page, I feel like maybe I need to be better about sharing them. I just keep thinking about that moment, I felt so alone, and even though I had tried to tell them, no one knew.

I think this is a problem for mental health issues. People get annoyed if others “complain too much,” or are “Debbie-downers” or “sad all the time,” and I get it! It is so hard to be happy when you are around others who are not. There is even self-help advice to stay away from these people, and murky psychological articles accusing them of being narcissists, or energy vampires. Of course, I am not saying these people do not exist, but I do think that people who are genuinely struggling may sometimes look the same as a narcissist or energy vampire or just a downer. What happens though, when someone is just genuinely having a hard time for a long period of time? What if someone is just grieving and they aren’t feeling better yet?

The point of the book isn’t just about talking about feelings, but it is an example of the things that has been hardest for me. The author uses two images to demonstrate when to ask for help and when not to. It’s ok to ask for help when you are carrying a large boulder, but when it is just a backpack, you can carry that yourself-the backpack symbolizes daily struggles. What happens though, when the daily struggles feel like a boulder, like they do with depression/anxiety/grief/whatever?

How do we decide when someone is upset “too often” or “too long” or “too much” or “too upset?” How does someone struggling with this know when they are upset too long/too much/too often/too upset? I had a huge wake up call to this a couple weeks ago when I took a hormone balancing medicine and all of a sudden the whole world was a different place. I spoke with hope, I believed in things again, I was able to focus on other people. Unfortunately, the medicine had tons of side effects, so my search for something better continues, but it was literally a night and day difference. I felt like someone had taken a blindfold off of me. How does someone in that kind of fog for any reason figure out how much upset-ness is too much for everyone around them, and yet still express how bad what is going on is?

So, I struggle with this book. I really do. I know, and appreciate, what it’s trying to do, but I also know what it feels like to be told everything is ok and you need to handle it yourself when you are screaming out and begging for help. I also know what it feels like to swallow pain so hard you think you will die from it, and that is a dangerous mess I refuse to start up again.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you struggle with depression/anxiety/grief/sadness, please don’t hold it in because you are afraid no one wants to hear it. Even if some people don’t, some do, and you may not know who they are, so keep going until you find them. If you know someone who is struggling, please be patient with them. You may not know how bad what they are going through really is, and you may not know how badly they want to fix it.

5 Years Ago Today: Trigger Warning-Miscarriage

Trigger Warning: Miscarriage

5 Years Ago Today was the day I lost my first child.

5 Years Ago Today was the day she died.

Today, I lived my life like nothing was wrong.

I played with my double rainbow babies.

I did the dishes.

I cleaned the house.

But I saw a butterfly and I asked if it was her.

I asked her to be with me, but only if she wants to be,

Because I hope she’s happy in heaven without me,

Even though she’s without me, and I’m without her.

5 Years Ago Today, I screamed like I had never screamed before.

5 Years Ago Today, I held her body.

5 Years Ago Today, there was blood all over the floor

Of the tub. I didn’t know that that could happen.

Usually I don’t bleed when I shower,

But when you’re losing them it doesn’t stop, even for the water flow.

5 Years Ago Today, I thought I would die if it didn’t stop.

5 Years Ago Today, she died and I did not.

Please Stop Choosing Sides

Lately, my newsfeed has been inundated with posts screaming, “YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE.” Of course, half the time the premise also includes condescending language about how if you don’t choose a side, you are choosing the wrong side, and there is something wrong with you. I am so sick of this.

Let me tell you right now. You do not have to choose a side.

You do have to make decisions in your life based on the knowledge you have at any given moment.

You do not have to choose a side.

Isn’t there enough side choosing in this world? Everything is about how we are divided from each other, and what makes us different, and why “I” am better than “you.”

Stop. Doing. That.

For all of the people spewing religion as the reason, and promising me that God will punish me if I don’t. Name me one time that Jesus took a side when He was on earth. He did not take sides. He loved people on either side. The only time He went up against people was when they were hurting someone else.

In fact, the people He went up against the most were the ones who were constantly beating other people over the head with their words. He got in trouble for “breaking the rules” again and again and again.

Yes, He did not come to “abolish the law” but to “fulfill it,” but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t dismiss things that weren’t really a part of the law, or were legalistic things that people were using to hurt others. The Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking about helping a man on a Sabbath day. There was no right answer to that, they would have said He was unwilling to help if He said not to help, and they would have said He didn’t honor the Sabbath if He said to help. He called them out and basically said, “You would help a sheep if it fell into a ditch. Isn’t a human more important? Of course, it’s ok.” AND THEY PLOTTED TO KILL HIM.


Sometimes, I feel like the Church today has a lot of people like this. Some Catholics are so caught up in the rules that they don’t see the people behind them, or worse, they just see them as evil. The Church I grew up in was so caught up in this that even though I was a goody two shoes, I basically wore a scarlet letter “A” my entire time there.

People have argued with me about this over and over and over again, and the biggest argument has always been, “Yeah, but Jesus said, ‘Go and sin no more,'” to the Samaritan woman.” Sure. He did. He never said what her sin was, and He never shamed her for sinning, or was harsh to her at all. He offered her life, and he offered her love. Same with the adulterous woman. “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Ironically, He was the only one there with no sin, and He did not cast a stone.

I am not saying by any means that there is no truth, or that there is no right and wrong. I am always being told that that is what I am doing, but it’s not. Just because there is truth and there is right and wrong does not mean that you know all of it and I don’t. It also doesn’t mean that I know all of it and you don’t. There is a lot to learn and know in this world, and it is wise to realize that you are not the only one who knows truth, and you do not know all of the truth, and neither do I. We are all doing the best with what information we have been given, and that is all we can do.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t share our truth with others. That is the point of real discussion. If we have good reasons for believing what we do, it is good to share those reasons with others. It is not good to bludgeon them with our opinion and say they have to agree because we say so and our authority is better than theirs. Be willing to share your opinion, when it is the right time, and with kindness.

There is one exception to all of this. The one thing that really riled Jesus up. We need to protect people who are getting hurt. Jesus whipped the people who were taking advantage of the poor at the synagogue, He reprimanded those who wanted to kill the adulterous woman. Over and over again He defends those who are being hurt by others. He is the protector of the weak.

Is that who we are as Christians? Are we unashamed in our protection of those who are being hurt? Even if we don’t agree with them?

Are we vocal about protecting LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination? Do we speak about immigrants with kindness and love? Do we protect women who are trying to live a Godly life but it is an unbearable cross for them? Do we make our communities a safer place for everyone, not just the people who follow our dress codes, know our rules, and speak in our way?

Because there is one side everyone should be on. The side of Truth and Love. It takes humility to do that, to not be on one side or the other, but to see both sides and love both sides. It is what I strive to do, and what I pray that everyone will learn to do, so that there will be peace on earth. (starts singing, ‘and good will to men….’….yeah, couldn’t help it. 😉 )

Pax Christi.

I Need to Calm Down: Weight Loss Angry Day

I am so angry.

This week I hopped on the scale to see that I had gained pretty much all of the weight I had lost back. Seriously?? After all of this time? What was the point of any of it if I’m back at this? My BMI was back up by a full point, and my muscle was down. I started to do my inches and I just gave up, “Nope, I am not putting myself through this.”

I rested on it a little while and everything felt a little more stressful all day. I survived the day though and I started to realize. I didn’t gain EVERYTHING back. I gained some weight back yes, but considering that from when I started I had two pregnancies and ended up even heavier than I had ever been, but got it back down, That’s incredible. I started to slow down a little bit and take some time to give myself some credit.

Here’s a list of my achievements:

I have still lost 32.5 inches. It is not as amazing as the 60 I originally had lost, but that is still a lot! Especially if you consider what else I have done in the last couple of years. I had 2 pregnancies, and not just normal pregnancies but pregnancies where I was super sick and under a great deal of stress. We moved-THREE TIMES, changed jobs twice, lost the higher income paycheck to me becoming a stay at home mom, and all of this while dealing with severe anxiety and depression made worse by hormones that are skyrocketing and plummeting constantly.

Plus, there are a lot of mitigating factors to my numbers. Ok, my boobs are bigger, I AM BREASTFEEDING SO FREAKING DUH! They are STILL less than they originally were, and that is awesome! I got them down way small before they had to hold the morning noon and night buffet! (I love breastfeeding but it does add inches, lol)

Also, my weight? I went way up when I was pregnant with Sage! And managed to get it all the way back down to AGAIN?! In a year? While breastfeeding and raising two toddlers and under ridiculous amounts of stress? That’s pretty awesome.

Even still, some of those measurements were really exciting measurements to improve.

That difference on my calves made the difference between me buying regular or wide calf boots.

The inches on my hips made it to where I can shop in stores now for my pants and shorts, I don’t have to order online anymore.

The two inches on my arm got rid of a lot of the flabbiness that drove me crazy.

Also, I GOT TO MY GOALS. This year, I got a Victoria’s Secret pajama set! I didn’t like the fabric so I returned them, but I FIT IN IT. I was able to shop in stores for the clothes I wanted. I still am. In fact the shorts I bought in Target are now too big and I need new smaller ones. My body has completely changed over and over again and I am still better off than I was.

Biggest of all, I achieved a goal that I didn’t think was possible. I balanced my hormones enough to have two babies. That is a huge enormous deal for me. My babies lived. ❤

Time to set new goals, but those are some pretty amazing goals to have achieved.

The Demon that Won’t Go Away: A little known fact about HG

Hyperemesis Gravidarum has been getting a little more publicity lately as Amy Schumer and Kate Middleton have been honest about some of their struggles with it. HG is really severe morning sickness that can end women up in the hospital, on IVs, and with many different pregnancy complications. Many don’t know though, that HG doesn’t always end completely when the pregnancy ends.

I didn’t know about HG during my first pregnancy. I thought that either it was just normal or I was making up in my head the constant nausea and stomachaches that came with pregnancy for me. Almost every day I was bowed over my desk at work(I was teaching full time) desperately holding on to keep myself from passing. Some days I would be almost in tears from the stabbing pain in my side. I couldn’t eat anything but yogurt and cheese and saltine crackers. Believe me, I tried. Whenever I would try to eat anything normal I would vomit with a violence I have never experienced outside of HG. I will never forget the spinach I ate one day when I got desperate for some vegetables. I could not move for the rest of the day without making myself sick again and again and again. My mom and I got in an argument because I didn’t want anyone to come visit for a baby shower because I was in so much pain I couldn’t fathom the idea of trying to keep up with people visiting. But I couldn’t express to people how awful it was because I thought this was just what pregnancy was like for everyone.

Thankfully, I found out about HG before my next pregnancy and I had a much easier time. It was still difficult, but there is medicine for HG and while it didn’t fix everything for me, it definitely helped. I was able to eat and drink a little more, and there were days where I felt good.

Since this last pregnancy, though, I have learned something about HG that makes me angry, and frustrated, and strikes fear and anxiety into me.

It doesn’t always end completely with pregnancy.

I am somewhat lucky in this regard because mine does mostly go away. However, recently my symptoms have been coming back around ovulation and PMS. That’s two weeks out of the month. It varies in how bad it gets, but there must be a huge hormonal shift at one year because lately it has been bad. Just last week, I couldn’t stop shaking, and I was lightheaded for several days, and everything I ate seemed to make me nauseous.

What sucks the most about this is the despair and anxiety that comes with it. I was just working on getting a job to get me out of the house when the week started. At the end of the week, I was shaking and in tears because it was taking everything I could do just to watch the girls during the day, and get enough to eat and drink. As the next week started, it didn’t go away like I thought it would and despair started to take over, I started to feel like it was never going to end, I started feeling consumed with my own inability to just “be better.”

What this means, is that in addition to any PPD or PPA that a woman has after pregnancy, a woman with HG must also deal with the paralyzing fear that, not only might it come back if she were to get pregnant, but it could come back whenever it darn well feels like it. It is terrifying to be at the mercy of a monster that could come back and take over your life with no warning at any given moment in time. My husband has repeatedly had to talk me down from panic attacks about death that I think are arising from feeling as helpless as I feel when this happens. 

Also, having all of these issues while having a baby, or two toddlers in my case, is a special challenge, because falling behind in chores and consistency with the kids is BAD. One week of feeling sick lost us a full day of cleaning, a week of laundry, a whole bunch of organizing and adulting things that needed to get done. So now that I’m recovering from the anxiety of seeing how sick I could get at the drop of a hat, everything in me is screaming out that I need to do a major overhaul to fix everything, and I feel like a complete failure. Now the healing process has to start all over again.

The healing process for me is a variety of stages of working through paralyzing fear of getting pregnant, anxiety attacks about death, getting back into physical activity, trying to learn to be fun or have fun again when you were too sick to even think about having fun, and the hardest part, learning to fight again after you feel like giving up. The mountain of tasks before me seems absolutely impossible while I am attempting to repair my body and mind, but it’s time to take it all back and pick the fight back up.

Take a second to imagine the worst flu you have ever had in your life, the one that made you feel like you were going to die. Now imagine that you feel that for 9 months straight, and just when you thought you were free a year later, it came back for seemingly no reason. That’s what HG is, and that’s why it sucks that it comes back with a vengeance after being silent for a time, like a demon that pops its head out of random corners so you never feel safe. I share this, so that you may know a little more about what HG survivors fight, but also for those women who feel lonely and miserable and hopeless when their HG seems like it will never go away. You are not alone, I see you. 


 

Finding Freedom in Motherhood

When I became a mom, I was terrified. I thought this meant I had to be into legos, Lincoln logs, and other little people toys and I was going to have to give up on everything I actually do love. The problem with this that a lot of people don’t have is that I wasn’t even into these things when I was a kid, so being forced to play with these for the rest of my life seemed like a horrifying fate. I still get the head tilt eye roll combo from some moms when I’m vocal about how much I hate that stuff.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with feeling like I had to give up and just be that mom, and it was killing me. I’m not a good mom when I try to be that quintessential mommy because it’s not me at all. This morning, though, I was reminded of how good it feels to be myself as a mother.

Yesterday, I found Useless Magic, a compilation of art and poetry by Florence Welch. I bought this for myself, to share with my oldest when she was not even one yet. It’s a beautiful red velvet art book with odd drawings and sketches, accompanied with random phrases from the wild imagination behind Florence and the Machine. She is my favorite singer and an artist I respect incredibly deeply. Willow curled into my lap and had me read it to her again and again. We traced the “Heartlines” on each other’s hands, laughed about the eye that was also a heart, and she misunderstood a song lyric to say “play dough head!”

Afterwards we scrambled to get our swimming gear on and we went to the pool to spend a glorious hour in the water and sun, which is by far my favorite activity in the world. We watched other people play, and ran our fingertips through the water, spun, and splashed. It was amazing, and the great thing is they got the active play and sunshine they needed, and I got to do something I enjoy.

Last night, I was wondering if parenthood meant giving up everything you love and becoming a shell of yourself. Today answered me that it doesn’t have to be like that. It reminded me of how much my oldest loved staring at mandalas with me when she was only a few weeks old, how much she still loves to read classic literature(at one year old her favorite book is an old copy of Crime and Punishment we let her play with), how happy her sister is when I do yoga, and how much they both love to dance and draw. All of these things are things I am so passionate about, and often felt lonely doing them alone, but now we can enjoy them together.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how hard motherhood is, and whether or not the sacrifice is worth it, and honestly, it is hard on a level that I cannot even explain, and I’ve never felt so defeated in my life, but at the same time, there is something to it, something more than happiness, something more than joy even, maybe even something just so perfect about that moment when you see your family becoming a family. That is what you do it for, worth it or not.

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