On Fear During Pregnancy

I was going through my archives trying to clean them up and delete unfinished drafts when I came across this post.  It’s incomplete, which is – I’m assuming – why I never published it in the first place.  But it’s very interesting for me to look back on it in light of everything that has transpired.  I wrote it when I was around 8 weeks pregnant, 4-5 weeks before I miscarried Mara.  I had been reading through the book of Job, which made a substantial impression on me.  I’m a different person than I was then.  I was writing about dealing with what I thought was my worst fear.  Then it happened.  I think I should maybe print this out and forward it to my counselor.  It would give us plenty of discussion material!

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I try very hard to feel the way other people think I should feel.

I do not state this truth with any pride.  In an early session, my counselor implied this was not good. That is quite possibly caused me some distress.

You see?  That’s why I pay her the big bucks.

I don’t fault the other people for this.  I know it’s not their fault because when they’re not around for consultation on how I should feel, I imagine what others might think I should feel and work hard to feel that way.

If I could bottle up some of this crazy and sell it, I’d be rich for sure!  😉

This has created dilemmas for me during this pregnancy.  I’m scared.  That’s a well-established fact for me at this point. However, when I tell people about my pregnancy, they usually meet me with one of three responses:

  1. They tell me my fear is understandable or they express fear themselves.
  2. They’re shocked.
  3. They tell me to trust God.

Each of these generates a touchy response in me, one that seems pretty automatic but I’m sure could be controlled if I challenged my underlying thoughts and beliefs.  I haven’t mastered that part of me yet, but I’m working on it.

When people respond in the first manner, it reinforces my fear.  I think, They “get” my fear on this issue?  That means my fear is real! As in I’m likely to miscarry!  Oh my gosh! I’m likely to miscarry!  I’m going to miscarry this baby! I thereby work myself into an impressive frenzy, and every time I feel my own feel welling up I reinforce it with these ideas.

Group two elicits a similar reaction.  They’re shocked?  Wow!  I guess this is really shocking!  And unlikely!  And if it’s unlikely to have happened in the first place, what are the chances I could actually carry this pregnancy to delivery?  I would guess “unlikely.”  Oh my gosh! It is unlikely I’m going to carry this baby to term.  I’m going to miscarry!  I’m going to miscarry this baby!

Group three would seem to be the most affirming, and the fact that it’s not belies my own psychological issues.  Theoretically, trusting God is the way to go, on this and most every other thing.  Yet I’m just not there.  I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m reading in Job right now and God is just… so… random.  Really, Job said it best, my feelings on this issue of trust:

You made me like a handcrafted piece of pottery—
and now are you going to smash me to pieces?
Don’t you remember how beautifully you worked my clay?
Will you reduce me now to a mud pie?
Oh, that marvel of conception as you stirred together
semen and ovum—
What a miracle of skin and bone,
muscle and brain!
You gave me life itself, and incredible love.
You watched and guarded every breath I took.

But you never told me about this part.
I should have known that there was more to it—
That if I so much as missed a step, you’d notice and pounce,
wouldn’t let me get by with a thing.
If I’m truly guilty, I’m doomed.
But if I’m innocent, it’s no better—I’m still doomed. (Job 10:8-15)

I know this isn’t the end of the story and I know there’s a greater point to Job.  But it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that God permitted Job to be wrecked.  Beyond belief.  For no apparent reason.  God never told Job that He wasn’t the one doing the destroying.  In fact, God answered Job with a challenge: “Where were you when I formed the world?”

Oof.

So, yeah.  The whole “trust God” thing elicits a poor emotional response in me, too.  For reasons I should probably investigate a little further.

It does not help matters that:

  • I am in the middle of what is turning into a 36-hour panic attack
  • My nausea is basically non-existent today, a sudden change from the norm
  • I rented a doppler and can’t find the heartbeat (it would actually be unusual for an inexperienced person to find it via doppler this early; still, I panic)
  • I learned of a really lovely woman’s unexplained 15-week pregnancy loss
  • I’m just over 8 weeks and it seems like a lot of people learn at this point in pregnancy that they have unknowingly miscarried

I had a tearful conversation with Tahd tonight about how I feel like a colossal failure when he tells me I shouldn’t be afraid.  Actually, he walked into our room tonight and I told him I was really afraid and he chuckled at me.

Lead balloon?  Meet Tahd.

I try not to be afraid, but I am.  I just am.  Exacerbated by the fact that I apparently seek out confirmation that I should be afraid and use it to pump up my fear when it starts to wane.  Again, this isn’t anyone else’s problem.  When I force myself the think rationally I appreciate the affirmation and support given to me in each of these responses.  I just don’t think rationally that often.

On Necklaces

I leaned over to Tahd during church on Sunday and asked him if I could buy more necklaces. By “more,” I was alluding to the fact that I selected two Lisa Leonard necklaces and had them engraved with various names and sayings and combined all the charms onto one necklace.  It all came several weeks ago and I have worn it everyday since, it’s weight around my neck ever-present.  It is a necklace that reminds me to celebrate motherhood and to keep my two children close to my heart, Gabe and Mara. I was beginning to feel a little bit disconnected, like my memory of my time with Mara is slipping away, and in the moment thought more necklaces would be nice.

Later, Tahd asked me about my necklace and about my desire for more. I had to admit it. He knew it anyway, but I needed to say it out loud and have it be heard. I don’t really want more necklaces. I want my baby. There’s a void, a painful void, and my urge is to fill it with something. In my heart, I know I could buy a hundred necklaces and the void would still exist, looming just as largely. But it still feels good to think about putting something in there.

Probably, the best thing to do is to sit with the pain – let it exist, acknowledge it, and not try to “solve” it like it can be wiped away or forgotten.  But I’ve noticed that’s not what I’m programmed to do.  Pain equals a need for solution.  It means something needs to change.  But in this story, nothing can be changed and nothing should be solved.  So I’m trying – trying to sit with the pain while life goes on around me; trying to let it exist while I go about laundry and cleaning and chasing after a 5-year-old who is mostly oblivious to these emotions.

It’s not all bad.  I know I am strong.  I know pain and joy can successfully coexist.  I didn’t know these things before, at least not in my bones.  I spoke them with my mouth, but now I’m acquainted with them in my viscera.  These truths are mine.

I still might buy more necklaces, though.  Old habits die hard.  And the necklaces are just so pretty!

Dialogue of Faith

I hear it whispering from within me.  I don’t understand why it’s there.  I don’t like it.  I fight against it.

Lord, you are good!  1

Good?  Really?  Could He not have saved my baby?  Or if we weren’t to have a baby at all, couldn’t He have prevented me from getting pregnant at all to spare us this heartache?  But I can’t help it.

I will praise You in this storm.  2

But why?  Why praise?  For what? This storm that encompasses the darkest days of my life?  I have been cut apart, physically and emotionally.  I grieve.  It feels hopeless.   I do not feel like God has protected, loved, or freed me.

I will go through this valley if You want me to.  3

Surrender.  I do not feel like my surrender has been voluntary.  I feel like it has been stolen.  Can that really be surrender?  If you take everything someone has and torment them with it, are they really credible when they “give it up?”

These are the things I will trust in my heart – You can see something else.  4

But what?  What do you see?  I tried trusting that before and the only thing I experienced was pain, pain that grew in depth and breadth with each passing day.

But still, it wells up within me.

When my world is shaking Heaven stands.  5

And when it wells up, a small sense of peace returns to my soul.

You are the strength that keeps me walking.

You are the hope that keeps me trusting.  6

Why do I think these things?  Are they force of habit?  Am I comforted by the routines of my childhood?  Was losing Mara a loss so big that losing my faith seemed unfathomable?  Do these thoughts come because I was too traumatized to consider abandoning my spiritual schema?

Maybe.

But I don’t think so.

God!  You took my baby!  My baby! I feel like I can’t go on, can’t breathe, can’t wake up.

The response I hear in return?  “Heidi, sweet one!  I lost my baby, too.  Losing a child is excruciating.”

He lets that sit for a while.

God lost His baby, too.

But it’s not the same, I moan!  You knew!  You knew it was going to happen and you knew what was going to happen afterward.  You knew you didn’t lose Him forever!  It’s so different!

“Really, Heidi?  Really?  It’s only different if you don’t trust me.

“Do you trust me?  Do you trust me?

I don’t know.  Intellectually speaking, no.  I don’t.  Trust in someone who seems to merely observe this breaking of hearts without intervening?  No.  That would be absurd.  But during the past two years, I’ve been working intensely and toiling, brick upon brick and row upon row, building a shield of faith around my heart, a shield borne out of experience, study, and community.  I deny it with my mind’s eye, but when I reach my arms out blindly in front of me, I can’t help but run my fingers into those bricks, my shield.  My faith is there.  It’s battered, but it’s there.  Even when I try to deny it, it stands.  It stands because to crumble, I would have to deny what I’ve experienced with my own body and heart.  I would have to deny my own truth.

So it stands.

And the dialogue continues.

Lord I’m tired
So tired from walking
And Lord I’m so alone
And Lord the dark
Is creeping in
Creeping up
To swallow me
I think I’ll stop
Rest here a while.

This is all that I can say right now
I know it’s not much
And this is all that I can give
Yeah that’s my everything.  7

Lyrics taken from:
1 Lord You Are Good, Israel Houghton
2 Praise You In This Storm, Casting Crowns
3 If You Want Me To, Ginny Owens
4 From This One Place, Sara Groves
5 Your Hands, JJ Heller
6 Everything, Lifehouse
7 All I Can Say, David Crowder Band

Sonohysterogram

On Thursday I had a sonohysterogram (SHG), the very long and fancy way of saying I had an ultrasound with a bonus.  The ultrasound is a regular transvaginal ultrasound (which is a “treat” in and of itself).  The bonus was the catheter of saline they injected into my uterus while performing said transvaginal ultrasound.

Fun, right?  Don’t you just want to run right out and have one done for yourself?

I knew I had crossed a threshold when I arrived at the morning of the test and realized I had given next to no thought to two details.  First, Gabe was coming with me.  It’s one thing to have him with me at regular doctor’s appointments.  It’s an entirely different thing to have him at appointments where they are doing actual WORK down there! What was I thinking?  I have no clue!  Thankfully he stayed totally distracted and engrossed in some sort of electronic gaming device – either his Leapster or my iTouch.  I can’t remember which.

Second, it never even occurred to me to find out if it was going to hurt.  Several years ago I had a hysterosalpingogram (HSG).  This is a similar procedure, except instead of having an ultrasound you have an x-ray and instead of having saline solution injected into you, you have contrast dye injected which becomes visible during the x-ray.  It shows similar things but because of the contrast agent it also shows if your tubes are open.  The ultrasound can’t determine the health of the tubes.  If the tubes are blocked the HSG is often thought to be quite painful, and it is fairly standard operating procedure to take a heavy dose of anti-inflammatory medication before the procedure as well as an anti-anxiety medication if anxiety is a issue.  After all we’ve been through in the past nearly-five years, it didn’t even occur to me to find out if this was going to hurt.  Hence I took none of these drugs.  Thankfully there was only minimal discomfort and the pain pills weren’t necessary, but I knew I had crossed some sort of magic threshold when I realized that somewhere along the way I’ve gotten so used to bizarre fertility procedures that I don’t even prepare for them anymore!

Before the saline injection I had a very thorough transvaginal ultrasound and found it totally fascinating.  The contrast between what the uterus looks like pregnant and what the uterus looks like not pregnant interests me very much.  I asked the sonographer so many questions that I was sure I had annoyed her to no end!  I was especially interested in looking at the ovaries and counting the antral follicles.  Antral follicles are resting follicles at a certain stage of development and can be indicative of how much fertility a woman has remaining.   Typically, the more antral follicles, the better.  Without doing a close examination of the different planes of the ovaries you can’t be sure of how many antral follicles the ovaries contain.  However, it was quite easy for me to see 10-12 of them in one plane, which made me happy because last year I had 14, and 14 seems to be the cutoff for what is considered reasonable.  That I think I could see 10-12 made me feel pretty good because I’m sure a more detailed ovarian ultrasound would have revealed extra follicles in other planes.  Maybe my fertility hasn’t tanked during the last 12 months.  Maybe…

After the regular ultrasound the doctor joined us for the SHG.  Can I just say that I love my doctor?  He is so kind and so caring and so attentive and I’m thrilled to have him.  He is not the doctor who delivered Gabe.  I loved that doctor, too, and was heartbroken when he stopped delivering babies and just recently fully retired.  I was very worried about replacing him.  But my new doctor is equally as lovely and I couldn’t have asked for a better doctor-patient match.

I was having the SHG because of the fibroids we discovered when I was pregnant with Mara.  We wanted to be sure they played no role in her loss and be sure it was more advisable to leave them alone than it was to remove them.  The SHG confirmed both these things.  Once the fluid was injected it was very clear – even to me – that the fibroids were in no way impinging on the uterine lining.  They are also not overly large, and because I don’t have much pain related to them, the verdict is clear… they stay put. The doctor had no reservations about this recommendation and explained that doing otherwise would be more likely to create more problems than it solved.   The SHG also allowed us to visualize the uterine lining itself; having a D&C can cause some scarring of the endometrium, which can contribute to decreased fertility.  Thankfully, the lining showed no signs of scarring and looked healthy and even.  I felt extra assured at my choice of doctor – the fact that he was both gentle and conservative enough during the D&C to let me avoid any long-term damage was very affirming.

I felt good.  I have a clean bill of health and can go forward with confidence, at least in this area.  Next up?  Are we going to pull the trigger and actually do any treatment cycles?  I don’t know.  I figure we have at least 3 weeks before we have to make that decision, so I have a little more opportunity to procrastinate.

On Seeking Optimism

Some days I wake up and it just hits me.  I lost a baby!!  I might never have another one!! I hate infertility and all it has taken from me.  I want another baby so badly I can taste it – what the top of its sweet head smells like after a bath, the dreamy look of a milk smile when its belly is full, the distinct sound of the newborn cry.  It makes me ache all over, mostly in my heart.

I’m not a glass-half-full kind of girl.  Optimism doesn’t come naturally to me.  If something begins to go wrong I think the whole world might implode, or at least my corner of it.  If Gabe gets a little sick I think he has cancer.  If Tahd is late coming home I think he died in an accident.  If I notice a strange odor in the house I think there’s a hidden electrical fire somewhere.   I’ve become accustom to this reality, and even though it doesn’t make life pleasant I’ve come to think of it as just a part of who I am.

I’ve been reading Kelle Hampton’s blog for a number of months now.  Kelle is the photographer who took our photos in Florida, but she has also become a well-known blogger as a result of a single post she wrote – the birth story of her daughter, Nella.  Without spoiling the details of her beautiful story, Kelle was faced with a drastic turn of events – one that would be a worst-case scenario for some.  Yet, Kelle seems to have handled it with grace and acceptance, demonstrating a positivity about life and a willingness to embrace change that is foreign to me.  Watching her descriptions of it has fascinated me, and it made me realize I am decidedly not an optimist.

I guess it took the chance to observe a true optimist to make me aware of the negativity of my thought patterns.  As I’ve been paying attention to my underlying thoughts, I’ve found I’m very hard on myself.  These aren’t the conscious thoughts I have at the surface – they’re the nearly invisible thoughts that drive my plans and decisions, my ponderings and mullings.  They’re the mental tapes I play in the background of all I do.  And the closer I listen?  They’re not nice.  Not nice at all.

These thoughts have become more audible to me as I’ve been processing my grief.  When I think about Mara, I notice myself wondering why this happened to me, the root of that question being based on a belief that something must be inherently wrong with who I am and has thereby caused me to be unable to have another child.  I find myself wondering why Mara’s death happened in the manner it did, the underlying belief being that I deserve punishment for some unknown flaw or misdeed.  There are more, I’m sure, but I haven’t started noticing anything but these two.  I think I notice them because grief has left me feeling raw – which, I suppose, could turn into a blessing of sorts if it unearths hidden foundations of pessimism and harshness and allows me to replace them with healthier and more joyful perspectives.

When I recognized the disparity between the optimism of Kelle’s variety and the pessimism of my variety, I knew a change was in order.  People will naturally tend toward optimism or pessimism, I think, but that doesn’t mean they have to be controlled by the extremes of their predispositions.  I can’t speak about optimism because I seem to have no experience in that regard; however, where pessimism is concerned I think it brings with it a dark, inky blackness that gradually creeps further into the mind, gripping it more tacitly and tightly as time progresses.  I have been gradually and increasingly consumed by the troubles of life.  I avoid the positive, holding more tightly to the negatives, the things that reinforce the negative tapes I can’t seem to stop playing.

But the time has come.  It has to stop.

I’m not sure how one goes about altering a predisposition of temperament.  I’m sure I could locate some answers through my faith, but I’m not quite ready to go there, at least in a deep way.  Right now I’m just happy that I’m willing to acknowledge what is – which is my generally-constant-and-seething anger at God.  Donning my best Vivien Leigh impersonation, I’ll worry about the rest later.  I just want to work on some straight-up mental reprogramming and see what happens.  I’m tired of seeing gloom.  I’m tired to watching the clouds roll by.  I’m tired of reinforcing the negative, of being hard on myself, of being hard on others.  I want to wake up and greet the new day, not groan that I’m awake.  I want to take advantage of the possibilities, not get overwhelmed by all the options.  I want to enjoy the excitement and wonder that is around me, not get bogged down by the monotony and tedium of day-to-day life.

I’m not under the illusion that I’m going to single-handedly produce a miracle of change in my personality.  I’m still going to feel tired.  I’m going to get overwhelmed.  Life is going to be tedious and monotonous.  But I’ve watched the other side; I’ve been observing optimists and how they handle life’s heartaches.  They are no less challenged, but they approach things from a different foundational belief.  That’s what I need to work on, also.  I have to stop reinforcing what harms and start embracing what heals.

Lucky for me, I have Mara to thank for this awakening.  I’m not sure this awakening could have come in any other way or from any other source.  I’m glad for that.

I miss her.

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