brink…

It was the September of my 20th year when the combination of feel and scent in the air took me back, ala’ movie montage moment, to so many Septembers past. High school Septembers, Jr. High autumn evenings. Flooding, internally, from one to the next.

When I was thirteen, I declared I would one day have a daughter and name her September. It turns out that I neither had a daughter, nor named a child (or pet) that. I do not regret this, just so we’re clear.

All in all, if we were keeping score, September probably shouldn’t be a favorably definitive month for me. It was when school years began, and growing up I was not a lover of school. September marked my first full month as a group home kid, when I was 12.

It carried me into my two definitive adolescent romances, which led, in different ways, to deeply broken hearts…

It also, in fairness, introduced me to my husband, when I was seventeen. That September nearly killed me, as I dealt with a health crisis of extreme proportions, which may (or may not- we will never know) have led to my inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Pretty much nothing, at all, was going remotely ok that September, but in walked Chw and I knew that the two of us would be married, so for that I will declare September 1993 a victory.

A year later, September would bring us full circle, to a horrific miscarriage.

Why it stands out to me that Septembers marked more loss than gain, I’ll never know. Sometimes my biggest gifts (I met each of the kids I loved like a mother loves, in Septembers. First, 2000 and then 2003.) Beautiful gifts, further falling in love and inevitable heartbreak.

Shattering.

Destroyed irreparably.

September…

Two of my three beloved dog besties were laid to rest in Septembers.

My husband left me for another woman in September. Though we reconciled two years later, that first September had us glued to the tv as planes hit the towers and we gained perspective unlike we’d ever had before.

SO MANY milestones of trauma mark the ninth calendar month, of the year.

And still… still, I find myself to be a lover of September. The autumn air ushers in this crisp scented magic, and I am here for it.

This year’s janky calendar had hoards of people unable to wait for summer, because summer would fix the world.

Then it didn’t.

And now, now people are chasing after pumpkins, and spice and new sweaters earlier than ever, with a misplaced faith in this next season bringing the reset needed to right the world.

I don’t know… Maybe it will. September has proven to be a magical and tricky beast. These Sept’s of past have been known to bring about some incredibly unexpected gifts- I’ll just caution us all to be weary.

Whatever these days actually hold, (and let’s be honest- it’s 2020, September could bring us ANYTHING!) I’m pretty certain we will arrive at the first of October scathed in someway.

For all of us, I hope it is a beautiful healing way… A restorative way.

I’m cautious, but also here for it. Despite the track record, I’m a September girl through and through…

Little birds…

In the quiet silence of aloneness I am left on my own, to reflect. There were years of flowers and clumsy breakfasts, all blooms in what would feel (for a very long time) like a crowning achievement.

After so many years of heartbreak and pregnancy loss, my life suddenly held this bubbly little girl who called me Momma. It truly did feel like everything, for a time.

From fifteen years old, and on, though I had other dreams and other goals, being a mother was the heart & soul of all of it. It was everything I wanted, and the motivation for moving forward. I had only ever really seen this plan work for others, so I had no clue it could simply NOT work for me.

When you are lying in a pool of blood, on cold tile, sobbing to heaven about why your babies all seem to die before they’ve had a chance to breathe, there are thoughts that rise up during broken prayers.

Voices that tell you why…

They tell you it’s because the babies saw what a disgusting person you are, and would rather die.

They whisper about how you can’t do anything right and you would be the worst sort of mother.

When you trust someone you love enough to confide those fears to them, they will kiss your matted forehead and tell you that these are lies, and the amount you ache to have a baby will make you a beautiful mom too.

As time passes, it’s hard to tell which things are truth and which things are lies, because we rationalize a world of either/or. We don’t conceive that it is possible the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

That sweet little girl made me feel like a mom, for the happiest years of my life. After fighting with every ounce of me, for unborn babies, and then fighting with everything I had left, for already born kids, that big-blue-eyed girl let me live there, for awhile.

I’ll always be grateful.

Family didn’t understand the idea of loving kids not from your blood. In hindsight, I think they wanted to. I think in unique ways, they tried. Then again, they couldn’t actually understand the journey of loss we’d known, so I can see the difficulty. So many times, over the years, these people who really did love us, would use the phrase “playing house” when it came to our family. Whether legally adopted, or so heart loved, it made no difference in the legitimacy they perceived.

The frustration and disappointment of this, mostly for the kids, triggered those dark post-miscarriage whispers to rise up. Was I playing house? Was I not a real mom? Was this all just pretend? The truth, somewhere in the middle, is that life is complicated.

I have loved with every inch of my mother-aching heart. I have advocated. I have sacrificed for. I have had my cup so full, down to so empty. I have known the tears, and the worry. I have held crying daughters and put my life on hold to do so, without regret. It wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t perfect. Early childhood trauma leaves a lasting effect. Sometimes it was hard.

It wasn’t perfect because nothing is perfect. I never expected it to be, or them to be. I did expect me to be… And it seems they did too. While they were younger, I covered the multitude of ways I was proven to never be enough, with so much grace. So many excuses for how they’d endured so much hurt early on, how they were still so young. Well meaning people promised it would be so much better when they were older… when she specifically was older.

It has been years since I’ve spent any real time with that sweet little girl of days past. One of the last gifts I gave her, before she left the nest, was a little key with the word love etched into it. I told her that my biggest wish for her would be that she could learn to love herself and accept the love of others, the love of me. That had been our biggest struggle, really, her inability to accept my love. I would never be the mom she wanted me to be. So close to that truth, I was shattered and haphazardly put back together again and again.

My truth is that part of my motherhood dream involved daughters becoming mothers too. It involved loving their babies and porches filled with things like lemonade, laughter and pie. It involved vacations and photos and smiles for as far as the eye can see.

It involved, plainly put, things that a lot of moms get. It is not a guarantee, it is not a right of passage and it is not a plan set in motion for me.

Once, when asked, I proudly told the world I had two daughters. Anymore I am honest that I never really had any. I was never their mom, but for a few really good, hard, raw and fulfilling years I played the part with everything in me, and then one day the role was simply done.

I am not a victim, and neither are they. They are both beautiful survivors of things no children should have to go through, and the results of that have never been easy for them. I talk a little bit about this in my book, but in the same way that we crave absolutes, we expect them too. Couples are allowed to break up. Unrequited loves happen all of the time. It is unfair to expect adopted/foster children to reciprocate a love for a parent. The hurt, sacrifice and effort a parent makes does NOT mean the child has to return it. This is a truth no one talks about. This a truth that fearful women in the hurt-filled pursuit of motherhood do not want to know.

For five months, last year, I felt like I was losing everything. My worst fears were coming true, all around me, and I could not find my breath. And then, it happened… And my everything became not mine to hold anymore.

I was sad, and I grieved the most brutal of loss.

One daughter indicated, with absolute silence, that she did not want me anymore, while the other proceeded to tell me the cruelest and most hate-filled things she had in her arsenal. Then, I was wounded to my core, because I was so close that I couldn’t see the truth.

They each know what is best for them, and as adults that is their responsibility. I did not ever want them texting, calling, gifting or visiting on birthdays and holidays because they felt like they were obligated to. If they did not want me as their mom, they were allowed.

This did not mean my love for them was wasted. It did not mean my love for them died, at all. It just meant that I would have to grow my courage to be brave in different ways, for them. When one daughter had a major car accident, I would stay away. I would send flowers, because it was so soon and I didn’t know how to not… but she didn’t want me in her life, and I could respect her. That was something I could do for her. When birthdays passed, I would ache to see their beautiful faces and shower them with love and gifts, but instead I would make a silent donation to an organization that rescues women and children, in their honor.

It isn’t the same, but what one meant for me was a prison sentence of obligation for them and I love them enough to believe they deserve the freedom they asked for.

I am not a victim, I am not perfect.

I am a woman.

I am a writer, a mentor and a wife.

My heart will forever love two daughters.

I was never really their mom.

That’s ok. I am ok. Five hundred times a day, when my gaze falls on a photograph or a memory comes to mind, I pray that they are ok too.

Ok, and happy, and free.

I never wanted to be a cage.

yesterday…

Yesterday was one of those days when you log on, for one reason or another, and are bombarded by the news…

*The shattering grief and updates from Kobe & Gigi’s memorial, for one. I have so many thoughts and feelings on the pieces of that, which flooded my twitter feed, but they aren’t important in this space. The grief is felt by a giant community of fans and human beings, let us not forget though that the actual grief belongs to the people who really knew them. Their grief is not meme worthy, front page headline/clickbait fodder, or appropriate for anything beyond us kindly giving them space to have it…

*The news of Katherine Johnson passing was remarkably sad and humbling. As someone who works, every single day, with women, I hope that I never cease to find myself in awe of the brave and powerful women who have accomplished many amazing feats, simply by engaging in their authentic journey. She lived 101 deep years, may we honor her and her family for that many more years to come…

*Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape. He is facing trial for four additional counts. (I realize I don’t normally delve into topics like this, but bear with me a minute, please.) If convicted on these additional charges, Weinstein faces a max sentence of 25 years.

The definition of rape is: To take something by forceful robbery or spoiling.

Most people would agree that rape is a violent crime, even when a weapon is not directly involved. A black man, in America, who is convicted of one violent robbery could face up to 25 years in prison. Tell me, how is this justice then, regarding what Weinstein has done? (And mind you, there are many other women. Twenty years ago, women were warning Hollywood newcomers to steer clear of him.)

It is worth noting: I have been clear that while I believe Weinstein is a monster. I also believe that he was shaped to become such, by an industry of powerful men who abused women in every possible manor, simply to keep them dependent and controllable. Why should a woman’s life have little value? The effects of psychological trauma and sexual assault, at the hands of Weinstein AND men like him, shape her life in unimaginable ways and will stay with her until she dies…

*I’m not even going to talk about the health or political nightmares continually on rotation, in the news… My point is, that the news is a VERY small portion of what real life looks like. As I type this, my dear friend is sitting vigil, waiting for a family member to pass. My own mother in law lost her sister, this weekend. A sweet friend experienced a terrifying moment with her son yesterday. A dear friend is grieving the loss of her baby girl… Miscarriages are happening; terminal diagnosis are being given; marriages are ending, and the loved ones belonging to every day people, are taking their last breaths…

The news is overwhelming, because LIFE is overwhelming.

When we allow ourselves to be consumed by all of the negative- getting swept up in all of the FEAR directed our way- we will drown. Maybe our heart will go on beating, but surviving is not living.

I’m encouraging us to change the way we see things, starting TODAY.

  • Acknowledge the hard things with grace and love.
  • Extend kindness whenever possible.
  • Listen to our instincts when they encourage us to fill a gap. (tell her she looks pretty in that sweater, offer to bring a family a meal, buy that person’s coffee, etc…)
  • Keep stock (an actual list, if possible) of the beautiful things happening around you. Big things, small things, even if all you can find is that first sip of your morning coffee, when the flavor and temperature are just right. We HAVE TO CLING to the good bits with FAR MORE tenacity than we reflect on the bad.

Yesterday was a hard news day.

Yesterday was a hard day, for a lot of people I love.

It is quite possible that yesterday was overwhelming for you too.

Yesterday is over. Sure, there are ways its contents can reach into today, and beyond, but we can’t worry about yesterday anymore.

Focus on TODAY. Find your things, and hold on tight…

in bloom…

When I settled on the word FAITH, for my 2019 journey, I really assumed it would be an adventure that dealt with my relationship with God. I truly believed the word was meant for me, (which is pretty much how I’ve come to my past WORD OF THE YEAR Commitments), and so I readily accepted the task of growing in my quiet time and prayer…

My year was not remotely about quiet time, or prayer. In fact, though I do believe in a God who is essential for every aspect of my life, the Faith Journey wasn’t really about that sort faith at all.

Every single month of 2019 met me with great loss. Sometimes it was an unexpected loss of opportunity or something beloved. Twice it was with the loss of lives. Then there were lost relationships that I believed I could not live without, that I had no worth without, but it turns out I had been wrong. It was the hardest year I have ever known, and yet…

Yet, I am here. As the theme of loss, in various forms, continued to flow through the changing seasons, I suddenly saw THAT I was more capable of handling them. My vision became clear, as I emerged from the fog I had spent so long in, that I could not merely live beyond the strongholds, but I could live better. I came to a peace I could never have imagined my life ever existing in.

The thing about Faith though, or at least my personal faith, was that it was deconstructed too. As I attended funerals, helped grieving family members and continued to build a business (when all I wanted was to curl up in a ball and cry) and live my life, new things grew in the absence of old. Sometimes these things came in the form of new relationships and precious friendships. Other times these came in professional connections and wisdom shared. Each day I was able to see clearer than I had seen in so long. The relationships lost, had never really existed. The benefit of them had never been mutual, and though that was appropriate for a time, the inability for me to exist outside of the other’s demands and orbit, the inability for me to be an individual deserving of any respect or love, was a problem. It was a problem many had seen for so long, but did not know how to talk to me about. (and it wouldn’t have mattered.) Honestly, I was not brave enough to sever those relationships, but I allowed myself toe courage to respect their wishes, and bold enough to allow life to go on, and unfold, and I have been continually blown away by what that has looked like.

Loss is sad. Loss can be tragic. Loss can also make way for new, and the new doesn’t negate the heartbreak of what is gone… We are shaped by the good and the bad that came before this moment. We are beautiful and capable, because of it.

On a shelf, in my living room, there is a small wooden heart which contains ashes belonging to my father, who passed away this past spring. So much of my life held complicated elements, where my father was concerned, and then one day that simply wasn’t the case. I am filled with gratitude for the fragments of time I spent with him, for the traits of him that I had long before I met him, and more than anything- for the absolutely amazing father he was to my half siblings. Though I’ve never held resentment against him, my soul did sometimes utter the question how can someone who is such an amazing parent, have a child they couldn’t love in that way? And then, on that day of clarity, I knew the answer… Because life is hard. Life isn’t fair. Things happen. We want everything to work out, and we hold often ourselves to the standards that we will get that cookie cutter life, but it doesn’t. With that same clarity came grace for myself as well. I had spent so long trying to become a mother, and then my health failed me and I had to move on from there. That motherhood ache never went away, and one day I sat beside a bathtub as my little adopted daughter played and I realized how incredibly full my heart was. I loved three amazing kids, and wouldn’t have traded one second of the hardship that led ME to them. In that moment I loved them so much that I believed our little family was meant to be.

The family that we fought like hell to bring together.

The process that drained us, and all of our resources dry.

One morning, in 2010, I sat at a brunch table looking at those faces and felt a sinking realization that the five of us would never be together again. I was devastated, and I was caught up in the overwhelming unfairness of that. My motherhood had been the thing I had wanted more than anything in the world, and that entire journey had been unceasingly difficult, and then suddenly…

Hanging on a print, of my favorite lyrics, is the silver etched thumbprint of my the beloved uncle I lost in early 2019. He had been the stable man my childhood knew, likely the one thing keeping me from the alternative of never trusting a man again. He had been the one to hold the fun, childhood teasing. He had been the man to walk me down the aisle. He had been the one, when I was a twelve year old broken child, to make the hard call not to take me in, because he could see the long term effect of how that wouldn’t really help me at all…

Littered on walls and shelves are framed photos from the years in between my motherhood and 2019. Photos of smiling kids my heart could have burst with love for… Photos of relationships dissolved to ash and blown into the wind. For awhile I questioned, do I hide the photos away? But no… It comes back to the unfairness of it all. My “motherhood” was never something I should have placed my faith in. That bursting moment which felt like destiny, wasn’t ever true. Broken and hurt children found their way into my heart, and there was never anything meant to be about what they went through. I bled my soul dry to love them, to fight for them and lost myself in the journey. I wasn’t ever enough, but they didn’t owe it to be to pretend that I was either- and that truth isn’t on anyone. Relationships don’t work out sometimes, and it is loss. It is tragic. It is ok… I could have spent the past 7 & 12 months in agony over how things hadn’t turned out the way I’d hoped and prayed they would, but that would be pretty selfish. The origin of how they began wasn’t anything like those once sweet children deserved either. Sometimes everyone gets hurt, and sometimes every one loses, because life simply isn’t fair. I was there, when I was needed, and the moments frozen on my walls remind me of the beautiful “motherhood” season which wasn’t painless, but I am so grateful for that fragment of time. Because there is loss, doesn’t mean the middle didn’t matter. It mattered a great deal, and all I have for it is love.

Sometimes letting go, is love too. This notion went against what I believed, but finally I learned this too.

In addition to the intense gutting of my entire heart and soul, I began to see the truly flawed theologies and belief structures I’d set my life by. Absolutely wrong, man made ideas, hashtagged for Jesus, when Jesus wasn’t present in them at all.

Faith… The journey was a slice, and a gutting. It was a refining fire, in the way that ravaged land is burned intentionally so that new, healthy growth can blossom.

Welcome to 2020, my year of BLOOM…

On trend…

I am an enneagram four. It is literally NOT in my wiring to follow a trend. Growing up, seeking love, I might have dabbled in a music or apparel style only to get all cringy when I realized I simply could not commit. All of those weird 90’s kids, angsty and flannel clad, wearing our docs or converse, listening to music that made us FEEL- we were the real kids in America… The kids who didn’t want to follow the pattern, or color inside the lines. Most of us were Fours, only we didn’t know what that meant then. We found confidence (usually) in our need to find our own rhythms, and we found immense value in accepting all of the other “freaks” who weren’t trend followers either. We also, I’ll admit, still likely felt as though we were on the outside, always looking in; on the brink, but never really belonging…

When I was a young wife I developed a deep affection for Classic Pooh things. They were artistic and obscure little trinkets, hard to find, with steep price tags, when we did stumble upon them. Just before I turned twenty-three, a trend was emerging where every adult woman in the world wanted Disney store apparel themed in Classic Pooh. Dish-sets emerged, followed by entire kitchen ware collections, and household decorations, of the gently sketched little bear and his friends. Honestly, I was lived. Ironically, I was also on the verge of a shift, so as much as I may have wanted this trend to matter and wound my consistent strive for individuality- it didn’t.

When I feel in love with that sweet little bear, I was in this stage of my life where I deeply wanted a baby. In the way that I have always designed and decorated a room, within my mind, I imagined a nursery filled with unique little treasures featuring the gang. Those classically drawn images represented all things innocent and nurturing. They seemed to embody a heart full of aching, and my desperate need to hold my baby in my arms. As time passed, with each miscarriage I endured, the room filling my mind became more intentional. Whenever I’d stumble upon a new piece, I’d buy it, whether I could afford it or not. These were the things that I could do to control my shattering spirit. It wasn’t ever about Disney or trends, or anything other than the symbolism of something imaginary come to life- something cuddly and so incredibly love-able. My heart’s desire…

My seventh miscarriage had me so incredibly disheartened with doctors. It was the 90’s, and while women’s health medicine is still filled with frustration and horror stories, that decade really had this special way of making a woman feel like a complete piece of crap when she managed to have any fertility problems at all. (I have horror stories. I have small surgical procedures in a hospital hallway, by an eager (almost giddy) male doctor, while I was given no anesthesia or pain killer… I have football sized blood clots slapping onto a hospital floor, with a nurse saying “well, that happens! Hopefully the baby is there so we can be done with this and you can get some rest.”, I have promises of how I “definitely will not be losing this baby”, from the experts, while I sat miscarrying 3 hours later. The brutal times were significantly impacted, for the worse, by the medical industry of the time.) Each loss experience was completely different from the others. It is one of those bizarre, indescribable things… And so, when that stick showed a plus sign, in the autumn of 1998, I swore I would not see a doctor until I knew I was halfway through.

You see, in that same way that I was attempting to will God to give me a baby by creating a space for said baby to live, I was needing to blame someone for the lack of babies, thus far. The doctors seemed like the obvious common denominator in each messed up instance. No one would argue that they were not to blame for some terrible things. All of the people consuming my support network, at the time, would also wager that these doctors really did not care about me, my vagina or my future motherhood. The ambivalence with which I was handled was sickening… So, I blamed the doctors and I stayed away.

I ate saltines, took prenatal vitamins, and relished in the mornings I spent on my knees over the toilet. Everyone loved to reaffirm that the morning sickness was a good sign. The breast swelling came once again, the only consistent symptom with my pregnancies before. We slid gently into 1999, and my baby bump was slowly rounding. I had made it, I knew. This was it, finally. We found a highly recommended specialist, for at risk pregnancies, and I reluctantly agreed to see him. (By my rustic calculations I should have been 19-21 weeks along.)

It turns out that hormones are an odd duck. I wasn’t pregnant. My baby bump was a lovely nerf-football sized tumor, which had consumed an entire ovary and made a gigantic mess in my entire uterine area. The rise in some sort of something (this is how well I get science) had convinced my endocrine system that I was pregnant, and so symptoms mimicked pregnancy. It all sounded VERY Twilight Zone and I just knew the doctor was lying, and had disappointingy joined the big conspiracy against my babies, but eventually had to realize this was true. On a Wednesday night, in late January, I downed my first every peach bellini, and the next morning they sliced me open to bring that fat tumor into the world. I lost all of one ovary and a portion of the other.

Then March came, and I turned twenty-three. We had a big party, with a lot of friends, and I wore a denim Winnie the Pooh jumper as we paid a 90’s arm-and-a -leg for glow bowling. My white stitching was radiant beneath the black lights and while our beautiful friends were celebrating that I was alive, I wanted nothing more than the opposite. The doctor had said I could try and have a baby in the following year, but that the condition would happen again, and next time I’d probably lose everything. He had been encouraging, and internally I questioned how I hadn’t already lost everything. I didn’t understand how each bloody puddle that I’d sat broken in, upon ice-cold tile floors were so insignificant to everyone else. Hadn’t they been everything? Hadn’t those little heartbeats at least been something? The world was encouraging. Everyone acted like this had somehow solved the mystery of why I couldn’t carry a baby, and suddenly all roads pointed to a child of my own. I knew they didn’t. I knew that it was over. I couldn’t celebrate. I couldn’t find the happy, there within my inadequacy. I couldn’t have anything to do with that silly old bear again.

Just as the trend swept the nation…

I am an enneagram four. I feel things deeply. I process. I grieve. I march to my own rhythm, never following a trend. I, by nature, feel like an outsider aching to be a part of something. I couldn’t have a baby.

I got swept up in the fastest growing trend among American women…

I am an infertility and miscarriage survivor, and this is my story. One story, lost in the sea of millions.

(On the Collective Podcast this week I come together with four other brave women, vastly different in their own stories. They share their journeys and unexpectedly we find there, despite our differences, the commonalities of of both shame and hope. We find real. We would love for you to hear these stories. This is a safe space if you feel the need to share your own. Here is the link and it is episode 57.)