I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving Day! I woke up early Thanksgiving morning with a plan, to make a turkey, sweet potato casserole, and cornbread dressing in an orderly, calm manner. Wow, the morning went so differently than I expected that it allowed me to use many of my counseling skills. Here’s the story…
I started the day by dumping a bunch of salt in the turkey! Ruh-roh, no problem. Breathe deeply. Scoop out the salt. Do not say something nasty about yourself. Make coffee. Enjoy the quiet. Move on.
Even though I had already been to the grocery five times this week, I forgot the syrup for the sweet potato casserole! When I realized this at 7 A.M., I also realized that all of the grocery stores were closed. First thought? Panic! If I don’t bring the sweet potato casserole, there will be a riot. Second thought? Breathe deeply again. Get clever. I called to a local restaurant that serves pancakes and said in my sweetest voice, “Good morning! May I buy some syrup from your restaurant?” This was met with a baffled, “Huh?” but the manager promised to figure something out to help me. Move on.
I got the turkey into the oven and lay down for 10 minutes to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a tradition in our household. Ruh-roh again! I awakened an hour later, thus throwing my timing off. First thought? “AAAACK!” I ran out of the bedroom and said to my husband, “We’ve got to go the restaurant RIGHT NOW!” We zipped over to the restaurant where the manager helped me with my now desperate syrup needs. Because my mood was starting to go stinky, my husband used what is called a reframe. He said, “Remember, Debbie, you forget something big every time you make a big meal. This time, it was the syrup’s chance.” That turned my mood around instantly and I started to laugh.
So I got home and it was time to make the sweet potato casserole. Warm up the coffee. While I am mashing the sweet potatoes I reached over for my favorite coffee cup to have a sip of coffee. Sip one down. I go to take the second sip but this time I saw something…ODD. I thought I recognized the something but I could not put it together. What is it? I tilted the cup and what did I find? Yes, my friends, a nail clipper! The horror on my husband’s face made me laugh out loud. I did my best not to hurl right then and there.
So what do people do when the unexpected happens?
They dance to disco music and begin a speed round of toenail clipper jokes:
The toenails. Are they fresh?
Do we have a second toenail clipper? This one looks awfully lonely by itself.
Garnish with toenails and serve.
I’ve heard of baking a file in the chocolate cake to help an inmate escape but a toenail clipper in the coffee cup is new one on me.
You get the idea.
So what have we learned from these misadventures into joyousness?
• We have learned to breathe slowly and deeply so we can think.
• We have learned about the beauty of the reframe, where you turn the yucky thought around to make it something manageable.
• We have learned that we have the choice to laugh.
• And finally, we have learned that dancing heals all yucky things.
So in the spirit of the holiday season, I wish you a good wiggle and a hop. Laugh and dance your fanny off! I sure will.
With the holidays approaching, I am receiving many requests from clients to discuss the “requirements” or “should’s” of how they should spend time with others. This is often accompanied by anxiety, tears, and dread. For those of you who are already having a hard time due to infertility or pregnancy loss, suffering from postpartum depression, or dealing with caring for a preemie, being required to celebrate holidays may feel hollow or just downright wrong. This can be made raw by others clueless comments or a cornucopia of babies and bellies.
For others who hail from families at Dysfunction Junction, the holidays can be trying for many reasons including jealousies, controlling people, unresolved childhood fights, past or current abuse, the silent treatment, passive-aggressive behavior, or back-handed comments, among many others. People often return to the scene of the crime, that is that same old dynamics from years past, because they feel that they must. Our families have a remarkable way of offering guilt and shame when we wish to do something different. Here’s how I think about it:
Well, putting up with a Should Fest is just a shouldy way to live.
There is also a way that people have endless hope that THIS YEAR, things will be different than last year. You already know something about this, though, folks. Unfortunately, some people do not change, even if we wish they would. The Unchanged Ones do not have to change. You do…and can.
So what are the “should’s” of the holidays? Wait for it (drum roll): There aren’t any! I know that this may come as a surprise to many of you who are often told by others what you should be doing, or should be thinking, or should be wanting. When you go along with what others think you should do, two things happen: 1) you end up with resentments and 2) you end up upset with yourself, not the should-giver. When you make a decision that is right for you, it is inevitable that someone else won’t like it but you will feel more peaceful in your mind and body.
Now if you feel that you must go along with a should-event, I don’t want you to feel anxious or trapped. There are middle ways that can help you to function more freely and feel okay:
1) Drive separately, so you can leave early if you feel the need to do so.
2) Yes, you can stay for a shorter visit than is “required”.
3) Big drum roll–you can stay in a hotel! It’s true! It’s nice to have a place to decompress and rest when you are up to your eyeballs with someone else’s bad energy.
4) Take a rest in the bathroom. People don’t usually follow you in there.
5) Smile and excuse yourself if you just don’t want to have the same upsetting conversation that you had with the same person last year (or the last 10 years).
6) Stay Velcro’d to your partner or another safe person. Sometimes people will leave you alone if they cannot get you alone to say something ugly.
7) Develop a high sign with your partner that says, “Gotta go!” Remember Carol Burnett’s pull on her earlobe at the end of her TV show?
The bottom line is do what’s right for you! You have many choices that can allow for some warmth at joy at the holidays, as well as self-respect. I wish you every good thing as you decide what’s right for you!
From today’s Science Daily, a new preliminary study in the November Journal of Psychiatric Practice by Cynthia L. Battle, PhD has found that pregnant women prefer therapy to antidepressant medication during pregnancy. That sure makes good sense to me. I see many pregnant women with perinatal mood issues (depression and anxiety) who prefer therapy to medications. “Do the work to feel better!” I always say. After delivery, there are some different concerns for mother and baby where medication may be very useful. It’s great for women to know that there are options including psychotherapy, yoga, exercise, light therapy, and couples therapy.
Today, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day. According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies are born prematurely around the world each year. More babies die from prematurity than from AIDS, malaria or diarrhea. Each year in the United States, 1 in 9 babies–about 450,000–are born prematurely. Prematurity is defined as birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks gestation.
World Prematurity Day is personal for me–I have two preemies. My daughter was born at 26 weeks. We thought that we would lose her on her second day of life. She almost died again 25 years ago today from sepsis but she rallied. There were surgeries, terrible fears, and finally, unbelievably, a day when she came home to be our baby after 100 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Preemies aren’t just small babies and they don’t look like little dolls. As you can see, my daughter looked like a science project. I learned a lifetime’s worth of medical terminology. Bringing my girly into my life changed it in ways I am still learning about.
To those who are preemie parents, or those of you who know someone who is, thank goodness for the Internet! My favorite preemie blog is Ain’t No Roller Coaster. For parents of preemies up to age 4, check out Preemie-L, a wonderful listserve of helpful preemie parents. For parents of preemies over the age of 4, check out Preemie Child.
Now I’ll share with you the gift that I was given when my daughter was impossibly small and fragile. Someone showed me a picture of their healthy preemie. The message was “Babies grow. Have hope.” So I share this today with preemies, their parents, their friends, and their loved one. Babies Grow. Have Hope.
I came across this beautiful article at Lipstick and Politics called “Why Can’t We Talk About Miscarriage?“ Katrina Markel’s story about her miscarriage and why she felt that she was encouraged to keep the loss quiet may help others to be open. I hope so. Grief and secrecy lead to isolation and shame. Let’s talk about miscarriage, so many can heal.
Why Can’t We Talk About Miscarriage?
November 11, 2013 at 6:14 am
Two days before my 38th birthday a doctor confirmed I was pregnant. I burst into tears, hugged a surprised and stoic nurse and immediately called my husband. There were times in the last few years when I was afraid that pregnancy just wasn’t in the cards for me. We married in our 30’s, delayed trying to conceive a little longer than originally planned and when we were finally ready to have a baby, the process wasn’t quick or easy. Nevertheless, at the “advanced maternal age” of nearly 38 I was pregnant!
I followed the advice of books, pregnancy websites and other women by only telling a handful of friends and family members that I was pregnant. The common line of thinking is that in the first trimester you should “only tell people you are willing to also tell about a miscarriage.” The problem with this piece of advice is that it also leaves us with the impression that we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about miscarriage. It reinforces the isolation and shame that couples, especially women, feel after losing a pregnancy.
For exactly four weeks I was excited about being pregnant. We experienced the joy of telling our parents that after a long, long wait they would finally be grandparents. I glanced at the clothing in maternity departments and thought, “Oh, this stuff is pretty cute.” I cut way, way back on caffeine, took extra naps, had heartburn at 3am…all the stuff that makes it start to feel like a real pregnancy. By eight weeks it was all over.
An ultrasound technician with a poor bedside manner dropped the bomb on us, “Okay, there’s the heartbeat! …Oh, I don’t see it now. It’s like it’s going in and out. Oh, this is weird, I’ve never seen this before. This is really weird. Okay – do you see the heartbeat because I don’t?”
Why are you asking me? How the hell do I know what to look for?
The ultrasound tech continued, “Well, there it is again, but it’s like it’s going in and out. Also the heartbeat is really low. It’s 93 beats per minutes.” She said some other stuff about the size of the fetus and the yolk sack, but at that point my head was swimming. “Do you want me to print a picture of the baby?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said glancing over at my husband who looked just as shell shocked as I felt. I didn’t see a point to keeping a picture if we were losing the pregnancy.
We met with the doctor who was a little more comforting than the ultrasound tech as he explained that sometimes a fetal heartbeat will be low one week and by the next week the baby bounces back, which gave us a glimmer of hope. In my heart of hearts though, I knew it was over and some quick internet research told me that the odds were not in our favor. That night I sobbed and sobbed. My mom came over and I cried on her shoulder, “I let everybody down. I’m sorry. I’m jealous of all those people who can do this so easily. I hate everyone who gets pregnant by accident at 18. I’m jealous of everyone with their cute baby pictures online. I’m jealous of the women my age having twins. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. When is it going to be MY turn?”
It wasn’t a pretty reaction, it wasn’t mature, it wasn’t even how I feel most of the time, but the impending loss was raw and I was heartbroken.
Part of the problem is that cute baby pictures and ultrasound images on Facebook don’t tell the whole story. Many of those mothers have already suffered a pregnancy loss or will suffer one at some point. I felt as if I was the only woman in the world who’d lost a pregnancy when, in fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My doctor told me that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. According to an article in The Telegraph, it may even be more like 33%. The lowest statistic I’ve seen is about 20%, which is still one in every five pregnancies. What is certain is that it’s very, very common. Because we don’t openly talk about miscarriage, women don’t always know how many of their friends, colleagues, acquaintances and cousins have been through the same thing. I’m glad that I didn’t discuss the pregnancy with everyone under the sun and my husband took care of informing friends because right after it happened, I didn’t want to talk about it. However, if more women were open about it, perhaps the loss would have been easier to accept. I wouldn’t have felt so alone. As my mom said when she was trying to comfort me, “It’s just part of life.”
Losing the pregnancy was devastating, but it was overshadowed by the death of my father a few days later. My dad died unexpectedly after a short time in the hospital. The grief from my dad’s death overwhelmed any loss I felt about the miscarriage. Two days after his funeral, a much kinder ultrasound technician confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat; news that I expected, but was still hard to hear. It’s likely that the miscarriage was inevitable — a genetic defect. The doctor reminded us that this was very common and when I was healthy we could try again. I was sad, but already so heartbroken from losing a parent that the pain from the two events just melted together. I knew my dad my whole life, I didn’t know my baby at all. It wasn’t as painful as a stillbirth or an infant loss when mothers have already bonded with the baby. My grief was really for the lost opportunity, the May due date that won’t come, the maternity clothes that I won’t get to buy this winter and the baby shower I won’t have in the spring. However, losing my dad put things into perspective. I’ll still have a chance to get pregnant again or adopt a child. I’ll never get my dad back.
There are resources and support groups for women coping with pregnancy and infant loss. For instance, I found discussion threads on sites such as BabyCenter.com, but it would be better if we could just be more open about these things without suffering in silence, feeling guilty or feeling fear of judgement. A few days after the miscarriage was confirmed, I was back enjoying the photos of adorable children on Facebook and feeling a little more hopeful that I’d eventually get my turn to post similar ones. The most helpful thing for me was realizing how common this is. It’s time we end the taboo and start talking to each other about pregnancy and infant loss.
Besides, if it can happen to Jay-Z and Beyonce and they can talk about it, why can’t I?