That Ibex Vest, Part II

This is a(nother) post about trying not to judge. Remember those women who walked by me as I perused a sale rack, debating the merits of an impulse buy? They were complaining about a friend who spent $65 on some unknown [to me] item that they thought certainly wasn’t worth that much. Their next words out of their mouths made me decide I was for sure purchasing that Ibex vest:

“Well, she doesn’t have kids, of course she can spend money like that.”

Nothing will make a childless-not-by choice woman (or at least this childless-not-by-choice) woman indulge in retail therapy quicker than words like those. I don’t have kids, of course I can buy whatever I want!

These woman, it seemed were envying their childess friend. Or at least her financial situation. My goodness, I thought, I hope that friend is child-free by choice. I hope her friends are not envying her for a situation she is desperate to get out of, desperate to have a child, desperate to NOT be able to afford that $65 item.

The problem with judging? You never know the full story. We have to trust the full story has the best of intentions, we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’d been saving up for a while for that splurge; maybe she’d recently received a gift that made purchasing it possible; maybe she really wanted to support a small business and purchase a higher cost product made locally instead of a lower cost one on Amazon.

The full story is always more complex. Yours, mine, that woman’s, her friends, Maddy Holleran’s [of What Made Maddy Run]. If you took my advice and read What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, you’ll recall that Maddy had a world of wonderfully uplifting social media posts that masked her underlying turmoil. I’ve thought long and hard about weather or not to cater this blog to one particular audience or another. To have one blog be wonderfully uplifting and another blog wonderfully honest. I know there are writers who keep up multiple blogs for this reason. Sure, I’ll loose readers who are only interested in posts about summer camp if I only post about pregnancy loss and visa versa.

But, I’ve decided that just as I had six jobs the year I started this blog (I think I’m down to 4 this year), I can have 6 (or more!) topics that cross my mind and fill this blog. I’m asking you not to judge me for my honesty on any of them. Feel free to skip over the posts that don’t speak to you, and forgive me if my mind seems “wrapped in a negativity I’ve never seen before.”  Trust me, I’m working on it, and this blog and your support are one of the ways I do that. Thanks for reading!

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Let’s Talk About the Storm

My friends know my story of being patient zero with scabies. They’ve listened to me rave about using the Diva cup and cloth menstrual pads. They watched me cry over my grandma’s death in science class as we discussed BPA and breast cancer. Taboo subjects, uterine-shedding, grief- I wasn’t phased to acknowledge any of these. I once answered the (strange) interview question of “What body part best represents you?” with an enthusiastic (also strange) shout of “ovaries!”

Why then, did many of my friends first hear that I’d lost a pregnancy 6 months after it happened, only because I shared with them on Facebook a guest blog post I’d had published Are they surprised that I didn’t shout it out quickly and loudly like I did my answer to that interview question? (It was a group interview for a leadership role in college; some of them even witnessed it).

My late grandmother, whom I mentioned earlier, handed down to me the gift of talking freely, or, what my eighth grade teacher once referred to as “diarrhea of the mouth.” Quite frankly, I can’t fully articulate why I didn’t use that gift or curse (depending on your perspective) to clue more people in to why on earth I might have taken a week off from rock climbing during the longest days of the year last June.

My inability to talk openly about miscarriage surprised me. And when I did talk this is what I heard:

“Nobody talks about it.”

My doctor said it, my boss, my midwife, friends, family, NPR….and repeated in personal narratives written on websites scattered across cyber space. (I’m fairly certain no one in this day and age has a miscarriage without googling the word.)

“Nobody talks about it.”

It was was always wrapped in the cuddly sentiment of: it’s so common, you’re not alone, you only feel alone because

Nobody Talks About It. Isn’t it unfortunate that

Nobody talks about it?

But what I heard was, “no body talks about it.” Who am I? I am nobody? Are you nobody, too? (Thank you, Emily Dickenson). Aren’t WE talking about it right now?

I didn’t want to be a no body. I’d already lost the body growing inside mine. I internalized the exact opposite message people were trying to send me. Like a kid who only hears the second half of “don’t run” and speeds on by. (Experts tell me as a lifeagaurd this is the reason why “please walk” is more effective pool deck communication to prevent skinned knees).

As much as I wanted to go with the status quo of not talking about pregnancy loss, I felt a burning desire to tell my story. So I wrote an essay, asking strangers to validate my feelings. It worked- I am honored that my piece resonated with more than 500 people who “shared” it on the first of the three sites it where a version of it appeared. My silver lining of miscarriage would be my first published piece.

I finally had the confidence to turn around and share my experience with those I knew, via social media. I could never have anticipated the flurry of support I received after sharing my piece.  Today marks a year since I opened up and I sometimes wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t. What if I didn’t have a passion for writing and the talent to get published? Would I still be weathering this storm in silence? I am writing today to encourage you to get through your storm, whatever form it may take. And for goodness sake, talk about it.

I am sure that this particular defiance of social norms, like my hairy armpits on my wedding day, was embraced by some, unnoticed by others, and whispered about in distaste by still others. What matters to me is those in the first category. Thank you. I’m going back to my regularly scheduled program of doing (saying) whatever the h*ll I want. and not caring what anyone else thinks

What I Really Teach

While it’s still pitch black outside and my husband is sound asleep, I drag myself out of bed many winter weekend mornings. I struggle in the dark to make out the difference between my black long underwear bottoms and tops. I drive 45 minutes to the mountain, regretting the whole way that the radio stations only play pre-work pump up music 5 days a week.

It’d be easy enough to say that I sacrifice winter days with my husband because I love skiing. There’s some truth to that after all. And sure, I want my students to have a good time skiing. But what I value even more is what I really teach these 3 year olds.

I teach them:

to be patient while they wait for their classmates to use the bathroom

to share when they have the only pink colored pencil at the table

to clean up after themselves

to CONSENT to participating in a snowball fight (it’s OK to not want snowballs thrown at you, and we all must respect that!)

to try a new food at lunch

to wait their turn when we ride the magic carpet

that they won’t always get their way when they beg to use ski poles

to put on their own mittens (well, sometimes I succeed)

to say please and thank you

to hold the door for each other

to ask your classmate if they are OK when you run into them (this happens ALOT) aka empathy

that falling is OK

how to get up when the fall (figuratively and literally)

how wonderful it feels to master a new skill

It’s cheesy as all get-out but it’s true, these are the reasons I get out of bed on those dark cold mornings. These are things that matter.

I’ve got a book from the Library right now entitled “Raising a Team Player.” Sure, I’m only raising a rabbit in my house at this point, but I like to think that this little part I play in “raising” these kids could go farther than any ski skill they master.

But maybe that’s just saying something about my own ski skills 🙂

That Ibex Vest

What if we all were a little less judgmental? I know, suggesting that probably makes it sound like I’m judging YOU for being judgmental. On the contrary, I know that I’ve got some room for improvement. Which is why I’m putting this mission for myself in writing today. And I’d like to challenge you to join me here.

I can recall at least two individuals I’ve known who constantly complained to me about others. No one, it seemed, could live up to the standards that they set. The judged everyone. I joined right in on the judging and felt honored to have been chosen to be on team “judging” instead of team judged.

But when I wasn’t around, what might they have said to others about ME?

Eventually, the anxiety this question brought started to erode my self-esteem. I was constantly judging myself, too. So I decided to stop judging others and hoped maybe I’d judge myself a little less, too. I told some of my friends this goal; perhaps they’d join me. But it was HARD. And sometimes boring. You have no idea how much time is spent in casual conversation judging others until you try to weed out the judging. So slowly, I started to hop back on that bandwagon.

Recently, I was perusing the sale rack outside a store, debating the merits of a $40 Ibex vest. (If you don’t know the Ibex brand, you’re probably thinking “$40!  That absurd- go to Old Navy, you can get a vest for $10.” If you do know the brand you’re probably thinking “$40! That’s a steal! Those vests are usually $200). As I shopped, a couple of women walked by me, complaining about their friend, “I can’t believe she spent $65 on….” Her voice dropped out and and I’m not sure what it was that this friend spent $65 on.

And you better believe it, if I had heard what the $65 item in question was, I would’ve been judging the purchase, too. Either I would’ve thought, dang $65 is a lot for an “xyz” OR dang those women need to lighten up $65 ain’t bad.  

Either way, I would’ve judged. We do it all the time. It’s so natural. I would love to know where this fits in the history of humankind, because it does seem hardwired into our brains to judge. Is it because of the level of competition for survival of our earliest ancestors that they judged one another? Or is it something we as a culture have cultivated an acceptance for? Can’t we leave it to God or karma or (insert your belief here) to judge our actions? Can’t we give each other some peace?

We’ve all got our shortcomings. Why do we need to point out to each other what those are? Unfortunately, I know that sometimes, my shortcoming will be just that, that I continue to point out the shortcomings of others. I know my journey towards non-judgement won’t be without slip ups.

But tonight, I’m putting it out there publicly. I started to type this a few days ago, got sidetracked, then stumbled on a blog by Rachel Lewis with a similar sentiment. It made me realize just how important a mission this may be. Judging is such an easy current to get swept into and I encourage you to join me in swimming upstream, as best we can!

*intentional cliff hanger- you don’t know if I  bought the vest….because that isn’t the point 🙂

When You Can’t Buy Them the Thing They REALLY Want

A friend told me that someone she knew had recently had a miscarriage and she didn’t know how to help them. Unfortunately the only thing they really want- not to be in this situation of losing a pregnancy- isn’t something you can buy or make or bake.

So the next best thing?

  1. Be there. Simple enough. One friend took time off of work (she’d even carpooled that day and at a moment’s notice her coworker drover her to my house) to watch Netflex with me.
  2. Share your Netflix/Amazon Prime/etc password with them if they don’t have an account. Especially if your credit card info is saved on Amazon (KIDDING) (Don’t tell my other friend’s ex-boyfriend’s roommate that we used his password to watch Netflix.)
  3. Do their laundry, their dishes, their errands.
  4. FOOD. I know the experience for everyone is different. For me, the physical pain with a side order of grief made me loose my appetite. Why then would I want food? Because I still needed to eat! I wasn’t thinking much about grocery shopping or cooking so having friends drop off a pizza (or get them a gift card for take-out) was SO appreciated.
  5. Reading material- in the first few days I wanted things that would take my mind off of what was happening- magazines, novels. But eventually, I sought out literature on pregnancy loss. The hospital wouldn’t let us leave without a copy of Miscarriage: A Book for Parents by Joy Johnson. My insurance company sent me After Miscarriage: Medical Facts and Emotional Support for Pregnancy Loss by Krissi Danielson. This is where I’m sure personal preference is HUGE. I found the later of the two to be much more helpful than the former. I’m sure others would think differently. I recently received Loved Baby: 31 Devotions for Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Baby After Pregnancy Loss. I’m still reading it, but am already impressed by the honest, thoughtful writing of Sarah Philpott. Of the three books I mention here, this one presents, I would say, as the most “gifty” in nature. (Pun intended!) If you want to make it super gifty, it is available with a bracelet at http://allamericanmom.net/product/loved-baby-bundle-loved-bracelet-devotional-book/ As the name implies, Loved Baby brings with it a Christian viewpoint which can certainly be comforting at a tough time, just make sure you know that your recipient would agree!

 

READ THIS BOOK: What Made Maddy Run

This book is heavy. Literally and figuratively. I couldn’t put it down. Literally. I carried it in my pack while hiking for three days. Which is how I know it is literally heavy.

Read this book if you were an athlete, are an athlete or like to watch athletes. Read it if you are a young person, work with young people, know a young person or were a young person. (Did I cover all my bases yet?) Read it if you’ve ever battled with the decision to stop doing something that no longer brings you joy but is ingrained in who you are. Read it if you believe in the dignity of all human beings and want to better understand those who face mental illness; may the sharing of Maddy’s struggle help someone else’s story have a different ending. READ THIS BOOK.

Like the author, Kate Fagan (of ESPN), and its subject Maddy Holleran, I was once a Division 1 college athlete. Some of you know that I failed a class in college. Most people I’ve told this to have forgotten this fact and are surprised when I re-tell it, since I graduated college on time, received awards for academic achievement later in school, and overall have had few achievement-related setbacks.

Like Fagan and Holleran, I found college athletics weren’t quite what I’d had in mind. For me, this happened during my sophomore year when, at the coach’s urging, I stopped competitive distance running (including Cross-Country) to focus on high jumping. In What Made Maddy Run, Fagan delves into the journey leading up to Holleran’s freshmen year of college. Holleran was an avid soccer player who ran track in the spring to stay in shape. With her incredible journalistic and storytelling style, Fagan goes into great detail describing the passion Holleran had for soccer, including quotes from some of her elementary school coaches.

I, likewise, had a passion for Cross-Country. Holleran gave up soccer to run year round. I gave up Cross-Country to train for jumping year-round. I was miserable. Holleran was miserable. Holleran didn’t click with the assistant coach she trained under; she’d loved the head coach who’d recruited her. Similarly, I didn’t click with the assistant coach I trained under when I switched from distance running to high jumping. In fact, I felt singled out by him at times. I found myself wondering if it was all in my head that I couldn’t take his criticism or if I was indeed being criticized more than my teammates.

Holleran tried to quit. Her coach talked her out of it. Fagan sorted out her mixed feelings through counseling and stayed on the team. She writes, “I was terrified of the word “quit.” Within sports, that word is dirty and barely distinguishable from “I can’t.” I had come to view quitting as synonymous with laziness, weakness, selfishness….Could I ever stop?….What was the difference between quitting and stopping, or quitting and retiring, or quitting and making the conscious decision that continuing something was  genuinely unhealthy?”

I get it. I spent enough moments agonizing over this to fail a class that semester. Fagan asks, “How much of our happiness is fueled by society’s validation of our choices?”

This is where my story splits from Maddy’s. I quit the track team. Fortunately, it was my sophomore, not my freshman year when I quit so I already had a close relationship with an amazing roommate and understanding friends on campus. I was excited to have more time to spend on other interests like hiking and skiing without fear of getting injured before a meet. True, I grieved the loss of my identity as a student athlete. I missed the routine the workouts provided; the sense of belonging to a team. I still struggle at times to “set the bar low,” as Facebook reminded me just yesterday that I’d posted Nnenna Lynch’s article by that title on running post- competitive years. As I’m writing this, Runner’s World emails me an article “I never expected quitting competitive running would be so hard” by Micaela Young, Clearly, I’m not alone in having grappled with this. Yet, leaving the team when I did was one hundred percent the right decision for me.

My true validation for quitting the team came a couple of years later, when I crossed paths with a former teammate. I didn’t remember her, but she remembered me. “Coach was always so hard on you, I never understood why he singled you out.”

I no longer had to wonder if it’d all been in my head. I was as tough as my teammates, I was just being subjected to something harsher than they were. If I had’t been told this I believe to this day I’d still wonder if I’d all been in my head; if I quit because I wasn’t tough enough. What others think sure does carry a lot of weight.

After this conversation, I pondered if I would’ve stayed on the team at the time if someone had stood up to my coach for me. Or even if someone had just said to me in passing that they noticed his actions; I might’ve kept training knowing that it wasn’t all in my head. If you see something; say something. The sooner, the better.

I wish there were something I could say to Maddy Holleran. That I could validate her pain. That I could tell her it gets better. That you can quit track and be ok. That you can quit track, fail a class and be ok. Or not ok. That it’s ok to not be ok. That it won’t be like this forever.

Fagan discusses the fact that it is never one thing that pushes a mental illness over the edge. There are parts of Holleran’s story that I can’t relate to, and certainly not on the level that she experienced it.

And precisely because our stories are each so unique, this book is so valuable. Fagan’s extensive research into Holleran’s background is interwoven with facts about mental health on college campuses and the story’s of others, including herself. Fagan is an incredible journalist and the importance of telling this story is not lost on her. I hope the importance of reading this book will not be lost on you, and that it may inspire you to new level of empathy.

READ THIS BOOK.

One of those times NPR makes you feel human

I’ve been feeling off lately and scrounging the internet for something- someone I could relate to. I’ve found some relevance in articles and incredibly personal accounts of pregnancy loss, infertility, grief, and/or and anxiety. But it wasn’t until listening to this NPR podcast: The Scarcity Trap, Why We Keep Digging When We’re Stuck in Hole, that I found an unlikely solidarity with the experience of sugar cane farmers in India.

These farmers, in a study by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan, behaved differently right after harvest when they were relatively wealthy. Compared to when faced with scarcity later on, the wealthy farmers had better impulse control, planned longer term, and even fared better on IQ tests. “To be clear, it’s not that poor people focus on immediate needs because that’s all they want to think about. It’s all they can think about,”  states Shankar Vedantam in respect to these farmers and others facing scarcity.

I’ve already tried to minimize my own feelings of sadness and frustration over not being pregnant by dismissing it as a “first world problem.” Presumably, I am financially distinct from these farmers in that I can afford to raise a hypothetical kid and pay my bills all year- not just after the harvest. I have wonderful health insurance that covers prenatal care (thank you Affordable Care Act). I have a job- finally- that offers some maternity leave and paid time off.

How on earth, then, can I compare my lack of having child with someone else’s lack of financial resources?

I can relate to their desperateness.

“When you feel that something important is missing in your life, your brain starts to focus on that missing thing. When you’re really desperate for something, you focus on it so obsessively there’s no room for anything else, ” Vedantam continues. The episode also provides non-monetary examples of scarcity such as being lonely or short on time. So the mental challenge experienced by these farmers as their earnings run out can happen to us any time there is something missing in our lives. Our thoughts focus on only one thing.

When we first started trying to conceive, I thought of lots of other things- skiing, rock climbing, wilderness canoe trips, beer- on a regular basis. I had heard of woman caught up solely in their desire to become pregnant and assumed that would never happen to me. Those woman, I reasoned, are more high strung than me. I, on the other hand, was carefree and open to whatever happened, baby or not.

Slowly that shifted. Maybe it was because of the intense joy I felt upon getting pregnant and the subsequent disappointment of miscarriage. Maybe it was because I got caught up in stories of rainbow babies conceived within a month or two of a loss and grieved when that wasn’t me. Maybe I’m a highly sensitive, emotional mess and my original carefreeness was just a denial of my true self.

Or maybe, as Hidden Brain points out, it’s because of the scarcity trap. Anyone in my situation would feel like I do, just like anyone facing poverty does. “What if it’s not that poor people are somehow deficient, but that poverty makes everyone less capable? That it’s….you and I, tomorrow, were we to become poor, would all of a sudden have the same effect, that poverty is in some sense changing our minds,”Mullainathan explains.

With this reasoning, anyone facing obstacles in growing a family would naturally become fixated on having a child. The only thing that had previously set me apart from those woman and their fixation on pregnancy was our situation. It wasn’t that my carefree attitude was better than theirs, I just hadn’t yet faced attitude-adjusting scarcity. I’m in their shoes now, and lately I’ve been grappling with why on earth this is so hard for me; why can’t I go back to being carefree.

I recently wrote a piece, full of hyperbole, or as my husband put it “click-baity,” about my initial thoughts versus my current thoughts on trying to conceive. It is titled “Please Don’t Judge How Desperate I am to be Pregnant,” and to be perfectly honest, the person I feel most judged by is myself (or at least my previous self). Upon publication, an editor assigned it the subtitle “I don’t need to keep hearing about overpopulation either.” I have plenty of guilt over the environmental consequences of procreation, however, contrary to that subtitle, those thoughts are all internally generated (influenced by four years of undergrad in a natural resources school). Despite the subtitle, no one has been callous enough to say such a thing to me, though I suppose it isn’t out of the question.

“Just stop worrying and you’ll get pregnant” is the classic way to piss off someone in my situation, yet many well meaning folks pass on this “wisdom.” A year or so ago, I may have even said it myself. Thanks to Hidden Brain for enlightening me on why that “advice” is so damn hard to act on when you’re in the scarcity trap. I highly recommend giving this podcast a listen or a read so you can better understand your friends who are in a tunnel- whether it’s money, companionship, time, babies, or world peace that they are finding in seriously short supply. Or perhaps it will help you better understand yourself, as it did for me.

This post was originally published at <http://offbeathome.com/obsession-with-become-a-parent/&gt;. The end of the aforementioned podcast does give some suggestions for how to get oneself out of a so called scarcity trap. I found it incredible how for me just listening to this podcast and being able to acknowledge my situation proved to be a light in this tunnel. I had to share this in hopes that others would find it just as helpful!