Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's okay to struggle with Mother's Day

On Mother's Day in 2012, I sat in a pew towards the front of our chapel with Tyler, anticipating a beautiful meeting full of tributes to mothers and women alike. I was familiar with the Latter-day Saint custom of celebrating womanhood on this day each year, usually accompanied by a flower or some chocolates for every woman and did not think it a problem to do so.

I had been keeping the strong face for the last 5 months after two miscarriages and 4 years of infertility. I had blogged so much about how I knew I was a mother, how I had held my deceased children and knew that I would hold them again. At this point, I did not know if I would ever hold a newborn baby in this life, with the accompanying joys and sorrows of raising children. I was focusing on my present life: my job as a counselor, my church calling of teaching and loving the young 8-year-olds in our congregation, my role as a wife and daughter and sister.

So you could say I was totally unprepared for the floodgates to open and the silent sobs that literally racked my body as the meeting progressed. I was strong. My experiences had taught me. But my hope was frail and I knew I had to accept the possibility of being infertile or my body spontaneously aborting pregnancies for the rest of my life.

All of my dreams of motherhood, broken and possibly broken, weighed on me. And so I sobbed.

I was sitting in the front. Walking out of the meeting would cause even more of a commotion than just sitting there, my face buried in Tyler's shoulder, his arm around my shuttering frame.

Anyone who saw me in that moment knew exactly why I was crying. This beautiful group of people had mourned with us when we mourned our losses. They had brought the meals and the cards and the tears with our loss of our last pregnancy at 20 weeks.

It was such a vulnerable moment. I couldn't hide anything. I was in the middle of a struggle. And while I didn't want anyone's pity, I accepted the compassion I received.

And so my point is this. It is okay to struggle with Mother's Day. For any reason. Whether you are without children or have no desire to have children or have lost children; whether you have struggles with your own mom or lack of a mom or the children that you DO have. It's okay.

I don't believe the day should be done away with because it presents pain to many. I honor the day that honors a group of women for the gifts they continually give. I also honor the women who stay away from social media and Hallmark commercials and church because of the pain that racks their souls, too.

If it is a happy Mother's Day for you, I am so glad and rejoice with you. If it is a hard Mother's Day, or a sad Mother's Day, or a continual struggle Mother's Day, I am thinking of you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Children Here and There

November 13th has come again,slipping its way into my heart and tears. It doesn't matter how calloused or indifferent I feel the day before, when Truman's birthday arrives, my heart opens and I allow myself to feel. Feel love. Feel sorrow and loss. Feel gratitude that I had the opportunity to see the physical bodies of two precious children I created before I got to hold sweet, alive, breathing Claira Jane. The tragedies make the miracles sweeter.

Just now, as I tucked Claira under blankets for her nap and settled onto my own bed for scripture study, the baby boy who is due around Christmas startled my belly, reminding me that life is about to change. Again. I went into his almost prepared nursery and carefully retrieved his brother Truman's box from the top shelf.

The box. It's this holding place for memories and dreams, both the broken and the realized. I'm extremely attached to the contents of this box, as well as protective of it. It's basically Truman's graveside, as we chose not to have him buried, but rather cremated by the hospital. The contents include pictures of our sweet boy, the teddy bear, hat, and blanket his was given by an organization hoping to aid the grieving parents of miscarried and stillborn children, the tape measure the nurses used to decipher all 9 inches of his mortal frame, hand and foot prints, and plaster of paris castings of his hands and his feet.

Our boy. Our hope after a previous early birth of a deceased baby and two years of infertility. Our hope in a box. Our dreams at an end and yet somehow a beginning, too. I will forever recall the hallowed space, the reverence of the staff, the cold feel of Truman's skin, his bruised, darkened, beautiful face. His fingernails and serene look, his eyebrows and delicate nose. The box captures all of this for me. I can open it up to feel it all anew, and I can close it to hold it for now.

And then there are the quilts. Sterling's quilt hangs on our wall. I finished it within weeks of his birth. But Truman's quilt, I can't seem to finish it. A part of me isn't ready to. Another part of me is just a busy mom who deals with tantrums and diapers and a house that always needs a good cleaning. And another part knows that the tree represented in the quilt is still growing, still changing. I chose thirteen different green fabrics for the 135 leaves on the tree, 135 days Truman spent with us. The roots on the tree are deeper now than even than. Life is eternal. The separation of life and death, sky and ground, beg for explanation to the what-ifs, whys, and if-onlys. And yet there is contentment and peace, too, a circle of understanding that words and thoughts don't explain.

My sweet children, I am ever learning what it means to be your eternal mother.  You have changed me forever.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Daughters, Moms, & Grandmas

My eternal and wonderful grandma has been extremely sick for the last few days, only now leaving the hospital to continue care at a rehabilitation center. Grandma Billington's health has never been superb in her later years. I wondered if I would see her again in this life when I left for my mission to South African 10 years ago.

Grandma gave me my nickname, Sundy Lynn Sunshine, which, up until the second grade, I understood to be my given name. I came home from school and told my mom that I was the only person in the second grade class with four initials. Only then did I learn that the Sunshine part was bestowed upon me by my favorite person, Grandma B.

As I've watched my own mother become a grandma to Claira (and my mother-in-love, too!), I thrill at the prospect of Claira getting her very own "Grandma Billington." My childhood was full of grandma moments--my strongest, brightest memories include her baking, reading, playing with me. I can smell the smell of her basement, her grandma "scent," her famous cookies and desserts--all in an instant I am taken to the golden days of no cares except that I was with Grandma. Grandma made me feel that I was the most important person in her world.

These memories have come back in flashes that bring the nostalgia to current tears and gulps of how treasured my relationship is with her. As I was talking to Grandma this morning, she told me that I was good mom. I told her that I had a good mom, who learned from a good mom. That prompted her to say that she had made her mistakes, that we all do, and that we have to remember that we are doing the best we can.

I believe that now more than I ever have.So much of my graduate program in counseling focused on figuring out my own hangups during childhood. Indeed, I had several hard conversations with my parents, my mom specifically, about painful wounds on both sides of that relationship. I needed to speak my truth about my experiences about childhood from an adult perspective. I count those conversations with my mom as sacred in my life because whether or not she saw the experiences the same way, she allowed me to speak. I spoke and was released.

I'm a mom to Claira now. And we have entered into a new phase of relationship, one where she experiences the world as an independent soul that has an opinion on everything. The day in and out of this experience--being Claira's one and only mother--will surely bring me to my knees, again and again. It already has. I know I am doing the best that I can. Good moms often feel like bad mom because we want to be the perfect, consistent parents that exist in parenting books and blogs. But I can't be that for Claira. I can be me, and I will be enough. And for the days that she will need a consistent sense of unconditional love that never need discipline or say no more candy, she will have Grandma.

I love my daughter. I love my mom. I love my grandma. The true sunshine of love will continue through generations of women who do and did the best they know how. It's more than enough.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Shoes, Cars, and Prayers

I got a little bit of a frantic voicemail from my mom a couple of weeks back. She had seen a status update I'd posted on Facebook and was concerned that I wasn't okay. The quote was as follows:

"God's answers to our prayers do not always come immediately--sometimes they appear to not come at all.... Assuredly, one day we will see more clearly; and on that day we will recognize the goodness and generosity of heaven." -Dieter F. Uchtdorf

My mom thought I was feeling discouraged. I wasn't. I was feeling blessed, looking back on the last 6 years of my life and seeing the goodness and generosity of heaven.

I don't blog as often as I did when it felt like none of our family dreams were coming true. I wanted to share my struggle. I knew that others could relate to lost opportunities and heartbreaking grief. Rather than pulling inward, I reached outward. It felt good to be open, vulnerable.

Here I am, 2 years into the "dream" of Tyler getting into medical school. Claira is 17 months old, with lunch on her face and light in her eyes. We are expecting another baby boy in December, one that we will get to raise in the flesh. We have the dreams we prayed for, cried for, fought like lions for.

Ain't it crazy how quickly new challenges arise and new struggles come to replace the old ones. My prayers have been answered. I feel firm in my commitment to be at home with my children because I once thought I wouldn't get that opportunity. With that opportunity comes pretty much poverty, no car to drive, and day after day of changing Claira' (you were expecting diapers, right? No prob. Diapers are simple. That girl is in love with all shoes--hers, mine, Ty's, strangers--). I changed Claira's shoes 17 times yesterday.

Claira's shoes are her freedom. She knows that to go outside, on a walk, on any adventure, she needs her shoes. She refuses to take them off for naps, and this morning I discovered that she slept in her shoes all night. She is a fierce protector of her freedom.

Our car was my freedom before Tyler's 3rd year of school started. For the last 6 years, in this one car family, I had the car. Tyler was so good to always take public transportation. I enjoyed drop-offs, pick-ups, and going everywhere together at the same time. It felt so noble to me that we could "do it all" with one car.

Since June, when T's rotations started, I have been car-less. Granted, I have a fantastic friend who is gracious to pick me up and take me anywhere, a cousin close by, and countless people from church who have offered rides AND their cars. Still, I am dependent. My freedom is limited.

Today I was determined to get Claira a new pair :). She only has three pair that barely fit, so athletic shoes have been on my mind. I google mapped Burlington Coat Factory and discovered it was only a 15 minutes walk. But 15 minutes over a freeway. A freeway with construction on a busy, busy road. But like I said, I was determined. And so was Claira.

I prayed on the way there for safety. While I still felt nervous and the noise was deafening, we made it to the store, FOUND SHOES!! (I have been looking for awhile now in our price range), and started back home.

As I neared the scariest part of the trip, where the cars are turning right onto the freeway with all the construction lanes blocked off, I plowed forward with the stroller, praying again. A man in construction gear with a stop sign approached me (he hadn't been there before) and directed me to wait while he stopped the cars that were ignoring my "okay to walk" sign.

He stepped out into oncoming traffic and the cars stopped. I burst into tears.Yes, I am pregnant; tears are a given daily. But it was another moment when I know that my prayers are answered. I may feel alone and scared, but God answers prayers and He knows where I'm at. Every day. When I see clearly, the generosity and goodness of heaven take my breath away. We'll manage with one car, one pair of shoes, one chance at living with joy daily.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Months fly

It is cliche because it is the truth; time flies. I haven't blogged because I've been fully engaged in mommy and wife land. And while some women can successfully blog about their daily adventures, I can't seem to balance everything with such grace.

Looking back on the last 5 and a half months, the kaleidoscope of blessings and challenges mixes into a patchwork of which pictures can only do justice:

Our girl turned one in March. She started walking at 13 months. She has practically all of her teeth. She is just as obsessed with eating grapefruit as she is with dancing, raising her arms and twirling to anything with a beat. She is an early riser, like around 5 am. She just learned to pull her diaper off. She melts me on a daily basis.

Oh, how I thank my Heavenly King for all the things you are, Claira Jane.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Miracles in Small Packages

My last mission companion in South Africa was a petite Angolan woman named Laura. We only spent six weeks serving together in Three Rivers. Funny how little time it takes to find a connection that lasts eternally. Laura is wise and kind. She is funny, hard working, and does not give up. Ever.

How do I know all of this after only six weeks of serving? The 24/7 thing helps, as did her grace when someone investigating the church told us we would not be allowed back because Laura's skin was darker than the woman's husband liked being in their home. I can still feel the sting of indignation in my heart and how Laura quietly lowered her eyes, bringing them up again with love.

But six weeks was just the beginning. A year or so after moving to Portland with Tyler, I was Facebook chatting and found out that Laura had a sponsor and had moved to the Utah to complete a degree in medicine. She was living in a tiny room of someone's house and had no car, few friends, and limited income. Even though I was away, I knew my parents and family would fall in love with Laura immediately and arranged for them to have Thanksgiving together (Have you ever met my generous parents? Come in, sit down, and let Bob and Nancy offer you some homemade grape juice and some delicious baked goods).

Soon Laura moved in with my family and spent several years there. I can't tell you how many opportunities Laura had to give up on her dream of getting an education. Language struggles (when she went to South Africa, she spoke/understood NO English, just Portuguese) made comprehension of math and science challenging. Visa problems, extreme health problems, home sickness, a lack of resources, changing schools, changing degrees, the list goes on and on. Just when one setback was overcome, another loomed in its place.

It's really not my story to tell, all the struggles and miracles Laura experienced while here, but I am grateful I got a glimpse of her miraculous determination to keep going through all of it. Laura graduates from BYU-Idaho this month with a hard-earned, well-deserved bachelor's in Information Technology. She will be moving home to Angola where her sisters and their families are waiting for her, as they have been for years.

I had the privilege of seeing Laura one last time, as she ironically came one last time to my parents for Thanksgiving. She had yet to see my greatest miracle in a small package:

(Thank you for the darling dress, Laura!)

As we chatted at my in-loves' home, I asked her what the best thing about coming to the States had been for her, in the midst of all the trials. "You know," she paused, "I think it was that every time I thought I couldn't do it any more, someone came."

Someone came. Lots of someones came through. They could not help themselves. They looked into the eyes of a woman who has known pain from her earliest days, when her country was always at war and she could hear the bombs each night. They saw this tiny package of a woman who carried a bundle of faith and hope and charity bigger than her challenges. And they paved paths that she was willing to climb.

Laura looked tired to me this last time, as she should. But her eyes are still bright. Her soul is light. I thank the Lord for this small angel.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Real Mothers Use Formula

It's 5:34 in the morning. I've been up thinking since 3:55, when Claira let out her third bout of cries for the night. It's only been since her 6 month appointment a month and a half ago that I have gotten a straight 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. Thank goodness for teething to remind me that I have many sleepless nights in my future.

Like I said, I've been thinking. Thinking about my life post Claira's birth. I haven't blogged nearly as often now that I take care of an infant. But today I blog about motherhood, motherhood post-Claira's birth. It actually isn't any different of a feeling than pre-Claira's birth.

I remember an afternoon several years ago when my friend came to visit with her three year old son. I was trying to thank my friend for including me in all her social gatherings, where everyone present had children of their own. As I spoke, my emotions got in the way and I could barely make out the words, "I feel like a mother...."Cooper, the three year old, who had been playing with cars on the floor, looked up at me and with piercing eyes and an empowered tone exclaimed, "You ARE a mother!"

Cooper knew what Sherri Dew knows: "Our motherhood began before we were born." I can honestly say that I feel no different in terms of my worth as a mother after having Claira than before I had her. I simply have always been a mother. I believe that every woman is a mother. Thus, the loss of children, born or unborn, is a great and heart-wrenching burden.

The night before leaving the hospital with Claira, I was informed that she was losing weight too quickly and my milk supply was not giving her the nutrition she needed. I was told I would need to supplement her diet. It took several moments for my mind to register what the nurse was saying. My heart seemed to know immediately, though. I would be introducing my baby girl to formula. I burst into tears. I had been to the OB for three different pregnancies where I was always asked, "Will you be breastfeeding your baby?" When I applied in the affirmative, I always received the response, "That's wonderful! Breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby."

It was somewhere in the middle of that long night that I recognized my motherhood again, as Claira cried in hunger, and I relented to giving her some donor breast milk. She needed nutrition, and even if that meant not receiving it from my body, she would receive in any way I could find. I left the hospital with my bloodshot eyes from my body laboring her here and my heart laboring over the uncertainty of her future. It felt like a matter of life and death to me. We left with 16 ounces of donor milk in hopes that my milk would come in soon. Donor milk was $3.50 an ounce. I knew we couldn't keep up this habit.

It turns out that many women who experience infertility issues also experience low milk supply. This surprised me, as I remember my milk coming in with Truman. During the first 2 weeks with Claira, I was a hormonal disaster and realized that I would never, ever, be able to give all that she needed. I remember driving to my neighbors to pick up some extra formula, feeling like I had let down my daughter and all of the medical community who had helped me try to get more milk. Herbal supplements, around the clock pumping, constant feedings. My milk never "came in" as I hoped, but I was able to combination feed her for her first 4 months. I see small time period as a gift.

Grief makes joy brighter.  My life with Claira now? Joy that leaves me in tears. When her hand reaches out to touch my face. When she leans over to catch my eyes and smile from across the room. When she surrenders to sleep in my arms. When she jumps in her jumper like she'd determined to hit the ceiling. When she kisses her reflection in the mirror. It is in these moments that I remember that I am a real mother, I always have been, and real mothers sacrifice whatever it may be--their dream of nursing their babies, the incredulous looks of other mothers when they see her bottle and wonder if it is truly possible that it might be f.o.r.m.u.l.a.--to keep their children healthy and growing strong.

Real mothers exist without having to prove themselves with natural births (which I just so happened to do, and I don't think I love Claira any more than I would have otherwise), without having extensive training in child development (which I also happen to have, and still don't have a clue what I'm doing most of the time), with or without fancy baby clothes and gadgets (let's face it, we are broke).

Yes, real mothers feed their babies formula.