Writings

So small…

I went out to a Halloween party several weeks ago. I was dressed like Nicolas Cage from National Treasure, but that’s a story for another day.

At one point we landed at a bar that was packed with people. I was standing next to a bunch of friends at the bar, and behind me was a group of people sitting at tables. It was so tight that a waitress could barely squeeze through. Although I wasn’t the cause of her issue I caught myself saying to the waitress, “I’m so sorry.”

The week prior I had hung out with some of my girlfriends. One friend was telling us that her daughter mentioned that mommy says sorry too much. We made a vow at that hang out to catch ourselves when we were saying sorry for things we didn’t need to. Ever since that vow I have started noticing how small I made myself over the last few years.

We were part of a church where (for some reason) we never talked about anything related to politics. No, I’m not talking about who to vote for, or saying crazy things from the pulpit. I’m talking about blatantly obvious inequalities that people who care about loving others should give some thought to. If you never question your own privilege, and if you never learn to have empathy for others – can you ever really grow as a person? I don’t think you can.

Del was a pastor at a church for a little while. We had a congregant who posted something horrific on social media. It was both inaccurate and inappropriate. Del did what he thought was right and gently corrected the person. That person then proceeded to leave the church. I thought we were somehow keeping ourselves safe by making sure we never upset those around us. If I just stay quiet enough, if I hold in my own truth, I won’t bother others and then I can keep myself safe. It’s a tactic that probably worked for some point in my life.

I gave birth in 2020. Yes, it was a pandemic. Yes, it was a very difficult time for many people. But do you know how many people from our church staff checked on us? It was exactly zero. I had stayed so quiet to keep people around, and no one came anyways.

In 2021 I started getting our tax information together. The day I was doing our taxes I also drove into town and saw a line of homeless people waiting to get food. I pulled up online how much money we had donated to our church over the years. It was a lot. Then I asked myself a very important question. Stephanie, what are you doing to feed people in need? And I answered to myself, “nothing.”

For almost a decade I stayed complacent and gave money to support a building of people. I stayed quiet when I should have spoken up because I thought it would help me build relationships.

I was wrong.

I am working on no longer staying small when I can use my voice to speak up. Science matters. People of color matter. Women are important. We need to support the LGBTQIA+ community. And the model of churches in the United States is not serving people with the greatest need.

We stopped tithing that amount of money. Instead we started giving to others. Organizations that feed people. Missionaries that are doing great work. Places that support the arts. Friends and family in need. And good people we know who are building a new church.

Saying I’m sorry for things that don’t need an apology is a habit I’m trying to break. But I am sorry that I stayed small for so long. Sorry to people that needed a voice. I apologize for supporting organizations that were detrimental to many. I will do the work to be better. But mostly – I’m sorry to myself for not being the truest version of who I am. I am starting to voice my own needs and boundaries.

Staying small stops now.

What healthcare is like right now

This is my own perspective, and does not represent my employer.
I have been seeing COVID posts and COVID vaccine posts shared by those not in health care. I am NOT a frontline employee. I work in data as support staff. From where I sit, this is what has occurred in healthcare since the pandemic began.

COVID hit. Healthcare workers became heroes. Frontline nurses and doctors died, got sick, and many worked 12+ hour days helping patients in need. Cleaning staff worked diligently to maintain any spread. Some hospitals had to shut down non-critical services, which resulted in layoffs. Support staff worked extra hours to decrease the burden of the shortage. Supplies ran out. No masks. Few ventilators. Eventually, the first wave ended.

An entire testing and lab ordering system was built up with amazing speed. New treatments emerged, and we hoped for a slow down. Data and dashboard tracking arrived. Non-critical services re-opened. But a second wave hit. This time, fewer patients seemed to die. However, nurses and docs were called to the rescue again. Vaccine development was pushed. The second wave slowed.

And a third wave rolled in. Treatments were better, lab results faster. Yet, nurses, docs, and support staff were called on again. But this time, they were getting tired and burned out. Nursing is largely female, and  many nurses are mothers. It was impossible for many to maintain work, family, and the stress of remote education. Doctoring is already a stressful position. A third wave made the stress worse. The health care workforce started to dwindle. Hospital beds stayed full. Outpatient areas stayed busy. Thankfully, vaccines became authorized for emergency use! We started to rejoice at the thought of science overcoming COVID. And again – the wave started to subside.

Things were calm for a minute as people made their choice on getting vaccinated. Vaccines brought needed joy to a burdened workforce. But then health care had to make a difficult choice.

Many patients refused treatment if their healthcare provider wasn’t vaccinated. Yet, some (15-30%ish) of healthcare workers weren’t ready yet. Health care started requiring the vaccine.

The mandated vaccine caused a lot of tough discussions. Some healthcare workers got the vaccine because they had to. Some refused for their religion. Some protested, saying they felt their freedom to choose was infringed upon. Others who were vaccinated got upset. They didn’t want to work with people that wouldn’t get vaccinated. Some patients were grateful to know their healthcare provider was vaccinated. Other patients were upset a vaccine was mandated.

Hospital floors lost more staff. Outpatient areas called agencies begging for nurses. But there are no nurses left. Doctors are exhausted, burned out, and tired. A crisis looms.

And now – the fourth wave is hitting. Floors are full of patients as healthcare struggles to maintain a grip on a hellish pandemic. Some supplies are dwindling again. Ventilators are being counted in case they run out. Capacity is full.

I share this not to scare anyone, but the reality is hard. Right now, healthcare needs your love, kindness, and support. It is needed now more than ever.

If you want to help, spread kindness, and do all you can to maintain your health. If you know a Frontline staff worker, thank them and just listen. They need you, and they need us.

Divorce, perfection, and recovery?

It’s been a while since I got divorced. Ten years? It was certainly a life ago.

I think about what my life would have been like if I stayed married. The thought doesn’t last long because I’m certain I’d not have made it. “Unalived” is what the TikTok algorithm accepts.

I’m breastfeeding Georgia, and writing this on my phone. I see my blonde haired, blue eyed daughters twirl around me. Del rubbed my feet last night, and took care of our household when I got glutened today. I have the most boring, domesticated, uninteresting life – and I enjoy that tremendously.

Yet I was feeling this twinge of anger about the past, as the anniversary of my first marriage twirled around. Not jealousy, and I certainly don’t miss whatever that life would have been. I still felt guilty that I never pressed charges, stopped him, or spoke up sooner. If something happens next who is to blame? It feels like a bad person got away with something terrible.

I talked through my sadness with my therapist. I shared the history, the trauma, and where I’m at today.

“But if he never apologized, and if he hasn’t changed – he has to live with himself.”

I’ve lived with this thought for a few days. What is it like to live carrying the weight of many terrible things? Do you hate yourself, hate everyone else, or just live indifferent to the world? What would it be like to not care about anything?

That felt overwhelmingly empty. My greatest joys in life are the people I love, and the people I share my life with. But then I moved to the next step in my path.

“When did you know it wasn’t going to work?” my therapist asked.

“I knew the moment he proposed. But I just kept going because I was worried if I didn’t I’d let so many people down. I was just trying to be so perfect.”

I struggle with perfectionism. I believe that if I fail, am too difficult, or cause too much trouble – I am unlovable. I try to stay small, be self sufficient, and come to people only after my problems are solved. This has created a ridiculous amount of overachieving. If I am great at everything, I will get approval – right? President of this, VP of yadda, yadda, volunteer of the millennial.

How lonely is that? How long have I lived trying to hold it all together, when crumbling would be so nice for a change. Let some other over achiever deal with it, right? The world is burning from so many things. I’m exhausted from COVID, four years of terrible politics, people that deny inequality, and so much more. Wouldn’t it be better to share that grief together?

I diverge from this point. Anniversaries have passed. I’m trying to examine my own life. This recovering perfectionist is trying to start falling apart. There’s nothing to get right in this season. I’m getting away from leading the group projects, and just want to ride on someone else’s coattails. For now, I’m just want to exist for a while. I’m just going to spend some time falling apart. Want to come with me?

On knowing it all…

The weird part about working with data is that you get to know a lot of things. Someone once asked me the hardest part about working in analytics. I told her the greatest challenge was that you often had “the answers”, but few people were willing to listen.

With time, experience, and many failures I learned that it was never my data – it was me. Why would a room full of doctors just listen to me? Because I have analyst in my title? Because my bar charts are formatted well? Because I have a certain degree from a certain school?

A few weeks ago some friends told me about our acquaintance “Jill” who was going to be teaching people how to evangelize. If you’re not familiar, evangelism is (essentially) trying to convert someone to become a Christian.

After we found out this information our group of friends sat silently with a pregnant pause. Jill is educated, with tons of experience. Jill may be a terrific theologian. But then we all thought about our interactions with her. When I think of some of my top ten hurts, she has two in the top ten. She can be mean, judgemental, and a know-it-all (as a fellow know-it-all – we can spot our own).

The saying is true. We don’t care how much Jill knows, because she doesn’t seem to care about us at all.

I’ll probably never be a famous theologian, and I don’t quite have the raw charisma to turn the masses. But I know Jesus invited Zachias down from a tree, and asked him to hang out. And when others treated children as annoying, Jesus invited them to come in.

Did Jesus ask children their worldview? Did He make kids memorize every religious text? Did He tell them about the evils of drums or guitars in church?

I’ve seldom felt close to God sitting in the pews of church. I hate standing and singing because it all feels like a production to me. I have attended church 30+ years mostly out of guilt.

When I think back on my experiences within Church, I always learned the most when I got to teach children in Sunday School. I find more truth in the simplicity of kid’s lessons than I ever have from the complexity of people defining Greek words from Exodus.

My daughter’s understanding of Jesus seems the most honest and true of all. She knows Jesus loves her no matter what, and she knows He died for her. I have never understood why we need to make it more complicated than that? The faith of a child is the most beautiful thing.

We add mission statements and complex phrases. We yell at each other over stupid policies. But sometimes it feels like screaming into the wind. I really don’t know how much Jesus would care about these trivial fights. Maybe some theologians like Jill do have it all right, and I’m just a little heretic writing a silly blog?

But I know in my heart that I still care and pray for the children I had the privilege of teaching in Sunday School. I remember the blonde haired blue-eyed little kid I got to meet when he was eight months old. I remember holding him and telling him that he was so loved. It’s fantastic seeing some of the same kids grow into amazing people. I pray life is good to them.

I presented some data on COPD at work the other day. My data was good. But when I started to imagine the people behind the numbers it made me start to cry.

In front of the room I said, “here’s all the data, but someone I know very close to me has COPD and here’s what she struggles with…” I can tell you the numbers, but I can also tell you about these wonderful humans I learned from. With that moment of humanity the room turned. A new project started, and ideas turned into actions.

No one cared how much I knew until they realized how much I cared. And when we don’t care about others why should they bother to listen to us at all?

The rocking chair

I rocked my daughter to sleep tonight. She sat cradled in my arms, and we sang together.

“Rock a bye baby, on the tree top …”

Our rocking chair creeks and we sway forward and back.

“Rock” – creek – “a bye” – creek – “baby” creek…

And the right arm is broken.

“On” – wobble – “the” – wobble “tree” – wobble…

The chair was a gift, handed down from when my parents moved from my childhood home. I remember the chair sitting in a corner of my parent’s bedroom. The slider door on the left, and the chair on the right.

I remember the last time I was rocked. My legs ached from growing pains. My mom held me and rocked me until the pain subsided.

And I remember the chair in pieces. The arm on the floor. A crack where it was once afixed to the seat. He broke it the day of the big fight. And after that, things were different.

When we came home from going away the chair was glued back together. But the image of it in pieces is fused in my mind.

I thought about not taking the chair. But the idealist took over. “A loving home can make it right!” I thought enough rocks could ease the painful memories.

It hasn’t though. I rock, and it creaks. And instead of taking me back to a place of peace, I go back to hiding under the pool table. And instead of seeing my daughter’s face, I see shards of wood strewn across the floor.

My husband tried to fix the arm. But the glue wouldn’t stick. I lean forward, and the wobble gets worse. I know one day I’ll lean hard enough and it will totally break.

I hate that chair. I stare at it, and see that no amount of love can fix it.

Wayfair had a sale. Rocking chairs – 50% off. I put it on the credit card. It will be here in a few days.

Maybe I’ll regret it. But no one else asked for the chair. No one has else tried to keep it. We tried to glue it all together and it all fell apart.

When the new one comes, I’m not sure what we’ll do. A fire? A baseball bat? A slow dismantle and tears? A simple move to the basement? I just don’t know.

All I know is that I can’t look at it anymore. And in a few days, I won’t have to.

COVID killed my life

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. I promise there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

Of course, COVID has killed almost 200,000 Americans. The level of life that has been lost is unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced. This virus has also killed jobs and industries. I drove by our movie theater last night to see it totally shuttered. I’m not sure how many restaurants will not make it out of this pandemic, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. COVID killed off relationships and school ties. It’s hard to calculate the greater risk. Do I see an old relative and risk spreading an illness? Or do I wait and wonder if it’s my last chance to see them?

COVID kills. But what if COVID also helped kill things in a good way?

Before COVID I let my stress levels get high from taking on too much responsibility. I was so busy, and it kind of sucked. I would come home and dread seeing my family because my emotional energy was depleted from meaningless tasks.

Before COVID I didn’t love the mother I was. I wanted to look at Carly and feel joy, but I didn’t feel anything. I hated how much I didn’t feel anything.

Thankfully, COVID killed the excess things I did not know I did not need.

You can’t be stressed out from volunteering when you can’t volunteer. You can’t be stressed out from too many meetings, when there are no meetings to attend.

After COVID hit, I spent less time on tasks that were not fulfilling my soul or helping my family. I spent more time surrounded by my daughters and my husband. For the first few weeks I felt utterly trapped. But as time went on and the quarantine continued to stretch, a new light flickered inside me.

Thanks to COVID (and 25 mg of Zoloft) I started feeling rested again. Renewed joy sparked inside of me. Instead of feeling stressed out all the time I felt relaxed. I hadn’t felt relaxed – honestly – ever in my entire life. My husband told me he has never seen me like this, and I’m certain he hasn’t.

When I had no choice but to stop taking on excess responsibility I was finally free from the things that I let weigh me down.

Of course I realize my privilege here. I’m privileged to be able to work remotely and have childcare available. I’m privileged to have a spouse who splits our household division flavor. Our family stress has waned while I’m certain there are many who are under much greater duress.

And don’t get me wrong. My anxiety over being pregnant and potentially getting COVID was remarkably high. But what pregnant woman/new mom wouldn’t be a little more stressed out right now?

My maternity leave ended, and I went back to work this week. I’m working with my husband and my therapist to make sure I keep my stress levels down. For the first time in my career I’ve started taking breaks. I work for a while, actually take lunches, and stop to pick up the girls and cuddle them for a few minutes. Then I go back to remote work.

Life has forever changed for us. I don’t know what a new normal will be, and I don’t think our old ways will ever return. How do you live through a pandemic and come out unchanged?

For all of the negatives this virus has brought us, it is not without many positives. I can see many lights shining in this darkness. Like Noah’s raven I can see the water starting to recede.

COVID killed my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by I’m not thankful for it. I have emerged from this renewed, refreshed, and reborn. The drowning waters have subsided, and my life is beginning anew.

The Hypervigilante

If I were a super hero, I’d be “The Hypervigilante.” My power would be seeing every detail, pointing out potential issues, and making the world a ‘perfect’ place. A hallmark of PTSD is living your life on guard. Once upon a time in Gotham city, the Joker invaded your life and took away your sense of safety. Now, you spend every day in a high state of escalation.

Noticing everything has made me amazing at so many things. I’m great with data details, which helped me escalate in my profession. I specialize in possible sources of gluten contamination, which is why I don’t get glutened very often. “Did that bread touch my salad?! Take it away!”

Yet I am exhausted most of the time. It’s the little switch I struggle to turn off. I jokingly say, “I live life at a 10.” The sentence I don’t say after is, “Because I don’t know how to live life at a 5.”

In the age of a pandemic, my super power came in handy at first. I could see every threat better than most, and as a result I kept my family safe. However, as March stretched into April, and now July goes into August – life at a 10 is taking its toll.

What makes this stage of my life unique, is that I’m now no longer alone in my vigilance. As COVID has killed 150,000 in our country, many other Americans are also living life at a heightened state with me. We question our grocery store trips, getting our hair done, what to do for child care, and whether we should try to dine out for the first time in months.

Talking to my mother-in-law I said, “I’m use to living in this state, and I’m exhausted. So I can only imagine how exhausted everyone else is.” I’ve spent a lot of time explaining PTSD to people. After living through this pandemic together, I’ll never have to explain trauma to people again. We are living through this thing together.

Out of thin air we lost so much. Doctors and presidential candidates were taken. The memories we wanted to create were stolen. Grandparents have yet to meet their new grand child, graduates never got to celebrate their accomplishment, and weddings were moved to backyards instead of dining halls. It’s sad. It’s exhausting. And we’re all tired together. This way of living cannot subsist for much longer.

We were meant to be social creatures, embracing each other’s company. For some time we can embrace life at home. But slowly, the embrace is feeling like a choke hold.

“If only everyone would wear a mask!” I scream in my head.

“Stay six feet away from me and my children.” I whisper to myself when anyone comes near.

“If only the nation had better leaders who could wrangle us together!” I shout to my husband.

If only we could all be vigilant for a few weeks, instead of this dragging on for months.

If only … If only… If only…

Until then, my practical prayers have turned to asking for miracles, and my hypervigilance stays on track until exhaustion wins over. The hypervigilante stands on guard. Trying to keep my family safe.

Welcome to the world Georgia Quinn.

We woke up at 5:00 a.m. like we typically do. The night before I was in quite a bit of pain. Del and I were in the middle of arguing about nothing, and every time he’d state his case the baby would make a sharp move that caused me to cringe. “She seems to only be moving when I say what I think,” he joked.

On my morning walk I started timing my contractions. Braxton Hicks seems to be something that my body loves (although I’m not as big of a fan). The week prior I thought I was going into labor because I was having contractions three minutes apart for an hour – and then they just stopped. But from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., they went from every eight minutes or so, down to seven, then ranged between four to six minutes.

Around 7:00 a.m. I told Del to pack the car. We had a 9:00 a.m. check up with my obstetrician, so we were weighing whether to go to the hospital’s labor floor or go to the doctor’s appointment. We opted to go to the doctor’s appointment early.

Del’s mom has been watching Carly, and she came over at 8:00 a.m. I wasn’t sure if I was really in labor or if it was Braxton Hicks. But at one point Del was taking a very long time to pack something in the car. Instinctually I yelled, “You need to hurry up because we have to go!”

On the walk into the obstetrician’s office I had to stop walking when I had a contraction. When they did the COVID screening at the front door they asked if I needed a wheelchair. Every woman was giving me the look of “Girl, you’re in labor.”

My obstetrician did the normal checkup. He checked to see how dilated and effaced I was and said, “No change since last week.” In that moment I thought Braxton Hicks was going to drive me to insanity. Then a contraction hit me, and my obstetrician said “I was just kidding. You are five cm dilated and we’re admitting you right now.”

They wheeled me to the labor floor. They got the usual IVs going and did all the paperwork. And then my body took over.

After 45 minutes I told our nurse that within the next three contractions I was going to deliver the baby. I told her to call our doctor now and get him in here.

I did one more contraction and knew I was closer. I did another and I knew I was closer still. I asked her to check whether I was at 10 cm, and she said with one more contraction I probably would be. The last contraction took hold and the doctor walked in. He checked me over and said, “You’re ready to have this baby.”

From the time the doctor walked in to the time he left – it took nineteen minutes. I pushed twice. Before I pushed the first time they did a quick reminder of what I had to do. I repeated it back and gave it everything I had. While pushing out I let out a gigantic scream. To which the doctor replied, “You held that note a long time.” I waited for the next contraction to hit and then did one more amazing push.

Georgia Quinn Belcher came into this world at 11:09am. She is perfect. Dark hair, silver eyes, and my chin.

They handed her to me and she breastfed right away. My greatest fear is that she would not eat well, and God decided to settle that for me right away. Its a gift for which I’ll always be grateful.

Through this experience I learned how amazing my body is. I told everyone my due date of July 2nd was wrong and I was going to give birth sooner. I was right.

When I doubted whether my Braxton Hicks were real contractions, my instincts took over and told Del to pack the car faster.

When they asked if I wanted pain meds I said no. First of all, I’m not sure they could have gotten them to me fast enough. Second, my body told me I could do this. I went through 10+ years of severe neck pain. I knew I could handle a few hours of labor.

I knew she’d be there in three contractions and she was.

I knew I could push her out quickly and I did.

My body has a history of trauma. Trauma from others, trauma from accidents. Sometimes I’m frustrated at my high cortisol levels and the fact that I feel everything. However, all of those moments led me to this one. They have put me so in touch with my body that my labor was nothing short of a very fast miracle (Why have a meeting that could have been an email?).

Once again God made a beautiful thing out of me.

Welcome to the world Georgia Quinn Belcher. Our down to earth queen. The fifth in a line of amazing George’s. You will take hold of this world and make it better. You will be fast and furious, and your father and I can’t wait to help you get there.