Writings

Maternity pictures

It has been very strange being pregnant the last few months. A pandemic, protests, a continent on fire, and so much more I’m simply forgetting in this moment.

To be honest, it’s scary thinking about giving birth mid-pandemic. I worry that in my last few weeks I may get sick, and have to be separated from a newborn. Our family has gone to great lengths to stay safe. We’ve bought all of our food online, we haven’t hung out at anyone’s house, and we’re wearing masks wherever we go. If you had told me in 2020 we would be living through a pandemic I’m not sure I would have believed you. I studied the Spanish flu in school, never thinking I’d see parallels of it in my own lifetime.

We have also been incredibly fortunate in many ways. Del and I have both been able to work from home. At work I’ve been thrust into data on the pandemic. It’s both stressful and fascinating. Del’s parents moved to Jackson right before the pandemic hit. Grammy has been able to watch Carly since schools and daycares are closed. I’m incredibly grateful for this extra time we have had with family.

Tomorrow I’ll be 38 weeks pregnant. I got Carly out of bed today and sat with her. I looked at her and cried, thinking that it wasn’t long before she was no longer our only child. I’m going to miss all of the time we had with just her. Thank you Carly for teaching me how to be a mommy. You are more than I ever dreamed.

Yet, we’re also incredibly excited for our second child to come into this world. I’m sure there will be difficult times, but I know there were also be so much joy. Who doesn’t love baby snuggles?

Like we were able to do with Carly, my talented husband Del took maternity photos. A COVID maternity photoshoot. Although it’s hard to tell, downtown Jackson is fairly empty. Even though it’s empty, it sure is beautiful.

Dear Baby Belcher two, we are all excited to meet you soon.

On building a COVID legacy…

Legacy is an important thing. A well examined life means thinking about the future, but it also means reflecting on the past. It means asking “How did I live my life, and what do my actions say about me?” Many things define a person. Good or bad, right or indifferent, we can use many things to define our lives. Some use family and friends, others use cars and money. The most common measuring stick is our actions, and how we have chosen to treat others along the way.

When I was getting divorced nearly ten years ago, I had several people tell me I was being too kind. I had one person told me I should have tried to get alimony from my ex. I had another person tell me they would never give an ex-spouse a dime of money. My philosophy was that I wanted what was fair, and I wanted him to get off my back (duh). So I quickly gave up more money than the average person. I also did one other thing: I tried to never do anything I thought I would regret. When I look back on getting divorced, I have no regrets about my actions.

The last few weeks have been tough for my family and I, and tough for many people we know. In mid-March, we were supposed to attend a gala. Instead, we stayed at home. In late-March, we were meant to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday in Wisconsin. Instead, we stayed at home. Sunday was Carly’s second birthday. Instead of having that Sesame Street party, we did a fifteen minute online get together. I have left the house a handful of a times in a month; mostly for prenatal care.

No person I know has not lost something due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every person has had events cancelled or delayed. Many have lost jobs or work. And some have lost so much more. As the death toll continues to rise, as of yesterday, our country has lost over 23,000 lives. In the next few weeks and months, we will lose more.

It isn’t just those 23,000. It is their loved ones who suffer, and they must suffer alone in their homes. If just 25 per lost life are sad or hurt over those 23,000 – that would mean about 575,000 are feeling the pain of a loved one lost. That is a few under every man, woman, and child in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (pop. 592k) feeling a sudden loss.

And what about the 580,000 Americans that have tested positive for COVID? Given the lack of testing, delayed tests, and those who could never afford treatment – that number is grossly underestimated. What if we do the same math as before? If 25 per sick person are impacted in some way by those 580,000 – it would mean 14.5 million American lives ‘impacted.’ What is impact? Just living with knowing? Holding their hand as they suffer? Bringing them a tray of food as they are quarantined inside?

While the numbers are large, the impact is exponential. And the unknown consequences of a world living through a pandemic will live on for decades. We all know that after this life will never be the same again. We are living through a trauma together.

Michigan is a following a ‘Stay home, stay safe’ order. My family has taken that to heart. We stay at home, and we only leave if it is essential. When we do go out, we wear masks and gloves. In our actions, we support our governor, white ribbon workers, and we are doing everything we can to lessen the spread of this pandemic.

In a few months, I want to be able to give birth to our new baby, and not be scared I will have to be alone in the delivery room because the pandemic has lingered.

In one year, I want our daughters to be able to receive safe childcare where the threat of COVID is minimized.

In five years, I want to know I worked with my community to re-build our lives after this pandemic.

In ten years, I want to look back on our lives and know we did everything we could do prioritize the lives of the people around us.

In twenty years, I want to tell Carly that I put aside childish desires (like a gala, or a birthday party) for the health of a stranger I do not know.

In thirty years, I want to tell my grandchildren I was not petty or silly. I want to tell them I did not protest over dirt, knowing those in Syria and Yemen do not even have their own land to fight over during this pandemic.

In fifty years, I want to tell my maker that I did unto others as I would have them do unto me. I will tell Jesus I said kind things, I put the needs of others above my own pride, and that I did it with as much love and compassion as possible. I will tell Him that my legacy was one in which He could find great delight.

How do we see others?

How do we choose to see other people?

And what does that mean about how we see ourselves?

At counseling a while ago, her closing remark to me was, “You are doing almost everything right. And you need to start focusing on the good things you are doing.”

Like people, my view of others and myself is simple and complex simultaneously. In a moment it is black and white, and then upon reflection there are more than fifty shades of gray. There are back stories, weird moments, genetics, parenting, feelings that should have been squashed but came alive, and who even knows what else?

“Jenn is the worst. An inconsiderate and selfish thief who cares nothing for her family or for others.”

While also…

“How sad she must feel to cause herself and others such pain. She can’t be a true narcissist. I hope whatever is causing her pain ends soon.”

And on myself…

“I’m so glad I’m not as inconsiderate as <insert name of person I’m judging>.”

While also…

“What does <insert name of person I’m feeling insecure about> have that I do not? Smarter? Kinder? Better looking? A better soul? What do I lack? Where have I failed?”

In moments and thoughts my brain will drift between strange extremes. Others and myself are the best, worst, deepest, most shallow people I know. I make others and myself the hero and villain at the same time.

The truth of a person, is of course, somewhere in between those shades. Maybe they are gray, but maybe they are purple, green, orange, fuschia, turquoise, or something else? We are bright shining examples of the best of humanity is some areas. We are just plain damn average in most areas. And in other areas, we are dark, gray, weak, and struggling.

Yet it all begs the questions, “How should we view ourselves?” and “How should we view others?”

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7, 1-5 (NIV)

And also…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13, 34 (NIV)

A person who is truly self-reflective, is often freer from judgement. The ability to look within, see your own flaws and then ask “Why am I judging this person?” is a skill. But it is also something that is demanded of us. Being cruel is easy (I know, because I can be great at it). Yet taking the plank from our own eye is the only thing that gives us a clear view of the humanity of others.

Of course, Biblical context is everything. In John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples a short time before Peter will deny him. He is telling the church that will be built what is needed of us. After betraying him, and after denying him, Christ did not falter to lay down is life for his disciples. Let’s be honest, I’m probably not ever going to reach that level of grace and forgiveness. But I let myself be inspired by His gift.

We steal, because we are lacking. We lie because we are empty and filling a void. Others are worthless, because we feel worthless. That is not how God sees us. He tells us simply that he loves us, and that in return – we are to love others. With his remaining moments, God asks us to see us and others as whole people who are worthy. Worthy of love, beauty, and redemption.

I pray I can be better at seeing myself and others with such light.

On the sins of our fathers…

Pastor John explained it to us. “We all inherit the sins of our fathers. Sin is passed down from generation to generation.” At the time, I thought of the notion of inherited sin like a genetic pre-disposition. Like my mother’s brown hair, I inherited the wrongs she committed.

Becoming a mother has drastically changed how I view most of the world. I drive a lot slower, because I want to make sure Carly’s mom makes it home every night. I rush less, because nothing is as important as my family. I also view my parents much differently.

If I yell at Carly, how does that shape her as a person? If I feed her certain foods, what will happen to her as she grows? Am I doing things that help her become better? Or am I making choices that will damage her? When I think of what terrifies me as a parent, a great fear that strikes me is the idea that I could make a choice, or a series of choices, that would cause Carly to dislike me as her mother. I can imagine few things more painful than a child hating a parent, when the parent was trying their best.

Alcoholism is the sin of my family. No, I don’t mean drinking occasionally. I mean that when you look at my family tree, many members have struggled to deal with the influence of alcohol in their lives. For some, it was an occasional misgiving that lead to a few apologies. For others, it meant their children were left at home alone while mom and dad drank the day away at a bar. Alcohol is not the devil, but alcoholism can be.

I often wondered whether my personal branch of the alcoholism tree would be hit with similar misgivings. Would I inherit a great grandparent’s taste for drinking? Fortunately – I did not.

Before I can remember, I had heard stories of my father struggling. Fortunately for me, he overcame that struggle. As a little girl, I cannot recall a time where I saw my mother or father drinking or drunk. The only time I recall alcohol in the house was when we bought it for guests staying over. When I think of my father, I will never think of him as an alcoholic. His choices were a gift to my memory of him. His choices also meant that Carly will never have to grow up with a mother who struggles with alcohol.

My grandmother fought many struggles. When my mother asked her about her parenting choices, grandma responded with, “I did the best I could with what I had.” My parents have failed in some of their choices with my brothers and I. As a new mother, it humbles me to see that I will fail as well. Every parent will make choices they wish they could redo.

It would be so easy to write off every person who ever hurt us. It takes so little effort to see ourselves as victims. That perspective denies our own power and removes us from the accountability we should take for our own choices. Yes, our parents influenced us, but at the end of the day each of us is accountable for our own actions.

To me, inherited sin is the choice we make – or stop making as parents to our children. We chose peace over anger. We chose calm over yelling. We chose sobriety instead of drinking. While we may struggle with some sins more than others, we can overcome what we have seen in the generation before us. Parents are just people, and all people will fail at some things. Sin and failure are why Christ gives us grace. I hope and pray that where I see failure in others, I also grace abundant. Because some day, Carly will look at me with as much judgement as I have looked at others. In that moment, I hope she sees a person who did the best she could with what she had.

On PTSD: An Update

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about.

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about. If part one is identifying, and part two is stating it out loud, what is part three? My hope is that it’s “Here’s what I’m doing to try to get better.”

I wish getting better at anything took little time at all. I wish I could dream of an improvement, and make it happen overnight. But that isn’t how behavior works; especially when many of our behaviors are complex. They’re rooted in DNA, patterns we learn from parents, school socialization, tv sitcoms, trauma, and an amalgam of various things.

My entire life I thought I was weird for my behaviors. I had labels of where my clothing went in my dresser. My class schedules were printed and color coded. I was rarely late, hyper organized, and terrified of failure. I hear it isn’t normal to like looking at spreadsheets?

At a counseling session I was talking about my daily routine. For fear of sounding overly type A, I won’t tell you how it goes. But very kindly, she said “In the counseling world, we can this ‘over-functioning'”. At work, my team jokes “Well, I’ll do task X, but probably not as well as Stephanie.” And Del says that sometimes I’m “Just a little extra.”

I like who I am. And my organization, flow charts, and amazing planning skills have gotten me far in life.

When you go through a lot of trauma, over an extended period of time, and experience trauma repeatedly – it changes you.

I could “Let go and let God.” But it’s unfair to say that when as a child I wondered “How did God let this happen?” It feels strange to put so much faith in something that also let that bad thing occur. You’re either omnipotent, or you aren’t – right? Yet, I know the evil that causes trauma is not of God, but of man.

Data is beautiful because it makes the world black and white and simple. And having no marriage or children is easier because it makes the world less complicated. The more things you add the harder everything gets.

There are not enough Bible passages, quips, one liners, or coffee dates to fix a world that feels constantly unsafe.

I once told Del I see all of the world, and I hate it. I can’t go into a room or on a street without scanning for every possibly of danger. I live my life at a 10, in constant fear of every threat. The car that might swerve, the woman who might launch at me. I have a very long list of things I control so I can feel safe.

I wasn’t on guard those few times, and danger struck. So if I am hypervigilant, maybe the world won’t hurt me again? If I’ve learned one thing from society, it’s that the victim gets blamed before the attacker. So I kiss Del and Carly every time they leave; certain one day they won’t come back. A deer will hit the car on a snowy day, and everything I love will be taken away.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted. Life always on edge, afraid of what’s around each corner, is exhausting. And it can sometimes be exhausting for Del, who runs to keep up.

I have, in spite of this overwhelmingly sad few paragraphs, gotten better. Two contradictory things have helped me: the safety of patterns, and a messy family.

Knowing I wake up and go to bed with same pattern, day in and day out, for years – allows me to feel like the world is safe. Yet too much control would drive anymore batty. Carly and Del, are my wonderful opposites. Del and I fight a lot over the fact that he sees the world as safe. And watching Carly, fearless of everything, helps me drop my guard. If they can see this world as safe, so can I.

I can go to bed a little later, eat dinner a little earlier, and have a little extra ice cream. If I work out 55 minutes instead of an hour, the world won’t stop spinning. Little by little I arc towards better. Little by little the world is somewhat safer. Trauma fades, and in it’s place stand a husband holding me tight and a baby grabbing ahold of everything she can.

On rounding up…

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

The man talked about how he felt like his entire life he never failed, and he thrived off his own perfection. However, eventually, he had a break down when he could not keep up with unrealistic standards. Of course, the problem with perfection is: it’s impossible.

My office mates have been teasing me for weeks, “Is everything you do perfect?”

My husband tells me, “You never mess up. I wish you would sometimes.”

The toll of my own perfection is exceptionally exhausting.

Never miss an email, return every call, every decimal point is rounded perfectly, every color combination matches, and no word is spoken out of turn.

My inner critic has no end to my own faults. I ask Del five times a day if I’m a bad mom. Yesterday I asked if I was a bad mom because I was washing Carly’s bottles instead of holding her. Facebook has taught me that if you don’t spend every minute of your life staring at your child, you will miss SOMETHING and regret whatever other thing you were doing in the minute.

Friends of mine came up with the term “round up.” Research shows that women consistently underestimate our abilities. We don’t apply for jobs unless we meet most criteria, and we don’t push for raises unless we’re 1,000% certain we deserve them. Instead of underestimating our internal (and numeric) value, we need to round up.

A few weeks ago, I took a day off of work because I was exhausted. One day turned into two. Then, the week-end hit, and I spent most of it sleeping. My brain finally hit the breaking point. Between being a wife, motherhood, and work, the voice telling me I was not doing enough – and I was not doing it perfectly – burned me out.

I spent a long time thinking of my inner critic. It’s that idiotic little voice telling me nothing is quite as good as it could be. My hair is straight, but there are a few strands always out of place. That report is 98% perfect, but that 2% is enough to ruin everything. After careful consideration, I know where the voice arose and how it kept growing. But honestly – that is all too much to process in one blog post.

But knowing the source, I did something different: I finally gave up.

I put a sign on my computer last week: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”

Last week I hit send on emails with typos. Last week I stopped overthinking my answers at work and just started muttering. I had a few Facebook posts without commas, a few reports where the font in the table didn’t match the font in the body. But somehow, the world kept turning and no one died.

As it turns out, the inner critic was never keeping me safe – it was holding me back. He should have been telling me I’m beautiful, talented, and my level of detail is unparalleled. But he’s kind of an ass face, and does not like to say nice things.

Lent is upon us. One year I gave up drinking a pack of cherry cola a day. For four years I tried to give up swearing (but that shit never takes….). This year, I’m giving up on my inner critic, and my implausible quest for unattainable perfection. I’m going to think less, react from my gut, and start to tell myself “Damn girl – round up! You got this.”

 

On breastfeeding…

Three weeks – that was my goal.

I work in health care, and you can’t fart around a hospital when you’re pregnant without someone gushing over the benefits of breastfeeding. To get more information, I took a breastfeeding class. After releasing the rainbows and butterflies, the instructor (who was very helpful) told us the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding. In addition to better immunity for your baby, losing pregnancy pounds faster, and solving world peace, breastfeeding was a bonding experience for you and your newborn.

I’m realistic and pragmatic. While the instructor assured me that breastfeeding would reduce the impacts of climate change, my female friends had different experiences. One friend had a surplus of milk, and built a stockpile in her freezer. However, another had to pump for an hour to squeeze out a few mere ounces. Some women I knew LOVED breastfeeding, and successfully fed their child for over a year! Others, flat out hated it. Sore nipples, biting, latch issues, clogged ducts, mastitis, no support at work, the time commitment, and mastitis.

I told myself I would try breastfeeding for three weeks. I would give it my all, and if I hated it we’d switch to formula (thank God for formula!). When Carly did not latch the first five days, I almost quit. My life was: try to latch for an hour, then manually express for thirty minutes, then formula, and then repeat. Day four I had a mental breakdown and was googling “Am I insane?” Thankfully on day six, my milk came in, and Carly decided to latch. Then, I spent the next eight weeks teaching her how to eat. Wake up, hit the boob, eat a little – repeat. Wake up, hit the boob, eat a bit more – repeat. Breastfeeding became my full time job, and mostly, I loved it.

There were not butterflies or rainbows, but the pride I felt at feeding our daughter from my body was like nothing else. When Del went back to work after week two I sent him pictures of Carly eating. My child latched to my body was beautiful. My body kept, and has been keeping, her alive.

Then, I went back to work. I am grateful for the time I had at home, but I have always known I was going to be a working mother. My work days have been without a break and without end. Get to work, pump and email, work, pump, work, email, pump. I hook up, eat lunch, and check emails. I bought a $70 pump/laptop bag to haul all of my stuff around. My entire work calendar is blocked off for pumping time, and my team knows when I need to take thirty minutes to pump.

Breastfeeding takes a village. For me to have the time to feed Carly, Del took over most of the housework for a few weeks. And after giving birth my back went out, so my mom stayed for five weeks to hand me Carly between feedings. Without Del or my mom, I would have failed. At work, my co-workers are incredibly supportive. They move meetings around my schedule, and help me find a space to pump if I need it.

With a lot of support, I’ve made it nine months. Nine wonderful, glorious, difficult, beautiful, exhausting, thrilling, calorie burning, I eat so much food, and drink so much water, months. Breastfeeding and pumping is not as hard as people said it would be – it’s harder. The sacrifice of time, energy, and your body is exhausting. Yet, I made it this far off of…. I don’t even know how. I think I am just too tired to think of something else.

When I think of how long I did it, it’s one of the accomplishments of which I am most proud. I did it! I feel like I deserve a little party or something. I kept Carly alive off breast milk for nine months. Although she has had a cold since August (daycare – le sigh) she is healthy and chunky. Although I have days where I want to just quit and throw my pump – I don’t (yet).

This morning Carly and I had our little time together. I hold her close to my body, she latches on, and we sit there in beautiful peace. I feel her snugly body, and the Oxytocin rushes from head to toe. I look down at her, and she looks up at me. Sometimes she giggles, sometimes she bites, but mostly – she just eats.

We did it, Carly, Del, the village, and I. Nine whole months. We did it.

I, Blue Collar

In graduate school we had to read The Metropolis by Georg Simmel. When we got to our theory class the professor asked the class “Can someone tell me what this reading was about?”

A classmate raised her hand and said quite smugly, “I think he’s saying that people from small towns are incredibly ignorant.”

I looked at my classmate and said, “I’m from a small town. Do you find me ignorant?”

She said nothing, but gave me a look that indicated my origins were not to her liking.

I grew up in Sullivan, Wisconsin – population 412. Most of my childhood feels like something from a beautifully written sitcom. My father was a very hard-working construction worker, and my mother had many fascinating jobs; ranging from an administrative assistant in the medical field to a clerk at Boston Store (Boston Store meant I got lots of fun clothing, so that was my favorite).

When I think of the advantages I have had in my life, I think of obvious things. My skin is white. I was born into a middle-class family. I’m able bodied, and I’m American. Perhaps the single greatest advantage I had, was two parents who would do anything for me.

As loving and hard-working as they are, my parents grew up in a time where attending college was not necessary. When I applied to college, my mother came with me to every meeting or session my high school offered for help. Then, I would come home and start filling out applications, grants, and scholarships. After I got accepted to college, I remember signing loan documents. To this day, I still cannot tell you what I signed. There’s a 50/50 shot I’m indebted to some Saudi prince. By the time I started writing papers in college, I was not sure where to go to for help. Between Oxford commas and split infinitives – I felt short on support.

Graduate school was the hardest two years of my life. I picked a bad thesis adviser. But without anyone behind me who had ever attended graduate school – how was I to know what was bad? Who should I have asked, “So, is it okay that my adviser emailed me to tell me she doesn’t have any time to help me?” I failed my thesis defense twice, and had a mental break down my last year. To this day, I believe my situation was more about my blue-collar background. I came in with an iron will and a sharp tongue. I left with my will completely broken. Trudging through it all, I was the first in my family to graduate with a Master’s degree.

In my professional life, the greatest thing I struggle with is not intelligence or skill. My greatest struggles are navigating through a white-collar system with a blue-collar background. I tend to say exactly what I’m thinking, because that is how I was raised. Thankfully, my last boss taught me tact. Instead of telling Vice Presidents “No, you’re wrong,” the better reply is “We can look into that.”

I seem to altogether lack a sense of subtlety that is bred into the children of white-collar workers. In any room I can read the five people whose parents were doctors or engineers. They lay back in their chairs with a socialized confidence it took me years to learn. Frankly, I feel jealous. I catch myself thinking things like “Do you know what it took for me to learn how to do this? Do you know what it took?”

Blue collar culture is beautiful to me in its layers and complexities. When I see construction workers I feel at ease, and immediately start a conversation. I ask about the kids, and then make a joke about any person that’s acting like an asshole. We’re immediately friends. When I see laborers, I feel at peace.

Yet, there is one thing I carry with me. My trump card that no one can take away, and that it takes a blue collar raising to learn. If I teach Carly one thing – it will be this.

In blue collar land, no one is better than me. I do not care what car you drive, what phone you use, or what shoes you wear. I care about whether you are a decent human being.

The president is not better than me, nor is the vice president, nor is the director. The only thing that separates us is a title, some made up financial class, and a suit. I have found that because I do not believe anyone is somehow superior to me, I lack fear that I feel like I’m supposed to have. Sometimes that lack of fear has gotten me in trouble, but at other times my candid nature has helped turn heads.

To me, every person I work with has the same level of importance. Everyone is deserving of kindness, time, and dignity. I’m from a small town. I am the salt of the earth. And underneath my white collar, is a blue one that I wear with pride.

Life and death begin and end at a hospital…

Carly came into this world crying. Eight pounds and seven ounces of perfection. When I tried calming her the doctor said, “It’s good she cries. She’s getting fluid out of her lungs.” Her life began at the hospital.

My coworker Paul died Monday. We weren’t besties, yet Paul had a quiet wisdom and subtle humor that made him feel like you were close. Paul taught us to eat the whale that is projects – one bite at a time. He was brilliant, funny, and calm. He fought cancer, and like the bitch it is, cancer won. Paul left this world at a hospital.

We eat in the cafeteria, chat in the halls, park in black lots, and swing the bathroom doors. Patients come to the hospital for baby checks, blood tests, surgery, ear aches and trauma. Family members visit to offer support and love. Doctors, nurses, clerks, admins, support staff and thousands of others make the hospital work.

Today, I drove on a site visit with a few RNs. One has delivered babies for 26 years. Another nurse started in surgery working nights – just so she could eventually transfer to the mother/baby floor. The third RN is from bereavement. When a baby dies, she supports the grieving family.

And me. Here I sit in the middle of it all. Running projects, making calls. It’s chaos and it’s busy.

Carly’s life started here. Paul’s life ended. For a few moments the strands of our lives intertwined. Together, we became more than just ourselves. We became a community. A hospital, in our city, is a life blood for the community. In connects to every facet of our lives.

I’ve never lost a co-worker before. I don’t know how this grieving muscle works. But I know where it begins, and ends, and that I’m somewhere in the middle… living.

On PTSD…

In kindergarten we had a special speaker come in to talk to us about good and bad touching. We were told to just say no, and that if an adult touched us in a bad spot to tell our parents or someone we trusted. At five I remember thinking, “But, they’re adults.” Although I could not vocalize it then, I remember knowing that older people have more power. What our kindergarten teacher did not know, was that I was already a victim of an adult’s power move.

Instead of leaving the talk feeling safe I remember feeling guilty. Perhaps if I had said no that would have worked? Perhaps if I had just told an adult sooner that would have done something. At five, I knew power, and guilt, and that sometimes evil people win – and there is nothing we can do about it.

I started seeing a counselor two months ago. Since having Carly I have been having panic attacks at work and at home. I will get an email, my heart will start racing, and a panic attack begins. I had one last week driving to work when I got stuck in traffic, and I had another two days ago when my husband tried to help me when I was cooking.

Post traumatic stress disorder.

My entire life I assumed I was a naturally anxious person, and felt bad about my reactions to every day scenarios. I thought I was weak for my little freak outs. I get up at 5am, never miss a day of working out, chart my day religiously, and organize my world to a meticulous degree.

Having a baby has a way of throwing off your game. I knew going into parenthood I would need to get better at adapting to the unexpected. My friends kindly joke that I’m going to have to learn to be better at letting go of my plans (they’re right).

But let’s be fair here.

Some people get the glorious luxury of traveling through most of their lives thinking the world is a safe place. Many people get to go to age thirty before they find out about things that go bump in the night.

I was five. What they stole from me was more than innocence. They stole, for the rest of my life, that feeling of safety that allows most people to float through the world with a deep sense of trust that everything will be ok.

For the last 20+ years I have not operated in the mind set of “everything will be ok.” I operate in the mindset of “Have a back-up plan for your back-up plan.” In my patterns and plans I have found safety. I use to feel like a terrible person for being so well planned. Friends are comfortable with adapting and going with the flow. When others change plans on me it sends my heart racing.

But how could my heart not race? There was a time when the world was safe, and that was unfairly stolen. Not knowing what else to do, my beautiful and adaptive mind created a universe where I could live safely. My spreadsheets kept me warm at night. My charts tucked me into bed. When I look back at what I created without knowing why, I stand in awe of myself.

But then – Carly happened.

I look at Carly and see the world as it should be. Her world is safe, everything is new, and no one wants to hurt her. Seeing lights turn on is a magical event that for which we should charge admission. I want to be better, so Carly can keep seeing the world in a safe way that I can hardly remember experiencing. My old patterns (sigh) – I’m working to let them go.

I am trying to plan less, and be more free. I am trying to adapt when all I want to do is hide in the closet, because no one can hurt me when the doors close. Life does not exist in the dark where no one can hurt us. Life exists where there is light. Slowly but surely, I’m flicking the switches to turn the light back on. And I have sweet little Carly for showing me that everything will be ok.

Give me grace to get there. Help me to trust that this world can be safe.