Habits, Pt. 2

(Yesterday’s prompt was about habits with the person being grieved and since I had almost nothing on this topic, I wrote about habits that I had formed since I lost my daughters. Then today’s prompt was “write about habits you have formed since your loss.” So now I have to take it in a different direction.)

It was so easy to assume before that a pregnancy would result in a baby. I knew people who’d had miscarriages, myself included, but I always assumed that after that magical end to the first trimester, that everything was safe. I even knew people with high-risk pregnancies for various reasons, but those always seemed to work out ok also, after perhaps an initial scare when the baby was born.

I never assume that now. I watch people reaching the end of their pregnancy, excited and relieved for it to be over and I think “You don’t yet know if you will come home with a baby.” I know women now who go into the hospital, full term, and come home without a baby. Too many women.

About a month before I lost Nelle, a woman I know lost her son at term. It rattled me, a lot. I went to my 16-week appointment, with zero indication that anything was wrong with my own pregnancy, and asked about the prevalence of this. The doctor cheerfully told me that such occurrences were rare and I had nothing to worry about.

The automatic reaction to a pregnancy announcement is a flood of congratulations, but I still cannot bring myself to be happy. Babies born around the time of my due dates? I barely know their names and my habit is to completely hide any baby photos on social media or have the parents blocked altogether. I still take a long detour in Target rather than walk by the baby aisle. There are friends that I’ve had to quietly remove from my life because I cannot handle their babies.

I did this with my own pregnancy, with Iris. Other than the original announcement, there was no acknowledgment. No preparation. No talking about morning sickness or gaining weight or planning a nursery. Nothing other than constant fear. A friend told me “This baby deserves joy too” and I wept with guilt, but I couldn’t. I had to protect myself.

And as it turns out, I was right. Though the habits that I had formed as a shell of protection did little to offset the pain of another loss. Maybe only in that I never expected a positive outcome from the beginning.

So, out of habit, I continue to be guarded. When I am in a bad rut, I listen to the same repertoire of music over and over, as if breaking from the familiarity of a few songs would even be too much effort. A habit, of clinging to what is known in the next few notes and the next few versus, rather than plunging into unknown melodies.

Self-Care

“Be mindful of your self-talk.  It’s a conversation with the universe.”  -David James Lees

The past few months, I have been unapologetically focused on myself.  I have spent the better part of the time since September in various states of sadness, anxiety, and anger.  This was compounded by the state of stagnation that I find myself in.  The remedy for that seems to be self-care.  It likely started with yoga: making time for a 90-minute class 3-4x per week.  Recognizing that taking care of myself was a necessary component of being a functional human being both at home and work.  This evolved into taking better care of myself in other ways.  My daily routine has become a ritual of carefully considered improvements.

Sleep is still unpredictable.  Regardless if the night was refreshing or fitful, I am usually awake between 5:30-6:00 am.  I read the news (via The Daily Skimm), check my On This Day posts, and then get myself ready for the day.  Take my medications: for hypothyroidism and anti-depressants. I am every-other-day with the anti- depressants, slowly weaning, testing the waters with the removal of each pill to see how I feel.

On yoga days, I dress in my yoga shorts, sports bra, a comfortable skirt and an old race shirt.  Non-yoga days would be some variation of leggings and a t-shirt.

While Ger gets the kids dressed, I make my coffee and start to unload the dishwasher.  I start hydrating to prepare for yoga. No food before yoga, it would make me nauseous in the hot room.

After the kids eat, I take them to day care.  Drive directly to yoga for the 90 minute class (usually twice during the week, and both weekend days).

Come home, throw my sweaty things directly into the laundry. Shower. Wash my hair only with baking soda, occasionally with an apple cider vinegar rinse.  Wash my face with my own combination of olive oil, jojoba oil, and tea tree oil.  Brush my teeth with activated charcoal.  Post-shower, I add organic body oil to my arms, shea crème to my legs. No makeup.  If it is a non-yoga day, I don’t shower at all and use a dry shampoo on my hair.  Spray my hair with sea salt.

I work. If I’ve had a horrible night of sleep, I might nap in the afternoon.  Ger picks up the kids, so I work until they get home.

I make dinner. I drink a glass of wine while I’m cooking.  I use Blue Apron so three nights per week, perfectly proportioned meals are planned for me.  Alternate with Ger who tucks the kids in and who cleans up the kitchen.

Evening routine of applying a heavenly pineapple mask.  Apply vitamin E eye balm. Take fish oil and vitamin D.  Rub peppermint balm on my feet.

Snuggle into bed with Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Write.  Hope for a night of undisturbed sleep.

Even with all of the self-care, all of the steps to ensure my day goes as smoothly as possible, life still intervenes. A rash appeared on my face yesterday, similar to what I experience after losing Iris.  Unknown origin that was finally determined to likely be the result of hormones or stress. One skin biopsy later and it ended up disappearing on its own.  I won’t deny the twinge of defeatism when it appeared. That as much work as I have put into taking care of myself, and I still can’t prevent my body from doing whatever the hell it wants.  Discouraging to say the least.

Advice to Myself

Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
-from ‘Advice to Myself’ by Louise Erdrich

My month-long self-imposed spending hiatus has not been going well.  Instead of buying for myself, I started buying for the house.  Little things that had bothered me for a long time suddenly seemed intolerable.  I cleaned out Ger’s entire closet and rid him of decade-old shirts and pants, and then went to the outlet mall to outfit him with a new wardrobe – something we had been discussing in passing for year, but never got around to.  I had an appliance repair man come out and fix the burner on our stove that has not been working for over a year.  I turned an old sandbox in the backyard into a garden bed.

The “little things” became a bigger thing when I decided to make over the man-cave in our basement.  It was a non-functional room and I wanted it to have usefulness.  Rearranging furniture and one new daybed from IKEA later and it had new life.

I felt no guilt about spending on our house, but wondered why I could not keep to my self-prescribed plan.  It was a bit perplexing since usually when I set a goal for myself, I operate with fierce determination.  As I worked on the room makeover, it hit me.  I am not using spending to offset depression or trying to give myself a “pick-me-up.”  I am trying to fix things.  It started with myself, and clothes that made me feel comfortable after losing the babies.  Now it has progressed to fixing and improving the house.  I spoke to my therapist about it this week.  She thinks that my desire to “fix” things is actually very healthy – a sign of wanting things to be better.  Also wanting control when I have felt so out of control for many months.  She did not condemn my actions.

In the very near future, I will have crossed off all of the small “things that have bothered me about this house.”  I also came to the realization that I need a new savings goal.  The money that I have been spending was from a savings account we had set aside for baby purchases.  Another reason why it hurt so much to see it just sitting there.  Coming up with a new savings goal will help me refocus.  But it is also hard to consider when I do not know what my family will look like a year from now…

In the meantime, I am writing this in the newly completed room.  I called it the “woman cave” but I did not like the name.  Instead, I have dubbed it The Creative Lounge (love to Mad Men) because for me, it is a room where I can write and maybe some day paint.

 

The Art of Love

Even though I wrote recently about being an artist/parent, I have never considered myself an artist.  Writer, sure, but the craft of writing is different than the craft of creating something from colors, textures, materials.  Outside of decorating the house and painting an occasional room wall, I do not have that aspect of creativity.

I have done several wine/painting evenings before, mostly for fun.  Get together with friends, enjoy the wine, and laugh about how un-artistic we all are.  My three previous attempts have all ended up in the garbage.  Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the result was nothing to be proud of.  Last night was another such event.  I approached it with no particular inclination that the canvas would yield anything special.  The prescribed picture of the evening was a sunset, with a silhouette of a branch with two birds.

As I added the silhouette of the gently rolling hills and trees to the bottom of my painting, I thought of where I grew up, in the coulee.  There is a beautiful lookout spot on my aunt and uncle’s land where I could see the entire expanse of the road and the dotted houses of the people who lived there.  As I extended the branch onto my painting, I thought of the tree where Nelle’s ashes are scattered, and where we will soon take Iris’s ashes.

So I made a shift.  Instead of painting the silhouette of two birds, I painted two small hearts.  Black, with a slight tint of white to make them more gray, and a slight hint of red.  The instructor did not walk  by my canvas for the rest of the class, and I wondered if he was displeased with my deviation.  I wanted someone to ask me about the hearts; I wanted to say something about why I made that choice, but no one did.  As I completed my painting, I thought not only of my two girls, but my two boys.  Two children, side by side, both living and not.

When Theo examined the painting he said “But there are hearts on the tree – that’s not right.”  I said that the hearts were for my two kids, for him and Quentin, because they are my heart.  He broke into a grin and said “Awwww… that’s so nice.”  Whichever angle I take, whether my two boys or my two girls, they sit side by side.  One slightly bigger, older than the other.

I hung the painting on the wall in my house.