Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How to Have A Merry Christmas Part Two - Christmases Past

In Part One we talked about keeping Christ at the Center of Christmas.  Well, this wouldn't be the blog with my own name as the title if I didn't talk a little about how I came to not just know this theoretically, but practically. I am Christian of course - Christ had always been a part of Christmas, so it's not like keeping Christ in Christmas has been a revolutionary idea. Rather, as I have journeyed throughout the Christmases of my lives I have increasingly realized that I have consciously needed to focus on Christ during Christmastime, and that just being a religious person did not automatically ensure religious experiences.

I caught my first real glimpse of this ten years ago.  In 2004 I did a fall semester study abroad in Egypt, and after the program ended in early December there was an optional two week add-on, where we spent one week in Jordan and one week in Syria.  That Christmas we had a whie elephant gift exchange with the twenty or so students and our trip leader Dil, and his wife and daughter.  One student had packed a small tree all the way from America and carried it around on our travels for just such an occasion. She pulled it out, and we stacked our little gifts under it. I don't remember what I got, but I do remember giving a complimentary pad of paper, pen, and small sewing kit that a previous hotel had in their rooms. Our hotel had a special Christmas Dinner for us as well (remember it was mainly a Muslim country, so no Christmas was celebrated).

That night we gathered with Dil and his family to sing Christmas carols, like we had some nights of the trip. It was a long tradition in their family that leading up to Christmas atevery night they gathered around and each person picked a Christmas song and then the family sang it. Dil handed out packets of song lyrics, with everything from Here Comes Santa Claus to Silent Night printed on its pages. As a group we sang, our simple melodies carrying the Christmas spirit together in our hotel in the middle of Jordan, so close (yet so far) from where Christ himself was born.  

The next morning my roommate from the study abroad, who had also come on the trip, opened a few presents that she had received from another friend on the study abroad.  For the only time in my life, I opened no presents. I had no gifts I had given or received. I had no family nearby, and while I felt a general friendship with the group I was with, I had no close friends. I was engaged to Avram, but no way to contact him except by email (I sent him a long email later that day). For our activity that day we went to Mount Nebo, and visited the church built on it's top, where Moses looked across the River Jordan, and the Lord told him he would never enter the Promised Land, and he was carried away into heaven.  Dil gained permission for us to enter the nave, and we gathered on the semi circle of bench seats and sang several Christmas songs.  Afterward all the people also visiting the church applauded, thinking we were an official concert.  

And that was Christmas.  

I didn't quite know how to feel. Normally the glow of Christmas that slowly built all December long and culminated in a thoughtful Christmas Eve reading of the Nativity and the joyful of frenzy of gift opening on Christmas morning was all missing.  As we rode the bus up Mount Nebo I felt a little empty, a little like it wasn't Christmas at all.  I also felt, though, that Christmas came just the same, although it came with no presents, no fanfare, no family, no traditional food. I had never been a Grinch, but like him, that year I had the personal experience of Christmas coming without ribbons or tag, packages boxes or bags.  That Christmas laid the invisible seeds where I began to see that Christmas comes, even without all the trappings.  I had always known that Christ was an important part of Christmas, but without the other obfuscations, good, bad and indifferent that being in my normal American life gave me there was nothing else that came Christmas day but the Christ child.

And although I had not depended on the physical and family trapping of Christmas to know that, without all the extras I also saw that I could not depend on others to bring me the true meaning of Christmas wrapped up with a bow, either.  I needed to make room in my life, my schedule, and my heart to prepare for Christ's coming every Christmas - to bring Christ into my home and life every year, or else the flurry of all else could easily cover up that which I always acknowledged to be the most important part of Christmas.  Without that intentional courting of the true Christmas spirit I would always feel a little empty come Christmas Day - something that I had unknowingly observed and could now pinpoint from previous Christmas Days. I had thought at the time this came from the inevitable growing up, from not being a child wherein Christmas seemingly came once in a lifetime, and where filled stockings and wrapped presents provided more magic than one child could conceive of, but that Christmas in Jordan gave me the first glimmerings of this truth - that only through centering on Christ will His Spirit provide the only ful and living Christmas Spirit.

 As Christmases have passed, this has grown, even through the coming of my children, who in turn do provide a renewal of that simple Christmas joy and excitement that comes so naturally to them. 

In England three years later Avram and I celebrated our first Christmas alone, with 22 month Lydia with us. That year we had so little money that instead of trying to surprise each other and perhaps unintentionally creating a remake of the Gift of the Magi story, we decided to each pick out something we wanted ourselves.  Avram picked out a fleece sweater with Queen's College's (his college at Oxford) seal on it. I picked out the big mortar and pestle I had been coveting for weeks. Lydia received a few gifts, some chosen by us, and some shipped over by Grandparents.  We had asked our families to please just send us some money instead of gifts, because Avram had not yet found a job, and we were living on the ends of our savings we had brought.  We had bought a little five pound prelit fake tree and some wooden ornaments, and had it on the table, along with a little stocking I had knit for Lydia.  We had walked in the woods behind our Yarnton Manor, where Avram's program was based, and had gathered greenery that we hung around our home. We did not even have a camera, as it had accidentally gone with our friends who had visited us before Christmas in a long layover to visit his parents in Dubai.  

That morning was very quiet and dark - we did not even wrap our personal presents, but laid them aside our little tree. We helped Lydia unwrap her few presents and enjoyed that quiet time together in the glow of the Christmas tree without even the impulse to capture this moment forever via a camera.  In that darkness the truth of what I had learned before in Jordan echoed again - Christmas truly cannot be found in trees or presents, not in prosperity or baked goods or even family.  But with all of those so present and loud, it can be hard to remember to focus in on Christ, to notice if I am not doing so.  

Thus, over the years since then I have increasingly realized that in order to keep Christ in Christmas, in order to remember the nativity over all else, however worthy other holiday pursuits may be, I would have to not just be open to it, but make conscious action to bring Him in, to remind myself and my family time and again of who we are celebrating - because the world doesn't care.  The world wants you to buy!  To do!  and then buy some more! Sure, buy because you love others, because you care, for a good cause, because you deserve it, but remember, most of all to buy!  There are so many voices calling for us during this season, and it took two Christmases away from my own culture, in a small cocoon without all the usual trappings to help me better receive the largest gift of all - Christ.

I have not in my own family jettisoned the American Christmas - we are not moving to other countries and only using two foot tall trees if at all - we are not getting rid of gift giving, and we happen to enjoy having friends and family around us. Rather, throughout the years we have tried to work out ways that we can best focus on Christ while still enjoying much of what the American holiday season also has to offer.  We have embraced the manger, but also enjoy watching Rudolph, think Ginger cookies are pretty great, and can eat candy canes without reminding our kids that they represent the shepherd's canes.  We even like beating back the darkness by lighting up our tree and home, and are okay with it being an extended metaphor and not innate symbol that this is Christ. Increasingly, though, we have tried to focus our greatest efforts for ourselves and our children on Christ, and kept the other traditions only when we have felt that they are solid contributions of merryness, beloved traditions from our childhood, family bonding time, and are sources of joy and not stress.  Finding ways to celebrate Christmas that bring Joy and not stress and contention goes for all kinds of Christmas activities, whatever the focus.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Have A Merry Christmas, Part One - Keeping Christ in Christmas

Note: I wrote most of this three part series...before Christmas. But due to family visiting and two different bouts of sickness, here it finally is...after Christmas. I know I missed the boat, timing-wise, but hey, we are supposed to think of Christ all year long, right?  Just think of this as an opportunity to reflect on this last Christmas season. 

We talk about the magical feeling of Christmas, and it is a feeling that can be solicited by a Child's gasp of joy for the perfect toy, or by the warm glow of receiving a gift that shows the giver really knew you and what you desired.  It comes in easier surrounded by loving family and caring friends, ushered in by their caring love, tender gifts, happy memories together.  The jolly activities, the beautiful concerts and get togethers emphasize the warmth and love we can feel at Christmas. Christmas is a magical time, filled with wonder, excitement, family and friends, parties and celebrations.  It is also almost always also filled with stress about gift buying, stress about money, stress about gift receiving, clutter, cleaning, decorating and then undecorating, and more, more, more - more lights, more stuff, more things.

Running over, under, and throughout all this is the silver thread that reminds us - Christmas doesn't come from a store, and in fact Christmas does mean a little bit more - it means a lot more.  Often we hear that Christmas is not just about getting presents, that it is not about things - instead, it is about giving - giving presents to others.  Or we hear that Christmas is about love, or about family, or occasionally we might hear one voice in the corner of facebook whisper that it is about bringing back the sun and banishing the darkness through rituals like lights and evergreen trees. But these things are not Christmas, as wonderful as they are.  The magical feeling of Christmas is not magic at all - it is the Spiritual witness to our souls of the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are Christian (if not - carry one with banishing the darkness with lights, that's good and historical too), Christmas is about giving, love, and family.  But not just any giving, not just our showing love, not just spending time with our nuclear families.  Christmas is about God sending down his son as the world's greatest, largest gift that ever came in a squirming seven pound (or so) swaddled bundle.  A baby who not only showed the everyday miracle that our gaining a physical body is, or a yearly reminder that every baby comes, 

Not in entire forgetfulness, 
And not utter nakedness, 
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
- Wordsworth

This baby grew up to be our Savior, or Redeemer, who saved us from a fallen word so that we may live with God again.  Our Christmas directly leads to Easter. The true bone deep thrill in our chest and hope in our hearts does not come from gifts or family, not even from earthly love. It comes from God, and from Christ, it comes from knowing that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Like the Primary Song says, "how could the Father show the world of love and tenderness? He sent his son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness."

Christmas is about family - about our eternal family, about all of God's children, about His love for us, for this world, for all his Creations.  When we give, we echo Heavenly Father's gift. When we love others, we echo His love. When we learn love for all mankind as our family, we love our family like he loves His family - like he loves us. Just like anyone with Children reading this will echo me in saying that truly our kids could give us no better gift this Christmas or any Christmas than truly loving each other and treating each other well. Heavenly Father truly wants us to give the gift of kindness, of giving, of helping to those around us far more than he wants us to simply talk about Christ or Christmas, as great as those things are.

Being happy throughout Christmas truly is not just a product of what gifts we are able to give, what gifts we receive, who we spend Christmas with, whether we even have family or close friends to spend Christmas with at all.  It is not about the size of our trees, the merryness of our situations.  Mary and Joseph celebrated the first Christmas semi out-doors, basically homeless in a transitional move, spending a while in Bethlehem only to move to Egypt, and then eventually up to Nazareth.  Christ got presents, yes, but not on Christmas itself, and when the wise men brought them, Mary and Joseph probably sold the Gold, Frankinsence and Myrrh to move to Egypt, or help out their meagre finances - after all, Christ grew up in humble circumstances, and he needed food and shelter more than Gold.

Keeping Christ, God's love and mercy, and the coming of our Lord and Savior in mind throughout Christmastime might not change our physical circumstances, but it can change our hearts, and give us a Merry Christmas where ever we are, whether surrounded by family, or alone among strangers.

Christmas time is one of traditions - it is not a simple holiday, but rather a celebration that engulfs an entire month, 1/12 of our ever repeating year.  I believe there is room to celebrate Christ, to celebrate His birth and life and meaning while also including the gift giving, the family and cultural traditions, and even especially the innate need for us to conquer darkness at this darkest time of year - for the lights, for the trees, for the holly and for the gaiety.

Despite the length of the Christmas season that stretches before a child gazing longingly at an Advent calendar on the eve of December 1st, we all know that Christmastime becomes the busiest time of the year.  Although we may have the theoretical priorities of Christ at Christmas, if we do not intentionally carve out ways to remember and be like Christ at Christmas all too soon it will be December 25th and we will be sick to our stomachs from too much candy eaten in the morning, trying to track down that one missing small toy piece inevitably thrown away in the bags of discarded Christmas packaging, and trying to help our kids work their presents or watch a movie, and all too soon Christmas has come and gone another year, and we wonder why we feel a fall of disappointment, a fleeting feeling of an opportunity missed.  Quite frankly we will all probably imbibe too much candy Christmas morning anyway, and I have no way to prevent us from throwing away pieces of puzzles or key components to complicated toys.

Throught this short series what I can comment on is what our family has done to keep Christ in Christmas - what our traditions, new and old, were for the holidays this year and how we worked on incorporating the silver thread of Christ and remembering the nativity without exiling Santa, Nutcrackers, Christmas Trees or Pagan (we like pagan) lights to the curb.

Given that I am not publishing this until after Christmas, you not only get to hear our grand plans, but also how it all went down, including the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that I spent 99% of the time in bed for. But who needs perfect plans anyway - it's always more interesting to hear about the messy realities of life, and don't worry, part three will be full of those.

I will start with a narrative through my own Christmases past and how this led me to a better understand of the importance of keeping Christ as the center of my Christmas as part two. Then, like Scrooge, we will move to Christmas Present and talk the nuts and bolts of Christmas traditions for part three. Don't worry, I promise to skip Christmas Future, because I never liked Ghost stories anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Camera (ab)use

We're getting a new camera (on Christmas Eve - thank you overworked mail people).  It's a good thing, because shouting for joy when Avram comes home isn't enough for Guinevere: one day she threw the camera for joy when he came home, and now it won't focus.

Not Modern Art

 But after sorting through our most recent batch of pictures I don't feel bad anyway - our camera struggled with focusing after years of (ab)use, and so unless you used a flash it mostly looked like this

Athena, still cute in a bad picture 

Not quite in focus, the colors a little off.  So the only option left for pictures in focus was the flash
 Uncle Luke, wherein he is like our camera and also being abused by Guinevere

Sadly, though, this means there has been very little photographic evidence of our Christmas merriment.  However, just so you know - we do have a tree.  It only took us five days to go from buying it, actually getting it in the house, the kids trying to get out the ornaments and decorate it on their own, to Avram and I finally decorating it.  And our camera bit the dust in the middle of all this, so we don't even have a picture of our tree in all its glory.

But our kids are cute enough, that I guess I will keep them anyway. One morning before school they set up Santa's sleigh and reindeer.

Hopefully there will be newer, better pictures coming your way soon.  And since we are upgrading to our first DSLR, of course that means the pictures (and therefore our life) will be sharper, more in focus, brighter and better.  Or, at least I would like to believe so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Athena Luthien's Birth Story, Part Two

At long last (does three weeks count as soonish?) here is the sequel to Athena's Birth Story.  Catch up on the first half here.

As we made our way out to the car, I had a contraction while leaning up against the gold Honda Odyssey.  As it rolled over and through me, I prayed over those people and causes that I had thought up beforehand as intentions.

Intentions?  Causes? Praying during labor?  Let me explain.  No, it's too much, let me summarize.

My sister a year previous had told me about a blog called Carrots for Michaelmas - a Catholic "bookish mama" as she called herself. I checked out the blog, read some posts, checked out some links, and suddenly I was reading a bunch of Catholic bloggers.  I never really comment, feeling awkward somehow that I am outside of their very tight online community. But I can honestly say that reading about other women follow their Catholic faith has taught me a lot about myself, my following of my faith, and what religion even is.  I learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP), the religious version of Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).  It changed my heart and my soul about birth control. I can honestly say Athena would not be here if not for them (well, maybe....I did get pregnant with Enoch while I had an IUD, so perhaps I can't honestly say anything about my ability to prevent or achieve pregnancy).  I found advice and solidarity in larger families with small children. Among the blogs I read are Conversion Diary, Catholic All Year, House UnseenTime Flies When You're Having Babies (her husband is in grad school - she had three girls and a boy in that order - it's like my life, only with more wine and coffee), and Fountains of Home.

Being Catholic mamas, they also talk about labor.  As I read about Kendra from Catholic All Year offering up her labor pains for other's intentions, as I read about many of them using many different circumstances in life as a time or place for praying for others, I became intrigued by the thought of turning labor, that is often only seen as something to be suffered through, into something that I could use to spur me to pray for others. Not that somehow I can transfer the amount of pain or effort I expend into "points" that God can then apply on someone else's blessings account. Rather, somethings do not go out, except through fasting and prayer. Sometimes prayers aren't enough, and let me tell you, if labor cannot exceed fasting in terms of effort, then I don't know what would.  As well, when we suffer with others in mind, above and beyond ourselves, we can let go of the pain, the hurt, the relentless suffering and (while not escaping it - in natural labor there is no escape) embrace the pain, embrace the suffering and through all of this offer it up to God, offer it up to my child, who without my birthing her cannot gain a physical body - the necessary next step in our progression through life.  During my labor with Enoch, when I saw the cross during my labor, for the first time in all of my births I thought of Christ, and what Christ gave for us all. I thought of Gethsemane, and knowing that Christ suffered more than mortal may gave me strength - gave me courage because if he had done such a great thing, then I could proceed in my small (yet mighty and difficult) thing of one labor.  This experience helped me especially understand where they were coming from in bringing in religious intentions into labor.

So as I leaned my head against the van I prayed - not fully formed prayers, of course - I prayed for those I knew who were struggling. As Avram drove us through the dark streets of Columbus, I prayed for those I knew who are not able to have children. As each contraction washed over me, starting high up in the Uterus and moving inexorably down, opening a path for little Athena to come earthside, I prayed for others, for myself, for my baby.

We arrived at the hospital and slowly made our way through the parking garage, waited at the doors for them to be unlocked, and then slowly made our way down the everlasting hallway and to the elevators. Remembering my labor is feels like a paradox. I know in reality that we arrived at the hospital sometime around four am.  We arrived at the actual reception desk at 4:18 exactly (no, I wasn't watching the clock, why do you ask?).  And yet in my mind every moment moved ever so slowly. The entire spinning of the world slowed until all the universe walked some steps, paused as a universe engulfing contraction pulsed through us, around us.  We paused, audibly breathed out the pain, prayed, envision Athena, and then the contraction faded away, its energy spent.  Since my labors start hard, go fast, and end hard (but fast), there was no real gaining in intensity, or feeling of progress, just each contraction, each endless moment in time.

Finally we made it to the reception desk, where between contraction I typed in my social, and signed my life away.  There may be other birth stories that talk about the glories and beauty of labor, and they are there. the receptionist led us back, I cannot lie - a part of me, even after four successful natural labors, had a moment of longing for something to come and take this all away. For a magic button (an epidural?) to just seep the pain and effort away.  (For why I do not use epidurals, you can read Elisheva's birth story, although be warned, it is actually a novel masquerading as a blog post. I bet you are shocked). Although a part of me knew that, like every labor I have endured, this one would also come to an end, and not even with a long wait. But perhaps because I have also had to endure it four times, this fifth time still saw me impossibly dreaming of another shortcut or way out.

We were settled into the triage room at 4:25 (the large red digital clock on the wall made it very easy to ignore the passage of time and never keep track of it like a desperate laboring woman keeping track of the minutes of her travail, or anything). The nurse checked me, and I was at a 5. My midwife, blessed Pat, came within a few minutes, and as I asked her to start setting up the birth pool as soon as possible, and to not wait until I was out of triage because I know they take a long time to fill up, and I have quick labors, and I really wanted to have a water birth, and to labor in water, and so please, please go start filling it right now. It is all vague in my mind now, but someone (the nurse?) told me they were not allowing water births anymore, and I believe that Pat asked that the nurses not tell anyone coming in that, because they would be so disappointed at the sudden shock, since this had only been finally decided the night before when at 6:00 pm she had gotten the call.  Pat apologized for answering her phone to me, and that I could not have a water birth.  Perhaps they could tell I was having the shock - I had birthed Enoch in a Jacuzzi Tub, but I wanted a real water birth, where the baby was born completely underwater and I had more of the buoyancy of water to support me.  And although I cared more about laboring in water than this, and I could still do that, this sudden departure from my birth plan shook me.

And yet I could not stop and discuss it, or process the information. The contractions came, and in order to not succumb to one I had to keep riding it, keeping relaxing during it.  It was like the first time I went to the Ocean, when I was twelve and my family visited California. We spent one day at the beach, and I, lover of all things oceanic, went right in to the water.  Where the force of the waves knocked me over.  Knocked me under.  And I came up spluttering the briney water, got my feet under me - and the next wave did the same thing again.  I eventually learned to relax at the wave hit me, to let the force of the incoming water buoy me up so that as the crest of the wave hit my body I was cresting with it, and not trying to dig my heels into the sad and meet it by force, but rather by submission.  I did learn the trick, but by this point I was waterlogged enough that I escaped to the sand, where I spent most of the day that was left building sand castles and collected shells.

Except that there is no escaping from the waves, and I knew if I derailed too much, I would fall underneath the tide of contractions and so I receded from the information, and just focused on relaxing, on riding the wave of every contraction.  Water labor to me was as for many women getting the epidural is, and so I just focused on that, instead of the hoped for water birth as well. I have realized that although I am not a hypnobirther that I do achieve a state during labor where all my energy is going to relaxing through each contraction, and where I feel almost in my own state of mind.  Interrupting this would mean crashing through the water to the sea floor.  Hypnosis?  Maybe, I don't know.

Pat went and started the water (in the room with the most water pressure, she said.  Oh, I loved her).  The nurse kept checking the computer read outs of my contractions, and finally Pat convinced her that they should move me, although they were still missing one 'needed' readout (do you want to have the baby here? Pat asked).

At 5:00, per the large red clock I was not looking at, they had me climb out of bed and wheeled me down the hall, the very same hall I walked while in labor with Guinevere.  This time I thought of how we were whizzing down the same space I had laboriously walked before.  Then a contraction hit, and the discomfort of sitting up made it feel more uncomfortable, harder to relax to. I looked forward to my room, which we arrived in at 5:05 (those large red, completely ignorable clocks were ubiquitous).  I stood out of the wheelchair and felt another contraction coming, so I leaned over a convenient table and rotated my hips while vocalizing at the same frequency as the contraction.  (Yes, this may sound weird - but if you are ever in labor, I suggest you try it.)  This contraction also felt a little harder, but once again I was in a strange position, since my preferred way of laboring is through reclining and relaxing, or best of all through relaxing in water.

They were filling the pool right next to me, with about six or eight inches in it.  As the contraction ebbed away, and I heard the nurse asking if they should still have me get back in bed and get the last needed readout (hence why I spent a half hour in triage, and not fifteen minutes, in retrospect, although I was not capable of thinking such things in the moment), I ignored her, and Pat both, who was reassuring her that they did not need it.  As fast as a women mid labor can I stripped off the hospital gown and the straps used for gaining the computer read-outs off my belly, and then jumped (in my mind - probably more like waddled to everyone else) into the pool at 5:05 am.  I was ready for the relief, the comparative ease of water labor.

I could not get comfortable, and I complained about it. Avram held the hose over my back to try and ease my discomfort.  I rolled from one side to another, but there was just not very much water in there.  Pat asked if they could put a hep lock in. I said, "No." She asked if I meant no, never, or no, not right then. I said no, and Avram interpreted, "She means, no, not right now, but in a little bit when she has settled in, then you can give her one."  And that right there is why Avram will have to attend every labor I ever had, because of course, that was exactly what I meant. Then I had a contraction, and it was hard, it was intense, it was long - and I was pushing.  I yelled out that I was pushing, and as soon as the contraction eased Pat had her apprentice Bree check to see how far I was dilated.

I am very much a fan of helping midwife apprentices learn their trade - with Elisheva's birth it was actually the apprentice who delivered me, while the midwife sat right next to her, directing her.  I did not mind Bree checking me, and given the same opportunity, I would let her again. But...that was also the longest check for dilation in the history of womankind while you are in labor and that is all. She finally determined I was at a 9 1/2 with a cervical lip, and Pat suggested that getting out of the pool would help remove that so I could fully dilate.

With the help of Avram and Bree I slowly climbed back out of the pool - a mere five minutes later at 5:10 (I have no idea how in the middle of all this I managed to even catch a glimpse of the clock, but my theory is because it is the brightest thing in the room, and about five feet (or six inches) tall).  They had laid out a path of towels for me to walk on to the bed, which was just a few feet away.  I walked on, two steps, and then another contraction hit - another pushing contraction. Although I was upheld by Avram and Bree, I could not walk, I could not even stand. I sank to my knees, all ability of riding through a contraction lost as I then sank to the floor, kneeling on my knees with my forehead on the ground, in perhaps the oldest submission of all.

I vaguely heard Bree talking with Pat about me moving, or not, I heard people doing things behind, around me. I did not notice, but just vocalized to the point of screaming through the never-ending pushing contraction, my forehead on the cool, ground - a counterpoint to the fiery heat (pain?) everywhere else.  I yelled about the pressure, and Pat miraculously did something.  And then, and then...she came.  At 5:14 am, two hours and around fifteen minutes after my very first contraction, Athena entered the world. She was squalling (perfect!) and the Pat wanted to hand her up to me, but I was still kneeling on the floor. We finally managed an underhand pass, and I brought Athena up to my front, where I held her.  The midwives helped me stand up with Athena, and then get into bed.

Athena in her first couple of minutes of birth.  Notice that she is actually on a couple of towels on the floor.

After all, it was a good thing that I couldn't have a water birth - I am not sure birthing in eight inches of water would have been that great, anyway.

I got to hold Athena until the cord stopped pulsating and beyond, and then Avram cut the cord - he is never really sure why they want him to, but they always have him do it.  I nursed her.  Athena was Pat's 1000 delivery, and so I put on a real shirt instead of the hospital gown they had put on me after the birth.  I had known Pat was nearing her 1000th birth - at the midwive's office they had put up a sign a couple of months before that was counting down the births. And then a week before my due date, two weeks before Athena came, the sign listed 999. I hoped Athena would come early, and get to be her 1,000th. But no baby came (see previous story). And there were three other midwives as well, so my chance of even getting Pat was not great anyway.  But, it turned out that was a very strange two weeks for deliveries for Pat - one woman had an emergency c-section (which doesn't count). Another first timer got to the hospital and then before Pat could get there (which she came immediately) had her baby.  And mostly no one was going into labor at all during her shifts.

During the middle of the night when I went into labor Pat had woken up, seen the clock, and thought that there went another shift without her thousandth baby, since her shift only went to 7:00 am.  And then I called a few hours later, and two hours past that we were getting ready to take a picture of Pat and I and Athena.

Pat and her thousandth birth!

In less exciting moments, my bleeding was off, and with the anemia I had during the pregnancy, they had to give me a bag of pitocin. After five babies I had finally had a labor where I managed not to get a heperan lock for the epidural that never came - and then after Athena they had to give me one anyway, and it felt like one, long continuous (but lower level) contraction for as long as the Pitocin dripped.  But even all that could not dampen how wonderful it was to not be in labor any more, to have Athena here, she whom I had known was coming (not just any baby, but Athena, a girl, a real person who had always existed as herself through eternity), and now she was really here with me.

I feel really great about the labor. My last three labors have had the transition moment where I have felt that I could not do it, but perhaps because I was moving rooms during transition, I did not have had a transition moment of giving up at all.  Of course, it was my shortest labor, and I felt very focused during it, which helped as well.  I love natural labors, but I admit that I am not a good poster child for them, because they are so short, so although they are intense, I cannot truly understand what it is like to have a long and intense labor, or even a long and easier labor.  Enoch was my favorite labor, until I had Athena, and now hers was my favorite.  I take that as a good sign - that I keep feeling better about my labors.  I am too the point where by far I would rather have another labor (ten more labors!) than have morning sickness.  Too bad I can't figure out how to overcome that....

As far as my worries about having Athena in the same hospital as Guinevere - it really wasn't a problem at all. Having a supportive midwife who showed up almost as fast as I did (instead of fifteen minutes before delivery) made all the difference. Otherwise if she had taken her time, I almost certainly would have delivered Athena in the triage room with a nurse catching the baby.  So it goes to show it is who your care is as much as the hospital you use.  So for those in the Columbus Area, the OSU midwife group is who to go with!

We gave her the middle name of Luthien because Avram really wanted to have a Tolkien name.  He loves Tolkien - when we lived in England we even tried, and eventually found, Tolkien's grave. On Tokien's Grave is his name, and then underneath in the same size font, "Beren." On his wife Edith's grave it has her name, and then underneath, "Luthien."  Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren, after the mythology he created in the Silmarillion. In it, Luthien is an immortal elven maiden, daughter to a powerful elven king. Beren is a mortal, a man who sees Luthien dancing in a glade, and loves her immediately.  Her hair is dark as the shadows of twilight, and her eyes were gray as the starlit evening (Athena's hair is dark, and her eyes may yet be gray - I keep hoping).  Her father forbids her from marrying Beren, but he finally consents that they may marry if they capture the silmarils - the elven jewels that held the light of creation - from Morgoth's iron crown (Morgoth is Sauron's boss, and in the story Luthien even roughs Sauron up).  They manage to do so, and marry, but Luthien must pick mortality and death to be with Beren. She does so, losing her immortality and elvish nature so that she may be with the man she loves, although he is far below her.

The fact that Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren tells you much about how he felt about his wife, and what he felt she had given up when she chose him. (I believe his son references this in her conversion to Catholicism when she married him).

So, Athena gained the name Luthien, in honor of Luthien in the Silmarillion, as well as the living 'Luthien,' Tolkien's wife.

And here she is (You can tell she is thrilled to enter this world, too).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Athena Luthien's Birth Story - Part One

The only picture I have of me nine months pregnant.  Yep, this is about how I felt, too.

If you do not like to read in detail natural birth stories - then this would be best left unread. But if you do, boy are you in for a treat!

Athena's due date was June 1st.   Elisheva was born in April, and Guinevere in June  - so I just knew that Athena should come in May, and then we'd have a line-up of March (Lydia) to June - where each girl would get her own birthday month. We were moving to Utah for the summer (so Avram could teach a couple of classes at BYU) on the 16th - driving cross country, with a family of seven, no less.  We were coming back at the end of the Summer, so we didn't need to pack our whole house, but it was still a big move for a family of our size. Elisheva came 11 days early, and Enoch I went into labor 5 days early. The latest I had ever had a child was one day after my due date, so I felt pretty great and set for an early baby. Of course, narrative causality tells you that no way was Athena going to arrive like in May - the perfect month for her, and for our family (and her long suffering pregnant Mama!).

 Avram's mom graciously agreed to come out and help with Athena's coming, and with preparing to move.  It ended up that what worked best for her schedule was to come a whole week before the due date.  I was concerned that having help in town so early would somehow jinx her actual arrival, but I also was relieved that she would be there for the last few days of school after Memorial Day, just in case I went into labor during the night and she could still get the girls off to school.  Well, she came, Memorial Day came, the last day of school came - and went.  Nothing happened.  During the last day of school, I had a midwife appointment.  She checked me, and nothing was happening - no effacement, no dilation, nothing.  I know that one can go from nothing to birth in a day, so it's not like this is actually helpful information to know, but my heart has not yet been convinced of this.

Now, I need to take a moment and mention my midwife group.  For Athena's pregnancy, I saw the three same midwives that I had used with Enoch's birth - Emily, Cassandra, and Becky.  They had been out of Westerville and used St. Ann's hospital there when I had Enoch.  I had used a different midwife group previously with Guinevere's birth, whom I did not like at all, and they had delivered at Ohio State Medical Center, which hospital I had not liked for birth at all either.  Well, sometime between having Enoch and Athena they switched over to the OSU medical system, and no only delivered at OSU!  They had also added another midwife to the group, Pat.  So although I was loathe to return to OSU for another birth, I loved these midwives too much not to do so.  I was concerned about delivering at OSU, but after talking to them about my concerns, and how to change Athena's birth experience from what I had gone through with Guinevere (which, if you follow the link to her birth, you will see was nothing major at all - I just felt like we had become a cog in a machine, and did not enjoy my labor and delivery with her because of it).

The last day of school, a few days before my due date, I had an appointment with Pat. I scheduled an induction for June 6th, a Friday, because I wanted to have Athena and be home from the hospital longer than a week before we drove to Utah (which would put it a week and three days before). I have never wanted an induction, I had never asked for one, or had one that I scheduled. But I also wanted to have this baby for I had to drive cross country! I asked her to strip my membranes, just in case it could get things started.  It was incredibly painful (remember - my body was not in fact getting ready for birth yet), and led to a lot of contractions that were stronger than braxton hicks, but not bad at all...and that also went nowhere.

Whelp, the last day of May came and went, along with all my dreams of a perfect birthday line-up. Sunday brought her due date, but no baby.  By now Avram's mom, whom we call Mum, had been there for over a week.  We were all very ready for this baby to just come on out!  On Tuesday I had another midwife appointment.  I decided to move my induction date back to Monday, the 9th, because that would still get me home from the hospital by Tuesday the 10th, which would be six days before the move, which was almost a whole week, and more importantly, added on an extra three days that she could come without any outside prompting as well.  By this appointment it looked like there would be a baby actually showing up sometime, since I was dilated to a 2.5, and mostly effaced as well.  I think because of this it did not hurt at all when they stripped my membranes.

A few hours later, like they promised, the contractions showed up.  The kids were in bed, and we turned on The African Queen. There is nothing like waiting for a baby to show up to make you watch a lot of movies - even for me, and I am not a movie/TV person.  During the movie I timed each contraction - more than I ever have in my entire life.  My labors are quick, intense, breathless.  They do not involve passing the first hours with movies, walking, sleeping, timing.  However, with the membrane stripping, I didn't know what to expect, whether this was slowly moving towards actual labor. So I timed, and in a few places had to look away from Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn to breath through a few.  Hope rose.  And then the contractions moved further apart, lessened in intensity. The movie ended, and with a few contractions still coming, we went to bed.

And woke up the next morning.  Nothing.

It became a waiting game - every night I would go to bed, and hope against hope that I would wake up before the next morning - that in the middle of the night we would make a silent escape to the hospital while Mum held down the fort.  Every morning I awoke, just as pregnant, as full of baby, as I ever was.  As I told Avram repeatedly, although I was tired of being pregnant, I logically knew that one way or another Athena would come soon. The problem wasn't exactly being overdue, as much as being overdue and on a tight deadline.  It amazed me how I could carry a child so close to me, with her underneath my heart, her bottom firmly planted under my ribs and her head down low, and yet at the same time feel so utterly apart from her. I felt like I was waiting to meet her from a far voyage, that one day her ship would come in and we would meet at last, rather than carrying her around with me constantly, where ever I was, Athena was also.  Just not earthside.

Friday, June 6th I had an ultrasound.  The levels of amniotic fluid were high, but not concernably so, so we were given the all ok to keep waiting.  The ultrasound tech captured a very clear picture of Athena's face, with her hand laying next to it.  She was amazed at how clear it was, being that usually full term babies have their heads so low in the pelvis that you cannot see them. Not Athena!  She had no intentions of coming down, of coming out.  I was grateful that day that I had moved my induction date - because otherwise that would have been the morning of her induction, and clearly she wasn't ready yet.

Also, I was greatful, because Avram had ended up attending Jury Duty that day.  He had received the notice in the mail a few weeks prior, and they gave a set number of reasons for getting out of it - but none matched our situation (can't serve - will be out of state).  Also, we thought at the time that surely Athena would be born by then, so we didn't worry about it.  Well, the day arrived, Avram went down, and was gone all day. They told him that he had to come back on Monday, and give his reason he couldn't serve to the Judge then - that they had no authority to release him.  I hoped even more sincerely that Athena would be born that weekend, because I didn't want Avram to have to call in Monday morning in the middle of an induction and claim emergency issues, risking contempt of court if they were not accepted.

Friday night (Mum has been here for two weeks as of the next day, mind you.  We are all ready, ready, and over ready for this) I went to bed as pregnant as ever. We didn't get to bed until after one, since Avram had role-playing.  I bowed out, since I could think of nothing but having this baby, and so spent the night watching the newer Henry III with Aleatha and Mum across the street.  As our friends left after roleplaying, I joked with them that this would finally be the night that I went into labor, since we had stayed up so far past our usual bedtimes. Around 2:45 in the morning, I woke up, when I felt a gush.  Now, this is where things begin to get graphic, so don't say I didn't warn you.  My water broke first with both Elisheva and Enoch (his was when I walked into the chapel on Sunday - exciting times!), and so I knew what it felt like.  But - it was a small gush, and so I wasn't sure. I hopped (waddled) to the bathroom, where I was pretty sure, but not completely so, that my water was broken, or leaking at the very least.

I went back into the bedroom and changed my clothes. I also slightly woke Avram up, and told him that I thought my water was breaking.  Ever the one to be excited to talk to me when he is half-asleep, he mostly said nothing (but later told me he thought that this was not much to worry about in the moment - after both Elisheva and Enoch it was 11 or 13 hours until I went into labor.  I lay down and tried to relax, but then had three contractions in a row, and by the last one I wanted to control breathe through it.  I woke Avram up again, and announced that I thought this was actually labor too, and not just my water breaking.  By this point it was around 3:00 am.

Now, as I mentioned before, I have quick labors.  My labors from for the previous four were (from very start to finish, not just "active" (ie, four centimeter) labor): six hours, three hours, four and half hours, three and a half hours.  Also, my contractions start out close together and just move in closer - there is no gradual build-up, and I am basically in the final stages of labor - intensity-wise and distance of contractions - my entire labor. Because of this, we do not wait to pass go, collect $200, or stay at home.  We immediately and quickly move towards the hospital, as fast as two people, one of whom has to stop every two minutes for another minute of contracting, possibly can - as in, we quickly move like cold molasses pouring from a jar.

We began to do those timeless things that all couples do when preparing to go to the hospital.  I called the midwive's on call number, they called back, we discussed arriving at the hospital, I put the final few things in the hospital bag, Avram informed Mum of the situation, and we slowly stepped out to the van.

I think that this is a good stopping place - I will get to the second part soonish, I promise.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Long Dark Night of the Soul

I just checked the Academic Wiki, a place where people can anonymously update job results, and there it was, on the tenure track job Avram had a phone interview for, the little phrase that sunk my soul - Campus visit scheduled. That's it.  While there is still a very small chance that they could call today and give Avram a visit, they almost certainly won't. We lost the job, which was our brightest future. And so far we don't even have another interview scheduled, only a week and a half out from SBL - the main clearinghouse for interviews.  I feel like it's all over. Like we don't have a future.  I am crying, and I am worried how Avram is going to take it.  I worry that we did something wrong, something we could have done better. That maybe I did something wrong - I was too needy during my pregnancies (that I kept getting pregnant....) that we should have a publication accepted.  That somehow they found this blog, and got scared that Avram's wife was crazy.

Of course, I logically know that it's not any of these things.  That there are a lot of qualified candidates, more than can ever get jobs.  That because of the job shortage for tenure track jobs, that there will be so many highly qualified candidates for each position that even if you are good at research, good at teaching, that this does not mean you'll ever find a job in academia.  That it's not about us. But....I still feel it.  I feel like all of our hopes and dreams are crushed, like we will still be here in Columbus in a year in poverty with no hope of the future, no steady income.  We spent the last seven years in grad school - doesn't that mean anything? Don't our years of work and sacrifice mean anything?  The not grieving part of me knows that they do - but sacrifice does not automatically equal a certain type of result - in this case Avram's academic dream job.  Who am I kidding - it was mine as well.  I knew what neighborhoods we would look at to buy a house. The parks we would go to.  The library, the mountains, being near family.

And not it's gone, just gone. Sure, there will be more jobs in another department in the future, but that is assuming that we can get a job in the meanwhile in academia - if not, we really don't have a chance, because there will always be more talent than openings.  It's like being dumped - except for way worse, because there are lots and lots of people, and no soulmates.  But there are only very few jobs.  I know joy comes in the morning - but just right now I feel that I have entered into the long, dark night.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's talk about - Hard times and Grace

Recently I was at a Relief Society Saturday get together.  It was great, with good food, good company, and uplifting and thought provoking messages, both in the key note address (about the temple) and in the smaller classes. One of the classes I attended was about Discipleship of Christ, and around half way through the twenty five minute class the teacher asked if anyone had any questions or comments, since it had been kind of quiet.  I had a burning one, that had blazed since the beginning of class - even since I heard of the class title, and although I hadn't planned on asking it necessarily, an open invitation for questions was just too much for me to keep quiet.

Unfortunately in my question I made the mistake of mentioning struggling with balance in motherhood and disciplehood of following Christ, and specifically mentioned as one area of balance keeping a clean house along with parenting, performing religious duties, etc.  I was on the spur trying to come up with specifics so my question wouldn't sound vague, but because I mentioned housekeeping, most of the advice (which the class was very enthusiastic about - all the answers took up almost all the time that was left ) was about housekeeping, motherhood, work/life balance.  Now, there is nothing wrong with a few tips and tricks, a few ideas about priorities, reminders that our children get just wasn't actually the question that I meant to, but failed to ask.

So here I am writing my question down, having had time to think about it, and then I will lay out what I have thought of as answers, upon pondering it.

It seems in my life that the more that I am trying to do to live the Gospel (ie, specifically in my case as I have had more children - which my belief in eternal families, the importance of giving our Heavenly Parent's children physical bodies has directly impacted my family size) I feel like the farther I am away from actually being a disciple in Christ - the less Christlike I feel. When I was in college, I was a master at scripture study - it was one of the things that I impressed Avram with as I was getting to know him.  I used to be a very patient person, and up until I had three kids I felt like being a patient mother was one of my virtues.  I have had nine years since I graduated from college, since I got married.  I have had eight years of being a mother. I feel like I should perhaps be able to look back on the last decade, and see myself slowly, but surely getting better - becoming more Christlike.  I know I keep adding more plates that I need to keep spinning, but it feels like instead of becoming an expert plate spinner, I am slowly regressing backwards until all I have is shards of plates broken on the floor.  Now, keep my previous post in mind, so you know, I am not exactly the most chipper right now, but at it's core - how come my trying to follow Christ in the large in my life has left me feeling like I am further than ever away from him in the details?  Why do I struggle with scripture study now - not just in time, because let's face it, I have time, but in desire, in effort? Shouldn't I feel like I am leveling up in life, and not slowly drowning in muck?  Why do I struggle so much with patience and my children?  Why do I yell so much?  Why can I have the theory down pat - okay, love others, pray to be kind, show love, and yet once I am right in the throes of it not do any of this?

Alright, so my thoughts on this after weeks of pondering this and thinking on this question.

Well, number one, let's not forget that I have spent the last five years  with three pregnancies and three bouts of depression, so you know, I may not have the most perspective on my own life right at this moment, and any time that I feel like I am failing as a person, it may just be my skewed perspective talking and not reality at all. But even so - even if it is a skewed reality I am seeing, it is still my day-to-day reality in the moment.

A point to keep in mind I was reminded of while I was reading  from April's Conference of this year and Elder Neil L. Anderson's talk really stood out to me, specifically this part,

"Not all the whirlwinds in life are of your own making. Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.

As a young boy, President Boyd K. Packer suffered from the crippling disease of polio. When Elder Dallin H. Oaks was seven years old, his father died suddenly. When Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women general presidency was a teenager, her parents divorced. Challenges will come to you, but as you trust in God, they will strengthen your faith.

In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return."

In the second paragraph I could add, "Thora had five kids in eight years, had post partum depression with other health problems three times, all while being married to a student and living on a graduate student's stipend."  It helped me remember that although feel like I am mostly leveling down, and that I am dropping far more plates than spinning, in reality I cannot always see how I am getting stronger.  A tree that is bending over in a hurricane does not look strong - it is being blown to its almost its breaking point, and yet in doing so it is also getting stronger.  So the first thing to remember is that although I feel like I am failing at being a disciple of Christ, I am in the whirlwind of my life, one of the busiest, hardest seasons of it, and if the strength I am spiritually gaining now may seem too little, it is because I am bent over in the hurricane, and as time passes I will be all the stronger and better for it.

Another thing I have been thinking a lot about with this is Grace.  As Athena hit three months, and the ppd started seriously affecting me, I talked to Avram a lot about how much I was struggling.  After one particularly long session, he gently told me that what he thought I needed more of was grace.  Now, at the time I got angry at him, because I felt like he was telling me yet another thing that I should be doing and wasn't, yet another way that I wasn't measuring up and yet another thing that I didn't have - yet another way that I was failing in not just mother hood, but in also in following Christ.  After calming down, and after a later conversation, where I tried to express this and we talked over what he had meant, and then after pondering it for the months following, I have come to have an entirely different view of grace.

Grace is the unearned, freely given enabling power of Christ to help us.  It's not an attribute like patience or an activity like hard work that you can learn and develop through personal accomplishment, it is divine power. I can't fail in having it - because it's not my grace at all - it's His grace that he gives to me.  Grace for me and my life in the here and now is realizing, and perhaps it has taken the grueling day to day job of motherhood in these last several years for me to finally realize this, that I need Christ, that I cannot do it on my own.  I have always known about the atonement for repenting of sins, but I am finally coming to understand the atonement for when we try, we try hard, we try with all we have be better, and it just doesn't make it.  I am an independent person - I like to be able to do things for myself.  I don't like feeling vulnerable in front of others, I don't like being vulnerable with myself.  But my life, my inability to succeed at even the simple goals I have currently (Raise children. Don't go crazy) has forced to realize that I cannot succeed at life, I cannot do it, without Grace.  And with grace, what succeeding means may not be what I want it to mean, and definitely not what the worlds means by success.  For today, it means that I keep praying when I mess up. It means telling my children about love and repentance and Christ's grace, so that when I fail (every day), they too can depend on it to make up the shortcomings in their life.

Tonight we made chocolate chip cookies, and despite using an oft-used, well-loved recipe the cookies spread out into thin, crispy flat-as-a-pancake cookies, and not the loftly crispy-edged, soft interiors that I usually, even with this same recipe, know and love. At the same time as baking the cookies, I was looking through the newest collection of books from the library and read the copy for one called The Prodigal, a ragamuffin story (which despite what I am about to say, am interested to read it - it is by Brennan Manning, and a companion to his The Ragamuffin Gospel, a book about, you guessed it, Grace).  It is a novel about a mega church preacher who has an affair, and loses everything - his wife, child, church, book royalties, and in the bottom of his alcoholic life finally discovers Jesus in his failures, not in his successes.  As I read the copy, I told Avram that what I really need is a novel that talks about someone who doesn't have an affair, or commit any big sin - I am pretty good at not having affairs, or killing people, or general debauchery, and whatnot.  I am generally trying, and always have, to be a good person - I have never stolen, tried never to lie, and have never even illegally downloaded music or somesuch.  And yet, I fail.  A lot.  My life feels like my poor chocolate chip cookies tonight - I feel like I am trying to follow the instructions I have been given, I have tried to be good and to follow Christ my whole life - I have tried to learn and grow and become a disciple of Christ, and yet I feel more like a crispy, hard, yucky chocolate chip cookie than ever.

What about Grace for the good girls who fail?  For people who try and try again, and still feel like they aren't making it?  I cannot speak for others, but for myself, as difficult as these last five years in specific have been, years where I have felt stretched thin like too little butter over too much bread - it is these years where I have been led to ask the hard questions.  Questions of faith, of meaning.  It is these years where I have told God exactly how I feel (which in one memorable moment after Enoch was when I was depressed, lying in bed and crying while praying, and asking, if this is the plan of happiness, then why don't I feel happy!?). It is also these years that I have found the most profound answers to my hard questions. These are the years that I have had my strongest personal revelation ever while doing an endowment session in the temple, where God told me that my sacrifices were sufficient unto him. It is these years where I have learned the most about grace, because I cannot do it on my own any more.  When I felt good enough, I didn't feel lacking.  When I wasn't lacking, I wasn't looking for help - I could not even see my own need.  Now I see my need every day, every hour, and as such, I have at times felt that because I lack, that I cannot come before the mercy seat.  And yet, as I have fully felt that need, I have learned more about mercy, more about grace than I ever did when I was doing better in my life.  Sometimes what I have seen as the greatest failures in my own life, I believe have directly led to my greatest successes in God's eyes - because he doesn't need someone who flawlessly balances housework with scripture study with patience with child care with motherhood.  He needs someone who is accepting His grace. And that, no matter where I am, no matter how many dropped plates I have, I can do.  And in the end, discipleship in Christ is all about accepting grace.

So - discipleship in Christ can be summed up as - it is hard. Life is hard.  Following Christ does not make it easy, but through the whirlwinds of Christ I can be strengthened through his Grace - and that will not lessen the wind, but it will enable me to bend into it and not break. Even though  I feel like I am getting worse and not better as life's trials come, I need to remember that these are the winds that are here, and that bending into them does not mean that I am getting worse as a person, but stronger in the long run. Sometimes the best way we can walk in Christ's footsteps is by crawling on our knees.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's talk about hard things - Post Partum Depression

(I am thinking (if I write, which is an open ended question) of starting a series of talking about hard things - hard topics.  This is the first.  If this is a series and not just a one off- just trying to keep you one your toes).

This may not be common knowledge, because I do not advertise it much, and not everyone is a mind reader, but I get post partum depression, and have after my last three children.  It may not technically be depression - I have had post partum thyroiditis after the last three births, from about month 2 1/2 to month seven or nine or so.  This means I am hyperthyroid at first - my thyroid works over time and everything about my metabolism speeds up, which can cause anxiety.  Then after a few months, the thyroid is overworked, and it slumps into hypothyroid, which at least until now has then self resolved after a few more months.  Hypothyroidism can also be a cause of depression - as everything in my body is working slowly and sluggish.  Regardless, the two together, combined with a new baby, feel like post partum depression to me.

On the positive side, I know what is causing it.  I know that in a while it will go away - that I will feel better.  But I cannot lie - when I have been pregnant with the last two I have had moments of dread, when thinking about the period after birth.  Well, anyway, I would like to talk about that more sometime. After all, I think that the uncertainty that comes when you are depressed has contributed a lot to me having a difficult time writing.  I feel self conscious - not because I think I have done something wrong, but because I don't like feeling weak publicly.

But, I have been wanting to talk about it more publicly for a while, because I know that one of the worst parts of post partum depression is feeling alone, broken in the dark, and for myself at least, hearing about others' experiences is very helpful to myself.

Talking to my sister recently, I laid out what has helped me the most with ppd.

They are:

Don't get on the computer until two (ie, stay away from escapism, from distractions, force me to live my life, etc.) Get off before getting the girls from school - more broadly - accomplish things first, and spend a limited time on the computer. This helps me because it is not a big to do list, which between five children, a house to run, food to fix, diapers to change, I cannot guarantee I can even begin, let alone accomplish. But I can guarantee that if I spend the bulk of my day unconnected electronically (I don't have a cell phone, so I have no access to social media, internet, etc, except through a computer), then I will inevitably clean more, spend more time with my children, feel better about what I can get done, and not focus and what I am not, don't have, etc.

Walking them to school and back, every day.  Two miles of walking total in the fresh air.  Gives exercise, fresh air, perspective. Makes me like my house better. I think it's not just the exercise, but being outdoors, even in the cold or rain, that helps.  I love being outdoors, but I find I don't just go outside - I have to have a reason to be there, whether it's exercise, gardening, yardwork, etc.

Reading from the conference issue of the Ensign every day - at breakfast, or in the morning after taking the girls to school. Ideally, I want to work in regular scripture study as well, but I have been struggling with accomplishing that, and so reading words from modern prophets and church leaders helps me to spiritually focus, gives perspective, and "fills the well."  I have something to say about filling wells.  For me, what I mean is doing activities that help me to be more patient, not yell, gives me more reserves to draw on when things are difficult - when the girls are home from school and it's homework time, and I am stressed.  I think doing fun, personal activities are important for everyone, but reading decor blogs, reading novels, and going out with friends, as important and necessary as these are, do not give me a greater measure of patience.  They do not reaffirm me in my vocation.  Now, when I have the time, these things are fun, they are good. And if I never did anything like this, then I would need to prioritize them as well - but I already do these things.  I have no problems prioritizing fun for myself. I am not a martyr. What I do tend to deprioritize are activities which are hard, which take work, which take effort and self discipline, but that I need to do anyway because I need the benefits, like the spiritual help,  or exercise - luckily I now have an outside reason that helps me prioritize that.

Pray.  But not just general prayers.  Not even just desperate pleas to help me just get through the day, and to not give up.  But specific - help me to not yell at the girls when they are taking forever in the morning - this morning.  Help me to find a way to help them get ready patiently. Gratitude for what I have. Actual conversations.  Praying while walking by myself - when I can pray out loud, and no one can hear me, works especially well.

Now, none of these things are going to fix my thyroid, they are not going to make me not struggle, or get rid of my post partum depression.  What they do accomplish, however, is helping survive through this time.  They help me do what I can, and I can guarantee that when I do all of these every day - I am happier.  I do better.  Now, perhaps just because I am human, perhaps because I have ppd, perhaps because of life, I do not always stick to even this small list.  And I seem to have a cycle, where if one week goes pretty well, the next week is harder, and I fall down and do nothing one day, which then makes the rest of the week go yet harder.  And some days, although I know that if I followed this list, I would feel better, but I perversely don't, and then I don't.

Unlike some people who have lifelong depression, I can honestly say that I have only had it these three times post partum.  I am not an expert in depression, post partum depression, or anything else related.  But I do know what has helped me, when I have struggled.  Along with all of the above, I try and remember that this is transient - that I will feel better soon.  That although my life feels more than I can bear, and overwhelming every morning when I wake up, that this time will pass.  So, overall - I try and keep a sense of perspective, and remind myself that I honestly don't feel all right, and that is okay - it's okay to struggle, to have to work hard at things that come more naturally for others.  It's okay that life is hard, that it is not supposed to be easy.  I have not yet succeeded in gaining so much perspective that I wouldn't just wish away the ppd I have had, the compassion I have learned for those who have depression, in favor of a life of positive naivety.  But...maybe I will get there yet.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lydia as she is

On Saturday, Lydia (8) was dragging her feet about getting dressed, ready for the day, cleaning, etc.  After pulling her up to her room, and giving her an ultimatum about getting ready, she came downstairs having written this poem (spelling, stanzas and grammar has been standardized for comprehension's sake):

Everything Hates Me

Everything hates me
I don't know why
Everything just does
At school, at home, anywhere I go
Computers, especially for the Queen in William Shakespear's time
Math.  How am I ever going to become a physicist if my math hates me.
Writing. Not as much.
Homework. Maybe for others it likes, but not me.
And the most surprising one I cannot believe, but it's true -
Sometimes my own family.
Everything hates me.

I just don't know what to do with a kid that won't wo(Ourrk, but can read for forever - who acts like she's deaf, and never cleans up - but likes to write poetry to express how she feels, and then reads it to us.

She has more poems, too.  Here's another one she wrote, while she was supposed to be writing a different poem (about releasing butterflies) for school.

The Wind

The wind sounds like someone whistling
[whistle not so good]
Rushing through the trees
Sometimes fast like a person in a race wanting to win
Sometimes slower than a perosn can walk
I love the wind!

Here's a sign she made yesterday - she is planning on making lots of duplicates.  Here I have kept her spellings:

Come and See the Walking Fence grils for one doller, cheap. Only one doller per persen.

(our address)

refreshments served           Saterday November 8th
                                             11 oclock, 3 oclock, 6 oclock

On my suggestion, she did change it to free, and added that the refreshments were free too.  She wants as many people to come and see eit (she walks on the supports for a wooden fence, while holding on to the slats).

I wish I knew how to harness her creativity and brain power for things like obedience, chores, and some more obedience.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

For years I have cherished the hope of coming back to Provo, of Avram getting a job at BYU and moving to Utah, buying a house, and staying there for the rest of my life. Never mind that Pa Ingalls and I have the same itchy feet, and I start having (literal, night-time) dreams of moving after a year or so of living in the same place.  I work this out by hoping that Avram would also make it on the study abroad circuit, and every few years I would be refreshed by a year spent exploring another country, and coming home would feel fresh and new again.  Regardless, the thought of being able to settle down, buy a house, have a full-time job with things like insurance and benefits that is also a satisfying career; these things have sustained me through the last nine years of marriage, especially at times when our journey towards financial and working stability has felt like the mythical Odyssey home to Penelope, minus magical carefree hedonistic years spent with a minor goddess (but with the addition of lots of consequences of fun yet responsible marital years, ie children).

As an intermittent hobby I have combed through Zillow for the latest house listings in my favorite areas, namely those around downtown, and the tree streets neighborhood up by the Y mountain. I know perfectly well that Avram getting a job at BYU has depended on a lot of factors, namely his qualifications, their having an opening, and then the perfect stars aligning and the hiring committee picking him.  Yet in comparison to any other school in America, which may or may not have an opening for many years at a time, and then for Avram to be on the market at the right time, and then for his application to stand out among many other applications, when they have never met him; in comparison, BYU has felt like a good opportunity.  The religion department is large, which means that there are more jobs that come available, and some years there are even more than one job available.  Avram has now taught for them a couple of times, so he is not an unknown quantity, but rather they have a real relationship - which could go either way, of course, but I believe (even through my natural bias as his wife) that Avram's greatest strength in the trifecta of academia - teaching, research, and being a good citizen, ie administration and working with others - is in teaching, so BYU seeing him up close teaching can only be helpful.  Their hiring of him for two summer terms has never implied, and we have never taken it that way, that he will be given preferred status for any future opening. but at least it means that they know who he is, and that he can teach well.

Now we only have a year left, and suddenly the far off distant future is right next to us.  As far as Avram's qualification, we know that he needs an outside (ie, not LDS) publication to be considered.  Currently he has an article under review, that we do not know for certain will be published, but we and his advisor feel confident about, and even if it is not published with the journal currently looking at it, believe it will be published somewhere. And yet, after all of this, it turns out that the Ancient Scripture side of the religion department will probably not have a job opening next year.  All the best laid plains I have been making all these years were always dependent on that one, small and yet vital aspect.  And now, I feel a little like we are free falling.

Of course, he will apply anywhere else that has an opening in his field - we have three other jobs that he knows he will be applying to thus far, and more will hopefully be posted.  We would be happy to go anywhere, truly.  There are even positives about some other places, like the thought of living in a small college town, or old houses with a lot of character, which I adore.  The climate of the midwest is great, with its rain and four seasons.  The west has a lot of family all over, and many mountains as well.  The east is where Avram's family is centered.  The south has a long growing season - great for gardening.  Part of the stress is that getting an academic job is rather time sensitive.  It is important to get a job immediately after graduation - the longer after you graduate without a job in the field, the more likely you will never get a job in the field.  So finding an academic job this coming year is not just nice, but vital.  Tenure track is the gold standard, but it would be alright to have an instructorship, and even adjuncting (teaching, but not full time) would be better than nothing. What is most scary is not having an academic job at all - with having spent eight years in graduate school, and in the end finding an entry level administrative or public servant job at best, or at worst fulfilling the butt of every joke about higher education by flipping burgers.

 But as with any area of life, I have spent so much time with a known, even just a potential known, future, that it is so hard to trust and accept different futures.  Especially because I truly believe that while God loves us, and wants us to be happy, he thinks happiness is found in following his plan and obeying his laws, and not found in a comfortable salary and satisfying career that one has trained for.  I know that trusting in him, and following him, and accepting what happens could mean not getting an academic job at all, but getting some other job that will support our family in an acceptable manner.  The modern conception of having to have a job that fulfills our financial, social and intellectual desires is just that - modern.  People throughout most of world history, and throughout most of the world today, do not have jobs that are fine-tune suited for every quirk, every ability they may possess, and I believe, I have to believe, that we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in our life while still spending most of the hours our life completing jobs that we do not love.  There is no shame in working to provide for life's basic needs, to help your family live so that they and you in turn may work on what's truly important - fostering family and friend relationships, following Him, finding joy just in living.

I partly have to believe this, because in my own life I have found this to be true.  I love being a mother - I love my five children, and would love to have more if God blesses us with such.  But I do not particularly love many of the aspects of being a stay at home mother as my "job", and yet for myself and my life circumstances, I also feel like it is important for me to be at home right now in my family's stage of life (among other reasons being that we have many young children, and I do not have an important or grand career that by accomplishing it will help others or fulfill myself , and we are able to financially live without a second income.  This is not meant to conscribe others in their lives - we are each unique, and what is important or works for me with a career is not meant to describe you or your life situation).  I know that although I have struggled, and will probably always feel a little unnatural in my job, that it is what is right for me and my family at this time.  Additionally, I only have an undergraduate degree in Near Eastern Studies - I also do not have the training or skills for some other, more fulfilling job that incorporates my individual interests and talents.  And yet, I believe that I can work hard at my job, that I have feel fulfilled in life, and that doing something I don't always enjoy or feel like is the best personal fit for me can still lead to a fulfilling life overall.  This life isn't about me, about what the world, what my job, what God can give to me, or allow me to even achieve through hard work, that will give me glory, fame, money, or intellectual satisfaction.  It is about what I can contribute to others, about how I can serve.  And that can be accomplished through a high paying job, or by working at home with no paycheck at all.

To bring this back to Avram, I know that is also the case with academia - Avram can accomplish much in academics.  I believe that he has a lot to say in the intersection of Early Rabbinic Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, and if he gets a job at BYU, in the LDS interaction with both, as well as with unique Mormon topics such as the Book of Mormon.  And yet I also believe that after this next year, even if he never has an academic job, that his life up to that point will not have been wasted, that the Ph.d. and the eight years of graduate school will not be wasted.  Avram and I were talking recently, and both agreed that we feel like he has a voice to add to Mormon Scriptural Studies.  And soberingly, we both felt like that voice could either be heard through working at BYU, or alternately, not working in academics at all, and thus having the extra energy to devote to independent Mormon scholarship.

Truthfully, I feel like Avram will get a job in academia.  Years ago when we first returned as a couple to BYU, we both independently felt strongly while on campus that someday - not on any timeline mind you, we would return to BYU (of course, that could have been fulfilled by these two summers spent teaching here....). But those feelings have sometimes led me to a place of over confidence, because the alternative is too scary to contemplate - that in a year we may have a life we have never dreamed of, never planned for, even though it could be better than I have ever dreamed of as well.  I am a planner by nature - I plan everything from what I would do if Avram died when he is a few minutes later than expected from work to what we will spend our tax refund on months before it is even submitted.  I want to plan the future, but at a certain point a year from now our future is flat out un-plannable.  At the crux of the matter, time and time again I have had to surrender control to God, have had to recognize that I cannot force life to conform a certain way, despite all of my schemes, well laid and planned as they may be.

So here is my prayer, that I may be able to let it go, to let the future rest in its place, while finding joy in the place we are in now, uncertainty and all.  However, don't expect me never to visit Zillow again - after all, there are limits in what I am capable of, even in giving all to God.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An attempt to find a voice

Whew, if there were electronic cobwebs, this place would be covered in them.  I think deep down I feel like I lost my voice somewhere, and it's hard to write when you don't know how you want to say things.  Realistically though, after this many years my old voice has probably gone the way of my twenties, easy socializing that doesn't require taking into account five children, a house that when it's dirty I have only myself to blame, and clothing that I haven't worn since three kids ago.  I think I'm finally coming to realize that the only way to forge a new voice is to, gulp, actually sit and write and feel dumb but still hit publish.

But, enough catch-up, let's chat.  Well, where is the Shannon clan now?  Currently we're in Utah, living in a two bedroom apartment with seven people (seven!  When did we get a new member?  In June of this year, and her name is Athena).  But only for the next couple of weeks, and then we're going back to Ohio, where Avram has one final year left of his Ph.d.  Yes, there will be an end to this mythical journey called "Getting a Ph.d. while having five children."  Just as a refresher, Avram is getting a degree in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from OSU, which specifically in his case refers to Hebrew Bible and Early Rabbinic Judaism. He's writing his dissertation on Foreign Ritual (mostly Greco-Roman) as seen through the eyes of the Early Rabbis, and what this teaches about Rabbinic conceptions of appropriate ritual and religious action.

We are in Utah this summer where Avram is teaching a couple of Book of Mormon classes at BYU.  He did the same thing two years ago, if this sounds familiar. We are even staying in the same apartment as last time, only this time with two more kids.  Enoch gets the privilege of sleeping in the pantry off the kitchen, while our three older girls are in the second bedroom we also call the playroom, and Athena is in with us.  Also, the Living Room houses a couch, small bookcase, and table and six chairs, since the kitchen isn't large enough for a table.  This makes the living room feel kind of like a crowded hallway (it isn't large either).  It's fun to laugh about, and it really isn't bad, because at home we have four kids sleeping in a room together, and Enoch would even fit in their room here, it's just that it's easier to have him sleep on the other end of the house from the sparse toys we have here.  Also, I know from experience that this will make returning to our three bedroom (one we use as a playroom) house that actually has a table in the kitchen feel positively roomy.

Lydia is eight, and is obsessed with poetry, reading, and avoiding writing and chores at any cost (writing more than chores, even).  Elisheva is six, and loves Frozen, makeup (which she doesn't get to wear), dress-up, pink and purple, and anything else that sounds like a stereotype of a six year old girl.  Guinevere is four, and is a great cleaner, very opinionated and stubborn, and cannot be forced into anything (but we have been working on the fine art of persuading for years now).  Enoch is the strong but silent type - he doesn't speak almost at all, even at 23 months.  We already have an appointment with the doctor when we get back, but until then we are grateful that he is fairly even tempered, and isn't too picky, except when it comes to food, because he doesn't seem to mind that we don't understand his garbled sentences.  He is also built like a tank, which is highly entertaining aspect of his character.  Athena is only seven weeks old, but has an old soul, and face.  I realize that pictures would be highly appreciated here.  Hey, I'd like them here too, but then I would have to go and upload them from my camera (which means finding my camera), then picking them out, then trying to get them in the post, and somewhere along this line giving up in disgust and finding some other activity that doesn't involve so much bother just to say a few words.

As for myself, well, I'm still me.  It's amazing how even though I have more kids, years, and opinions, I still am as me as I ever was - I pick reading over cleaning, love seeing people and also love spending time alone (usually reading), love the outdoors, but only if I am doing something in it (camping, gardening, hiking).  I talk too much, or just a lot, depending on who you are. My current life plans are to go back to school a year after Avram starts a full time job (so, hopefully in two years).  If he gets a job at BYU I want to do a master's degree in Archaeology/Anthropology, with a certificate in Museum Studies.  What do people with that degree do, you ask? Why am I going to get what could just be a vanity degree?  Well, first off, because I wouldn't be paying tuition, so why not?  Second, I actually would love to work in that field, or in many potential fields like that .  I previously wrote about that here on this blog, and my basic thoughts still remain the same.  Of course, we could end up almost anywhere (please, God, let it be somewhere), so the specific thing I would get a further degree in would depend on what what available.  BYU is our top choice for a number of reasons, which brings me to my final hobby - looking at the Provo housing market via Zillow.  I found a perfect 1913 home near where we live now (which is a couple of blocks from the Provo City Center temple that's currently being built) that is a great price.  Unfortunately, Avram has no job in Provo, so the grown up side of me is not putting in an offer, but I like to imagine being a crazy couple that buys a house in a state they don't live in, entirely on the slim hope they will return, and then I like to further wake up, and be grateful I'm not crazy.

So that's the Shannons.  In a nutshell.  Maybe a brazilnut nutshell, but that's just how I write - and is part of my voice, whether years ago or today.  Maybe next session we can work out topics I like to write about that I won't get too nervous or self conscious about, and stick back in a drafts folder to never see the electronic light of computer screens.