Lessons on life apart from your child

 

As I pull away from the curved, gravel carpool line, my face breaks and my throat tightens. The base of my sunglasses suddenly brim with tears as I try to focus on merging back into the crowded streets of Charleston. I struggle to keep it together and breathe short, shallow breaths. Ten minutes and I’m finally back in the comfort of our neighborhood. I slow to a crawl and park along our park. Watching the ducks meander, I call Eric. I need his reassuring, calm and deep voice to remind me that all will be okay. Like so many times before, when one of our children leaves our nest for another, we bend and sometimes break. The levee gets too full to hold the emotions at bay- especially if it’s a long weekend or stretch of time. He can tell without asking what’s wrong and proceeds with comforting reassurance. He calmly reminds me that Landon is so happy, so unbelievably loved, and time apart doesn’t shift anything. He continues that while it sucks, and it hurts and feels unnatural… that this is our life. This life is beautiful and full of even more love than before. I nod in agreement as if he’s there in person, breathing as deeply as possible. Yes, you’re right, all of that is so true. I hang up and stare at the park again… the crying has subsided but the emptiness will hold until she returns. This is our life while co-parenting.

We have a truly solid and frankly great co-parenting relationship, her dad and I. Something I’m grateful for and proud of how hard we’ve worked on building what it is today. With that in place, and with years of this under my belt, Friday drop offs before a weekend or two day separations shouldn’t result in my crumbling in Hampton Park. But some mornings, they just do. Some mornings, watching her little ponytail and unicorn headband turn from the car and head into her Kindergarten building, break my heart. As the physical distance grows on those days, so does the longing. 

No matter the number of years, no matter the number of nights or weekends, no matter anything… being apart from your child as a result of divorce or separate co-parenting is simply hard. But there is really nothing simple about it.  I usually drive to school more slowly those mornings, parking around the corner from the carpool line until the last 5 minutes of line up. I play whatever song she wants to hear and tell her she can get unbuckled while we’re parked. Kissing her little cheek, I describe how I carry her heart in my heart, and in there there we’re always together. I then pivot and have her tell me all the great things she’s going to do at the other house, then what fun we’ll have when I see her next. It’s overkill maybe, possibly some mornings it’s better to make it more routine and less dramatic. Some mornings my instincts tell me to reassure her, and quietly it helps me as well.  Frankly, since becoming pregnant, my attachment to her is in overdrive. I crave her face. There’s no amount of time with her that satiates my motherly desire to be close to her. And distance for a period of days can feel impossible.

On some of those nights, I can’t go into her room. It’s too quiet and empty- her little things ordered just so, her toys lined up on her shelf, her favorite book tucked into her covers. When I do venture in, I sit on her bed and let my tears fall into Lenny, her stuffed lamb, who smells a little bit like her but mainly like drool.

Experiencing this kind of separation can bring about intense feelings of guilt. When Landon cries or is sad about the distance or being apart, the guilt is so bad I can barely swallow. Breathing into it eases this slightly, and I’m acutely aware I need to continue working on accepting and releasing these feelings. It’s guilt for being apart, guilt for her sadness or that she has to learn to live without physically having one of her parents present. For the last year or two, my guilt has found its way into most cracks and crevices of my mind.

I’ve had people lately, some friends and some newer sorta-kinda friends, say to me that it’s so great I’m pregnant because I’ll have a child at home all the time now. As if I wouldn’t amputate a limb to have Landon there all the time as well. This baby doesn’t fill this void. That’s not why we decided to continue trying to have another child. And love expands doesn’t it, with more children, not taking from the love of your other kids.

To break the cycle of wallowing, I read about this particular style of parenting. I learn what I can from books or strangers on the internet who live a similar life. When I write, I craft lists and reminders. Things to call to mind when the levee breaks. In sharing these moments, these reminders, I hope dearly it may ease these same emotions in others who live this separate and together life.

First, it’s important to remind myself of the gifts in her life- just as I remind her when it feels just too hard to get out of the car and begin the time apart. She has immense love in her life. Her parents are healthy and doing unbelievably well with both of us choosing partners that adore her. With these supportive and loving homes comes a flood of new love- a sister and another one on the way, new adults to help her in her life and be there for her. She has parents who genuinely get along and who can co-parent with more ease and as a team. She’s healthy, very happy, and has adorable friends that care for her heart. She’s wildly smart, ahead of her years, and can do anything she sets her mind to.

Writing these even now, my stomach is less tense. My emotions are held at bay. In speaking or writing these truths, they have started to become mantras. It is an exercise in recognizing the gifts and the light amidst what feels so dark. 

Being apart will never feel “easy”- not with the fierce love we feel for our children. But with a mindful approach, with outlets for the guilt or sadness, with reminders of celebrations and moment of light in the journey, we can come out the other side even better parents. Our own happiness will be a gift for our children.

With so much love, patience and understanding…

xoxo

Eloise

This is pregnant life after loss

As I sit here, I am 16 weeks pregnant with a baby girl. Even with these last few months of all the pregnancy feels- all day sickness, food aversions and bathroom runs every 20 minutes, my emotions or reaction to being pregnant still fluctuates. I am overjoyed, anxious, ebullient and terrified that it’s fleeting. I am in a bit of disbelief, even with a growing belly, and the disbelief  borders on disconnection from what is happening inside my own body.

Will the connection bloom and grow as ultrasounds deliver good news time after time? Am I protecting myself from feeling connected? The answer to both of these questions is probably. This is pregnant life after loss, after all. I can recognize now that my pattern with struggle, with pain or with disappointment, is to put up a tough emotionally resistant wall. It has not mattered if this is at the hands of another or my own body, my reaction is the same. In studying my first marriage and its aftermath, the miscarriages and losses, even my lack of relationship with my father… I have erected hardened, emotional walls for protection. Shut it off so you feel less or hurt less, has been my unhealthy mantra and modus operandi in my life. Breaking or shifting that pattern feels hard and it is my new hurdle to surmount.

Then there is this term rainbow baby being thrown around. The term itself frankly does not sit well with me. It’s a nice concept, I guess, something bright and colorful that follows a storm. Shining light following something dark and scary. In fact, there are currently 700 drawings of rainbows in my house as Landon is deeply obsessed with them. But with fertility, it also implies that once you get pregnant with this rainbow child, that it’s all sunny and literal rainbows… and it means you’ve left your storm completely. As we all know, life is not that simple. As many women who have experienced loss or multiple losses will tell you…  fear and grief for our losses, escape from a newly constructed protection wall…  these things do not vacate your body just because a baby has moved in.

The rainbow concept, as nice as it is, implies that this pregnancy papers over the past with some rainbow bright sparkling light… and I don’t want it to. I want to remember those losses because they taught me what self care really means. I want to remember them because they each had their own name lists and entries in pregnancy apps and due dates. Our losses made me slow down, adjust my life and welcome balance. They allowed me to set priorities that include school pickups mid-afternoon and cherished playground time before dinner. Never before have I advocated for myself… not really, and I finally feel in the driver’s seat.

I do feel I am on the brink of excitement. We have heard her heartbeat three times, seen her little image, we have also dreamed up the perfect name… yet the unbridled elation, the deep love without fear, and all-consuming baby-baby-baby mentality I had when pregnant with Landon and with our first pregnancy, it has not come yet. I am very happy, but I do recall an otherworldly obsession in the past. That kind of unbridled joy that can exist when you fully release fear of being hurt. It is something I have felt before, but not yet and maybe never with this one. And that is OKAY. When discussing our expecting with people, I find myself faking it a little with my answer to “what a blessing, you must be beyond thrilled!” The only answer is “YES!” To give the answer “well, with my past, I’m working on bringing down this emotional wall I’ve put up”… talk about a Debbie Downer.

This child…  she will be loved, doted on and cherished. I do not worry or doubt that. But I recognize that my journey into motherhood again is paved with well-worn experiences. My eyes are wide open, recognizing all of the miracles that have led us here. I can see the emotional wall being built, and I have never acknowledged it before. I see it as one of the monuments being built that I used to visit as a child growing up outside of D.C. Shining stones being place carefully atop one another, inscribed with what I have seen and felt before. As I work to remove one at a time, I do so without judgement… without the guilt. I have never before felt more like a mother warrior- aware of where I have been yet looking into the future with hope that I can change my patterns. And I will eventually move passed this phase and into accepting joy without fear. It just takes time. And again, that is OKAY.

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We can do such hard things, us mothers… us women… and pregnancy after loss is only one of them. I am here to say to you today… let us not go into this complex time pretending we are fine. What if we didn’t settle for fine but strive for great?  All of our experiences with loss are rainbows that have dimmed, and a new child does not heal us. Those memories and experiences are important for us to remember and carry with us. Everything we endure in life teaches us something if we let it, and they map where we are going next. I think there is immense power in accepting that and studying how that makes us feel.

With incredible love-

Xoxo

Eloise

 

How Was Your Day?

“How was your day, sweetie?”

“good.”

“What did you think of that (insert incredible field trip experience- or wildly cool, themed day)?”

“good.”

“What did you think of your joke I drew in your lunch today?”

“good.”

GOOD?! OMG. CAN YOU PLEASE STOP USING THE WORD GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE?! Which comes out passive aggressively as in “Good? Really? Can we use another word?”

Is this how other people’s family dinners or carpool pick ups go? Is anyone else HATING the word “good” lately? I don’t even have teenagers yet, so is this just going to get worse as we approach 13 and 15? Will we going to graduate to mere grunts by then?

Although I can be cheeky and Pinteresty and try out questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or “How did you fail today?”… a lot of the time I still get “good” as my answer even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense as a response. So, like a good little researcher, I scoured the internet this week looking for conversation starters. I believe I did something similar while in the phase of going on blind dates while I was 24. But here I am at 38 and fully aware that if one of our kids says “good” again to me I’m gonna lose it.

Maybe I’m asking too much at the end of a tiresome day for these little ones (they are 6 and 9 after all), but all I want us to have some semblance of real conversations around our table. And maybe, just maybe, these wild-haired, creative, interesting little humans I’m helping guide through life might delight us with a new word beyond “gooooood”.

One of the suggestions I read requires a little bit of homework, something that might sound tedious but could really be something my kids get into- the question jar. I remember seeing this on  Pinterest years ago and I thought I was SO clever for pinning it. That was it though, I felt accomplished just clicking “pin”. Did I do it? Nope. Alas, we’re here now and this is now one of our Spring Break projects. Hooray for art projects!

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Here are some sample questions, in case you want to join us in this endeavor to get good intel from our littles…

  1. What made you smile today?
  2. Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  3. Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  4. Does everyone have a friend at recess?
  5. What was the book about that your teacher read?
  6. What’s the word of the week?
  7. Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
  8. Did anyone cry?
  9. What did you do that was creative?
  10. What is the most popular game at recess?
  11. What was the best thing that happened today?
  12. Did you help anyone today?
  13. Did you tell anyone “thank you?”
  14. Who did you sit with at lunch?
  15. What made you laugh?
  16. Did you learn something you didn’t understand?
  17. Who inspired you today?
  18. What was the peak and the pit?
  19. What was your least favorite part of the day?
  20. Was anyone in your class gone today?
  21. Did you ever feel unsafe?
  22. What is something you heard that surprised you?
  23. What is something you saw that made you think?
  24. Who did you play with today?
  25. Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  26. What is something that challenged you?
  27. How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
  28. Did you like your lunch?
  29. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
  30. Did anyone get in trouble today?
  31. How were you brave today?
  32. What questions did you ask at school today?
  33. Tell us your top two things from the day (before you can be excused from the dinner table!).
  34. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  35. What are you reading?
  36. What was the hardest rule to follow today?
  37. Teach me something I don’t know.
  38. If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  39. (For older kids):  Do you feel prepared for your history test?” or, “Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?” (In my opinion, the key is not only the way a question is phrased, but responding in a supportive way.)
  40. Who did you share your snacks with at lunch?
  41. What made your teacher smile? What made her frown?
  42. What kind of person were you today?
  43. What made you feel happy?
  44. What made you feel proud?
  45. What made you feel loved?
  46. Did you learn any new words today?
  47. What do you hope to do before school is out for the year?
  48. If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  49. What is your least favorite part of the school building? And favorite?
  50. If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?

My plan is also to ask them to write down their questions- whatever they might be. Landon hit me with this one the other month… “How does God stay up all day and all night… that’s impossible.” Whoa….

I’ll share our progress as we get this going! What works and is still simply “good”.  Sending y’all love and hope for beautiful and relaxing weekends.

xoxo,

Eloise

 

 

 

The Journey

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Last summer, I hit a wall. Not a literal one- it was more metaphysical and felt like an emotional blockage. I was unclear of whether I was causing myself to be unhappy or letting what happened in my life consume me. All I knew was that I was not in control- it felt like life was happening to me. I couldn’t control the spiral, that much I knew. I was grumpy all the time, snapping at our children. I was irritable and edgy, especially if I saw someone with a baby or wonderfully swollen with pregnancy. And I couldn’t shake it either- workouts, wine, concerts, trips… we had joyful experiences but they felt occasionally fleeting or that they couldn’t shift me back to myself.

I’d rise each day, attempt a meditation and fail… my mind immediately sensing irritability. Fat was comfortably stored on my hips and my darling acupuncturist said my qi was virtually null. I worked a lot as well, dedicated and proud of my role and what I’d accomplished, yet the joy it usually brought me was missing. HR felt harder than ever, I felt everyone’s everything and couldn’t shut off the daily swell of emotions relating to work upon returning home. I was not owning my own life.

I wasn’t owning the pain and depression that riddled my body after the losses- the miscarriages, the chemical pregnancies, my guilt for having stressed out and damaged eggs. I was going so far as to be so angry at who I was in my first marriage- a young girl wracked with resentment and anger and too afraid to stand up for myself, too afraid to say… I like myself too much for this to keep happening.. or for us both to act like this.  I thought often that if I’d stood up for myself back then, remembered who I was and where my backbone was located that possibly I’d be here in this phase of my life with some semblance of normal fertility hopes. Stress destroys eggs, they told me, and it’s not hard to recall all the story lines of stress coursing through my life’s story.

Fertility doctors left me sobbing in parking lots, and my lost hope was not just about getting pregnant but truly in feeling like myself. I’d spent years not loving myself then rebuilding that love. I felt I like was moving backwards. What an unbelievably unhealthy internal home I had created… no wonder no eggs could sustain themselves.

So I made a decision. One floated by my amazing therapist months before action. I made a startling choice to leave my job for months or who knows… and focus on healing. In order to truly look inward and explore the sadness, the situational depression… I had to walk away from trying to constantly solve other people’s struggles. I had to stop giving myself to a job that fed my workaholic tendencies. I chose to walk away from a career 16 years in the making. Terrifying stuff I tell you, yet the only choice if I wanted to actually be happy.

What’s shocking is how bad it felt to choose myself.. I was in denial that my email inbox didn’t need me more than my own body’s healing process did. I learned that the unknown would feel uncomfortable much like facing fears and pain in therapy would. I had to accept it and dive in, for myself, my family, my friends and then my career. I had to accept that this career might look very different in the future… and to find excitement instead of trepidation. For someone who likes safety, like steady paychecks and to check off boxes on lists… this felt overwhelmingly risky. But it’s what I had to do… I knew it in my gut.

The leave began the week of my birthday. It felt perfect somehow … to try to rebuild at a typical time of reflection. I would spend the next few months stripping away that which wasn’t working or helping me or I was tired of- fertility specialists, 30 vitamins a day, urgent and frequent working out. Instead I chose loads of therapy from two people and more acupuncture. The hardest yet most important part was working toward releasing pressure to get pregnant. I had to find a way to completely and utterly accept and love that our family of four might not grow and it was not just okay… it would be filled with pure joy.

It’s important to point out that this leave of absence worked for me- to treat my specific sadness. It doesn’t work for everyone and not everyone can make this choice. I felt particularly loved and lucky to have the kind of supportive husband that would tell me that I must come first. The risk of job security couldn’t be the deciding factor. We enjoyed birthdays, holidays and one of the most miraculous trips of our lives. My eye stopped twitching. Sleep became my friend and naps were regularly enjoyed. Instead of the list of things I’d do all over town, I found comfort in my home. Being quiet, reading, watching my favorite shows. Working out when I felt like it and mainly on my yoga mat. Happiness became easier to locate and I started to throw myself into cooking and art. Small joys, old joys that I’d lost. The help was helping and I was proud to continue to ask for more of it.

Coming out of the holidays I began to make plans for returning to work. I knew that boundaries were the only way I could maintain this balance… to continue to be able to feel this thing I’d found called happiness. Less hours, maybe more than one client but less hours. I was the only one who could set the terms and stick to them. I had to locate one of the hardest words for most women… “no”.

I am not saying that I’m “healed” or that nothing will bring me down again. But this past winter marks a huge leap forward for me personally. Choosing myself so I can be there for others… has made all the difference in the world.

If you are struggling now, if the balance and the pain of your fertility struggle is consuming you… I see you, I hear you. I stand with you.

Onward dear friends… toward choosing happiness and ourselves.

xoxo,

Eloise

 

 

This week

A week of her not sleeping. Of mouth “breathing” which sounds like she’s pulling air through one of those skinny twisty straws. A week of her dad and I taking turns, at our respective homes, half sleeping next to her, texting each other through our fear. A week of propping her up, humidifiers, Afrin, homeopathic chest salve. A week of her falling asleep at school mid-day because she’s exhausted. Finally we are heading to the ENT- and our friend luckily. Tonsils or adenoids or jaw distraction or all three to be discussed today… again. I slept next to her last night for a stretch and cried the entire time. I hate that it’s just so hard for her sometimes and I can’t fix it. Her struggle is felt in every bone in my body. Okay, time to regroup…more later after Doctor Clemmons ❤️ #landonglover #sheisawonder #tcs

On Being: Life as an Empath

Life as an empath can be quite tricky. We are the healers of the world, often able to help everyone except ourselves. When heartbreak is felt, we immediately and wrongfully believe it is somehow our fault- from infidelity, rejection of a friend and of course pregnancy loss. Uniquely, as an empath, I feel what others feel. I can overhear a conversation of perfect strangers infused with painful emotion and find myself choked up. Especially when you’re already low, being in the world can just be too much.

As heartache has found itself at my doorstep on more than one occasion, I have in turn shut myself off, hiding and numbing with shopping, Downton Abbey or some other heroine’s story as long as it wasn’t my own. As long as my vulnerability isn’t required. This is a reaction I’ve employed off and on for ten years and even recently leading up to our trip last week to Peru.

I was oddly nervous to take this trip, scared to open the comforting doors of my home where I’ve been quietly healing myself during my typical work week since October. It was an adventure I craved yet I didn’t quite feel mended enough and worried my lack of planning would render us lost, sick or in a panic. I knew I had to admit this to myself and my partner as our trip began. I needed to force the words into the air and as they hung there, my vulnerability was met with kindness and acceptance both on his part and mine. From that moment, the fear dissipated and I could welcome walking foreign streets and hiking wildly steep mountains with joy and gratitude.

This trip became a pilgrimage of spirit, one where I meditated on my courage to live my life in full acceptance of being an empath and the gifts this identity grants me. In returning home from this momentous experience, I am more acutely aware of the gifts in my life, on the love I’m grateful to receive and what loss has given me instead of what it’s taken away. A partner that is dedicated, wildly romantic, and deeply kind; immeasurable love and joy from our children; wonderful relationships with my mother and family; genuine friendships and sisterhood; respect and a new kind of love for all the co-parents in our lives and most importantly love of self.

I see all of you fellow empaths and marvel at your greatness. Don’t let what feels like a burden of emotions tackle you. Your gifts are always worth celebrating and I’m always here, feeling it all with you.

Xoxo,

Eloise