Have we met before?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to marry a good Mormon boy from a large Mormon family, and in the summers, we would flit from one large family reunion to another. Instead I got Dick, who, after surviving my dad’s family’s reunion, wanted to know whether family reunions were a common thing in Utah.

You know the Christmas letters that sound as if you’re trying to pimp out your kids? Family reunions can be even worse — a full-color, animated Christmas letter you can’t tape to the refrigerator door and ignore.

If you’re in the market for a career, or have children who need a swift kick in the rear career advice, you might want to keep in mind that the bar for bragging has been raised in recent years. Where once it was enough to graduate from a respectable college and enter a respectable profession (engineer, doctor, engineer, lawyer, dentist, engineer), now you need a little something extra to get respect around the family reunion campfire.

My sweet cousin Peter, who’s number 30 of 57 first cousins or something (I lost the cousin chart they handed out the second night) is not someone I’ve talked to much before (I hang with numbers 10-20). He’s returning to college this fall, and it’s a safe guess that his major is chemical/mechanical/civil non-disobedience engineering.

Peter, who knows that I am a stay-at-home mom like all the other female cousins my age, said to me, “You studied at BYU for awhile, right?”

That night around the campfire, we had family sharing time, where each of my dad’s three sisters and six brothers (except that one brother who’s always “busy”) introduced their kids, beaming proudly if they’d managed to produce their kids in the flesh, hoping to produce adequate excuses if their kids couldn’t make it. Being out of the country on a mission for our church earns a pass, barely.

Occupations and recent accomplishments were mentioned, as were their children’s children. My oldest cousin is turning 40 next year, and he and his wife have adopted several — my three girls are a small, if glittering, contribution to the family tree.

So what’s the most coveted bragging point for mostly-Republican, highly-religious, mostly-high-achiever families? (And an automatic get-out-of-family-reunions card?)

Highest honors around the campfire go to those who have at least one child working in a top secret job for somebody like Lockheed or the NSA.* Then you get to say that you’d like to explain what Johnny does, only he can’t tell you because then he’d have to kill you. Or as my dad’s next oldest brother’s wife says her son says: “I can’t tell you or I’d have to do a lot of paperwork.”

Several of my dad’s nine siblings have sons who have every reason to view more paperwork as the kiss of death.

After my grandparent’s youngest kid told us about his youngest kid’s bluegrass band, my dad said he needed to amend his progeny spiel.

Turns out he has daughters, as do all his brothers and sisters, and, though they are not secret undercover operatives, or even doctors or lawyers or engineers, or MAYOR OF WASILLA, they are doing something wonderful: raising children to become secret undercover operatives or doctor or lawyers or engineers.

Or, as in my case: raising mothers. Mothers who will become governor of Alaska, if I and my studying for awhile at BYU had any confidence in the current fairy tale.

Dad even said that his oldest daughter does the blog, and boy! does she post often.

Then, since I am a supportive wife, I pointed out that Dick also has a top-secret, classified, vital job, and since he works for our church, he answers to a higher power. So there. Your sons might be keeping the free world safe, but my husband? He’s protecting God’s secrets.

And I am raising kids and doing the blog.

*My cousins don’t actually work for these people. I’d tell you who they work for, or where in the world they’re deployed, but then I probably wouldn’t be invited back next year . . .

Spot Scavenges After Church

I fed Spot and Susan leftover macaroni and cheese after church. I was at the computer (which I rarely am on weekends), suffering from a little post-traumatic stress disorder. Not to belittle those who get PSD from war: sometimes, church IS war. Spot ate most of her noodles and then found some cereal from breakfast. Probably Sally’s bowl, because Bunny is still perched vigilantly.

Wordless Wednesday

1 in 4: My Miscarriage Story

Question: Did you ever get over your miscarriage? You are the only person that has ever really talked to me about having one, so I hope it’s ok that I ask, but I think I think about it too much, like I was supposed to have a baby last month. My baby would be one month old this week . . . you know, am I totally crazy for thinking about it this much?

I recently exchanged some emails with a friend I haven’t talked to in several months. We had a lot to catch up on, but the miscarriage was a big part of it. Another friend of mine is now waiting, at 18 weeks, for her non-viable fetus to die. Once you have a miscarriage, you find out that almost everyone else has too. Yet we don’t seem to share the stories of them like we do our birth stories.

Here’s mine:

It was December 22, 2003. I was studying for my linguistics final at the American University in Cairo. Sally was three years old, and it had taken me that long to think that maybe another baby would be a good thing. My first prenatal appointment was scheduled for the next week. I was eleven weeks along, and I noticed a trail of reddish-brown blood when I went to the bathroom.

I screamed for Dick, which is what I do whenever something scares or angers or thrills me. I couldn’t get a hold of Dr. Hamza (whom I hadn’t met yet), and we frantically called other doctors, without success. Living in Egypt would have been a punishment worthy of the Spanish Inquisition if not for the friends we met who were like family.

Josh, one of those friends, ran to our house (not even stopping to hail a taxi), when he couldn’t get through on our line to give us a doctor referral. He and his wife (and their two sons) took Sally overnight so we could go to the hospital.

In our hurry and agitation we forgot to take any money. I think we did take our letter of introduction/guarantee from the University (Dick’s employer), but Dick ended up taking a taxi to get our credit card. I should have gone with him, because the admitting people took pity on me and let me into the ultrasound room after a nurse checked my cervix and found it completely closed.

I think most women remember how quiet the room gets when the technician or radiologist looks at the screen, finds no heartbeat, and wonders how to break the news to the anxious woman on the table. It was like that, only my technician had to figure out how to say it in English too. But I knew. And I cried, in that dark room, while Dick was rushing to get money.

My baby, who we were hoping would be a boy we would name Simon had been dead for three weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for a D&C the next day. (I don’t know if it would have been fine to go home and wait for things to happen naturally, but with the baby already long-dead and the language barrier, I stayed at the hospital).

My mom had three miscarriages between my first brother and my second sister. I don’t think I spoke to her on the phone while I was at the hospital, so maybe I was just remembering her experience. I know that her advice was that I needed to see the body of my baby in order to get closure and aid the healing process.

The one good thing about miscarriage (and Egyptian hospitals) is that they can give you some fine drugs, as there are no other considerations. I drifted to sleep in my bleak hospital room feeling pretty groovy.

I woke in the night to use the bathroom. Perhaps the worst thing about Egypt as a country is that you have to baksheesh (bribe) the nurses in order to get toilet paper and handsoap in your room. We were unaware of this cultural quirk, and so the unresponsive (and understandably resentful) attendants were very frustrating.

As I sat in the bathroom, I felt the baby coming out, and I panicked. The thought of the baby falling into the toiled was horrifying. I raced back to the bed and rang for a nurse. She came in, sullen and impatient, and I tried to explain what was happening. She checked me and pulled out a large blood clot. Looking back, I don’t know why Dick didn’t stay with me at the hospital, and I don’t know why the nurses weren’t just a bit more sympathetic.

I never saw the baby’s body, and I didn’t want to. I still have the pictures from the ultrasound, and they make me sad enough.

But most of the time I don’t even think about what happened almost five years ago. It was a quiet Christmas. We spent Christmas Eve with just Josh and Suzy’s family, instead of the noisy party we’d gone to the year before. When I came home and we got Sally back, I sat on the floor just inside our apartment and held her.

Suzy asked me if I wanted her to tell our friends what had happened so I wouldn’t have to talk about it all the time. That sounded like such a relief to me.

A few things helped me heal relatively quickly. First, of course, were the loving, generous friends we had, including the women (esp. Alyson F.) who shared their own miscarriage stories with me. I guess it could seem like you’re trying to minimize the grief of each individual situation to say that it “happens all the time,” but for me it’s a comfort to know that others have experienced similar things and gone on to better times.

Another thing that helped was my belief system, but in a perhaps-unconventional way. In the Mormon church we believe families can be together forever. I grew up thinking I had three brothers waiting in heaven to join our family after we all died. After my miscarriage, which the doctors told me was due to a chromosomal abnormality that was incompatible with life, I wondered what my church’s doctrine really was about this sort of thing. Nothing I found in my research dictated anything conclusive about when the spirit enters the body or whether children miscarried are part of families. In short, it bothered me to think of my baby in heaven, when the fetus could be described as a “biological mistake.”

I’m not saying that any woman (Mormon or not, Christian or not, religious or not) would be wrong to believe and to feel comforted in the belief that her baby is happily awaiting her in heaven. But this is not what sounds right to me in my situation. (If I’m wrong, I just hope the baby is growing up, at least past the potty-training stage.) It comforted me to think/believe that, while God allows mistakes to happen, it was definitely for the best that my baby did not survive with whatever completely debilitating (I mean, actually incompatible-with-life) chromosomal anomalies were present.

And the biggest healing aid (which is not a possibility for my sweet friend who is still thinking of her baby) was that I got pregnant again a month later.

Of course, fears of miscarriage never leave you once you’ve had one, and when I started bleeding copiously at 16 weeks with my next pregnancy, I feared the worst. This time the blood was a bright, bright red, and an ultrasound showed that a blood clot had formed and broken between the membranes surrounding the uterus. I was on bedrest for a couple days and took strange suppositories with scary side effect warnings and Katherine brought me chili and talked to me. Five months later I gave birth to Susan in Florida.

My heart aches for my friend who still thinks of her baby who would have been one month old this week. And for my friend who went from being excited about her second baby, to worrying about Down’s Syndrome, to mourning a baby who most likely won’t survive the second trimester.

But to answer your question, Danielle, I don’t think you’re thinking about your baby too much. As long as you’re able to care for the child you do have and to take pleasure in everyday things and to sleep and eat pretty normally, I think you’re healing, slowly. If you’re not able to do these things, or if you feel sadder now than you did six months ago, it might be a good idea to get some counseling. There are online support groups, but I think an actual, drive there and see people face-to-face sort of thing might be even more helpful.

There’s nothing wrong with mourning for a life and a baby, so long hoped-for and loved already. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what being a mother is all about. That, and the rejoicing when things miraculously do go right.

Awkward, like Steve Carrell, only not as funny

We went to the zoo today. My dad’s work was having their yearly ‘company picnic,’ complete with catered lunch and crafts for the kids. Dad dotes on his six grandkids. I know this is what grandparents are supposed to do, but he certainly didn’t dote on me (at least, not that I remember from my teen years). My sister was there too, quieter, sadder, and I don’t know when she’ll again enjoy a simple outing without thinking of how things were supposed to be.

At the lunch, we remarked on the nifty plastic tablecloths. They were fitted and had a tiny edging of elastic to kept them from shifting. My dad was so struck by them that I volunteered to go ask the friendly, middle-aged zoo host guy where they got them. He and his helper were very chatty. I said the tablecloths would be great for church activities, and then later in the conversation he asked what I thought of the whole event. I said that the only thing not perfect was that I wasn’t sure that the paints being used for the birdhouse craft would come out of my childrens’ clothes. And he said, “Well, that would be a great topic for a Relief Society night.”

This caught me off guard and I didn’t respond right away. He said, “You know, getting paint out of clothes.” Still a confused look on my face, so he rushed to apologize: “Oh, when you said that about church activities, but, I’m sorry . . . ,” and of course I said, “Oh no, that’s fine, you’re right, it would be a great topic for Relief Society.” (Although it wouldn’t. Who wants to learn about laundry techniques on the rare night out with the church-girls?)

The weird thing is that I’m sure at some point in my life I wouldn’t have been at all surprised by his casual reference to the church I belong to. And at some other point in my life I would have been offended on behalf of every non-Mormon that someone would assume from a simple “church activities” that I was Mormon and not Baptist or Catholic. I’m pretty sure they have activities too. Not to mention his assuming that everyone knows that “Relief Society,” in Mormon terms, refers to the entire women’s group, and not some committee to send aid to lepers in the leper colony (although Relief Society women have been known to knit those funny bandages).

Now I’m at a point in my life where it was just awkward, and I felt bad for him putting me on the spot and for me putting him on the spot. Of course, it was even more awkward when, after he had taken pains to speak to the craft women and to assure me that the birdhouse paint was water-soluble, I spilled an entire coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloth and then had to stand around apologizing and feeling stupid while he cleaned up after me.

Not my finest moment.

Also at the lunch, a woman came over to Dick and me. I did not recognize her at first, though she looks much more similar to her pre-children college self than I do. In other words, she looks great. Turns out that the three of us were in Writing Fellows together, which was the class/club/ finally-I-know-who-I-am-group where Dick and I met at BYU. She is married to my dad’s, well, not boss exactly, but very-respected colleague of some sort. We asked some personal (awkward) questions in an attempt to catch up. Yes, those four kids are hers. No, the older two (including a 14 year-old) are from her husband’s first marriage. Etc.

Dick and I talked too much, in our excitement at seeing her and through her, re-connecting with our idealistic, impressionable selves. I often feel later that I have monopolized a conversation, talking too much about myself, my interests and I never know if it’s because I am a really insufferable person (probably) or if the people I tend to be friends with are just really good at asking questions and seeming to be interested in me.

We asked her if she was writing. And it was as if we had asked if she were curing cancer yet. She was bashful, a bit apologetic, wistful. (I guess if you felt you should be curing cancer you’d be REALLY apologetic). I stumbled to say, “Of course, I know with kids and all, it’s almost impossible to do anything else.”

So, no writing, except for some family history things, stories about her ancestors, that sort of thing. Which, of course, is “writing,” though it was obvious that she didn’t consider it to be the kind of thing that we were talking about. Even after we told her we mostly blog, and everyone knows that isn’t a very respectable form of writing. And Dick is a technical writer, which everyone knows is selling out.

I wondered how I would have felt two years ago or a week ago when I felt like never writing another post, if someone had asked me, “Are you writing?”

Quite likely I would have screamed, “Are you KIDDING me? When should I be writing? Between the mopping of the syrup and the listening to the tantrums? Or the policing of the snack cupboard and the feeling guilty for pulling hair? Or the listening to the whining and the smelling stinky panties? I haven’t even had my Mountain Dew yet, and you think I SHOULD BE WRITING?”

I wanted to apologize, and yet, how could I? I’d apologize for the fact that her kids are taking up so much of her time, only she looks like she’s enjoying it, and her kids look really happy too.

The worst part is that Dick and I actually had cards to give her. I felt like a realtor, or a Mary Kay consultant. At least my cards were free at Vista Print and I only got them for that blogging conference I went to a few weeks ago. And they don’t have my picture on them.

Still, it was awkward, especially since she probably saw the thing later with the spilled coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloths.

The good thing is that, even though I have now stayed up another hour and a half to write this, and I’ll be paying for it tomorrow, I feel so much lighter, so much freer. Like I’ve apologized for real now, in writing, for all the awkward things that happened today. And that, Dear Reader, is why I write.


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Catholic Church asks The DaVinci Code Author to be Goodwill Ambassador

Not really. Or if they have, I didn’t hear about it. But Dooce is running ads for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). I am a Mormon, and I love Dooce. These things are not incompatible in my little world, but only because I am complex like that.

Does the church know who Dooce is? Does Dooce remember who the church is? I am SO confused.

I told you I needed therapy; I just didn’t know it would be for Internet Dissonance.

Because I could not strangle you in person

I must warn you: This is not a funny post. I don’t even try to be funny here. But I do gain Greek-tragedy-like catharsis, and so can you!

Someone made me mad at church today. Not an uncommon occurrence, though usually I just feel sympathy for the mis-opinionated. Unlike Giselle in Enchanted, I easily recognize and feel anger, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve felt enough anger for . . . well, for myself and for someone who hasn’t felt much anger for herself.

I bore my testimony (“testified”) today, and I talked about agency (“free will”) and about how my sister is experiencing a trial worse than any trial I ever imagined she or I would go through. I wasn’t trying to be melodramatic; I wanted to express my own hurt and my admiration for her reaction to this trial. Instead of wallowing in anger and destroying things (my natural inclination), my sister has responded by reading the scriptures more, praying more, and spending time with her kids and our family.

Maybe it sounded like I would be mad at God if something like this happened to me. That’s not what I meant; I’d be angry at someone whose clothing I could shred and valued possessions I could take a baseball bat to.

A few speakers after me, a prosperous-looking, attractive young man got up and did his spiel. He said we shouldn’t get mad at our trials, and shouldn’t even be surprised by them. They are, after all, what we signed up for in coming to this earth. We knew we’d be tried and tested, tempted and tribulated. Embrace the trial! Turn to God and all will be well!

Dude! Did he think I was talking about a hangnail that’s giving her some trouble?

If one believes in a literal resurrection, and in the atonement’s power to cleanse sin, then the worst possible thing to ever happen to someone is the refusal to repent (or to be affected by someone who refuses to repent). This is not to diminish the immense pain that accompanies death or miscarriage or disease, but just to say that they all CAN be fixed, eventually. If I refuse to repent, however, that can’t be fixed.

And, for those whose religious convictions are different, surely you would agree that to break one’s solemn promises, to refuse to even try to honor one’s vows and covenants, is pretty low. And that the people affected by such broken promises are facing real devastation.

The funniest thing about that young man’s testimony was that he was so sure of these things that he has learned through “my many years of experience.” Right. Because he’s 24 and single and childless and looks like he has suffered. Oh, how he has suffered.

My mom said that maybe we shouldn’t be letting our daughters watch these Disney princess fairy tales all the time. Because what are they learning? Happily ever after and prince charming and animals coming to help you with the housework.

I’d agree with her, and I did introduce my sisters and mom to Sara Bareilles’ Fairytale, which gets more clever every time I hear it. BUT, happily ever after, that people should get married and stay married, and that families are meant to be together forever is what we believe in. It’s not just a Disney movie, it’s what we believe.

Does a kangaroo have a mother too?

Easter was just another opportunity for me to feel oppressed and traumatized as a child. Like Halloween but with less publicizing of how terribly awkward my parents were — at least we didn’t have to hide in the basement from trick-or-treaters on Easter. My parents were your basic conscientious-pagan-tradition-abstainers.

We didn’t get Easter bonnets or gloves or baskets or candy. We often got new spring dresses that my mom sewed by hand (and needle, I assume), but they weren’t “Easter” dresses, and by the time I was 12, I didn’t want home-sewn clothes anyway. Mom made cute dresses for her 5 granddaughters this spring, and while I’m calling them Easter dresses so I don’t have to shell out real money, they did wear them last week. So technically they’re Palm Sunday dresses, and next week they’ll be plain old spring dresses.

If Easter’s not about eggs and bunnies and chocolate (well, everything should be a little bit about chocolate), and I did get that message from my mean parents, and if it’s not about the pagan goddess Eostre, then I guess we’ll be celebrating Christ and the Resurrection and forgiveness, rebirth, new beginnings, victory over death and all that.

christus_statue.jpg

We could write Easter resolutions and plan our brave new lives, which would require giving up what our lives have been so far. And some parts of my life I really like, even (especially?) the self-indulgent lazy parts. And what if, because life isn’t fair, we have to start over when the good part, or what we always thought was the good part, is taken from us before we were ready, or when we would never be ready to do without it? Why isn’t life fair, when Christ suffered so much and bled and died and rose again? Why didn’t that, if nothing else, fix everything? How do we start over from what seems like scratch?

The older I get, the few answers I have (and the less original I can be, I realize). I do know the answer to one question: Are Mormons Christians? Whatever else we are (sinning, fanatic-ish-at-times, repenting, occasionally narrow-minded, generous as a people, devoted to our prophets and our heritage), we are Christians. As Joseph Smith said, “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:22)

Somehow, this makes everything better, even if it doesn’t fix everything right now, right away, right as I want it. He lives. And someday, that will make everything right.