Monthly Archives: October 2013

What To Expect When You Weren’t Expecting

You didn’t read the baby books. You didn’t have pregnancy tests on hand. You hadn’t been taking prenatal vitamins, scrambling to plan sexy evenings during your O-days, and consuming 60,000 extra milligrams of folic acid every few minutes. Because you didn’t know you were within four light years of housing a fetus.

Me either. Welcome to the club. I am the kindhearted big sister who will let you in on all the things I have learned in the last eight months of my very unexpected pregnancy. Because all women are different, all pregnancies are different, so perhaps you will experience none of what I have so far. But just in case, here’s the lowdown.

1.) You might wake up one morning with a rash from hell. It feels like your lower belly is having a wildly abrasive allergic reaction to the dragon breath of your hormones. An intense, fiery passion to claw at your skin until it bleeds will overpower you. Luckily, this tends to happen at opportune moments, such as the dozing stage right before sleep when you’re finally wedged in between five voluminous pillows carefully, ingeniously arranged into a fluffy sleep cloud that doesn’t allow your belly to pull at your back and relieves the swelling in your ankles. Because it takes a minute to locate your hands in the cocoon you spent so much time designing, the itch-burn has time to build into a truly nuclear situation. Here’s my suggestion: a coating of topical Benadryl spray underneath a layer of anti-itch lotion applied twice a day, and for the love of God, don’t touch any skin within a four-foot radius of the hormone rash. You are fighting an uphill battle here.

2.) Your dog might know you’re pregnant before you do. That is how oblivious I was. About three days before my man and I saw The Second Pink Line, our dog fairly glued himself to my midsection. He would crawl into my lap and place an ear on my lower belly and stay there as long as I’d let him. I thought he’d developed an affinity for my digestive noises. Weirder things have happened when it comes to animals. And digestive noises. But in fact, Peabody apparently sensed a shift in my body, however slight, and was desperate to figure it out. If your dog doesn’t do this, he might just not be as smart as mine.

3.) You might start hearing a lot of “just wait until.”  How many times has this scene played out:

Coworker/Acquaintance/Stranger: How are you feeling, Mama?
Amie: I feel unbelievably tired. Even my blood could use a nap.
Coworker/Acquaintance/Stranger: Oh, just wait until that little girl is on the other side of your uterus! Ha ha ha!
Amie: I will cut you.

Why people enjoy invalidating your current situation so they can give you an even gloomier look into the future (based solely on their own unhappy reality) is beyond me. This is what I figure: having a baby will be more stressful than anything I’ve ever done by a factor of 1,000; however, if I’ve gotten through every other stage in life successfully, I’ll get through this one too. And there must be some joy in the process because when I told people I was pregnant, they got all bright-eyed and huggy. Unless my friends are all masochists…well, they kind of are, come to think of it.

4.) You might need to stock up on groceries you never bought before. Mine has been cheese and, lately, orange juice. Some mornings I would’ve exchanged the baby herself for some slices of cheese and an inexcusably large glass of pulp-free orange juice. I’d heard of pregnancy cravings of course, but it seemed like they were always (1) weird, and (2) fleeting. Mine have been neither. Cheese is not weird. Orange juice is not weird. And my deep, heart-aching need for both has been anything but fleeting. They’re just grocery-list-topping necessities at this point in my third-trimester bonanza.

5.) You might cry every single time the tech lets you listen to your lady parts. Well, we’re not listening to my lady parts anymore because Anna has positioned herself much higher in her advanced fetal age. But in the beginning, when you have the ultrasounds performed by a “wand,” and all you’re looking at on the screen are your lady parts marked by one dark dot, you might still lose your poise when you hear that heart plugging away, trying to get itself all strong and formed. When I heard Anna’s heartbeat the first time, I thought, “That is the perfect sound, the sound my ears were created to hear.” It was beautiful, and it was over too fast. I wanted to take the instrument home to listen to her heart every free moment. And even though I’ve heard her chug-chug-chugging away several times now, it’s no less magical at each appointment.

I love this brand-new human with a purity and immediacy I never dreamed possible. No, I wasn’t “expecting” those two lines I saw in April, but now I can’t imagine expecting anything else.

P.S.: The title of this post was inspired by the FaceBook status of a comedian I like; however, everything in the post belongs solely to me.

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The One-Yard Line

As soon as I hung up from K’s call, I grabbed my purse and keys, as was my habit. But this time I went the opposite direction from my favorite coffee-and-dessert shop. Blessed relief rushed over me: finally, someone knew. The hiding and dodging were over, and the beast, now named, could be destroyed. I didn’t love being exposed, even to K, but I was suddenly high on hope.

My little gold Sentra carried me down Barracks Road at fifty miles per hour, the second step I took that day toward healing: for the first time in years, I celebrated a victory with something other than food, which I’d always reached for to increase euphoria in the past. I pumped up the Dave Matthews and played the drums on my steering wheel. I smiled widely and waved at the horses on the Garth Road farms. It was glorious and, to be honest, a little comical.

Then, something dawned on me: I didn’t actually have a plan for becoming “normal”; I just believed it could be done. This was not a plan. But because I also believed in my university, I removed my phone from my purse before I could lose the courage and dialed Student Health. When I was connected to the counseling department, I said, “I’m a graduate student, and I want to see a counselor.” A chirpy woman on the other end informed me that Wednesday afternoons were reserved for walk-ins, so I could do an intake before my 3:30 class the next day.

But by the time a stout, fortyish African-American man called my name on Wednesday, I was less convinced. I’d gotten “help” before from doctors who directed me to diet plans, from groups of dieters who promised to increase my motivation, and from Christian counselors who said I needed to pray. Nothing had done the trick: here I was, looking for another answer. Scrounging up my last reserves of hope, I smiled politely and followed the guy down a short hallway.

“I’m Dr. Morgan,” he said when we reached his office.

“Amie,” I responded.

“Why are we here, Amie?” Efficient and professional, Dr. Morgan had little use for pleasantries. His head was bent over my new file, pen poised to paraphrase whatever clean-cut response I offered to his question.

I sighed. “Well…I’m miserable with myself, I’m going to fail my comprehensive exams, I don’t love my husband, I’m no longer sure why I wanted a master’s in French, I have no vocational vision, I’m generally living in a way most Christians like me would renounce, the fog in my brain seems to have eaten up my decision-making skills, and I miss my friends and family so much it hurts.” I paused. “Also, I’m an addict,” I added, barely loud enough for him to hear. I strummed my fingers absently on the corner of his desk. “So there’s that,” I mumbled without making eye contact. It was no more comfortable to say this to a professional than it had been with K.

Dr. Morgan looked at me with a practiced expression that betrayed none of his thoughts. “Hm,” he grunted with a nod, apparently unsure of what to write. Still looking at me, perhaps waiting for a second avalanche of fear and shame, he eventually said, “Okay.” He scribbled on my intake papers, and I answered a few demographic questions. After the necessities were concluded, he set his pen down and laced his fingers. “What exactly do you hope to get out of counseling, Amie?”

I stared at my shoes. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. Two or three times I started to talk before deciding the words were ridiculous. My eyes filled with tears, and I said, “I just need help.”

The silence was awful. As my resolve crumbled, I vowed I’d hit the Corner for something to eat as soon as I could bolt from Dr. Morgan. Since I’d gone so long without allowing myself to experience pain, I was shocked by the raw sensation my emotions caused. I was suddenly “starving.”

Dr. Morgan looked over his notes and said, “Well, there are a few women in town who are trained marriage counselors. I’m sure one of them would be happy to talk to you and your husband, or just you if that’s more palatable. We’ll of course negotiate a reduced fee, since we don’t offer marriage counseling here at the university.” His eyes were back to my file.

So he assumed the rocky marriage was the Big Problem that brought me to counseling. Great, now I would have to reiterate what a disgraceful, disgusting addict I was.

“Well, if we could forget the marriage and focus on the…addiction for now, I think that would be more beneficial,” I said quietly.

“I see,” Dr. Morgan said with a nod, staring at me again.

The session never became less awkward. It brought me so much shame to come out of hiding and describe my actions for Dr. Morgan and why I felt so desperate for help. To comply with policy, he couldn’t help me in isolation without the cooperation of the university nutritionist and gynecologist, so he informed me that he’d make me appointments with each of those women and call to let me know when they were scheduled. When I’d seen them both, I could return to him for a comprehensive plan of action. I nodded as if this were all okay with me.

After I left his office, I went straight to a diner and ate enough to feed a family of four starving refugees. I wasn’t sure I could face anyone else with the truth, let alone a doctor and a nutritionist. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could face myself with it anymore. Perhaps it would be easier to consider this all an unsuccessful foray into weight loss – something I was very familiar with – nothing more. So I escaped for the moment and then headed on to class, equally soothed and sickened by my behavior. Like the end zone when you’re lined up one yard away, my rescue was so near that it was nearly impossible to reach.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty

The Beginning of Redemption

“Hi, my name is Amie, and I’m a food addict.”

“Hi, Amie!”

It doesn’t matter how you confess addiction for the first time, whether to an anonymous gathering of your own kind or to a friend over the phone (as I did) or to no one but yourself in a quake of sickening realization. It is the deepest humiliation to say, “I have a problem, and I can’t help myself.” It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon in September 2009 when I first admitted my addiction. Although it was a full twelve years in the making, I’d never said it out loud, or even in my head, ever before. As I held the phone that connected me to my precious friend K’s voice, my insides finally collapsed, exhausted and completely repulsed by who I was.

I’d morphed into a person unwilling to deal with negative emotions, and at the time of my confession to K, I was juggling far too many. I hated my body for being so unappealing – to me, if to no one else. I hated my brain for not “thinking its way out” of addiction like it seemed to be able to think its way out of everything else. I hated living so far away from my friends and family. I hated the marriage I was in and the sexual dysfunction I was experiencing. I hated my infertility and the miscarriage I’d suffered. I hated the stress of graduate school. I hated my introversion and inability to be like those funny, charming people I admired. I hated my lack of vocational direction. I hated my general unhappiness. Most days I felt like I was screaming into a vacuum for someone to please-God help me.

Second, I was living outside my convictions. I believed in balance: balance between work and play, between mind and heart. I believed in honesty and truth. I believed in God and his zeal for my spiritual well-being. I believed I was worth love and acceptance. Yet my life didn’t reflect any of those convictions, and I hated that too. I felt like a fraud and a failure.

But the “good” thing was that I could get relief any time I wanted it – inexpensively, legally, and without raising anyone’s suspicions. When I started feeling controlled by my then-husband, embarrassed by who I was, or any other impossible feeling, I could jump into my car and head to a fast-food joint, bakery, or ice cream shop. After stuffing my face, sometimes twice, I didn’t feel any better, but I did feel numb and distracted, both of which are preferable to “hurt.” I became so talented at self-soothing that eventually I didn’t recognize the negative feelings at all. Eventually, when something made me tick, I would pick up my keys and purse without actually noticing that I was hurting. In fact, it got to the point that I didn’t experience hunger as a physical sensation anymore, only an emotional one. I no longer remembered how physical hunger or satiation felt. I was all reflex, a full-blown addict.

The compounding factor with food addiction is that many don’t consider it a “real” addiction. Food addiction tends to be treated as “really liking food” or “having a bad diet.” It’s for darn sure the latter, but it originates in the same place as drug, sex, or alcohol addiction: a desire to destroy the self that has become too painful to bear.

My friend K, my confessor that Tuesday afternoon, is one of the best people I know. She’s shock-proof, as a trained counselor must be. She’s experienced every major event in my life with me, even when hundreds of miles stretched between us. She’s listened to every awful thing I’ve ever told her with patience and grace. She’s heard me snort from laughing so hard and sob from deepest sorrow. And she was the best possible person I could’ve admitted my addiction to for the first time. She said I was “brave,” a term I’d never once used for myself and never would have. She prayed with me for truth and light to break into my hiding places. She encouraged me and promised to check in a week later.

Because I knew she absolutely would check in a week later, I sought help for the first time ever.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Tim Hawkins is a comedian who has a great routine about the religious-y terminology “hedge of protection.” He makes fun of how we ask God to surround people with landscaping in a knee-jerk way because we’ve heard it so many times. His response is, “A hedge? Is that really the best we’ve got?” I think too many words in Christianity are overused to the point of being annoying, “hedge of protection” serving as a great Exhibit A. So I asked God to show me what some of these words meant.

As a result of that prayer, I can tell you that “God’s perfect timing” means something like this. My family and I purchased some fruit trees on sale at the home improvement store last Saturday morning. We hadn’t been home five minutes – literally – when a station wagon full of college students pulled up and said they’d like to perform a random act of service for our family. They had a list of possibilities within their ability, one of which was “planting trees.” Of course, my husband could have easily planted the trees. But just to prove his interest in every detail of our lives, God sent us a crew to make the work lighter. If we’d stayed any longer at the home improvement store, we would have missed them. If they’d chosen another neighborhood, they would have missed us. Various things could have come in the way. But nothing did because that’s how God works. He knew when we’d be home, knew when to dispatch them, knew whom to send. That’s perfect timing.

Similarly, I can tell you that “provision” is like this. Teachers get paid monthly, except for a five-week pay period that starts after our September check. Budgeting for a family (and on a smaller income than most with master’s degrees) is frustrating enough, but budgeting for a five-week period is intense. So when we realized we hadn’t paid tithe for September, I was sweating. If we paid it, our bank account would suffer. Yet it was a commitment we’d made to God and to each other: we wouldn’t miss a paycheck, no matter what. So that Sunday, three weeks ago, I wrote the check and gave it up. Because finances are so emotional for me, I was nervous as I watched the money leave my sight. Then, on Monday afternoon, my husband brought the mail to me in the kitchen. It included three checks that together totaled the amount we wrote the check for the day before. That’s provision and, quite frankly, perfect timing too.

And “miracle” is how the doctors with scientific, provable fact end up looking ridiculous when God bends the laws of nature. Three factors assured me and everyone else that if I ever had children, they’d result from marriage or adoption. First of all, my body wouldn’t produce progesterone. Even when we tried to artificially stimulate production with oral and topical forms, nothing worked. I couldn’t support a pregnancy if I couldn’t get my body to either produce or accept progesterone. Second, PCOS itself makes conception and full-term pregnancy difficult for many women, due to hormonal irregularities and cysts. Third, the volume and placement of scar tissue were insurmountable. If that wasn’t enough, I have three previous miscarriages to back up the veracity of the doctors’ claims. No one told me pregnancy was “unlikely”; they told me it was impossible, even if we could solve one or two of the obstacles. And yet here I am, as big as a house these days in my seventh month of pregnancy, with a brand-new life getting herself all ready for her birthday. Something outside the natural course of events has happened here. God taught me “miracle.”

If I believe in a God who sends me tree planters, checks in the mail, and miracle babies, then I can certainly believe in his love for me. He loves me in a way I don’t understand and don’t deserve. He loves me in a way that only he can. As he teaches me new words, I keep reminding myself that if I keep talking to him and refusing to worry, I will live peacefully and joyfully. Sometimes awful things happen to me and to the people I love, but we have this real, live person who is in control of the whole show and who loves us passionately, completely, eternally. And that is what I think “grace” is.

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Filed under Jesus Loves Me

Surrender

Dear Jesus,

I mean, I’m only having a tantrum because I don’t understand what’s going on. I feel like my body is out of control with all these hormones and hypoglycemic episodes and swelling limbs; I feel like my house is out of control with all the strewn boxes and stacks of paper; in fact, I feel like my whole life is out of control for so many reasons. I scream and sometimes I think You don’t listen. I cry and sometimes I think You don’t see. I don’t know if I’m coming or going with You, honestly.

But You certainly have proven Yourself to be trustworthy. Whenever I’ve asked You to work on my behalf, You have. You always send the word I need, the person I need, to get through another set of minutes. You whispered gently to me at my lowest, celebrated with me at my highest. You were at my wedding when I married the man You led me to. You will be at the birth of the daughter You promised me. You’ve held my hand when I’ve let You and allowed me to walk away when I thought I could do better solo. All 28 years of my life, You have pursued me relentlessly with the love and passion I sought in so many places before turning to You. You have filled my life to the brim, even in the scariest times, with joy straight from Your heart to mine.

So you can have my talents, my dreams, my desires, and I’ll find peace in a quiet corner of my heart, in an armchair with a cup of coffee and Your company, as I await further guidance from You. It isn’t easy this way, but it is possible. And when my powerlessness tries to muscle away my hope, I’ll remember how strong You are and how bowled over I am by the truth of Your love.

You know where to find me. Come soon.

Love,
Amie

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