Tagged: counseling

Finally, the Good Parts of Being Pregnant

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Phew!

I am very happy to share that when I sit down to write about being pregnant now, only good things come up!

Connie Ann was right when she commented on my last post: it was a spiritual attack. It’d been going on for the first 9 weeks of being pregnant, and it continues to happen at 3AM when I am on one of my many bathroom breaks through the night.

But the rest of the time?

I can only assume that this is what being lifted up in prayer feels like.

The week we started sharing the news (with 1-2 people at a time, for a total of still a small group) I felt the excitement start to match the anxiety. Then slowly overcome it. Until now, I am so grateful to say, it’s a ratio of about 10% anxious to 90% grateful, excited, and suspiciously hopeful. I attribute it all to the prayers of our friends and family!

Thank you guys for bearing with me!

It’s so hard to struggle with doubts and anxieties when what you’re facing is 100% blessing and a miracle. After all, there’s no doubt in my mind that pregnancy is an amazing thing, a complete mystery, and something that is not guaranteed in anyone’s life. So feeling sad about it puts a massive cloud of guilt over the whole thing: shouldn’t I be grateful? Shouldn’t I be glowing?

But that’s the thing I keep learning and re-learning: everyone’s scars are different, and that’s why we can help each other so much when we’re compassionate.

The people who comment on the blog aren’t afraid of pregnancy (at least, they haven’t let me know they are!) so they can walk with me through this and provide this sense of abiding calm and clarity… that I was utterly incapable of giving myself.

What I hope that means is that I can take my lack of fear about other things in life (EMDR, re-configuring sexual morals, singlehood, among other things) and be strong for someone else.

So, I’ve got to run now, but expect something a little less dramatic/drastic next time I am able to write!

And thanks again!

I’m Pregnant

I could almost feel God laughing when I wrote the following words in my recent post, “Where Have You Been?”:

When or if I get pregnant, it is because of years and years of work tearing down this ego Satan has built inside of me.

Seriously. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a more hilarious thing to write literally within the days of the conception of my pregnancy.

(And boy – I mean literally. I’ve been charting my cycles with the Creighton method, and literally July 8th is around when ovulation happened.)

So, hey, wow. Let’s get this party started:

Pregnant

Conceiving

That quote was dead on. (TMI Alert!) Thanks to EMDR, I overcame my emotional blocks (one day at a time) and we started making love to completion in late May. We made love that way three times, and then I became pregnant. This is interesting to me on so many levels, because I thought we had physical conception problems for the past three years.

But the story starts a little earlier. In April of this year, I completed a Whole 30 (very strict no sugar, grains, dairy, or “Paleo” desserts). For the first time in 5 years, my thyroid numbers were within range of normal.

So, were we infertile until May, and then would have become pregnant regardless of whether it was to completion or not? Or have we been fertile this whole time, and it’s only since EMDR has been working in my heart that it was going to happen? Literally only God knows.

“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 1

Are you ready for this? My first reaction to my pregnancy was terror and panic. I cried. I had panic attacks for the first time in a long time. I shouted at my husband — through gasping sobs — “I don’t think I can do this.” 

Is this any way to react to a miracle? Or, Lord help me, did Mary feel anything like this?

Looking back (er, looking at me now still), I can see there’s three parts to this reaction:

  1. Probably pretty normal: I’m not ready for this. I thought I had more time. This is a lot of change. Why not wait a few more days/weeks/years?
  2. Less normal but still normal:  I’m a sick person. My body can’t possibly support a pregnancy, so this whole thing is doomed from the start. (This is what keeps me up at night the most, when I’m not crying about it).
  3. Even less normal, pretty wicked: I don’t want to do this. I want to be comfortable, and I was just about to achieve it with my dedication to health and fine-tuning my mental performance so I could make money with my business.

I really had shelved a baby. I was always afraid of it (my chronic health issues make me afraid of being sick, and let’s face it, being sick is basically the daily cross of being pregnant). But I also felt misty-eyed when I thought of not having children.

(Side note confession: If I weren’t Catholic and I didn’t understand deeply just how much of an abomination it is, I would totally have thought surrogacy was an option).

I was in this weird, Catholic-but-oddly-secular place where I got to have the satisfaction of “wanting kids” and the freedom of “not being able to have kids.” I was getting away with it. And then… suddenly… I wasn’t.

Pairing that sense of joyful disbelief (I already gave up on a baby, after all) with the sense that I was on this path to utter destruction (it starts with queasiness and exhaustion and ends by ripping your body apart), my brain was on overload. I cried most of the first week and scared my poor husband.

 

“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 2

OK, I lied a little bit in the first section. My first reaction to pregnancy was actually very practical: I called all my doctors and determined that I should drive to a city about an hour away to start bioidentical progesterone shots.

It was surreal — telling nurses I was pregnant, getting HCG and progesterone tests, and so on. Turns out I was so newly pregnant that they weren’t sure I was pregnant and it had to be confirmed with another blood test over the weekend. That’s part of my life now, getting stuck in the butt with a big needle on Mondays and Thursdays. So, let’s start that timeline, too.

As for week 2, I was less panicked, but still crying a lot. This is a good time to mention that we also moved. Nothing quite like ripping yourself out of your home for the past 3 years for a new, bigger home, that’s a little more expensive and not quite as nice. I’m sure half my stress comes from getting used to a new place, but wow, it all combines at night to make me feel like this otherworldly, terrorized, crazy lady.

Things got slowly better, though. During week 2, we bought some fun books about parenting and pregnancy. I had a few moments of actually being excited about this, and enjoying the prospect of being pregnant. What if this really could work out?

“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 3

This just about brings us up to date. We’ve told a few close friends (basically the support network I would want if we miscarry) and my anonymous Internet community (that’s you guys). Everyone else is going to wait until October 1st.

I get very, very sad sometimes, and I am struggling with depression. But that seems to be my main “pregnancy” symptom.

I am relieved to say that I was so afraid of throwing up, and I haven’t yet! I get queasy easily, and the most appealing things to eat are mostly off-limits to me (carbs and sugar mostly, and I’m at risk for gestational diabetes so I started tracking that carefully).

I’m also exhausted a lot easier than ever before (and that’s saying something — I was already working 10-15 hour weeks to accommodate my lowered energy!). Making food for my husband and I is so far off my radar. We’ve been eating more to-go food and prepared food than ever before, and my counselor gave me the green light to not feel bad about it. We still eat very clean foods (we eat a Paleo/Whole 30 template), but cheese and gluten-free packaged treats have been sneaking into it.

Your Gift to Me: Fear Venting

I hate to bog you guys down with my fears, which are less real to you, but WOW if that’s not what I need to do!

I’ve been pulling away from friends and activities because I hate to cry in front of people without a solution in hand. Then there’s trying to think of something to say to people who don’t know I’m pregnant yet. I’ll work on this, but in the mean time I hope you’ll forgive me for walking through the deepest, darkest part of my heart right now:

  • What if we miscarry? This is a real risk for everyone who gets pregnant. The rates vary, but it could be as high as 25%. I felt a lot better once I learned that in many cases it’s simply unavoidable: it’s because the baby isn’t viable for some chromosomal reason, and it has to go. But I still fear this greatly, not just the loss but also the physical pain of uterine contractions. I’ve had very  bad period pains before — to the point of getting hot/cold sweats, shaking, and thinking I was going to pass out — and I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the pain of a miscarriage.
  • What if we miscarry and I have to do this again? The idea of starting over at O with a pregnancy makes me cold to my bones. Honestly, part of my thoughts (that I can’t control) is that this is it, this is my shot, and if something goes wrong I’ll find a way to not have to do it again, like not having sex every again. I can’t explain this thought process, but it’s all based in fear, which means it’s not from God. I need to work on this.
  • What if I can’t work? I work for myself as a freelance writer. My income depends on me 1) finding clients, 2) writing for clients. Pregnancy craziness affects concentration and energy, which affects both those things. I am terrified I won’t be able to focus and then I won’t be able to make enough money to 1) cover the next few months of bills, 2) cover a maternity leave, 3) cover our taxes for last year and this year. I pray for a financial miracle every night (if that’s God’s will for us… otherwise I pray to be brave through all of this).
  • How do I maintain my friendships? My friends are almost all split between single women who crave a husband and a home life, and married women who are struggling to conceive. They have all been so gracious to me. But inside my head all I can think is that they want me to hush up and be grateful for the wonderful things I have in my life. And hey, I can’t argue with that, I should be grateful! But how do you deny your fears and discomforts to embrace only the positive? At my core I feel fear and discomfort with my new home and my pregnancy. I’ll pray to God to let me release them.

Well, there you go. Thank you so much for reading. I don’t want to dwell on my fears — my hope is that by sharing them with you, I can release them and focus on being excited to be a mother, grateful for the ability to be pregnant and the pregnancy itself, and closer to God by being closer to the miracle of life.

I don’t think it will feel real until I see a heartbeat at 12 weeks, but getting up 4 times a night to pee feels real enough for now!

Time to turn the mic to you: If you’ve been pregnant, what were the first few weeks like? If you’re struggling with infertility, do you forgive me for being terrified?

Where Have You Been?

When I look back on the changes in my life in the past two months, it feels like it’s a different person writing. That’s only a testament to the amazing change that can be wrought in your heart when God, the Holy Spirit, and counseling work together.

I’ve worked a lot, traveled a bit, and been in counseling almost every week. Here are some themes that are playing out in my life and bringing me closer to God:

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“You are more than what you do”

I have a tendency toward false idols (I think we all do). Work is a big one. Because I’m good at it and it rewards me with money, I tend to pour all of my time, thought, and energy into it in order to avoid harder things like being present to my husband, putting myself out there for my friends (new and old), and being available to God.

Right now, my business is in a slow growth state, which gives me a lot of time to reflect and feel fear. More than ever before, though, I’ve been trying to stick with mantras like, “It’s all in God’s hands,” and “What happens will happen.” I’m still very afraid, but I also feel a bit of anesthesia from a fear that would usually be wringing my guts out. I’ve prayed for peace from God (and the ability to stop seeing money as security) and I can feel God working in me.

Sex as mutual self-giving

At the time of this writing, the past two times we’ve made love has been to completion. It feels so weird and amazing (and TMI) to write that, but it’s an important part of my story. It’s also one that I want people to know about. When or if I get pregnant, it is because of years and years of work tearing down this ego Satan has built inside of me.

I want to be clear it’s all by the grace of God and that the only way forward was to get out of my own way and give everything to Him. Which, ironically, sounds a lot like what I was afraid of in the first place (giving everything up). So it’s all an amazingly intertwined spiritual pretzel.

I still worry I’m not having sex enough or that I won’t be able to have it to completion enough (or each time), but part of the work I’m doing has been to turn off my brain. I am enough. What I’m doing is enough. And I should never dwell on not being enough, just as I should never stop trying to improve myself and my spiritual condition… the beauty of the Both/And Catholicism!

I still wonder if other women go through this. It’s not something people bring up in polite company too often, so it’s hard to get a sense of how normal this is, but if I keep chugging away with my story I hope I can find others or help someone dealing with the same thing.

What does “OK” mean?

So many things affect how I think I’m doing. My health, my bank account, my mood, how much I’ve accomplished in a given day. But God tells us only one thing matters: I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I will be the best-version-of-myself no matter how the future finds me based on my spiritual health, not my physical health, possessions, or mind.

What does OK mean to you? Getting into a certain college? Getting a certain salary? Dating a certain person? Imagine how much stress would fall away from us if we focused on the only thing that matters: how quickly and easily we express our love for God. When that’s all that matters to us, we stop fighting those great things because they don’t look the way they think they should, and we leave room for God to do great things in our lives.

There’s so much more, but that’s enough of a check-in for now (and I hope to be back more regularly starting now). I’d love to hear how you all are doing and what you’re reading!

What Does “Fully Rely On God” Look Like During Chronic Illness?

I’ve never had a photographic memory.

That said, I have two degrees (one a Master’s), I work for myself, and I’ve been known to give some thoughtful advice.

But lately… yeah, lately I feel that kind of going down the tube as my chronic health issues flare into some kind of psychological snowstorm that leaves me feeling a bit less like this:

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And a bit more like this:

Confusion

This all came out in counseling yesterday, and it was really intense. I went down a path of feeling fear for my decline in health.

Not because I’m tired a lot of the time and on a careful meal plan (which I am and have been for a long time). But because after a lifetime on counting on my brain, my mind, and my intellect…. I kind of feel that going, too.

I still feel pretty “with it.” But it’s little things like not being able to remember what I want to say in conversation, or having a tough time rephrasing what I’ve read recently.

Over the years, I’ve always been able to rely on my brain. No matter what was happening, at some point, some how, I would think of a solution and everything would be okay. The idea that my brain might not be there for me, that I might not be able to think my way out of a problem is uncomfortable.

So once I tried to dig a little deeper into that idea, I realized (of course) that it’s a deeper spiritual problem: my rational mind has always been on my team since the beginning. And the rest of “me” has always failed me.

  • My emotions failed me when they lead me to endure an abusive sexual relationship for 3 years and then into sexual relationships with the men I dated after that.
  • My body failed me 1st when I was overweight as a child, 2nd when I developed autoimmunity, causing me to gain 100+ lbs and struggle with fertility, food intolerances, and chronic fatigue, and 3rd when I panic at the thought of semen entering my body, which, you know, makes it kind of hard to get pregnant.
Throughout everything bad (and as I slowly gave up on true emotional connection and genuine love of my body), my mind has been the saving grace, getting me through these times with humor, learning, and sharing what I’ve learned with others (which, it now seems obvious, is my sublimated way of connecting with others).
And now that my mind is going… I feel betrayed and terrified that the one thing that got me through all those things is going to fail me again.
But are you ready for this? For yet another one of God’s gentle ironies that he waited until I was bawling in a stranger’s counseling office to let me in on? I had to lose my mind (I have to lose my mind) to show me that it wasn’t my mind that got me through those hard things at all.
In each situation, it was never my mind, or “Hannah,” or “me,” that navigated a way to cope with those struggles.
It was God.
It’s always God.
If I didn’t have “my mind,” back then (as so many people might not have the luxury of having), I would still have made it through, just as if I had 45 fewer IQ points (not that I know mine), I would be just as worthwhile, just as loved by God, and just as wanted in this world.
No matter where we are (or what we’re suffering from), we will still be given the grace to overcome the bad things that happen in life if we’ll just stop and ask for it.
And just as importantly, whatever I need now, he’ll give me again. It’s just up to me to stay in touch, to keep listening for my instructions, and to “be still” so that He can fight for me (Exodus 14:14).
It’s on me to embrace my Cross, release the illusion of control “my mind” gives me in my life, and fully rely on God (not my emotions, my body, or even my mind) in a way I didn’t know it was possible to.
And until I understand — and deeply feel — that God will get me through this, I may have a little more learning to do.

The Theology of My Body: A #Catholic With a Fear of Sperm

Yesterday was my 4th EDMR session. While it feels weird to jump right into the results (rather than lay the foundation over several blog posts), that can’t be helped. The story takes too long to tell.

Here’s the short version: in 2014, my husband and I started learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Creighton Method (CM). At the time, we were married, practicing Catholics using condoms. We made it about six months through the NFP practice before our conversations about and understanding of sex radically shifted. We weren’t “trying to conceive,” but it quickly became clear that a healthy, happy marriage does not stand on birth control.

Then we started having sex all the time without a condom. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast.

Fear of Sperm

The first few times we tried to have sex without a condom in 2014, I freaked out. I couldn’t pinpoint the issue, but when the moment arrived for us to follow through with the whole sexual act, something inside of me spazzed and I couldn’t do it (no pun intended).

Starting-a-family anxiety? Parenting issues? That’s what I assumed at first. I googled everything I could think of, starting with “Sperm is gross” and “Fear of sperm,” hoping to find camaraderie in a pregnancy forum. But I only found one comment about it and it was pretty innocuous (“Does anyone else think sperm is pretty gross?” “Yeah, ew! But whatcha gonna do?”) 

However, when I started talking about it with a counselor it quickly became clear that I had an awful lot of negative associations with the sexual act and sperm in particular. And in January of 2015 (this year) I realized that what I thought was just a crappy first relationship at 15 years old was actually sexual abuse.

A Bad First Impression

I never thought I’d be someone who suddenly “remembered” being abused, but that’s exactly how it happened. In the course of one 60-minute counseling session I went from “Yeah, I dated a jerk,” to “Oh, I remember X and X, and it was consensual, but looking back I would never do that and I would be disgusted by anyone who asked me to do that.”

I’ll leave the details for another post, but my first introduction to sex was as far from Catholic as possible. It was secretive (I snuck around my strict parents to make it happen), it was selfish (on behalf of the guy), it was not loving, and it was as far from respectful of of a woman as it is possible to get without getting into forced rape territory.

It was also calculated, inspired by his desire to experiment and act out scenes he enjoyed from pornography, and inappropriate based on our ages (he was 19, I was 15, a senior when I was a freshman).

Forgiveness & Recovery

I won’t get into the guy too much — looking back, what he shared about his sexual compulsiveness indicates to me that he was sexually abused as a child. And no matter how inappropriate, misguided, or uninformed I was, it was also always “up to me” what we did.

Instead, I’m drawn to how this story impacts my understanding of femininity, my ability to be open to life within my marriage now, and how my husband and I will approach pregnancy staring down this less obvious form of psychological infertility.

The more I unravel this situation in the EDMR sessions, the more clearly this becomes a far-reaching theme into the secular history of my body, including the following:

  • The respect/love my body didn’t get from my mother (because of the respect/love she did not give her own body for being overweight, abused, and prone to overeating)
  • The teasing I received in middle school because I was overweight
  • The abusive relationship I entered into in high school
  • The dramatic and sexually-active relationships I maintained through high school and college (even with my current husband until we were married and then entered the Catholic Church)
  • The chronic illness that became active in college and after college
  • The current sense of “invasion” at the thought of completing the sexual act (a million sperm verses just me)

In each of these segments of my history, my body was the enemy. I was not a spiritual being working with a physical body, as CS Lewis says. I was a spiritual being burdened by a crappy body that didn’t work properly (it was too fat, too sick, too abused by someone else).

It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me. The me I held on to and cultivated was the me of the mind and the intellect. I was me in spite of my body not because of it. The two were separate, and the one (the mind) was preferable to the other (the body).

Beyond Plugging the Hole

 

This is where I hope the abuse ends. Using the Church’s teaching and sacraments, I want to get to the bottom of this and merge the two again. I want to find away to accept my sick, broken, and abused body, and love it again. Because, honestly, I don’t think I do.

Reading Women, Food, and God helped me stop hating my body. But it mainly just plugged up the abuse. I didn’t take the next step to actively love or accept my body. I just moved on to other things, grateful to ditch my body issues once and for all. Cue the phrase, “The opposite of hate is not love, it’s apathy.”

But as anyone who moved to one town to escape relationships in another, you know that ditching the issues is just the first step. There’s also a lot of work to be done with digging out the rotten roots and filling it with something that will let your body heal. If you don’t, you’re just building your emotional house on sand over and over again.

How the Church Saves

I think that something that can fill me and let my body heal is Jesus Christ. Someone who came to us with a perfect body, a perfect intellect, and a perfect spirit… and submitted to God to watch it all be broken and torn apart in full confidence that it was for the best.

I might think I am suffering and I might be afraid of the sacrifice I would have to make as a pregnant woman (the overshadowing, the submission, the loss of control), but I would not be the first, the last, or even the most notable.

Jesus already showed me how. Mary already showed me how. But no one can do it for me. I have my own cross, my own trial, and my own issues to overcome (because yeah, I haven’t met anyone else with a fear of sperm yet!). It won’t be easy, but at least now I can see the path laid out before me instead of wandering alone.

Next Steps

Step one: I ordered an introduction to Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ll be reading it and writing about it in hopes that I can unravel these complicated emotions and embrace the simple heart of the Catholic Church: a respectful, loving, life-giving marriage.