My husband has said that I grew up with a “Mary Poppins” -style childhood — practically perfect in every way. I had two married parents who loved me and my brothers, and assured us that they were never going to get a divorce. We took family vacations, ate home-cooked food, went to church regularly, we children had chores to do, I read lots of books, there was little emphasis on electronic media in our house, I did well in school, I hung out with the “right” crowd (meaning: not the popular crowd that might get me into trouble), I graduated high school at the top of my class, I went to college (with plenty of scholarship money), graduated magna cum laude with a double emphasis in 5 years, got married when I had always planned (at the age of 23, my “lucky” number), had no problems getting pregnant, had a picture-perfect birth, and gave birth to the world’s most perfect daughter. Nothing ever went seriously wrong for me. I had no great falling out with my friends, no one close to me ever died (my mother’s father died when I was 19, but I wasn’t particularly close to him), I got along reasonably well with both my parents. The biggest problem was the difficulties that my mother and I experienced in our relationship when I was a teenager — but really, what daughter does NOT have problems with her mother when she’s a teenager? My mother wasn’t diagnosed with clinical depression until I was off at college, so I never lived through her diagnosis and subsequent treatments and therapies. I was busy in my own world at college; home was only a two-hour drive away, but it might as well have been 2000 miles away. College was MY world, and I loved it. And when the situation at home did bother me? Well, God conveniently provided me with a sympathetic boyfriend who had also had troubles with his mother. We sympathized with each other, were each other’s sounding board, and eventually married in a grand and glorious wedding held in a majestic downtown church, walking down the aisle to strings and a 20-voice choir singing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
With all of this sucess and positive experiences in my life, I truly believed that nothing would ever go wrong for me. I felt that I was in control of my destiny; bad things didn’t happen to me because I was a Good Girl. And when bad things DID occur, I blithely reminded myself that “Everything works out for good for those who love God,” (said in a very peppy, sing-song tone of voice). And things always DID work out. I don’t know if I ever consciously thought that I was a better Christian than other people, which was why my life was so great, but perhaps on some subconscious level I did. I know that I didn’t mean to be a Pharisee, but I’m pretty sure I operated with the subconscious thought that “Bad things don’t happen to me.”
Well, eventually the bubble pops for everyone. The Bad Thing happens. You can’t control it, but it happens anyway, and life is Never The Same.
In my case, it was my miscarriage. When I was pregnant with Lyd, I remember thinking, “I’m not going to have a miscarriage; those kinds of things don’t happen to me.” I (easily) only visualized a positive, uplifting birth experience, which was exactly the kind of birth I subsequently had. I had an easy time nursing, and Lyd was the model baby. I used to wonder, “Why do people say that having kids is so hard? Look at my kid – it’s really easy! I must be a really good mother!” I even gave advice to other people on how to get their baby to do the wonderful things that MY baby was doing (such as sleeping through the night), figuring that if the method I used had worked for me, it would work for everyone, and the only reason it might not work for someone else is because the parent was doing it wrong. I am SO embarassed to think back to those times now. I was such a black & white thinking idiot. (And speaking of sleeping through the night? Yeah. Curious J doesn’t. Everything that worked with Lyd doesn’t work with this baby. So obviously I’m doing it wrong, right? 😉 )
But when I wanted to get pregnant a second time, it didn’t happen. And didn’t happen. And I started to freak out. I again reminded myself that “Everything works out for good for those who love God,” but it was a little harder to believe this time, because I couldn’t see the good coming out of it. So, I became interested in acupuncture (a move that, in itself, I do NOT regret!), but I think I was viewing it as a way to get me back in control, rather than viewing it as a means God could use to get me pregnant in His own perfect time. Eventually, I did get pregnant.
And I panicked. I remember sitting with the pregnancy test in my hand, still wet with my pee, and panicking. For some reason, after all this trying to get pregnant, it felt wrong to be pregnant. How would I handle two children? I had wanted to be in control of when I got pregnant – but had I overstepped God’s bounds? There were real fears that I had with that pregnancy, and many of them reappeared during my pregnancy with Baby J. However, much of the sheer volume of that panic was supplement-induced, as my acupuncturist at that time had me on a number of substances that wreaked havoc on my body when combined with the pregnancy hormones. I ended up in the hospital due to my panicking. I (thankfully) don’t remember much of my panic attacks, except for the feeling that I couldn’t breathe. I do remember lying on a mattress on the floor of our dining room (we had an extra twin mattress, and Lyd would use it as a trampoline during the long, rainy winter months), curled up in the fetal position, hyperventilating, and thinking that I was going to die. I stopped taking the supplements, and the panic attacks gradually subsided. However I miscarried the baby. April 1, 2006. I was pregnant for exactly the entire month of March.
That miscarriage knocked me off my “practically perfect” pedestal, and I’ve never been able to climb my way back up it again.
After that experience, a shift occurred in my thinking, a shift that continues to this day, and one that I still struggle against. While I once believed that Nothing bad was going to happen to me, now my instinctive, knee-jerk reactive thinking is that Something (sometimes Everything) bad is going to happen to me. I deal with this daily, and when I’m having anxiety problems, it brings that thinking clearly into the light. I am pretty sure that for me, my anxiety is biochemical, and I’m pretty sure that it’s a form of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), but the kind of doomsday thinking that I deal with — that’s everyday, although it’s far worse when I’m anxious.
I struggled with that thinking during my entire pregnancy with Baby J. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to handle two children. I couldn’t imagine/visualize a second good birth experience (and I ended up with a scary, mildly-traumatic birth experience), and in the minutes after J was born, I came the closest to full-blow panic that I had since the attacks that had landed me in the hospital. It even made it difficult to bond with little Baby J at the beginning of her life.
I used to love movies – now I have an extremely hard time watching movies, so I will only watch movies that I’ve already seen or ones that I already know the story. Rather than movies being an escape from reality, the remind me of reality. Similarly, I used to read a lot of books – now I’m very picky with what I read. Even books on my favorite topic, natural childbirth, require me to be careful, because if I read a “bad” birth story, I’ll think, “That could happen to me!” But it’s even more daily than that. Stories on the news, conversations with people, bills, junk mail, anything that could possibly remind a person of anything bad can conjure up this reaction in me. I think things like, “What if this happens to me? What if this never stops, or gets continuously worse? What if someone I love dies? (Despite my wise words to Lyd, that’s a hard one for me, especially when I consider what will happen when someone that I love dies, and I’m left behind. They may be in heaven, but I’ll Still Be Here! Alone! Ack!)” The piles of clutter are much harder to deal with than they ever were before. The dirt piles up, and often I just don’t care. I over-think everything. I know I’m not appreciating these precious childhood years with my daughters as much as I enjoyed my time with Lyd when she was Baby J’s age.
I deal with such guilt from not being perfect. And, I know, Things Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Effective. I DO try to honor that motto, and it does make a difference. But I have come to the realization that my “practically perfect” existence is gone forever, and I have to learn to deal with the reality that Bad Things Might Happen, and Will Happen Sooner or Later. The Knowing that bad things are inevitable is a daily struggle for me, while I also try to remember that (in a sincere, non-perky voice) “Everything truly DOES work out for good for those who love God.” Just as God continued to make things work out for good in the past, he will take even these situations that I never saw coming, and make them work out for good, too.
To be honest, I HAVE seen good come out of my problems. For one thing, I don’t give stupid one-size-fits-all advice to parents anymore. 🙂 But on a deeper level it’s made me more appreciative (and less judgemental) of how other people deal with the problems in their lives. It’s made me realize that Bad Things Happen To Good People, and it’s not anyone’s fault. What people need to hear in those situations is not Ten Steps to Make Their Lives Better, but sympathy and understanding that they’re not alone, that they will make it through those times, and that their friends will stand by their side, no matter what decisions they make. And of course, people need to be pointed to Jesus, the cross, and the far better life that awaits us in heaven. (On that topic, you really need to read a certain pastor’s sermon from yesterday. It’s a good one.)
For years, probably since I was in late high school or college, my post-communion prayer has been something along the lines of, “Dear Lord, please continue to mold me into the kind of woman, daughter, wife, mother, friend, worker that you want me to be. Give me the experiences I need throughout my life to become a woman whose faith and trust is solely in You.”
Be careful what you pray for. You might get it.