Open and Honest

One area in my life that I’ve been pushing myself to improve is my total lack of social skills. I am an introvert almost to the extreme, and often find myself content with no other company than my few closest friends. Building new relationships is excessively difficult for me.

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I think one of the reasons I find it so hard is that I kind of hate myself. I see myself as a whiney and annoying person with nothing intelligent to add to a conversation and a waste of space in the room. I labor under the assumption that pretty much everyone else secretly agrees with my self assessment, but are too kind to tell me they’d rather I left. So I leave without being asked. I slip away to be by myself where I’ll read or write or knit or whatever.

Most of this self abasement was encouraged in my upbringing by the way the household was run, and during the darkest periods of my struggle with Depression have led me to some very ugly thoughts. Today, the people closest to me often tell me that I hate myself more than anyone else in the room. I question the complete validity of this statement, but I see what they mean anyway. It would seriously be hard for anyone to dislike me more than I do.

Building relationships with the mental handicaps of Anxiety and Depression, along with my severe introversion, is a steep upward climb, but I recently had a breakthrough that I hope will become a new pattern.

My husband and I have changed churches. Again. These past two years have been the most up, down and unsettled period of my life. Though Timothy keeps telling me that now it’s safe to settle for at least the next three years, I haven’t seen enough in writing to convince me to unpack my emotional suitcase. So when kind and friendly faces in our new church body opened their arms to welcome me, I wanted to walk into them, but also wondered what was going to happen to their presence in my life come September. How much do I open up to these people? How much do I fight against my fears of rejection, only to meet with loss on the other end? Because one thing I’ve noticed in the last few churches we’ve gone to, is that once you’re no longer a member, the people who seemed to care don’t care anymore. It’s like you’ve switched from the goth click to the cheerleaders and you’re dead to all that’s past. All the trying, all the fighting against myself to get close to strangers becomes another example of people not actually caring about me, another example of my not being worth anyone’s time.

But what I’m now realizing is that I’m half the problem, maybe even more than half. My fear of rejection keeps my relationships shallow. Why should anyone miss me when I leave the room? They don’t know me, because I fear being known.

And here I am, standing in front of a woman who wants to get to know me, and I’m stuck. Yes, I’d love to go for coffee with you. It would be good for me in so many ways, and you’re being so loving and kind, but how do I tell you that, despite my being an adult, I don’t often drive places on my own? How do I tell you that I have such crippling anxiety disorder, that I’m afraid to schedule coffee with you on a day when I can’t rely on my husband to be around to prevent me coming home to an empty house?

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My new solution. I just do. I just say it, and hope that, if you really want to get to know me, you’ll help me think of another way. So instead of just telling her the easy bit about not having access to a car, I hear myself admit to her, “I have anxiety disorder, and driving is one of my triggers. I don’t really drive more than 20 minutes by myself right now.” And she says, “I’ll pick you up.” And she says, “I can drive you to the church where your husband is.”

Another falsehood I was taught as a child was that I was never supposed to talk about my mental health issues. It’s a secret that I’m ill, meant for just me and my doctors. So the worse my condition got, the more my relationships withered, the less I wanted to try. People don’t understand, I thought. I’m in the way. They must hate me. I’m such a nuisance. I wish I wasn’t me.

The thing I’m learning, a lesson I can take with me even if we do switch to another church in six months, is that a lot people are willing to help and want to understand, but they can’t do either if I’m not willing to be honest.

Honesty. It makes sense, really. Isn’t honesty a foundational pillar of any lasting relationship?

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Book Review: Ina May Gaskin vs. Milli Hill

With Little Baby constantly reminding me of her imminent arrival by hearty kicks and punches, it makes sense that I’d devote a portion of my summer reading list to books on parenting and childbirth.

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Us having a drink at 32 weeks



The first book I tried was one I’d been encouraged to read by several sources. I was even handed a free copy of it on my first visit to the midwives, but ended up giving it back because I already had a copy sitting on my bedside table at home. It was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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I actually purchased my copy of this book before I even got pregnant. As someone who was terrified of the process of pregnancy and labor, I’d seen and read many places that it was important to fill my mind with positive birth stories to combat my negative notions. This book was recommended so consistently that I bought myself a copy and eagerly began to read, hoping it would allay my fears when I finally got my positive pregnancy test.

The first half of the book is all personal birth stories from women that gave birth on “the Farm” which is the birthing center that Gaskin set up. They are meant to encourage and inspire women towards the beauty and bliss of natural home births with a midwife. But for me, these “positive birth stories” were completely ineffectual. It seemed like many of these women had some kind of complication, some nearly emergent complication, going on during their labor. They all ended up giving birth to happy healthy babies without medical intervention. That, I believe, was the point of them telling their stories. Look what I did without a doctor. I mean, it was touch and go for a while, but it was all fine! Yes. Right. Lovely! But instead of reassuring me, these stories just set me on edge and gave me a longer list of “what ifs” for my still unknown labor and delivery story. *shakes head* I call that a fail at positive birth stories.

Gaskin’s book read to me like a three hundred page advertisement for why you must have a home birth with a midwife and avoid hospitals and doctors. I skipped over the chapters at the end that warned me about the probably hidden mortality statistics for pregnant women giving birth in hospitals. I needed encouragement, not more reasons to fear. And while I highly respect Gaskin for the trail she blazed promoting better childbirth options in this country, I really could have done without reading her book. Especially when taken in conjunction with another book I read, The Positive Birth Book written by Milli Hill.

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This book, seriously, was an absolute sleep-saver for me! It opened up with the author explaining how desperately she wanted to be pregnant, but how utterly terrified she was once she saw the positive pregnancy test. Everything about her emotional state echoed mine. She compared it to sky diving. You’re in the airplane, looking down over the distant ground, and you know you have to jump eventually; it’s too late to turn back. You feel guilty for telling people you’re terrified now that you’re actually pregnant. You’re supposed to be happy. Meanwhile, everyone is laughing themselves silly for the look on your face after they’ve told you about all the horrors that await you through pregnancy into parenthood.

This inspired Hill to start The Positive Birth Movement out of which grew her book. It walks through all the stages of labor, the most common complications, the ins and outs of cesareans, and tips on adjusting to the early days postpartum. All of it was told with an upbeat candor that truly brought peace to my thudding heart. This could happen, but this is why it will still be okay. 

Another aspect of the book that I loved was how she shied away from the common idea of 3 stages in labor. She described it in 14 stages to make it all as clear as possible, a method I found a lot more beneficial than how Gaskin addressed it in the second half of her book. She also mathematically broke down the average percentage of time that most women are actually in terrible pain during natural childbirth. The average woman is in labor 8 hours and only 23% of that time is spent having contractions. Even if I don’t turn out to be average, just reading that lessened my fear of labor by leaps and bounds.

The whole of that book had that effect on me. I loved it, and if I could recommend any one birth book to a new mother, it would absofrigginlutely be this one.

Book Review: “The Mist” by Stephen King

This may sound obvious, but seriously, Stephen King is an amazing writer.

I talked about this a little bit when I read The Shiningbut I just really enjoy his style. It’s easy going, almost simplistic, but with this kind of flourish that makes me crave the sound of his voice. His characters are all so real, just like the kind of people you bump into every day at the gas station or target or work. And his figurative language is perfect. It just feels so original. Like, saying the old basement smelled yellow. I love that! It’s spot on and fresh, every time.

I saw the trailer for the new series they were making off of The Mist in my Facebook feed. I looked up the book and saw it was only a novella. Since I hadn’t read anything from Mr. King in a while, and since I was 12 books behind on my Goodreads Reading goal for the year, I decided to get it from the library.

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It was a little too close to finals though, so the little green paperback sat on my bedside “To Read” stack for almost a month. I went online and saw that it was due back in 4 days. I shrugged, clicked the “renew book” button and saw the dreaded error message.

THIS TITLE CANNOT BE RENEWED: REQUESTED BY ANOTHER PATRON

I groaned a little, picked it up and checked the page count. 230. I smiled, and thought those two little words that every Booknerd has tattooed on their soul: No problem. I wasn’t feeling too hot anyway, so I just spent my day resting, reading, and letting Little Baby inch her way a little closer to nailing me in the ribs when she kicked.

I opened this post with a gush of praise about Mr. King’s writing. I meant it. The only catch is that he often writes in two genres that I am very hit or miss on as a reader: horror and science-fiction. I enjoy both, but no where near as much as I enjoy other genres. This makes me a little hit or miss with his plots.

For me, The Mist was a miss.

It opened the way I experienced the trailer, surreal and creepy. The narrator is named David, an artist who spends his summers at a family lake house in Maine. A horrible storm kicks up one night, knocking out the power and felling trees. In the morning, Dave, his son, and his next-door neighbor head into town to grab some provisions until the power comes back. While they’re there, a thick, otherworldly mist settles over the town, trapping them in the supermarket.

This was all fine and creepy, I was enjoying it, but as the story continued to unravel it became a sort of mixture between sci-fi and 1940’s B grade horror flick. It reminded me heavily of a black & white movie I used to love called The Crawling Eye. So much so that I ceased to be creeped and began to chuckle, the same reaction this B Grade movie used to give me as a kid. In his memoir On Writing, Mr. King mentioned his love for old horror movies (any/all horror movies really), and I kinda wondered if he’d seen it too.

In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with the plot, definitely shrug worthy for me on that score, but I so enjoy listening to him tell a story that I was still glad I read it.

…all in one day so that I could get it back to the library before it was due. 😉

Ordinary Moments

Our four year wedding anniversary was back in December. Now it’s June, almost half a year away from the date, and Timothy and I were driving out to Lancaster, PA.

We opted not to celebrate our anniversary in December, due to my inability to spend more than 30 minutes sitting upright. We tried again to take a trip during spring break, but the weather decided not to cooperate, dumping almost two feet of snow in an area that stretched across Jersey into Pennsylvania.

We’d already booked our hotel room, but the idea of becoming snowed in at a hotel 2.5 hours from home did not appeal to my nervous disposition. As the forecast darkened, Tim finally caved to my neuroses and gave the hotel a call.

“Tell them I’m pregnant,” I told him. This did the trick. He came up to me ten minutes later, grinning. They’d given us a full refund, accompanied with words along the lines of, “Oh no! We’re not having any babies here!”

I felt a little guilty, but honestly one of my fears was just that, irrespective of my still being in the second trimester.

Snow is creeping up to our second story windows. I’m trying to decide if the worsening cramps are my imagination or not. No. They’re coming regular, 5 minutes apart. I slowly turn from the bleak snow blanketed landscape towards Tim. “Honey…”

Our little one was still happily nestled in my womb when we drove out last Tuesday. The day opened a bit grey and rainy, a type of weather that I honestly don’t mind at all, but about half way down, just as the landscape was opening up with sprawling farms, the sky opened up too. It turned a brilliant shade of pool chalk blue, heavily decorated with clean cotton clouds.

It was perfect.

I’m currently working my way through an audiobook version of The Road to Little Dribbling by travel writer Bill Bryson. Among the many things I’m loving about the book, I’ve noticed that Bryson does not speak of using his cellphone, not even for excuseable things like maps. He always chooses to interact with his environment, asking strangers for directions, allowing himself to wander or follow crowds in hopes it will lead to something interesting, resorting to paper and pen to write his notes, and reading discarded magazines on the bus to pass the time.

I want to live this way more. I want to teach my technology drenched senses to be aware of the world around me. I want to see, to wonder, to lock away the beauty of the ordinary  that I would miss if I was staring down at a little plastic screen.

I’ve been to Lancaster many times with my parents. They vacation like a pack of rabid wolves. Two days there, and we’d manage to get in a show, all the buffets, a visit to the Tabernacle recreation, and hours and hours of shopping at stores and outlets. None of those things are bad in and of themselves, it was the excess. We did all the things every time, as though we’d flown ten hours overseas to a country we might never visit again. Family vacations always left me exhausted. Tim never understood why we did it. I didn’t know there was another way.

I’ve adopted more of Tim’s approach to vacation since we’ve been married. Trips aren’t planned for sensory overload or never-ending entertainment. They’re meant to get away and chill. Novel idea. We made minimal plans for this trip, and ended by discarding those. We just stopped running for a few days. We learned to breathe again.

On the way out, Tim looked so refreshed and happy. I asked him if he’d had a good time. He smiled at me and said, “I feel like our best vacations are the ones where we don’t do anything we couldn’t have done at home.” I think he’s right. Our time away was ordinary, and sweet.

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The day after we returned, I’m kissing him goodbye for his last overnight refereeing assignment this summer. Two nights away. My chest is tight with already missing him. Hours later I’m crawling into bed, Little Baby kicking me softly to remind me I’m not really alone. I’m homesick. I’m homesick for a hotel room where it was just the three of us. I’m homesick for a two hour car ride where we’re both staring out the windows at deliciously green pastures, painted skies, and silvery silos glistening in warm sunlight. I’m homesick for those little things that just vanish when he’s not next to me, things I can’t get from a piece of plastic the size of my hand or from a darkened theatre blasting sights and sounds into my face.

I roll over and begin to cry quietly into my pillow. Little Baby protests this disruption with shoves and shuffles, until she’s once again settled into a cozy position in her ever tightening room of womb. I smile and lay a hand on her, while I tell myself that this is also the ordinary, and perhaps there is something special in this moment too.

It’s the Third Trimester, Little Baby!

And hip hip HURRAY for that!

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Us at 28 weeks

On the whole, I’m still not in love with this pregnancy thing. I have fatigue issues, mood swings, and a weird stress induced on and off again appetite. Though oddly enough, I have this wacky feeling I had all of those issues BEFORE I got pregnant. *tilts head and squints thoughtfully* 

On the positive side, she’s a healthy little monster, if her constant kicks and squiggles are any indicator. Timothy and I call her Squirmy Wormy. I love her so much it makes my whole heart ache.

After losing Little Baby number one, it was initially difficult to let myself love her the way I wanted to. At times I just would try not to think about her. I was afraid to hope that she’d stay. I was afraid to repeat what happened before, that my still childless arms would just forever dream of holding my baby. I would choke up with every attempt to sing her a lullaby, scared that I’d mar another song in my memory, so that every time it plays all I can think of is the little angel forever out of my reach.

This lessened after our 9 week ultrasound. After I saw Little Baby dancing on the screen, I let my heart go, but slowly, like a kite testing the currents in the wind. Once it caught the updraft, I began to soar and tears became part of the flight, along with a daily prayer of God please let me keep this one.

“I love her so much,” I say to Tim.

“I know you do. I do too.”

“Do you ever feel like there’s no more room? Like, I’m afraid when I see her, that I’ll just shatter.”

“You won’t,” he says. “You’ll just get bigger.”

On the days when the fear is bigger than the hope, I’ll hold onto Tim and cry.

“You really believe we’ll meet her,” I ask.

“Yes, I do.”

“How can you be sure though? Weren’t you sure with our first one? God took him anyway.”

He said, “I don’t doubt the sun will rise every morning. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the natural order for her to come out and meet us. That’s what I believe will happen.”

So I sing to her. Every day, at least one song. I try to wait until I feel her moving, hoping that she’s awake to hear. Sometimes she rolls to the sound, like she’s dancing along. Other times, she goes still, and I’ll wonder if she’s asleep. But as soon as I stop she’ll give me a few good thumps. Applause? Or maybe she’s learned that the music starts up again once she moves.

I like to think she likes listening to me sing. I like to think she’ll remember the sound in August when they finally lay her against my skin and I sing to her softly. I like to think she’ll stop crying, that she’ll know the sound of my heartbeat, and in that moment she’ll understand what I mean when I say, “I love you, Peanut.”

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Book Review: “The Atlantic Sound” by Caryl Phillips

This was another book I read for my Readings in Global Literature class last semester. This one isn’t a novel. It’s part travel, part history book, and covers several trips the author made in order to study the African diaspora and look for global community among blacks.

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Even if that topic is of no interest to you, the historical sections were fascinating. One of them went deep into the roots of Liverpool, England to discuss its key role in the slave trade, as well as more current issues of race within the community. The other was about Charleston, South Carolina and the life of District Judge J. Waties Waring. Both of these sections were completely new history to me, and Phillip’s way of telling them was both refreshing and honest.

Another part of the narrative that I found refreshing and honest, was the immigration story of Phillips’ guide in Ghana during Panafest. Phillips almost tells the story twice, and by this challenges the classic stereotypical narrative people often hear or imagine once you discover someone has been deported from a country or denied a visa.

Many of my classmates found Phillips’ tone overly negative. What I saw in him was a skepticism of the idea that the entirety of who we are is to be found in our ancestral roots. But this doesn’t mean he’s completely anti the idea of seeking out your historical origins. He describes things very cynically at times, but he also places against that cynicism the actions of some of the members of the diaspora that he encounters. If you’re paying attention you can see him tracing the community among them. Even if you don’t agree with his ultimate analysis of global community, his book is a fascinating study of the results of the transatlantic slave trade on the black diaspora.

Phillips’ writing is lovely, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this book an easy read. It was dense, though not heavy, and as much as I adored it, the reading itself was slow going. The most rewarding part was the last chapter and the epilogue. Something changed with his writing style and it became like poetry. It happened slowly and subtly. I looked back and couldn’t tell where it even started. By the time I got to the very last paragraph of the book I just didn’t want it to end, the writing was just so beautiful.

I will definitely be reading more of Phillips’ work in the future. He appealed to me with the way his writing was both beautiful and intellectually stimulating.

Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

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It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild