I’ve been reading a lot lately and writing less often. It comes in phases I guess. I rifled through my sister’s book shelf because she moved and had to part with many of her beloved books, so my stack included less pop lit and more respectable titles. I felt like a cool kid with my book titles showing at the beach, not like when I read Crazy Rich Asians in an airport before it was well known and folded back the cover to maintain self respect. Also that was a lie, I don’t read at the beach anymore, who am I kidding? Davita’s Harp, Eva Luna, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch are a few of these beautiful books. Lisa Gungor’s book was the book I was going to write if someone asked me to, and now I don’t have to, it’s good. Meaghan O’Connell is hilarious on the topic of motherhood, sobbed and laughed, added bonus she’s a great writer. Sweetbitter was good, not as good as expected but worth reading. Loved Z, such interesting insight into the jazz age with all its glory and all its flaws. And of course Ann Lamott, because she’s the queen.
I was wearing an inflatable gold crown to dinner – classy AF. Mob mentality made me do it, or rather the peer pressure of some friends and a glass of wine. We were celebrating my 30th birthday a year late, as I had recently turned 31, which is something that still amazes me - I keep getting older. I am determined to age gracefully though, unlike the botox stuffed women a generation ahead of me. Last year this time we were in the the cavernous dark hole of the hospital, ironically perpetually artificially lit.
So this year I had swordfish and shared a bottle of Gruner with friends and then they told me the reasons they love me. After a year of chaos they said they appreciated the way I handled myself, they said I was gracious along the way, they said I encouraged them to think differently and critically about the lives they were living, and I melted into a puddle – with an inflatable crown on it. From my puddle I wanted to tell them that they're the reason we survived last year, that their abiding love was our grace.
If we're lucky we have these moments every once in a while when we're reminded of God's grace and that he inhabits this world. Most of the time I rant about all of the ways I would do the job differently if I were God. I would make sure everyone was happy and healthy and snakes extinct and koalas a viable house pet. I tell him that I’m mad he doesn’t intervene, that if I were him, with all my wisdom, I would show up a bit more often. He’s gracious and lets me shake my tiny finger to the expansive heavens from my tiny place on earth, which is likely some parallel to my place in creation and thus the humility I should posses, but I prefer small dog syndrome.
Until those moments when I remember whose world I'm living in, I step outside and catch a sunset that is holy in its beauty and it silences me. The truth is that all of humanity bows their head to God’s nature, we call it mother nature or evolution or miraculously oriented cells, but by another name we still all see its splendor.
I think God is revealed in those moments. There is a catch in our breath when our bodies know more than our minds, when the cells that bow to the creator respond in amazement. We feel it, the instant before our reasoning minds silence the worship of our being, before we mute the song of our collective molecules in praise.
Every once in a while I let my mind learn from the parts of nature that don’t carry reason. The elements of creation that obey instinctively and carry with them the wisdom and truth of God’s planet. Mostly I think I’m smarter, mostly I explain to God better ways to do things because I don’t have the personality for quiet humble faith. But then sometimes I let myself see God, I let myself recognize all the ways he is present, through redwood trees, through starry skies, through people.
I tell God I wish he would intervene in my deep black darkness when maybe he did. I called it unanswered prayers, he calls it presence in my pain. I called it pointless suffering, he calls it beauty becoming. I called it impossible blind faith, he paints the sky to be seen if I choose to see. I call it lack of intervention, he beckons me to see Him in the people who carried me.
On really good days I see things a bit more clearly. Usually it's when I'm hiking, sometimes it's through friends who stop my yapping just long enough to let me hear God in it.
I plop my Colette into her highchair for the 34thtime that day, it’s a change in location, which brings about a moment of peace. I take a deep breath as she squeals curiously, the beginnings of what will eventually escalate into frustrated consonants babbled at higher and higher volume and pitch with each passing moment. It’s all to say, “I’m bored, NEXT”. But for now I grab my phone and open instagram to see how the rest of the world is living.
My favorite blogger is in some remote village in Spain. I look it up and see its location and envision myself there for a moment. I’ll have to settle for a coconut La Croix from my fridge. I dodge IKEA plastic stacking cups that have been scattered around my kitchen floor and make it to my fridge just barely without incident. A small noise becomes louder and faster as Colette discovers with pure ecstasy the sounds that comes from banging her toy on the counter. I see her smiling with excitement and flash a smile before getting back to my quick scroll.
A friend has a work meeting over happy hour and I see her frosted glass of Chablis toggling from side to side in front of a slightly blurred bright blue ocean. I don’t think I’m allowed to drink at home yet, it only being 3:30 and all. I quickly calculate hours until bedtime, 4. I scroll on, and a family I follow has relocated to France for a year and has been traveling to every bit of Western Europe on the weekends. They are currently in Biarritz surfing and the weather looks perfect, a nice contrast to the stifling heat outside my house.
Colette’s squeals are slowly morphing from contentment to boredom just as my stomach reminds me I haven’t taken time to eat. My moment of peace is ticking away so I grab an entire bell pepper and eat it like an apple while scrolling. The Australian fitness guru slides onto my feed doing one of her vomit inducing workouts. Just a few dozen burpees and a few dozen jump squats repeated a few dozen times. I watch the video like I’m watching the Olympics; it is both entertaining and so impossible it doesn’t feel like a threat. I chomp my bell pepper and feel my still soft belly just because I’m a masochist. I can now no longer shut out Colette’s frustration. What she wants is to walk around, but she still so unstable and it takes a lot of work and concentration. So I set my phone down and plop her on the floor with plastic primary colored toys I swore I would never buy.
I grab my phone because if I don’t catch up it will nag at me like incomplete homework. A natural beauty company comes into view. A 20 year old without any visible makeup swipes a shade of sheer pink onto her lips and blots. She has pouty plump lips that owe themselves to youth and good genes, and probably some Photoshop. Makeup free is the new makeup, and youth of course is the caveat, as it is for high-wasted shorts and midriff T’s.
Colette has now escalated to a level I can’t ignore so I set my phone down to help her stand. My ratted hair, that hasn’t been properly groomed in days, falls into my face and I lean over to lift her up and she grabs it for support. I sustain the jolt of pain and tie it back in a bun. Undone is the new done, I think, I’m just being French is all.
She wants to walk so we travel into the living room where she has many Colette sized pieces of furniture to scale. I have to watch her closely lest she take a tumble, so I slide my socked feet across the floor and plop down onto our wood floor with a nice view of my thighs in my high school sweats. Not a sight for instagram.
I’ve left my phone in the kitchen and can’t be bothered to go get it. Colette starts pushing off the edge of the couch to precariously balance standing alone. She gets so utterly excited she can’t contain her toothy grin and looks in my direction to laugh. I watch her tubby legs as they dramatically bend, lift and plop down like she’s walking through shallow surf. She has tiny tan lines between her fat rolls and I laugh at how cute they are. She’s so happy now she starts to babble incessantly, ba bada, la, dada. I listen to all the details of her noises while staring at her curly brown hair. How can her hair be that perfect, I think? How can her cheeks be that ridiculous? I smile and feel that blessed rush of contentment, the kind that comes from presence, from existing where I am. The anxiety I was hardly aware of dissipates. Simplicity slides in and I find myself in a moment I’m living in. If I have the guts, I’ll decide to keep living my life within my life, instead of somewhere else. Sometimes I think about permanently staying in my moments, sometimes I think about being present to my contentment, sometimes I think about the relief of disconnection, sometimes I wish for less comparison.
But in a few hours I'll be scrolling to catch up.
To pivoting when it’s time.
Last night my friend Shannen made that toast when we clinked our wine glasses. I had gone to LA to spend the evening with her, as in I left the baby child with Trever and left the house with actual shoes on. I had to be careful not to overdue it with my outfit, because now I’m a mom, coming to the big city for a meal. Before I know it I’ll be wearing my one leather jacket every time I cross the county line out of suburbia and into the city.
We had Mediterranean food in a restaurant the size of my living room that jutted out into the corner of Sunset and something-rather. I updated her on all the best news about Colette, her adorable and happy personality and how much I love being a mom. Then I told her what I’m working on, which is to say, what is hard right now. “I’m working really hard on mindfulness,” I said, “because I’m happy if I stop wishing I were in Paris. How come no one else struggles”, I asked her. “Because you’re someone else”, she said, “it’s why I like you.” Well that was nice. When it came time for her update, I asked her to tell me the next 6 places she’ll be going to in the next 6 weeks. “I don’t want to tell you,” she said.
Just TELL ME!!!
Japan, Italy, Yellowstone, Big Sur – I stopped listening. I gluggled my water, they didn’t have wine.
The grass is always greener though, which means we’re all discontent unless we choose to be otherwise. She looks forward to when she’ll have a partner, I look forward to a bit more freedom. She tells me she sees beauty in my future, change and pivots and new adventures when it’s time. Now is the time to love my Colette. We discuss dating app horror stories and the uneven ratios of eligible bachelors to bachelorettes.
Then we walk in search of wine and find ourselves under light bulbs dangling from thirty food ceilings, and seat ourselves in front of a 5 shelf wall-to-wall bar housing Japanese whiskey and Mexican mescal. And then our conversation moves its way to where we always end up. God.
We grew up the same way, went to the same college, shared the same deep conviction for our faith and conservative lifestyle. She found herself in a city that stretched her mind, and I found myself in a conservative church that stretched mine. Opposing reasons for the same shake-up and ultimately the same results, which left us saying - I don’t know, but I believe.
We lost the blessed ignorance of easy belief. We discussed how desperately we wished our teachers had told us about the nuance. We wished they didn’t call what was grey, black and white. We wished they pointed out big questions and confusion so that we wouldn’t discover it alone in a city or alone amongst believers. We wish we talked about how hard it is to believe, and yet together pursued belief.
Then we talked about hope, the thing that keeps us believing.
When life goes where you didn’t expect it to, or genetics or birth defects cause a major f*ck up, you discover how you see the world. For Shannen and me, no matter our confusion we can’t shake hope. We see this life as a moment in the greater breadth of time. We see the brokenness as a part of this broken life, so we see hope in the ending of it and thus the beginning of something whole. Whatever God’s involvement today, creation makes us believe He is good.
And that’s about all we can say. We can’t claim belief in the details anymore. We can’t rest in surety like we once did. The ease now comes to us in the releasing of a need to know.
I don’t know, but I believe. That’s what we can say. It’s lovely to have friends who say, me too, a connection itself, which helps me see.
Thank God, I think, and I mean it.
I am so out of shape that I needed to join a gym with classes. I can’t be trusted to whip myself into shape. I’m so far gone that the prospect of the sensation of burning lungs and aching legs, returning again to the former strength and joy of running, is so far gone I get overwhelmed and quit. It hurts. Never mind, I don’t care about health that much. I’ll invest in one pieces for this summer. I have a baby, shouldn’t I just go home and take a nap? Yes. - Says my mind.
So I went to Orange Theory. It’s running, rowing and weight training. The whole time you’re monitored by a heart monitor so you can gage your goals more accurately. I was ready for it and feeling upbeat. While signing in I was sure to mention I have a 10 month old, which didn’t sound as impressive as I wanted it to. I feel like I just jumped out of my delivery bed and into the gym, or my knees feel that way anyways. But it’s been almost a year and to an outsider that’s a long time. She congratulated me and signed me in.
I got in the room and the trainer was doing a little overview of how the class works for the newbies. “Sounds good” I said, “I have a six month old so we’ll see how well I do, haha.” It felt better that time. More congratulations and permission to take is slow. Take it slow, that’s what I wanted to hear, and of course what my ego ignored. I started my run at a pace I would have run when I was in shape. Two years ago. Well before I got pregnant with my 4 month old.
We had to do three cycles of chaos and movements right out of the gate my lungs were screaming at me to slow it down. Two cycles in and I felt like puking. I didn’t vaguely feel like puking, I had to run to the bathroom for fear I might spew my morning coffee on my treadmill. I must have looked ghostly when I came back because the trainer asked if I threw up. “Oh no, I’m good,” I said with a perky smile, “loving this class by the way”.
I finished without puking but spent a good portion of the weight training bent over my bench willing my vision to return. Lucky for us our monitors recorded the whole thing. As it turns out I got five splat point. FIVE! Which has something to do with heart rate and red zone and working hard and burning calories. I’m not quite sure, but everyone else had between 15 and 30. The trainer said I must have an efficient heart, which we both knew wasn't true. So essentially my low splat points meant I didn’t work that hard. “Oh man,” I joked to the fellow new comers, “I guess I’m more out of shape than I thought.” This was my moment to fit it in. “I just had a baby a couple months ago so I’m a little out shape I guess.” The congratulations ensued, I smiled like a champion. It’s incredible how lying to yourself and others can actually make you feel better about yourself. Way to go Brooke, you’ve got a newborn and you’re here. Keep it up!
Motherhood is the greatest contrast. It ties itself to us then pulls at us from all angles. I picture myself with ropes tied to my arms and legs and each side of the rope is being pulled from opposite sides. So I find myself precariously balanced and deeply stretched.
Here’s what I mean. Pregnancy was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, maybe the most incredible. I was growing a life inside of me. It was so much crazier than I thought it would be, feeling a human grow and move around inside me. The whole experience was profound, I mean that literally, it was one of those experiences that makes one believe in God.
It’s also hard though. My body was on loan for a year. I couldn’t drink too much, or eat certain things, or take hot baths, or go for long runs. I became fragile. I felt tired and hungry all of the time. I was in a constant state of needing to pee for a year straight. Everything started getting soft and saggy except my rock hard belly, which is the cruelest contrast to the deflated balloon it would become.
It was difficult. It was worth it.
Then of course labor has to produce these crazy happy hormones because otherwise our population rate would perpetually be on the decline - one and done. Our body’s get ripped open but it’s such an incredible experience. Or something. So we do it again.
Now I feel this bizarre mix of being exhausted and super bored. When they’re little the days are kind of mundane, and yet constantly moving. My mind is restless and tired.
I have one of the deepest attachments of my life with Colette and yet I’m sort of lonely. I found the greatest fulfillment of my identity and somehow feel emptied out, like I lost myself a little bit. I’ve found life long purpose and yet I feel like I’ve lost a sense of direction. I want to be close to her constantly, but I need space too. Life got quieter and slower but really it’s noisy and busy, just differently. I’m excited for her to grow up and I beg her daily to never change.
The absolute best things that’s ever happened to me. The absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s set up like this so we go crazy. It’s like some weird sexist law of creation. Does all of life have such opposing elements, or am I right that becoming a mom is particularly so? It’s two sides of the same coin, or a double-edged sword, or more contrast analogies.
I'm still figuring this whole thing out.
So, I’ll leave you with this – I put soup on a plate yesterday.
So I’m a stay at home mom now. It’s not something I had planned on, but with Colette’s complex medical journey, staying home became the obvious and only choice. It’s hard but I really do love it. However I am going a little crazy. I'm not stir crazy, but like, if I’m gonna stay home I’m gonna stay the fook home. I’m doing this thing.
I’m reading books about plants and cooking and getting into it. In a dream world I would like to be in either the middle of a city or in the middle of nowhere. Which is why I’m in the suburbs. Best of both? Or of neither? Or something? I don’t know but I could move to a farm right about now, were it not for Trever’s work. I’m sure there’s a rip roaring fashion industry in Paso Robles, no? But then there's the fact of his general indoorsyness that may not be suitable to farm life. **Which spell check just changed to farm wife which is a mother cussing sign if there ever was one!
But for now the farm will come to me. I live in a neighborhood built in the early 1900s, so unlike a lot of coastal southern California we have yards. Not just patios. My house is the size of a motorhome squared, but I’ve got an orange tree so I’m winning. We’ve built some garden beds with radish and butter lettuce babies growing inside. I thought they were taking too long and surely had died young, but I just saw a little green sprout and got reaaal happy about it.
Also nothing and no one is spared from my antics. Like Trever and his office for example. After getting large empty egg cartons from local restaurants (like a freak) I planted kale, leek and lettuce seeds in them and left them in Trever’s office to sprout. His office now smells a little like dirt but it sort of already did so whatever. When he tastes that crunchy fresh kale, half eaten by a squirrel, he’ll remember why he married me.
Everyone I talk to who has had a go at gardening, tells me how hard it is. All the bugs and squirrels and birds and fungus. But I’m in the honeymoon phase right now. New love is blooming and I have lofty dreams of our future together. I can see it now - all of us happily chomping on cabbages, not a care in the world.
My plant babies are part of my weird mom routine. I slip on my berkenstocks over my socks and tighten my robe, squinting my eyes at the sun I adjust my glasses and pull my hair back into a messy bun to water my herbs and garden bed, then grabbing a clump of chocolate mint to deeply inhale on my way inside. Motherhood suits me. Trever probably agrees.
Sometimes I think about poor Colette. What will she say about me? Not only am I wearing socks under by berks but I’m permanently displaying the inside of my brain on the world wide web. Actually she probably won’t care, future Brooke will super care. She’s like, “sshhhh” from 30 years away.
Speaking of being crazy. Trever and just decided I need to take some time for myself to read, think, write, and become normal again. I think it’s a pretty good idea.
My friend Annette once said to me that having kids saved her from herself. At the time the only thing I heard in that statement, was that it would take me from myself. I heard the negative of what I would lose for this opaque gain of mothering, or more precisely, of loving. In giving up part of ourselves to another, there is loss. I don’t have a job anymore. I don’t think as deeply. I write less. I read less. I interact less. My days feel mundane sometimes. I feel isolated sometimes. I feel small. I’m tired. I feel simple. And I hate to say it, but on bad days I feel trapped.
I was talking to a friend once about marriage. He was so disinterested in it because it just sounded hard. He rattled off all that seemed difficult, the required selflessness, the loss of independence, all the effort it is to maintain, the 50%. I remember thinking, well ya, that’s all there, but you’re missing the goodness of it. The love. Maybe you don’t know it until you know it, but when you do, all the work is nothing. The love, as I understand it, bears the weight of all the toil.
From Annette I just heard that mothering might keep me from myself, from simple pleasures, from part of my happiness. I didn’t take into account what it would save me into. It’s a bit of a risk, by choice or not, to lose simple goodness for strenuous greatness. It’s an act of “dying into life.”
Maybe our lives are made up of a bunch of tiny deaths that lead to greater life. Everything is reflective of what it is to live. The acts of emptying ourselves in exchange for connection, for purpose, for holiness, brings us closer to heaven on earth. We start to see a pattern, that when we lose part of ourselves to love, what we gain in return is to truly live. It’s inception. It’s a ton of tiny analogies for life inside this life, that even in heart stopping death, we are simply coming to greater life.
It’s better to lose ourselves to love than to own ourselves. It’s a big blaring sign for belief if we see it, by the grace of the cross, death leads to life within this life, and so, it will keep leading to life beyond it.
For those that have the eyes for it, it is the gospel on repeat in our lives. In both big and small ways, loss of parts of ourselves to sacrificial love, whatever the form it takes, truly and completely saves us from ourselves and saves us into life.
Thank God I'm not made for me. Thank God for Colette.
I was walking from my parked car with my mind still spinning at the quick pace I maintain when doing things like unloading Colette and all of her accessories from my car. Have mercy, do babies need accessories. I used to judge moms while thinking, just have less stuff, people in Africa don’t need all of this (always a sound and educated argument, or whatever). It was our first beach trip, which meant walking down the boardwalk while she slept in her stroller. She is still easily over stimulated because of all that time in a temperature, light controlled 10x10 room, so we’re taking it easy on the new experiences. I turned the corner to arrive on the boardwalk, looked out at the sparkling water for the first time in almost seven months and it hit me. I felt really happy.
For the past month since coming home, I have felt really flat. I felt a lot in the hospital but in bizarre soul wrecking ways, then after there was nothing. I'm coming back to normal and realizing how mixed up I was. I feel like I'm just now thawing out. The expectation was to be all mended once the hospital was over. I thought that with a rush, the moment we walked out of the hospital, I could be back to myself. I didn’t expect residual effects to creep into my new life at home. I don’t think I quite understood the toll the last 5 months had taken on me.
Are you surprised by my surprise? Me too. The self is the hardest to see I guess.
This is why my celebration felt off. I could be walking down our street with Colette in her stroller doing exactly what I had dreamed of for all those months in the hospital, I would look around me and think, I’m so happy - just think it. It was completely cognitive. I hadn’t had that tingly feeling I get when I think about all the things that could be, like a fun trip, or a good new book, or dinner with friends. I never felt completely relaxed the way I used to when I took a bath or did yoga. I never felt energized from a good run or accomplishing all my goals for the day. I just felt flat. I had the memory of the feelings from these experiences so I would paste the knowledge of the correlating feelings on and figured all was normal, except a little not normal.
But today at the beach I felt the first whiff of real joy. I’m coming back to myself, my new self anyways. The last couple of years did some things to me that will always be. In all the joy I’ll eventually return to, there will always that temporality. I don’t think I’ll forget how fragile it all is, or how likely it is that we’ll hit tragedy and pain again. So celebration will always be for this moment. Second, I’ll always think of those who never got bailed out. I had significant pain, but for the most part I have had relief. Colette survived with little lifelong repercussions so I’m healing from a bad experience that ended. But others have to heal without the relief of circumstances. I think about that all the time. I think about how one day that will be me.
On a lighter note I have more oranges on my tree than there is champagne in the world and what else are oranges for? My sourdough starter is barely surviving but I plan to pick up my bread making again. Also, we re-did our bathroom during the hospital stay, because when life is crap why not move into a Best Western Plus for two weeks? But now that we’re finished with our house we’ll take some pictures and show before and after.
Also, I went to the gym and I was remembering the last time I properly ran. It was the day before our IVF appointment to implant the embryo that would become Colette. I remember thinking about how it was the last time I would run with abandon for a while. I had to spend my pregnancy with caution and fear. This was my time back, I could just run as fast as I wanted without concern for anyone else. I could finally let all that anxiety out with deep breaths and aching muscles. I love that feeling. So I did it. I ran a twelve minute mile and almost puked. Wait, what?
Expectations > Reality.
Lastly, I have just begun reading after not picking up a book since Colette was born. I could have read an entire library’s worth of books in the time I sat in the large green hospital chair staring at a wall. I could have learned French. I could have crocheted a blanket the size of a mini-van. But for whatever reason I couldn’t do any of it. So now I need book recommendations. Also, on the list of Obama’s books he recommended for 2017 was A Gentlemen Moscow. Which I read! So it’s like we were in same place. Not at the same time but we were both there. He also liked Chance the Rapper’s, “First World Problems”, which I liked. I’m just gonna say what I’m thinking, Obama would probably like me. Anyways, book recommendations would be great.
P.S. I really want Colette to like being outside but she mostly just squints and gets grumpy at how bright it is. Trever's an indoor guy if you know what I mean. I'll tell you what I mean, he wears suede designer boots and skinny jeans when he goes to the beach. I will not allow Colette be her own person in this regard. She will not inherit indoorsyness. I will force her to like the beach if it's the only thing I do for her, because the main reason I had a kid was so I could have someone to go to the beach with.
P.S.S. As we can all assess per this post, clarity of mind and linear thinking has not yet returned to me. Maybe it's time for a new hobby.
I should be sleeping. "Sleep while the baby sleeps." But my sister Hayley sent me these photos that she took of us. They make me so happy I can't sleep. I'm so tired but so happy. That's the definition of motherhood isn't it?
Last year, this week, we had our first ultrasound. Because of our infertility I had an elevated sense of fear that we would lose our baby to miscarriage. I wasn’t fully celebrating pregnancy because I was so convinced it would end tragically. This first ultrasound would be the point I could finally let myself take a breath. The appointment went well, the ultrasound tech was really positive and we left with the first sense of relief we had felt for a long time. A few hours later on our way to my in-law’s we got a call from our doctor with the news of Colette’s omphalocele.
With it came a risk of genetic abnormalities, congenital heart disease and underdeveloped lungs. I was sitting at the table for Christmas dinner while holding my phone under the table and spiraling down into the google pit of information. I was a wax figure that night, forming my face up into a smile and hoping it would hold. I held it together until we got in the car, and then I cried, a loud animal cry that I couldn’t control. I remember lying in bed that night and becoming so overwhelmed that I thought I would be sick, so I focused completely on breathing in and out. With each breath I remember praying, “I need you,” until I finally fell asleep.
We went to the mountains the weekend after for Christmas with my family. We were all trying to be positive but the fear was saturating everything. I remember my laugh even sounded fake and felt separate from me. Internally I was spinning in chaos. I wasn’t present in any experience because I was processing worse case scenario and begging God for mercy. At our new years party I was pasting on smiles and having pleasant conversation while my mind was living in really deep grief and fear. Not many people knew yet so everyone was celebrating our pregnancy, while its very existence was my nightmare. Each mention of it and congratulatory hug was a reminder. It was the deepest loss looming over so recent a blossom of love.
Even thinking back on it I feel sick to my stomach. The fear is still palatable. Anniversaries of experiences might be the way I’m forced to process this last year. Bit by bit I’ll feel the darkness of that particular moment again, remember the pain, grieve what was lost, review how it changed me, and maybe learn to accept it all. This day a year ago I remember feeling half alive, both numb and painfully awake.
Now looking back a year later, it was all so much harder than I could have imagined at the time. The fear, the pamphlet the genetic counselor gave me, the encouragement to terminate, the heart diagnosis, months of begging for a miracle, watching her go after delivery, months in the hospital, x-rays, infections, kissing her goodby in the O.R., breathing machines, doctor’s worried faces, medications, the recovery, the love, the fear.
Colette is in her room sleeping right now. She has her chubby arm draped over her chubby cheek. It was so hard because she was so worth it.
A year ago my perfect plans for life were shattered. I’ll never regain the blissful ignorance that life will go as planned. I think about the future differently, I live today differently, I’m darker and deeper and brighter all the same. 2017 was the worst and best year of my life. I’m writing this when I should be packing for the mountains for Christmas with my family. Colette will stare at all her cousins being crazy and loud as my family has always been. I’ll genuinely smile. My laugh will be mine. I’ll be present to the moment. And by the grace of God, Colette will be there with me.
So cheers to 2018
Here’s to hoping for better days ahead, to letting fear go, to celebrating each moment in the moment, and in spite of the loss that defines this life, to loving.
I thought the hospital would be this phase that would exist and then would end. That I would come home from that unfortunate time and be who I was with a baby in tow. Of course I never thought we would be there five months and I never thought we would almost lose her. Except maybe I did think those things, I just blocked that out and figured I would survive it and then return to Brooke when it ended. No matter how it ended.
Colette had a follow up appointment with her cardiologist yesterday. During the appointment I watched her laying on the bed that I laid on just nine months earlier when we got such horrible news that she had major congenital heart disease, potentially incompatible with life. Yesterday she was just staring at the echo screen and the doctor was making light-hearted small talk and just five minutes after he started he finished by saying, “everything looks great.” Nine months ago I sobbed in that room. Trever and I both did, the doctor had to leave the room so we could break down and pull ourselves together enough to make it to the car. Nine months ago I had stared at that same echo screen playing out what it would look like to lose our baby girl. I also experienced a miracle in that room when her diagnosis got reversed. “Woops, we got a bad angle.” Yesterday I looked up at the ceiling tiles I had stared at 9 months ago with all that nausea and fear swirling around. I looked up at them and I looked down at her and I held it together just long enough to make it to my car.
Because all is well. The people around me are celebrating Colette in ways that make me weak with gratitude. No one is tired of her story. They keep applauding her miracle and I’m humbled. They help me celebrate. Because the dark truth of it is that sometimes it’s hard for me to celebrate. I’ve come out of the hospital and our whole family is different. Colette is just representative of how we’re all slowly healing and weaning off our survival drugs (her: morphine / me: a stiff upper lip). I’m learning the new me as all the strength wears off and the leftover pain settles in. I can’t figure out how to feel less afraid. I have a short fuse that once was long. I have low energy that gets me just barely to the end of the day. With every celebration of our miracle I grieve with those who were left with tragedy. It’s weird and dark. I expected candy canes and silver lanes when the reality is that I celebrate with a remaining shadow. I suppose it’s that dark truth that life is unpredictable and I can’t unlearn that lesson. Or it’s a delayed response to all the pain. Or it’s the baby girl that was our NICU neighbor who is still there without a predictable end date. There is a heaviness to my being that won’t slough off. Or maybe it’s a realism that will never go away, I have a new view of life that will always carry with it the truth of pain.
I’m learning this new part of me, discovering new scars and making peace with them. But I’m celebrating every second with her too. Every time we sit in the backyard and she stares at the sky. Or every walk we take and she dozes off in her stroller. Or every time we have friends over and we peacefully have dinner with her in our laps. Every bit of it is a celebration.
You’re part of what is helping me celebrate. Thank you for applauding and crying and sending happy emoticons and warm meals. I try and follow that secret social media protocol, not too many picture, less baby photos, don’t try so hard, etc. etc. Well I used to, and now I just post too many photos and even though I’m a bit uneven you’re helping me see the brightness in it all. Thanks for loving her. Thanks for getting excited over all my ridiculous mom posts. It means so much, especially right now while I learn my new self. You're our cheerleaders and I didn't realize how much we needed it. Thanks.
I’ve been silent on here for a really long time. Silent because I had nothing to say. I don’t have a treasure chest full of profound thoughts that have been accumulating over the time I’ve been living in the upside down. I thought that’s how it would be. These last couple of years have been so difficult and through it I’ve learned a lot and had so much to say along the way. But that was the kiddie pool. It was the time where I was keeping my head above water, finding my feet after each new wave. I didn’t realize that there would be a point where I would become overwhelmed and resort to tucking my head, pulling in my arms and legs and becoming just moving sediment in the ebb and flow of crashing waves.
I’ve had a few epiphanies. But not really. I’ve just been surviving. And there is nothing poetic to say about that. I have no deep thoughts about what it does to your faith to walk passed a prayer room in a children’s hospital every day and see sobbing parents as desperate as me for a miracle. In the stinging moments when we thought we were losing her I had no beautiful and miraculous peace. I'm not sure how to make peace with seeing two friends lose a child in the five months we were scrambling to save ours. I don't know what to do with the empathy I have for God, for as greatly as we love our children it must break him to watch us suffer. Maybe as I look back I’ll have some thoughts about it all. But for now I’m not sure what to say, so much happened but it was all swirling and chaotic. Maybe when it all settles I'll see a little more clearly.
But that’s all for another day because today I went for a walk. Colette is home and it has been the biggest relief of my life. She's cute and chubby and mellow and I love not having to say goodbye. The leaves in my neighborhood have all turned and are starting to decorate the sidewalk with autumn colors. Colette was sleeping peacefully in her stroller and the sun was just warm enough to make the cool breeze comforting. I’m typically a futuristic person, until I learned that life doesn’t play out the way you plan it to. So I’m getting better at appreciating the moment without the fear or hope of what tomorrow will be. And today the weather was truly perfect. As are Colette’s blue eyes and chubby cheeks. I woke up in the morning and pulled her out of her bassinet and into bed. I made dinner while she napped in her room. We’re all starting to heal a little bit and it sort of feels like I’m coming back to life. Maybe there will be things to say later, but for now I just wanted to say, thank you. There was a lot of darkness in the last five months but a spot of brightness was the kindness of the people around us. So, thank you, it made a difference.
We're surviving, if you’re wondering. So much has changed and my life looks really different than it did just two months ago. I love being outside and being active but now I sit in a chair all day inside a fluorescently lit room. I love travelling and going new places but for now I have the exact same routine every single day. I love my friends but I’m currently alone the majority of the time. I like my work and I just quit last week, which I sobbed over for a day straight while dramatically uttering - who am I?
But that’s nonsense really because Colette will be ok and some people would kill to sit in a comfy chair all day and binge watch Glee. Yes, Glee. Trever threatens me often with angry words over the fact that our daughter might like musicals due to this recent addiction. But, DGAF. So what if her favorite childhood movie is Newsies. People who like Newsies are really. cool. people.
As far as a medical update, it has been drama. Post surgery, Colette started eating and got to about half of where she needed to be to go home when she suddenly stopped tolerating her food. So they did a contrast study with an x-ray and found that once again her stomach is kinked and there is no food passing through. So surgery again. But first they have to wait for her bowels to completely heal from her last surgery, which would put us back in the O.R. in about a month. So for now we wait.
Every time things start going well, in my head I subconsciously move out of the hospital and prep for coming home, only to hit another block in the road and find that my fragile, flickering light at the end of the tunnel has just tragically gone out. So I have to re-adjust myself and settle back into hospital life. It usually takes about a day and involves a lot of crying. You should know my lane of emotional homeostasis is very narrow. All of this crying is very distressing.
But also, she’s growing up and getting so cute. She coos and smiles and holds her head up like a champ. She has a super mellow personality and doesn’t really fuss much. She has strong eye contact and has inherited my big eyes and thus a resting shocked face. In her photos people comment, “the Brooke look”. For the rest of her life people will think she is perpetually surprised and for the rest of her life she will probably feel perpetually mellow.
I’m trying hard not to miss it. I think constantly - I can’t wait until Christmas because we should be home by then and this will all be over. But then she’ll be six months old and her little baby phase will be over. I don’t want to spend those few precious moments wishing I was somewhere else. So I’m settling back into the hospital way of life.
We’ll be ok and that's my update for now.
P.S. this is a light-hearted post. I also have majorly depressing thoughts due to daily walks through the lobby of a children’s hospital, but I’ll save those for later and it might do you good to avoid them.
Kids are going back to school now. I’ve missed the summer. It’s a weird feeling to have an entire season pass you by and feel as though you have been stagnant the whole time. I feel like I’ve gone away to live in a bubble and social media has allowed me to peak into the life I would be living were I not in such a bubble. We haven’t seen our friends in 7 weeks and I’ve left the city of Orange only twice. I come home and sleep and then head back to the hospital where I feel trapped and yet it’s the only place I want to be. I feel so deeply alone and yet the idea of seeing people sounds really exhausting. So for now our friends and family support us through prayer, text messages and baskets of food that keep showing up.
My nephew was in a NICU for a bit and my sister’s nurse said to her - even though there is no clear end date, today we are one day closer to it. This helps me. You know if you’ve ever done distance running what hitting the wall feels like? Well the only way passed that is a choice to change your mental focus. You have to stop thinking about the finish line because that’s what is so overwhelming, you have to focus completely on the next step and that’s it. One more step. Then after a while you’ll start calming down, breathing more rhythmically, your muscles will stop panicking and eventually you’ll look up again and settle back into the pattern of the race.
I’ve hit the wall so many times. It’s the first time in my life where I’ve thought to myself - I don’t think I can do this, I don’t know how to keep going. But I’ve gotten pretty good at calming myself down just enough to make one more day bearable, and so we keep going and we’re starting to look up a bit.
Colette is doing better and has healed from surgery and her infection. I knew it was bad in the moment when she was so sick but looking back I can’t even believe how bad it actually was. It’s a black whole of chaos and grief and I can’t even remember much of it. The feelings come back to me though, when I see the few pictures we have of her during that time and I can hardly believe we all pulled through.
Days are brighter now though. She is starting to eat again and for the most part keeping everything down. Today she takes 8cc’s every three hours…we go home when she gets to 40cc’s. One step at a time.
When we almost lost her, surviving the NICU got put in perspective. I’ll spend all the time we need to in the that sterile room because we are starting to the see the flicker of what might be the light at the end of this crazy long tunnel.
I need a nap. And also a lot of sunshine and fresh air. And also potentially some therapy.
Thank you for all the continued love, support and prayers - it is what’s getting us through.
Also please forgive my writing...my mind is spaghetti.
Hello. Sorry about the radio silence.
I figured I would give a little update but I don’t know where to begin. Everything is in contrast. I feel like I’ve lived a million lives since July 4th and yet also like it’s been one long day. My world has shrunken down into a tiny NICU room and at the same time has expanded beyond what I could have previously imagined. The NICU is so much harder than I thought it would be but only because Colette is so much more to me than I thought she could be. This explosion has left me wordless and incapable of processing at the speed in which I'm experiencing things.
But I'll do my best to give a update. The short version is that we had a scheduled C-section for July 6th. In between a pool party and a BBQ on July 4th Trever and I went home to take a nap which lead to a quick check-up at the hospital where I suddenly started contracting. They planned to monitor me overnight and sent Trever home to get our things and in the 30 minutes he was gone I had progressed so far that we were being wheeled into the O.R. just minutes after he returned. At 11:45 on July 4th Colette arrived.
I don’t know how to say what it felt like to hear her cry or see her perfect face. Nobody tells you how utterly terrifying it is to love someone that much. Nobody tells you what it’s like to watch your spouse love someone the same fierce way that you do. Nobody tells you that all your other silly dreams pale to colorless when she arrives. Or maybe they do and I just didn’t have a way to hear it.
As far as a medical update we’re still in the NICU. For the first couple of days they were just monitoring her heart. By the end of the first week she was scheduled for heart surgery. I was at home comatose with grief when the cardiologist called to say surgery was cancelled. They decided to re-evaluate her scans with 6 other cardiologists and when they did the majority of cardiologists thought she would be fine without surgery. So they took her off the medication that would reveal if her heart would be ok and as it turns out, it was. We were also told her pulmonary veins were in the wrong place and a scan revealed they weren’t. Oh and her lungs work great which can be a really big problem with baby’s who have Omphalocele. I would like to say this in a more dramatic way so you can understand the relief it was to have such a miraculous turn of events but I don’t have the words.
Then about a week ago she started getting sick with a fever. They couldn't identify the infection and they had her on antibiotics but nothing was working. They started getting concerned that antibiotics weren't reaching the infection which meant blood wasn't reaching the infection which meant she likely had dead bowel. I was sat down in a conference room with the surgeon who told me he was very worried about Colette. He said he was stuck in a bad place between not operating and having her get more sick from infection which would ultimately claim her life, or to open her up and potentially not be able to close her up because the majority of her bowels are only covered with a thin membrane which is hard to sew up. We opted for surgery and she was in the O.R. within an hour.
Rock bottom is when an anthesthesiologist tells you to kiss your daughter goodbye and you walk out of the pre-op room with nothing to do but wait. One big blur and a few hours later the surgeon came and told us she made it through the surgery and all her bowels were healthy. He was able to re-position her bowels to help with food tolerance and the found the infection which was the omphalocele covering itself and then he was able to close her back up. We walked out the waiting room to find our families waiting for us and we all sobbed and breathed a huge sigh of relief. They started her on new antiobiotics and all of her levels are finally dropping showing the infection is finally going away.
The grace of God has been so apparent that my underserving soul can hardly understand it. And yet I’m asking for more. Our big hurdles are to keep her infection numbers dropping, to get her to drain the fluid she is retaining from surgery, then re-starting feeds which we're hoping we have better luck with post-surgery. Once we're in the clear and she's eating she can come home and we won’t have surgery on her abdomen for quite a while. Prayers welcomed.
We get little updates from friends every once in a while about the amount of people praying for us and just about every day baskets of food, warm meals, tiny dresses and stuffed animals show up at our door. When I get my head above water I'll thank you all individually. But know that every prayer and every act of love and support means so much more to us than we could express. Thank you.
Five or six months ago Trever and I had dinner with our friend Kathleen. It was right in the middle of receiving all of the worst news about Colette and we were kind of spinning and emotional. The future was extremely unknown and the encouragement from everyone was to trust God because we would find our peace there. Of course there was no peace in that moment as most grievers know, straight out of the gate is reserved for the roller coaster of anger, grief, confusion, questioning and the like.
I remember I was trying to fix it all. Doing my best to put all my emotions in order and find helpful answers to my questions. Christians in the sunny bright of the day were doing their best to get me to a place of peace with all their encouragement. It was like someone put me in dark room and from the other side of the door people were telling me that I should be able to see light so long as I looked hard enough, because they themselves were seeing the light perfectly fine. So I was grasping for clarity and progressing in no way accept to wear myself out even further.
So, back to Kathleen. Trever and I were processing all that was happening and I remember that she really accepted that we had all these questions and that in fact she was not interested in, or capable of, answering them for us. She understood the truth that these answers would only come by way of a Divine gift. So, she told us to write our prayers and questions down, to accept our incapacity to find answers to our great questions about God and instead ask him to answer them. Essentially throw our hands in the air and in a ‘no vote’ for me, ask for intervention.
I did it. I wrote my prayers down and forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago when I opened it up and read it. I had this bizarre connection to the words because they made so much sense to me. I remember clearly being in the place I was when I wrote those prayers but I don’t think I realized how far I had come since then. It was like I stood against the doorframe and realized that somehow I had grown two inches since the last pencil hash mark and I had no idea it had happened. Here’s a little excerpt:
I haven’t prayed because I don’t know what to say, and probably partly because the only control I have is giving you the cold shoulder for what has happened. I feel like a fool for ever believing you intervene and I feel like a fool for thinking this baby was a miracle. I feel like a fool because I let the pregnancy help me with my unbelief and I shouted it from the rooftops, when in fact just a layer below lie the truth of doubt and confusion that was exposed by the searing affect of pain. I’ve been told to allow you to bring a wisdom and understanding that I can’t gain on my own. It’s a risky game but I suppose it’s all I’ve got.
And then I go on in even less articulate ways to hash through my questions. Pleasant isn’t it?
There is a chapter in Mere Christianity about faith. C.S. Lewis starts out by telling the reader that if they’re not in the place where this chapter makes sense then to just pass it by. The reason being that one can only truly understand some questions and concepts of faith when one is on the other side of them. When we have accepted our bankruptcy and understand that we cannot conjure up answers to questions or brainiac our way to faith, it’s then that we are open in a different way to new forms of understanding. Suffering is one such way of exposing our bankruptcy so that all we have is to open our hands and beg for meaning.
I was talking to my friend Nick about this because I remember meeting with him days after all the horrible doctors appointments. I was badgering him with questions for how to get through everything. I needed a formula so I asked him for books and he laughed and said, “there’s nothing I can give you that will get you through this.” So I asked him how he got through his own suffering because maybe that would give me answers. He responded but not in a very satisfying way, he sort of just said he did. He talked a little about the peace that he came to but it was in another language for all it meant to me.
It wasn't until I read these prayers and reflected on who I am now that I finally understand Nick and Kathleen’s silence. I understand that there was nothing they could say. I understand that there is no formula. I understand I was incapable of understanding. I understand that if they had tried to explain whatever process they have been through it would have been incomprehensible in any real meaningful way, because I could only learn through the release and through the receiving of understanding via nothing but the grace of God. As C.S. Lewis says, “All this trying leads up to the vital moment which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this, I can’t.’ It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.” We typically only get here because we are forced to, but it creates in us a desperation that we would never choose and yet it's the only thing that finally allows us to grow.
I’ve grown a few inches, but of course the truth is I’m quite happy with my current height. I don't want to learn anything in the coming weeks through pain, I want bailed out. I would like to stay at my height for a good long while. I’m grateful for how far I’ve come but would like to take a break. I had really bad growing pains when I was little. I hated them. I will always hate them. But I suppose it's the only way I stopped having the stature of a child.
How is this life what it is? I can’t handle the movement of it. I remember the minute before I walked down the aisle at my wedding and wanting so desperately to take the moment in and yet knowing full well that I just couldn’t. There was no way to fully understand, embrace and experience the change that was happening. I wanted to feel every little thing, the leaving of one chapter for another. I felt like I was straining to open my eyes really widely to stare intently at the turning of the page so that I realized it and was aware for every second of the turning.
But we can’t soak it in completely. The page turns at its own pace with a ticking movement and then once it's turned we can’t go back really, except to remember. We have to let go to move forward. And so it seems I’m moving into a new chapter and cannot for the life of me figure out how to soak in these last weeks. Trever and I have been married for almost nine years and it’s all we know. It sounds so silly but it’s blowing my mind that we’ll be a family of 3 in just a two weeks. TWO WEEKS! It has been just us, travelling when we wanted, late nights when we wanted, only the two of us to plan for, deep sleeping, young, married, a family of 2. People try and tell us the changes and feelings we’ll experience but no one can know them until they know them. This is for almost anything in life, no one can tell you what it’s like up ahead until you know. So I sit here with a blurry future certain of nothing but change, thrilled for what's ahead but slightly sad for what we're leaving behind.
I’m not the type to dwell in the past and I tend to like change, it’s just that I know how significant this is and I sort of wish I could slow it all down so I had time to process it. I want to etch it in stone the feelings of pregnancy, to encapsulate this season of life so that I remember every bit of it and be sure that I have felt the whole thing while it’s happening. I’m afraid to let it become a memory. I hope I loved every second of this decade of life, I hope I soaked it in while I had it.
But then who really cares, because I’ll get so see what her face looks like and if she has long fingers like me, or green eyes like Trever. This vacillation is where my mind can spend hours - toggling between thoughts of what will be different, what we’re letting go of and thoughts of what we’re stepping into, what we’ll become and who she’ll be. Of course in any new chapter I never wished to go back, so I know once I'm there I'll be nothing but thrilled. But today I just feel the intensity of the movement.
My sister Hayley texted me and asked me if I’m in the phase where I cry all the time. I wasn’t really but I’m suddenly very raw, I feel every single thing, like all my nerves are fired up on all cylinders. So I’m assuming the tears are around the corner. Tears over change, tears over excitement, tears over fear, tears because I’m hot and need a nap, tears because I’m turning 30, tears because going out to dinner will feel like a treat, but mostly tears because we cannot wait for this new person that will become, in an instant, an inseparable part of who we are.
P.S. I keep having irrational delivery fear in the middle of the night, although it's not because of what you would think. It's things like...people always say, 'pack your hospital bag'. What's a hospital bag? What do people bring? I don't have a bag? Why doesn't anyone tell you what's in the hospital bag? Are there secret mother things that should be in said bag? Should I set a bag out with chapstick and a hair tie? I don't know. If someone could enlighten me that would be great for my REM cycle.
P.S.S. Someone say a prayer for Trever for obvious reasons, most notably paragraph five in this post. Also, the father's day card I gave him read, "Let the great adventure begin." T minus 14 days until the adventure. Woah, let's do this.
So as it turns out high stress levels, international travel and eating out for two months can cause some problems in the ol' bag of bones. Trever and I are trying to remedy those effects, which are played out by high acid causing painful stomach cramps. Drama.
Everyone is always talking about how we have these crazy high acid diets due to overly processed foods with added sodium, too much caffeine and alcohol, low nutrients in plant foods from modern farming practices and blah blah we’re giving ourselves cancer. I cook really healthy but when you’re trying to heal from the damages of an unbalanced pH you gotta get crazy with the alkaline diet, as in not just green salads but green salads and no lemon or vinegar for the dressing. yummmm. Of course lemons and vinegars are ok in a normal balanced diet and over the long term assist in pH balance, but when trying to reverse some acid effects those things are out, aka flavor is out, aka a month of rabbit food.
So here’s what I’m learning:
First, our calcium/magnesium ratios are generally off (too much calcium) which plays into high acid levels. You can take supplements but a great way to absorb magnesium is by taking Epsom salt baths.
Stress adds to an acidic levels. Do yoga. Or say no to things. Or don’t renovate a house.
Drink alkaline water and not coffee. Or maybe replace coffee with a turmeric latte if you’re a real bad ass. Trever and I tried those and lordy are they somethin’ else. It takes some serious commitment to develop a liking for that (1 tsp. Tumeric // 1 tsp. Honey // 3 parts Water // 1 part Almond Milk) Although I haven’t tried it with fresh turmeric only dried, so maybe that will help. Not likely. Another healing option is licorice tea - blerg.
Peanuts are acidic, switch to almond butter. Also avoid dairy, switch to almond milk.
Almond milk is soooo easy by the way. It’s a 1 to 4 ratio of raw almonds to water. Soak the almonds overnight. Drain, then add almonds to water and blend it up real nice. Filter it through cheese cloth and there you have it. To add sweetness, soak dates for an hour and blend them into your milk with a splash of vanilla. This way you don’t have all those weird additives they have in store bought almond milk.
Avoid cereals and grains other than plant-based proteins like quinoa, which is obviously the grossest of all the grains.
Eat any raw fruits and vegetables.
Don’t eat sandwich meat. Actually don’t ever eat sandwich meat, ugh, murderers.
Of course with balance things like lemons, berries, vinegars, eggs and wine (quality of life) can all be added back in. But for now we’ll be having quinoa with avocado and a sprinkle of salt, apples with almond butter, broccoli salad with creamy almond dressing (recipe to come), and I’ll be giving a lot of my sourdough bread away.
If we’re lucky Trever will drop another ten pounds, per his usual response to diets, and our fat cat Grey, Colette and I will keep putting them on. I hope you learned something utterly fascinating from my health related antics, if only that I'm a total nut. Cheers.