Sunday, July 31, 2011

And There's Another Layer to This Onion Called Processing

Just the moment I think life is normal and wonderful again, I hit a bit of a roadblock. But it will be okay. It has to be. (Somehow that last sentence has me hearing it in my head as if Tom Hanks is saying it about Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail, not that I've watched it recently. Anyway...)

So I found out the pessary ointment may have an ingredient that is used in pesticide. Um, wonderful. Not. Whether or not that is actually true, it does have parabens in it, and I'm sensitive to those at times. In this case, quite sensitive. So the ointment is out, and I'm wondering how to make this whole thing work. Using a pessary is not as easy as the doctor made it look. But I'm not giving up because I intend to run and climb and hike.

But I'll be honest and say I had a brief and horrible meltdown on Friday night when this bump in the road had me imagining my future life stuck at home and unable to live like the outdoor girl my husband taught me to be. Somehow, I got really depressed imagining myself spending the rest of my life walking shopping malls, eating at McDonald's, and sitting on the sidelines of anything active. Yeah, I don't understand my imagination either. But it did a darn good job of depressing me.

I was on my way to working through this and getting the wind back in my sails when a woman at church asked me if Grasshopper was my only child and if I planned to have more. Usually the question doesn't bother me, and I just say that I hope we can have more. But for some reason, her question brought up a bunch of fear. Maybe it's because the pessary isn't perfect and perfectly easy after all. Maybe it's because I peed my pants while playing in the sprinkler yesterday, which would never have happened had not childbirth happened first. Maybe it's because as much as I'd like to forget, I'm well aware that c-sections aren't exactly as easy as opening and closing a ziplock bag and can come with complications of their own. Whatever the reason, I found myself looking at yet another layer in this processing of grief and fear.

And I don't have any answers. I'm not sure that I'll be okay with another delivery, or even if I'll get to have another baby. I'm not sure how I'll deal with it if Grasshopper is it. Heck, I'm not sure how I'll deal with it if Grasshopper does get a sibling and I have two kids to love on with all of my heart and keep up with.

All I know is that the layer I met today was mainly fear. And it did a darn good job of trying to paralyze me. I had no idea that fear was a part of the grieving and healing process. But now that I know, you can be sure that I'm going to kick its butt and tell it the Truth when it tries to make itself at home in my heart. The first thing it has to know is that my heart is completely occupied and there are no vacancies, at least not for fear.

Someday, when I get to the end of this story, I hope the original Author will help me understand all these chapters and let me have His view for just a bit so I can see why each chapter was valuable and how He didn't waste any of this. Because He better not waste this. And I know He won't. My favorite pastor in the world has a tattoo on his arm to that effect. If that's not certainty, I don't know what is.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Just Have To Share

I primarily keep my deepest, most personal thoughts for my private journal these days. The past five years have involved moving to a new country, getting married in my 30's for the first (and only!) time, finding my part in a whole new community of people, getting pregnant, having a horrific birth injury that is only common in third world countries, learning to advocate for myself, going through the loss of a niece to stillbirth, watching my grandparents grow frail, losing a dear friend through a traumatic and sudden accident, losing the closest friendships I had in this new community (at least temporarily), and finding my place all over again in the midst of everything. So you can see why I don't put my heart out here with all of my thoughts and feeling available for everyone to see. A lot has happened in five years, both wonderful and hard.

Today though, well, I have to write about today here. Because maybe someday someone will need it.

Awhile back, my family doctor whom I'd learned to trust and appreciate decided to go back to school to become a palliative care specialist. That meant that I had to put my trust in someone who didn't know my story, who didn't know how long this birth injury journey has been. Thankfully, my family doctor understood how big of a deal it was after all I'd been through and he found a wonderful female family doctor who was willing to fit me into her already full patient load. And that new doctor took the time to meet with me and ask me if I had any concerns regarding this whole birth injury and healing journey.

And that one little question led to today. I got to meet with a gynecologist from South Africa. He's familiar with birth injuries and fistulas. He was also familiar with my story because he'd taken the time to review my records before I ever stepped foot in his office. He asked a few simple questions and I found myself responding as quickly and completely but concisely as I could. After all, I was just there to be fit with a little device that would enable me to run again. But we need to back up a bit.

First of all, this doctor happens to be in the same office building and just down the hall from the former office of the doctor who caused my injury. Though that doctor is no longer in that building, nor is she even practicing full time anymore, the idea of going into that building was not easy. For at least a year post partum, I fantasized about blowing the place up. I was that angry. So it's understandable that it was with some trepidation that I parked and entered that building for the first time in over two years. And as I climbed up the stairs I well remembered having had to crawl up just days after sustaining a fourth degree tear and other complications, I took a deep breath and hoped with all my being that this visit would be a good one that would not include a panic attack. I was proud of myself for having the courage to go there.

Secondly, I was a little bit of a mess today because I was over 20 minutes late for this appointment. I'd been stuck on the only bridge near us for over 45 minutes thanks to construction and people who were too busy to take turns. And I was a stressed out mess afraid of losing a precious appointment with a specialist, well knowing what wait times can be like.

Thankfully, the office staff was amazingly gracious and kind and immediately got me into the doctor's office. As I found myself telling a bit of my story, I was amazed to hear this doctor saying that he believed that things like failure to provide informed consent and failure to follow standard protocol happened during my child's delivery. I've been saying this for 2.5 years, but few have believed me. To hear a gynecologist not only saying it but suggesting that I seek official sanction of those involved was surprising to say the least. For every shred of affirmation or validation I've received in the past has had to be fought for. I've always had to present a passionate and solid argument, trying to win others to my perspective. But this time I barely had to utter a word. He knew my story from my records and he already knew that I'd suffered an injustice, a malpractice really, that led to a horrific injury that could have been prevented with a c-section. He actually said that I'd been given bad legal advice, not to mention inappropriate medical care during and after the delivery. But more importantly than that, he said what no one else has ever said. He said that this was about me as a woman and the injury that happened and should not have happened. Everyone else always focused on the fact that I ended up with a healthy child despite the unfortunate injury to me. But he was bold enough to focus on me and the importance of caring for the health and well-being of the mother as equal to that of the child. (This is hard to articulate, but I'm trying.)

I found out today that this man could have helped me from the beginning of my injury. He could have done the surgical repair, and if it had proven to be too difficult for him, he could have gotten me into see the most skilled Canadian surgeon here within two weeks (someone who was never even on the radar as a specialist I should see). As it was, I waited months to be seen for even a consultation and then had to endure invasive and painful tests that were unnecessary and ineffective. When I described what it was like to go through all of that and how the exams were so rough that all the physiotherapy I'd been doing to retrain my brain and body in the realm of pain memory was undone, he totally understood and mentioned that is why he never sends anyone to that particular surgeon. I don't hold any anger for those who sent me to the specialists in Vancouver, for they were only doing the very best that they knew how. My family doctor had never encountered anyone with my injury and neither had my maternity doctor, so they did the best they could to find a specialist for me by asking around. They just didn't know.

The only thing we can figure is that perhaps the Ob/Gyn who injured me did not refer me to this doctor down the hall from her when my complications first began growing worse because then she would have been found out, and referring me to someone in Vancouver (outside of our local health authority) would protect her from being humiliated or held accountable. I also found out that there are reasons beyond my own story that this Ob/Gyn is not practicing full time. This all made me feel quite vindicated for all the times I tried to share what my experiences were and all the times people thought I was too sensitive. The doctor I saw today could not believe that the Ob who delivered my son via forceps never mentioned the risk of a 4th degree tear or fistulas when seeking my consent, and he was speechless when he heard that they offered me a choice between forceps and a c-section, but then coerced my husband into choosing forceps after I asked for a c-section. He literally could not believe that they refused to accept my choice. But the thing is that he did believe me. He believed every word and he affirmed and validated me for all the hell that I went through.

He also affirmed my decision to seek physiotherapy with a woman trained in uro-gynecology and pelvic floor function. I've come a long way in the past 2.5 years thanks to my physiotherapist. Without her, I would still be unable to carry my son without incontinence, or enjoy marital intimacy without pain. He's the first doctor I've met who knew about it, believed in it, and understood that it's a very real thing to deal with muscle memory and pain memory. He's the first doctor I didn't have to sell on the idea of doing physio instead of surgery. And he operates on women with these issues. Amazing! In fact, it really is amazing that a doctor who primarily works in surgery would work with me to help me find a non-surgical solution for the remaining pelvic floor dysfunction I suffer so I could get back to running and climbing again.

After a long consultation, we finally made it into the exam room where he easily and gently fitted me with a pessary and taught me how to place it and remove it. And then he told me to go run and exercise and make sure it is a good fit. I did exactly that. I ran back and forth along our side yard, disbelieving that I was having no issues. So I went inside and jumped all over our living room, skipping through our suite. Still no issues. I felt like a normal woman who has never given birth, never faced pelvic injury. I still wasn't quite sure it was for real. So I did another test. In fact, I tried the test that is the gold standard. I jumped on the trampoline for quite awhile, stopping only when I was out of breath. If you are a woman who has ever dealt with incontinence, you know what a beautiful and fun gift this is. I haven't been able to jump or run for 2.5 years. My husband and I have a date at our favorite old running spot tomorrow, rain or shine. I can't wait.

I have no regrets for the journey I've been on, for I truly believe that God doesn't waste anything, and I know I've learned so much that will be valuable for others. While I would have loved to have had my fistula fixed quickly and in Canada, I am still and will always be grateful for the amazing surgeon in the States who had compassion on me and operated on me without a fee. I'll always be grateful for my old Ob/Gyn in my former home in the States who walked with me through this and made sure I got good care on his watch. And I'll forever be grateful to the Catholic hospital in the States that lowered our bill and enabled us to pay in full without bankrupting us. I know that the interactions I had with the various staff people in billing were beneficial to them as well as to me. And all of this experience has left me with a knowledge of and a passion for obstetric fistula care in Africa and Haiti. If I'd had my way and had a c-section, I would never have learned about the hundreds of women who suffer this injury without the medical care I've had, and my capacity for compassion and advocacy would never have had an opportunity to grow.

Even though I lost so much time with my child and suffered so many other very real losses because of this injury, I have gained and am gaining a great deal. So even though this isn't the story I would have written for myself, I am confident that it is ending with hope. And that is the best ending to have.

***If this helps anyone at any time now or in the future, this attempt to be so intimately transparent and very authentic will have been worth it. And if you ever need to talk to anyone about a birth injury, incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction, PTSD related to a birth experience, or any other post partum issues related to a traumatic birth, feel free to view my profile and find my email there. Also, Solace for Mothers is a very helpful resource if you find yourself dealing with a hard birth experience. You'll find just about every kind of story there, everything from women who are ant-hospital/anti-intervention (not like me) to women who are pro-intervention (like me).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Contentment Outside the Rat Race

I was talking to my husband tonight as our child was blissfully falling into a melatonin induced slumber about how grateful I am for what our life looks like at the moment. Honestly, it's the community garden project that our church farm is doing that has provoked this sudden burst of gratitude and contentment.

It has been such an absolute gift to discover the peace and joy that have been filling up my empty soul as I've weeded and planted, watered and fertilized, staked and pruned. It's crazy that a little garden plot lent to me on a hazelnut farm would be the catalyst for so much, but it's true.

When we lost our home group leader in a horrible car crash that injured his family, my world literally changed overnight. I just didn't know it at the time. I had no idea that friendships would change so drastically. And I certainly had no clue that the church I ran to the Sunday after our friend died would suddenly be a source of crippling anxiety just one month later. It wasn't really the church. It was the relationships within the church. The changes to those precious gifts that had once given me a sense of belonging were just too much for me to handle. So I stayed away. One week turned into twelve, and before I knew it, I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually attended. Even when some amazing things happened in my heart to heal me in that broken part at an Easter retreat, I still couldn't screw up the courage to walk back into those doors. I knew it was time, but it was just too hard.

Then came the garden. After awaiting dry weather for what seemed like eons, we finally were given the go ahead to get in there and begin planting. I put in my seeds and plants, having no idea what fruit was in store for me. Sure, maybe I'd get some lettuce or some peas, but something deeper? I had no idea. But it's true. Coming to that little plot of borrowed dirt on the hazelnut farm my church owns gave me the courage to step back into the doors of the hall we rent on Sunday mornings. But it's more than that. The garden plot has given my heart a chance to grow and heal, to find peace and joy again. I know that all I can do is put the plants or seeds in the ground and tend them as best as I know how, and that God really decides what grows and what bears fruit. I cannot make a seed do anything just as I cannot make the sunshine and warmth visit our little spot in BC longer than a day at a time here. (Boy, if I had that ability, you know I'd be using it about now!) In a sense, I'm partnering with God in my little assigned plot. I still don't know if my tomatoes or peppers will ever have enough sunshine or warmth to produce or if that spinach I've planted three times now will ever grow. I don't even know if I'll get more than just that one first harvest of lettuce. Everything must be held loosely at the garden. Even that is teaching me some pretty big internal lessons that maybe I'll be able to put into words someday.

And I've found the contentment and joy permeating other areas of my life too. We live at the back of a little town in a rented suite. We've got trees and moss and slugs in abundance. Our neighborhood is quiet. I have to be intentional about putting my child in social situations, for we could easily stay home all the time and enjoy just our little family save the occasional trip to the grocery store. My life looks very different than it did when I was a busy classical educator balancing Latin lessons with science and math, studying reformed theology and systematically putting everything from books to beliefs in neat little boxes. I don't spend hours at a coffee shop debating the latest doctrinal topics with seminary students, and I'm not busy writing curriculum or helping to plan classes for a mega church. I'm busy doing laundry and trying to keep up with the stuff that gets tracked into our house. I'm busy changing diapers and kissing owies, reading board books and making up games. My life is about making creative dinners, making the bed, planning when I'll plant kale or can peaches or pick raspberries. I have no idea what the latest shows on television might be outside of the little I see mentioned online, and I definitely am not entirely aware of the latest fashions. Yes, I had no idea how much life would change when I moved into marriage and a new country five years ago.

But you know what? I like this life. Sure, there is no disposable income or cute SUV for me to play with. And I don't have to dress up for work. Heck, I don't even have to get out of my pajamas for work. But it's a beautiful life. I never understood how a friend of mine could say, "All I need to know is that Jesus loves me and that I belong to Him." I thought she was crazy. Because obviously, she needed to know about the deep things of theology and doctrine. She needed to know about the latest books or speakers out there. At least, that's what I thought.

Now I'm pretty sure my friend is onto something. The simplicity that has come into my life from moving away from all of that has been rather freeing, maybe even purifying somehow. I was reminded of that when I read about the latest kafuffle (how do you spell that anyway?!) in the evangelical church with a well known theologian and his comment on facebook. Five years ago, that would have mattered. I would have spent hours thinking, conversing, and writing about it. But now? Well, I read about it and then decided that I had other things I'd rather be doing. My husband put it well when he said that we're fixing our eyes on one Person. He's right. In this current season, I've found all the outer trappings of faith and daily life in a bigger town stripped away from me. And I've discovered something I didn't know was missing - a contentment and joy that sometimes surprises me with its sweetness.

I like this current season. I'm grateful for what (and Who) ushered it in. Do I still mourn all that was lost? You bet. But this current season takes that grief and wraps it up in hope and peace. And that's what makes the joy steal back in. That is a gift. And I'm grateful.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Let the Little Children Come

Jesus knew what He was saying when He told his disciples to let the kiddos come to Him. He valued them and loved them and He knew that they had a lot to contribute to the world now, while they were children, and not just later on when they grew up.

I was reminded of this today as a young friend was over for a baking day. She's had a long journey since the last time she was over to help out with my little one and do some baking. I was privileged to talk to her at this leg of her journey and was amazed at the wisdom and growth that she has gained in the midst of one of the biggest heartaches a person could ever face. As we talked about her story and her journey, she sounded like a seasoned counselor as she shared her perspective of grief. Honestly? I could have used this wisdom a long time ago when I was stumbling through trying to make sense of the part of her journey I shared. She knows more at 11 than I did at 36. And she probably has no idea, but she totally blessed me today with her words.

Jesus had it right. He knew we grown-ups would be so much richer for the time spent listening to a child. I sure am. And so is my little boy. He signed "please" the whole way home as he requested that she stay at our house longer after we'd already dropped her off.