Gun Violence: A Multi-Faceted/ Bipartisan Approach

I’m not sure why this particular school shooting has lead me to deeper contemplation than others, maybe it’s that a piece of my heart stayed in Florida after serving an LDS mission there, maybe it’s that I have a 3rd degree connection to the shooting (the daughter of a friend of a friend was shot and miraculously survived), maybe it’s that my own son is getting closer and closer to school age, maybe it’s that now I blog and I felt the need to share my voice.  It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

I didn’t want to just post reactively, because that just tends to get people more entrenched in their own way of thinking so I set out and did a decent amount of research.  Now by no means am I touting myself as an expert in this.  I did not research EVERY major shooting in recent years.  I do not know or understand all gun laws.  I have a very basic knowledge about guns in general.  But, I do know more about all of these things now than I did a few weeks ago.

My biggest suggestion to everyone is to go into this with an open mind and do some unbiased research of your own.  My research challenged a lot of ideas I had, it strengthened some of my opinions, and ultimately left me with a lot more questions.  That’s probably the definition of good research.

I hope people from all sides will read this, consider the ideas, do some more research, and ultimately work towards solutions rather than the stalemate we have put ourselves into.

Why are we so outraged by mass shootings?

When a mass shooting occurs it suddenly becomes a news and social media sensation.  It’s as if the instant it occurs it becomes a trending story, memes about gun control/ gun rights are immediately shared, online arguments ensue, someone asks if we can all just get along, and probably someone shares some statistic about why there are bigger issues we should be outraged by.

So, here’s some statistics we should keep in mind.  Mass shootings account for only about 1% of gun related deaths, and yet they get the bulk of the media coverage.  In 2013 gun deaths accounted for 1.3% of all deaths in the United States.  So mass shootings account for about 1% of 1% of deaths annually in the United States.  Also, more than half of those gun related deaths were suicide rather than homicide.

According to the CDC’s stats from 2015, of the 2,712,630 deaths that year in the United States, 23% were caused by heart disease.  That’s almost a quarter of deaths each year.  But I rarely see an outrage over this.  Next is cancer at 22%.  Now I do feel like there is a general fear of cancer among Americans.  In case you didn’t already add those two numbers together, cancer and heart disease make up for 45% or almost half of the deaths in America each year.  Put down the cheeseburger and the unorganic food and back up slowly.

There’s a pretty significant drop off percentage wise down to 3rd place at 6% which goes to chronic lower respiratory disease, which is typically caused by smoking or even second hand smoke.  Cigarettes should have us in the corner peeing our pants.

4th place goes to accidents (predominately car accidents) at 5%.  Driving is something most Americans do EVERY DAY.  Typically without a second thought to the fact that it is the 4th most dangerous thing you can do.  I don’t have the specific stats on how many of those were caused by drunk driver’s or other accidents involving alcohol, but they are included in this stat.  But more than cars and alcohol, Americans report themselves as being afraid of snakes, sharks… and shootings.

For the record, homicide does not make the top 10 list, but suicide does, in 10th place following strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, and kidney disease.

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a fair way to look at our outrage meter because those stats do take in all age groups, so a lot of those people were really old so maybe it was their time and as I pointed out in my post about the death of my grandmother, those deaths aren’t necessarily an outrage.

So let’s break those stats down a little more.

Among white males suicide jumps up to 8th place or 2.6%, homicide is still not on the top 10.  Among black males homicide is the 5th leading cause of death at almost 5%, which was only 50 fewer individuals than the number killed by strokes, and about 2,700 less than were killed in car accidents (6.5%).  Suicide did not make the top 10 list for black males.  Among Latino males, suicide and homicide both make the top 10 list at 2.6% and 2.4% respectively.

Neither suicide nor homicide made the top 10 lists for any of the groups of women.

So statistically speaking, women have little reason to be afraid.  White men don’t need to be afraid of other people, only of taking their own life.  Hispanic males should be a bit more scared.  And black males ought to fear homicide at the same levels I suggested we all be afraid of driving.

Again, these stats are including all ages, and still for almost all of these group, heart disease was the number one killer, if not heart disease then cancer.  So what if we look at age groups, where people are significantly less likely to die in general.  What if we just look at untimely deaths.

For all groups ages 1-44 accidents are the leading cause of death.  About 30% of deaths for each group, except for the 15-24 year olds which jumps up to 41%.  Among 5-14 year old suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death with 7% of deaths, homicide ranks 5th with 5%.  Among 15-24 year olds (our high school and college age group) suicide ranks 2nd with 18% of deaths, homicide is a close 3rd with 15%.  Among 25-44 year old suicide and homicide drop down to 4th and 5th place with 11% committing suicide and 6% by homicide.

Now of course not all homicides or suicides are committed using a gun, but guns did account for 67% of homicides and over 50% of suicides.  According to the Academic Journal of Epidemiology, of those who have attempted, 90% who use a gun are successful.  More attempt using other means such as cutting or drug overdose, but only 3% of those cases are successful. And among attempted homicides, according to data from the Western Surgical Association, gun shot wounds (at least to the heart) have an 84% chance of death whereas stabbing victims have a 30% chance of death.

So what we can deduce is that, while other means are of course used, guns are the most lethal.  This also applicable when comparing statistics with other countries.  According to the American Journal of Medicine, the US has a homicide rate 7 times higher than the average for other populous developed countries with a gun related death rate 25 times higher.  Which means that other countries must have a higher percentage of deaths by other means.  It’s not that other countries don’t have issues with violence, they just have less issues with gun violence which results in fewer deaths in general because they are more likely to survive the violence if it was not committed using a gun.  I did not find a statistic for overall violent attempts between countries, which I think would be an important statistic to find and consider in the debate for solutions.

Now to get this back into perspective, I gave the stats for how many deaths are accounted for by homicide and suicide, but that still doesn’t tell you how likely people are to die by these means without knowing the deaths out of total population.  Here’s where some math gets a little tricky because the census stats I found did not break down into the same age groups as the cause of death stats and the census stats are from a few years earlier than the cause of death stats.  These specific stats are another thing I think need to be looked at in greater detail and accuracy, but for the sake of perspective, here’s what I could piece together.  As of 2010 there were 166,786,747 individuals aged 5-44 years old.  The chance of dying of any cause in this age range sits at about 1%.  In 2016, 20,189 people in this age range committed suicide or .01% of the population.  Homicides accounted for 12,789 deaths in this age range, or .007% of the population.

If we look at just the high school and college range, those most likely to commit suicide or fall victim to a school shooting, the stats remain at .01% for suicide, but comes up to .01% for homicide.  Remember the stat from earlier that mass shootings only account for 1% of these gun related deaths.

I give these stats not to suggest that this is not a problem, or that we ought not to be outraged but to put in perspective that the chances of being killed are very small.

So then why are we SO outraged by mass shootings when they are statistically a small problem in general, and still considerably smaller than other problems related to gun violence.

I’m about to make some uncomfortable assertions, so hang on.  I’m not saying that this is how EVERYONE feels, or by any means that they are morally correct reasons, and by and large these come from my own observations not from any sort of research.

The Media

An NRA spokeswoman said, “Cable news loves school shootings.”  Think about it, when a disaster of this nature occurs, it plays continuously and everyone tunes in (at least everyone with cable).  Every day shootings, well, they happen every day so they don’t spike ratings so they don’t often report them.  But with a mass shooting their ratings spike, and the more they spike, the more they cover it.  The more they cover it, the more outraged we get.  We begin to fight on social media about it.  We can’t seem to let it go.  And, while I’m not into conspiracy theories, here’s one that’s fairly verifiable.  Russian Twitter accounts posted loaded and inflaming comments both for and against gun control immediately after the shooting.  So when you hop on and immediately social media is full of arguing and memes claiming that the other side is irrational and how dare they say that.  They DIDN’T SAY IT!  A Russian account said it to try and divide us, and we fell for it.

Privilege, Choice, and Prevention

There are some indicators that put people at higher risk of falling victim to gun violence.  These include having a prior criminal record or living in a poor urban.  Let’s combine those indicators with the other statistics and look at my risk factors which are probably similar to most of my readers.  I was born white and female, since that gives me an advantage when it comes to gun violence, that would be considered privilege in this situation.  Coming from a middle class background is also a privilege.  The financial and educational choices that my husband I have made in conjunction with this privilege have allowed us to purchase a home in a reasonably middle class neighborhood.  Not having a criminal record is based on the choices that we have made not to commit crimes, but there is certainly an amount of privilege based on our upbringing to have helped with those choices.  Considering all of these factors, my family is avoiding and preventing almost all of the risk of being shot.

So when I hear about someone being shot in a gang fight, or even if they were shot as an innocent bystander but in a neighborhood very different than mine I don’t really relate to it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not upset by it, or that by any means I think it is ok.  But I move on with my day rather quickly because I’m so removed that I can’t really put myself in their shoes.

But with mass shootings, particularly school shootings, I CAN relate.  I’ve been a student, I’m a parent soon to send kids to school.  And there is nothing about my privilege or my choices that can prevent being a victim of a mass shooting.  They don’t care about race, neighborhood, or background.  I can’t even say don’t be a bully because they don’t just target the bullies.  They shoot at EVERYONE.  And in a place where we ought to feel safe.  And while the statistic is still so low, how can know which school (or concert or club) will be next.  It’s scary because what if it had been my school growing up, what if it had been my college classes, and most frightening of all, what if it is the school where my children go.

That is what causes the outrage.

What do we do about it?

Here’s where we all start fighting and we get really ugly.  I’ve seen people from both sides say that they would be willing to have a rational conversation if only the other side would be willing.  For one, that’s immature, be the example and the bigger person.  For two, most people are willing to have a rational conversation, remember how the most offensive comments that appeared to be entirely irrational came from Russian accounts.  They are trying to divide us, because when we are divided we are weak and nothing can be fixed.  Only when we take a deep breath, calm down, and have honest and rational conversations on this, and any topic for that matter, will we be able to get anywhere.

So let’s start by stopping.  Stop posting things that put the “other side” on the defensive.  Stop assuming other people’s intentions or intellectual ability.  Stop jumping to conclusions that suggestions are impossible.

There will be some very difficult questions that will come up.  Rather than shutting down because of a difficult question, let’s be willing to find answers and solutions.

Here are some of my suggestions, and they are by no means perfect, I recognize that a lot of questions would need to be answered and determined, but I think they could at least help the situation.

Reform Gun Laws

I am by no means in favor of getting rid of the second amendment, or collecting everybody’s guns.  And while there are people that do hold this view, they are few and far between.  According to a poll done in 2004, 31% of Democrats own a gun.  So my Republican friends who like to share things about Democrats wanting to take away their guns, please stop, because it’s not true.

Let’s take a look at that second amendment, shall we:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The opportunity to hunt is not specifically protected, nor is the opportunity for self protection, although we should not take that to mean that they are not allowable.  The opportunity to be a part of a WELL REGULATED militia is what is specifically protected.  The intent is that if there is a credible threat to the security and freedom of the State that it will be able to militartize it’s people in a well regulated fashion.

While I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same rigorous requirements for gun ownership that the military does for it’s recruits, if a group of people is going to defend my state I would prefer they were of sound mind and without criminal history as part of being a well regulated militia lest they turn on the State or it’s people.

Currently there are some regulations about minimum ages to purchase and those that have been convicted of violent crimes or institutionalized for mental health concerns.  Here’s a few items I feel could be reformed while maintaining the balance of being well regulated and the rights of the people.

Raising the age limit

I am in favor of raising the minimum age for the purchase of all firearms to 21.  We have agreed to 21 as the legal age to purchase alcohol due to the risks involved, it makes sense to me then to raise that limit on weapons as well.  Would this completely solve the problem, no definitely not.  A lot of the shooters I researched were over 21.  But, while our laws about alcohol have not prevented all underage drinking, or all drunk driving accidents, our laws are not complicit with giving alcohol to people who are too young to make such serious decisions.  Likewise raising the age for purchase of weapons gives the message that this is a serious decision in which we are entrusting “the people.”

Restricting access to those with mental illness, violent tendencies, or criminal behavior

In every case that I researched, all of the shooters had known mental health concerns.  At what point should a mental illness preclude a person from owning a gun?  This is one of those really difficult questions that needs to be addressed.  It’s going to be difficult to research and determine, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.  A quick search for statistics on anxiety and depression gave numbers all over the place from 18% of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, but 13% being treated, up to another group reporting that 40% of adults have anxiety or depression.  Whatever the number is, there are a lot of people who experience at least mild anxiety and depression symptoms, do we ban all of them from owning a weapon.  Probably not.  But I do feel that it needs to be expanded to more than just those who are institutionalized.  And maybe not forever, it could be a temporary suspension, say 5 years, and then with doctor’s approval could be reinstated.

As for violent tendencies and criminal behavior, Nikolas Cruz had a history of killing animals, this is known to be a gateway to worse violence later in life.  Additionally, according to information retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, the local Sheriff’s department had received at least 39 calls in regard to Cruz over the last decade.  Certainly that should have been enough to have him on the “no go” list for buying guns.  Maybe some of his infractions would have gotten him in the NICS database if they had been reported correctly.  I know warnings are given and sometimes officers don’t want to jump to giving someone a criminal record in hopes of rehabilitating them, but if that was the case, they did not do him or anyone else any favors.  So this might be more procedural reform than legal reform, but this type of behavior needs to be taken seriously, reported correctly, and should prevent the purchase of a gun.  Maybe a juvenile record shouldn’t prevent someone from ever owning in the future, but there could be a time frame with no other incidents before the right is restored.

I also suggest that school personnel (including Universities) ought to be able to report mental health and violent behavior concerns directly to the NICS database.  Similar to being mandated reporters for Child Protective Services.  The school knew that he had attempted suicide, and he had been expelled for fighting.  In my mind these are 2 definite reasons to restrict someone from buying a gun.  Similarly, in the incident at Virginia Tech, the University counseling department was aware of concerns that ought to have been reported.

But what if someone reports falsified information?  This type of thing happens with CPS reports, there is precedence for consequences to those who falsify reports maliciously.  Also there could be the opportunity for appeal, and as I’ve mentioned in many cases the restriction might be limited rather than permanent as long as there are no further concerns in a given time period.

But they’ll just get their weapons somewhere else.  Maybe.  But the fact of the matter is that, with the exception of Columbine and Sandy Hook, the rest of the shooters I researched obtained their guns legally.  The Columbine shooters obtained their guns through an illegal private purchase, which brings up another legal issue to be considered.   In the case of Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), his mother obtained the guns legally and then left them lying around her house, so while he didn’t technically obtain them legally, he had very easy access.  I used to use this argument, that they would just buy them somewhere else, but now that I realize that in most cases they obtain them legally I feel differently.  While that is still a concern, and changes to these laws are by no means a full solution, I am disturbed that our laws have been complicit in these individuals obtaining guns.  While they may just go to the black market, at least we will know that we did not facilitate their actions.

Consider that if someone really wanted to rob your house they could find a way to do it, despite locks, alarms, etc.  There’s a whole genre of films dedicated to people finding ways to break through top security.  So while someone could just break a window and rob me blind, I still lock my front door, because I am not going to make it easy for them.

Schools

I think there needs to be more done logistically to protect schools.  Yes it will be expensive- but I’m sure at least some parents would be more than happy to donate money to help defray those costs, as opposed to buying wrapping paper or candy bars to help with I don’t even know what those fundraisers were used for.

What that is going to look like for each district and each school is a little too individualized to address, maybe it’s metal detectors, maybe it’s limiting access except through the office, maybe it’s more resource officers, maybe it’s a combination.

But Sandy Hook did lock doors and limit access and Adam Lanza just shot through the glass.  Yes, that’s something to take into account, and again why it will need to be determined on the local level of what will be practical.  This also is not a full solution, none of these suggestions are, but hopefully in combination, through a multi-faceted approach, we can prevent more incidents or at least slow down a shooter.

How about arming teachers.  This is one that I go back and forth on.  As a former teacher, I did not sign on for being willing to die defending my school.  I have the utmost respect for the teachers who have put themselves between a gunman and their students, but is it fair to ask me to choose between protecting my students and going home to my own children.  I know police officers do that every day, but they are trained and they knew the risks when they picked the job.

On the flip side, I was a classroom teacher when the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred.  When I learned of the event, then went back to my classroom and looked at my entire wall of windows, the thought occurred to me that if someone chose to come to our school with a gun, I would be entirely powerless to do anything.  If I took my students with severe disabilities into my office and locked the door, there was still a window that could be shot out and then we would be huddled all together with nowhere to go.  We could try to run, but how would I get 11 students who were at this school due to severe behavioral concerns to suddenly decide to just follow my directions and run with my staff and I.  I realized that most likely we would all be dead before the police had an opportunity to arrive.  In that moment I felt a desire to be able to defend myself, or at least have someone present who could do SOMETHING to defend us.  We did not have a resource officer- but a lot of good that did at Stoneman Douglas.

I don’t know if arming teachers is the right choice, but if we are going to consider that avenue it needs to be voluntary but well regulated, and maybe it shouldn’t be guns, maybe tasers lest we turn innocent students into accidental victims.

Overall schools need more resources to stop letting students fall through the cracks.  We need more school counselors and psychologists to do handle mental health and behavioral concerns so teachers can focus on their job- teaching.  If a teacher notices an issue they should have proper reporting channels, but the actual reporting and follow up on the issue should go through counseling or social work departments.  While these positions exist, they are overworked and underpaid just like everyone else in the education field which does not give them a lot of opportunity to follow up on concerns.

But all of those suggestions are really expensive!  Yep.  So we’re going to have to sacrifice the money somewhere else in the budget and/or tax something- maybe guns.  This is going to require a significant amount of bipartisan cooperation and compromise, but that’s something that needs to happen not just about this issue but everything, especially education budgeting.  So instead of quibbling about it being hard, let’s sit down and figure it out.

Home and Community

This is where I think the biggest changes need to occur.  And this is not something that can be legislated.  Seeing how I just spent time discussing legislative and logistical suggestions, obviously I am in support of those, but they are band aids, and while band aids have an important role in the healing and protecting process, they do not get at the root cause of the issue, they will just hopefully do some prevention and protection once someone has hit the point of wanting to take lives.  Ultimately this needs to come down to taking a deep and honest looks inside ourselves, our homes, and our society to determine what is causing people to become shooters.

Gun ownership by household has actually been on the decline in recent years.  According to the General Social Survey in 1970s roughly half of households in America owned a gun, in 2015 it had fallen to 32%.  Individual gun ownership went from 31% in 1985 to 22% in 2014.  While there are other surveys that show some different numbers, none of them have shown an increase in household or individual gun ownership.  While the overall number of guns owned has increased, this would suggest that those who do own, own multiple, but the numbers of those who choose to own is dropping.

According to private research done by scholars from Harvard and North Eastern University from 1982 to 2011 mass public shootings happened at a rate of once every 200 days.  From 2011 to present, that rate has dropped to once every 64 days.  The rate has more than tripled.

If mass public shootings are increasing, but overall ownership is decreasing, gun ownership is not the root cause of this issue.

So what has changed that might be causing more and more people to become so violent?

Just in my lifetime (I was born in the late 80s for reference), I have seen some major changes in our society and overall culture.  I might throw in a “back in my day” so be warned.

Life plugged in

Video games have existed fairly mainstream for most of my life but they were pretty new so today’s 30 year olds were the first group to really be raised on video games.  We started out with really crummy graphics and games like Mario where we jumped on creatures’ heads to destroy them.  There were probably games with blood and guns, but they would have looked really cheesy.  You also couldn’t play ALL day because your system would certainly overheat, so we still spent a decent amount of time playing outside as siblings and with neighbors.  It didn’t take too long to get better and better graphics and more and more games with guns and blood, and less overheating allowing for longer and longer playing sessions.  I remember when my older brother was in Jr. High my mom started to be concerned about which video games to let him play because some of them apparently started to have sexually explicit material.

About this same time, the internet went and got itself invented and mainstreamed.  This opened up a whole new world for gaming.  Graphics were still not amazing, especially if you ever wanted it to load, but now you could play with friends without leaving your house or having them over.  This also opened up a lot of doors for the pornography industry.  Porn at your fingertips without the awkwardness of going to the store to buy it, you just had to be patient enough to let it load.

Somewhere along the line the internet got faster, the graphics got better, and more and more of our daily tasks moved online.  We can work over the internet, we can shop, we can keep up with our friends, and all this without ever having to leave home.

Then we took it a step further and put all of that on our phones as well, which don’t even remotely resemble what a phone looked like back in my day.  Now I can be constantly entertained, shop, access whatever content I feel like accessing, and tell myself that I am socializing from my couch, room, or toilet and unless someone specifically comes and looks over my shoulder, they will have no idea what I’m doing, and I can do it for hours on end.

There are so many amazing things that have come from access to technology, but it can also become a terrible trap.  Marriages and lives have been destroyed over excessive gaming and pornography.  Concerns are being raised over a correlation between high rates of social media use and depression.  Other researchers find a correlation between violent video games and emotional desensitization.  In general we are becoming less connected to each other because we are so consumed by technology.

My concern is that with how virtual our society has become, we are losing touch with the value of human life.  In a virtual world we can manipulate things and people with the click of a button, if we mess up, it can be fixed.  If we die we can just wait a minute and come back to try it again.

But it isn’t life, or death, or people, or even things.  They’re just images and code.  I fear that with so little being done in reality we are losing touch with it.  When you look at it that way, it’s not JUST the extremely violent or sexually explicit content, it’s when anything virtual begins to consume our life and take up more of our time, energy, and priorities than reality.

Most of the shooters I researched did engage in excessive gaming, and most spouted racist and misogynistic rhetoric.  It makes sense to me that if, in conjunction with mental illness, you repeatedly engage in extreme violence virtually you could begin to picture yourself completing the act in reality.  It makes sense to me that if you are always the hero in the game, that you could be the hero in your own mind no matter the situation.  It makes sense that if repeatedly with the click of a button you can make women give you sexual gratification, that you would have little or no respect for women in reality and feel that women owe you.  It makes sense to me, that if most of your interactions are with images with no real value, that you might forget the value of human life.  It makes sense to me that if you can just restart the game after you die and all of the other characters also come back, that you might begin to lost touch with the finality of death.

I realize what I just said was very controversial and a lot of people will disagree strongly.  A lot of people play violent video games and do not turn into murderers.  A lot of people view pornography and do not become rapists or embrace misogynistic values.

But consider this.  While video games may not be causing violent tendencies, they certainly are not teaching our children how to value life, how to interact respectfully with others, or how to love, they are at best neutral.  Pornography is certainly not teaching our children about consent, it’s not teaching them that sexual intimacy is about love, respect, and admiration.  While some may claim it is harmless, it certainly is not teaching them how to show respect to women.  You can argue whether or not social media is what it causing depression and higher suicide rates, or if children with depression are just more likely to use social media, but excessive social media use certainly isn’t helping them.

Parents- we need to PARENT.  I’m not suggesting that we raise our kids under a rock and never let them online.  What I’m suggesting is that we need to be more present and more involved.  We should set boundaries on screen time and the type of media we allow them to access with a family media plan.  We should be monitoring what our children are accessing so we can help them process what they are seeing, and guide them if/when they access material that they shouldn’t be accessing.  We should do activities with them.  We need to teach them both by word and example how to value life, how to love, and how to show respect.  This can be done through regular family nights in which you discuss an applicable topic and then just spend time together doing fun activities to build a bond.  We need to turn off the TV, set down our phones, and interact.  If we don’t take that active role, other influences will fill it that may not be teaching them the things we want them to learn and emulate.

We need to be willing to get them help when we notice a problem beyond our capabilities to handle.  Having a child with depression doesn’t mean you did something wrong, or that they are weak.  But if we as parents are too weak to be willing to get them help, then we will have done something wrong by them, and potentially by other people.

I was shocked when reading about the shooters at Columbine to find out that they were building bombs, buying and practicing shooting guns, and their parents were completely unaware.  Maybe this is naive of me because I have not raised teenagers, and as far as teenagers go I was a pretty innocent kid.  But, I doubt they were having family dinner together.  I doubt their parents were checking in on their internet use.  That’s not called snooping, it’s called parenting and should be part of a media plan.  I doubt their dads were taking them fishing so they could have a chance to bond and talk about life.  It’s never too late to start, but it’s definitely easier if you start earlier, and will help fewer kids fall through the cracks of parental negligence.

Multi-faceted

None of my suggestions are a full solution in and of themselves.  We can’t regulate how parents are raising their kids, and in the unfortunate case of Jacob Cruz, he had lost his parents.

Stricter gun laws may prevent or slow down some would be shooters, but if determined enough, they will find a way to gain access to a gun.

Making schools more difficult to target is expensive, controversial, not very practical in the University setting, and does not address other .

But, if we combine the power of these multi-faceted approaches, hopefully we can make a difference and save lives.

 

Suggestions and Concerns

I am very open to other suggestions or your concerns about my suggestions, I just ask that before you respond you take a deep breath and think instead of just react.  Please respond civilly.  Here’s some ways to do that, “I respect your thoughts about_____, my concern is that______”  “While I understand where you are coming from, have you considered that_______.”  “What are your thoughts on _______.”  “I disagree and fear that ________ could lead to _________.”

 

 

 

 

To Tremble Because of Pain

I introduced this idea in my post about my birth stories, but wanted to develop it further.

If you’re into birth stories then give it a read, but if you would like to be spared all of the TMI here’s the pertinent part of the story in a nutshell.

With my second pregnancy I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction at 10 weeks.  Which basically meant that I was in debilitating pain for the last 30 weeks (plus the 2 days overdue) of my pregnancy.  It was horrible and my doctor didn’t care/ wouldn’t listen.

The pain was sometimes mild and manageable but frequently jumped to excruciating, by the end it was mostly always excruciating.  But no matter what, it was constant.

I had a doctor’s appointment on my due date, which was a Monday and my doctor agreed to set an induction date.  He initially said Wednesday then changed his mind and suggested Friday.  I piped in, “Or Wednesday!”  “No, Friday will be better schedule wise.”  “Or we could do Wednesday.”  “Why Wednesday, what’s two more days?”

Anyone who would suggest that it’s just two more days has clearly never experienced chronic debilitating pain.  I mean he might as well have said, “What’s two more days in Hell?”  It’s 4 MORE days in Hell, is what it is, because Wednesday is 2 more days.

He settled on Friday, I felt powerless to argue, so that was the plan.  That’s not what ended up happening, but that starts getting way off topic.  She did end up coming on her own on Wednesday.

The thought of having to be in pain longer caused me to reflect deeply on a favorite passage of scripture.  This comes from the Doctrine and Covenants and is a revelation given to Joseph Smith in which Christ explains and details His life and mission.  He explains His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to being crucified:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

That phrase, “to tremble because of pain” has always struck me, but now it was striking with more meaning.  I felt like my pain was being disregarded, that I was being treated as weak or foolish for expressing that I was in pain, and yet the Savior, even God, TREMBLED because of pain.  I by no means want to compare my pain to what He must have gone through in that time, and yet, it was validating to realize that He was admitting to trembling in pain.  I realized on a very personal level that He understood what I was going through which made me feel closer to Him.

The biggest thing it did was make me thing about how we, “mere mortals,” react to pain in ourselves and to others.

No one will get through this life without experiencing some form of debilitating pain, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, or really any combination of the above, because really they are all connected.  These painful trials can become a stepping stone that allows us to draw closer to our Savior making them sacred experiences.  But what about when you are in the middle of it, or someone around you is in the middle of it, too often we try to just make it go away or make it seem less awful than it is, I feel that this can take away from the sacred nature of pain, and unfortunately can make the situation harder in the moment.

I want to take a look at some of the mistakes we make when dealing with pain both our own and others.  Like I’ve said in other posts, if you realize that this is something you have done to me or others, know that I am not upset, or holding a grudge.  I know that people are for the most part well meaning.  My hope is that we can learn together from these mistakes so that we can be more helpful to others in the future.

What not to do:

Putting things in perspective

Having an Eternal perspective is so important when dealing with trials.  Knowing that God is there and on your side and that “all these things shall give thee experience and work for thy good,” can be the only thing that keeps you going sometimes.  I feel like developing an Eternal perspective is something that you should be working on constantly, especially during the “down time” when you aren’t in the middle of a crisis so it’s there to get you through the crisis.  When the crisis comes, the Eternal perspective becomes a very personal relationship with God through mighty prayer and faith.

Sometimes people say things, well meaning of course, to try and spin the Eternal perspective, or put things in perspective during the crisis.  Things like, “Well it could always be worse….you could have….”  or “Well at least you have….”

Yeah, because when you’re in pain you definitely want to think about how things could be worse, that’s a pretty hopeful place to go.

I really can’t picture anyone saying to Christ in the Garden, it could always be worse, I mean you could have gotten YOUR ear cut off, or your disciples could have gone home to sleep instead of falling asleep in an uncomfortable garden.  You wouldn’t say that to Him.  And the only person I can see coming up with a “Well at least…” statement is Satan.  “Well at least you HAVE body.”

Those kinds of statements invalidate the experience.  And OF COURSE it could be worse, and people have gone through harder things.  I mean ultimately Christ experienced it ALL.  But I can’t for a moment picture Him coming and saying it could be worse, or at least you didn’t have to go through what he went through.  No.  He validates our pain because He experienced it.  He sends the Comforter to help us through.

I feel like in Mormon culture we don’t want to let things be bad.  And maybe that’s because we believe that ultimately we will be led to pure joy.  Or we have this idea that in order to be Christ-like we can’t admit to the struggle because He was perfect and somehow we think that being perfect means not having human emotions, reactions, or struggles.  And yet, he said, “Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.”

Was he showing a lack of Eternal perspective in that moment?  Was it sinful to show weakness?  No, but He was expressing His emotions and His pain freely to His Father.  Sometimes things are just hard, really hard and awful, and the cup can’t just be removed.  He had to experience it in order to fulfill His most sacred responsibility.  Likewise we have to allow ourselves and others to experience pain in order to fulfill our sacred potential and join the fellowship of Christ.  To try and remove it, or make seem not as bad would hold us back from being able to “overcome all things,” which is a characteristic of those who will inherit the Celestial Kingdom.

Find the deeper meaning or give an explanation

“He’s in a better place.”

“God must have needed her more on the other side.”

“Think of all the lives he’s touching.”

“If it’s God’s will….”

“I’m sure it will all be ok”

These platitudes, plain and simple, are not helpful.

As individuals deal with pain, grief, and loss and turn towards God, sometimes they receive answers that give meaning to what they have experienced.  Sometimes the personal revelation they receive sounds like some of the lines I wrote above.  HOWEVER, those answers are deeply personal, need to come from God, and need to come when they are ready to receive it.  While it may turn out to be true, to try and offer meaning or give an explanation is an attempt to receive personal revelation for the other person.

Also, don’t give assurances that it will be ok.  Again, that’s as if you have received personal revelation for someone else’s experience.  When I was 16 my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  For the 2 weeks between diagnosis and hysterectomy I lived with constant weight and fear of the unknown.  When I told people they frequently said to me, “It’s alright, your mom’s going to be fine,” “Everything is going to be ok!”  It was really frustrating because didn’t know if everything was going to be ok, I hadn’t received that answer from God.  The prognosis was good, but there was still the lingering fear of what could come, not to mention that even if they could get everything out with the surgery and no follow up needed, my mom was still undergoing major surgery and would be healing for several weeks.  (For the record, everything did turn out ok.  In fact, after the surgery they came back and said it wasn’t actually cancer, just cysts, and now 15 years down the road there have been no continuing concerns.)

When baptized in the LDS faith we covenant to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  Our job is to bear, mourn, and comfort, not to explain or reveal meaning, that is God’s job.

Comparisons

Don’t compare your pain.  Don’t compare anything for the matter, but really, don’t compare your pain and your trials.

As a missionary I started out with a chip on my shoulder.  I had myself convinced that I had sacrificed more than most of the other missionaries, so I really had a reason to struggle and have down days.  I did sacrifice a lot to be there, and I certainly had my fair share of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  But one day I was humbled with the seemingly obvious realization that at some point everyone would go through the hardest thing they have ever gone through.  That would be different for everyone and tailor made for them to grow and develop as needed.  I realized that I needed to allow other people to struggle, because while they weren’t going through the same thing I was, what they were going through was hard.

I had to learn this same concept but flipped when I went through my second pregnancy.  I was surrounded by people who were going through very very difficult trials.  A few friends experienced infant loss while I was pregnant, another friend was struggling with infertility (prayers for her recently implanted baby!).  And then there was me, carrying a healthy baby, and yet struggling so much.  Let me be clear that none of them did or said anything to make me feel guilty, I placed the burden of guilt on myself.

How dare I feel depressed when there were so many people around me going through something much harder.  Never would I ever wish to trade places with them.  So I tried to tell myself that I should just suck it up, and I should be so happy.  And of course I WAS happy to be carrying a healthy baby, that wasn’t what I was depressed about, but that’s what makes it depression.  I wasn’t really sad about anything, I was sad about EVERYTHING, and being in constant physical pain made it so much worse.

I finally realized, that yes, while other people were going through things that were harder than what I was experiencing, that didn’t mean that what I was going through wasn’t hard.  While I found joy in the hope that I would have a healthy and happy baby at the end (which isn’t quite how it went what with the NICU stay and all, but that’s a different story), it didn’t mean that I had to pretend to be enjoying my present circumstance.  I needed to validate my own pain and stop comparing it to others.

Another comparison we need to avoid is an attempt at an empathetic comparison.

A dear friend of mine lost her Father to a very long battle with cancer when she was only 19 years old.  I was her visiting teacher at the time and I’m sure I said some well meaning, but stupid things to her, but did my best to comfort while validating her pain.  At one point I started to say to her, “I know how you feel.”  Then corrected myself, and said, “Actually, I have no idea how you feel.”  She thanked me for saying that and told me that she found it a little frustrating when people said, “I know how you feel.”  And then a lot of them would follow it up with something like, “My grandpa died.”  Not to take away from the pain and sadness of losing a grandparent, but losing your parent especially at such a young age, is a very different experience.

On the flip side of that, the “I could never do that” response is another form of comparison.  Again it’s well meaning, and perhaps trying to highlight a strength that you see in the person.  Unfortunately it can feel like a wall being put up that makes them different.  The implications of the phrase, while in most cases not meant to be malicious can hurt the person who is doing their best to get through something difficult.  Often people experiencing loss (especially in extreme cases such as the loss of a child or untimely death of a spouse) feel guilt when they realize that their life is moving forward, especially in the moments when they realize they “forgot to miss them” or “forgot to be sad.”  Somehow they do have to continue with their life without letting loss consume them.  Comments like, “I could never do that” or “I would just fall apart” can increase that feeling of guilt, as if moving forward means that they didn’t love the person enough.  That’s of course not the case, but in the middle of loss our brains are not exactly known for being entirely logical and rational.

 

An empathetic response is wonderful, however an attempt at an empathetic comparison may leave the person experiencing the trial actually feeling less understood and less validated in their pain which can unfortunately end up causing more pain.

What TO do:

501px-gethsemane_carl_bloch

I feel like this painting really illustrates it perfectly.  Allow people to go through the experience, to grieve, to cry, to express themselves, and mostly just be there holding them, listening, and loving.

The angel isn’t saying to Him, “It’s gonna be ok.”  Because she knows it’s not, His trial and pain were going to continue and get worse.  I picture her simply saying, “I’m here, I love you, your Father loves you, I’m sorry you have to go through this,” and then crying along with Him.

In my experience, and from what I’ve observed with other people’s experiences is that in the middle of the trial they need people to just be there, to allow them to express the reality of their pain, to let them ugly cry when needed, and to just know that you are a safe person to vent to.

Rather than trying to give a positive spin or a comparison say things like:

  • I’m so sorry this is happening
  • That sounds so hard
  • I can only imagine

Don’t just tell them that God loves them, SHOW them by being an extension of His love.  Let them know that you will be there and help with whatever they need, give them ideas of what that means.  Tell them if they need to talk about it then your ears are open, if they need a distraction to get their mind off of it then you would love to get out of the house with them and not talk about it.  Offer specific service- can I bring a meal, do some laundry, mow your lawn, watch kids, donate to a fund, etc.

I feel like this quote from Spencer W. Kimball really sums this up:

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs… So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!”

Pray, and let them know you’re praying, but be aware that it can seem trite when someone says they are praying but doesn’t follow up with any action or dismisses what the hurting person is saying.

Send notes and text messages to let them know that they are on your mind.

Most of all just love and be loving.

To Those Experiencing Pain and Trials

I’m sorry, I hope you are able to find comfort.

Please keep in mind that people are trying to be nice so when they do make one of the mistakes from above, forgive them.  When appropriate you may want to find ways to calmly explain what types of responses are helpful vs. hurtful.

Let people serve you!  While on my mission, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did a mission conference for us and something that he said has really stuck with me.  He explained that while on our missions we had a very specific and important focus and we ought not to let Terrestrial, or worldly, cares get in the way of our higher calling.  That’s why they encourage members to feed missionaries, and ask missionaries to have simple wardrobes etc. so we don’t have to use too much of our precious time taking care of those earthly needs.  I feel like this applies to us when we are experiencing significant trials as well.  When in the middle of the trial you have much more pressing needs to take care of so let people around you take care of your Terrestrial needs as much as they can.

Most of all take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.  Surround yourself with positive influences and don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people.

And if you do need some good perspective, remember that this too shall pass.  It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

 

Audiobooks: So that talking to myself isn’t my only adult interaction of the day

I love having the opportunity to be home with my kids.  We do our best to get out of the house, have play dates, go to museums, etc.  They require a lot of brain power sometimes, especially when figuring out discipline.  But it’s a different kind of brain power than I used while working and going to school.  They are a little less intellectually stimulating.

I see women, especially stay at home moms, commenting regularly on the internet about feeling like they are losing themselves.  Me too.  I’ve been there, still there sometimes.  I mean we all love our kids, and for many of us the staying home thing is a CHOICE we made.  But if you’re not careful, kids and basic child and home care can suck the life out of you.

As I mentioned in my birth stories post, I started suffering from depression while I was pregnant with my second.  I then faced a very traumatic birth experience which left me with Post Traumatic Stress on top of PPD and a predisposition to anxiety.  When I say a predisposition to anxiety I mean that when I am at my typical baseline I can cope fine without the help of medication, certain situations and circumstances can put me over the edge, but overall I’m fine and functional.  That wasn’t the case during the pregnancy or after.  I ended up being treated with medication after, which I am so glad I did, but I also didn’t want to be on it forever.

I found a really great primary care doctor who wanted to help me with my goals, we set up a plan for me to take the meds for 6 months and in the meantime work on building up my ability to cope so that I could wean off the meds and be fine.

So she asked me what I could do for ME, something that had nothing to do with kids or home or even my husband, just ME.  I was pretty stumped.  I sing in a community choir once a week, which is awesome and a great outlet, but it’s once a week.  She wanted me to figure something out daily.  She asked me what I used to do before kids that was for me….uh…..this shouldn’t be that hard to think of, but I mean back then everything was for me because I didn’t have kids.  So that was my homework assignment, to take some time to figure something out that could be just for ME.

I did some soul searching.  I mean whatever it was going to be it couldn’t really take up much time because then you have to find babysitters which can end up just adding extra stress and anxiety because then you have to find someone that’s available and hope that you aren’t causing them extra stress, and do you pay them or trade because too much of both would just add more stress and then there’s the financial commitment of going to something like Yoga which is everyone’s first idea of what you should do if you struggle with anxiety, but I’m not flexible so yoga might just be frustrating and add to my anxiety anyway…. and now you probably feel anxious as well as you realize how much my brain over thinks and can’t just do something for me.

So needless to say, yoga was out.  I started thinking about what I felt like I was missing that I used to have.  The two things that came to me were intellectual stimulation and frequent adult interaction.  I have awesome friends, but we’re not together all day like you are with coworkers.

Then the little light bulb went off in my brain.  When I have light bulb moments all the crazy racing thoughts calm down.  For me, that’s how I know that the Spirit is telling me something, the storm of thoughts calms down and I can think clearly through a plan.  Audiobooks that little voice said.  They take no extra time away from my family so I don’t have to worry about babysitters or the mom guilt of leaving them.  I can listen to them while I drive which also fixed the annoyance I was starting to feel at every song on the radio (I think I got old, I can’t stand what the kids are listening to these days).  I can listen while I do housework which makes housework more fun because I try not to think of it as chore time as much as audiobook time.  I pick books that are intellectually stimulating and there’s an adult voice talking at me.  So it doesn’t remove my need for actual adult interaction, but it’s way better than the little voices on Umi Zoomi and Bubble Guppies (although of the kids shows out there I do find these ones less annoying).

Pause- why not just actually read?  For me I struggle with taking the time to sit down and read when there are so many things I feel like I should be getting done.  Also, nothing puts me to sleep faster than reading.  In high school my mom legit read the entirety of Jane Eyre out loud to me because when I sat down to read it within ten minutes I would be asleep.  This also might sound silly, but holding a book hurts my neck and arms- pathetic right, like I should probably do some arm exercises so I can hold the weight of a book up.  Finally, you can’t read and drive so it would cut out a significant amount of my “reading” time.

I’ve been listening to books basically constantly now since January and I’m loving it.  It’s been a great way to use my phone as a tool instead of a trap.  I’ve been very inspired by a lot of the books and also feel like I can have more meaningful conversations.  I was struggling a lot when people asked what I was up to in life, well….kids.  And again, I love my kids and I will tell people about my kids, but now I also have something for ME to add in to conversations.

Side note- I was able to successfully get off my meds a few months ago.  Now, I’m not suggesting that audiobooks are a CURE for depression and anxiety.  But for me, finding something that is fun, stimulating, and focused solely on my interests instead of the interests of my family has helped me feel like me again which in turn has helped me be a better mom and wife.  You’ve gotta take care of yourself before you can really take care of others.

So without much further ado…what have I been listening to and how I access them?  Here comes some unsponsored reviews.

First off, how I access them.  I primarily use the app Overdrive, but also sometimes use Audible.

Overdrive:

Pros:  It’s FREE!!!  You sign in to your library using your library card and then you can access a bunch of audiobooks (or e-books if that’s your thing).

Cons:  It’s free…which means that there are frequently wait lists for more popular books.  Once a book is checked out you have 2 weeks before it disappears on you (but hey, you never have to worry about late fees).  I’ve run into issues before where I’ve been on a few wait lists and suddenly 2 books are checked out to me at the same time, I think if you are watching your place in the lineup and you realize that might happen you can let someone go ahead of you in line, but I don’t pay enough attention and haven’t tried it, so then I have 2 books to finish in only 2 weeks.  You’re also limited to what they have available, you can suggest books for them to buy, but you are left to them to decide if they will or not and on their timetable.

Audible:

Pros: Lots more books, no time constraints because you own it.

Cons: Not free.  Audiobooks can be a little pricey but you can subscribe and then use credits to buy books typically at a discount (except some books cost less than a credit is worth to buy them outright).

I use Overdrive most of the time because I enjoy free, but periodically we subscribe to Audible for a month or 2 to get credits and my husband and I buy a few books at a time.  We have very different book interests so we share an account, but for the most part don’t share books, every now and then we find something for a road trip that we both find interesting.

Now for some book reviews!

I am Malala by Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai, and Patricia McCormick:  I kinda feel like this should be mandatory reading for our country right now.  This really helped me understand what has been going on in the Middle East.  It also helped me learn so much more about different groups within the Islamic faith.  I felt empowered as a woman and an educator, I felt my heart grow and develop greater charity, and I felt sad that so many people judge Muslims based on a such a small group of extremists.  If you only read one book from my list, make it this one.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart: very inspiring and well presented.  It’ll make you think twice about leaving windows open or picking up a hitch hiker.  She is very honest and straightforward about what happened to her without being uncomfortably graphic.

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielsen: this is about the LDS blogger who was in a plane crash and burned over 80% of her body.  This was really powerful.  I loved how real and open she was about the struggles, both physical and emotional, that she went through in her healing process.  It was really inspiring.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Holy Cow!  This is the story of Louis Zamperini an Olympic track star turned second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II.  He survived 47 days floating on a raft (which is a crazy enough story as it is) only to then be captured and spend the next 3 years in various Japanese prisoner of war camps, only to have to come home and figure out how on earth to piece a life back together.  His story is a beautiful example of endurance, love, and faith.  I learned a lot of things about the Pacific Theater that I didn’t know previously.  I feel like the main focus in my schooling about World War II was on the European Theater, which is really important to know and understand, and there’s only so much time that can be devoted to it, but it was really interesting to learn more about what was going on on the other side of the world.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Another World War II story, this one is a work of fiction.  This is book is beautiful.  He is really able to paint an amazing picture with words.  The book jumps back and forth following a blind French girl and a German orphan whose talent with radios lands him a high ranking place in the German army.  The story is very touching and really makes you think through difficult topics.  I loved every minute of it.

Animal Farm by George Orwell:  Not sure how I got through High School and then college without ever reading this, but I did.  So glad I finally took the chance to read it.  It’s pretty short.  I listened to it on the way to and from Tucson in a single day.  It’s scary how much it reminded me of our present political situations.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo:  Some really awesome ideas, and I’m trying to implement things.  Mostly I wish I could afford to have her come over and fix my house because I’m not sure how I would ever find large enough blocks of time to do it on my own.  A lot of the ideas sounded amazing if you live by yourself, but living with a husband and children a lot of things didn’t feel super practical.  So, unfortunately it didn’t completely change my life like I hoped, but I do get rid of stuff and have found some better ways to keep things organized.  I also really liked her thought that we should say thank you to our possessions for what they do for us but once they are no longer serving a purpose it is time to put them to rest.

Rising Strong and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: These were life changing.  I can’t say enough about how much I love Brene Brown, her work, her ideas, and her delivery.  I feel like we’re kindred spirits.  She explains her ideas using stories and personal experiences.  If you need help with parenting, leadership, marriage, or just general being a good person then her writing is for you.  I am excited to keep reading more of her stuff in the future.

The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle: Mind blown- which might have been the point.  There were a lot of things I wholeheartedly agreed with, a lot of things I am still attempting to process, and some things I outright disagreed with.  Which is probably the mark of a good book because it really made me think.  Except his whole point was to stop thinking so hard, so I’m still not really sure how I felt about it.

Beautiful Bodies by Kimberly Rae Miller:  I loved this book.  I felt like in many ways she was writing my story of struggling with body image issues since an all too young age.  It made me cry, made me laugh, made me angry, and left me feeling empowered.  I could go on and on about this topic, but that probably needs to be its own post at some point.  Warning, there is a little bit of adult language and subject matter.  But seriously if you have ever struggled with body image or know someone who does, or you want to help prevent body image issues in your children then this book is for you.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: I saw the movie first.  The movie was very compelling, interesting, and entertaining, but also stretched the truth a lot and added in story elements that aren’t in the book.  I’m assuming they did this to make it more interesting, because unfortunately while the book has a very interesting topic, I didn’t find the presentation very interesting.  I’m still glad I gave it a listen because I think it is really important to bring out the “Hidden Figures” of history across the board.

Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino: This one I actually physically read, crazy right!  I had the opportunity to go visit Waco back in February and wanted to read it before I went so a beautiful friend loaned me her copy.  I couldn’t put it down.  They are some really inspiring people.  In fact, this book is part of what gave me the kick to get serious about getting this blog started (it still took me a few months after I finished the book, but here we are so obviously it worked).  I feel like Joanna and I have a lot in common with big dreams, but when she would share those dreams with Chip he would make them a reality.  While I’m still not as willing to take as many risks as Chip takes, in fact if my husband did half the things Chip did/does I would have pretty regular and major freak outs, but it really inspired me to realize that I did need to stop just dreaming, take some risks, and just get moving on things.

Past General Conferences:  These I listen to through the Gospel Library App, not Overdrive or Audible.  This is may be the best of both worlds because they are free and I can listen at my leisure.  Twice a year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints holds a worldwide General Conference in which the General leaders address us on pertinent topics effecting us in these times.  In many ways its a great opportunity to consider how the scriptures of old apply to us in modern times.  I started listening “backwards” starting with the most recent and then I’m moving backwards through the conferences.  I’m back to 2013.  I’m really enjoying re-listening, there’s been several talks that I had forgotten about that maybe didn’t apply to me in great deal at the time that are really hitting me now.  While this definitely doesn’t replace sitting down and studying, it’s a great way to get a little bit of inspiration in during the day.  And General Conference is coming up again next week!  You can stream it and watch from home or find a meetinghouse near you.

 

Thanks for reading!  I hope you’ve found some ideas for “me time” whether that’s going to be books or not, and if it is books, then I hope you give some of these a gander.

What have you been reading lately???  I’m always looking for more!

 

 

 

Birth Stories

We celebrated my baby girl’s first birthday recently.  I’ve gone back and forth about posting her (and my son’s) birth story for a lot of reasons.  It’s pretty personal and there’s a lot of TMI that goes into birthing.  My births have been a bit traumatizing.  A few months ago my cousin and I were discussing our traumatizing birth stories in front of her daughter who is twelve now and the daughter chimed in that she felt bad and a little guilty about what her mom went through.  I’ve reflected on that, I don’t want my kids to feel any amount of guilt or feel bad because of how things happened.  In the end, I would do it over again to have them in my life.  But, I hope by sharing my stories that maybe someone else can be better prepared or avoid some of the issues I had.

My stories are by no means the worst or hardest out there.  I have two happy, healthy children and I’m alive and (mostly) well to tell the stories.  However, of the “normal” births out there, I have some kind of extreme stories.  So if you are a hopeful or soon-to-be mom, please realize that my situations are certainly on the fringes.

My son

While it’s my daughter’s first birthday coming up, and her birth is the one that was in many ways more traumatic for me, you have to understand his story to understand the context for hers.

To add more context, my son is named after my “angel baby” brother.  As well as having several miscarriages, my mom also carried a baby to 38 weeks before he passed in the womb most likely due to complications following a version (the manual turning of a fetus in the uterus).  I was only 2 1/2 when he passed so I don’t remember much from the actual time period, but he has been an important part of our family.  And as such, I grew up knowing that unfortunately things can go tragically wrong with an otherwise normal pregnancy.

That’s a fear I have carried with me through both of my pregnancies (and mom, that is not your fault- you never told me I should be afraid, it’s just an unfortunate fact that is part of our family story).  It makes it hard for me to bond to my pregnancies because I have this constant nagging fear that one morning I’ll wake up and the baby will be gone.  This has lingered well past what most people consider the “safe zone” and actually gets worse the longer I go.  Which in the case of my son was a really long time.

My pregnancy with my son was fine.  I wanted to puke all the time from about 6 weeks to 10 weeks (never actually did, just always wanted to).  Smells were especially bad, something about the smell when I walked into the office building I worked in was especially offensive.  I would gag 3 times between the front door until I made it into our suite.  And don’t even get me started on the bathroom in the building, heaven forbid someone actually did lay a stinky.  But otherwise I was fine, I don’t remember being overly tired.  I definitely had some brain fog, a really hard time recalling words which made for some really difficult IEP meetings when I couldn’t remember the word, cognitive.  I was uncomfortable, and big, really big, but overall I was ok until about 36 weeks.  At that point my pelvis started to separate.  I told people my hip was starting to hurt, but that wasn’t a very accurate description.  It was up in the hip socket, in the crotch, not like on the outside of your hip.  But that’s kind of awkward to describe to people.  I couldn’t lift my foot more than about an inch off the floor which made basically everything really difficult especially getting dressed.  My husband pretty much had to get me dressed.  The only time I felt ok and could move was in the swimming pool so I guess lucky for me it was summer and we lived in an apartment complex with ready access to a pool.

Since this pain started at 36 weeks I figured ok, I can handle this, less than a month to go right???  Wrong.  I tried a bunch of the old wives tales (within reason and safely) to get things moving.  Nothing.  My due date came and went and the days just kept dragging on.  People would say things like, “keep him in there as long as you can- you won’t sleep a wink once he’s out,”  “just be patient, babies come on their own time.”  And they were so sweet, and I wanted to punch them all in the face.  I was huge, I was in pain, and I couldn’t sleep.  And I was anxious, really anxious.  Everyday he was inside was another day that I couldn’t see and make sure he was still alive.  That nagging fear just sat there.

Finally at 1 week past due I woke up at about 3 am on a Tuesday morning realizing that something was about to come out of me.  I made it to the bathroom in time, I thought maybe it was my water breaking but it was just the mucus plug.  Contractions started, spaced apart and not too painful.  I got to about 5 before I woke up my husband.  We timed them for a few hours and about 8 am we headed to hospital to be sent home with some tylenol and an ambien and told to come back later but it looked like today would be the day.  I went home and slept a little, went to the chiropractor to get adjusted and got a prenatal massage.  About 8 that evening the contractions were close together again and much more painful than they had been in the morning.  That drive back to the hospital was so miserable and whoever thought that speed bumps were a good idea at hospitals on the way to the maternity ward was a jerk.  Each bump was awful.

I got into triage and they started reading through my birth plan, “So it says you are considering natural?”  My response, “I wanted to see how for I could get naturally, I’m there, I’m done, epdiural now please!”  But I was only up to a 3.5, I wasn’t even far enough to get admitted yet.  At the thought of going home again I got panicked and told them no, I absolutely couldn’t go home again.  They had me walk to hall for eternity, I mean an hour, a very painful hour with fire coming out of my eyes at anyone who dared smile.  After that I was far enough along to be admitted but they wouldn’t let me get an epidural yet because I was progressing too slowly and they were worried it would slow me down more.  It was close to 10 pm, they got me into a room and into a labor tub.  That felt really nice, for a little while but eventually the pain was too intense for the tub to help.  I got out and they gave me some morphine because I was still too slow for the epidural.

That was a long night.  My husband fell asleep but I couldn’t really sleep because of contractions.  So I turned on the TV to try and pass the time.  The only thing I could find was King of the Hill.  So far giving birth was not going anything like I pictured, King of the Hill was definitely not in my birth plan.

About 5 am on Wednesday my water broke for reals.  Being beta strep positive, they started me on antibiotics, and having made some progress they finally let me have an epidural.  Yay!  They excitedly told me it should only be a few more hours and then my baby would finally be here.

The passage of time over the next several hours is sketchy at best.  The midwife visited several times checking in on contractions and told me when I felt like I was going to poop myself then it would be time.  At some point in the late afternoon I felt it and the monitors caught it and my midwife and nurse came in and let me know it was time to start pushing.

So I pushed, and I pushed, and he started coming on down.  But then a weird thing happened.  My contractions, while very strong, went down to 8 minutes apart.  So I’d push and push and push and he would come down and crown and then in the 8 minutes between he would just slide right back up.  I had requested intervention be kept as a last resort and the practice I had chosen as well as the hospital had low intervention policies.

I pushed for 5 hours and nothing.  At that point hospital policies said I had to be seen by a doctor and receive some sort of intervention.  Also, as you can imagine after 5 hours of pushing, which was like 36 hours after everyone had been put on alert that I was in labor, family members started to freak out.

I had wanted everyone to wait and come to the hospital a few hours after he was born.  I only wanted my husband in the delivery room.  So when he told me both sets of parents were coming I was very upset and told him no, they couldn’t come.  He explained that everyone was very worried, and they were coming.  At that point I hadn’t realized how long it was but as the amount of time that had passed settled in I agreed that they could come and give me a blessing.

This started the next round of waiting around and nothing happening.  I needed clearance from the doctor to start pitocin but every time the doctor was about to come in someone else would start pushing and she would have to run and catch a baby.  So another 2 or 3 hours later she came in and talked me through my options and we agreed to go ahead and try the pitocin before resorting to a c-section.

After finally hearing from the doctor, my in-laws went home because they had to work the next day but my parents decided to hang around.  My mom sat with me as the pitocin did it’s thing over the next 2 hours.  I was so exhausted at this point that I would fall asleep in the 2 minutes between contractions and then wake up again.  In one of my moments between being asleep and awake I remember thinking, “I’m just going to be pregnant for the rest of my life, I’ll just die pregnant.”  Not that I thought I was dying in that moment, but just I really thought that my pregnancy would never end because it certainly hadn’t been going anywhere fast.

With the upheaval and my entire birth plan having been thrown out with the bath water, I was at least still planning to have my parents step out once it was time to actually push.  But suddenly, at 5 am on Thursday- 50 hours after labor had first started- the midwife and nurse came in, announced it was time, my husband barely had time to get up out of his chair and wasn’t really awake yet when they had my legs up in the air ready to go.  With my dad sitting there not sure where to look.

What took 5 hours to NOT do earlier took less than 5 minutes with the pitocin.  However, having been so used to them trying to get me to push as much as I could I pushed a little too hard and a little too fast and ripped myself a new one.  Level 3 tear.  But he was out and I wasn’t pregnant anymore.  I got to hold him and finally see him and see that he was fine.  It was all so relieving.

The recovery was horrible.  I was physically so exhausted from laboring for so long, then pushing for so long- my legs felt like I had run a marathon, or at least I would assume that’s what they would feel like if I did run a marathon because I don’t run marathons.  And that tear, oh my word.  Lots of TMI here.  For about 8 weeks it literally felt like at any moment my hoo-haa would rip in half.  Standing and walking were the worst, sitting wasn’t much better, lying down kind of helped.  It hurt so bad.

I had no idea that wasn’t normal.  When I saw women out and about after a few weeks I thought they must be crazy.  I was down and out for a long time.  I forced myself out for the store and social gatherings for the sake of sanity, but I wasn’t great company and struggled being there because I was in so much pain.  Also I peed myself constantly for a few months.

A lot of people have criticized the medical staff for how that birth played out.  I don’t know how different it would have been if I had asked for intervention sooner, not pushed like a crazy person in the end, or if a c-section would have been easier on my body. What I do know is that they respected my wishes until it reached a point where it was medically necessary to intervene, my son is here and healthy, and I did heal.  At no point did I ever feel endangered or out of control.  I knew the whole time that they had my best wishes in mind.

My daughter

When my son was almost 18 months I got pregnant again right as we bought a house and moved.  I don’t know if it was because of the different gender, or the thyroid disorder I developed after my son was born, or the move, but looking back things were a little harder from the get go.  I started struggling with depression pretty quickly, I tried to wave it off due to the stress of the move, which was definitely a contributing factor, but it turned into a bad cycle that plagued me throughout the pregnancy.  I had the same “morning sickness” issues (hate that term because it’s not a morning thing for me- it’s all day).  I also had zero energy, like could barely get off the couch kind of lack of energy.  My doctor…didn’t care.  My thyroid levels came back normal so obviously I was just fine.

Pause for a minute on my doctor.  We had just moved a half hour north of where we had been living, my midwives were 20 minutes south of where we had been living.  Going back to them was not a feasible option, especially considering that during high traffic times that drive can easily turn into an hour and a half to two hours.  I wasn’t super familiar with the area and didn’t know anyone well enough to feel comfortable asking around like, “Hey, no reason in particular but…anyone know a good OB?”  So I went with online ratings.  My doctor had really high ratings, everyone appeared to just love him.  He had been in practice for like forever, even my Pediatrician that I found had used him for her babies and they were now in college.  She told me after we made the connection at an appointment for my son that I “would have the most beautiful birth in his care.”

That was not my experience, in fact, finally in the last few months I have stopped having nightmares where he is the bad guy.

At about 10 weeks I woke up one morning and I didn’t feel sick, I was so grateful to be past that phase.  Except the very next morning I woke up and that horrible pain that had started with my son at 36 weeks was there.  I freaked out a little because how on earth could I survive that for 30 weeks instead of just 5 weeks.  Also my depression was getting worse.  Multiple times a week I would sit on my bed and cry for mostly no reason, sometimes there was an identifiable trigger, but nothing big enough to warrant hours of crying.

At my doctor’s appointment around 15 weeks I brought up the issues with the pain.  He shrugged it off, basically like, yep, you’re pregnant.  I told him about my issues with depression.  He told me that they don’t treat women for depression while pregnant so just go for a walk.  But I couldn’t walk, I was in excruciating pain.  He told me I should wear a belly band, I told him I had tried that and it wasn’t helping the pain much but was really uncomfortable in other ways.  He looked at me like I was an idiot.  I cried the whole way home from the appointment.

I thought about changing doctors at that point, but how was I supposed to find anyone better, I mean this guy had really high ratings so I decided to just stick it through.

By 24 weeks there was no relief in sight for the pain.  I had finally seen something on Facebook about SPD, symphysis pubis dysfunction.  I looked it up and suddenly realized that was what was happening, and why I had such a hard time explaining to people what I was experiencing, because I just hadn’t had the medical terminology to describe it.  I would tell people I was having ligament pain, and they would pat their round ligaments and say, “Oh yeah I had that too, everyone gets that.”  And I was like, no that’s not where it hurts, but it’s not exactly in a place you can point to in polite company.  But I’m all about TMI on this post so basically imagine someone stabbing you with a dagger in your crotch right between your leg and your vagina up into the hip socket.  That’s a pretty accurate description of what it felt like, all the time.  Sometimes it hurt so much that I lost joint stability.  Standing was the worst, walking was horrible but for some reason not as bad as standing, sitting didn’t continuously irritate it, but didn’t make it go away.  Rolling over in bed frequently made me cry out in pain.  Being in pain ALL THE TIME is really bad when you’re already struggling with depression.  I wasn’t ok.  I tried to explain this to my doctor at my appointment at 24 weeks.  He shrugged it off again and told me there really wasn’t anything they could do, I’d be fine.  I told him that I would need a handicap placard then, again I got the “you’re an idiot” look but he signed the paperwork.

For the record, if you experience these kinds of symptoms, there IS something you can do.  Unfortunately I didn’t find out until my baby was 6 months old and I was finally in physical therapy because the pain didn’t resolve itself.  But, you can and should see a physical therapist who specializes in obstetrics.  Why didn’t my OB suggest that, I wish I knew.

My only consolation in all of this was that in my early appointments, when we went over my history and the craziness of my son’s birth, my OB told me a few times that he definitely wouldn’t let me go over.  He didn’t want me to have another big baby and risk tearing again.  So at least I knew that before August 29th I would no longer be in pain.

At the end of July around 35 weeks I started having Braxton Hick’s contractions almost constantly.  And even though I know that 35 weeks is not full term and has some risks involved, the risks are low at that point and a big part of me hoped that it would just go ahead and happen.  My OB was in Africa for the month so I was seeing his nurse practitioner, she did put me on modified bed rest for a week to make sure I got to 36 weeks, and she figured baby would come early.

But over the next few weeks I kept showing up for appointments with baby girl still inside.  And the doctor changed his mind about sending me in early, she wasn’t as big as he had worried so no reason.

At 39 weeks I asked about getting my membranes stripped to trigger labor.  He explained that if you’re not ready it doesn’t trigger labor, it just makes you bleed so he didn’t do it.  I asked if we could go ahead and schedule an induction then.  Nope, low priority, I would just get bumped.  I looked him in the eye and told him I was in excruciating pain and needed to be done.  Nope, nothing, didn’t seem to care how much pain I was in, just another pregnant lady whining about being uncomfortable at the end.

I was physically and mentally coming apart.  The thought of putting up with that for one more week was devastating.  This wasn’t just me being uncomfortable and wanting to be done, I wasn’t ok, and he didn’t care.

That was a Monday, that Thursday as I was going to bed I felt a little more than a trickle of fluid leak.  Being beta strep positive again I knew that if you had a slow leak you needed to get in to be on antibiotics.  We called triage and they said I should probably come get checked.  I wasn’t contracting so I knew I wasn’t really in labor and if I was leaking and needing an induction it would be several hours, so I just went ahead and drove myself, but we put my parents on alert in case they needed to come get my son.

I got in and answered the nurse’s millions of questions in triage.  I went over my allergy to bananas and melons like 10 times (which is not a medical issue, if I get some I just get itchy, and I just won’t order them from the kitchen).  I told them that yes it had been a “normal” pregnancy.  And I’m sitting there like, why did I pre-register if you are going to ask me all of these questions again.

It was a false alarm.  They condescendingly patted my arm and told me not to come back until my water had broken or my contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, preferably both.  Again, I felt like I was being treated like an idiot pregnant lady.

40 weeks.  Doctor’s appointment.  No sign of labor.  We finally started discussing induction dates.  The appointment was on a Monday.  He said, “Maybe Wednesday…hmmm… no Friday, we’ll do Friday.”  I chimed in, “Or Wednesday!”  He asked why Wednesday mattered.  “I just want the baby out, I’m in horrible pain and I need to be done.”  “Well what’s two more days?”

Anyone who would say something like that has clearly never had chronic debilitating pain.  I almost jumped down his throat and said, “If I have to be in pain for 5 more minutes I’m not going be ok! That’s why 2 more days matters!!”

I didn’t yell at him.  I agreed to Friday.  He proceeded to check me and said I had made some progress from the week before so he went a head and “swept” my membranes.  I have no idea if there’s a technical difference between sweeping and stripping aside from sweeping sounds nicer.

The next morning I woke up crying about having to face another day in pain by myself with a 2 year old.  I knew I needed to not be alone but I also didn’t really want to be around people so  I headed to my parents’ house because my older brother spent the days there as caretakers for my grandmothers.  They were people and could help with my son, if I needed to talk they could listen, and if I needed to sit there in silence or cry, they were family so it would be fine.

Here’s where we start getting into a lot of TMI.  I was crampy and I started passing a decent amount of mucus and some blood vaginally.  It was gross, but I realized it would be expected following the membrane sweeping.  I had also been told not to go in until my water actually broke and my contractions were less than 4 minutes apart, because the membrane sweeping can cause some false labor.  No reason for alarm.

In the afternoon I started getting some chills and feeling a little sick to my stomach, almost flu like.  Again, no alarms going off in my head because I was overdue and pregnant, I hadn’t felt great for over 9 months.

My parents live 45 minutes away unless it’s high traffic, then it’s as long as an hour and a half.  That traffic starts to build up around 2 in the afternoon and doesn’t resolve until about 7.  If you don’t leave before 2 it’s best to just stay for dinner.  My husband had a meeting at church that evening anyway so I decided to stick around til after dinner and left their house about 7 pm.  No signs of labor, just generally feeling blah, passing mucus, and still in pain.  Always in pain.

A scripture started running through my mind on the way home.  Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19.  This a revelation that Joseph Smith received in which Christ essentially details His mission.  As He explains what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross he says:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

The raw and very intimate explanation of his pain really hit me.  That a God trembled because of pain was validating to me that my experience with pain was not an idiotic weakness like my doctor was treating me.  It was a real trial and it was ok to not want to go through it.  Christ didn’t say, “yeah, it hurt, but it’s ok, I just dealt with it.”  He TREMBLED.  He didn’t WANT to drink it.  And I can’t imagine anyone patting Him on the arm and condescendingly telling Him, “you’ll be fine”  “What’s 2 more days?”  “Now don’t bother us again until it’s really happening.”  So why then were medical staff and others so condescending about my physical and mental pain?  I’m sure if any of us were there with Him (and I believe that we were there watching), we would have wept with Him.  While there was nothing we could do to ease the pain, we wouldn’t have discounted it or ignored it.  We would have reverenced it, because His pain was sacred.  Our own pains are sacred and we shouldn’t wave them away or discount them.  That doesn’t mean we go looking for pain, but when it’s there it needs to be given it’s due respect and reverence.

About 20 minutes from home I had one kinda strong contraction.  Nothing crazy, still able to drive, but definitely a contraction.

We put our son to bed and sat down to watch a show.  The contractions were a little painful and a little more regular so I started timing them about 8 pm.  By 9, they were definitely painful and I thought I should get in the bath to help keep me relaxed.  While in labor with my son, one of the midwives had told me that tensing up slows you down and I definitely didn’t want to be in labor for 50 hours again.  As I was about to get into the tub I suddenly got the chills really bad.  That hadn’t happened before so I had my husband Google it.  Chills can just be a normal occurrence in labor due to hormonal shifts.  No alarms going off in my head so I got in a nice warm bath and made my husband track contractions.

I started a lot of self talk through the contractions, “If you can deal with this pain now there won’t be pain later.”  I did my best to relax through the contractions rather than tensing hoping that it would help me progress faster.  After about an hour in the tub I got suddenly too hot so I got out.

With contractions coming pretty strong and regularly I climbed into bed and took a tylenol PM to help me rest in between.  I would squeeze my husband’s hand to let him know another started and then let him know when it stopped and drift off before the next one.  After a while I asked him how far apart they were- 4 minutes.  I sat up a little and asked how long they had been at 4 minutes- an hour.  I told him we needed to call my parents and get ready to go then.  His response, “I don’t know, I mean they don’t seem that bad yet.”

He was thinking about last time, I was not so calm with the contractions before.  Also, keep in mind 50 hours of that.  My thought was, “Gosh, I guess I’ll start complaining more.”

My next contraction I hammed up the moaning a little more so he realized it was more painful than I had been letting on and then on the next contraction my water broke.  Luckily I was lying on a towel, but still, fluid everywhere.  Then he believed me that it was for real.  This was a little after 1 am.

I went into the bathroom to clean up and then the contraction pain went up another notch, a little past my breathe through it place.  He called my mom so they could come get our son.  I heard him on the phone, “No, she definitely can’t drive herself this time.”  I started shouting, “Get in the car, get in the car NOW!  Why isn’t she just in the car yet?”

He called triage to see if I needed to come straight in or if it was ok to wait the 45 minutes until my parents could get there.  They weren’t concerned about the 45 minutes even with me being beta strep positive.  So initially we decided to wait the 45 minutes, I thought maybe I could just continue to breathe through the contractions.  There was a big mess to clean up anyway.

Maybe 10 minutes later I think I turned into the spawn of Satan or something.  Everything got way more painful than I remembered it ever being when I was in labor with my son.  I suddenly went from the ok, let’s wait 45 minutes to, get me to the hospital NOW, no THEN!  I need the epidural NOW!!!!  Right now.  Stop putting things in the washer and let’s go NOW!!!!

My husband asked if we should call one of our back ups on our side of town to drop our son off with them and then my parents would grab him there.  No, I didn’t wan’t to take the time to call, then stop, then pull out a car seat.  I wanted to teleport to the hospital.  Moving was next to impossible.  Just getting to the car from my bed I had to stop at the couch.

Got the hospital about 2 am.  They wheeled me in to triage while my husband parked.  They asked me to get on the scale, nope not going to happen.  They asked me to pee in a cup, totally missed the cup.  They asked me if I was sure my water had broken, I wanted to punch them all in the face.  They checked me and told me I was only at a 4, and for a second I freaked out that they might not admit me.  Then someone checked my temperature and asked me if I had been sick.  I said no, I didn’t think so.  Then remembered earlier in the day when I had an upset stomach and the chills.  They told me I had a fever, and I remembered the really bad chills before getting in the tub and the overheating.  Then they got a monitor on and baby’s heart rate was too high, she was in distress.  They put an oxygen mask on me and told me if they couldn’t get her heart rate down I would have to go in for a c-section.  My response about a c-section- “Whatever gets me the epidural faster!”

My husband came in, with the 2 year old who was very much not asleep and making plenty of noise.  So now I’m lying there, begging for an epidural, answering their million asinine questions again because they couldn’t save them the first time, and they can’t really understand me because I have an oxygen mask on, and there’s a toddler in the room.  Something had to give so I sent my husband out with our son to wait for my dad to come.

Here let’s insert my dad’s story.  He got ready and left the house after the call with me screaming from the toilet.  He realized he was out of gas, but my parents’ nearest gas station is a few miles away.  He got to the gas station and realized he didn’t have his wallet, so he had to turn around and went home.  Upon getting home and grabbing his wallet, rather than switching cars he stayed in his and went back to the gas station.  Because, remember last time, there would be plenty of time.  He got to the hospital about 2:15, he met my husband and they got the car seat traded and the kid in the car.  And as he was about to leave my husband said, “Well, we’ll probably have a baby sometime tomorrow.”

It’s a really good thing we didn’t wait at home for my dad and his gas station escapades because….

My husband got back in the triage room just as the nurses finished all of their questions and told me they could finally go put in the orders for my epidural and my antibiotics.  I reiterated how urgently I wanted the epidural.  She sent me another one of those condescending smiles and left.

I turned to my husband pretty frantic, I felt like I couldn’t breathe with the oxygen mask on and in the craziness getting out the door I had forgotten to put my hair up and it was everywhere and making me extra hot.  Here’s a little tender mercy, he looked down and found a hair tie on the floor, and while maybe that’s gross to use a hair tie from the triage floor, I didn’t care.  I also couldn’t get it in my hair by myself because of all the monitors so he did the best he could being a man who does not do hair and me thrashing about in pain from a contraction and the feeling of claustrophobia brought on by the oxygen mask.

On my next contraction I suddenly felt the urge to push.  I ripped the mask off and told him I had to push.  He didn’t know what to do, the nurses were out.  I yelled, “Go find the nurses, I have to push!”  He ran out in the hallway and a few seconds later they all came running back in.  I was up to a 9, going from 4 to 9 in about 20 minutes.

I knew that once you hit 9 you don’t get an epidural, but as they were yelling for people to get things prepped in case I delivered in triage I asked if there was something they could give me for the pain.  She said no, it would be dangerous for the baby.  My eyes got wide and I asked for morphine or anything, again no.  My mind started racing- I mean could I get hit over the head, a leather strap to bite on, a stiff drink maybe??  I took to gripping the sides of the bed which they kept having to tell me not to do because the doorways they were rolling me through were too narrow.  Also they ran me into a wall, which was excessively painful when in the middle of a contraction.

At this point I started panicking.  I had not signed on for natural childbirth.  If someone had asked me if I wanted an epidural the day after I found out I was pregnant the answer was yes.  After being in constant pain for 30 weeks straight I had absolutely no interest in being in pain for a second longer.  And this was more painful than I ever could have imagined.  With every contraction I was sure my body would just rip in half.  And for all I knew this could go on for 5 hours because that’s what happened the first time around.

I had signed consent forms for an epidural, not for natural birth.  I struggle with feeling out of control.  I am most definitely not an adrenaline junky- skiing, sledding, ziplines, etc. are not my thing.  I don’t like feeling like my body is out of my control and suddenly it was completely out of my control.

They got me into a delivery room but then everything they asked me to do my answer was no.  “Can you get yourself over to this other bed?”  “NOPE!”  I mean really, I could barely roll over in bed before I was in labor, now you’re asking me to transfer beds while contracting, with an oxygen mask on?  After the next contraction I did manage to like flop myself over to the other bed but in completely the wrong position and I made them scoot me around somehow.

“Can you scoot your bum down?”  NO!  Tried a little but then announced I was pushing, too which they told me not to.  Ummmm….this is not a voluntary action!  So then I just started pooping everywhere.  Which wasn’t so much embarrassing because I know it happens to a lot of people while giving birth, it just added to the alarming feeling of being completely out of control.

I kept telling them I was pushing and they kept telling me to stop because there wasn’t a doctor there yet, which was incredibly aggravating.  Finally a doctor comes stumbling in the room and asks, “What’s going on?”  I’m pretty sure I yelled, “I’m having a baby, what did you think was happening?”  But I might have just said it in my head- it’s hard to remember what actually came out of my mouth aside from screaming.

There were so many people rushing around, it felt like complete chaos.  I finally looked at my husband who was crying from watching me be so panicked and not able to do anything.  I finally closed my eyes and began to pray, “Please just make it stop hurting….not my will but thine…….nope, I’m not there yet, please just make it stop hurting.”

And then they finally told me it was time to push.  The doctor was concerned that I would tear along my original scarring so she went ahead and started cutting- which I could feel.  And then blessedly baby girl was out in only 2 pushes.

They didn’t really tell me what was going on, they didn’t show her to me, the only thing that let me know she was actually out was them bringing my husband around to cut the cord and then I heard her cry.  But they immediately took her across the room.  She was born with a fever and her heart rate was really high.

Friends that have delivered naturally (whether intentionally or accidentally like me) have talked about the rush they got afterwards.  The amazement and empowerment that they were able to do it, and the joy.  I didn’t get that, and maybe part of it is because I went through all of that and then didn’t even get to hold my baby.  All I felt was confusion and trauma about what had just happened.

They started to stitch me up which, despite the fact that they did start giving me some kind of pain reliever, I could feel.  Then they finally brought her over and handed her to me, but I was shaking so badly and wincing with every stitch so I couldn’t really hold her and they had to whisk her off to the NICU anyway.

They got me cleaned up and let me rest for a little while still in the delivery room then wheeled me down to the NICU to see her.  Her blood sugar had been dangerously low so they had given her a bottle immediately and had already gotten an IV in and started her on antibiotics because of exposure to Beta Strep.

They got me to my room and I met my nurse.  She explained that I would be on an IV antibiotic because I had an infection in my uterus.  She told me that I must have been leaking fluid throughout the day which introduced the infection, my labor had gone so quickly because my body was trying to flush out the infection.

Then it really all came together.  My doctor had swept my membranes.  I was passing mucus and blood, so I didn’t notice that there was also fluid leaking.  I felt sick, because I was sick.  The chills before getting in the tub was not a normal part of labor, it was a warning sign that I was about to spike a fever.  Getting into a warm bathtub was the WORST thing I could have done because it allowed the bacteria to proliferate.  And then my body did what it had to do to get it out fast.

My doctor never warned me of the risk of introducing bacteria with membrane stripping.  With how desperate I was to be done, whether or not we would have decided to move forward with it, if I had known that if I showed any signs of illness it could be a sign that there was a problem I would have gone in several hours earlier and gotten antibiotics.

Instead I faced an incredibly traumatizing birth and my daughter stayed in the NICU for 10 days receiving IV antibiotics.  Her blood cultures came back positive which meant she also had to have a spinal tap to be sure it did not get into her spinal fluid as well.  The first time they attempted the spinal tap they failed, she was bigger than they were used to dealing with in the NICU and she wiggled too much.  They had to give her a dose of morphine to sedate her so they could get it done.

When I got released my parents brought our son back home.  We had been doing our best to prep him for the new baby.  I had put her rock and play next to our bed a few weeks ahead of time and kept showing it to him and explaining to him that it was Baby’s bed.  When he got home he ran to our room to see her in her bed.  My heart broke.  There wasn’t a book for explaining that baby had to stay in the hospital.

My husband and I traded off going to the NICU and did our best to time our visits so we could be there for feedings while the other stayed home with our son.  It was definitely not the sweet time we had imagined having home together as a family while he had paternity leave.

The most difficult part of the NICU for me was having to relearn the “rules” for my baby depending on which nurse was there.  Most of the nurses were AMAZING, but there were a few that I just did not get along with well.  One day, before I was discharged, I was holding baby and started drifting off with her in my arms- like most new mothers do while holding a sleeping baby in a recliner.  The nurse barked at me, “If you’re going to sleep go back to your room!”  I looked at her a little shocked, thinking maybe she was being sarcastic about not sleeping in front of her because she couldn’t sleep.  But then she added, “You might drop her.”  Excuse me, I was sitting in a recliner, if my arm went slack the worst that would happen would be that she would land on my stomach, there was no way she could get hurt.  The other nurses we had didn’t mind us napping with the baby in our arms so it was shocking to be yelled at for it.  There were other smaller things that changed between nurses, but that was the most upsetting.  It was stressful to feel like I was not the one in charge of MY child.  Like I said, most of them were wonderful and I’m so grateful for them, but I was also very grateful when it was time to leave and take her home with us.

Physically I recovered much faster from her birth.  The pain from the episiotomy went away after about a week as opposed to the 8 weeks of pain I went through from tearing.  When people say it’s better to tear, it heals better, I kinda want to smack them.  I went through both, the cutting healed so much faster and better, maybe that’s not the way it is for everyone, but it most certainly was for me.  I also was significantly less exhausted, probably because I didn’t labor for 50 hours and push for 5 on limited nutrients.

The emotional and mental healing has been harder.  Way harder.  I found a new primary care doctor a few months after baby girl was born, she diagnosed me with post traumatic stress.  Being in constant pain for 30 weeks followed by a delivery that felt out of control followed by having to leave my baby behind in a hospital broke something inside of me.  As opposed to my son’s birth I DID feel endangered and completely out of control and I did NOT feel that my OB had my best wishes in mind at any point in the pregnancy, delivery, or post-partum.  Like I mentioned before, I began having nightmares, sometimes about the birth, sometimes just in general, but my OB would show up as the “bad guy.”  I would wake up frantic and sweating.  I could tell the story of her birth to people, but when I was alone and really thought about it I would get anxiety attacks.

It’s been a year and we’re doing really well.  Little girl has had no lasting effects, she’s reached her milestones on track or ahead of schedule.  She’s happy and healthy and simply adorable.  My nightmares have stopped, and I can think through the birth without having an anxiety attack, although it is most definitely a painful memory and something I hope I never have to experience again.

Here’s the things I’ve taken away from my experiences combined:

  1.  Maybe c-sections aren’t as bad as the internet mom crowd make them out to be, I’ve had friends heal faster physically from a c-section than I did from my tear with my first, and with my second I would have avoided an incredibly traumatic birth and resulting NICU stay.
  2. Doctors need to fully explain the risks involved with procedures so that women can make INFORMED decisions, and then know what to watch for if there is a problem.
  3. If you have ANY reason to be worried go in and get checked.  Let the nurses roll their eyes at you (but also nurses, please stop treating women so condescendingly), it’s better than ending up in the NICU.
  4. The right way to give birth is one where mom and baby are safe and preferably not traumatized at the end.  If that means an elective c-section or in a tub in your living room then good for you.
  5. Women’s mental health and physical well being needs to be considered in greater detail when determining what is best practice for BOTH mom and baby.
  6. Listen to women, take them seriously.

As I said before, I love my children, and in the end these experiences were worth it to have them here in my arms.  I just hope that these stories will help others to avoid some of these issues, or at the very least know that they are not alone and find some empowerment in that.