Stages of my motherhood

Grew up wanting to be a mom when I grew up
Raising other people’s kids as a childcare provider for 12 years
Matt’s mom telling me I don’t know anything because I’m not a parent
Nannying for a baby I spent more time with than her own parents
Watching my high school friends have kids
Marrying a man with children
Caring for his children more than he did
Trying to get pregnant for 9 months unsuccessfully
Friends and family asking when we were planning on having a baby
Being abandoned by that man and losing those kids
Moving away and never seeing the kids again
Finding out he impregnated two women in 6 months after we separated

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Thinking I was infertile and unable to have kids
Watching all my friends have babies
Dating a man who was sterilized and giving up the idea of ever having kids
Dating a man with teenage kids who was also sterile
He cheated on me and I never saw his kids again
Dating a man with children
Being a stay at home parent for 10 months
Breaking up with him because he didn’t want any more kids and losing those kids when they moved to North Carolina
Watching my sister suffer 14 months of infertility treatments
18 pregnant friends in one year
Supporting my sister through her pregnancy
My sister not calling me when she went into labor
Watching my friend get pregnant unexpectedly when she couldn’t afford the kids she had already
Watching my sister through her second pregnancy
Watching my nieces while my sister worked
Dating a man who was unable to impregnate me with serious commitment issues
People telling me “it’ll happen some day” or “God/the universe has a plan” or “you’ll be a great mom one day” or “it’ll happen when it should” all the time
Learning my ex who didn’t want more kids had another baby
Watching my friend have another baby she can’t afford
Turning 35 and knowing any pregnancies will be high risk
My co-worker decides to try for a baby and gets pregnant right away
My ex husband tells me his girlfriend died and left him with 5 kids
Helping raise my nieces despite how much it hurts
Giving up on having kids
Telling someone I don’t have kids and don’t know if I ever will

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Hope

Sometimes even when everything is falling apart there’s small victories. Those victories must be celebrated and not minimized. It’s what pushes us forward and keeps us hopeful for the future no matter how dark it seems. in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

So many people ask me how I can continue to do the work I do. It’s heartbreaking, it’s depressing and it’s heavy. But the reason I do this is first of all, because it’s important, but because I refuse to give up hope that things can get better. And I’m not done hoping yet.

Change is one of the most constant things in the world. Things are always changing. The sun and moon change their positions. The seasons change. We change. These can be positive or negative changes, but what matters is how we react to the changes.

Keeping hope isn’t an easy thing. It never has or will be. When things are bad, it’s easy to give up or think it’s over. It’s easy to think death is a good way out of all of it. But death isn’t the end of pain, it’s the transference of pain to others.

Hope may be so small it might be overlooked. Sometimes it’s hard to see through the pain, but hope will always be there waiting to be seen with the knowledge that it’s coming.

And when it’s found, it’s something to be celebrated. One more day has passed, one more small victory, one more celebration can be had. Celebrate small victories. Rejoice and be hopeful for the next one! I know it’s out there, like a wave waiting to reach the shore. It’s coming. Be patient. Stay hopeful.

Dealing with a Parasite

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My ex husband text me this morning. He told me his fiancee had died unexpectedly and all I could think about was why he’d text me.

First let me be clear, I haven’t spoken to my ex husband since our divorce was finalized in October in 2009 and even that communication was only about the divorce. We had ended things on relatively good terms but our interactions after our initial split created friction and destroyed any hope of our friendship continuing, including several interactions between his fiance and I where she told me I was keeping him as a backup and to stay away from her man. This resulted in me calling the police once she threatened me and blocking them both.

Second, he left me. This was his choice to be divorced. He moved out for the first time on April 2nd,2008 while I was at work. When I came home for my lunch break, he was gone. Eventually we gave it two more tries, but both resulted in him asking me to leave and that he wanted a divorce. The final breakup was October 24th, 2008 when I left Omaha and went to live with my parents in Iowa.

Needless to say this left me devastated since not only was my husband rejecting me, but I would have no legal rights to his two children. Losing him was terribly devastating, but losing his children destroyed me. For a long time I wasn’t even able to care for myself and I was so depressed that several times I attempted to take my own life but never managed to get it done. This breakup left me broken in ways I’m not sure I’ve fully healed.

But today he decided to text me. I know exactly what he wanted. He apologized and told me he understood what it was like for me when he left. He wanted me to comfort him and support him. He wanted to rekindle our bond over what He saw as a similar experience. He wanted me to be the person I had always been for him 10 years ago, even once we had broken up and it hurt so badly to do so, but I just couldn’t.

My first instinct was sympathy and in response I typed “OMG I’m so sorry!” but didn’t send it. Although I was sorry he was hurt and upset, how dare he compare the two, and I got angry. After an hour of thinking about it I erased what I had typed and wrote a carefully worded response.

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I didn’t want to intentionally be rude or hurt him further, but I don’t want him in my life in any capacity anymore. Every happy memory of him has been tainted with the despair of that loss. Every laugh is covered in the millions of tears I had cried for so long I didn’t know what happy felt like. There were no more feelings inside me for him but pity and anger at the fact that he thought he could just text me and pick up where we left off as friends. No.

It didn’t feel good to say what I said. Setting boundaries has never been one of my strong suits, let alone when someone I know is hurting, but it needed to be done. Part of me still wonders if what I had said hurt him worse or if I did the right thing, but it’s what needed to be done regardless of anything else.

Finally I felt a sense of closure and some of the power he’d taken from me was returned. I didn’t have to listen to him anymore unless it was my choice. I had set a boundary that he was no longer welcomed in my life. I didn’t need his friendship to be a good friend, it was ok for me to choose who I have in my life and that felt empowering and amazing. In the end, I’m stronger for being brave enough to say no.

The Down Side

I can’t save people. I know that. I have no power to stop people from being assaulted. I can’t force anyone to make the choice I would pick. I can’t go back in time. I can’t fix everything. So today instead I cried.

I sat in a courtroom today for 8 hours on the brink of tears. I watched the scene in front of me play out like a terrible movie. I was powerless to stop it. It was like watching someone get into a car accident in slow motion. I could see everything before it happened, but there was nothing I could do. I was helpless.

There were witnesses who provided their evidence. I saw their nervous reactions on the stand. I watched as they gave the facts. I listened as they told their version of the truth, knowing they only knew part of the facts and I stayed silent, I had no choice. I watched the defendant grin like a Cheshire cat. He was so smug and defiant even here looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. He kept looking at her, winking at her, smiling at her hoping to get a response.

The lawyers asked their questions. They gave dates, circumstances and facts. They defended their position like they were trained to do, not knowing how wrong they were getting it. The facts without the context are easily misconstrued.

The judge made a long statement about the history of the case and I lost it. There was so much I wish I could have done. I thought about how different the case could have been. I thought about all the pivotal points where a different choice would have ended in a completely different conclusion. I cried for my own helplessness. I cried for the people involved and the pain they felt. I cried because so many people in the room didn’t understand what was really happening in the case. They only saw one small portion and with that, made their judgement.

When the judge came back with her verdict and sentencing, I cried. I knew the full impact of what this would do. I saw firsthand how broken the judicial system is where victims are punished alongside their abusers. I further learned how unfair life can be and how hard it is. I saw the bias that exists in the legal system.
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A complete stranger took my hand. She held my hand as I cried in the courtroom. I didn’t pull away. I didn’t tell her to stop. At that point her hand was the only thing holding me on the earth. It reminded me of just how soft and human people can be. Our eyes met and I knew she understood. We didn’t share any words, but she knew.

They took her back to the jail and she was screaming and crying. She yelled “No one believes me. I can’t go on like this.” She had fought so hard and it had no impact on the outcome of the case in the end. I knew that her words were the result of her pain and her anger. I believed her, I still did.

When I got to my car I let myself fall apart. I felt all the cracks break open as I felt the hot tears fall down my cheeks. I sobbed until my head pounded and my lungs ached. I cried not only for myself, but for her. I cried for all the things that happened and the ones that should have and didn’t. I felt so much of her pain and grief. I felt the devastation let go as I cried in my car.

I called a co-worker and talked to her about it. She reassured me that I did all I could have, but it didn’t feel any better. She told me I worked hard and that I did my best, but my best didn’t feel good enough. She told me to take care of myself, but I knew I’d let this hurt fester and burn until it burned itself out.

I still can’t save anyone. I still can’t change the past. I still can’t choose for anyone. In the end, nothing changed for me. But knowing the true impact of the final verdict changed me forever. And in the end there was nothing else I could have done but cry.

Why don’t you leave?

“Why don’t you leave?” Is the number one question people ask domestic violence victims when the truth is it isn’t that easy.

There’s housing to sustain.

There’s bills to pay.

There’s children to care for.

There’s employment to obtain.

There’s furniture to buy.

There’s food to provide.

There’s no food banks that provide laundry soap.

He’s told her he’ll ruin her life.

He’s told her he’ll get custody of the kids.

He’s told her he’ll call child protective services.

He threatens to abuse the children.

He’s told her he’ll tell her family things. Maybe they’ll be true, maybe not.

He’s told her he’ll harass her family.

He knows where her family lives and works.

He knows where she works.

He and she have mutual friends.

He’s told her he’ll sexually assault her.

He’s told her she’ll never be safe if she does.

He’s told her he’ll find her.

He’s told her he’ll torture her.

He’s told her he’ll kill her.

He’s told her they’ll never find her body.

She has no means of supporting herself.

She has no work history.

She has a job, but it doesn’t make enough.

She has a disability and needs him to help care for her.

She needs him for medical insurance.

She needs to use the car and it’s his.

She doesn’t want to be homeless.

She’s scared to be labeled a victim.

She’s afraid of being judged.

She knows he won’t honor a no contact order.

She knows he doesn’t care about being arrested.

She knows he has access to guns.

She knows he’s tracking her already.

She knows he’s capable of killing her.

She doesn’t want to make their friends choose sides.

She doesn’t want the kids to suffer.

She wants the kids to have a father in their lives.

She’ll have to admit what’s happened.

Her friends won’t understand.

She’s not aware of services.

She doesn’t know what resources exist.

She has no support system.

She’s pushed away her friends.

She’s scared to call law enforcement.

She’s scared to tell law enforcement when they do come.

She’s scared of retaliation.

She wants to make the marriage work.

She wants to maintain ties to her church and he goes there.

Her religion says the male should be dominant.

She doesn’t believe in divorce.

She’ll be sad.

She loves him.

The criminal justice system is flawed and won’t hold him accountable.

Law enforcement doesn’t always arrest immediately.

There’s a 10-15 day window between a violation of a no contact order and the hearing.

It’s a small community.

Everyone will know.

There’s nowhere that can help.

There’s not enough resources.

There’s shame in admitting victimization.

It’s not fair for her to have to change.

Batterer education classes don’t work.

Substance abuse treatment doesn’t fix the problem.

Criminal charges don’t stop abuse.

Mental health treatment doesn’t stop abuse.

Counseling doesn’t stop abuse.

Threats don’t have to sound scary to be scary.

A look can terrify.

It’s a huge decision.

It’ll change everything.

It’s not easy.

There are so many more reasons. It’s not our place to judge. It’s our job to uplift, support, listen, love, trust, and accept. We can offer our concerns. We can offer to help. We can offer our fears about her staying. We can be her person.

A Pro-choice Blog

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m pro-choice. I don’t believe in abortion for the sake of killing babies, and I can’t imagine anyone does. I believe in giving women a choice in whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

I sometimes support women who are considering abortion. I help them weigh the options by openly discussing the pros and cons of each choice. I offer feedback and an objective perspective to help them in making this difficult decision. I watch them agonize over this choice, I’ve never seen a woman who doesn’t struggle with this. Sometimes this ends in helping them access abortion services.

I don’t think many people understand the weight of this decision. Many women remember this choice for years or decades after making it. Some wonder what their child would have been like. Some experience a deep sense of grief and depression. Some even celebrate due dates as birthdays or anniversaries to cope with the loss. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. Please know, these desperate women who choose abortion are not “using it as birth control”. I’m not sure this is a decision someone takes lightly.

I read this article a few days ago:

Rivers of Babylon

It is a heartbreaking story of a woman who had a late term abortion due to health concerns/quality of life/viability of the baby. I cried. I cried so hard to read her words. I can’t imagine having a baby inside you, and then there’s nothing. I can’t imagine the hurt, the anger, the guilt, the brokenness these women experience. I can’t imagine how it feels to hear someone say they made the wrong choice. They made the choice that was right for them at the time. I don’t understand judging someone for making that choice when I know exactly how hard it probably was.

Recently I had a woman come to me. She was pregnant. She told me “My boyfriend will kill me if he finds out. I have no other choice.” I believed her, the man was incredibly violent. We talked about adoption, we talked about giving the baby to family, we talked about relocating and keeping the baby, and so many more options. In the end, she decided abortion was the right, but agonizing choice.

She contacted the clinic and started the process. I went with her to her doctor’s appointment to confirm her pregnancy. I saw the look of defeat when her doctor congratulated her, knowing her choice was already made. I saw the ultrasound, the tiny little tic tac that was growing inside her. She was 6 weeks along. “The baby looks healthy.” the doctor told her. She sobbed in my car on the way home. This wasn’t what she wanted.

She made her appointment at the clinic and asked me to drive her. I knew she’d be emotional. I knew this was the hardest choice she’s ever made.  It was important to her that I was there, so I went.

The clinic was an old, run down building. It didn’t look like much. Out front there were men with signs. When we went in, a man with a body camera strapped to his chest asked to talk to us.  When we refused to talk, he screamed at us “They’re killing babies in there! They’re killing innocent children in there!” I thought to myself that he’ll never know what this choice is like, he can’t get pregnant.

The wait in the lobby was forever long.  She filled out paperwork which asked “How are you feeling about your choice?” Anxious. Relieved. Conflicted. “How sure are you about this decision?” Sure. After an hour we went into a tiny room where a woman did an ultrasound. She showed us the baby. She said it wasn’t even big enough to be seen with the human eye at this point. The doctor explained the procedure. The look on my client’s eyes was fear, sadness,  and resolve. I knew this was hard for her.

While the doctor performed the procedure I held her hand. I rubbed her arm and forehead and reminded her to breathe. At times I felt like I was reminding myself too. It was chaos, fear and a bumble of activity in a tiny room. It was blood, sweat and tears. It was mental and physical pain. It was doctors, advocates and interns. It was crowded. It was personal, vulnerable, and exposing.

Once it was over she was given after care instructions and we left. She stared out at the road as I drove her home. I saw a silent tear roll down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away.

In that moment I was once again reminded why I’m pro choice. I’m pro choice because she has the right to decide what happens to her body. When someone has had every other right stripped from them at some point in their life, they need the control for their own body. I’m not pro choice because I want to “kill babies”. It’s not called “pro baby killing” for a reason, it’s called choice because it’s her decision.

What I know is that if I was put into a situation where I was considering abortion, I’m not sure what I’d decide. If I chose to have an abortion, it would be truly heartbreaking for me. I’ve waited my entire life to be a mom, there’s nothing more in this world that I want.  But even if I didn’t choose abortion, I’d want the option to choose, and others deserve that right as well. And that is why I’m pro choice, and I will fight for every woman alive to have that choice.

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Dear Abuser

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you understand the pain and suffering you’ve caused your victim. I’m the one they tell about your hurtful ways with tears in their eyes. I’m the one they turn to for support and affirmation that they aren’t the one to blame. I’m the one that tells them it was your choice and not theirs.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you know how scared they are of you. You don’t see them trembling on the stand when they testify. I’m the one that’s there to support them. You don’t see them unable to sleep or eat because they are fearful for their safety. I’m the one they call in the middle of the night in panic. You don’t know the extra measures they take to keep themself and their children safe. You don’t know how many locks it takes to allow them to feel safe.

Dear Abuser,

You don’t understand all the changes your victim has made to move on. I’m the one who helps pack up their belongings and move to a different house or a different town. You don’t have to change your phone number 5 times ion 6 months because you’re being stalked and harassed. You don’t have to stay with a friend because you’re scared to be home alone. I’m the one they call when they need to go to a shelter to protect themself. I’m the one that safety plans with them. You don’t have to calculate the risk in a trip to the grocery store or to drive farther to another one just to keep safe.

Dear Abuser,

You can’t imagine loving someone but being scared of them at the same time. It’s a conflicting feeling that causes so much guilt. I’m the one that helps them process these feelings. I’m the one that they share that they want to go back because I’m the only person who understands. You don’t understand how much it hurts and the anguish it causes to feel this way.

Dear Abuser,

Your victim can’t fix you. You might think that they can help you change. You might think they can help you stay sober, or keep your job, or keep your housing, but you’re wrong. They can’t stop your actions. They can’t change who you are as much as they try or fix the trauma you’ve endured. They can’t cure your mental health issues. I’m the one that talks about making changes for their own benefit or focusing on themself.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you know what it’s like to live in poverty because of the loss of your partner. You don’t have to reach out to agencies for help only to be turned down. You don’t have to tell your landlord that you aren’t going to be able to pay the full amount and pray that he will accept a partial payment. I’m the one that helps them make a script for what to say. You won’t live in a house without electricity because the bill was too high. I’m the one that calls the power company with them. You don’t have to consider sleeping in your car, but worrying it won’t protect you from your hurtful partner. I’m the one that helps them access shelter. You don’t have to hear the frustration, fear and anxiety when they realize there’s no one else they can call. I’m the one that has to talk them through this tough time.

 

Dear Abuser,

It’s not fair that you don’t have to move back in with your parents or in with a friend. You don’t have to keep 3 kids plus yourself in one room. You don’t have to share a bed with your children. You don’t have to hear about how you “should have left earlier” or what kind of person you are for staying, or shames you for going back. I’m the one who tells them it’s not their fault. You don’t have to face this judgement.

Dear Abuser,

You don’t have to see them cry. You don’t have to feel the intense emotions of loving your partner who has hurt you and still wanting to be with them regardless of how bad things were. I’m the one that supports them and helps them weigh their options. I’m the one that hands them tissues when the tears fall. I’m the one that’s there when they go back, even when their own family abandons them because of you. You don’t have to feel ashamed of your relationship or the feelings you now feel. You don’t hold the guilt from the assaults.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you will ever take accountability for your actions and that’s what will hurt your victim the most. They will try to rationalize your behavior, but it will be confusing and frustrating that you told them you loved them and then hurt them. I’m the one that talks with them about what your motivation may have been or talks about reframing the blame. You aren’t required to admit you’ve done anything wrong. You don’t feel the weight of those actions.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you understand that the pain you caused can hurt your victim for years. The cut that you made on the soul of your victim may take years to heal or may never fully heal. I don’t think you understand how hard it is when a victim asks how long it will be before they are healed and I don’t have an answer. I’m the one that connects them to other victims to share their story which can help their healing. I don’t think you comprehend how you’ve hurt them or what the long lasting effects are. I don’t think you understand that it’s not just the victim who needs healing, but their children, friends and family.

Dear Abuser,

STOP. I don’t know if you can, but stop hurting your partners. Stop treating victims the way that you do. Stop minimizing your involvement, denying that you hurt your partner and blaming your victim. Stop making them feel crazy. Stop calling them names. Stop putting your children in the middle of this. Stop stalking, harassing and bothering them. Just stop. I would love for my job to not be necessary. I would love to have no clients. The world will be a better place if you stop.

But until you stop, I will be there. I will work as hard as I can with as many victims as I can until this ends.