My last pregnancy was–how shall I put this?–somewhat traumatic. I ended up in the ER early in my pregnancy, and spent the next ten weeks in a hospital bed on utter and complete bedrest. This was followed by another two weeks in the NICU with a premature baby.
Add it up–it’s twelve weeks. Three whole months. A quarter of a year.
I watched seasons change from my hospital window. We celebrated Valentine’s Day at St. Luke’s, Easter in the courtyard off the cafeteria, and Mother’s Day in the NICU at the children’s hospital.
One cannot pass through such times unchanged.
In 2011 I devoted much time and energy to naming the things I’ve learned, and the ways I’ve changed. As 2012 approaches, I feel a need to articulate them in order to carry those things forward with me into the coming year. Naming them brings awareness. Awareness brings integration. And the integration is what I need.
~ A chocolate bar and a hug can go a long way.
My favorite visitors were not the ones that tried to cheer me up with bright smiles and funny stories. My favorite visitors were the ones who brought chocolate bars (or ice cream, or fruit smoothies) and gave me big hugs. My favorite visitors were the ones who came, not to make me be happy, but to sit with me in my sorrow. They cried with me and agreed with me when I said things like “I hate this!” and “This sucks!”. They wept when I was weeping.
~ Don’t attempt to grade pain.
Yes, there is always someone who will have things worse than me, and there will always be someone who has things better than me. So what? My pain is mine, and it hurts. Friends and nurses who reminded me that “It could be worse,” were most unwelcome. I wanted to kick them and then throw them out of my room, but I wasn’t allowed out of bed so kicking people wasn’t really an option. Spending time deciding whether or not my pain is worthy of crying over is a huge waste of energy, and is pointless. I’m in pain. It hurts. The end.
~ It’s okay to check-out mentally, for a time.
I’m normally a deep thinker. I like classic literature. I like Masterpiece Theater and cerebral documentaries. I like journaling and examining scripture. I couldn’t focus on any of these things for that entire twelve weeks, and I felt shame over it. I wanted to watch mind-numbing girly movies about shopping and silly love triangles. I wanted to read ridiculous modern fiction with predictable and shallow plot lines. But I was embarrassed to do so. When I finally gave up trying I spent an entire day, twelve whole hours, watching a Harry Potter marathon on television. It was one of my best days in the hospital. I wish I’d done it sooner.
~ By all means seek Truth, but apply it with love.
Remember Job and his friends? They said a lot of true things to Job (they also said a lot of untrue things, but that’s not the point here…), but they were incredibly insensitive in their timing and utterly incorrect in their application. The weight of truth can crush a person. It might be true that a person needs to get out of their grief. It might be true that a person is in pain because of his own poor choices, or that he needs to be more thankful. But these truths should only ever be communicated in utter and complete love. This goes for whether you’re sharing truth with someone else, or applying it to yourself. Be gentle, and be loving. The love always precedes the truth.
~ Be a good communicator, and be honest.
I had a lot of misunderstandings with doctors because I was a poor communicator. Combine my lack of communication skills with doctors’ tendencies to downgrade anything a patient says by about 40%, and it was a disaster. I would say things like, “Yeah, I’m bleeding a little bit,” and they would assume that it was next to nothing, when actually I was hemorrhaging. Or I’d say this, “I’m noticing a few contractions,” and the nurse would casually hook me up to the monitor. After ten minutes there would be a mad rush to get the terbutalene.
This also applied to communicating my needs to friends and family. I would allow visitors when it wasn’t a good time, I would get annoyed when people would say they were coming and be hours late (or not come at all), and I would give non-answers when someone asked what I needed. None of these things were helpful, and they only made my pain and frustration deeper.
~ It helps to have hobbies. Get lost in them for a while.
I like to knit. During the twelve weeks I was hospitalized I knit Christmas presents for my entire family, a scarf and a pair of socks for myself, and a baby blanket for Pearl who was incubating in my belly. My hobbies were a great distraction for me, and they kept my hands busy. There’s something about keeping the hands busy that allows the mind to work in a way that’s fluid and not painful. I always found this to be a welcome escape.
~ Don’t stay too long, and leave the kids at home.
Short visits were best. Unless the visitor was a very, very close friend, I didn’t want to spend more than 30 minutes in small talk. Children were a distraction to precious time visiting with someone not in a lab coat. Even my own children, whom I missed so much that my arms ached, I could only endure in short visits.
~ Don’t ask what you can do to help, figure out something appropriate and then do it.
When people asked what they could do to help, it was just easier to say, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess we’re okay,” than to think of something they could actually do. I didn’t have the energy to be thinking up things other people could do for me. I loved it when friends just thought of something and did it. A special wall-hanging brought to my room to hide the hideous wall-color. A cello-violin concert played in my room. Dinner and my oldest daughter delivered by a friend. A mini-fridge hauled up to the fourth floor and carried into my room. A beautiful skein of yarn, a knitting pattern and everything I needed to knit it. Helping my kiddos plant our summer garden. These were some of the wonderful gifts that friends gave to me.
Already, I’ve been given opportunities to apply these lessons in my own life–friends who are hurting, family members who have hurt me. But if I can integrate these lessons into the very core of my being, know them so well that they are a part of me, allow them to change me even further than they have already, then, by God’s grace, I can begin to redeem all that pain and suffering.
So this is what I’m seeking in 2012–Redemption. An ability to incorporate these lessons into my day-to-day living and redeem the days to come.