God’s Will

“As much as you want to plan your life, it has a way of surprising you with unexpected things that will make you happier than you originally planned. That’s what you call God’s Will.” – Unknown

My friend Michele and I talked daily. Since I had crossed state lines, we found a discount phone company that offered us a really low rate. It was a pain to call a number, enter a code and then another number but it saved us a ton of money on a monthly basis. We talked about our families, our challenging relationships, our soap operas. We would get together every week or so with the kids so that they could play and we could chat. It was an easy relationship to have and I depended on her friendship. We could talk about anything.

One morning in early October we were chatting away and Michele shared that she thought she might be pregnant as she was a couple weeks late getting her period. This would be baby number four. We gabbed about babies for a few minutes when the wheels in my mind started churning… remembering prior talks… wait a minute. “Michele… I think the last time we spoke about this it was because we seemed to be on the same cycle… I remember laughing about it – that even through phone lines, our pheromones were in tune. “Michele” I cried, “If you are late – then so am I!!”

Just a handful of weeks ago Hubby and I had talked about having another baby. Frank was 12, Sara 3, and Erin 2. He really wanted to try and have a boy he could name after himself but I was pretty sure I was finished having children. It had been a hard couple of years with two only 16 months apart, an older child who was involved in activities, I was working part time out and part time at home for Hubby, and I had a household to manage. I attempted to keep up an appearance that I was maintaining it all and in control. In truth, many days it was simply too much. I never said no to anyone. I gave and gave and gave most days until I felt flat. I continued to believe that if I was unable to give to people what they needed / wanted from me, that I would be – could be dismissed. That belief ran just under my subconscious for more than a decade, only a few times bearing itself for all to be seen.

Generally, this stress manifested as if I was someone who had to be in control of all things. I eventually came to realize that I didn’t want to control anything, frankly I had more responsibility than I really wanted. It was the load of that however that made it necessary for me to manage MY life in a way that allowed me to feel emotionally and physically safe. It was always about generating a sense of safety for my own mind. After abandonment by both my mother and of course the death of Rocky…. I felt unsafe under a lot of layers. Obtaining control of my environment assisted my psyche with the idea that pain would not exist there. If a person was IN my space, then they were sucked into the ‘controlled circumstances’. Of course, I wasn’t able to touch those realizations back then and eloquently describe what was happening so instead, I was simply known as a ‘control freak’ and people internalized my intent. *sigh*

I recall one of the most intense arguments that Hubby and I had was over a simple question regarding a diaper bag. It was when Erin was about 14 – 25 months old and we were trying to get out of the house to go somewhere – his mom’s house maybe? He asked if there was anything he could do to help.

Great question – I appreciate that you offered, I think. I replied “Yes, you can pack the diaper bag”.

Considering we had carried a diaper bag with us now for almost three solid years, I believed it was a task of little effort. His reply:

“What do you want in it?”

In that moment, something snapped. Everything that was ‘too much’ came up – overflowing my being, through my eyes in the form of daggers, through my hands as I threw something, and through my mouth as I shouted unending obscenities at the highest decibel I had available.

“How is it possible that you don’t know the answer to that question?”

“WTF do you think goes in a diaper bag?”

And the insults continued to travel through the air from my overstimulated voice box throughout the house and probably through the walls into the universe.

Needless to say, my rage was not received well. This man who was my husband was only trying to help by making sure everything “I wanted” was in the bag. His intention was to be supportive and helpful but that’s not what I heard. I heard ‘do a little more work and tell me what to do. Keep this on your plate and describe to me step-by-step how to make your life better.’ Sadly, in that moment, if I was going to keep it on ‘my plate’ then explaining only made it worse. I could do it much faster and with less effort if I just did it myself. It was not one of my best moments. Nor did it turn out to be one of his…

The fight was ugly. He left, I stayed home. I honestly can’t remember how many, if any, or all of the children went with him. What I do know is that in this one argument, the energy of far too many elements had come flying from my inner self as if it had vomited relentlessly the essence of all the surly, fearful, and distressed thoughts I’d been accumulating for several years. It took a few days but we agreed to forgive one another and to keep moving forward. We should have taken stock of that moment right then but instead, we plowed along doing our day to day stuff that kept our ugly files tucked neatly in the very back of our mental cabinets.

So, here I was, talking with Michele and remembering the discussion I had with Hubby about more babies. I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair of me to make the decision based solely on how I felt, that as his partner, his wishes should also be a major consideration. I agreed to let God decide. We would stop all forms of birth control and see what happens for a year. I was 35 by then and would be in the category of high risk if we waited too much longer. Now, discussing biological processes with my girlfriend, I am realizing that nature took its course quite quickly. Michele and I were both going to have baby number four. Our due dates were two weeks apart.

 

 

Little Hurricane

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

Our little family was running on auto-pilot. My twin sisters took turns spending the summer with us to care for baby Sara and Francis while I took my Series 7 licensing classes and exams. By then, they were turning 16 and ‘playing house’ was fun. It was great to have them around – what new mother doesn’t dream about having a built in mother’s helper? Hubby and I – always in unison while planning – were redesigning our business plan and imagining an environment that offered maximum flexibility while also maximized income potential. With me as an administrative principle, it left him available to optimally utilize his talents. It seemed like a match made in heaven – he got to be the brightest star in the constellation and I managed the sky.

I had given up trying to reconcile how I felt about our physical life. The only communication skills on that front existed in the form of lingerie, toys, and erotica. If our encounters went to a place that I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with, I simply went out of my body. I became another person very much like my time in high school when I adopted a character in a play and presented that personality to the audience. She looked like me, talked like me, and laughed like me but she didn’t think like me. In fact, she didn’t think. She didn’t have emotional feelings, just the ability to experience physical things, most of which ‘felt’ good. She rather enjoyed the carnal reactions of those nightly encounters. That is unless ‘I’ was exhausted or menstruating, in which case there was a perceived expectation to ‘make it quick’ or provide pleasure, which ever was more appropriate. In those times it was harder for ‘me’ to escape and then the emotions would flood my psyche with feelings of disrespect, insensitiveness, and/or distrust.

If ever I attempted to communicate these feelings, I experienced rebuttal in the form of disparaging comments, criticism, or complete discredit for what I expressed. It seems that I ‘was naïve’ and unaware of what ‘most people did’. It was always pointed out that my body said one thing and my words said another. I didn’t know how to argue that point and it always ended with a passionate seduction that took the form of intense physical pleasure. I resigned myself to the understanding that ‘this’ was love.

In October, my dad died. My rock, my foundation, the man who always had my back – died suddenly. He had called one morning to find me busily preparing for a conference trip to Florida. I chatted briefly but told him I’d call next week after we returned and I’d catch up. I never got the chance. We were only in Orlando for a few hours when we got the call and by the next afternoon, I was back home, repacking and flying out to Cincinnati. The second funeral I had ever attended. One – two. Two funerals in my life so far and they were the most important men in my world.

That year we spent Christmas in Virginia with my mom and step-dad. My brother was working down in Atlanta by then and came home as well. Our other sister lived in the area and of course, the twins were still at home, in high school. The whole family was there and it was good. It was baby Sara’s first Christmas and we all spoiled her with attention. I missed my family. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive and 250 miles is not a Sunday dinner distance. We drove down fairly often. We had a big ‘ole conversion van in those days with a five-inch television in the back. The only VHS movie we really had was Top Gun and Francis would watch it once on the way down and at least once on the way back. It got to the point that Hubby and I would sit in the front seat acting out the parts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis – having memorized the parts by osmosis.

On the way home after Christmas I was sitting in the front seat talking to Hubby about my emotional goodbye just hours earlier. I was still feeling rather funky and complaining about my body’s aches and pains although I was just 32 that summer. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I was late for my period and with some thought, realized I was three weeks overdue. Baby Sara was in the back seat only eight months old. Oh my goodness… holy cow… I think I’m pregnant.

…….

It was confirmed and I had an adjustment period. I was still changing several diapers a day and now there would be another little behind needing wiped, bathed, and patted. My body changed rapidly. Our wombs are like balloons, the doctor explained, after being blown up a few times, it just kind of remembers which shape to take. This new baby was due in September which meant all of my maternity clothes were going to be the wrong season. That felt like a minor inconvenience compared to the anxiety I felt about pregnancy in general since my last one was so full of marital discord. I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

It was rather unnecessary as it did not get repeated (which, flipped the switch on my wariness scale and left me feeling unsettled about the fears I had experienced then). This pregnancy, in fact, was completely different. I felt happy. Life at home took on a comfortable routine and I didn’t gain much weight; thankfully because I still had 25 pounds of baby Sara weight left over.  I only looked pregnant from the side for most of the term. I experienced a sense of contentment for the first time in a long while.

The twins again took turns staying with us that summer. They were 17 and turning into fantastic young women, looking at colleges and anticipating their future. They were each little mothers and delighted in making sure Sara was a baby fashion icon, adorned (as was insanely popular in the 1990’s) in matchy-matchy top, bottoms, socks, shoes, and headband. We have dozens of photographs from that summer documenting the current toddler styles as introduced by Gymboree and Baby Gap. I loved having them around and was eternally grateful for their help. As a two-year-old, Sara was talking up a storm, repeating her vocabulary on demand as we, very proud parents, put her on display for family. It was a personality trait that blossomed through the years as she always created some kind of dance or skit to be performed before bedtime.

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we would be losing our teen help because she had to go back to Virginia to start her Senior year of High School. On the Thursday morning before, I woke early to discover that my water had broken. I wasn’t exactly laying in a pool, but soaked enough that a shower was necessary when I noticed contractions had begun. I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the hospital where again, the doctor opted to induce my labor. I experienced a panicked memory of the last induction and the intensity of it so we agreed to take it slow. The Pitocin rate was reduced and I settled in for what turned out to be a manageable but long day of labor.

The pregnancy had been so completely different than the one I endured with Sara that we were convinced the baby would be a boy. So much so that we only had one name chosen; Phillip. By 4 pm, we had another daughter. A daughter with no name. We had thought about Erin Nicole or Alexandra Nicole but couldn’t decide. We decided to sleep on it and see what we thought after holding her for a few hours. Hurricane Emily had just decimated Cape Hatteras and many of the babies in the hospital were named Emily that year and while we didn’t name her Emily, she did somehow get nicknamed Little Hurricane. Finally, when they pressured us to choose, we dropped the Nicole and took our little Erin Alexandra home.

We were now five.

Life on the Outside

Reality, however Utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.- Aldous Huxley

Within weeks of returning home I began suspecting that I was pregnant. Remembering back, that air conditioned cabin had afforded some additional creature comforts… A test confirmed that we would be welcoming a little one sometime the following April. I was crazy happy to be pregnant again. We seemed to be congealing, the three of us, and I was excited to be moving toward the vision of ‘family’ that had been rebirthed as Hubby and I built dreams of our life together.  Any indication that something was amiss stayed tucked inside that mental filing cabinet

We were both smokers back then and talked about quitting often. We had agreed that if / when I was to get pregnant, we would quit together. One of the things that tipped me off to the pregnancy was the repulsion I experienced when I smelled cigarettes so for me, quitting was a piece of cake – nothing like vomiting as negative reinforcement! For Hubby, quitting was not as easy and he continued to smoke. It became a true and sizable bone of contention between us. When he arrived home at night, I would immediately know he had just had a cigarette, I would gripe – a lot. Eventually he stopped telling me the truth but the smell was always a dead giveaway as my nose had turned into an ultra-sensitive olfactometer. And then – my grumbling and nitpicking became more intensified. I was a pregnant woman who had been let down and lied to – no combination of those aspects were good together. I was turning into a nag about the whole smoking thing.

I continually tried to explain that the odor of cigarettes in any capacity was difficult for me to experience while I was pregnant and couldn’t be close to him if I smelled it. I stopped kissing him. Not only did I feel let down because of the broken promise but no matter how many times I had said something was a problem for me – it didn’t change. I felt unsupported and insignificant yet again. The absence of greeting him with a kiss – and in fact I would often stand five feet away – when he came home in the evening, certainly wasn’t behavior supportive of a good relationship. However, I didn’t feel as though I was simply being ‘stubborn’, I had a true physiological response. It wasn’t long before he noticed how much physical distance I always maintained and that I wasn’t kissing him. He wanted to know what ‘my’ problem was.

I didn’t exactly enjoy the bodily changes that my physique went through during pregnancy but I cherished the experience of feeling the baby move, knowing that life was growing inside of me, and the anticipation of loving our little angel. My body began to change, I started gaining weight – a lot of it – and Hubby’s libido suddenly disappeared. He swore it wasn’t personal, that it was him – that he felt weird during sex – like the baby could somehow know what was happening.

Something didn’t make sense. We went from having sex literally, daily – to nothing at all. I talked with my mom. My step-dad talked with him and ultimately we had a ‘family talk’ about our sex life. “This happens sometimes” my mom says. Umm. I am thinking, you don’t know my husband. After being with him for two years, what I felt sure of, was that this behavior was odd – definitely off from what was normal for us. And, while I realize that everyone is different – it was quite contrary to my prior experience. My pregnancy with Francis might as well have been an aphrodisiac for both Rocky and me. No matter how he tried to rationalize this shift in our lifestyle, it didn’t compute for me. I wondered how his needs, the ones that I perceived to be insatiable, were being met. I grew fearful that he was going to look for alternate avenues. I started to play detective and challenged any information that felt off… he thought I was losing my mind.

It seemed as though my belly grew in tandem with the gap in my marriage. Each morning as I showered and dressed, I would allow my mind to wander to the Playboy magazine collection that swelled by one each month – and the women in them. It would wander to the Victoria’s Secret clothing that was delivered to the house as a gift for me (pre-pregnancy) but always a size or two smaller than I actually wore. It would wander to random comments I heard from time to time about men who should divorce women who got fat. During a time when I should have felt loved and cherished, I felt rejected and rebuffed. I ate an amount of food commensurate with my sorrow and gained 60 pounds over the course of my pregnancy.

There were dramatic behavioral changes in our sex life. The smoking / distance thing that had become ‘my fault’ (at least in my mind) created emotional distance between us. Then there was my body, the weight gain and pregnancy metamorphosis. All in all, it took a deep and rugged toll on my self-image. Any gains that may have been made over the last couple of years felt as if they were being swept away. I found myself once again doing anything necessary to experience approval. I cooked better meals, I worked to save us money where possible, I attempted to initiate physical contact as much as I could. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be desired. I wanted to feel important to my husband. I didn’t feel any of those things.

I tried to immerse myself in activities that would occupy my mind, to make sure that I had a never ending supply of ‘busy’ work so that I didn’t think too much. I was a Den mother for Francis’s Cub Scout troop, I sewed a lot of clothing, I decorated and crafted as our budget allowed. I worked at organizing Hubby’s business, helping with paperwork and motivation whenever it was necessary. We continued to build visions for our business and I signed up to sit for a licensing exam that would offer us more opportunity.

I focused on the activity that kept my mind occupied. When emotions arose that didn’t fit the construct of my life vision, they were chided by my outer self. I couldn’t help but think that I had rushed into this thing – that I deserved to be in this predicament because I had been so impetuous. I was afraid of being labeled a fool if I were to acknowledge it wasn’t working. Duh…. They would say… that’s what you get for being so spontaneous and reckless or perhaps that was my own mind talking, scolding, and criticizing.

On the outside, life was great. We were good (and became experts) at projecting to the outside world, an image of ourselves and of our family that fit into social and familial expectations. My subconscious began the slow and delicate separation between the life I wanted to live and the life I was actually living.

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