Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Care Giving and Motherhood

The notion that care giving and motherhood are the same would have had me shaking my head NO WAY a couple years ago. Heck, even a few months ago I would have strongly disagreed. I had this hazy fantasy of what motherhood is. I would be always joyful with light beams coming out of my fingertips and floating around as I do daily tasks for my children and husband. My home would be perfectly organized, the weekly menu was always planned and the chaos of family life would be easy to handle, since it would help me grow in virtue. Now that I am in the position of helping care for my mother in law (Ma Crow) a few days a week while she is rehabilitating from a stroke, I see things much different. My idea of motherhood is now very different than the idealized dream that infertility gave me. 

Yes, I still see babies as the cutest creatures on the planet and when you see them, the struggle to care for them makes it all worth it. But now I see what a struggle it is to care for another human being who is not independent and needs you to feed them, clothe them, change them and make sure their needs are taken care of. My mother in law is not at the point where we need to physically feed her but we do need to cut up her food and be preparing healthy nutritious foods for her recovery as well as watch her as she eats to make sure she does not choke. We are so used to seeing babies as the most vulnerable in our society, but what about our aging parents and grandparents? Well, Ma Crow's condition has certainly challenged my ideas of love and my capacity to give of myself.

At the beginning of July is when all of this started; when Ma Crow was sent to the hospital by her Dr. for extremely high blood pressure. That weekend while she was hospitalized, we learned that her right carotid artery was about 90 percent blocked. The hospital doc sent her home with meds and a warning to go to her primary Dr. asap to get a surgery date to unblock the artery or put in a stint within the next few weeks so they could prevent a stroke. Can I just say I HATE HMO insurance! All this led up to our greatest fear and what we were trying to prevent, a stroke.

The day before the stroke, JJ and I took Ma and Pa Crow to Santa Barbara and showed them our favorite spots to eat as well as exploring the Mission. We had such a lovely day with them. 

Pa and Ma Crow at Savoy Cafe where we had a very healthy breakfast

JJ and Pa Crow on the Mission Grounds

The Drs. said there was nothing more they can do for her condition. There were no other surgeries they would attempt; they would just monitor her every 6 months. It is almost like we were all waiting for this to happen, since we knew that a stroke was a huge possibility. The next morning after Santa Barbara, around 6am, the stroke happened. Thank God my SIL was home to call 911 once she realized what was going on; because my FIL had no idea what was going on. I got the phone call around 6:45 am and then called JJ right away so we could get to the hospital. That was six weeks ago. Since then, we have been by her side as much as we can advocating for her care.

 JJ's siblings are all adults and some live as far away as Arkansas, so it has been hard on the whole family. Everyone is doing what they can in the capacity they can to help care for her. Not being a blood relative, there are times where I question if I am stepping on any one's toes for speaking directly to her doctors and nurses; but then I think, if this were happening to my mom I would want to know answers. Plus, I have gone to almost every Dr. appt. with her, so I know what they have all said and question any discrepancies.

Here is the Crow Clan circa 1987.
JJ is the one Pa Crow is holding with a white shirt and a scowl on his face, lol. 

I have always had a pretty good relationship with my MIL. She is easy going, not one to tell me how to do things, and easy to get along with. JJ is very much like her. She and I have great discussions about Catholicism and her growing up in Minnesota. I have JJ call her often to ask how to cut up a chicken or I text her corny jokes. Even though she is not one to give advice, I will ask her for it because hey, she raised 6 kids! Having a good relationship with her has made it easier to care for her. There have been times since this has happened where JJ and I have cried at different times because this is hard to deal with and we truly feel we are walking with her through this suffering.

Caring for Ma Crow has made me feel even more like a mother than when I found out I was pregnant with Cecilia. I have been stretched and poured out in the way in which I am being called to at this point in my life. I told JJ last week as we were going to bed that I felt like a wet cloth wrung dry. Yes, I am tired, but it is a good tired; a tired that I remember feeling when I was a missionary. One where you know that you are doing exactly what God asks of you and grace allows you to take it day by day. I relate to my friends who have children in the sense that sometimes you are so tired you forget to brush your teeth in the morning, you are trying to figure out when you are suppose to eat and shower, you just want to wear lounge pants all the time to get things done and sometimes you feel so overwhelmed and ask "can I really do this?" Now, I am not saying I am superwoman and in charge of her entire care yet, but the days we have been with her at the rehab facility all day are tiring; especially in the beginning when we had to do so much for her. She still needs a lot of help, but she is progressing. It takes her so much longer to do simple things because she is very weak and still has some paralysis on her left side.

It has been such a rewarding privilege to be able to be a part of Ma Crow's care and see her progress. I am learning that it is not about me or any "pats on the back" of a job well done. That does not matter. What matters is Ma Crow and her recovery. I need to check my attitude and impatience (with my FIL) at the door and be a positive light for Ma Crow. I need to be an encouraging cheerleader and nurturer for Ma Crow. Letting her know that she can do it and God has a plan for her; even in this suffering. I need to push her doctors and nurses when needed so that they don't cut corners with her care. I see so easily in these facilities how people can get left behind because there is no one to speak for them. 

 Mainly, I need to practice charity toward Ma Crow and all those I encounter. It is not easy to do this normally, but when you are sleep deprived, it makes it that much more difficult This charity is going to become much more real in the next couple of days since a recent development is that Ma Crow will be released from the rehab facility and she will be coming home with JJ and I! Our home is the best imperfect situation for Ma Crow at this time. We have a small 1 bedroom apartment right now which sounds like this whole idea is crazy and the thoughts, "Can this actually work?", keep running through my head. Our whole life is about to get turned upside down again. My work schedule, alone time, time with JJ and daily tasks are all about to change and as a melancholic that is difficult since I do not like rapid change. I will be caring for another human being full time in my home and still working with CrMS clients. We will have some help from the insurance home health care worker for a couple weeks so that is a relief! I will have to realize that I have to cut myself some slack with work and family life since I will be learning how to juggle both at this time, which will be very difficult since I have high expectations for myself. I am terrified and feel like there is a moving train that I can not stop; so I either need to hop on or let it hit me. I vote for hop on!    

This is much like motherhood in that the true nature of our femininity needs to shine through and our gifts as women must take over. This is where that "feminine genius" St. JP2 talked about in his apostolic letter, becomes such a powerful tool to heal our broken world. That innate ability to care for others and desire to keep them safe."Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out but rather perfects it and enobles it." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 5) Femininity and motherhood are made perfect in me through my very nature, even if that nature includes infertility. Motherhood includes the entire person, not just the body parts needed to become a biological mother. 

"The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 30) Again, this entrusting is not just physical; it includes the entire person. This takes a continuous preparation through out a woman's life. This is uniquely designed for women. Men are not entrusted with the human being in the same capacity a woman is. This is why women are fierce and have so much power in our society, especially women who realize this responsibility. Women who possess this awareness become "an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit." (Mulieris Dignitatem par. 30) Wow, just wow. Is this not a beautiful goal to strive for? This is is my goal. This is the type of woman and mother I want to be.

No, I am not breastfeeding a baby, changing poopy diapers, homeschooling or dealing with tantrums. I am not caring for little ones or cleaning up their mess. I am not lulling them to sleep or reading bed time stories. I am not worrying about a little ones cough or about the color of their poop. I am making bone broth, making healthy meals for Ma and Pa Crow to eat, helping her brush her teeth, telling her she did great at PT and praying with her when she feels she can not do it. I am brushing her hair, asking what outfit she wants to wear and making sure she does not choke on her food. I am sacrificing my usual amount of alone time and time with JJ because this is more important right now. I am seeing the toll this can take on my marriage and how easily the enemy can try and use this situation to drive a wedge between us.There are days when I am just trying to "get through", and the pile of laundry that needs to be put away or dishes in the sink, just have to wait. I relish my morning prayer time with a cup of tea when I get up early enough before the start of daily tasks. I ask God to help me keep going when I just want to curl up in a ball under my covers and hide from the world. 

I see the dignity of Ma Crow and want to uphold it while I care for her. But then the worry starts to creep in; that you are doing this all wrong because you see others do it so naturally. Being woken up in the middle of the night because the person you are caring for needs help. Being attached to your phone when you are away from the person you are caring for "just in case" that phone call or text is about them needing help. The worry that another stroke can happen to Ma Crow, since they can not really prevent it from happening again, and she is at high risk. I am leaning on the grace of the sacraments; heeding the words of my confessor that "a lung that breathes in also must breathe out" and trying to find a balance between what God is asking me to do vs. what I think I should do. This is motherhood. This is care giving. They are one in the same.

 My ideas of motherhood have been challenged and oddly fulfilled during this time of trial. No, I am not carrying life within my womb. I am mid-cycle right now and we did 5 different novenas the past cycle to conceive in a last ditch effort. I have actually been thankful that we don't have small children to care for at this time so that we can focus on helping Ma Crow. I feel that these past 7 years of infertility have trained me for such a time as this.  I am carrying life in my soul. That life is Jesus Christ and He is the life of the world. This is my calling as a woman: to bring Christ to the world around me in each situation I encounter. This is going to make me the care giver that Ma Crow deserves to have. This is going to transform and sanctify my soul. I know I will be very challenged in the coming weeks and months especially with regards to introversion, privacy and perfectionism. So, prayers would be greatly appreciated for us all! Finally, I think St. JPII says it better than I ever could: 

"The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 31)

What would our world be like if more women answered this call or realized this awareness? What would your world look like? How would you go about your daily tasks differently?                            

Friday, October 30, 2015

Birthdays, Anniversaries, Chaplains, Anxiety, Illness and Retreats

I can't believe it has been more than 2 months since I have written here. I have been reading here and there when I get a chance but a major reason I have not written is the crazy schedule I have had lately. There has been so much that has gone on! What has changed is me. I feel like I have made some major strides and yet the same set backs and challenges have been there. So last time I left this little hub we had just taken our pilgrimage to Spain.

Since then we had an exciting and nerve racking opportunity to present a Creighton Model Introductory Session to about 100 military chaplains. This crowd included the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Military, military chaplains from all over and a couple monsignors! I was surprised at how once I got rolling with the presentation it felt so natural and easy. Well it should I have been giving it for almost four years! We got to meet the Archbishop and all I could muster to say was "Your excellency, thank you for having us here" while doing a slight bow. Yeah weird I know. I totally turned into a 13 year old fan girl at that point! I should have asked him for a blessing! It was so cool because they had a lot of practical questions for JJ about using NFP and its effects on a marriage. Overall it was a great experience aside from my awkward half bow to the Archbishop. One priest was even interested in having us come out to his base in Hawaii to present this there! We have not heard from him but to my knowledge there is not a practitioner in Hawaii and JJ and I feel if we are needed there then who are we to deny the great state of Hawaii from this vital information?

I had my 31st birthday back in July and JJ had his 33rd birthday at the beginning of September. It is funny that we are both summer babies yet we strongly dislike the summer and hot weather. We did not do much just went out to dinner with our parents. We have been so busy lately that not doing something was much more fun for us.

Right around the time the second or third PP video was released I started to have panic attacks and anxiety. I had not experienced them this bad since we lost Cecilia. I was afraid to be alone and I did not want JJ to go to work in the morning. We knew part of it was hormonal as my progesterone was low post peak and my PMS symptoms were increasing. We knew that the PCOS symptoms were getting worse with some unexplained weight gain and fatigue. Even though I knew I could fight the PCOS stuff with diet and getting back on progesterone I knew I needed professional help from a therapist. I have been wanting to pursue therapy for awhile. Actually I told my mom I needed therapy when I was 13 but, she never pursued it for me.

I did not want to slip back into the debilitating anxiety that I had a few years ago again so I asked my friend who I go walking with who her therapist was and if she was taking new clients. It turns out she was not taking new clients but she had a referral to another Catholic therapist. The therapist being Catholic is important to me because I studied a lot of psychology in college and I know there are weirdos out there that do not respect Catholic principles. Plus I wanted to have that common ground with the therapist so that I would be comfortable sharing with them. My first meeting at the end of August was great and I have been going weekly. I love that part of my "homework" from my therapist is to spend some time in Adoration with Jesus. There are so many layers for me to get through in therapy and not all are infertility related. I am glad I made the humbling leap to say I needed help because I am doing so much better today than I was doing a month ago. The anxiety is manageable and I have gotten great support from JJ and some good friends.

One of the things that was causing anxiety was the fact that we had the anniversary of Cecilia's due date in September. She would have been three years old. My heart hurt that day and it still does. I was growing anxious since we have not achieved a pregnancy again. The thought of "I am running out of time to be a mother" kept crossing my mind. The thoughts that I am "letting so many people down" by not being able to have children and "I am pathetic" also crossed my mind. Don't worry I know these thoughts are not true but when you are already dealing with anxiety it is hard to battle these thoughts. Again, therapy has been so good to bring these notions to light so I can battle them one by one. I will probably write about this at some point but I don't think I am quite ready yet.

Somewhere mixed in there at the end of August we took a road trip to Phoenix, AZ for a World Wide Marriage Encounter retreat. The beautiful Leila put an advertisement out on the book of faces. I checked our calendar and by God's amazing plan we had nothing scheduled that weekend! Which in itself was a small miracle since we had and have been booked every weekend since. JJ and I knew we needed this since we wanted to do something to build up our marriage. It was so neat to actually meet Leila in person and to get to talk to her a bit. Her and her husband are a gorgeous couple! Although the rules were pretty strict not to socialize too much with other couples since they wanted the spouses to focus on each other. I had to stop myself from going up to her and talking about Catholicism. The weekend was much needed for us and we did not realize how much we needed it until we were halfway through the retreat. It was hard to come back but we have gained some valuable tools from that weekend.

After that weekend we were tested with illness. Well I had a busted blood vessel in my eye the weekend of the retreat that was healing slowly. Oh and plus aunt flow cramps! Stupid AF showed up the day the retreat started. I guess we could not get away from infertility, not even for a weekend! Then the week after the retreat JJ had vertigo and I got food poisoning. So neither of us kept much food down for a couple days. Oh yeah, fun times in the Crow household!

The biggest illness has been my mother in law, Ma Crow's blocked carotid artery on the right side. Since early July I have been going back and forth to the Drs. with her to figure this out. They tried to do surgery and could not because they found the blockage to be too great. So basically the top vascular surgeons around said there was nothing they can do for her but keep her on medication and monitor her every 6 months. Well two weeks ago she ended up having a stroke. It has been a very difficult and trying time for us all. Our schedules and priorities are changing. JJ is going through a lot since it is his mom and I am trying to help in any way I can. I am blessed to have a mother in law that I love very much and am close to. She is always supportive and willing to listen to me, even about infertility, so I am having a hard time watching her suffer. I am so proud of the way in which Ma Crow is taking this suffering though, more on that to come in another post. Please keep her in your prayers please! She is an amazing lady who loves God and those around her. Her favorite prayer is the Anima Christi prayer so you can pray that for her.                        

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Buen Camino, Peregrino!

I recently had a friend who made the pilgrimage of  "The Way of St. James" or "Camino de Santiago". She was putting pictures and videos up on the book of faces, and as I watched her walk the camino I imagined myself there. I imagined the toil, strength and will it would take to journey that far. I have always wanted to go to Spain but could not afford the opportunity. I can't imagine I will anytime soon either. Then when I saw this post by Cecily about an at home pilgrimage to France, I thought JJ and I must do the same! So this past Sunday we became peregrinos to Spain from home. Here is what our day looked like...

We actually started preparing for our journey by watching the movie, "The Way", on Friday and Saturday evening. In the morning on Sunday we took a walk, because all pilgrims need to walk if they can. So we headed to our local Carmelite cloistered monastery.

This is a bridge we crossed on our way there. I chose to do black and white photos to make them a little more artistic. Doesn't JJ look so deep in thought?

The connection to Spain is that these are Discalced Carmelite nuns; the order of St. Teresa of Avila. You can actually go to Mass with the nuns every morning M-Sat. except Sundays, since it is their community only Mass. We are very blessed to have these Sisters so close to us and they are so faithful in praying for your intentions if you ask them.

Every pilgrim needs to stop and smell the roses. They also must contemplate what brought them on their pilgrimage and how they can become closer to God through the experience. Their roses smell lovely by the way. 

This is my favorite picture of the day! So serene and hidden you can be at a cloistered monastery. I love the shadows of the trees and the sunlight on their porch. JJ found this spot after me protesting that on Sunday the monastery does not like visitors so we should not go on the porch. He insisted that, as pilgrims, we must explore. I am glad he convinced me! 

While at the monastery we sat on the steps outside the main chapel and read the life of Sts. Isidore the farmer and his wife Maria de la Cabeza. JJ lead us in praying St. Isidore's litany and we took some time for reflection. Did you know Sts. Isidore and Maria only had one child who died in childhood. We feel so much more connected to these Saints now.   

After the monastery we headed home and got ready for Mass. Luckily we already go to a Discalced Carmelite parish so we did not have to seek out anything far from us. We went to the 1pm Mass which is the Latin High Mass and I wore my Spanish mantilla of course! 

When we returned home we had a snack of cheese, olives, figs and chocolate. We could not have a pilgrimage to Spain with out chocolate. After our snack we took a siesta.   

Then I got to work on dinner which was paella and white wine/peach sangria. Yum! These pictures are better in color so you can see the beautiful colors of the food.  

We ate this delicious dinner as we watched Episode One on the life of St. Teresa of Avila with Concha Velasco who is a famous Spanish actress. The whole thing is almost 8 hours long so we will be watching it over the next week or so. We call it our telenovela.   

All in all, I think it was a fun day and we had some time for prayer, reflection and rest. We definitely want to do this again and we have other countries already picked out. Our goal is to do this once a month so give me any suggestions for Saints or Countries. So far we want to do France, Italy, Ireland, Mexico and Israel. It was so good to go out of our normal routine and purposefully give the day a more spiritual reflection. I encourage each of you to try this as I am sure you will not regret it! Buen Camino, Peregrino!