Love & Marriage


A post about things I believed

The full blog post will be published on my newsletter in the coming days to make sure I capture new sign-ups.

In the full post of “A Time for Grief” (available to my newsletter subscribers. Subscribe here.) I wrote:

I grieve everything I gave up because I believed in the Catholic model of marriage, including my authenticity and my sense of self.

A friend asked me: “Do you think the Catholic marriage truly doesn’t let you be your authentic self? Or could it be Paul’s vision of what a Catholic marriage “should be”?

She is not the first person asking me a variation of this theme.

Answering the second question first, I think that there were elements and teachings about Catholic marriage that supported Paul’s personal beliefs about relationships and dovetailed nicely with his own personal hopes and expectations of what marriage should be. Paul was raised in a traditional Catholic family and came to our marriage with a stronger cultural identification to what the Church believed. My struggle with finding authenticity in Catholic marriage came from not being raised in a community and culture where complementarism was the norm.

That said, there were also aspects of Catholic marriage that gave comfort to my fears and insecurities, fuelled by spiritual guidance that ratcheted up my codependent tendencies. As a young mother, I soothed deep anxieties by conforming to an ideal that promised peace and fulfillment. In other words, I came by my beliefs about Catholic marriage honestly and I cannot blame my husband or his family for any of them. 

I also believe that Catholic marriage truly doesn’t let me be my authentic self, and it’s not for lack of trying.

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A time for grief


Where I write just enough to encourage you to follow my email newsletter.

People often ask me how I am doing since the separation and the answer is “still grieving.” I have not lost a beloved to physical death but I lost my family in the shape I have known and built it all my adult life. I heard Tara Brach read from John O’Donohu’s poem “For Grief” in a 2010 meditation about healing trauma. I was struck by this passage:

“And when the work of grief is done the wound of loss will heal , and you will have learned to wean your eyes from that gap in the air and be able to enter the hearth in your soul where your loved one has awaited your return all the time.”

My eyes are still fixed on the gap in the air where my intact family used to be and I am not yet able to enter the hearth in my soul where the new expression of my family is awaiting my return. 

Since I last wrote on this blog, my life has been upended by grief: mine and the children’s. I struggle to write about this jagged and unpredictable journey. We all know that separated parents should not disparage each other in front of their children. We look at statistics and studies on conflict and divorce and we tsk tsk at parents who are not able to put their children’s well-being ahead of their own. Can’t they just wait until the kids are out of earshot before letting it all hang out? Here is one of the first lessons I learned after I separated : Everyone, even those who communicate only by email and exchange kids in neutral parking lots, even those who are taking their spouse to court over custody matters, even those who just called their spouse an effing a-hole in front of the kids, knows that. That’s the easy part. What is not so easy is hiding the abject, gut-wrenching pain of the separation and its trauma.

I realized through this journey that witnessing my pain made people angry at Paul and his girlfriend. I can tell a story with words about my separation that gives a fair shake to both of us. But no one who has come close to me and my grief in the last year has indeed believed that shake to be fair. It is not in the words that I say or write but in the pain that oozes and radiates from every pore in my body. People reflexively understand the relationship of grief to love. That we have just as little power over the pain of losing love as we do over the delight of finding it. But more importantly, that we grieve in the measure that we loved. It matters very little what story we tell in words about the end of a marriage. Our pain and our struggle often tell a different story.  I am always questioning if sharing my pain is tantamount to shit-talking my ex-spouse. Maybe it is. And maybe you will stop reading here. If you don’t, I will assume that you made a choice to step into my world and share my journey.

This invitation to walk with me comes with a request. As my children grow older and my life story becomes more delicate, I am no longer comfortable throwing my personal reflections into the great expanse of the Internet through a public blog. The struggle to share intimate and authentic reflections in the open has curtailed my writing in the last few years. It’s one thing to write about potty training and sleepless nights and it’s a different one to write about marital breakdown, school problems, mental wellbeing, divorce, and recovery. As my children get bigger so do the family issues I grapple with.

I am still an open book. This is the only way I know how to write. But at this point in my life — and the life of the Internet to be honest — I want to inject an element of intentionality in my readership. I want to know that my writing goes to the people who really want to read it. Last weekend, I created an email newsletter as a new home for my blog posts. I will still publish snippets on this page but then invite you to keep reading in the newsletter. Registration is free (for now) until I capture my friends, family and long time readers. Then I will change it into a paid newsletter for a nominal amount meant to foster meaningful engagement. This is important to me and I know that my writing is worth $5.

If you want to subscribe to my newsletter and read the second half of this blog post on the grief of separation, please subscribe here and watch your Inboxes. Here is the link to subscribe: https://vroniquebergeron.substack.com/p/coming-soon

Now Now Now May 2021


The “Now” page is like an “about” page but instead of telling you something about my background, it tells you what I’m focused on at this point in my life. Since I wrote about my separation in the post Wayfinding a lot of people have reached out to pray for me, lift me up, and offer their love and support. It made me so incredibly grateful for this community born of bits and bobs and seemingly random pieces of my mind. 

Some of you have asked how you could support me and I don’t really know what to answer. I’m in that weird burned out place where everything is crap and nothing helps. So I thought I would write this “Now” page as a reflection on the past year and to take stock of this point in time.

This post is about me. I will write another one about the children and schools. The situation of school closures in Ontario is so dismal that it deserve its own post.

This is also a post about mental health. I feel strongly about describing my current state of burn out because (a) I want people to know that they are not alone; and (b) I can do so with impunity, meaning that it will not cost me my job or my meaningful relationships. In other words, I want to write about this because I can.

This story starts in April 2020

Paul and I decided to separate in April 2020. It was a mutual decision inasmuch as we both had reasons to want a separation. Our journeys were very different and getting there was two-person job. We both made a commitment to stay friends and protect our children from conflict and upheaval. 

When the pandemic first closed down schools and workplaces, 8 of our 9 children plus a partner lived at home. It took us until June to have the broad lines of our separation agreement hammered out and to be able to talk to the children about it. We were renting a large 4+1 bedroom house in Stittsville and agreed on a nesting model whereby the children stayed in the family home while Paul and I took turns parenting on a week on/week off basis. 

At first, we both stayed in the family home and I moved to a separate room in the home office. I had concerns about the week on/week off schedule which I found too extreme on either side: a week is too long not to see the children and too long to be parenting 6-9 children solo, especially in a school-lockdown-work-from-home situation, without the possibility of asking for in-house help from family and friends. Since we all stayed in the same house, there was a high level of integration of household chores and I could see the children every day. I agreed to give the weekly schedule a try. As much as I was in support of the separation and had no hope of reconciling, I couldn’t (still can’t) wrap my head around not seeing my children every day. The “drawing and quartering” of parenting time is a reality of divorce that I can’t accept as beneficial to my children, despite knowing how marital tension has affected their emotional development.

Soon after we separated, the chronic back pain I had been dealing with for over 3 years and for which I had consulted countless healthcare practitioners disappeared. My migraines went down from 6-10 a month to 1 or 2. My relationship with my children transformed. I was able to stop walking on eggshells and start showing up as myself. I read Untamed , started working through The Artist’s Way and journaled my way through the Summer of 2020. With the temporary relaxation of pandemic restrictions, I was able to spend time with my parents on weekends and exercise regularly. Our family adopted a new puppy in May and her early training forced me on a daily morning walk. I went on bike rides to a nearby meadow and napped underneath a willow tree almost every day before making supper. I took the kids on bicycle adventures on the Poole Creek pathway system and we came back muddy and exhausted. The forced focus on my children seemed to dovetail nicely with the transition into separated life and I looked to the future with cautious optimism.

Juno

Once the children went back to school in September I settled into a manageable work/life routine until I had to find a new job. A stroke of good luck landed me in a similar position for a different City Councillor. I found my place amongst a dynamic team who has shown amazing flexibility and generosity through school lockdowns and my haphazard work output. For those who follow me on social media and know how well I got along with my former boss Glen, yes we are still best friends. But working in politics for your best friend can get awkward, for instance when you are seen together in the community walking your dogs or having coffee outside work hours. We decided to part ways professionally while we could make the decision ourselves rather than have it made for us. 

Living in the same house as your ex-spouse is not emotionally easy and by November our living arrangement was showing some strain. Spouses rarely get to the point of separating at the same time. I once read that the spouse who first brings up separation has usually been wrestling with the idea for 2 to 5 years. With the gift of hindsight, that feels accurate. From that perspective, the spouse who has been mulling over separation for some time moves forward with the momentum of someone tackling a long held ambition. That lurch towards the new self might be worth celebrating but when you are watching and wondering what just happened, it hardly puts a spring in your step. And from the perspective of the spouse moving on, doing it in the gloomy shadow of your ex-spouse is no carnival either.

We agreed that Paul would stay in the family home and continue supporting the family financially while I would look for a place of my own. I would still come to the family home on my weeks but it would allow Paul and I more time apart. In November I moved into a small house about 1 km away from the family home. I kept coming back to make the kids’ lunches every morning, often made the family suppers and stayed for bedtime routines. Getting the kids out the door and feeding a family of 11 remained a two-parent job. The routine of getting up every morning at 5am and walking over to the family home was relentless but it made for a smoother transition for the children and I. I had concerns that moving out of the family home first would give the children the impression that they lived with dad and that mom had left. Today, I see that the children are beholden to the idea that they live with dad and visit mom despite a change in circumstances that you will read about later.

The nesting agreement ran its course as the differences in values and expectations between Paul and I became increasingly difficult to navigate. Nesting requires a high level of consideration from each parent for the other and the willingness to walk a mile in the other’s shoes, which is antithetical to the idea of separation — or so I’m told. These differences in values and expectations, the growing gap between what I thought nesting would be and the reality, kept me in a constant state of emotional turmoil. Paul would probably tell you that my needs and expectations were not reasonable for a separated couple. And both of us might be right. Reflecting on this transition, I can I say that I had poor boundaries because I was still expecting Paul to care for me like he had done for so many years. And Paul was done caring. I kept putting myself in situations where I would relive the rejection of the separation over and over again, and I didn’t understand that it was my responsibility to get out of harm’s way.

I once heard that « boundaries are the distance between you and me in which I can love you and me simultaneously. » Boundaries are what you need to feel ok. What you need to do for yourself so that others — your children, your spouse — are not saddled with the burden of making you happy. The Christian ideal of selflessness might be good theology but it’s really bad psychology, and even worse parenting. It made me despondent and resentful. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t expect my family to care more about my well-being than I did myself. You don’t teach empathy by being selfless, you teach empathy by having a self and forcing your loved ones to navigate around it. You teach them to care about others by being an other. 

I strongly believe in the nesting model as an arrangement that shifts the burden of instability from the children to the parents. This commitment to nesting led me to accept things I was not ok with. Instead of standing firm on my boundaries and principles, I tried to reason myself out of them. It didn’t work and I started sinking. As my mental health deteriorated, I tried setting loose boundaries, hoping that Paul would interpret them in a way that made me feel ok. By the time I understood that my boundaries and values were mine to define and enforce, I was already too far gone into despair to come back on my own. A dear friend told me “Don’t beat yourself up for taking so long to learn that lesson, celebrate the fact that you finally learned it!” I’m not there yet but I’m on my way. Writing about it helps.

I couldn’t continue with the nesting agreement as it was but the deadline was forced upon us by the death of our landlord in the Fall and the subsequent sale of the house. Our lease was expiring on April 30th and we decided that Paul would find his own place rather than another family home. Paul did not find a place in time and on May 1st the 6 younger children (19 and under) moved in with me. I have a housemate who moved-in last March to help with the rent, before this upheaval came about. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement when I was only here part time. Now that I’m here full time with half a dozen of my finest creations, I’m not sure to what extent the benefits are mutual but having a dear friend to rely on in this crazy time has been an incredible gift. Having someone to share the rent allows me to stay in Stittsville, close to the children’s schools, where I could not otherwise afford to live.

Paul will move into his own place on June 1st and we will share parenting time 50/50 on a 3-2-2 day pattern. The younger children will traipse back-and-forth between the two houses but David and Marie decided to stay with Paul full time and visit me. Paul still hopes to move back to the country as soon as possible. I expect that my house, with its closeness to schools, work, transit, and friends will gain in popularity at that time. The idea of any of my children “visiting” is stuck sideways in my gizzard but I decided to take a cautious approach and see it through instead of fighting it.

This unexpected move into my tiny little house is giving me a chance to establish some new family routines in a place where I feel safe, secure, and loved. I’m hoping that with the gift of time I can finally start settling into this new life I call my own, but still feels very much like someone else’s.

My mental health is what it is. No one is doing well, we are all burned out and struggling. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed in the morning: the dread about the day ahead looms so large. I once sat in my van with my keys in hand ready to drive away without the children. I didn’t. I’ve cried so much I’ve had to lie on the bathroom tile to cool my face down so I could breathe again (thank you Eat, Pray, Love for the tip). I end almost every single day in tears. This has opened the channels of communication with my younger children about crying, coping and caretaking. I have had the chance to explain how crying is a good way to release negative emotions and that they shouldn’t feel the need to fix it or make it stop. They have shown incredible open-mindedness about my ups and downs and they know that it is not their jobs to make me feel better. Still, I can see that they are concerned and sometimes worried about me. Yesterday I laughed during a light-hearted exchange with my housemate about laundry and David immediately came out of his room to see if I was crying. But sometimes they just see me struggle and ask: “Are you still crying because of the Ford government?” I say “Yes,” they shrug and walk away.

Some days I am productive and efficient but those days are fewer and farther between. Making a meal schedule for the family makes me weep from mental exhaustion. I keep wondering what it will take for the government to understand how badly parents are breaking right now. How much worse does this have to get before someone realizes that COVID is killing people who haven’t even caught the virus?

I feel like I’m carrying a boulder on my shoulders and wondering why I can’t run anymore. The weight of the past year has completely flattened me and I don’t know if I will ever be able to get up again. I’m seeing a therapist weekly, I have friends to talk to and I’ve made my house into a cozy spot that feels like me. I work for a great person amongst a great team. There is reason to hope for better days and my housemate is an optimist who reminds me of who I am. By all accounts, I’m in the best of spots to be going through this garbage. But I was surprised to realize that the best therapy, the best meds, and the best friends and family do not make the intense emotional pain of the separation go away. They just give it a container so that it doesn’t spill like a stricken oil tanker, killing all the beautiful living things around it. The pain is still yours to sit with.

This is where I am sitting now.

Wayfinding


In which I bury the lead so far, it’s like I hope you’ll miss it. 

A few years ago my son Colin gave me a framed picture with two pine trees. It was a color picture appearing as in black and white, taken from our dining room window in Middleville. Heavy water-logged snowflakes had left wet marks on the window, diffusing light and making the skies look decorated.

When the twins were born in 2011, we lived in Navan, a rural community of estate lots and small farms in the east end of Ottawa. The CN rail line ran about 7km south of our house. On most days, we could hear the whistle blow as the Via passenger trains ran alongside Russell road and crossed Sabourin at the bottom of Milton. The whistle blow was too dim to hear as my household geared up to its usual chaos. But in the silence of the early morning, I could hear the faint sound of the trains passing by. 

The twins’ birth marked a year of upheaval in our family. Nothing reveals fault lines like an earthquake. Having two newborns in an already large family shook us to the core. They slept and woke up like normal babies. Caught colds and fevers. Ate when they were hungry. Cried when they were needy. They were by all estimation normal babies but they were two. At the same time. My toddler didn’t sleep through the night and could not be left unsupervised, my children went to school, sports, and music lessons. My teenagers had part time jobs to be driven to. The twins claimed my nights and my other children claimed my days and there was not a single minute available for me to sleep or even rest. For the first year of the twins’ life, I did not sleep more than 45 consecutive minutes. For 11 months, I saw every single hour on my alarm clock, every single night, until I ditched the clock. 

On most nights, the twins would take turns needing to be fed, burped, and rocked. After spending the entire night up with one baby then the other, they would finally settle at the same time around 5:45am and sleep for 2 or 3 hours. I still had to get up by 6:15am to get the other children ready for school. The only 2 or 3 hours I could have slept were spent making lunches and helping children get dressed and ready for school. My days never started and never ended. 

In the early morning, when the twins were asleep and the house was still quiet, I would hear the train whistle in the distance. It became an anchor in my never-ending days: the train meant that the sun had set in the evening, risen in the morning, that my world may have been turned upside down but that outside, life was still unfolding, oblivious to my turmoil. It gave me comfort to know that the world kept turning, that the trains kept running, that people went to bed, got up and went to work in the morning. It gave me hope that a normal life was right there waiting for me.

When we moved to Middleville — a small rural community in the middle of the Lanark Highlands where we built a house in 2014-2015 — I lost the train whistle. I noticed it right away in the morning silence. In the middle of nowhere, I had no anchor, no mooring to pull me back to shore. My husband had moved us there for the exact reason I would lose myself: the world around us could burn down and we would not even notice. 

I once read that tall and unusual trees act as visual beacons for migratory birds as they navigate the skies in search of food and home. Every morning when I got up in silence, I would glance out my bedroom window and see two pine trees, tall, healthy evergreens towering over an overgrown plantation of the same. I always thought of these two trees as wayfinding for birds. They became my new anchor as I once again sunk into despair and loneliness following a complicated miscarriage in 2016. When I woke up in the morning, I would glance at the trees and their presence would reassure me: the sun had set, the sun had risen again, the earth was still turning, the world wasn’t burning, and happiness was still possible even if currently unavailable.

A year ago, as the pandemic covered every home with its thick blanket of fear and anxiety, when we still believed that it would be over in a month, my marriage of 24 years ended. Paul and I separated and started the painful process of entangling our respective lives. For 10 months, I was too focused on my children to acknowledge the magnitude of the earthquake that had just taken place. In the fog of lockdowns, school closures, separation agreements, and the absurd process of setting boundaries around a person I couldn’t imagine living without a few months before, I missed seeing the sheer destruction around me. Without anchors I missed the sun not setting and rising again, the world burning outside my door. The trains not running, people not working, life not unfolding, ready to welcome me back. The walls had collapsed and I sat in the rubble until the rubble felt like home. Two months ago, when Paul started a new relationship, the floor suddenly caved in and I fell down the deepest well of grief I didn’t know existed. Every time I think the bottom might be near and I might be able to push myself back to the surface, I fall even deeper. When I look around me, there are no tall trees showing me the way home, no train whistle waiting for me. Nothing looks like family, nothing looks like home. 

I don’t know where home is anymore. 

Staffer’s Notebook: Trees and road safety


I am currently in France visiting family for a little over two weeks. Since my job is also my hobby I took the opportunity of travelling without young children to turn this holiday into an urban planning field trip. Europe is far ahead of North America when it comes to managing population density, resource conservation and the perils of pollution. It’s not a criticism as much as an observation: they addressed those concerns as they emerged, they just emerged earlier than they did in North America..

Yesterday, we travelled from Rouen (in Normandy) to the Ardèche region, a forested mountainous area near the Rhône and within a crow’s flight of the French Alpes’ foothills. It’s in the south-eastern quadrant of the Hexagon.

Instagram: @hey.vero_

We travelled most of the way on France’s privatized toll highway system and finished the trip with a short stint on the “Nationale 7” , the historic tree-lined trunk road stretching from Paris to the Italian border. Used by thousands on their way to the Mediterranean, it is known in popular culture as “Route des vacances” (Holiday route) and — more tragically — “Route de la mort” (Death Route). It is comparable in history and popular culture to America’s Route 66. If Route 66 had been built by the Romans.

We drove down the old Nationale 7 along the Rhône River towards the mountains of Ardèche.

Later that evening, we were discussing road safety and how a series of French policies in the 80’s and 90’s had seen a steady decrease in road casualties from 18,000 a year down to 4,000 with an increasing population. My uncle said in passing that it was hard to parse out which policy had had what impact “between alcohol, speed, seatbelts and trees…”

Trees?

My mother said “Oh, these trees killed a lot of people!”

As it turns out, the iconic borders of trees have a storied past. Seen by some as a road safety hazard, they are also part of France’s cultural heritage to be saved and protected:

Avec la vitesse, la conduite en état d’ivresse, les incivilités, les arbres d’alignement en bord de routes sont aujourd’hui considérés comme un danger à éliminer. Et pourtant… Depuis des siècles, nos paysages sont structurés par les alignements qui bordent routes, fossés, canaux et rivières. Les arbres de bord de route, et en particulier les alignements, constituent un patrimoine reconnu, protégé par la loi dans certains pays.

http://www.patrimoine-environnement.fr/les-alignements-darbres-en-danger-partout-en-france/

Believed to be an answer to medieval deforestation and a solution to shipbuilding needs , the trees, called “arbres d’alignement” for the way they delineate the roadway, were mandated by Henri III in 1552.

Roadway tree planting intensified at the beginning of the 19th Century as a mean of reducing the dust caused by vehicular traffic. By 1895, 3 million trees lined 35,000 km of national roads and even more could be found alongside secondary roads and channels.

In the 1940’s the border trees — until then considered a source of shade and cultural identity — became the scapegoat for the death toll brought on by the rise of the automobile. Calls for their systematic removal met cries for their preservation. Accused of causing 10% of roadway deaths, border trees were not even given the grace of mentioning the state or behavior of the drivers before being killed.

Caught in the crosshair of a campaign to reduce road fatalities, border trees received the support of President George Pompidou in 1970 when he wrote an exasperated letter to his Minister of the Interior upon learning of a policy to remove border trees in spite of his express wishes that they be preserved (my translation):

Trees have no other defenders than myself it seems, and even this doesn’t seem to matter. France does not only exist to allow the French to drive around it at will. Regardless of their importance, road safety problems shouldn’t result in the disfiguration of France’s landscape.

Decreasing traffic accidents will only result from educating drivers and establishing simple rules adapted to the configuration of the road instead of the current complexity sought in signalisation as if it was a hobby. It will also result from more stringent rules in matters of drunk driving (…)

In other words, blaming the trees is a little rich when you were soaked as a Christmas cake behind the wheel. (My uncle told me that blood alcohol levels used to be an extenuating circumstance in vehicular manslaughter trials. We laughed but it wasn’t funny).

Ordinances calling for the systematic removal of roadside trees multiplied in the 80’s and 90’s until 2006 when studies of road safety revealed that border trees — or as one urban designer once told me “anything vertical close to the curb” — had a traffic calming effect. Studies of road safety statistics in communes where trees has been completely removed also emerged showing the questionable impact of designing roads to be wide, straight, and devoid of obstacles (spoiler: it makes people drive faster, has an hypnotic effect and contributes to an increase in accidents.)

In 2010, a village near Norfolk, England experimented with the traffic calming effect of the ironically called “French style avenue”. Borders of trees were shown to reduce the average speed upon entering the village by 3-5km/h for a fraction of the cost of buying and maintaining traffic cameras.

England is generally considered to be 30 years ahead of France in matters of traffic safety and yet, despite these positive results, the remaining French border trees have been singled out as part of a wide-ranging safety audit of French departmental roads.

If you are as interested in the confluence of road safety, traffic calming, environmental preservation, urban design and urban heritage as I am, go and read this 66-page document (with pictures) on road infrastructure and natural landscape from the European Landscape Convention : http://patrimoine-environnement.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/CEP-CDPATEP-2009-15-TreeAvenues_fr.pdf

In the meantime, here is Charles Trenet singing the praises of Nationale 7:

Opening a door, closing a window


My new website Fearless Family Life just launched and this is the long awaited official close of this blog. Despite its recent neglect, it’s with a heavy heart that I’m announcing that I won’t be posting here anymore. This website was my training wheels. I made friends and connections through this page and I will always be thankful for my readers’ patience and commitment.

Please follow me at my new website www.fearlessfamilylife.com and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to never miss a post. I have a lot of good stuff coming up, between my foray into podcasting, my fiction writing and the blog posts I will keep churning. I have a Youtube channel, a Patreon page, a family who loves and supports me and hopefully, my Vie de Cirque amazing readers will follow me in my new Fearless Adventures!

I will continue to publish occasional update posts in French on Vie de Cirque. My French family was among my very first readers and I know that some still come here for updates. All my English writing will move to Fearless Family Life.

To my Vie de Cirque readers, those who encouraged me to start, those who have stuck with me those 5 years, and those who have joined along the way and kept the momentum, thank you. If I ever make it in this sphere, it will be because of you.

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A miscarriage debrief Part II


 

I wrote the first part of this debrief about 6 weeks after my miscarriage last September. Now that my due date has come and gone, I find myself dealing with a new range of emotions as I move past the shock of the miscarriage itself and into the realization of the broader ramifications of recovering from a significant health crisis.

 

I started showing signs of peri-menopause after the twins were born when I was 37. Low progesterone, erratic cycles, just the usual. When my husband and I decided to have another child in 2015, we knew that I was walking into a growing chance of miscarriage. I had never miscarried before but I knew enough women who had been through this ordeal not to expect to be spared forever. Through the years, pregnancy after pregnancy, I had always been acutely aware of my luck and of the increasing likelihood that it would eventually run out.

 

We conceived in May of 2015. I took a pregnancy test as soon as my periods were late and it came back negative. As my periods got later and later and pregnancy tests kept showing a negative result, I knew that this pregnancy was probably precarious. I took a third test, this one positive and my periods started the next day. It was a non-event. We celebrated the tiny flicker of life that had dwelled in me privately, without informing our children or our families. We were thankful that we had “tried” for this one. That we had known from day 1 that it was a possibility. The next cycle, I got pregnant again. This time, a strong positive test informed us of the existence of our baby number 10. We told our families right away and started informing friends and acquaintances as we saw them in person. It was an ideal pregnancy. For once I didn’t have any nausea. I started wearing maternity clothes in August and I met with my new midwife in early September. When I met my midwife, she offered to listen to the baby’s heartbeat adding: “I don’t like searching for a heartbeat at 10 weeks because we often don’t hear it and it really makes parents nervous.” I assured her that I knew what was in the realm of possibilities and we searched, in vain, for a heartbeat. I kept a brave face because I knew that 10 weeks was too early but in previous pregnancies I had always been able to hear a heartbeat at my first appointment. In other words, “normal” wasn’t normal for me.

 

The next day, I started seeing some spotting. “Bleeding is not normal but it’s common” my midwife told me, “you don’t need to do anything unless the bleeding becomes a concern.” And so I waited. I relied on the encouraging words of friends who had gone through episodes of bleeding and visualized myself at an ultrasound being showed a healthy beating heart and a pesky hematoma.

 

Two days shy of completing my 12th week of pregnancy, I was in the basement with my husband sorting through all the newborn clothes when I started bleeding heavily. I was not feeling any cramping or contractions, it was like my body was trying to flush the fetus by opening the faucet. I headed for the hospital wearing three menstrual pads and sitting on a towel.

 

I soaked through everything during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. I immediately went to the bathroom as I felt a giant blood clot coming through. It was so big that it fell in the toilet with a splash and splattered blood all over the walls and the floor. I called the nurse for help and she casually walked-in, flushed the toilet and helped me back to my gurney. Was it my fetus? I will never know. A few hours later when the gynecologist was able to remove the retained tissue causing the hemorrhage there was only parts of a tiny placenta, a tiny cord and a tiny, ripped-up, sac left. I told my husband to take pictures of whatever came out. That’s all I have, along with my unshakable belief in my fetus’ unique, eternal soul.

 

I eventually passed out from the blood loss a few minutes after joking: “I can bleed like this for *days* with no side effect!!” — loosely quoting Meet the Robinsons because what else are you going to do while everyone is watching you miscarry but quote Disney movies? I fought it hard until a nurse told me: “You’re in a hospital, we’re here, you’re lying down, you can go.” Suddenly, there was no more pain and no more worry. I was completely comfortable even as I felt and heard people rushing around me, insert an IV into each of my arm and push a bolus of saltwater into my body. I knew that there was nothing I could do but pray and let people do their work. I remembered a friend who was in labor and thought that I could offer-up my loss for her son’s healthy birth. So I prayed and I floated. There was nothing else I could do but rest in the arms of God and trust. I still remember the supernatural calm and clarity of the time I spent “under” with a smile.

 

I’m telling you all this because before my miscarriage I thought that I would handle miscarriage with sadness but also an understanding that pregnancy loss was an integral part of the experience of motherhood. When I lost the first pregnancy in May, I knew that my low progesterone would make it difficult to carry a pregnancy past the first few weeks and I thought that I would keep trying. Now, I must come to terms with the fact that even trying to conceive in the current circumstances would be unhealthy. Walking into repeated miscarriages is more than an exercise in accepting God’s will, as I have read in some forums, it’s a gamble with your health. A miscarriage can be as straightforward as a heavy period or it may cause a hemorrhage, require surgery, a blood transfusion or even a hysterectomy. We simply don’t know how and when our bodies will pull the plug on a pregnancy and this has been, for me, a very painful realization. Can I sacrifice my health — a health that is not only my own but that of the family who depends on me — to have the child that I so painfully desire?

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the notion of sacrificial love. The Catholic Church — to which I belong — is all about sacrificial love. In the Catholic Church, nothing should be held back from God. Our lives are not our own. We know that Heaven is opened to those who are “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” This self-sacrificing perfection is acquired in this world or in the next through purgatory — but it must be acquired before we can rise to eternal life. Saints’ stories are rife with men and women who have sacrificed their health and even their lives in the pursuit of holiness. But it is equally rife with stories of ordinary people seeking holiness through quiet, ordinary lives, in their work, their families and their communities. Is the desire for another child a sign that I am called to offer-up my health in the pursuit of self-sacrificial love? Or, if we believe as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, that where our treasure is, there our heart is also, is the desire for another child the earthly attachment that needs to be offered-up, sacrificed?

 

This is the discernment that has been gripping my heart and my soul since the due date that wasn’t. While I was still supposed to be pregnant, I was struggling with the loss of what should have been. But when the friends and acquaintances who were due at the same time I was started welcoming their babies earthside, the bellies lost their anonymity and their babies were obviously not mine. I shed the feeling of present loss like a snakeskin and moved into foreboding, a realization that the future would look very different from what I thought it would be. In discerning whether I am called to sacrifice my health or my desire for another child, this fear is telling. Fear is never from God. When I start comparing myself to others and feeling like I “only” have 9 children, when I start feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a certain number of children, when the desire for another child overshadows my gratitude for my existing 9 amazing children, when I start feeling less, when I see a mother of 10, 11, 12 as more worthy than I am, I know that I am idolizing a larger family, that I am beholding a golden calf. Sacrifices should not be easy. When getting pregnant despite the health implications appears easier than accepting the end of my reproductive years as it is, I know where I need to direct my spiritual gaze.

 

And thus I will give until it hurts, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, as I know that it will be returned to me in eternity where I will finally meet the children I never had.

Canada Parachute edit

Requiem for a blog


I killed my blog. It happened without me noticing, a direct result of being a near computer illiterate. I mentioned in my last blog post that I could no longer upload pictures to WordPress. I had recently reached the storage limit of my media library so I started deleting pictures. The error message changed from “You have reached the limit of your storage capacity” to the cryptic “HTTP Error”. A quick search on support forums revealed that an overgrown media library could bring this message about so I set out to delete even more pictures.

Before I started deleting pictures, I checked to see if deleting pictures from the library would also delete them from the blog itself. That’s where I made a mistake, wasn’t sufficiently thorough, or maybe just didn’t have a clue. When I checked my blog, the deleted pictures still appeared on the page. I went ahead and deleted my entire media library. Today I found out that the pictures I saw on my blog pages were probably a “cached” version, or some mystery to that effect. In reality, the pictures are gone. Gone from the library, gone from the blog, my posts eviscerated, some of them no longer making any sense.

I poured a lot of my blood, sweat and tears on these pages since July 2011. I shared the early months of my twins, the birth of my ninth baby, our moves, homeschooling and my recent miscarriage. Some posts were wildly popular, others just touched a few hearts but touched them deeply, some were like a tree fell in the forest. Some readers shared their stories back with me and as my community of readers grew, I felt less isolated, more connected. This blog, the writing and the friendships that were born from it, has kept me firmly grounded as I sailed through some of the most intense and beautiful moments of my life.

After coming to the realization that my blog was irreversibly damaged, I spent some time exploring my options. I came to the conclusion that Vie de cirque had outgrown the basic WordPress platform I was using and it was time to ditch the training wheels and to move this wonderful community to a platform better suited for its growing potential.

Some things will change along with the hosting service. Most importantly, the name will change to “Fearless Family Life”. I know that many of you like “Vie de cirque” but it doesn’t lend itself well to search engines. I get many hits and messages from people looking for a French language blog on life in a circus. I need a title that is more evocative and easier to communicate.

Our family is at a juncture where it needs to diversify its sources of income: you know what they say about eggs and baskets. My husband, our only support, has a lot of very precious eggs in a basket-line that is expected to take a beating under the new Canadian government. My blogging is the most likely way to juggle my vocation and our need for diversification. As a result, I decided to take my focus off my writing for the next little while as I work on launching Fearless Family. I will find a way to archive my Vie de Cirque posts so that they are still easily accessible, I’m also planning to re-publish the most popular ones. I will still keep in touch via my YouTube Channel, my personal Facebook page and Instagram.

This is not an “Adieu!’ but an “au revoir” until we launch something that has the ability to grow with our family. In the mean time, please indulge me as I share one of my favorite musical pieces of all time, from Mozart’s Requiem. But don’t cry: we’ll be back soon.

 

 

 

Mixed Nuts: Election Day in Canada 2015


I started this post the day before the election and since I don’t have the luxury of writing as the results come in (because: bedtime) I decided to start writing Sunday night. The unfortunate colateral result is that I will be writing in light of the most recent polls as opposed to the results of the elections. If the last campaign is any indication, those will be wildly inacurate. Why?

Uno. The “Shy Tory Factor” is something that is consistently throwing pollsters out of whack. I think that this opinion piece from The Guardian is accurate and the source of much handwringing and hangover the day after conservative electoral victories. On Tuesday, before you clutter my Facebook feed with your outrage, remember that I told you so.

Dos. Three years ago, when the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) started cranking out attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau (the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada — LPC), I was working on Parliament Hill as a writer for a local Member of Parliament. Attacks ads went after Justin Trudeau’s vacuity, lack of substance and absence of platform. As a writer, I had to write a lot of things that annoyed me, such as explaining politely to a variety of Mrs. Lalonde’s that her federal MP could not help her with her hydro bill, school bus issue or culvert. I regurgitated my Grade 5 Civics more times than I care to remember. Yet, nothing was quite as repulsive as having to reply to letters criticizing attack ads. I had to craft a reply that communicated our concerns about Justin Trudeau without wholeheatedly endorsing the more puerile aspects of the ads. Thankfully my boss was ok with it, I’m not sure how I would have dealt with having to write a cheerleading endorsement of the ads. All this to say, part of me is secretely jubilant that Justin Trudeau and his team were able to play these ads to their advantage. If it wasn’t for the part where they were so successful they might win the election, I’d be cheering for them. But my husband is packing us up and moving to Texas as I write so…

Tres. How did Justin Trudeau turn the attack ads around? It’s simple. All you have to do with attack ads is to not prove them right. The challenge is that attack ads are not made out of thin air, they are rooted in reality. The image of Stéphane Dion as a weak, dithering, out-of-touch professor came from somewhere. As did the image of Michael Ignatieff as an oppotunistic, temporary leader. Both former Liberal leaders walked right into the sterotypes the Conservative ad machine had made them out to be. Justin Trudeau defied them because he kept his cards very close to his chest. His absenteism record in the House of Common was notable but allowed him to duck more than a few potholes on the road to the campaign. His refusal to lay down a party platform ahead of the election campaign was also criticized by friends, foes and journalists alike. Yet, it gave no new ammunition to the attack ads machine, leaving it to work with Justin’s hair and Justin’s car and Justin’s former job as a drama teacher. Not only did the attack ads run out of steam and credibility, but Trudeau was able to prove them wrong. Which wasn’t hard at all.

Cuatro. Why wasn’t it hard? Because 3 years of attacking his credibility with almost nothing to go on has lowered the expectation of the public toward Trudeau to such an extent that he exceeded them just by showing-up with his pants on. (If the image of Justin Trudeau strolling on debate stage without his pants on just made your day my work here is done.)

Cinco. Faced with a negative campaign about Justin Trudeau based on image, Trudeau’s managers were able to duck most of the negative characterization of their leader by running a very tight and disciplined image campaign. It was so good, it was bad. Kelly McParland explains why in this piece. As a student of political campaigns, I can’t help but take notes. That said, if you expect elected Trudeau’s handlers to feed him freely to the Parliamentary Press Gallery,  you will be sorely disillusioned when you realize that Stephen Harper’s tight media access rules were just the warm-up. The Conservative learned partisan politics from the Chrétien Liberals.

Seis. Does this mean that Trudeau-for-Prime-Minister is a done deal? Well, by the time you read this piece, it might be. But for now, my call of a Conservative minority with a NDP opposition still stands. If you looked under the hood of elections statistics, you might be surprised to learn that many close campaigns are decided by the advance polls. It is enterily possible for a candidate to lose election night and be bolstered over the wall by advance polls results. The NDP and the Conservatives can boast of the best and brightest committed voters. The Liberal appeal is to the mushy middle, the same people who don’t vote on election day. We have seen unprecedented levels of voter participation at the advance polls and while it might point to a higher voting rate overall, my guess is that this was the result of Conservative and NDP campaigns ferrying their committed  voters to the advance polls. You know what they say about a bird in hand.

Siete. All this said, this has been an exciting election campaign and last minute swing voters might brave the cold and the waiting lines to cast their votes. I’m not sure the charm of Justin Trudeau’s inexperience will last long under the harsh light of reality. Minority governments, which is the best the Liberals can aspire to, are long, frustrating, and unproductive campaigns. Minority is not a healthy state in Canadian Parliamentary democracy.

Posting this before heading to the polls. It will be an exciting, nail-biting, evening and while worried about the spectre of a Liberal government I am also very curious to see if some dead wood will be replaced and how.

(If you wonder why I wrote my numbers in Spanish, it’s because WordPress kept indenting my numbers. Drove me nuts. I’m one of those old people who believe that machines should do strictly what they are told.)