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.)

 

 

 

A miscarriage debrief on October 15th


If you are anywhere on pregnancy and parenting-related social media sites, you know that October 15th commemorates pregnancy and infant loss. It is the day when parents who have lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth replace their profile pictures with a burning candle. It is also a month almost to the day from when I experienced my first significant miscarriage and ended-up in hospital as a result, without my fetus and without most of my blood supply. 

I’m not in a place where I can wax poetic and inspiring about the reality of pregnancy loss but I can wax brutally honest any day of the week so ready or not, here I come. 

How much have my husband and I learned through the last 5 weeks! Miscarriage packs quite the sucker punch. Leaving aside the medical fall-out, it’s like a post-partum hormonal crash minus the baby to cuddle. One minute you think you’re holding-up pretty well, thank you very much, and the next you’re sitting in a puddle. This post is an attempt at expressing the depth of conflicting emotions that grab you when you go through the experience of miscarriage. Maybe you will read it and learn something. But maybe someone will read it and feel normal, this is my hope. 

My new pregnancy happened in my new community and I had to debate whether I would seek the care of my usual midwifery team — which would involve driving into town to deliver in hospital or at the birth center — or to register with the midwifery practice for my area — which would allow me to give birth at home or at my local hospital. I really struggled with this decision. The safe course of action, given that I dilate more-or-less painlessly until 7-8cm, was to stay in my area rather than risk an hour long drive into town in transition. But despite being a rational and rather well-hinged individual, I couldn’t think rationally about it. I did get on a local midwife’s roster but when I miscarried, the lack of emotional support from my midwife was really difficult to cope with. It wasn’t her fault: we had only met once. The scope of practice of Ontario midwives is perfect for normal healthy pregnancies but it it grossly inadequate for not-so-normal pregnancies. When I started bleeding heavily, I paged a midwife I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and directed me to the emergency department of my local hospital. I never heard again from my midwifery clinic. It’s not their fault: they have clients and jobs and no-longer-pregnant women are not part of it. I had to call to cancel lab appointments, midwifery follow-ups and ultrasounds appointments and never got a single call from my midwife to make sure I was ok. 

The same scenario was repeated the following week when my family doctor asked for an OBGYN referral to the specialist who was on call when I miscarried for an unrelated issue. My family doctor got a fax back from the specialist’s desk saying: “This Patient was seen last week for a miscarriage. Is this referral still needed?” I had to shake my head: why would anyone want to follow-up with a specialist about a miscarriage anyway (insert sarcasm)? You are no longer pregnant. Next caller. 

After all, an entire cast of characters saw you bleed from your private parts, stuck stuff up the same parts (u/s wand, many speculums and some pliers), washed you as if you were an infant and watched you use the bathroom at every bladder or bowel movement to make sure, in their words, that you didn’t “empty out.” I felt like I wanted to meet these people. Face to face. I wanted to show them my living children so they would know me for more than “that great grand multipara who had a miscarriage.” I received superlative and compassionate care from the doctors and nurses I met along the way, from my admittance until my transfusion and my final release from care. It still sits weird with me that these people hold such an important place in my life and memory but I’ll never be more than another patient to them. When I was the head of the students’ legal information clinic in university I used to tell my volunteers “Clients may be one in 20 people you will talk to today but their legal issue is probably occupying  almost 100% of their head space. The contact you have with them might feel like nothing to you but it could be everything to them if they are caught in a difficult situation. Be compassionate and mindful of that rapport.” Now I am living what it is to be at the vulnerable end of a relation of care, where saving your life is just another day at the office. It is a terrifying and humbling vulnerability that I will never forget. 

When I started bleeding more heavily, I called a friend who had had a miscarriage and asked her to tell me, no punch pulled, what to expect. I had to hang up to call my midwife and head to emerg. The last thing I told my oldest daughter as I left was “try to make my bathroom look not like a crime scene.” I lost so much blood that I was no longer able to inspect every blood clot for my fetus. When I finally had an ultrasound, I was still hoping that they would find a strong heartbeat. The hope that your baby might still be alive will just not die. But not only was my baby not alive, it was not even there. They never saw an embryo, let alone the 12 weeks fetus I was hoping to see and hold in my hand, to make it real. Being seen in a situation of emergency means that health care personnel don’t always have the time or opportunity  to slip-on their kid gloves. From the doctor to the u/s technician, nobody is taking the time to explain very slowly and clearly what is happening. I had to piece it together from things I overheard and caught flying. Just before I passed out from the blood loss I asked my husband to take pictures of anything that they pulled out of me. I have phone pictures of a tiny placenta and sac with a chord extending to nothing. To this day, I’m still unsure exactely how or when I lost my fetus and whether there was ever anything to see. Many women who have experienced miscarriage have asked me if I have named the baby but how can I ? As far as know, it might have been anembryonic. Was there ever someone? Am I only grieving the idea of a baby? Is this all in my head? I still cry when I see my friends’ ultrasound pictures thinking this could be my baby, then I want to slap myself back to reality. There was no baby. Or was there? I have not named my baby. I can’t. It just feels fake.

Friends cautioned me against trying to assign blame (to myself) or find a reason why. The doctor who saw me mentioned that my age and parity were probably the reason I miscarried. But this just makes me angry. I know why I miscarried. I’ve been complaining to my family doctor about hormonal imbalance, progesterone whackiness and thyroid shenanigans since 2012. Now I’m angry. I will be recovering from this miscarriage for the next year or two. I have problems absorbing iron (probably something else that is caused by age and parity — insert even more sarcasm) and now I’m stating from something less than scratch. This could have been prevented. When I asked for a full thyroid panel, I was begrudgingly given a requisition for TSH and thyroid antibodies. When I asked for T3 to be tested as well I was told that since my thyroid dysfunction was probably due to (DRINK!!!) my family size, it was not necessary. Every complaint I take to my doctor — and I moved clinics, saw specialists, this “doctor” is a compendium of several specimen — is explained by my family size. Nobody will listen when I say that I did my Master’s in law at McGill in Montreal, commuting 2 to 3 times a week, getting an A+ average, when I had 5 children, including a 5 month-old breastfed infant. I worked full time in active politics, on Parliament Hill, with 6 children. I trained for half-marathons when I had 6,7,8 children, running 20 to 30 km a week. Suddenly my health goes haywire, I’m depressed, I have no focus, i’m shuffling rather than running, I’m gaining 5-10 lbs a month while dieting, I’m losing my hair, I’m not sleeping even when my baby does, and it’s because I have 9 children? Are you actually kidding me? You went to med school for how long to tell me that? I’ve had a big family since 2006, Bucky! What is ok with 8 that is suddenly making me unhealthy because I have 9? Can someone with a medical background please explain that to me? Because to me it sounds a lot like someone wanted to call it in today and is trying to get me off their examining table before rush hour. Being a woman is such a convenient cop-out, still today. I know that with proper healthcare I might still be pregnant today. I know that if I didn’t have any children at 41 and experienced two losses back-to-back, my doctor would be investigating the causes of the miscarriages. But I have children already, so why should I care? Could it be because the underlying causes of the repeated losses impact my overall health? I’m not trying to catch-up with the Duggars here, I just want to be healthy again. Maybe this is a coping mechanism and yet another sign that I’m just another nutcase great grand multip. But now I’m kicking ass and I’m taking names. I have 9 kids, you can’t scare me. 

  

Large Family Eating


Thank you so much everyone for your love and support in the last few weeks since my miscarriage. I cannot adequately express what it means to me. Strangers have reached out and contacted me through this blog and through social media, shared their stories with me and kept my family in their thoughts and prayers. I know that there is a vulnerability in sharing our stories, often prefaced by “I hope you don’t find this creepy” or “feel free to delete this…” so I would like to speak to that before I dig into what we ate last week. The experience of a miscarriage, I am realizing, is a very unique one. I’m sure that every experience of trauma and loss has the same ring: we are suddenly very alone. Not alone as in lonely, but alone in that the circumstances surrounding a loss are as different as we are. Not two experiences are alike. Not only are circumstances different but our personalities and how we process these circumstances are also unique. We often feel either like no one understands or we feel like impostors. Many of us feel like we have no right to play the grief card. Maybe because we didn’t lose our baby as late as another. Maybe because we didn’t need surgery. Maybe because we were never in danger of death. Maybe because we didn’t even need medical attention. Whichever our circumstances were, we tend to look at someone who had it worst and trash talk our grief into a corner. The sharing of your stories has been immensely helpful to me because it has shown me that whatever your circumstances, you all experienced a similar trajectory of sadness and loss. You have helped me see what is coming next and helped me be better prepared to face it. I haven’t been as blindsided as I would have been without your stories. This is huge for me. As the mother of many, I need to maintain a certain level of functioning. Your stories and testimonies have helped me tremendously in managing my emotions by welcoming them, letting them wash over me and knowing that it is normal. Knowing that I have to get through a difficult passage to get to the other side has made me better able to take the passages instead of trying to get around them. Bridges can be scary, especially rope bridges way up high. But trying to walk down the valley, across the river and back up the other side might prove to be harder, longer and more treacherous. That’s why a bridge was built in the first place. You are the bridge builders. You are the people who have done the crossing before me and are encouraging me to go-ahead, don’t look down, we’ll see you on the other side. Thank you for being there, thank you for your willingness to share your stories and please don’t ever feel like this is creepy or useless. It is not. I’m an optimist and I may look like I am all better but to those who ask me how I am, all I can answer is : “I’m ok. But I’m not ok. And it’s ok.” 

We had a whirlwind week that ended-in two round trips to Kingston, ON where my son is studying. After the first day my father-in-law asked us why we were going home that evening only to come back the next morning (it’s a 130km trip each way.) A little bit of sleep in my bed is better than no sleep in a hotel room with twins and a toddler. Not only that but it’s a pretty drive through the Rideau Lakes area. Stop at the Vanilla Bean’s Cafe and Creamery on your way through Westport: between Kawartha Dairy ice cream and Equator coffee (both local-ish treats) you can’t go wrong. A few steps down toward the water will take you to a gazebo with picnic tables to enjoy your treats. My phone was dead as a doorknob so you’ll have to take my word for it. 

We were in Kingston for the traditional obstacle course that marks the official entry of the first year class into the Cadet Wing at the Royal Military College of Canada. You can see some pictures on my Flikr photostream on the right hand side of my blog. Maybe someday I’ll get around to posting a description of each obstacle. It was very impressive. My phone was still dead as a doorknob so you are spared pictures of the Boston Pizza/Dairy Queen feast that followed. Only one of us had run the obstacle course but we got hungry just watching them. 

 

My favorite Officer Cadet once he got cleaned-up from the obstacle course

 

Last week we continued to feast on the generosity of others but as can be expected of the second week of recovery, there is a sense of having been there, done that (the first week) and can we please get on with our lives already? Of course the reality is that I’m still running on hemoglobin light and need to sit my butt down every hour or so. We ate a lot of leftovers, had more than our share of “breakfast for supper” — by which we mean bagels and cream cheese, not crêpes Suzette flambé with maple buttercream — and was too run down to even grab my camera. On Sunday I decided to go whole hog and made pancakes…. Then I had to nap for 3 hours. 

   
 

What? Everyone doesn’t use two pans to make pancakes? These are the delicious apple oatmeal pancakes from Canadian Living. You can find the recipe here: http://m.canadianliving.com/#!/blog-food/apple-oatmeal-pancakes/5f7f8a1569c68f7aa516462f8d4e8dec We eat them topped with plain yogurt and maple syrup. This my friends, is the epitomy of comfort food in my books. 

In the absence of photo evidence, I thought I would share with you some of the meals and treats that friends have brought to us in the last two weeks. 

My friend Sue sent us this chorizo and sweet potatoes skillet and it was delicious. We had leftovers and it’s the kind of recipe that improves with age (until a certain point, don’t go and poison yourself on my account). I’m sure it would work with any kind of sausage meat that tickles your fancy. Or that happens to be on sale. 

My friend Sam brought us a whole bunch of things that are still in my freezer but one thing that didn’t bear to wait were those apple cinnamon muffins. Big hit. Big big hit. I may have eaten 3 in a row warmed-up and slathered with butter. 

(As an aside, if you decide to click on the apple muffins link, am I the only person who can’t stand recipe blog posts that have to post an ode to each ingredient before showing the recipe already? I promise that if I ever post my own recipes — which would involve writing them down and could actually be beneficial — it will only be with a short preamble. Like “this is what I make. My kids don’t hate it.” Bam!)

Sam also brought us some banana bread and we managed to improve on perfection by smothering it in Martha Stewart’s cream cheese frosting. I don’t have Sam’s banana bread recipe but here’s my personal favorite (in the non-chocolate-chipped category): Serious Eats Banana Oatmeal Bread. This one pairs exceptionally well with cream cheese frosting. When you find something that doesn’t, I’d like to hear about it. 

   

We buy cream cheese by the pallet at Costco, being bagel eaters of the first order. Sadly it means that I always have cream cheese on hand to make frosting. One thing that I never have on hand is confectioners sugar. Sadly, I discovered that sugar is sugar is sugar: put regular white sugar in the Nutribullet and in a whirl you have super fine sugar. Dang. 

  

Et voilà everyone, what we sort of ate last week.  Say cheese!