Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to help in times of grief

By Tammy Ruiz
Guest Contributor

When Mary asked to wrote a post for this blog, we discussed possible topics and one she floated was the awkward aspects of social relationships after death and how to minimize those. As I am currently living that situation, I thought it was ideal.

I work as a nurse caring for women and families after pregnancy loss and infant death. I spend time with each mom talking to her about how to reenter her previous social relationships. While different deaths create different dynamics, it's good for those around us to peek into our worlds. I may write about the bereaved moms I care about in another post but I want to share something from personal experience today.

I am a 48-year-old Catholic mom and nurse. One year and a few weeks ago I had a bustling house with seven people in it ... I got up on a Saturday morning ready to run to the store to get my husband some soda - he hadn't felt well the night before (he thought he had the flu) and opted to sleep in the theater room lest he get anyone else sick. I went to check on him only to find him dead on the floor. He was young and seemingly very healthy...he was a recently retired Marine Officer who had run marathons - his death was a huge shock.
Tammy Ruiz at her husband's funeral

Because of my work, death was not totally foreign to me, but (of course) nothing prepares you for a life change this profound. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I was so touched by the outpouring of kindness...but even when experiencing it myself, I considered "What parts of this are helpful, what am I really looking for from people?" because I wanted to be able to share what I learned at some point. One day - in the midst of card /flower/fruit basket madness - I realized that as much as I really appreciated each kind gesture, my most primitive need was to know that 1) people had heard the news and 2) it was important to them.

Yes, when the rubber really met the road, I just really wanted to know that my loss was important - whether people expressed themselves grandly or simply, I really did want to hear from them. Even though I would have liked to talk to everyone on the phone, I certainly didn't have time or emotional energy for it, so receiving a combination of cards and calls was ideal. I hardly read the preprinted text of cards, I just wanted to see who wrote it and if they added could have been a Congratulations on your Bar Mitzvah card for all I knew (one goofy friend did send one of those and it made me laugh). I found it most comforting when people told me that I had been on their mind ever since they heard the news. It was very encouraging to know I hadn't been forgotten.

One last comment about gestures of tough economic times, many people have significant financial challenges and there is no shame in it. Please don't feel obligated to do more than you can afford. I received a few gestures that were so sacrificial they were like the widow's pence...while they warmed my heart, they also broke it as I was very concerned that my friends would suffer from it. Your prayers and words of kindness will be treasured by those who really care about you - please don't spend your Cheerios money on flowers.

There were a few people who I considered myself "close" with who I never heard a word from. The understanding gracious side of me realizes that they may have been afraid or uncertain, but my needy hurting side said "we were friends for 30 years and you couldn't reach out at all? really?" The worst for me was a friend who said NOTHING to me then sent a form letter solicitation asking for funds for a missionary trip. I resisted the urge to tell her exactly what I thought about that; in my state of mind, it wouldn't have been tactful.

Rebuilding came in different stages from "Immediate Crisis" to "Dust Settling Over Chaos" to "Calmer Transition" to "Remaking my Life"; waves of grief sent me back to crisis for short spurts, but mostly I moved forward. In the last few months, I have noticed a trend that I want to share.

Being an integrated person is one of my goals, not compartmentalizing different parts of my life into boxes. I am right now STILL a bereaved widow but ALSO a young(ish sort of) person newly single who has a new relationship. I met my husband when I was a teen and we were grandparents when he died - he will ALWAYS be a part of my life...his death will ALWAYS be profound to me. If I waited until those things were no longer factors to fully create a new life for myself, I would wait forever and I have decided not to do that.

I get an overwhelming sense from people that they are willing to talk to me about EITHER my old life and grief OR they want to talk to me about my new life, but few people are willing to do both. For me the most painful example of this was at a social gathering where I sat in a group of five, two married couples and me. Awkwardly, they began to share stories of their courtships and marriages and I felt like a big sore thumb...if I want to participate, do I refer to my former marriage or new romance either of which will make them uncomfortable. I went for the 'new romance' and I got a death-stare multiplied by 4. The flip side of that experience was a coworker who dodged behind doors to avoid me after Dave died yet as soon as I started dating she approached me all full of encouragement and congratulations.

I have come to really value the few people who are brave enough to let me really be myself...a person who is just as likely to cry over a memory as I am to gush over a rose from my boyfriend. Maybe to some folks, absorbing the fact that both of these factors are (and will remain for the foreseeable future) real to me seems terribly weird. Yes it is, but let me assure you, when your spouse dies suddenly and young, a LOT of things are weird. To this day I use words that I can still barely believe apply to me even as they flow from my tongue "single mom," "widow," "late-husband," "estate, "girlfriend/boyfriend." (I really need new terms for "boyfriend" is a military Colonel and Special Agent...I feel silly using this to describe him.)

If you have a friend going through this and really want to be there for her (or him), be a person who does not put up the walls I so frequently perceive ...let them be real and whole even when that means you aren't sure what the heck will come out of them next. If you are reading this and it terrifies you because you can't imagine your husband dying suddenly, while I will tell you that yes, it IS horrible, God won't leave you to experience it alone...He will be close in a thousand ways that you can be thankful for (like NOT having told my daughter to "go check on your dad") and He won't leave you to suffer alone.

Tammy Ruiz has been a nurse for 28 years and spent most of her career in Neonatal Intensive Care. For eight years, she has been a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator - caring for women and families suffering miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and SIDS. Part of her work involves assisting parents in preparing for births when the baby has received the diagnosis of a life limiting condition (often called "Perinatal Hospice"). In addition to her nursing education, she studied (but did not become certified in) Clinical Pastoral Education at a Catholic Hospital in the Midwest. She has been on EWTN and speaks regularly to physicians and nurses on the topic of perinatal loss care. Her career was both fragmented and enhanced by having 14 different jobs because of moves for her husband who was an active duty Officer in the USMC. A convert to the Catholic Church, she was recently widowed after 26 years of marriage. She has three quasi-adult children and one super-cute grandchild.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Combating forced abortion and gendercide in China

By Mary C. Tillotson

Reggie Littlejohn, Women's Rights Without Frontiers
Today is the 33rd anniversary of China's one-child policy, which has been devastating for Chinese women and girls. I just got off the phone with Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, an organization dedicated to stopping forced abortions and gendercide in China. Reggie has testified with governments around the world, and her organization is running the Save a Girl Campaign, helping families on the grassroots level.

I'm going to let Reggie take it from here.

Tell me about the one-child policy in China.

Reggie: Some in the Chinese Communist Party want you to believe it's entirely voluntary. That is not true. Women are forcibly aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy, and also forcibly sterilized. Some of these forced abortions are so violent that the women themselves die with their full-term babies.

The coercion gives rise to gendercide. Because of the coercive low birth limit, most families want to make sure they have a boy. Sex selective abortion is practiced, and up to 200 million women are missing in the world today due to sex-selective abortion. There are 37 million more men than women living in China.

What that gender imbalance is doing is it's driving human trafficking and sexual slavery, not only in China but in the surrounding countries as well.

Why do they have a preference for boys?

Reggie: Preference for boys is something that's centuries or possibly millennia old. It's prominent in Asia, but especially in China and India.

In both Indian culture and Chinese culture, when a couple gets married, the girl goes over to the boy's family, and the young woman and young man together support the young man's parents in their old age. If you give birth to a son, you know that when he marries, you will be gaining a daughter-in-law, so you're getting an addition to your family, whereas if you give birth to a daughter, you're not getting a son-in-law, you're losing your daughter also.

If you can only have one kid and it's a girl, you don't have anybody to support you in your old age. [Parents often have to choose between] sex-selective abortion or facing poverty in old age.

What is Women's Rights Without Frontiers doing about it?

Reggie met Pope Francis last week.
Reggie: We are doing two things. Number one, we've been called the leading voice in the world to expose and oppose forced abortions in China - forced abortion, gendercide, and sexual slavery in China. We gather documentation and go around and sound the alarm all over the world about what's going on in China.

Most people understand China has a one-child policy. They don't understand the brutality of the way it's enforced.

We gather documentation from China about forced abortion, forced sterilization, human trafficking, murder, all these things that are committed in connection with the one-child policy, and we testify.

We have credibility and a voice in informing government bodies about the truth about what's going on in China, concerning the one-child policy.

Reggie has testified six times at the United States Congress and three times at the European Parliament; she's also testified to the British, Irish, and Canadian Parliaments. She's briefed White House officials, the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, and the Vatican. She's also spoken multiple times at the United Nations Commission on the Status of women, an annual convention in New York; the commission made a statement condemning forced abortion, forced sterilization, and forced contraception.

The other thing we do, we have a Save a Girl campaign.

Tell me about the Save a Girl Campaign.

Reggie: We've got workers on the ground in China who identify women who are pregnant with girls who are planning to have an abortion, or who have just given birth to a girl and are planning to abandon her. They say, 'Please don't abort or abandon your baby because she's a girl. We'll give you a monthly stipend for a year to help support this girl.'

I understand, from my network, we have a 95 percent success rate. We're saving lives in China.

We also help women who are fleeing forced abortion. We are stopping gendercide in China one baby girl at a time.

The Save a Girl Campaign was launched last year on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child.

What can regular people do to help?

Reggie: If people want to do something to help these girls, we have petitions to stop forced abortion, and they can also donate toward the Save a Girl Campaign. It's amazing how little it takes to save a life in China.

So much of our effort has to do with getting the word out, and people help get the word out by liking the article you write, posting it on Facebook, tweeting it - that's huge for us. It's the only way we can turn political opinion to understand what's going on and oppose the violence against women.

People are listening to us, listening to our message.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bravery and Babes

By Julie Baldwin

I've never felt very brave. I was picked on a lot growing up because I was shy, and I stuttered, and wore glasses. And even after the stuttering was "fixed", I had a hard time not allowing my feelings to be swayed or hurt by other people. This feeling has lasted for many years, although I grew much better at masking it. In the meanwhile, I developed as a writer.

I joined the high school paper, Lion's Roar, my freshman year, as an outlet for writing. It was so fun seeing my name in print and contacting people, asking them what they thought, collecting the facts, writing up a story. I remember when I was named Sports Editor, one of two juniors who got a spot usually reserved for a senior. I was so proud of my little section, which I grew from three writers to six. Our space grew too - a whole page!

I had the glued-to-my-phone pre-req. down
I went to college and decided I didn't want to do journalism any more, so I didn't sign up for the college paper. But then, I got drawn into the independent paper, and spent my entire college career editing, writing, promoting and nurturing it. The tiny staff again grew under me, as I pulled in every resource I could, helping my writers and making them feel wanted as much as they were needed. I hurt a lot of feelings with my edits and editorials and "Hillsdalians of Genius" columns, but I didn't stroke any egos, and I told the truth, and people respected the paper. I even got along well with the journalism department, and got a scholarship to write book reviews for it my senior year.

It seemed the obvious answer, then, when asked what I was going to do after college: journalism.

Statehouse reporting was thrilling, but my work environment was not. I worked for a non-profit, who accepted a grant to fund two journalism positions. Though I was successful, my articles were well-received and picked up by outside outlets, it was a difficult work environment for me, and for personal-affecting-professionalism reasons, I quit.

That was one of the scariest things I had ever done, and it changed my whole life. I had accepted that job because it was great cub reporter experience and I was two hours from home. But now I had quit, and I was thinking about the other job I turned down in Washington, D.C. Was that the better choice?

I decided not to pursue journalism when I returned home, which my journalism mentor severely disagreed with; he told me not to waste my talent. Since then, it's been an interesting ride: family business, nannying, freelance, and plenty more "not-for-profit" writing -- as well as more family time, a new family, marriage, a new city, a baby, and a whole new set of challenges. And I'm happy, even though a part of me twinges to be back in journalism.

And what does this have to do with bravery? I still don't think of myself as particularly brave. I'm still introverted and still have glasses. But I've tasted "failure" - I know what it's like not to have what you want. I know what it's like to think you know what you want. I've known surprise, and I've known success. I know what it feels like to stand at the crossroads, and make another decision you know is going to change your life. Then another. Then another. I keep pressing forward. That's brave. That's living.

We all live with the consequences, whether our action by active or passive. And can you live with regrets? Sure. That's one way to live, but it's not a preferable way - because regret stains all future successes if you allow it. Or you can learn from your mistakes, which is my attitude: I have only one real regret, and that was letting people lead me to think I wasn't worth it: as a friend, as a girlfriend, as a student, as a writer.

That is a lie, no matter who you are. 

We all have potential. We're all on a road to Damascus. None of us have completed the work we were put on this earth to do; most of us are still discerning what that work is, exactly. We should keep working, keep seeking, keep trying, keep loving, keep going.

In Jennifer Aist's book Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children (my current read), she tells parents back off a bit and to let their kids explore (while still under supervision, of course!):
Watch an eight-month-old baby crawl around a coffee table. If left to explore it on his own, he'll run into it a few times, bonk his head on the bottom of it as he tries to crawl under it, and maybe even get a bit frustrated by it. Very quickly, this same baby will learn to duck going around that coffee table, slow down to avoid crashing into it, and generally learn how to be safe around it. The baby with "hover parents" never has an opportunity to learn by trial and error. So though this baby may never bonk his head on the coffee table at home, he also never develops the skills to avoid bonking his head on any other coffee table. Teach children the skills they need to safely negotiate any coffee table they may ever encounter, and you have given your children an incredible gift. You will have taught your child to be capable. 
Remember, frustration teaches children problem solving. Boredom teaches children creativity.
This is the same for adults as well. Be brave enough not to squander the chances in life to try, to "fail", to be who you want to be. You are exactly who you're supposed to be, and that is a true gift to the rest of us.

Republished with author's permission.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is "True Womanhood"?

By Mary C. Tillotson

Stages of womanhood, 1849
I don't know if I love or hate that question, but it's one that's fascinated/bothered me since I was about 14.

I went through an "any desire to look good means you're vain and probably trying to get guys interested in sex" phase through most of high school and into college. I wore baggy T-shirts from the groups and clubs I was in, but somehow managed to always wear a blue one (I don't think blue will ever not be my best color, except navy) when certain attractive men were around.

Following this, I fretted briefly over whether I was obligated to like shoe shopping. This gave way to a "the ideal woman is tough and strong!" phase, followed by a "the ideal woman is weak and frail and beautiful" phase, followed by an identity crisis. That brings us to yesterday. Yesterday, I felt pretty balanced. I was comfortable letting the men do most of the heavy lifting, but if I didn't help, it was out of laziness, not a belief that I ought not. I was willing to admit that I would like to be one of those women who just always looks good. I thought motherhood was the zenith of femininity and I thought the women at IUseNFP are really cool.

Most of that I still believe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Need for Self-Care

By Julie Baldwin

Last Sunday, I drove two and a half hours to a beach in Alabama with my husband and a friend, chatting and laughing and singing along to the radio and our CD collection. A couple hours later, we were driving back to New Orleans, with white sand stuck to all the crevices and skin (and in our hair), sunburns, and conversations that would dwindle off as a favorite song came into play.

Once we crossed back over the border into Louisiana, I asked my husband to drive because I was so tired. The waves had been strong and full, white-capping and carrying our bodies forward and onward. It takes strength to stand up against the tide, even when you dig your feet into the sand and swear you shan't move. But moving isn't the problem - it's where you end up. Let yourself get swayed, and you'll end up 20 feet down the beach. But maybe that's where the adventure starts? As I sat on the sand in the late afternoon and watched the sand crabs dive into their holes, I thought: this is self-care.

Self-care "refers to actions and attitudes which contribute to the maintenance of well-being and personal health and promote human development." Self-care starts with self-awareness.

What are you able to do? What do you want to do? Why are you feeling this way?

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Like Babies, But Not Pregnancy

When I was pregnant with my first child, I felt horrifically guilty for being so upset I was pregnant. And there was room for repentance there, as Christians believe children are a great blessing, and that God has the right to give you one when He wants (since he's the only one who can put a soul in a being anyway). I did not want a child then, and I really wished I could end his life. That was wrong, and evil.

But there's another aspect to not liking pregnancy that I think is not so much evil as human. Pregnancy is difficult, and annoying. It just is. And no one gains by lying about that. Right now I'm near month seven for baby three, and I do not look attractive in just about anything I wear. I look rotund because I am rotund. It's frustrating to be a 26-year-old young woman who is used to being skinny but really can't possibly look decent no matter how much makeup I apply, especially when my job involves lots of public presentations and interviews in which it is quite helpful to look at least not-hideous. As I have grown older and shared pregnancies with friends and been able to talk to more women about it, I have learned something that has made me feel a lot better: Lots of women don't like being pregnant, and lots of women are annoyed when we get pregnant, and we typically just get over it (right about when the baby stops being a bloodsucker and becomes a milksucker, and you can kiss his squashy little face and ditch the fat pants).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lovelace (the movie)

I hadn't heard of the move Lovelace till I ran across a review in Verily, but based on the IMDb parent guide, I'm not sure I'll go see it. (Maybe I'll get the book.) My college media law textbook was quick to note that, while some people think the sex/porn industry is demeaning to women, it's actually great! because it's the only industry in which women consistently make more money than men.

That may be true - female bodies seem to be in greater demand than male ones; anyone glancing at the grocery store's checkout line magazines or watching any movie or TV show can attest to this. But no human being's body should be demanded. Whether or not Linda Marciano's experience was typical, I don't think we should be surprised to find this kind of abuse in an industry that sells images of women's bodies for sex and nothing else.

I'm not saying sex is bad. As a Catholic, I believe sex is good, when it is an expression of love, commitment, and self-gift between married couples, when it is freely given in that relationship of trust. But sex-to-the-exclusion-of-everything-else, sex-sans-relationship - that kind of sex is very bad.

Here's Mary Rose Somarriba's move review at Verily:

Lovelace isn’t the movie you expect. 
It’s the story of how Linda Marciano got her fame in America. It was 1972 and her name was in lights on the cinema marquees. She was the star of the X-rated movie Deep Throat
Cinema marquees, you ask—really? Yes, really. One could say it was a transitional cultural moment. Porn was crossing from the private sphere into the mainstream, and Linda was the center of attention. She was that mysterious woman with the surprising sense of humor and that secret talent. She had a prime spot in the limelight and on Hugh Hefner’s guest list. It was the time of free love, free expression, and free speech. She was America’s first porn star.
Except she wasn’t free. 
The film Lovelace (starring Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard) expertly tells the two stories of Linda—the story you’ve heard and the story as it happened. Linda, whose real name isn’t Lovelace, was in fact coerced by her pimp and husband Chuck Traynor into performing in prostitution and pornography. Often forced to perform sexual acts at gunpoint, Linda sustained years of mental and physical abuse and lived in constant fear of his next violent beating or threat to her family. 
Perhaps most tragic of all is that when she finally escaped, no one believed her. Linda published her biography Ordeal in 1980, bringing her story to the public. But, with the rare exception of praise from such anti-porn feminists as Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin, the book was largely unread and forgotten. Lovelace struggled to make ends meet for the rest of her life until 2002 when she died in a car accident at the age of 53.
Read the rest of her review here!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Never again war!

By Mary C. Tillotson

Pope Francis has invited the world to pray and fast today for peace - specifically in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. While courage is noble, war is always horrible, and world leaders have an obligation to their citizens and to the rest of humanity to work to avoid war whenever possible.
image courtesy Freedom House, flickr

I think that's often easy for us in the comfortable first world to forget. I tried to read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning but had to stop because I couldn't handle his descriptions of the Nazi concentration camp. George Weigel's descriptions of Karol Wotijla (later Pope John Paul II)'s youth in occupied Poland were harrowing to me. Human beings are capable of awful, awful evil.

This NYT slideshow of Purple Hearts shows some of the human faces that came out of war. (Warning: don't click unless you have time to pause and think, maybe cry.) Mark Shea wrote (and followed up here) criticizing politicians who don't take the human factor into account when sending human troops to unjust, unnecessary wars.

I am all for honor, bravery, and all these good things our servicemen and women live out. But it's not fair for politicians or anyone to tear apart bodies and families - Americans, Syrians, Muslims, Christians, atheists, anyone - without a very good reason.

Let's join Pope Francis and pray for peace in Syria and the Middle East, and let's work for peace in our families and communities.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Hello! 
Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.
There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.
Read his whole address (it's not very long) here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nursing on CSPAN

By Joy Pullmann

One day, I had a radio interview. My husband usually minds the kids while I work, but this time he had to be away, so we hired a new babysitter for the morning. Right before the interview, I put the kids in their swim diapers and ushered them all outside so I couldn't hear them but they'd have a good time.

My toddler son chose that very moment to throw a wild tantrum. Note it was a new babysitter, and my son's tantrums are like a heavy metal rock concert packed into one child, complete with live bat-eating

Radio shows have regular commercial breaks, and I was set to be on this show for a whole hour. So at the first break I rushed downstairs, phone on mute, to rescue the poor babysitter. Turns out my son wanted to be done with water (heaven knows why--he's obsessed with water) and was demanding a diaper change. And *I* had to do the diaper change, not the babysitter we'd hired for this very reason. So I'm frantically tearing his clothes off and trotting my pregnant self up and down with new clothes and a diaper, when the commercial break ends, mid-change. So I rush upstairs, trying not to breathe hard into the phone, and switch back to interview expert. Next commercial break, my kid is still sitting there, at least only whimpering now, half-diapered. I finish him up in two minutes and tell the babysitter to read them books, right before dashing upstairs again and holding my breath in to what I hope sounds like normal breathing. 

Along the same lines, Mary (from this blog) recently told me of a very well-educated mom who works part-time from home with her three kids. This venerable lady recently went on CSPAN when her newest was only two months old, so when he was hungry she just topped him with a blanket and nursed him on air.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting Organized

By Mary C. Tillotson

Last night I dreamed that the word "Wednesday" in my planner had been changed to "Thursday," and I had no idea which block had my Wednesday appointments and which had my Thursday appointments. It was awful.
story of (part of) my life

Getting organized with my hectic schedule (I'm a reporter, algebra tutor, cook, homemaker, blogger, theology student, and wife) and Type B personality is a challenge, but I'm working on it! I want to share some helpful things I've found or learned.

*  *  *

First. Know yourself and be yourself.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Privacy for Mom Bloggers

By Laura Christine
This Felicitous Life

In the blogging world, writers maintain widely varying levels of privacy.  Some bloggers write anonymously, posting no pictures or other identifying information.  Others reveal their and their children’s full names, birth dates, pictures and locations. 

Privacy is an especially important topic for those of us “mommy bloggers” who post about our families’ day-to-day lives.  Blogging implicates not only our own but also our children’s privacy and security.  I don’t claim to be an authority on what others should or should not publish.  However, I do want to share three issues that I think all bloggers should consider: