Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Years Later: The Exclusion Policy


Image result for lgbt lds rainbows

Believe it or not, I hate writing about religion on my own blog. The cost is just too high. But every time I do, someone (often, multiple someones) reaches out to me. "I thought I was the only one who felt this way," they might say. "I don't have anyone else I can talk to about this." So here's my PSA: if you need someone to talk to about church stuff, I will listen without pushing an agenda and without judging you. Your confidence is safe with me.

Two years ago this month, my church's new policy regarding LGBT families was leaked. In essence, it says that same sex couples who marry are apostates and must be subjected to a church disciplinary hearing. It further states that the children of homosexual parent[s] in a same-sex relationship (or even who were previously in a same-sex relationship) cannot be baptized, cannot be ordained to the priesthood (just boys--girls aren't ordained), until they are 18 and "specifically disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage." These children are also not permitted to receive a baby blessing (the Mormon equivalent of a Christening).

I stand behind what I wrote here one year ago: I think this policy is deeply harmful, needlessly inflexible, and fundamentally unchristian.

Why am I writing this? Why cause stress to people who are uncomfortable with even respectful public disagreement? Because this policy is so obviously wrong. Because silence feels complicit. Because I don't want people to forget. Just because the policy isn't making headlines anymore doesn't mean it's not still affecting lives and harming families. 

I'm straight, and most of my LDS friends and family are, too, so this policy doesn't affect me on a deep personal level. Here are the words of an acquaintance of mine that poignantly express his experience:

"Pain. November 5, 2015. It's still there everyday, even after two years of settling in with "The Policy" and working on healing within my LGBTQ community of Affirmation. Perhaps I'm more resolute and not expecting any changes anytime soon, but the pain and devastation I see still goes on in my circles. It's like a bad dream playing out and not getting resolved or getting any better. How to deal with the grief I feel of being part of the tremendous loss of human resource the church has experienced and continues to lose among LGBTQ Mormons, their friends and families. I'm sad because I loved and contributed to the Church for over 40 years of my life and it was a huge part of my identity. Now my life has become that of Mormon Refugee. I still attend occasionally, but my whole experience has changed, and feels surreal. I'm definitely one of those coals taken out of the fire, set on the hearth and am feeling the effects of cooling. And yet my deep love of the gospel still remains. Perhaps the pain will go away? I don't know."

I feel his sense of loss, of pain, of bewilderment, of resignation. It shouldn't be this way. It doesn't have to be this way. 

I don't have any local or general administrative authority in my church with which to effect change. But I can raise awareness, model empathy, and sit with the marginalized. This post, despite its inevitable cost, is one small attempt to do just that.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Vegas Strong

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I'd never donated blood before (for various health and/or convenience reasons). But then my city was viciously attacked. I felt helpless. Useless. My feelings surrounding this tragedy are complicated: I was not harmed; my loved ones were not harmed; I don't feel anxious about my safety. But this loss feels so personal: I was just on the strip for a concert a week previous; I or my children have been admitted to three hospitals here over the years, and all three (plus others I've visited) took in victims; the gunman is from a sleepy town 45 minutes away from where I grew up; I personally know people who were there and who are in mental and spiritual anguish. When it comes to traumatic events like this, we all feel the horror of it whether we live close by or halfway around the world, but the setting of this one is the setting of my daily life. I haven't gone to the strip much in the five years I've lived here, but I see its skyline often in the distance on my drives around town. I have a perverse sort of affection for it and its blatant excesses (like, thanks to drunk tourists, I don't have to pay state income tax! But I digress...). Vegas, for better or for worse, is my home.

So on Monday morning, shaky with shock but determined, my friend and I drove around for an hour to try and find a place to donate blood. At the largest location, traffic was at a standstill as people tried to find parking and join the throng of willing donors. The line weaved around the parking lot of the blood services center, around the parking lot of an apartment complex, and down the sidewalk of the city block. We then drove to a mobile unit by the level one trauma hospital, and though there were fewer people, they turned us away. We looked almost jealously at people with telltale gauze bandages around their elbows.

But people weren't just donating blood. I saw many creative ways people reached out to help. People offered childcare so I and others could serve. While we were at the mobile blood unit, we saw large SUVs full of food and water drop off supplies. Massage therapists set up massage chairs and offered their services to people waiting; as we watched, an exhausted looking policeman gratefully accepted an offer for a massage. My facebook blew up with professionals offering free services to those affected: counselors offering therapy, lawyers offering probate services, surgeons offering hand care, airlines offering flights, hotels offering rooms, restaurants offering food. In five days, people from Vegas and across the world raised over ten million dollars for the victims. The police stations and the American Red Cross became so inundated with donations they had to stop accepting them and redirected donors to Catholic Charities and Three Square.

Telling my children what had happened was difficult, but I didn't want Kate to hear about it at school. The next day, I took her to the end of a candlelight vigil after her music class. We stood and listened to the music and watched the lighting of candles for a few minutes.

"Mom, why are we here?" she asked.

"Because when people are hurting, we show up," I said. "We do what we can to help them know that we care and that they are not alone."



A couple days ago, another friend and I bought a bunch of bagels, snacks, and drinks (partially subsidized by a faraway friend who wanted to give something) and dropped them off at a local fire station (where I got to thank a fireman who was on duty when my neighbor's house burned down), tried to drop some off at a police station but were kindly turned away because they were already overwhelmed with donations from the community, and dropped off the rest at the mobile blood donation unit across the street from University Medical Center. (We'd wanted to drop them off at UMC for the doctors and nurses working overtime, but the area was blockaded because President Trump was visiting victims in the hospital.)





I have really tried recently to serve people in the way they want to be served, not in the way that I might want to serve them, but when the need isn't clearly defined, sometimes you have to make the choice between potentially self-serving service and not serving at all.

I had tried to make an appointment to donate blood, but every location was completely booked out at least 2-3 weeks. When we dropped off supplies at the mobile donation unit, however, they said there was only about an hour wait for walk ins, and they allowed me to sign up for an appointment for later in the day. 


I was a little bit nervous, honestly, because my veins are really small, but I drank ridiculous amounts of water beforehand, and it all worked out. My flow apparently had some stops and slows at the end, but with a little babysitting of my line, we got the job done. I was once again grateful that I'm not squeamish around needles. And I know it's stupid, but I felt like a freaking superhero. I was ridiculously proud of my body for being able to bleed for others. It felt like I was actually doing something.



I feel weird about writing all this publicly. I've done other things--some probably helpful, some probably not. I just wanted to try and capture how it feels to be here, to capture the disconcerting juxtaposition of normal daily routines and a pervading sense of uneasy impotence, to capture what it's like to be so close to ground zero for a tragedy. There will still be much to do in the coming days and weeks, and I hope all of us, me included, can remember feeling this intense drive to help wherever needed.

I've heard a lot of talk about God in the aftermath of this and other tragedies. Personally, I don't see God in the event, either in who survived or in who died or was injured. I can't get behind the idea of a capricious God who spares some but not others. I have seen God, however, in the people helping others to safety, in the actions of first responders and medical personnel, and in everyone trying to help in all the spheres they can. I see God in people, and in the goodness of people, God is magnificent.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part IV

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.



My mom drove down to Las Vegas once she finished work for the day and took over watching the girls from Marlene and Emily. Since it was so late by the time we were ready for visitors, we had her leave the girls home and come by the hospital on her own. I tried to call several friends who'd offered help to ask if they'd watch the girls so my mom could come by, but I couldn't catch anyone on the phone. Jay finally called one of his employees, and she was kind enough to help out. 

Kate and Jayne were so excited to meet their brother the next morning. Seeing them interact with each other and with him is a family highlight I'll treasure. Jaynie reached out her little hands for the baby, but once he was in her lap, she retracted her arms and refused to touch him. Kate brought a little toy for him and tried to play with her new brother.




*

I spent two nights in the hospital when I had Kate and just 24 hours when I had Jayne. I loved that I got to come home quickly the second time since I wasn't scared to death of my new baby like I'd been the first time around. With Drew, I felt like I had the newborn thing pretty well under control and was ready to get out of there, but we had to stay in the hospital for two days because I'd tested positive for group B strep. 

Jay stayed with me for most of the day Wednesday. That night, the hospital provided a fancy celebration dinner in our room. I was freshly showered, wearing my own pajamas, and feeling pretty good, so it felt like we were on a date. 


That night, Drew would not sleep. He would nurse, doze off, and wake up screaming five minutes after I'd put him down. 

I'd promised myself that I'd be a more chill mom the third time around. That if nursing wasn't working for me, I'd switch to (or supplement with) formula. I had to put that to the test just 24 hours in. It caused me a bit of angst, but we called in the nurse and she provided us with 30 mLs of formula. Drew sucked it right down, had a good burp, and finally slept.

Jay went back to work Thursday (#businessowners), so I was alone with Drew in the hospital. My mom had taken the girls to St. George, and I was getting so antsy to get home. We were finally released from the hospital that afternoon.


*

Drew joining our family was unexpected. I did not feel ready to have another child so soon, and I especially was worried about having a son. Generally speaking, I tend to interact better with young girl children than young boy children, and I was afraid it would be hard for me to love a son like I'd loved my daughters. 

There is something about a helpless baby, though, that is impossible to resist, and Drew snuggled his way into our hearts. From the moment he was born, there was no question that he was known and loved. All of my months long denial hardened into resolve, and I have loved my boy fiercely ever since.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part III

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.



Jen, my seriously awesome nurse, pulled some strings and got me upgraded from my cramped, ugly, out-of-the-way hospital room to a seriously spacious and beautifully decorated corner suite. 

Hunger began to gnaw at my insides around 2:00, despite my sneaking occasional snacks from Jay. I finally told Jen about my deal with my doctor and asked if she would be comfortable bringing me food and a drink of water. I was already on pitocin, my contractions gaining strength and speed at 2-3 minutes apart, so I was nervous she'd say no, but she brought me snacks and water refills without complaint or censure.

"Your doctor said you can have an epidural after you're dilated to a four," she said. "You're still at a three, though your cervix is thinning out considerably. I'm going to increase the pitocin a bit, and I'll check you in a couple hours."

The contractions grew stronger, and I finally started to feel them in my back and thighs. We turned on the TV and watched Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. I'd never watched that show before, but it helped distract me a little from my growing discomfort. By 4:00, I clenched my eyes shut and focused on breathing through each contraction, releasing each breath with a series of blows.

The baby was so active the entire time I was in labor that Jen was having a hard time keeping him on the monitor. I had nurses coming in my room several times an hour to adjust the sensors on my stomach, sometimes staying and fiddling with them for 20-30 minutes as Drew performed acrobatics inside of me. 


*

At 4:30, Jen came in and checked me again. 

"You're at a four," she said. "You can have an epidural now. Do you want me to get the anesthesiologist?"

I was hesitant. I didn't want the epidural to slow me down, and the pain was still manageable. Jen understood.

"You can wait as long as you want, but the anesthesiologist has a C-section at 6:00 and won't be available again until 7:00. If you want the epidural before that, you'll need to have it done by 5:30."

I was okay with waiting the hour to see how things progressed, but at that moment, as Jen turned to talk to a nurse who had just walked into the room, the baby gave an almighty thrash. There was an audible pop and a gush, and I yelped. 

"Something just happened," I said to the startled nurses. The feeling was so intense and so weird that I couldn't immediately put words to it. 

"Your water broke?" Jen asked, then confirmed. "I think I'd better get the ball rolling on this epidural right now; what do you think?"

I agreed, knowing how much more painful and accelerated labor would soon become.


*

The anesthesiologist had me lie on my side while he did his work. He was kind and talked me through it all. I hate getting epidurals--to me, it's the worst part of the labor process. The painful discomfort of it feels wrong somehow; the heavy pressure on the nerves in my lower half as the anesthetic is injected is unnatural. 

I'd told him that my last epidural hadn't been strong enough, but I wish I hadn't because he gave me a high enough dose that after 15 minutes, I couldn't feel anything below my chest.

Jen checked me again as the epidural began to take hold. "You're at an 8," she said. "I'm going to call your doctor and tell him to get over here."


*

It was an eerie feeling, knowing that my body was laboring but being so detached from it. With both of my previous epidurals, I'd still felt the hard contracting in my abdomen enough to know when to push. 

I was at a 10 as my doctor came in and gowned up. "I know you can't feel anything," he said. "Let's try a couple practice pushes, and then we can wait until some of the numbness wears off."

Jay and the new nurse (Jen had just left) held my legs. They may as well have been someone else's legs for all I could feel. My previous deliveries, I'd been able to wiggle my feet and even move my legs, but not this time. 



"You're having a contraction," the doctor said. "Go ahead and push."


And I tried, but I felt nothing: no tightening of my abdominal wall, no clenching of my diaphragm. "Am I even doing it?" I asked. 

"Yes," he said. "Keep going."

In the middle of the third contraction, he told me to stop pushing. "Do you want to feel your baby's head?" he asked.

I was surprised--I hadn't realized I was almost done. I'd refused the offer in my previous deliveries: with Kate it was too weird, and with Jayne I'd been in too much pain. This time, I reached down and felt, to my shock, not the tip of the baby's crowning scalp, but his whole head. It was surreal.

One more contraction and push, and Drew was born. They plopped him on my chest, Jay cut the cord, and my baby started squalling. He calmed after he warmed up, his skin pressed against mine.

The doctor delivered the placenta ("I think this is one of the biggest I've ever seen! It's enormous!") and showed it to me and Jay. I got one stitch--my first ever--and watched as Drew weighed in at nine pounds even.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Drew: A Birth Story, Part II

It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.


*

Jay's awesome aunt and cousin offered to stay with our girls for the day until my mom could get there that evening, so after eating one last meal and packing a bag, I drove myself to the hospital around 10:30.

I checked into Labor and Delivery at Mountainview Hospital. My nurse, Jen, led me to what has to be the redheaded stepchild of delivery rooms--it was small and cramped. I changed into an ugly hospital gown (there's no such thing as a "cute" hospital gown, but these garishly pink tent-like monstrosities with awkward cutouts for breastfeeding deserve the qualifier "ugly." For any of you entrepreneurial types out there, consider designing a line of, if not cute, at least inoffensive maternity gowns), filled out a bunch of paperwork, and then lay back uncomfortably as Jen checked me to see if this was the real deal or not.



"I'm keeping you!" she said. "There's fluid pooling, so your waters definitely ruptured. You're dilated to a three, but your baby is high and you're not very effaced. Your contractions are six minutes apart. If they don't start picking up soon, we'll start you on pitocin."

I'm convinced shock is a denial hangover. I was suddenly glad I'd packed my hospital bags, though I'd left everything in the car.

Jen got my IV started (one of my least favorite parts of this whole process--that catheter hurts like hell the whole time it's in) and began the antibiotic drip. At one point, she increased the dosage concentration, and my whole arm seized up in pain. It was agonizing for a couple minutes until she adjusted the dosage again.

The hospital's laborist came in to do a quick ultrasound to make sure the baby was head-down since he was so high up Jen couldn't tell. The quirky doctor confirmed the baby was in position. "Do you have an estimate of how big he is?" I asked. I hadn't had a late-term ultrasound this time, so I wasn't sure what to expect.



The doctor placed his hands on my abdomen and kneaded around the baby. "Nine or ten pounds," he said, and I couldn't tell if he was joking. 

"You really think so?" I asked.

"Ten percent chance he's over ten pounds," he said as he backed out of the room with the ultrasound machine. "One percent chance he's less than nine." 

"So..." said Jen, "Do you have anyone coming to be with you?"

I told her Jay would arrive around noon, and he did, snacks in hand. 

*




I wrote out a birth plan before this delivery, the first time I've done so. I reviewed it with my doctor at my last appointment, and he was on board with all of my requests except for my desire to eat and drink during labor, at least until I received an epidural.

"I'll give you ice chips and IV fluids with electrolytes," he said. 

One of my biggest anxieties about delivery is not being allowed to eat or drink if I'm hungry or thirsty. I know that seems like a trivial thing to get worked up about, but how on earth am I supposed to summon the energy to birth a baby if I'm shaking from hunger or dry mouthed with thirst? I explained this to my doctor and acknowledged that I doubted it would even be an issue since I was planning on laboring at home as long as I could and expected a relatively short labor, but I still needed to know I had the option to eat if needed.

He finally said that he couldn't give me permission to eat or drink for liability reasons, but that if I was willing to assume the risks, he wouldn't stop me. 


I happily assumed all risks.