15 February 2012

Remembering Tiffany

Today's post has nothing whatsoever to do with PstPartum Depression, pregnancy, mental health, or anything of the type. Today, I am remembering an extraordinary person who touched countless lives. She was one of my best friends. She was brave, kind, sweet, smart, and beautiful. Her name was Tiffany Leigh Hall and she died of brain cancer when she was 9 years old.

When I was 7, my dad moved to Austin, TX with his job while my mom, my brother and I stayed behind in Atlanta to sell our house. When he moved, he found a new church home at a non-denominational place called Round Rock Chapel. The members were welcoming and the Pastor (Dennis Hall) and his family (wife Vicki and kids Shawn, Aimee, Jason, Aaron, and Tiffany) adopted him quickly.

1 1/2 years later, our house still hadn't sold but my mom had had enough of being away from Dad so we moved out to Austin to join him. To say that I was unhappy to move away from my family and friends would be an extreme understatement. However, the Hall kids (among others) quickly pulled me in and we became friends. If I'm totally honest, I have to admit that I don't really remember hanging out with Shawn that much, probably because he was a few years older. Aimee and I hung out sometimes, and I remember one time she did friendship braids with beads in my hair. Jason, Aaron, and Tiffany were the ones I hung out with the most. When their parents went out of the country, they would come stay with us and vice versa.

Tiffany loved people, loved animals, and loved God. She had a faith that would put that of many adults to shame. When doctors discovered in March 1996 that she had a malignant and particularly nasty brain tumor, her faith never wavered. From the program at her memorial service:

"Tiffany means,the presence and appearance of God,and she came into the family of Dennis and Vicki Hall at a time when they needed God's presence.Wounded from a painful experience in a church and unemployed,it seemed that another mouth to feed would only add to their burden,especially when she was born with a birth defect.Instead,she became to the whole family the joy,hope and optimism that was truly the presence and appearance of God in their lives,"...In Thy presence is fullness of joy..."(Psalm 16:11) 
Yet from the day of her birth on August 20,1987,Tiffy was a fighter.God miraculously worked and she overcame the difficulties of a cleft palate.She sculpted her place in the family as the giggling,laughing center of attention. Somehow,in spite of being the youngest of three brothers and one sister,she had a way of taking charge and making things happen.In fact,her siblings laughingly called her "the Boss".She loved to dance,swim,play and "mother" any child or creature she deemed needing it.Something about her seemed to draw the neighborhood children around the Hall house day and night.She never met a person she didn't see as a potential friend and playmate,young or adult. 
Having heard of Jesus from the time she was born,it is not surprising that she asked Jesus into her heart at the age of six.She was baptized in the San Gabriel River and loved her church.That love was returned by Round Rock Chapel and the churches in Austin and from all over the United States,when it was discovered in March of 1996 that she had a devastating tumor.They prayed,called, sent money and supported her in a fight that lasted eight months beyond the predictions of the doctors.She was a fighter who "fought the good fight of faith"never wanning in her spirit,cheerfulness or courage.Her spirit captured the hearts of all who fought with her.On Saturday morning,February 15,1997, Tiffany went to be with Jesus.Though we will miss her,our lives will forever be changed by her."

It's been 15 years and I still remember that morning clearly. It was a Saturday. My brother, Aaron Hall, and I were in a basketball league called Little Dribblers (out of a church that was then Hilltop Baptist) together, although we were on different teams. The teams met for practice and games once a week on Saturday mornings. Valentine's Day had been the day before and that Saturday morning didn't seem any different. Josiah and I were on a team together and our family had watched Aaron's team play and then we ourselves had played. I don't remember who won, but I do remember that my family went out for ice cream afterwards (we usually did after a game).

As we walked in the door to our house, the phone rang. I answered it and it was Aaron. He was upset and wanted to talk to my parents, he said "Tiffany's gone". I got my parents the phone and crouched against the wall in the hall outside their bedroom waiting for them to get off the phone, hoping against hope that I had misunderstood what Aaron was saying.

I hadn't. It was the worst morning of my life thus far.

I don't remember everything that happened the rest of the day. I do remember going to our next door neighbor's house to tell Miss Tilly that she was gone and riding my bicycle down to the "Goat Ranch" to tell our friend who took care of the goats (and a donkey and a horse and at various other times, varying numbers of different types of critters) the news.

I didn't go to her funeral. I thought that if I went I would have to go to the cemetery and see her casket be lowered into the ground and buried. I couldn't handle seeing dirt piled on my friend's casket. I was only 12. I went instead to another friend's house and stayed there while my parents were at the funeral. I wish I had told them my worries so that they could have told me otherwise and I would have gone, it took me a really long time to find closure.

I was so confused for a long time. I didn't understand why God would take Tiffy. Why would he take someone so young with so much passion for life, who had so many things she wanted to do in His service? I had believed so fully that she would be healed that I had been making plans for a party that I would throw when it was finally announced that she was in remission. I still don't understand why He allowed it to happen but I have come to the conclusion that God is God and some things I will never understand.

There have been many times when it's been difficult to have faith, hard to trust that God knows what He's doing and that He won't let me go. Tiffany was a wonderful example, though, of how to have the childlike faith that the Bible extols.

Today, when I remember Tiffy, I'm sad. I'm sad that she isn't here to see the wonderful people her siblings have married and to be excited and dote on her nieces and nephews. I'm sad that I couldn't giggle with her over the man I married. I'm sad that her parents had to bury their baby when she was only 9 years old. But today, I also smile as I remember her vivacity, spunk, and energy. I take delight in remembering singing and dancing around with her, I laugh as I remember having a mud fight and fashion show with her, Aaron, Jason, and Josiah when they stayed at my house while their parents were gone. I hold fond memories of discussing earnestly what the baby goats down the road should be named. I remember her making up a song "My brother Jason. I love my brother Jason." at her house. I'm sure he knows it but she absolutely adored him. She loved her entire family.

Today I'm sad because she's not here with me to tag on Facebook or text about how my oldest daughter not only took off her diaper but ran around swinging it like a lasso over her head in her bedroom. However, I also take comfort in the precious memories I have of the time I was able to spend with her and the knowledge that I'll see her again someday. I take inspiration from her. She made such a huge difference in so many peoples lives at such a young age and had such faith and love.

Today, I remember Tiffany. To the Hall family, my thoughts and prayers are with you on this day. I love you all and you hold a dear place in my heart. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful person with all the rest of us.


05 February 2012

Expecting the Unexpected

*Disclaimer* I am not bashing anyone. I am not accusing anyone of anything. This is not meant to be taken personally by anybody. *end disclaimer*

I think someday I'll write a book. I'll title it "Expecting the Unexpected". A New York Times Bestseller List review might start with something like "In this masterful blend of humorous recollections and serious thoughts, Esther Dale addresses her viewpoint of what it's like to face an unexpected pregnancy... as a married woman."

I'm now in my third pregnancy. Number one was unexpected before I was married. Number two was a TTC (Trying To Conceive) baby. The only surprise with her was how fast the pregnancy happened once I went off of Birth Control. Number three is, once again, unexpected, a pill baby.

I'll be honest. I've been on a whole roller coaster of emotions with this one. At first it was shock. Like, honest to goodness "No way is this real, am I actually pregnant" type shock. This past week when I finally got to see the bebe on ultrasound and get a due date (September 5, 2012), reality finally started to set in some and I've started to transition from "Um... I"m not really pregnant..." to "Um... I'm actually pregnant.".

Seeing what is unmistakably a baby with a definite heartbeat, arms, legs, a head, a body, a midline of a brain, and wiggling and jumping all over the place (knowing that this view is coming from having a camera wand shoved up the same place the baby will eventually emerge from) made it much more real.

"So, now that if feels real, you must be really happy and excited. I mean, it's a baby! And you're married! And you're a Christian of the Mormon variety so you view babies as blessings straight from God! You must be so excited, right?" Do you want the answer that I'm probably "supposed" to give? The "Supposed to" answer is "Oh yes, of course I'm terribly excited, tickled pink in fact!!!".

If that's not the answer you want to hear, stop reading right now.

The reality is that I'm not happy. I'm not excited. I will be eventually, but right now? No. In fact, I think I'm having a harder time adjusting to this unexpected pregnancy than I did the first. I would have thought it would be the other way around. As an unmarried pregnant girl, I expected to deal with a lot of stigma, judgment, and upturned noses. Since I got married before I was showing, the people who knew were people I knew and almost all of them were supportive of me. There was disappointment, sure, and I expected that. Christian girls aren't supposed to have sex (much less get pregnant) before they get married. But, pretty much everyone, regardless of disappointment, showered me with love and support. Their reactions spoke highly of the quality of their character that they didn't throw copies of The Scarlet Letter at me and demand my public flogging.

Last time, it didn't really derail any plans I had. I was working at a restaurant. When we got married, I only had to move 2 hours away so I knew I still had easy access to my family and friends, my support system. This time? I had plans. This time, I'm dealing with dreams that I thought were about to start coming true now being put off a while longer. Nursing school, Mrs. California-America, all sorts of things I had hoped to do this year that will now be changed or postponed because of two little pink lines. I had just come off the Zoloft and was feeling so much better. I had more energy, I was in a better mood, my sex drive made a return, I was excited about really starting to work out and lose weight. I was excited at my body finally being my own (with the exception of nursing but that's not a 24/7 thing and she's started to drink from sippy cups) and getting to be a normal person for a little while. Now, I share my body with a little person whose size will be likened to various types of fruit (apparently I am currently carrying a baby that is somewhere between a grape and a kumquat). The next 31 weeks will be about making sure that 2 of us are healthy. I can't just guzzle 5 Dr. Peppers if I'm exhausted (the irony being that I rarely feel the need for a Caffeine energy boost so much as during pregnancy).

I didn't want to get pregnant right now. I'm not happy about it yet. But most people expect me to be. Somehow, our society (or at least, the part of society to which I am privy) seems to have an expectation that if you are unexpectedly pregnant while married, you will miraculously skip all the conflicting emotions and disappointment about plans being thrown in the air and jump right to excitement and giddiness. When you add in being a Christian and the whole matter of "Babies are a BLESSING!"? Yeeeah. That makes it even harder to process your feelings. I personally have been told "But babies are a gift from God, you need to be thankful for this". Yes, they are. But you know, emotions are not quite that simple...

The guilt makes it even worse. I have friends who would LOVE to have a baby, but they have trouble getting pregnant or they get pregnant and then miscarry. So of course this nasty little voice in my head starts mumbling about how ungrateful I am and what a horrible person I am to be having feelings like this when there are people who would give anything to be dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

Of course, behind it all are my worries about PPD. What if all this emotional turmoil is a pre-cursor to heavy medication and hospitalizations, to another bout with that not-so-dear companion? I wasn't ready to deal with having to prepare myself for the possibility of another round of PPMD.

None of these things make it easy to process (much less talk about) how I feel, and yet, aren't my feelings just as valid as anyone else's? Aren't my tears just as precious and my sadness at the things I have to put off, my disappointment at facing something I actively tried to prevent, real and legitimate? Why does society ask "Are you ok" when you're faced with a surprise outside of marriage but assume that you are if your "Wait, WHAT?" happens withing the bonds of matrimony? I've spoken with a few other women who have dealt with this same situation and I'm not the only one who picks up on this vibe, I'm not the only one who has trouble talking about her feelings on the topic and who feels guilty about it. And yet, we shouldn't feel any more guilty about our feelings than a woman who's going through PPD should (she shouldn't, by the way, lest anyone mistake what I'm saying).

Eventually, I'll be happy. With all the obstacles that stood in the way of us conceiving, God (or fate, the universe, whoever/whatever you believe in, however you want to refer to it/them) clearly intended for this baby to come along. There is a reason for this baby, it was meant to be and it was meant to be now. I accept that, and I am in awe of the fact that God determined me strong enough to travel this road, that He decided I am the right one to be it's mother. This is my baby and I will love it, care for it, do everything in my power to protect it from all manner of harm from now until the day I die. There is no question that this baby will be raised in a home full of love and caring, knowing that as with every human, it has value that goes beyond the here and now.

In the meantime though, don't begrudge me my emotions. Don't judge me for my feelings, I'm only human and doing the best I can with what I've got. Don't look at me, or any other woman who's in my shoes, and peer down your nose at us or say/think condescending platitudes. Let's work on changing society, changing the expectations, changing our reactions. I, and all those who stand with me, deserve to be able to have and express our feelings on this and receive love and support just as much as a woman who finds out she's pregnant and not married.