Saturday, March 29, 2014

Exercise and Body Image After a Loss

Any time I stepped out in public after Caleb died I felt terribly ashamed of my body. What a joke it was! I knew that most moms were carrying extra weight after they delivered the baby-but to have to carry the weight and not have a cute, sleeping baby in your lap to hide that weight-that made me angry and ashamed.

At first I ran. I would be gone for 2-3 hours at a time just running and walking anywhere I could get to. Looking back I feel like this was more of an attempt to just "run away" than exercise, but hey it still burned some calories. I really, really detested my body and wanted to look nothing like a "mother."

But then I got pregnant again and with it came the first trimester where I could not exercise. I'm always pretty sick during that first trimester so it was back to the couch for me. Except I was still 20 lbs up from my "normal" weight because the baby weight from Caleb had not come off. And I didn't care at that point. I spent Abigail's pregnancy eating whatever sounded good. I had zero willpower and what little I did have went to staying sane, not watching my weight.

After she was born I really did not recognize my body. I felt like it had become a victim to grief and two full term pregnancies just ten month apart. My body was worn, stretched out, and BIG. I thought maybe breastfeeding would help lose the weight (because that is what I had always heard=false), but for me it seemed to just stall my metabolism and made me more hungry.

When I got cleared to exercise at my 6 week appointment, I started running again. It hurt to run-as in my knees hurt because of all the extra weight I was carrying. I was angry because I had the weight of two pregnancies but only one baby to show for it. Everything with my body seemed like an uphill battle and I continued to hate dislike my body.

When Abigail was six months old I knew I had to get serious about getting this weight off. The emotional and mental toil it was taking on me and my family was a lot. On average it took me at least 30 minutes to find something that fit to leave the house. Since losing Caleb I had developed a real PTS relationships with maternity clothes and immediately put them up once Abigail was born. So that left me with a small choice of clothes, and specifically ones that were not flattering. My husband was so sweet as he encouraged me each Sunday as I tried to find something to wear to Church through tons of tears.

I tried to go to a gym but grief and the lack of sleep from a new baby had changed me. It's hard to make decisions in grief and when I went to the gym I was like a lost puppy. I had zero initiative, motivation or desire to be there. I couldn't decide what equipment to use or for how long and everything felt overwhelming. I left with the realization that I could not do this on my own.

So I talked with my husband and we decided to set aside a bigger chunk of our budget than planned that would allow me to join a group exercise program. I joined Guardian Fitness with the hope that maybe this program could help me get my body back. I was right, but it also gave me so much more.

Guardian Fitness (or G-Fit for short) is a special group exercise program that is run by a military sergeant. We did things like push trucks, take sledge hammers to tires, and hit baseball bats against hanging bags. It was not your ordinary work out. And I loved it! I began to see results immediately but what I didn't expect were the results I saw emotionally. I began to have less anxiety, less breakdowns and less trips to see my counselor. Each work out (twice a week) I would envision my anger over losing Caleb and take it during class. I was literally beating the grief out of me! And the best part-the military sergeant in charge is a devoted Christian. He mentioned Christ often during the workouts and was not afraid to let his faith show. It was the best of both worlds-faith and exercise.

G-Fit helped me lose 27 lbs. in a year and made me recognize my body again. Just recently I decided to leave G-Fit to join weight watchers and focus on my eating. Our budget could not afford both, so I've had to do them in separate chunks. I felt my body was where it should be, but I was still too attached to food. Ever since Caleb died I have leaned heavily on food. There is this voice in my head that whispers, "your son died, you deserve ________(insert whatever bad food I'm craving)." And 9 times out of 10 I gave into that voice. I don't think I would have been strong enough to part with food any earlier than now, 3 years out. Food was a great comfort to me after Caleb died and some days it was the only thing I looked forward to. But it feels like its time now to cut the cord so to speak and regain even more control back.

Exercise and body image can be so hard during grief. What I've learned is that you have to find what works for you and start slow. I truly believe that a big part of my healing emotionally was due to being able to exercise intensely, but I needed to do that with others because I wasn't structured enough on my own. Be gentle with yourself and don't set time limits. I'm still not at my "pre-pregnancy" weight and its been almost 3 years since Caleb. But I'm getting there and that's the point. I think losing the weight and getting back in shape have also helped me to reconcile with my body. I've spent so long hating my body for killing Caleb. Whipping it back in shape has been good because it puts me in charge again.

So for all those grieving moms out there who don't recognize their bodies and have no living baby to cover the body up, I hear ya. It sucks and its not fair. But don't give up, in time you will get things back under control, one step at a time.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Changing Names

Most people don't know this but, my name at birth was Ryan. My parents thought that it was going to take off and be the next big popular girls name in the 80's. Except it didn't and by the time I went to first grade I had all sorts of problems with my name. Since most people just read things off a list and because my name looked and was spelled just like the male version of Ryan, I was put in boy scouts, the boys side of coat hangers, and invited to an all boys birthday party. All within the first few weeks of school! Soon enough my parents realized this was going to be an ongoing battle my whole life and my grandmother suggested chaining my name to Ryanne to make it more feminine looking and sounding. So we did! Most people don't get the chance to legally change their name, but I have. Even though I still have issues with people understanding my name, I'm glad it was changed all those years ago.

So what's the point of this story? Well it's time for another name change! Nathan and I have officially decided to change the name of our ministry. When we first began this ministry I knew that the name would be important. I did not want it to contain the name pregnancy loss anywhere in the title. My logic was that I wanted the women I was ministering to to want to come to my gathering- and no one wants to belong to the pregnancy loss club. So I came up with the name "A Mothers Love" because I felt it validated who we were-mothers- and because our grief stemmed from our deep love for our children who had died.

When I met with a new spiritual director almost two years ago he mentioned maybe changing the name. I'll admit that I did not want to change the name. I had put serious thought and prayer into the name and I had reasons for calling it A Mothers Love. So we sat on it. Once we opened the ministry up to couples last summer I knew that the name A Mothers Love could not hold up if we continued to minister to men. So we began to pray.

Nathan wanted something with the word hope in it. I told him that I felt like Mary, our Mother, had to be a part of the title somehow because she's been such a big part of helping me grieve. So we prayed and brainstormed and on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we officially changed the name and consecrated our ministry to Mary.

Immaculate Hope Ministries will be the official name of our ministry from here on out. A Mothers Love will encompass the women's side of the ministry and the men's retreats will fall under the name Heart of the Father. I love the new name! I love having Mary be a part of it with her being the Immaculate Conception. I love the power behind it and the hope it gives. We have officially bought a domain site and are working on getting a website up. We also have a few events coming up. What events you ask? Let me tell you!(And please feel free to email me at if you have any questions about the following events)

April 1, 2014- I will be speaking at the St. Jude's Moms Group in Peoria,IL and covering the topic of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. Starts at 9AM.

April 4, 2014 -Nathan and I will both be speaking on the Wendy Weise Show on Relevant Radio during her 1-2 PM central time afternoon show (listen to relevant radio live by visiting their website here)

June 7, 2014-Couples Retreat in Chicago, IL sponsored by the Marriage and Family Ministries Office and The Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese. This will be a day retreat for any couple who has experienced the loss of a child during pregnancy or as an infant.(details for this retreat can be found under the tab "Immaculate Hope Ministries" at the top of this blog)

Fall 2014-Couples Retreat in the dioceses of Des Moines, IA. Date still to be determined!

So there you have it-the story behind the name and the name change. Please continue to pray with us as we develop this ministry and keep walking where God wants us to go!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This Season

This season, lent, is hard. Having lent line up so close to Caleb's birthday is always going to be hard, I know that. But each year it takes me by surprise. I still think I should only be sad on his birthday, not the two months leading up to it.

It's hard because there is so much hope this time of year-the lent countdown to Easter has begun. We wait with Christ, suffer with Him, and then end in His resurrection. The sunshine feels so good after a long winter and the hope of Spring is so close. So much hope everywhere but all I feel is sadness. Spring to me means death, which is so backwards. I'm disappointed with the ways things turned out three years ago. Mad that I have can't have that hope in my heart because grief is so heavy this season. I'm having more sad/bad days than good days. Crying more often which leaves me feeling weak.

I don't want to be heavy with grief, but it's just there. It's like the elephant in the room just showed up. I think about Caleb more, about where I was in my pregnancy three years ago this month. At night it's taken me longer and longer to sleep because my mind can't settle down- I keep reliving all the terrible moments when we found out he died. Bitterness wells up inside of me more and more and the anxiety over every little thing is back.

I want to be done with this, and I'm disappointed in myself that I'm still not past all the terrible feelings of anger, resentment, and rage. I desperately want to be better than this grief that pulls me down and makes me wallow in self pity. I want out! But I know the only way out is to lean into it. To trudge through it again, and again and again. I'm starting to think I might never have to give another thing up for lent because this might always be my lent. Wrestling with this sadness and the other emotions this season brings up.

So for this season, I'll lean into the grief. One song that has kept me going is "Oh How I Need You," by All Sons and Daughters. It's about finding God in the seeking, in the doubt, in the unknown. It speaks right to my heart because even after 3 years I have too many questions that remain unanswered, so many doubts about God and His goodness. What I do know is that if I seek Him and bring all things to Him, that's where He'll be and that will settle my heart.

Could I ask you to pray? For me, for my husband, for us? March and April are hard months and I can pretend that I'm fine and try to handle it on my own, or I can admit my weakness. I need your prayers to get through another season without my son. Please pray for me and for all those grieving.

"Lord I find you in the seeking,
Lord I find you in the doubt.
And to know you is to love you 
And to know so little else"

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I was going to say...

Loved this article....Describes so much of how I'm feel lately with April just around the corner....

I was going to say

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We lived lent for an entire year

The long lent of 2011...that is what my husband and I call it. Caleb died during lent 2011, actually towards the end of it. Little did we know that the "end" of that liturgical season according to the calendar was just the beginning of our "Lenten" season. After our son died the paschal mystery (life,death, and resurrection) of Jesus became our lived experience, particularly the death aspect. And I hated it at first, fought against it, cried my way through it. I can distinctly remember going to mass during the Easter season and feeling more alone than ever-even the Church had moved on. She was happy-we were still hanging on the cross. And boy did it hurt! Pain like I had never experienced before. As Easter turned into ordinary time and then into Advent and Christmas- we remained in lent. All the joyous talk of a newborn baby boy that would redeem the world was salt on my already hurting wound. It stung and I had to really offer up a sacrifice of praise each time I went to mass during those seasons.

But then something beautiful happened-Easter 2012. With our newborn daughter in our arms we attended Easter Sunday Mass. This Easter was not like the others. I wasn't just happy because today I could finally have diet coke again or indulge in sweets. This Easter was crisper, more colorful than it had ever been. The reason was because of our year of lent. Our time suffering and wandering aimlessly in the deserts of our souls longing for Christ made His resurrection all the more profound. And the same thing happened at Advent and Christmas. Since Caleb's death I have been blessed to see the liturgical seasons in a new way because I didn't just try to enter into them, I lived them.

Grief is awful-it is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Suffering is miserable- I can never deny that. But on the other end is relief and it will taste all the more sweeter because of the suffering. For all those out there going through lent while grieving-this is our season. The Church is bare, the music is bleak and the focus in on death. And to me that is comforting. Even the beginning words of lent "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return"(Genesis 3:19) make everyone confront their own death...

The sad part is that when lent ends in 40 days, most people's lives will still be in lent. Still be living in the horror of the death or suffering they are experiencing and walking through in their own lives. My advice would be to continue on with the lent. Continue on when it doesn't seem to end because eventually it will. Jesus will meet you in your grief and sadness and despair. It will hurt when the Church moves into Easter and you are still in Lent, but Jesus will remain with you. If you don't believe me then go into any Catholic Church on Easter Sunday and look up to the altar- what is still there is the crucifix. We are never far from lent. His death is always present and thank God for that. He loves us, He gets it, and He will remain with us.

Lent is here, or maybe for some of us it has been here for a while and isn't going anywhere any time soon. I am praying, the Church is praying. Invite Jesus into your broken heart this season and give yourself lots of grace. You are not like others- you probably won't feel up to sacrificing much this lent because your whole life has become a sacrifice. You might need that diet coke or cookie you used to give up in order to make it through your work day without breaking down. Grieving during lent is its own sacrifice-believe that and be gentle with yourself. Hold onto the hope that this Lenten season of your life,however long, will always awaken to the Easter resurrection.