Leaving domestic violence behind: Surviving to thriving

Domestic violence usually lurks in the darkness. We know it affects families of all kinds, but we rarely talk about it. I think if you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, it’s hard to understand why someone stays. It’s hard to comprehend how abuse can go on for years and years.

So, I wanted to talk to someone who could help us all better understand the point of view of someone who has lived with abuse. Thank you to Laurel House for putting me in touch with Wendy, a woman who stayed with her abusive husband for 20 years before leaving for good. And thank you, Wendy, for your strength, your bravery, and your honesty.

Caitlin: So, I understand you were married to your husband who was your abuser for 20 years. Tell me a little bit about that relationship and some of that background.

Wendy: Well, I grew up in a dysfunctional home. I was just rejected a lot when I was younger. My mom was married three times and her third husband turned out to be abusive.

I met my husband when I was only 20 and the abuse started right away. I had three kids by the time I was 25 and my husband was constantly accusing me of having affairs. It could be with anybody… the neighbor, my pastor, my brother-in-law. You know, extreme jealousy. It isolated me from family and friends. So, I just lived with constant accusations of things I didn’t do. He would grill me to the point where I would say the truth, but that wasn’t good enough, and he’d tell me I was lying, and I wound up with memory loss from that trauma.

Caitlin: Did it make you question what was an actual memory and what were you just saying to go along with him?

Wendy: Yeah, exactly.

Caitlin: Wow. Was he ever physically abusive?

Wendy: Yeah, he was physically abusive, but not all the time. He punched me in the face when I was pregnant. He blocked the doorway so I couldn’t leave. He put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t breathe. He pushed me into things when I was holding the baby. Just a lot of violence, yeah.

Caitlin: Just talking about it, does it bring up those old feelings?

Wendy: Yeah, in fact, I was thinking about it today knowing that we were going to have this talk. It’s been seven years. I have a whole new life now. But, everytime I think about it, it brings back the trauma.

Caitlin: You know, people have been talking a lot about domestic violence as it’s been in the headlines recently and there’s been the question, why do women stay? And you stayed with your husband for 20 years. I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding that. When you look back, why do you think you stayed for all those years?

Wendy: Yeah, I can tell you why I stayed. People ask, why do you stay? Why do you put up with that abuse? But, they don’t understand that when you have to leave, you’re not just leaving your husband. You’re leaving your community, your home. It’s great if there’s a shelter, but there’s rules, there’s curfews. It’s really hard to leave. And then you wonder, how are you going to make it on your own? Especially when you have kids.

Caitlin: And I know a symptom of abuse is believing that you can’t make it on your own, that you need your abuser to survive. Did you feel that way?

Wendy: Oh definitely, because he brainwashed me. “Nobody will ever love you like I do, Wendy. You’re not going to be able to find a job, you’re not smart enough.” I had three small kids, and I believed him at the time. I had low self-esteem and I needed him. I did. I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave him and I couldn’t stay. It was a horrible place to be.

Caitlin: Was he ever abusive to your children?

Wendy: Yes. I have three older children and he was physically and mentally abusive to them. Seven years later, they’re still having a lot of problems.

Caitlin: Did the people in your life know about the abuse?

Wendy: They did. I would go to my friends crying, and they’d say, “Wendy you need to leave him, you should call the police.” But, he’d isolate me from my family and friends. If I would leave him (and stay with friends) and then come back he would accuse those friends of taking our kids away from him. And then they would get mad at me and then I wouldn’t be able to go back to them.

Caitlin: Did you leave several times before you left for good?

Wendy: Too many times to count. They say it takes 7-8 times to leave. I left probably twice a year for 20 years. People say, “Why did you go back?” Well, I loved him.

Caitlin: So, how did you finally leave? Tell me that story.

Wendy: It was May 27, 2007 on my daughter’s 19th birthday. I was trying to make her day special and he accused me once again of having an affair with a neighbor, and he screamed, as always. And I said, “I can’t take it anymore.” It was the last straw. I had been thinking for a couple of months of how I could leave and get a job. I had my fourth baby a couple years earlier and I didn’t want him to have to go through what my older kids went through. That was it, I had enough. It was time to leave.

Caitlin: How did you do it?

Wendy: I stayed at a couple different women’s shelters, including Laurel House. I was a mess. Just so upset. I knew I was making the right decision, but still, it’s really hard to leave. And, as crazy as it sounds, I still loved him. So, I had a lot of emotions. But, the counselors were very helpful and got me into a job training program and I got my life together.

Caitlin: What’s good about your life that you couldn’t have imagined seven years ago?

Wendy: Everything. I have a wonderful life. I have a life of freedom. I can come and go as I please. I don’t have anyone checking on me, 24/7. No one asks what men I talked to, or where did you go, what did you do, all in the name of “love.” I have the freedom to go where I want, and do what I want. I have much more self-confidence.

Caitlin: Has your strength surprised you?

Wendy: Definitely. I learned how strong I am. And how going through this brought my faith in God stronger. And I want to help people. I want to help women who are going through this, and give them hope for their future.

Caitlin: So you volunteer at Laurel House and work with women who are leaving abusive situations. What has that been like for you?

Wendy: It’s wonderful. It means I didn’t go through it all for nothing. I get there and I say, “Look, I was standing in your shoes. I know exactly what you’re going through and I’m here to give you hope.” I made it and I’m working. I’m taking care of my kids. You don’t have to put up with abuse. There is a better life out there.

 

If you’re in an abusive relationship, don’t keep it to yourself. You can reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Do you have a friend or family member in an abusive relationship? Here are some tips to help.

Image: Kathleen Christiansen

 

Heartbreak and Hope: Dealing with infertility

Sometimes the most important topics are the hardest to talk about. I think infertility is really high on that list.

Did you know that about 10% of women in the United States will struggle with infertility? So why aren’t we talking about it? Well, because, it’s really, really hard.

That’s why I’m so honored that Jacqueline offered to talk to me about her fertility journey. If you are struggling with fertility, I hope, in reading this, you’ll find some strength from Jacqueline’s words and realize you are not alone. And, for the rest of us, I hope we’ll learn something about how to be there for our friends and family in this very difficult journey.

Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, first of all, thank you for talking about this issue that I know isn’t easy to discuss. Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey with fertility?

Jacqueline: My journey started about eight years ago. We had been married a few years and had decided that it was time for us to start a family of our own.

A year and a half later, when trying on our own hadn’t worked, I decided to talk to my ob-gyn and asked a few questions. My doctor started me on the process of just checking everything out and seeing if there were any medical issues.

All the tests kept coming back good. Neither of us had any issues. They could find no underlying reason of why we weren’t able to conceive. That was great news.

The doctor suggested that we see a fertility specialist to move things along. We discovered that our insurance covered a good portion of the infertility procedures, which was wonderful. The costs are quite high for both the procedures and the prescriptions.

We had just gotten started when we learned that our insurance was changing carriers. No more awesome coverage! Yikes. We had to move fast so we jumped right into IVF. We basically had to put all of our eggs into one basket, so to speak. One shot.

During this process we also got accepted into an IVF trial so we were fortunate enough to get two shots. Two baskets, Ha!

Unfortunately neither procedure worked. It was a very quick and  head spinning process. We were back to square one.

We moved on to doing IUI next, which was a little more manageable when paying out of pocket.

Caitlin: What kind of emotional toll does that take?

Jacqueline: It’s definitely a roller coaster. Because you go through so many different stages. You start your cycle and you’re both really pumped. You’re like, “This is it! I feel good!”

In the beginning I had to give myself shots of hormones, sometimes twice a day.  Your body is so full of hormones so quickly that it definitely puts you into a crazy brainfog after the first week of shots.

My husband felt very helpless during this process. He knew what a toll it was taking on me.

I often had to take a lunch bag with my dosage in to work. I kept it from my bosses and co-workers. You have to give yourself shots the same time each day and the syringes have to stay refrigerated at all times. I would give myself shots in the ladies room and sometimes in my car. I felt a little like a drug user on occasion sneaking around. (laughs)

The doctors keep close tabs on you during this process and you are in the office almost every other day getting blood work and ultrasounds.

Oh, and they want you to relax. “Don’t stress out,” they say.  Easy to say, not so much to do. After all of that, they do the procedure and you have to wait two weeks to see if you’ve conceived. When the two week mark would start to get close I would tell my husband “Oh my gosh, this might be it. This might be it. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m getting my cycle.”

And then you do. It’s definitely a heartbreak. You just kind of…. ugh.  I can’t explain the feeling. It was just heartbreaking for both of us.

When you include your family in on it, you feel like you’re all rooting for the same team so it was kind of like, “Ah crap, now I get to tell everybody that it didn’t take.“

So, eventually, I stopped telling people when I was doing cycles. It kind of trailed off after a while. It got a little harder each time it didn’t happen and I thought, “You know what, that’s okay if I don’t tell them.” Because they’ll be thrilled when we say, “We’re having a baby!”

So, it got to the point when that I stopped including my mother in on it because I know that she was having a hard time. It’s just as heartbreaking for a potential grandmother as it is for her daughter and I know she didn’t want to see me hurting. Eventually, I just kind of started keeping it closer to home and it made it easier when people stopped asking because then I didn’t have to say out loud that it didn’t happen again.

And, I would cry. Not always, but it was sometimes just a thirty second cry and you’re kind of like, okay, I’m all right. Put your big girl pants on.

So, it was like nonstop. You’re still on the hormone surge and then you get your cycle, and you’re back at the doctor, you’re not even okay yet with the fact it didn’t work and they’re already talking about the next one.

So, you kind of zoom into the next one and you do it all again. Occasionally I was just too exhausted or the numbers just weren’t good and we would have to take a month off.

Caitlin: Why do you think this issue is so hard to talk about?

Jacqueline: You know, I’m not really sure. I think part of you is kind of surprised that you haven’t been able to conceive and why it’s hasn’t been easy to do. I always thought all it took was going off of birth control and having a few glasses of wine with the hubby.

I think talking about it is tough because you don’t know how to bring the subject up in common conversation. You don’t want to get that head tilt and “Aww” expression. That’s a killer. My husband says it makes him want to throat-punch somebody.(laughs)

A close friend of mine had made me her confidant in her infertility journey. She had gone through it way before I ever began my journey. She had kept me pretty close in her struggle. I am happy to say she was blessed with a beautiful little girl.

So, even though I knew about that, I still thought as soon as I went off birth control pills I would get pregnant the next month. You need other people to talk to.

The frustrations and heartache that a couple can go through each month… you both have the same feelings. We would try and stay positive for each other. My husband is my rock, but it is good to vent to a friend when you need to let off a little steam. It saves your sanity.

After I had finished my IVF rounds and had moved onto IUI, I found out that two of my girlfriends were going through the same thing. One of them was even going to the same doctor! That was a real wake up call for all of us. We saw each other every week but nobody was talking about it! Once we started the conversation it was such a relief to know that we all felt the same things and were having the same struggles. It was good to laugh about the insanity too. It makes it all a little easier to swallow.

Caitlin: Do you still feel disbelief that you’re going through this?

Jacqueline: As many different processes that we went through, IVF, IUI, um, yeah. I am still surprised that nothing has worked. I still have hope. I’ve never lost that, but I do have to say, it’s frustrating. I gave up coffee, I gave up chocolate, I gave up sugar, gluten, alcohol, ate only organic, you name it, to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I read up on everything to educate myself on alternate reasons for infertility. So, there’s still a little disbelief that you feel like you did everything right and everything that you could do and nothing happens.  It’s definitely frustrating.

Caitlin: Since you last did IUI, what’s been the gameplan?

Jacqueline: We kind of took a break.  After years of trying and years of fertility, we were both kind of numb.  It took us a while to get back to the point that we were ready to try again.  It got to be a lot mentally and the hormones were taking a toll on my body. We both decided that I would benefit from a break and a detox. I felt like I was beating my head against a wall.  It was somewhat of a relief because there wasn’t that constant pressuring and wondering. So that was a good thing to do for both of us.  Now, I get fertility acupuncture treatments and we are just having fun trying on our own.

Caitlin: Tell me about acupuncture.

Jacqueline: I actually went at first for allergies. It was suggested that I not take any over the counter medications during fertility treatments to better my chances. This also led me to learn more about my body and to look deeper into what I was eating and into my environment. I am very proactive about my health and have actually become more mindful of how I treat my body whether its food, sleep, exercise- its all related to your total body health. I wanted to know that I was giving myself the best chance that I could to conceive. My husband joined me in this process, I could not have done it without his support. I am currently seeing a fertility acupuncturist and she prescribes herbal supplements that support the fertility process. It’s a holistic approach, I am so much happier with this approach.

Caitlin: What are your thoughts on adoption?

Jacque: I’ve always thought adoption was a great option for anybody. When it come to us as a couple, we were so concentrated on conceiving ourselves, it wasn’t something we really talked about or really looked into. Recently, we have started to look into it. We sent off for information to a couple places that were suggested. One issue we have had is the fact that the adoption agencies suggest that you should come to grips that you are most likely not going to conceive on your own before starting the adoption process.  I’m not sure either of us are there yet.

Our doctor also suggested an egg donor, as another option.  It’s hard to wrap your brain around what to do next when neither of us has a clue. Usually one of us is stronger when the other needs a hand up. Right now, I think we both feel a little lost in the process.

Caitlin:  You mentioned earlier that you had met some friends who were also dealing with infertility. Have they been able to have children yet?

Jacque: Yeah. Actually, all of them were lucky enough to conceive! It just kind of happened one after another after another. And some of them are even on their second child now. It’s wonderful. Everybody had kids now.

There’s nobody who is still in our boat. I do feel a little bit like we are on our own little island now.

But, fortunately, I couldn’t be happier for any of them. Like, serious tears when they told me they were pregnant. Because you know how it feels… the JOY they must have felt when they got the thumbs up that they were pregnant.

Caitlin: Do you think it was hard for them to tell you?

Jacque: I hope not, but I can imagine if it were me telling them, oh god, yes. Yeah.

I’m thrilled for them, but I can see where telling somebody who is dealing with infertility that you’re pregnant would be really hard.

Caitlin: It must be hard for you to hear, even though you are genuinely happy for your friends.

Jacque: I can’t lie, it’s a weird emotion. You’re elated that your friend is pregnant and then time goes on and maybe a baby shower comes up and you’re out shopping and you’re wrapping the present or something silly like that, and I’ll start crying.

It happens like that. It’s not a direct sadness, it’s more of a trigger. It’s really hard to put into words. And it’s not directed to the pregnant person or the baby or anything like that. It just brings up a sadness. It’s just really hard to explain.

I just think that it definitely helps to talk about stuff. It helps the soul I think, to let it work through the things it needs to work through.

And I think it’s hard to articulate to your friends or family what you’re feeling or what you’re trying to say, but if you kind of just sit down and talk, it’s a wonderful thing. You’re not burdening them. They genuinely care, as you do for them.

Caitlin: What do you think is the best thing people can do to support someone they love who is dealing with fertility issues?

Jacque: You know, that’s a really hard question. I found that for myself, there was a fine line between letting people know what was going on and keeping it a secret and that’s why I didn’t tell a lot of people because I was trying to keep my emotions out of it. That didn’t work.

So, I think that probably if you know somebody that is going through fertility, just let them know that you’re accessible to talk to. Be there for them in a gentle way and be mindful of the person’s feelings.

Though you may have good intentions, don’t bring it up at a party. I’ve had people corner me over the dessert table and start asking me a million questions. There is a time and a place, and that’s not it.

Caitlin: Yeah, I guess people don’t really know how to act sometimes with the tough stuff. You don’t want to pry, but then at the same time, you don’t want your friend or loved one to think you don’t care. It is hard.

Jacque: It is tough. I wish I had the answer. I supposed gently checking in is a nice thing.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is dealing with infertility?

Jacque: Be your own advocate and do your own research. If you decide to go to an infertility clinic, research your doctor and ask around. You need to have a good support group with your doctors and know that they care about you, that you’re not just a baby notch on their belt.

If you are considering going the holistic route, the same thing holds true.

With your spouse or partner, good communication is important. I know sometimes, as the woman, I felt alone and that was tough for him. Your partner is going through it with you, don’t forget that. Maybe not physically, but they are going on the same ride as you are and it’s important to know that they’re there for you and to let them be there for you.

Caitlin: What have you learned about yourself in this process?

Jacque: I realized that I have a lot of drive when it comes to doing what needs to be done. I’m not the wuss that I had thought I was. It’s been a lot of hard work. I mean, when you give up your morning cup of coffee, that’s tough! (laughs) We have both learned that we are a strong couple and we can make it through anything.

We will make wonderful parents, God willing.

 

Have you struggled with infertility? Any words of wisdom to share?

Image credit: Corey Taratuta

Adult decisions

My friend, Kiki, has had an interesting decade. She was an honor student at Hofstra University, finished early and jetted off to Greece to compete in So You Think You Can Dance. She’s lived in both New York and Los Angeles and worked as a professional dancer, and yet, she says, all these years, she’s just been going with the flow. Never really making decisions for herself. That is, until now.

Kiki has recently decided that she wants to be a Physicians Assistant and, at the age of 28, she is pursuing that dream and finally feels like she’s living life on her own terms.

I spoke with Kiki about what it means to find your passion, even in the strangest of places.

 

Caitlin: So, you grew up outside Boston, and then went to Hofstra University and majored in Broadcast Journalism. Was it always written in stone that you would go to college?

Kiki: It was definitely always the next step. I didn’t really have to make a choice. I never even really thought about it. Even when I was applying, it was like, I’ll apply to a few and get into one. I didn’t even really think about, “Where do I want to go? What do I want to do?”  I was just kind of like, New York sounds cool. The reasons for my decisions were not really substantial.

Caitlin: So, senior year, you finished up early and went off to Greece before graduation to compete in So You Think You Can Dance in Greece. I think a lot of people would hear that and be like, “She made a decision, she took a leap.” But, you don’t see it that way.

Kiki and her sister

Kiki and her sister

Kiki: That happened because my Aunt saw the audition on TV and said me and my sister should go. And I just went with it. I didn’t decide it for myself. Once we got in, it was exciting and cool, but it wasn’t because I really wanted to be a dancer or on the show.

And when I came back to New York, people were like, “You need to get an agent, go do it.” And so I was like, “Okay, that makes sense.”

So, instead of really finding myself and what I wanted to do, I just went with the flow.

Caitlin: So, tell me the story of when you really discovered what it is you want to do.

Kiki: So, I was dancing for a while in L.A. and I knew I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was really struggling, and wanting to find my next career. And then my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I went home to be with her in Boston as she was recovering from a double mastectomy. I was sitting in her hospital room and a nurse came in and was messing with the equipment and assessing my mom. I was asking her a lot of questions because I was really curious. She turned to me, and was like, “Oh, are you in the medical field as well?’

I think I laughed and said, “No, girl, I’m a dancer in L.A.”

Kiki the dancer

Kiki the dancer

I started thinking about it for a few days and started saying, “I want to be a nurse!”

I started thinking about what that would involve and what it would give me in life. I was like, I want to make money and I want to make a difference. It will keep my brain working and challenged. So, I just went from being a dancer, to being like, “Oh shit, I finally know what I want to do.”

After doing my research, I discovered that being a Physician’s Assistant (P.A.) is the best bet for me. Once I decided on that, it was so empowering. I knew it would be a long journey, and it has been, I still haven’t gotten into school yet, but all that hard work doesn’t feel as hard because I’m no longer in limbo and I know what I want. So, I’ll commit to ten years, and it’s cool.

Caitlin: So you’re doing a few years of prerequisite classes and then you have to apply for schools and then you’ll have a few years of school. Did that ever almost scare you off?

Kiki: No. Because I know I can do it. If I do what I need to do, this will happen.

Caitlin: As we go through our 20’s and see people hitting milestones and being successful, does it ever make you look at your own life and freak out? I know it does to me sometimes.

Kiki: Of course I compare myself sometimes, but I really try not to. You know, as long as you’re working hard and you’re kind and you’re a good person, you’re fine.

I think our 20’s are rough as shit. I think it’s as angsty, if not more than the high school years.

Caitlin: So what would your advice be for someone who feels like they need to make a change?

Kiki: I think it’s important to be reflective and give yourself time. And never settle for anything. Because I knew I didn’t really want to be a dancer and I wasn’t going to settle for that. I couldn’t. I knew I would figure it out, it just took awhile.

Happy Kiki

Happy Kiki

The rest of the hard work sucks, but it’s nowhere near as shitty as not knowing what you want to do. I feel like it was my first real, adult decision. Having committed to one decision and deciding want I want and need now, the fact that I’m heading in this direction, that’s the biggest thing. It’s empowering.

 

What was the first big, adult decision you made for yourself? We talked a few weeks ago about what it’s like to finally feel like an adult. Maybe making one big, tough decision is the thing that does it. What do you think?

Staying Home

If you read my post a few weeks ago called Which Way to Lean you know I am fully undecided on the topic of stay at home mom vs. work outside of the house mom vs. not being a mom at all vs. everything in between. So, it was interesting for me to talk with someone who is firmly in one camp.

I expect many people will read the following conversation and think, “Well of course she’s going to stay home with her baby. In her situation, she’d be crazy not to.” And others will think, “It’s nice she has the freedom to choose, but I would be so BORED not working.”  There are so many differing opinions on this issue, which is why it’s so interesting to talk about!

So, let me introduce you to Erika. She lives outside San Fransisco, CA with her husband, Tres, and has worked in Retail Marketing for the last six years or so. Erika is due with her first baby in December(!!) and has decided to be a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Here’s Erika’s story:

 

Caitlin: So, right when you find out you were expecting, you also found out that the freelance position you’ve been working for the last several months is being terminated. But, you were planning on being a SAHM anyway. So, tell me about that.

Erika: I don’t know if I was going to be a full time SAHM, but I was never going to go back to work fulltime. I was talking about going back, when the freelance position was still there, and doing monthly projects, instead of weekly project like I’m doing now. So, I’d have more control over my timeline and it would let me stay connected to the workforce.

So, for me, this is not the worst thing. My plan now is just to stay home and enjoy my child and to sleep when I can and not worry about trying to balance all that. I want to build my family when I’m young and have energy and figure out the career thing later if I want to. I don’t have to have a master plan right now.

Caitlin: So, how do people react when you say you want to be a SAHM?

Erika: Very mixed around here. It’s the land of Lean In and Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg. A lot of moms have their own unique businesses around here. It’s not necessarily the stigma of corporate America and power suits. You don’t need to be in heels and carry a briefcase, but most moms, unless their husbands are ultra successful, really do work and they have careers and they’re very proud of having careers.

I don’t want to say that people look down on me, but they definitely say, “WHY?” They’re like, “Ohhh, that’s interesting.”

Caitlin: Are reactions different from men to women?

Erika: Yeah, men love it. Men think it’s great. From women, sometimes I feel judged, like, “Why are you doing this?”

Caitlin: I would imagine the question you get a lot is, “Won’t you get bored?”

Erika: Yeah, you know, they say only boring people get bored. Even with the free time I have now, I’ve gotten more interests and hobbies. And when I was commuting all the time, I was exhausted. And I didn’t want to do anything because I was so tired. I don’t feel bored at all, I feel relaxed.

Caitlin: Is this something you always wanted to do?

Erika: No! When I was young, I wanted to be CEO of like, whatever, or like, Anna Wintour. But, I think living in New York and seeing all these power hungry women who had nannies raising their kids, and they didn’t really connect with their families, it made me appreciate the ability to stay home.

Caitlin: So, obviously, money plays a huge part in this and the fact that staying home is even an option for you is a great privilege.

Erika: We’re very fortunate. My husband makes a great living by most standards. When I was working full time, I was still a drop in the hat compared to my husband. So, when I decided to go freelance and then to have kids and stop working, it was more of like, okay, maybe we take a vacation or two less, rather than, how are we going to pay our bills? So that was fortunate that that didn’t really play into my decision.

Also, for me, daycare and commuting would take up about two thirds of my salary, so what are you getting versus what are you giving up? There wasn’t a huge perceived value for me.

Caitlin: So, your mom is a really accomplished career woman. What does she think about your decision to be a SAHM?

Erika: She thinks it’s great! My mom worked my whole life. She has two Masters degrees, a PhD, super smart lady. But, she says if she could do it over, she might have stayed home. She’s an educator and she says you can’t argue against the benefits of a SAHM.

I think my dad is probably more judgemental. He worries about the burden on my husband. He wants to make sure he’s okay with it.

Caitlin: And he is, right?

Erika: Yeah, he doesn’t care. He likes the benefits of me staying home, but if I wanted to work, he’d be fine with that.

Erika and Tres

Erika and Tres

But, he definitely enjoys coming home to a dinner made every night and the laundry being done and the house in good order. He can call me at the last minute and say, oh a client is coming over, and it’s no big deal. His life is a lot easier, because when I worked, everything was split 50/50.

Caitlin: Did you ever wish as a kid that your mom stayed home?

Erika: I think I did a lot. My parents were always late for everything. They did their best and I was always taken care of, but they had another set of priorities. I always wanted my mom to be a room parent, that was a big thing for me.

Caitlin: What do you most look forward to as a SAHM?

Erika: I don’t know, I’m mostly scared by it. (laughs)

I don’t know, I guess I look forward to being home with my kid and being their for the milestones, and let them do things with kids their age, and having a community.

Caitlin: Are you going to join some moms groups?

Erika: Yeah, there’s a big mother’s club in the area that I plan to do, and I want to do swim classes and stuff like that. I have these grandiose dreams of being a mom on a schedule and having my kid be well adjusted, but who knows. It’s at least nice to know I’ll have the time to do it!

Erika is in a unique position and lucky to be able to make a choice on this issue. This Time Magazine story has some interesting statistics on who stays at home with their kids, and who doesn’t.

What do you think? Do you want to stay at home with your kids when you have them? If you have kids, what choice did you make? What advice would you give other women and men who are thinking about having children in the future?

Living Arrangements

The following story is what happens when people stop being polite…. and start getting real.

Just kidding, it’s the story of when four good people who are really good friends decide to live together for awhile.

When my best friend Kristin told me she and her husband Matt were moving in with their good friends Ted and Melinda, I admit, I was skeptical. So, naturally, when I started this blog I knew I wanted to talk to Kristin about her living situation.

It’s a fascinating arrangement and one that is clearly working well for everyone involved. Check it out!

Caitlin: So, tell me about your living situation.

Kristin: Right now, my husband and I live with our two best friends and their 2 ½ year old. We have lived there for 3 ½ years now. We moved in to their house when Matt was changing jobs.

Kristin and her husband, Matt

Kristin and her husband, Matt

We had moved to Huntingdon, PA after college. After a couple of years, we realized that we had left behind a fairly exceptional group of friends and a church we loved in that move.  Friends like these are very hard to come by, so we decided to move back to Shippensburg, and it felt like home.

Melinda was my roommate in college and she and her husband, Ted, had stayed really great friends with us. They had just built a house and it had plenty of room to accommodate all of us.

Matt was thinking about starting a business so we knew it would be impossible for us to purchase a home, but it might even be hard to rent somewhere. So Melinda and Ted offered to let us live with them.

Melinda and Ted

Melinda and Ted

Caitlin: And so when they made that offer, did you have to think about it for a while, or did it immediately feel like the right thing to do?

Kristin: It’s really funny because reflecting back on it, Melinda and I have said we were both really hesitant at first. I mean, they were really open to doing it and they were the ones who made the offer, but we were all thinking it would be short term and we were all a little afraid it was going to cause tension in our relationships. But, it ended up being awesome.

Caitlin: So you’ve been there now for 3 ½ years. What’s been the most surprising aspect of your arrangement?

Kristin: I think how easy it is. To be honest, there have never been any actual fights. There have been times of tension just because people are people, but it’s just been really easy. We’ve been really honest with each other and I think really gracious in times where there might be a point of tension and we’ve really worked through it. I don’t know that this would work with just anyone for us. It happens to be a really perfect combining of personalities.

Caitlin: When you moved in you were both newly wedded couples. I do remember you telling me that when Melinda was pregnant you thought maybe you would move out when the baby was born. But, then it seemed as though you didn’t want to and they didn’t want you to.

Kristin: Yeah, in my mind, it was like, of course we’ll move out when the baby comes. But, to be honest, the business was still at a point where we weren’t sure if it would be a smart decision to do so everyone was like, okay, let’s just see how this goes. And if it’s hard for everyone then, you know, Matt and I will figure something out.

Kristin and Caleb

Kristin and Caleb

But, I can’t even remember what it was like without Caleb. It’s like he was always there. It continued to be easy. Actually now one of the reasons it will be hardest for us to go is that he won’t always be around.

Caitlin: So, how do you do it? How much time do you all spend together? Do you do meals together? How do you split the bills? Are there rules?

Kristin: We spend a lot of time together, probably most of our time together. Melinda and I do the meal planning on Sundays and then we take turns grocery shopping for the week. So, we do cook and clean up our meals together every night. We do determine who is going to cook which meals, but it usually ends up kind of falling together. Whoever gets home first should figure it out and then you know, whoever cooked doesn’t usually clean up.  And you should see the meals we have.  When you’re only cooking one or two meals a week, you can really make something nice.  We have all become amateur foodies.

We do split all of the bills so we keep our receipts and at the end of the month we split up groceries and utilities in half.

Also, living with your college roommate means that you still get to share clothes and jewelry!  It’s the best.  We have no idea what belongs to who anymore; it will be extremely difficult to separate our wardrobes when the time comes.

Caitlin: Do you pay rent?

We don’t pay rent!  Our friends are awesome.  In their minds, they would be paying their mortgage anyway, so it has enabled us to save for a house.

Caitlin: Do you have your own living space? Do you get time alone with your husband much?

Kristin: We do. We do a weekly date night. It’s funny because at first we thought it would be really important to do that, and we still do, but on our date nights we usually end up renting a movie and we invite Ted and Melinda to join us anyway.

We each have our our bedrooms and full bathrooms so that’s really nice. There’s a family room and a living room and they each have a tv and a DVD player and so if couples want to do their own thing, they can. And up until Caleb was older, we did do everything together. But, Matt and I watch some shows that are just inappropriate for a child, so that was the point in which we separated because Caleb was awake and he couldn’t watch it.

But, we do watch tv and movies together and we make all of our weekend plans together. We really don’t get tired of each other.

Ted and Melinda went on vacation with their family a few weeks ago so we were alone in the house. We realized that we do kind of forget to keep up with each other on a regular basis. Like, I’ll get home sometimes and Matt will still be at work and I’ll catch up with the first person I see when I get home. It could be Ted, it could be Melinda. And then I never really tell Matt about my day, so sometimes we laugh if Matt hears about my news from someone else.

Caitlin: It’s interesting because you’re like a family, really. What’s that dynamic like?

Kristin: We really are like a family.  We affectionately call our house the RamWald’s, a combination of our two last names, Ramsay and DeWald.

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

Sharing life together is great. It’s the reason that Shippensburg is home for us, because they are there for us when we need them.  In four years you see the ups and downs in life.  We’ve celebrated and mourned together.

And it’s been fun because when our lives are crazy and we’re too busy to cook and clean and eat, they just pick up the slack. And whenever their lives are crazy busy, Matt and I have been able to pick up the slack for them.

Melinda jokes that for the first two months of Caleb’s life she didn’t cook a meal or do a dish.

People always think that this must be really inconvenient, and that we’d really like to get away from this living situation.  We’ve even had people offer their homes to us when they go away as if it would be a favor to us.  The reality is we’ve all really benefited from living together and we really enjoy it.  We are taking a one-week vacation soon to a beautiful beach house in the Outer Banks.  The best part of the vacation is that we’re going with 7 of our best friends, including Ted and Melinda.

the whoel group

Caitlin: So tell me about holidays. I know you guys have a really cool tradition for Christmas.

Kristin: Yeah, this is a Melinda tradition that we took on and will continue to celebrate together even after we move out. Melinda calls it First Christmas. Since we all have family that’s not in the area and we travel to see them on Christmas, we don’t get to wake up on Christmas in our own house and celebrate together.

So, the Saturday before Christmas, we pretend it’s Christmas. We have Christmas eve dinner together the night before and we invite everyone over. And then the next morning we wake up and we pretend it’s Christmas all day. We make a crock pot meal or a tray of lasagna and Melinda will make monkey bread. We sleep in, eat breakfast and open presents together. We celebrate all day.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for making a living situation like yours work?

Kristin: Step 1. Pick forgiving friends.  We really never have fought, but anyone in a close relationship will stir up things on occasion.  I think it helps that we are gracious to each other, we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we’re honest when we need to be.  And it doesn’t hurt that we were really close friends to begin with.

Ted and Melinda are super Type A. I’m a little Type A and Matt is not at all Type A. So they are really clean. As soon as dinner is over, they do every dish, wipe down the counters, everything. And for me and Matt, that’s not our natural inclination. But, because it’s important to Ted and Melinda, we try to do that now.

It’s just really good to recognize who the other people are, what’s important to them and if you do have an issue, just be open and honest about how you feel. And I think that’s why we haven’t gotten in any fights. It helps that they’re probably nicer than we are.

Caitlin: So you are looking at moving out in the next few months. What is that thought process like?

Kristin: It’s really just because we want to start a family and we couldn’t all fit in the house. Melinda and Ted keep talking about how they could turn the basement into a suite for us and we could live down there with the baby, which is really generous, but I do want my own house. So, it’s happy and sad all at once.

I’m not one of those people who needs alone time. I like being around people 24/7. So it’s really nice for me that when Matt is working late, I can hang out with Ted and Melinda. So, it’ll be hard.

We do plan to live in a community with our group of friends later in life. We plan to all buy land separately, together. So we can have a pool, a huge garden, that kind of stuff. We call it the cul de sac. Matt calls it the Cult-de-sac because he thinks that’s funny.

Our culture continues to move towards more individualistic living.  People don’t know their neighbors or borrow sugar or share lives together as much, and something is really lost in that.  It’s also much more efficient to buy one lawn mower for five families than to have everyone spend hundreds of dollars on their own lawn mower.  Plus, most importantly, we really love our friends and value community.

I think Kristin is right when she says that this arrangement wouldn’t work with just anyone. Just as you need to pick your spouse carefully, I think you’d also really need to be careful of who you decide to live with. I’m so happy to see how well it has worked out for the RamWalds. It will be interesting to talk to Kristin again in a few months when she is living in her own place with her husband. Perhaps we’ll need to do a follow up.

Unlike Kristin, I am a person who needs her own space and time alone, despite having grown up with five siblings. I’m not sure I could make an arrangement like theirs work for myself and my husband. What do you think? Could you live with friends? Family? I know a lot of couples end up living with their parents or adult children. How do you make that situation work for everyone?

Curveballs

Two and a half years ago, life threw A is for Adelaide blogger, Chelley Martinka, a curveball that completely changed the course of her life. I wanted to talk to Chelley about the way she not only handles, but embraces the unexpected in her life. I’ll keep it short here so Chelley can tell her own story, because she does it beautifully…

 

Caitlin: Can you begin by telling me what you were doing about two and a half years ago?

Chelley: This time 2 1/2 years ago I was just having my first child, Adelaide Eileen (Addie). I was concerned about “something”, chalk it up to mother’s intuition, but never really spoke up until her 2 month appointment- which was at 9 weeks. From that moment on, life has been a whirlwind.

DSC_0723

Addie was hospitalized for dehydration at 9 1/2 weeks, and during her stay at the hospital, they made the diagnosis of Achondroplasia, the most common (1 in 40,000 births) form of dwarfism.

Caitlin: So, for those of us who haven’t had children yet, I think a lot of us fear the unknown. What will it be like? How will my life change? I imagine having a child with special needs is THAT, times ten. How did that diagnosis change your plans?

Chelley: Ultimately, it gave me a calling- and that’s not even me trying to find some silver lining- the opportunity to write presented itself (in blogger form) and I ran with it. As far as the other plans…

I had a goal of rejoining my employer from temp to full time 6 months after Addie was born, but due to her weekly aqua therapies, specialists ranging from Boston to Providence to Wilmington (DE), it financially didn’t make sense for me to continue working. I always imagined myself this rockstar career mom in heels and Chanel’s, but that wasn’t my path. Many days I end up working with a napping toddler under my arm, and praying that another viewing of “Nemo” will keep her busy during conference calls… I consider myself a rockstar mom, still. It takes a lot to be a parent, regardless of your situation.

IMG_7874

Just being a parent changes life, but all the things you see in movies and commercials become something you still consider fantasies- even though your friends swear by those moments. Milestones are different, appointments are different, and your relationship with your partner becomes about survival of the family. Special needs are known for ripping marriages apart, and Dave and I work very hard to keep our love (and communication) fresh.

We also thought that Addie may be an only child because traveling for specialists and some of the stressors that come along with special needs can be overwhelming. But there are so many what-ifs, and Addie is such an amazing kid, that we decided to expand our family again. Everyone is so excited, so while I’m glad we put extra thought into it, I’m thrilled that we made the right decision that we could and would embrace everything life has for us, and do it with gusto!

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that’s great. You’re expecting in September!

Chelley: Yes. Camille Thea is due September 24th!

Caitlin: As you begin to imagine your life as a mother of two, how are you approaching this differently than when you were expecting Addie? What is the wisdom that comes from having a child with special needs? A life different from what you expected?

Chelley: I think I am researching more, but from a perspective of wanting to understand rather than a place of fear. My Google really runs the gamut from searches for typical milestone charts, to children who are diagnosed with different learning disorders, autism, Down Syndrome. I do light reading each week- just to know. At this point, with experience of being a mom of one under my belt, I’m more lax about being pregnant- but with a rare diagnosis, I know that all the prep work we do as parents can mean nothing to the child we have.

profile pic

I also do advocacy work, so I like to keep up to date on everything I can happening in the special needs world- it’s important to me, more so because I have a child who lives in that world.

And there’s my goal of not living our lives as perpetual victims of special needs. It’s just an aspect of Addie and our family. I try to focus less on Addie’s needs and more on her adapting from the go- which, for now, is her using stools and climbing safely. We don’t have a child-proof house because Addie can’t reach the things we don’t want, but as I watch her, I am learning where a child of average height will be and seeing that we need to move a few pictures and candles.

With parenthood comes wisdom- my best piece of it, is do your thing. No matter who your child is, you are the parent, and if it’s right for your family, then it’s the right thing to do.

Caitlin: Although it was unexpected, Addie’s diagnosis turned you into a stay-at-home mom.

Chelley: Being able to be with Addie and go to every appointment is the best perk. I know everything that is said by every specialist AND I get to see all the milestones! It’s not an “easy” job, but it’s fun to be home with her.

Caitlin: There’s some quote that you hear all the time, something about how God only gives you what you can handle. I think that’s silly and that the truth is, we find the strength we need to find. You mentioned that a lot of people ask you how you find the strength to handle the tough stuff that comes along with having a child with special needs. So, how do you?

Chelley: For this situation, it’s far simpler than one could imagine.

I look at her.

Rhode Island Cake Smash Photography, RI Cake smash Photography,

There are other things I’ve faced, like the death of my brother in infancy, the loss of my 18 year old cousin, father and uncle in quick succession, a major car accident, and recession in one of the poorest states in the country. But, Life’s curveballs are defined by what we think will happen because we only know about the “ideal”, but what happens to us, is also what shapes us. Life is just life, and ideals are just ideas on what would be super cool if…

For me, it’s way cooler to just live it and hope to the heavens I’m doing ok.

I think the best thing we can all do for ourselves, as people, is stop having “such” expectations, as I call them. Things that will be “such a way” because that’s how we think they will be from a book, or movie, or even a friend. Experiences are unique to the individual- I know my husband has a completely different experience with Addie’s diagnosis because I do a majority of the day-to-day. Expectations are healthy, but the disappointment we feel because something “has” to be a certain way to make it “right” is a pressure we put on ourselves.

Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.

I love that so much. “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Now, everyone say it with me, “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Whether it’s a surprise diagnosis, a change in relationship status, or an unexpected career turn, life doesn’t always go the way we plan. But, like Chelley said, those are the things that shape us into the people we’re becoming. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Which way to Lean?

Sometimes I feel like the only thing I’m really sure about in my life is my husband and my family. Everything else is a big question mark. The things I say today about career, children, and big life decisions might be completely different from how I feel tomorrow.

Simply put, I don’t have any answers. Only questions.

So, when I came across this article, “Why Women Should Embrace Good Enough,” I couldn’t wait to share it with my friend, Hartley to see what she thought. (You should go read it right now, too.)

I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to think about having children. Hartley is set to be married at the end of the month. So, we’re both at times of transition and wondering how everything fits together in our lives. What ensued was a winding, 50 minute conversation about all sorts of things that I tried to condense here in a way that makes some sense.

Note: Hartley has read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I have not, it’s on my list. (Although I have read enough about it that I believe I have the general gist.)

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Caitlin: So, generally speaking, what’s your reaction to the article?

Hartley: A resounding yes. Finally. Someone is saying what we’re all thinking. I think Lean In had a lot of sex appeal for women. Sandberg is extremely successful and, as a woman, an oddity in her field. But, I was mildly uncomfortable with Lean In, and I didn’t know why until I read this article. The question really is, what are you leaning away from when you’re leaning in?

Caitlin: Didn’t you used to think you could have it all?

Hartley: Yeah, I feel like we were told that.

Caitlin: I don’t even know what having it all really means.

Hartley: At the end of the day, I just want to go home and hang out with the people I love. And I’m not sure that’s included in “having it all”.

Right before he passed away, our elderly next door neighbor he told us that he wished he had slowed down and been with his family more. I feel like that’s a common regret and I don’t want to have that regret.

I don’t have kids and I’m not necessarily planning on having kids in the next year, but I do want lots of kids and I want to be there for them, and I want to have a lifestyle that allows me to do that. My mom was there for us, and I feel like I’m still only realizing just how important that was to me.

Additionally, I’m getting married at the end of this month (!!) and formally becoming someone’s partner in life has made me realize that, well, I really just want to spend time with him, always. Ha, duh, right?

Caitlin: Well, that’s pretty good reason to get married.

Hartley: (laughs) Yes, it really is.

Family has always been super important to me, too — I’m close to both of my siblings and my parents, and I really value spending time with them. I live close to my mom, and she has just been an absolute life saver when it comes to this whole “planning a wedding” thing.

And so I guess I’m realizing that I’m really lucky to have such good relationships with my family, and but even so, placing value on that, rather than, say, climbing a corporate ladder, has been a weird transition for me, mentally.

Caitlin: You know, I’ve had jobs that are very meaningful to me, but at the end of the day, my relationships have always been more fulfilling.

This line in Walsh’s piece struck me as important:

“Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.”

Hartley: It’s interesting how bragging about how hard you work has become part of a person’s status. Like, the person who is sending work emails at 3am should get a prize or something. You can get sucked into that culture, and it’s a consuming, competitive thing. And I just think how fucked up that is.

I know, in another life, I could be that person. I could have TOTALLY been that person! But, I’m not, and that’s because my career has taken me in a different direction. No one does that in my field — working in the public sector, and I don’t mean this negatively, it’s just the way it is, it is a less intensive field.  I’m so glad that my life has lead me in this different way. I’m not up all night working on emails and projects, no one is. It’s just not expected — or rewarded.

Caitlin: Yeah, I’ve had jobs that call me in in the middle of the night, or jobs where I have to stay an extra five hours with no warning, and when it’s a job you love, you don’t really mind. But, generally speaking, I like to pride myself on how much I can get done during regular, working hours.

Hartley: (Laughs) Exactly.

Caitlin: Another point I loved in Walsh’s piece is this: “I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work.”

I do often feel like the framework is, see how much you can work and achieve in your life, instead of see how much you can enjoy your life.

More and more as my career changes, I do find myself thinking about finding the balance that will make me the most happy. I don’t think I know what that is yet, but I think the older I get the more I’m realizing that I can learn as I go and I don’t need to know what the next move always is. I can go along for the ride and see what happens. It is something I have to constantly remind myself because I can feel the panic set in thinking, “Where is my life going?” I have to remind myself that I don’t need to know the answer to that question.

Hartley: Oh, definitely. Thank god we don’t have to answer that question right now! But, I do want to bring this up, a big underlying issue here is income. You know, if you’re broke, you don’t have a lot of choices.

Caitlin: You know, I was just thinking about this. I was thinking about ALL MY PROBLEMS and I thought, a lot of people wouldn’t even have time to think about these so called problems.

Hartley: Yeah, it’s never like, I need to quit working my two minimum wage jobs so I can spend more time with my children.

Caitlin: Right, so we’re talking about people who are lucky enough to have more options.

Hartley: Right.

Caitlin: You know, I do want to say, too, a lot of people are totally fulfilled by their work. And that’s great. There’s not one single answer to having a happy, fulfilling life. But I guess I just don’t think we should all believe that we need to climb and climb and climb to the point that we don’t know where we are or why.

I think it’s safe to say, we do not have the answers, only more questions. At time of press. (laughs)

Hartley: And I’d be lying if I said I weren’t just a bit jealous of those people, who, like you say, are really fulfilled by their work. So yeah, this is definitely to be continued.