A Family Miracle: Polygamist Cult Survivors Part 2

Episode 08 with Anna LeBaron of THE POLYGAMIST'S DAUGHTER and Ruth Wariner of THE SOUND OF GRAVEL

In Part 1 of this interview with cousins, authors and polygamist cult escapees Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner we learned the back story of what makes their relationships so extraordinary. In this episode we hear how the cousins relate to one another’s painful experiences, healing journeys and the messages they feel called to speak to the world.

Share this one with a young woman you love (teen+). There is so much we can relate to here and their examples are powerful for helping others realize that their voice matters.

Mentioned on this episode:

Ruth Wariner’s Website

The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner

Anna LeBaron’s Website

The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron

Shannon Thomas – Healing from Hidden Abuses

Brene Brown – Website

The Voice of Influence Community Facebook Group (Join here)

Listen here, or on iTunes or Stitcher

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Transcript

Hey, it’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast. Today, we have Part 2 of extra special interview with Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner. Now, these ladies are both authors, they’re cousins, and they’re polygamous cult escapist. And if you have not heard Part 1 of this interview, you need to go back. Stop this right now, and go back and listen to Part 1.

So many amazing things that they share about the way that they met, their interaction, and how that’s been healing for them. It’s fabulous. Now, in today’s interview and today’s episode, we’re going to dig a little bit more into what it was like for them to not have and then find their Voice of Influence.

Andrea: Welcome back to the podcast Anna and Ruth!

Anna and Ruth: Hi!

Andrea: Okay, so we’re we left off in the last episode was that you were discussing the fact that sharing your stories, even quoting your stories out there for each of you was healing for you. But it kind of brought up some other things with other family members know that it’s difficult for them. So have either one of you had any resistance to sharing your stories with the world?

Anna: Oh my gosh, I know that for me having witnessed other people in our family, having written their stories and then listened as people reacted to and responded to the things that we shared, the difficult situation to be in telling such an intimate details about your family. And then finding out those things have impacted other people sometimes in negative ways.

And that has been a reality for me hearing from family and then hearing from others who hear from family where you know that what you’ve done by sharing your story has impacted others negatively and that’s a hard thing.

Ruth: Uh-hmmm. It is.

Anna: It’s a hard thing to process and navigate and work through; however, I knew that it will impact people just because I’ve seen it happen so many times before because there have been so many books written about our family, even made for TV movie that was just horrible and horrifying to watch myself.

Ruth: It was for me too, yeah.

Anna: Just watching what happened, and the fact that these things transpired in our lives and then having to _____ them through other people’s lives.

Ruth: Through another perspective, absolutely.

Anna: And the key was that, it’s somebody else’s perspective.

Ruth: Yeah.

Anna: So when I watched that made for TV movie in 1993 on television, it was impactful and that it was told through somebody’s eyes that I wasn’t very familiar with. And so the scenes and the things that played out, I was a little bit surprised like “Oh my gosh, these things are odd or unreal.” But it was actually very real but it wasn’t my perspective. The story wasn’t told [crosstalk].

Ruth: It wasn’t your experience.

Anna: And so when I started writing, I had gone to the place where I knew that everyone has a story and every story matters. And even me writing my story was going to impact people that my story mattered. And so, me being able to tell my story even knowing that people were going to be having to make shift their inside….

Ruth: In their own understanding.

Anna: Their own understanding of what happened. Those shifts were going to happen and it was going to be difficult for some people, I just felt like I needed to…I’ve known, I needed to tell my story for decades.

Ruth: Me too.

Anna: And had to go through a long healing process personally before I could get to the point where I could tell my story and share that was really intimate, really impactful things that happened to me with the world.

Ruth: And that was something, as I was writing, it was a conflict that I had honestly I was writing because it was so important for me to be honest and for me to share my truth and my experience because I hadn’t felt this as a child. And really when I started writing my book, it was more for family. I wanted my younger siblings to remember our mother and to know who she was because they didn’t have a memory of her.

But I wanted them to know who she was through the experience that I have with her from my perspective and that part of it was really important to me. And so my memoir ended up becoming more of a we-moir I guess. It was about our family experience but I was very concerned about how that was going to affect my family. And that definitely influenced the way that I wrote about the religion in the book because I have so many family members that are wonderful and I adore that are still practicing polygamous and practicing Fundamentalist and still believe that my dad is the prophet.

I knew that I was writing and I took that into consideration. But at the time I was ready to share my manuscript with the publisher, I had my siblings that I’m closest to, which are all of my mother’s children, I had them read it and I want a feedback from them. And I wanted them to be okay with the way that I told the story. But it was impossible obviously to break outside and to get feedback from people outside of my nuclear family.

So my brother Matt, he was still in the religion. He still lives in Colonia LeBaron, he read it and he loved it. So for me, that was important and he also helped me. You know, I had been 20 years removed from my childhood in LeBaron when I first started writing and I was reflecting and remember. I used a lot of photographs. I’d been back to the Colonia LeBaron a few times and it helped with my writing and my memories.

But he definitely helped fill in a lot of little memories and little stories that we both remembered. We spent a lot times of impactful conversation about what happened. And I remember asking him, I’m like “Did this happen? Is this true?” You know, because it was so bizarre to me after having left the town for 20 years basically. It was important for me that it was okay with him because I didn’t want to hurt our relationship in real life.

It was exciting that he was able to not only understand my perspective. And he said that, he said “I know that this is your perspective.” He was very understanding of that and not only understanding but he was excited for me and he wanted to know as the book was being released. He wanted to know how it was doing.

So that part, I felt really good about that my mom’s family, the family that I’m closest to was okay with the story. And not only okay with it but they loved it and they all said that it was healing for them to read from my perspective and understand where I was coming from and really understand why we ran away. That was a very big part of me for my little sisters to understand that.

Andrea: Because you played a big part in getting your sisters out as well.

Ruth: Yeah, my mother passed away in a tragic accident and we lost a little brother and they were 5 months, 2 and 4 years old. And my brother Aaron was only 10, and I a special needs brother who was Luke was 17 and I was 15. And we grew up with a stepfather, another polygamous man who also believed in my father and his priesthood. He then incredibly _____ us as we were growing up and I found out not long after my mom died that he was continuing to abuse my special needs brother.

And it was at that point that I called my brother Matt working in the States – he was only 18, already out on his own. He left home at 14 and has been working hard labor in construction for those four years. I called him. I explained situation the situation. And you know, after my mom died, there was this part of me that was so profoundly just this really strong primal mother bear instinct that I had for my sisters because my stepfather even right after my mom’s funeral wanting to take my little 4-year-old sister and be alone with her.

And I was like “There’s no way you’re taking that little girl anywhere without me.” And you know, he had apologized for his abuse of all different kinds. He apologized and everybody was like “He’s repented, you need to forgive him.” And that’s how the community responded to him. When I found out about my brother, I was like “There’s no way, we’re staying. There’s no way that he’s gonna start taking my little sisters and being alone with them.”

And so I called my brother Matt. My stepfather had left. He had work in the States so we didn’t know when he was coming back. And I called my brother, I told him exactly what was going on and I said “You are not gonna leave us here anymore.” I was just like “There was no way.” My mom wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t keeping us and that had always been. She had been the rock. She was the person that did everything for us.

And he came down literally the next night and in an old ____ station wagon. We throw all the kids stuff in the car. We turned off the lights and we literally just lurched out of town so nobody would notice in the middle of the night. It was terrifying because we didn’t know when he was coming back. We didn’t know his family was going to see us leaving. And by the time we got to the border, the sun was rising and going into the border at Arizona.

It was probably a few of the longest seconds of my life as we were waiting. I don’t know for people that have been in border town situations, the lines are long. And it was always frightening to me to cross the border either to Mexico and or to the United States, but it was something that we were definitely well practiced with. But we had never crossed the border without my mom.

And my brother was in the car. I was in the car with my sisters and I was teaching them how to say, you know, to say Americans, so that when they ask us our nationality, we’d all be ready to say American. The border patrol woman, I remember she shined a flashlight inside the car. She looked at each of us and said “Why were you in Mexico?” And so my brother said same thing that my mom had always used to say and it was “We were buying clothes for the kids over the weekend.”

She looked around. She didn’t have any reason to believe that we were newly orphaned or that our mother had just passed away. We were taking the kids away from their father and she let us through. And that was literally the moment in my life definitely when my time and my childhood in LeBaron….it was like that night that cut my life into parts. Yeah, coming out of that was we were safely lived at my grandmother. So that part of it was good but also left behind my family and life that I knew and I was raising a family at that point, my little sisters. My grandmother wasn’t in position to take care them by herself, so I stayed home with them and her with them and then eventually moved out when I was 19 with my sisters and I raised them in Southern Oregon.

When I was raising my sisters, I first just a teenager, a woman in her early 20’s, a single parent with them and you know, it was so important for me for them to understand what had happened that they have a memory about. But since the book has come out, I’ve had a little bit of resistance from the people in Colonia LeBaron, my family there. And I think really the hardest thing for them, you know, my half sisters like I said who they’re wonderful parents and they’re wonderful people but they don’t understand the situation that I left in. I think that they’re the most resistant that I’ve had or had been from people that haven’t even read the book. They haven’t read it and they don’t understand the perspective.

I’ve had one sister in particular call me out pretty _____ on social media on Facebook publicly. She hadn’t had a conversation with me in years and in fact, I don’t know her very well. She’s quite a bit older than I am. But I also realized too that she’s in her 60’s or in her late 50’s, and she remembers my father. She remembers the man who was charismatic and who was a leader and who created this church.

He was obviously very confident and a visionary and that’s the person she remembers him being and I don’t have that connection with my father. And I think that just the fact that I’m questioning whether or not what he said was true, whether or not he was a prophet has really impacted her personally that I would consider that “no, he was not a prophet.” Does that make sense?

Andrea: Oh yeah.

Ruth: Yeah, so that part of it is very personal and very real for her in a way that’s not for me and I understand that.

Andrea: Yeah, Ruth, this idea that the people who have provided the most resistance to your book and to you. Those people haven’t even read the book that sounds a lot like growing up and not having a voice, not being able to share the story, to share your perspective. When other people were telling you, you needed to forgive your step father, when they were saying he’s repentant, you know, you need to just forgive him now; did that cause you to question your own perspective?

Ruth: Oh I definitely did not feel this in to and the fact that so many people supported my stepfather in spite of knowing this had he’d been definitely affected the way that I felt about myself. I’ve struggled with feelings of very insecure feelings and also not knowing how to value myself because I didn’t feel valued. I didn’t feel heard, and that was definitely part of it. The way that the community reacted, but really more importantly the way that my mom reacted and her decision to stay, had a profound impact on my life.

I did struggle with a lot of self doubt. I thought I was going crazy like I know. I had always been very intuitive that there was always something about my stepfather that really bothered me. I didn’t want to be around him. And even before he became abusive, he was very religious and I knew there was something that wasn’t right about him. So part of me learned to trust that little voice inside me, that intuition that I felt and that I felt very alone in feeling.

But as my stepfather became more and more abusive, I realized that there was something real about the way I felt and that I needed to listen to that. And it was the same intuition that when I found out he was abusing my special needs brother, it was that intuition again that told me I needed to leave. And because I had been right before just in that instance, especially in regards to my stepfather, I knew that I needed to listen to it.

Andrea: Yeah, your book indicated that you’re really resolute at that point. You just knew.

Ruth: Oh yeah. No doubt.

Andrea: Whereas before, you might have been questioning but then when it happened to somebody else and when it was possible that it might be happening to other people in your family that mother bear said “No.”

Ruth: No way.

Andrea: So Anna, Ruth mentioned her mother and the fact that her mother stayed was a significant difficulty for her, what it was like for you knowing your mother and her background and the fact that after you left, she stayed?

Anna: Well my mother is still alive so that was one of the things that I had to consider strongly in deciding to write my book. For the longest time, I thought I’ll wait until she passes because she didn’t know a lot of these things that happened to me and I know it would just break her heart to read about them. But then that’s not how things ended up being which I wrote the book even though she was still alive and with us. And I knew that it would impact her life to read these stories and for me to talk about the ____ of polygamy that she’s still very strongly believes in and resonates with and that guides her faith and her practices.

And so I had to overcome some of that resistance within my own self to talk about the things that happened to me knowing that it would be very difficult for my mother to read those things and to share those things like a lot of people don’t tell their parents when negative things happened to them. There’s just some kind of silence or something that happened inside of children when bad things happened to them and telling others is just hard especially telling your own parents. And so that was something that I had to overcome.

Andrea: Why do you think that it is the way that is? Why is it so hard to tell your parents?

Anna: When things are happening to children, oftentimes they’re being told don’t tell and threatened and bullied into not telling so that’s part of the experience. But then you also have that internal dialogue that happens that makes you afraid to speak up or to say what’s happening.

Ruth: Absolutely! I think there’s a tremendous amount of my experience with the same and that there was a tremendous amount of emotional manipulation from stepfather. He was always saying….as I was watched my mom, she has 10 kids and was 38 when she died and she had three special needs kids. It was a tough situation and I had watched her suffer so much. And so when my stepfather was abusive, he asked me not to tell because he didn’t want me to hurt her and so that was something that was very sensitive to me.

And because of the narcissistic personality that he had, he knew the part of me that was easy to manipulate. And there’s also the part in children that blames ourselves and so it’s scary to tell somebody else that we may have done something wrong. It was hard for me really as a child not to blame myself to what was happening in my life and to not have as sense of shame for myself and my body and who I was. And that made it harder to talk about for sure.

Andrea: Yeah. So Anna, you eventually did share your book with your mother, right?

Anna: Yeah, I did.

Andrea: Will you tell us about what that experience was like?

Anna: When I started writing, I knew I needed to tell my mom that I was writing and she was actually very nervous about what I was going to say. So one of the things that I did during the process of writing book was I just maintained some contact with her periodically and sporadically letting her know what was happening in the publishing process, because it was a very long process.

So it was several years of updating her and letting her know where we’re at and then I told her that once I had turn in the entire manuscript to publisher that I would get on the plane and come visit her and talk with her and read it to her. And I wanted her to know what was in the book or what was going to be written about before that book showed up on her doorstep delivered by the postman.

I didn’t want her to be blindsided and to _____ understanding that her choices, her actions and decisions impacted my life so negatively. I didn’t want her to sit with that alone. I wanted to be there beside her and allow her to see that I had grown and matured and healed. I wanted her to see with her own two eyes in flesh and blood. I wanted to be in her presence to be a comfort to her heart with my very presence.

Ruth: Giving you that space that you talked _____.

Anna: I know that like so many people in my family, especially my immediate family. My mother’s children – they have a lot of conflicting feelings as well as I do. I have conflicting feelings about my own mother because she holds to those faith practices that were so devastating to so many people’s lives. So there’s a lot of conflicting feeling even though I feel tenderly towards my mom, there’s still that aspect of being in a relationship with her that’s in conflict with my own values, moral standards and things that I hold as dear in my own faith practices.

So that conflict is there. It’s internal and it’s ever present in every interaction I have with her, however healing or whatever. But I will say that having her grieved and mourn while I was reading even though she regretted because one of the things that you touched on earlier is that there are people in the community we’re born and raised in, they’re still believe that Joel was the prophet. I will say that there is nobody that I’m aware of that’s alive today that believes that Ervil was any kind of prophet at all, not even my own mother who followed him through his death.

Ruth: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Anna: She does not believe that he was a true prophet anymore. She does believe that there’s another that was and you’re probably familiar with that thinking that would cause her to kind of shift gears in that way. So just knowing that she shift and make that shift away from that kind of thinking and that mentality that kind of keeps you _____ sort of kind of stuck. In her mind, she’s not stuck. She has a different [crosstalk] than I do. But from where I was sitting, she was very stuck and the fact that all of her children have now left that way of thinking as far as that who she believes as a prophet currently.

It’s just a lot of conflicting feelings that’s where I was going with it. There’s conflicting feeling in this relationship that I have with my mother and yet, the community that she’s involved in right now doesn’t require her to not have contact with people that are outsiders or considered outsiders. So for that I’m grateful because I have been able to have this experience with her even though internally there’s still that conflict.

Ruth: Absolutely. That makes sense. It totally makes sense and that’s something about my story that has been really hard for me as to not have that opportunity to have a conversation with my mom.

Anna: Is there a part of you…now, I’m talking and…I’m having a little…

Ruth: She’s having a little interview right now.

Andrea: Please, please, please feel free.

Anna: Is there a part of you that can look at my experience with my own mother and think she might have had that thing response.

Ruth: She might have and that’s a good question you know when I think about my childhood. Had my stepfather been the one who passed and not her, would she had married another polygamous and stayed?

Anna: I have not thought about that.

Ruth: Yeah, so you know that’s a good question and I spent years in therapy. And my idea about my mother was always that she would have eventually left because all of my stepfathers’ wives did leave him eventually and you know that we would be friends because I still felt so close to her as a teenager when she died and there were so many feelings of betrayal that I didn’t get to resolve with her.

And thinking back during my therapy actually and this is something that my therapist said to me, she said, do you think you’d have a close relationship with your mother had she survived? And my initial feeling was, yes of course. I would have forgiven her. It would have been amazing. She would have been my friend and I would have known her as an adult and all of my life’s problems would have been solved.

But you know, that might not be the case. I mean, I don’t know extensive the abuse might have been towards my other siblings and how disturbed I might have been have my mother never left. Those are all unanswered questions for me.

Anna: Well, I have siblings. We have _____ feelings with my mother.

Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.

Anna: Because she still believes those things and still practicing and still…she’s walking down that road.

Ruth: Yeah and hearing your story about your relationship with your mom too, I realized that mine probably wouldn’t have been very perfect either. I probably wouldn’t have been dealing with a lot conflicts and in fact it is true for me and my brother and I. My brother, Matt and I were very close when we’re young. And when he decided to go back to LeBaron and take a second wife, he has 15 children now and has been married a few times but that’s something that’s hard for me.

It’s been hard for us to be able to continue to have that close relationship and relate to each other’s experiences in life because the decisions that my mother made and that my stepfather made in polygamy were so devastating to my life. And so it’s hard for me to watch and go back to it even though I don’t think his situation is not as harsh as ours was growing up. So he has evolved in that since and he’s not nearly as abusive. They have a better lifestyle than I did when I was there but yeah definitely the way women and children were treated, it’s hard for me to watch. It hard for me to see that happening again in my family.

Anna: Agreed.

Andrea: At what point did you each begin to believe that you voice actually did matter, that you mattered and that you expressing your thoughts and feelings, that people might actually listen? At what point that that actually happens for you?

Anna: Well, I’ll just start and kind of ____ with what was being said earlier about therapy.

Andrea: Please do.

Anna: It was for me was when I started my down the road in the healing path that I took when I accepted an invitation from a friend that offered to make an appointment for me with the lay ministry counselor at her church. And I didn’t know I needed therapy but she could obviously see the signs that I was in distress emotionally. And so she made that appointment for me and then after an hour with this woman, she wisely referred me to a licensed professional therapist and that began a five-year journey of what my therapist called ‘peeling back layers of an onion.’

And when I first sat down in her office with her emotionally, I was very stuck. I was very shutdown. When you’re raised in that environment and even after getting out, finding your voice, finding your feelings, or finding expressions for the emotions and the thoughts was really big part of my healing process. I learned how to cry, how to grieve, which those are things that I…I was a grown woman with children of my own and did not know how to express grief. I didn’t know how to express emotions.

I had what I called ‘a very limited range emotionally.’ I couldn’t go very far negative, I couldn’t go very far positive just because being raised in and groomed for eventually becoming just wife, you’re taught to shutdown emotionally.

Ruth: You have to.

Anna: You’re taught to restrict your emotional expressions and so you live a very limited human experience without that big wide range of emotion that’s possible and that’s very normal.

Ruth: That’s human.

Anna: That’s very human and so just being able to tap into and access that emotional expression was such a big part of my healing journey.   Just having tears come out at the corner of eyes, you know, it took my five years to heal.

Ruth: To give yourself permission to feel.

Anna: Yeah. And so the way I talk about it now is because I’m now able to express the negative emotions, grief, and anger and you know rage, sometimes I have permission for that expression in a healthy environment, in a healthy way. There’s a healthy expression of anger and just having access to those negative emotions and the freedom to express them has given me access to the range on the other’s end of spectrum to all the joys and the peace and love in its very wide space.

Ruth: Yeah, it’s so inspiring. That’s amazing.

Andrea: How did other people respond to you when you did start to express yourself? The people that were around you, did they notice sudden change? Did they accept this new expression of your humanity?

Ruth: Good question.

Anna: It wasn’t sudden. Like I said, it took five years for me to open that inner space inside of me that had just been held down for so long. And then I mean, once the dam broke I think I cried for days and months to have let all that grief out that had just been held in for so long. Even years after that, my healing journey has been decades long and I would say that my sister that’s closest to me, Cecelia, that I write about a lot in the book just because we have so many shared experiences.

She has said probably in the last two years or so, that’s why I’m saying this is a decade long process. So none of it was instant, none of it happened quickly. But she has watched me just locked them into the person that I naturally am, the person that’s me, the real me. And just seeing from her perspective and from her eyes and hearing her talk about what she sees in me and how beautiful it is to her that I have finally found my voice. That I have found my full expression of who I am and just seeing that through her eyes and having her expressed that to me has been such a powerful experience.

Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.

Andrea: How about you Ruth?

Ruth: We’re still healing. We’re still in the process, we’re still finding our way and I’m still finding ways to express my voice to say what I have, find the confidence within myself too. Express myself and to feel those feelings too.

Anna: Yeah because you are.

Ruth: For me while I was raising my sisters, I really feel like I was on autopilot for so many years and I just got up. I got up and I make sure everybody was fed. I was in a state of survival for many years. And when I finally finished graduate school and started teaching and I had the benefits to get help. I started to go first to counseling and I started there and sat down in a group situation with a minister and there were other.

You know, there were other people who have just suffered tragedy and I started to talk about my mom and my brother and my little sisters and my situation. I was shaking and crying and after the meeting, a couple of people walked up to me afterwards and asked about how long it had been since my mom passed and we left LeBaron, and I said, it had been 15 years. And they were like “You know, you looked like it something that happened yesterday.”

And I realized, you know, there was so much going on inside of me that I had not given myself the permission to feel and to heal and in a lot of ways raising three kids by myself was a distraction from who I was and how I was suffering. So because I was so young, I think it was something that I eventually became okay because I started to seek counseling and help.

When I was about 30, I was 29 I guess when I first started going to therapy. And I think I was ready, you know, I was ready to express that trauma and I was ready to begin to let go of it. It was definitely…I felt like I started to learn about who I was really when I was going to college. I took a lot of world’s religion classes and I was just fascinated by the idea of comparative religions and the philosophy. I wanted to dig so deeply into that because I wanted a loving God, and I wanted a God that was not what I grew up with.

So I just looked for that everywhere and I found little negative truth everywhere and it ended up becoming a very personal journey for me that part of it. And I really felt like sitting in some of those classrooms and thinking about those things and feeling inspired, I remember sitting down just being lit up with inspirations about what I was learning and how exciting it was that I got to choose what I believed in. Yeah, so I think it started there and then it was the way that the therapist called it peeling away layers of an onion. It was definitely like that for me too and it’s still is that way.

I was seeing a therapist for ____, gosh I think I still go, I probably need to. But that’s where I really started to find different ways and started to break away from that fundamentalist way for women where they didn’t really get to express their feelings or ask for what they wanted. And even as I was raising my family, when my sisters finally moved out, when they were teenagers going up to college and everything and I was on my own for the first time, I think I was 33 years old. I’ve been in therapy for a few years at that point.

But I had a major identity crisis because I had never learned, like I taught my four younger siblings all how to drive and we always were in the car together. We took our trips together. We did all together and I always listen to their music. You know, they were listening to Pearl Jam and all the 90s, big 90s rock people. And you know, I love that music too, but it was always their choice. It was what they wanted and so when my youngest sister moved out, I literally like “What do I like? What do I want?” And I was in my mid 30’s.

I had never considered those things before again, because I never had the permission to do it. I was on this earth the way I was raised and as I was on this earth to get married and have children, period. There was no room for wants and desires and choice. And I found a tremendous amount of healing and freedom and realizing that I had that choice. Yeah and it’s been actually…it was intimidating at first having so much choice and trying to decide and really taking responsibility for my life and what I wanted to do with it. Those were huge steps for me. Therapy definitely helped me get there.

But you know now, it’s fun for me. It’s exciting to plan a trip and go somewhere and you know, to have the freedom and money to be able to do that. So that it was a tough road but really, it has been incredible to me to realize that who I am inside of me that what God gave me was a spirit that could survive and that’s stronger than the circumstances I grew up in. It’s powerful. It’s been empowering for me to recognize that.

Andrea: Wow, I look at both of your stories and I realize that you both left your families, the polygamous cult at a young age. And Ruth, you were 15?

Ruth: That’s right.

Andrea: And Anna you were 13?

Anna: 13

Andrea: Just think about that for a minute. You know the children who are out there who are 13 years old or 15 years old, how strong they are and could be. I was also just really struck by the idea that what you did and the way that you have continued to heal since then has said so much about what it means to escape this feeling of being trapped and emotional manipulation or physically being trapped. So I would like to ask you to consider here for a minute, what would you want to say to someone, be a young woman or an older woman even a man, who feels like they are trapped in a situation that is not good for them? What would you want to say for them?

Anna: I’ll just go first.

Ruth: Go for it.

Anna: What I would say is find a safe person and talk about your experience, about the feeling of being trapped and then see where that conversation goes. Brene Brown talks about safe people in her book, Daring Greatly and the Gifts of Imperfection and even Rising Strong. There are safe people in the world whether that’s a friend that you can have a cup of coffee with, a small group of people that you’ve come to trust with your stories. When you tell someone your story, it’s important to have someone like Brene Brown quotes that somebody that has earned the right to hear your story.

Ruth: I love that.

Anna: So that’s my thing. It’s finding the safe person, someone that has earned the right to hear your story and even if that friend, a mentor, a counselor, or somebody that a minister type person that you have trust their guidance or just a professional counselor. Find someone and speak.

Ruth: Absolutely and Brene Brown too when I read one of her books years ago said that there is a tremendous amount of shame in silent and shame grows in silence. And that makes so much sense to me so I think the methods to speak to someone and to speak your truth, to say your truth and to talk to somebody is very important. And that was definitely my grandparents for me having a place to run to when we escaped.

And also what were important for me in my survival was that intuitive voice and listening and trusting yourself and what’s inside of you and you know develop your intuitive muscles and question your feelings about situations that are uncomfortable. And even though things might seem okay, I think it’s so important that we listen to ourselves. For me I feel like it was that part of my intuition that warned me and told me there was something terribly wrong with our situation when I was LeBaron.

You know, listening to that and trusting that gave me so much strength and it literally saved my life. And we are given this intuition to protect us. I feel that it is a tremendous gift from God. It’s something that I’ve always felt very blessed to have and you know finding that part of ourselves and realizing that is…it is stronger than a situation and it is possible to get help and survive and finding the people you trust, that was a big part of my life for sure in addition to that.

Anna: The part that helped me all along was reading books that shaped the way I thought and felt and thought. And I say books mentored me.

Ruth: Uh-huh, I think me too.

Anna: Because I was a voracious reader and for anyone that feels stuck in a circumstance whether it might any kind of trauma or abuse, there’s a really great resource from an author named Shannon Thomas. She has a book called Healing From Hidden Abuse and that is a resource that I would recommend to anyone who has been through to any type of abuse situation. And she calls them hidden abuses because there are so many abuses that don’t need marks and scars in the body. They leave marks and scars on the skin of your heart and your soul and your spirit. And so healing from those types of abuse that may not be visible for the human eye or the people around you, or even to yourself. So that’s the great resource that I’d love to recommend people who are beginning a journey. It helps you recognize what’s happening around you.

Ruth: What’s the name of the author again?

Anna: Shannon Thomas.

Ruth: Shannon Thomas.

Anna: She’s a license professional therapist specialized even this type of…helping people heal from this type of abuse. So I think a lot of people…you don’t have to grow up in a polygamous cult…

Ruth: Absolutely. It’s just an extreme situation but it happens everywhere.

Anna: Right, it resonate with the things of our story.

Ruth: It’s universal – a lot of universal aspects to our stories.

Anna: And the other part was when work with the therapist who’s very recently been involved in my life in the last few years and she was able to tell me that it was post-
traumatic stress that I being triggered by posttraumatic stress just being able to name it so was so helpful to me. And it was like a relief to me like “Oh my gosh, of course.” You know, it never occurred to me what I’ve gone through was traumatic or even trauma.

Ruth: Well, we didn’t recognize because that’s the way everybody was treated.

Anna: It was normal. It was our normal.

Ruth:   It was our normal.

Anna: And so having her identify that and named it made the healing process go a little bit quicker for me.

Ruth: That’s great.

Anna: And the other part of it is that healing is the moment, you know, you can have moment in time where you make huge strides and you think “Okay, this is it.” And then you realize a little bit later “Oh healing is a process.”

Ruth: Yeah, I thought I was better _____. I need more help.

Anna: I still need more work so healing has been long process for me decades long journey. And so I want to encourage anyone listening that if they’re just getting started or they’re significantly down the road and ____ if there’s bump down the road that make you realize, oh I need to kind of seek something out, seek more then it’s okay.

Ruth: I think to your point of stories and books, I’ve always been influenced by them. But I have had experiences that are often just from reading people’s stories even if they’re fiction. But if I can relate to a particular character, I’m one who needs meaning in a story. I don’t always just read for entertainment although that’s been sometimes, but I really love having takeaways and being able to resonate with characters and learn from them and find meaning.

And there have been some books in my life and stories and books that helped created little _____ shifts. I don’t know if you ever read like that amazing good books like you could just feel your self changing and growing as you’re reading because the stories are so incredible. And that’s been a huge part of my healing process. And I think that’s so important for us to find our voice and to find the ability to express it and tell it.

Andrea: Some great advice.  I want to close with one more question and this is related to each of you and your mission now, like how do you want to use your voice in the world? You each have a platform now. You’re authors, you’re speakers who would you want to hear what you have to say? And what is it that you want to drive home?

Ruth: The first word that comes to my mind with my own story and my own speaking practice is courage. To empower people to feel courageous, to take responsibility for their lives and to know that who they are is stronger than what they grow up with their current circumstances. And that we all have within us the power to change and to create a life that we live and make choices that are positive and impactful both in our lives and the lives of others.

And also too, I think it’s important that we tell these stories in spite of how sometimes hard they can be in a way that’s powerful and empowering and not victim minded if that make sense. I think it’s so important for us to tell our stories in a way that it doesn’t make other or ourselves feel like a victim because I don’t think that’s naturally who we are. I know for me personally, I had learned victim behavior and I held on to that pattern and it created a lot ____ in my own life.

And I was able to recognize that in myself and the choices I was making that brought that about and how I felt like a victim even after I became adult mature woman. That was something that helped me change quite a bit. I think that’s so important for people to understand.

Anna: For me, I would say that one of the biggest ideas that helped me has been one that I’ve been pursuing for the past decades, or a little more than a decade and that’s the idea of freedom. And the way that was defined by one of my spiritual mentors is freedom is becoming the person that you were created and redeemed to be. And so find that freedom journey that I have been on. I hope that any time I have the opportunity into the lives especially of women. And just because I’m a woman I resonates, I find that women can relate to me even though men have related and spoken out and sent things to me about the way my story have impacted their lives, mostly it’s women that I kind [crosstalk].

Ruth: It has been for me too.

Anna: It’s an incredible privilege and honor to kind of enter to people’s stories and hear them and listen to them tell their stories. Everywhere I’ve been hearing people say “me too,” even though it’s not polygamy other things that resonates. And being able to kind of point out the path for where people can begin their own freedom journey that’s a privilege for me and shining the light on “Here’s my story. This is where I began my freedom journey and here’s the path, I’m shining the light on that path.” So that others can begin walking their own that’s been important to me.

Ruth: The freedom to be yourself.

Anna: Yes!

Ruth: Absolutely!

Anna: Yeah.

Ruth: It makes sense.

Andrea: Wow, this has been just truly an honor. It’s been an incredible experience to hear you interact with one another and hear your story, your collected stories and then to really honestly be a witness over the past couple of years, myself personally, to see you guys really stepped into your Voice of Influence in the world. And I want to thank you for your courage and for your freedom that you have found, that you have courageously pursued and that you are now offering others. So thank you so much for your Voice of Influence. Thank you for being on this podcast.

Ruth: Thank you for having us.

Anna: Thank you. It has been an honor.

Ruth: It’s been an honor.

Andrea: Right before we leave here, Ruth, where can people find you?

Ruth: Through my website. I hear from a lot of people through email basically. My website is through ruthwariner.com and my book comes out in paperback this spring. So it’s available in I guess wherever books are sold.

Anna: Tomorrow.

Ruth: Tomorrow but it’s comes out tomorrow but it’s going to be in the future.

Anna: The paperback is already out.

Ruth: Yeah that’s a lot interesting. And my paperback is out and it’s great. I’m really interested about the paperback actually because there’s an interview with me in the back of the book and it’s also got the addition with the book club questions so that’s enough and it’s a beautiful book. And I’m super excited about this next page and about writing again and yeah. This has been awesome.

Andrea: How about you Anna?

Anna: My website is annalebaron.com. I’m on social media AnnaKLeBaron, my social media handle everywhere. So you can connect with me this way. My book is in store everywhere. Both of our books are audible.

Ruth: Yeah, we both write our audiobooks.

Anna: So our journeys have been a lot both similar so my book just came out a month ago, just released.

Ruth: Hers is called the Polygamist’s Daughter and mine is the Sound of Gravel.

Andrea: Awesome. Thank you so much and I hope that you have a wonderful lunch together and time together and so glad that it has worked out.

Ruth: Thanks for being a part of this and for welcoming us. You’ve been a wonderful host.

Anna: Thank you, Andea.

Andrea: Thank you!

 

I would love to hear from you. Share your personal reactions and reflections below, on social media or join our Voice of Influence Community Facebook Group.

It’s Bigger Than A Dress: Part 2

We didn’t know who he was, but someone else at our workshop pointed him out. On the way out to lunch Aaron and I walked over to John Cotton Richmond and thanked him for his work as a federal human trafficking prosecutor and former International Justice Mission-India director. We visited for a few minutes, astounded at the his confidence in the idea that it really is possible to end human trafficking, and end it soon. I’m not sure I would have believed it coming from anyone else.

IMG_5044“What can we do?” I asked. He encouraged us to support those doing freedom work and participate in Dressember again. He’d just visited with Blythe Hill, founder of Dressember, the week before.

I admit, that’s not what I wanted to hear. I was leaning toward not participating this year. Though we’d raised $1,000 last year for International Justice Mission, I remembered how discouraged I was through most of the month, wondering why I bothered wearing dresses when most people didn’t realize why I was doing it. Most of December 2014 I felt discouraged, uncomfortable, frustrated, ignored and insignificant. But then I remembered that those very feelings are what gave me a sense of solidarity with others fighting for freedom. Maybe participating in Dressember is worth it.

So this year when it came time to register, I took a bit of a leap and created a team #YourVoiceMatters. It is  a phrase used in other contexts, but it has great personal meaning for me. I not only want to believe that my voice matters, I want to encourage others to believe their voices matter, too. It’s one of the themes of my life. I was surprised when we ended up with 13 participants on our team. A couple of women even did it because they saw me do it last year. Maybe my quiet month of everyday-advocacy did make a difference. Maybe my voice matters.

December is the giving month. It’s the month that every non-profit hopes to collect what they need to make it into the new year. It’s the month that we look at our pocketbooks and wish we had more to give. But don’t let the enormity of the need and the smallness of your ability keep you from believing that you can make a difference. Your $5 , $10 or $100 matters. Your attitude toward others matters. Your prayers matter. Your word of encouragemet matters. Whatever it is, your offering matters.

Donate here: #YourVoiceMatters Dressember Team

In Part 1, we heard from four of our Dressember teammates. Allow me to introduce you to two more impactful young women in North Platte.

Alena Evans: Reader/Writer/Chinese Restaurant Hostess/Babysitter/Home-school Student

Screenshot 2015-12-16 at 5.58.47 PMWhy did you decide to participate in Dressember?

Let’s see…last year my friend posted a picture in her dress with the Dressember link. She never wears dresses so this really caught my attention. When I read about what she was doing I was kind of like “That’s interesting.” and moved on–the issue at hand didn’t really stir anything in my heart. I saw Andrea post a picture about it too and I remember feeling like maybe I should pay attention to this, but I really didn’t.
Then over the summer another friend of mine went on a missions trip to Thailand, and when she came back she talked about how much human trafficking there is in Thailand. She told me about a woman she had met who had been able to get out of trafficking, and about just the way these girls end up there, and it was all so heartbreaking to me!
Well I had forgotten all about Dressember until November when Andrea posted about starting a team. I actually kind of wrestled with it the moment that I saw your post, because it didn’t seem like I would be doing a lot, and it’s not like New Mexico where you can get away with not wearing pants in the beginning of the winter–I live in Nebraska! But then I thought, ‘Get a hold of yourself! This is what you’ve been waiting for, and you wear dresses for work half the time anyway.” So I jumped in, and I’m really glad I did! It feels great to be a part of the team, instead of on my own.

What does the phrase “your voice matters” mean to you?

I guess to me that means that I can have influence over people with my words, and so I should be careful with what I say. The way I speak and what I pipe up about matter because it is what the Lord cares so deeply about. At least, I want it to be that way.

Megan Wullschleger: 17 year old Avid Writer/ Lover of Stories/ Blogger/ Musician/ Student

HaitiWhy did you decide to participate in Dressember?

My friend, Olivia Youngs got me involved with Dressember. I didn’t understand what it was all about until I had watched the video on her blog of what Dressember was and I fell in love and I knew that I really needed to do this. I knew it was going to be a challenge, and it is! But it is for such an amazing cause. And it holds a place in my heart.

www.bonafidemegan@blogspot.com

What the phrase “Your Voice Matters” means to you?

At times we feel as though we aren’t heard. And though we may feel that, we really can be even though we think we aren’t. That’s how the victims of sex trafficking feel and so through this we are showing them we care and that they are heard…your voice matters in any situation. And someone does care.

It’s Bigger Than A Dress: Part 1

Book Impact: Schema of a Soul

Two years ago on Novemer 22st, Aaron and I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska for Kimberlye Berg’s Schema of a Soul book launch party. It wasn’t just any old party or launch of a book. It was a sacred moment in time, set aside to honor the life and memory of a young man and woman lost tragically in a car accident, years before. It was a sacred space, set aside to hold the terrible-beautiful reality of suffering families and a mother who emurged from years of struggle with an offering: words that artfully and authentically tell how she found a love that is stronger than death.

I met Kimberlye Berg at Dr. Larry Crabb’s School of Spiritual Direction in 2011. I tend to be curious about quiet, introspective people. Kim had me burning with a curiosity that was left unfulfilled that week, but a year later that changed. I was in town and I wondered if she would want to have coffee.Kim & I
We ended up sharing the morning and a few tears together. When I left, I walked out the door with a precious gift – the first few chapters of a book she was writing. I read it all in one sitting that night in our hotel room. I felt strangely cleansed in the remnants of salty tears and trembling sobs. The offering of her mother-heart revived the decaying corners of my own. Schema of a Soul reminded me that I’m alive. And I need to live like it.

Since then we have become good friends with Kim and Jim, staying in each other’s homes and sharing in each other’s experience of writing, family and business. Kim taught me how to make the most amazing bagels and I facilitated a few of her speaking engagements. When I couldn’t decide where to focus my writing efforts, she steered me back toward Frozen. It is a rich friendship, despite the distance between us. That is why I chose Kim’s book to be the first book I feature in the Book Impact series on this blog.

Schema of a Soul

In this book, Kimberlye Berg shares about the deep relational and spiritual struggles she faced with her family when they lost their oldest son/brother in a car accident. She writes to her husband, reflecting on their experience and utilizing beautiful metaphors from his experience in architecture.

Kim gave me the opportunity to share my endorsement in the book:

When the raging winds of pain below, we yearn for a safe shelter for our souls. The beautiful tapestry of practical and spiritual connections woven in schema of a soul wrapped securely around the reader, offering connection where there is isolation, vision where there is chaos, and faith where there is doubt. Whether you seek to understand and comfort those who mourn or you were aware of your own pain, nestle in. And may sacrificial love demonstrate the truth of it strength in you. p.9

Quotes from the Book

IMG_5437Seldom can you know what time last words will come to you. All words hold the potential of being last words. p. 23

He suggested we were being invited to enter into a place where, if we would go, could lead us to knowing God in ways we never had before. It would be hard. Uncomfortable. Take time. Or. We could try to get back into life the best we could. Fill the pain with work, Getting over it, and moving on. We would need to choose. One or the other.

It is a daunting thing to feel and seriously wrestle with intense pain deep within your soul, intense questions regarding everything you thought you believed about God. Many of us go to great extent in trying to evade soul pain, as if that would be the most noble choice. We focus instead on being busy. We are very busy, proud people, and we desperately want to be happy people, not sad. p.64

Pain and heartache are indescribable to someone who has never been inside of them. There was absolutely nothing anyone could do to make us feel better. That was the wrong battle, and we intuitively knew it deep within. p.64-65

We have been soaking wet and all drenched in ugly together, but in our weeping we have been been discovering the more that transcends the pain. p.136

 

Share this post on social media and comment to let me know you did. Please let me know if you share! You will be entered to win a copy of Schema Of A Soul.

 

Questions for the author, Kimberlye Berg

I would love for you each to meet Kim. Here are some wise thoughts from her about pain and loss.

2014_sept_kb_01-21. What one thing do you want us to remember when we face deep pain and loss?
I hope you remember this: Embrace pain and sorrow as an invitation to know and relate with God in this holy place. It is in this place that He does some of his deepest work in forming you, shaping you, sculpting your soul. Enfold yourself in what it really means that God loves you with an eternal love. A sacrificial love that has battled death and emerged stronger than death. He invites you to know and love Him in this place, to love others as He has loved you. Seeking soul to soul spiritual affection, you are invited into the fullest of relational soul to relational soul life even in the emptiest of places.

2. What can we do to support our friends and family when the face deep pain and loss?
I hope you will not put the burden on them to make you feel better because you want to “help” them. One of the most common comments is ” I don’t want to make you cry…” Like it is you that will make them cry. Realize your words can be subtlety demanding. If I sense you are not afraid to be with me where I am in my pain, I will feel some sense of hope. This will cost you something. You may need to think hard about what that is. Think in terms of being “with” rather than of “helping.”

Book and Author Information

For questions or more information about Kim, please click the following links. And if you read Schema of a Soul, please consider posting a review on Amazon.com.

Purchase Schema of a Soul: (Click Here)

Invite Kimberlye Berg to speak to your church or event: (Click Here)

Follow Schema of a Soul on Facebook: (Click Here)

 

This is a beautiful video tribute to Michael and Courtney made by Kim’s daughter, Megan Berg.

 

19 January 2013 from Megan Berg on Vimeo.

Not So Great Expectations

How do you deal with others’ expectations?  I know that some people are better at meeting expectations when there is a threat of shame. Not me. I would rather run away. Put pressure on me and I avoid you and your task. Ugh. Not the most healthy option…

So I have to think of other ways to deal with expectations. This week my post is an article I wrote for Her View From Home. In it I explain how I’ve learned to deal with expectations. It’s not about people pleasing and it’s not about running away. I hope you’ll take a minute and click to read more here:

When You Feel Trapped… Andrea Joy Wenburg at Her View From Home

Deeply,

AJ

Photo by Amelia Wenburg

Photo by Amelia Wenburg

I Don’t Want To Read This Post

Some Days.

Some days I don’t want to read.
Some days I don’t want to write.
Some days I want to go to the movies and eat popcorn and let someone else inspire.

Some days I don’t want to care.
Some days I don’t want to hope.
Some days I want to leave my sunglasses on and let someone else see the depths of others.

But other days I do read and write and care and hope.
And on those days I tend to the weeds growing through the foundation of my soul.
On those days as I soak in the sun, I plant and water and nourish and share the harvest of kindness, hope and love.

Because I don’t want to forget the other days on some days.
I care too much to let the some-day weeds overtake my other-days garden.
So on some days I walk slowly through the other-days beauty and try to remember the passion and power and joy of the other days.

And then I go to sleep praying that I’ll not forget to rest in the grace of the well-tended garden of the other days.

Rest in the garden

When it’s not the end of the world, after all.

Sometimes it’s not the end of the world, after all.

Perhaps you remember Belle from the Birthday Cake post (here)? She is our bull-in-a-china-closet, adorable and adored Pyredoodle.

Belle-Gate

One night a few days ago she pushed her way under our back yard fence and started running around the neighborhood. It’s happened repeatedly, despite our best blockades. We have learned that chasing her is counter-productive. She sees us or hears us call, gives us a taunting glance then takes off for a new hiding spot. So this night we left the front door open and waited, busying ourselves with work we could do near the entryway.

It wasn’t 5 minutes after she almost came inside and took off again when we heard her get hit by a car.

BAM!  YELP!

Yelp, yelp, yelp!!!!!!

Aaron and I ran outside to see her take off behind our neighbor’s house and into the dark river-wood.

The poor driver never saw her coming. He felt horrible. I wish we could get ahold of him and let him know the rest of the story.

It was clear that we wouldn’t find her in the night woods so we headed home and lay wet-wide-eyed in bed. Aaron was sure she ran off to die. He thought through all of the should-have’s then fell asleep. Through a steady stream of sobs and tears, I thought through all of the could-be’s and eventually had a restless nap before morning.

What if a fox finds her?
The kids will be devastated when I tell them tomorrow morning.
I haven’t introduced her to my niece who is longing to meet her.
What if it were one of our kids?
What if it were a friend’s child?
Would I ever recover? I’m sure I would not…

The big black hole of catastrophising sucked me in and swirled me around. I subconsciously gave into it as a sort of punishment for letting something bad happen to my family. I needed to feel bad.

I told the kids what happened when they woke up. One child ran off in great sobs, the other sat on my lap with quiet tears, hoping she would come home. But after the initial moments of sadness, they became energized with hope that Belle would return home if they just

…put out a trail of bread
…call her name
…take the flashlights into the backyard and look outside the gate.

They spent about an hour coming up with ways to lure her home.

I kept crying when they weren’t looking.

Poor, naïve children. They don’t realize how horrid this situation could be.

They stuffed a bag with “dog snacks” for me to carry with me on my journey into the woods to search for Belle. I took them to school, then headed out on what I was sure would be a long, sad journey. FullSizeRenderI got as far as the back gate when Belle barked at me from the other side of the fence – at her escape spot. I’m convinced she would have run away again if I didn’t have the kids’ snack pack. Miraculously, she suffered only a broken leg and a couple of flesh wounds. She asked me to carry her (yes, she asked) so I heaved her up and forward a few feet at a time until we made it to the house and eventually to her sweet veterinarian, my friend Amanda.

You can imagine our relief.

Well, their relief. For the next few days I remained on edge. Fragile. Anxious. The black hole spit me out, but I was still dizzy.

Because I forgot.

I forgot that I don’t have to punish myself. I forgot that many things can’t be explained or prevented. I forgot that sometimes little naïve children know the way of Love better than their wise and learned mother.

And sometimes it’s not the end of the world, after all.

End of the world Belle

When I Should Feel Joy #1: Unprepared

After my initial post Frozen Top Ten”, a few beautiful people asked me to share more about my experience with depression – specifically, post partum depression. My reflections on this story are too long for one blog post. This is not just for women. It is not just for parents. I offer this series in honor of anyone who suffers and feels alone. And I offer it to those who might have experienced or have loved ones experiencing difficulties as young parents.

Our experience having our first child was joyful. Yes, we went to the hospital and were sent home and then induced the next day. Yes, I had back labor and eventually had an epidural. Yes, the epidural helped half of my back more than the other half. But, YES! We were rested and ready! We were very excited to welcome Amelia into the world to the tune of “Testify to Love.” Happy. For a long time, there was happy.

Then around December in our second pregnancy, I was incredibly uncomfortable. The demands of my body and a 1 ½ year old were wearing on me. Looking back, I believe this is where depression set in. Five months later, it was time to have our second baby. We went in for a check up one morning and were told to come back to the hospital around 5:00 p.m. so they could induce and deliver that night. We didn’t think much of the request at the time. Our doctor would conveniently be on call and my body was indicating that it was a good time. We started the process around 6. I settled into the whirlpool and Aaron settled into the Lakers game. What came next was fast and furious. I realized very quickly that I wanted the pain meds I had previously hoped to do without. And I wanted them BAD. They never came. I will spare you the details.

Here’s what I felt I lost in the next few hours:

  • My voice. I had plans for how this birthing process would work, but when things got rolling, nurses were (what felt like) dragging me to the bed and telling me what to do. I felt like they were making decisions for me. They acted like the epidural would come, even though they knew it was too late. I felt like a child.
  • My emotional stability. It took me a few months to realize this, but I discussed it with a friend-psychologist and we determined that I likely had a panic attack during labor. I literally thought I would AND thought it would be better if I would just die in labor. I feel bad even saying that. But it’s true. I’m going to say it because maybe I’m not the only one.
  • My dignity. I felt incredibly exposed and ashamed of my volume, tone and word choice as I cried out and writhed in pain.
  • My self-respect. When all was said and done, I felt I had failed this natural birth thing. I didn’t overcome anything or feel empowered like some women do. I felt dragged and beaten and terrified and discarded. That is also really hard to say.              *Big Breath*
  • My ability to move. For a long time (maybe an hour, I don’t really know) after birth, I couldn’t relax my awkwardly positioned body. I continued to experience pain after pain and I didn’t have the wherewithal to ask for pain medication for quite some time.
  • My husband’s respect. This is a tough one, but it is real. I felt my loss of control had embarrassed him. I couldn’t look him in the eye for fear of the disappointment I was sure I would see.
  • Sleep. Grant was born at 11:45 p.m. They took us to our room around 1:00 a.m. and I did not sleep. I lay there tense and in shock, all night long. No one knew. I didn’t sleep well for months.

The next couple of days in the hospital were a struggle as I attempted to feel and act like I felt as joyful as I did when Amelia was born. One nurse caught me in a weak, tearful moment and gruffly asked, “Are you depressed?!” I pulled it together enough to sternly pronounce, “No. I am a counselor. I would know if I were depressed.”

She backed off.

And I backed into my shell.

I pray you will tuck these insights into your heart:

  1. I rejected help. I think I was so embarrassed from the experience that I refused to accept or seek help. I closed up like a clam – hard and tight. But I was a wreck on the inside. If you feel as I did, please open yourself to help. Reach out to someone you trust in your head – even if your heart feels it can’t trust at all. 
  1. I was unable to be my own advocate. Sometimes people break down and are unable to speak for themselves – even “strong” people. We were not prepared for this to happen. If you know someone who is closed like a clam, be curious! They may act like they don’t want your help, but if you offer it tenderly, confidently, respectfully and consistently; they just might let you in.
  2. Joy is what I felt I should feel after giving birth, so I hid my pain. But honestly, most women struggle. My expectations for what “I should feel” made it harder to accept the pain and sadness I experienced.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our beautiful, worth-every-bit-of-it kids (a few years back).


Friends,

Working on this piece reminds me how troubling this season of our parenting experience was. It has been a while since I shared this intensely personal and vulnerable story with anyone. I believe that is why most parents do not share their emotionally traumatic birthing stories or the pain they experience afterward.

I believe that is why I must.

I do not claim to be an expert in the area of depression. I share my reflections of our experience but if you are concerned that you or a loved one is depressed, please inform your doctor (or encourage them to inform theirs) – especially if you are pregnant.

Love,

Andrea Joy

When I Should Feel Joy #1: Unprepared

When I Should Feel Joy #2: Postpartum Depression

When I Should Feel Joy #3: Shame

When I Should Feel Joy #4: True Love

When I Should Feel Joy #5: Deeper Joy

11 Tips to Prevent and Fight Depression

Trick Your Pain Away

“What in the world is in my eyes?!” I was a mess after giving birth, but I was also working hard to hold it together. But when I walked out into the sunlight after a few days in the hospital, I noticed what looked like shadowy worms whenever I looked into light. I couldn’t quite focus on them, so they were hard to describe. They looked like little wormy life-forms under a microscope in a petri dish.

I became paranoid. Are there worms in my eyes? Parasites?!?!?!?! What in the WORLD?!

After a few days obsessing about the elusive foreign life forms in my eyes, I told my doctor about my concern. He said:

“They are floaters, probably knocked loose in delivery – nothing to worry about.”

Oh. OK. But what do I do to get rid of them?

“You can’t get rid of them. They might go away or they might stay.”

Oh. 

Five and a half years have gone by and they’re still here. It’s weird looking at the world through floater-filled eyes. Sometimes I relax my eyes and look into the light and watch to see where they go. Sometimes up – sometimes down – sometimes around. I never can quite focus on them. Just like there are times I can’t see the forest for the trees, sometimes I can’t see real life for the floaters.

But sometimes I don’t notice the little guys. They float around, teasing me and begging for attention, but if I am focused on the life happening around me, I don’t see them.

Untitled design (2)Version 2Pain is a bit like that.

Pain is an indication that something is wrong. It alerts us to get out of danger: “Take your hand off the hot stove NOW!”

But pain can also trick us into thinking that we’re hurt worse than we actually are. Your body may hurt after a good workout, but that doesn’t mean you’re in danger. Your heart may hurt when your child is disappointed, but that doesn’t mean you need to do everything you can to make it better.

If you’re in pain, ask yourself this: How dangerous is this situation?

Do you need to spend time attending to the pain?

Or would you be better served by pulling your focus off of yourself and focusing it on the life happening around you?

 

 

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