Today Is The Day

I’ve had a hurting heart for a long time now. Most of my life has been painful in one way or another, and this is garbage my heart has hauled around with me wherever I go, in good times and bad, in happy and sad…

Thirteen years ago yesterday, I gave a doctor permission to turn off my sweet baby girl’s life support. Thirteen years ago, I took my precious 2 month old baby girl into my arms and rocked and sang to her as she took her last breaths and left this world. Thirteen years ago, I became a different woman. I wish I could say that over time my heart has healed and it’s just a horrible tragedy I now reflect back on with sadness. Some of that is true. I’ve done as much healing as is possible with the loss of my child, but grief is a forever “friend” for anyone that has lost someone close. The problem is that since that day, my life has been one battle after another, one tragedy after another, one heartache after another.

Becoming a bride at 17 set me up for an incredibly difficult life in ways I NEVER would have expected. Times were hard, I never had money, and I had an abusive husband. Then my world was rocked with my baby girl, and life got even harder. I let one hurt stack up on top of another, then another hurt layered on top of that, and so on. I let these hurts layer on top of my heart like one very heavy stack of bricks weighing my tender heart down.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are so many ways my life has improved since, and I’m no longer that broken 21 year old girl with 3 small kids, a mean, drug addicted husband, and carrying around fresh grief, but every hurt I’ve endured since has been added layers. I need to be free of this weight.

So…the answer? I have my first therapy appointment today. It’s time for me to figure out how to let all this pain that I wear like a heavy coat in the heat of summer go. It’s time to love myself enough to heal. You see, I think those of us that go through long term pain in life tend to go back to it, caress it, love it, hold it close because it becomes our comfort. It’s familiar. It’s always there. And life without it can be scary, so we hold ourselves back with it. Well, I’m done with that. I deserve a happy life, so today is my first step in that direction. I may be a single mom, I may be a tender spirit, and I may have been dealt a shitty hand in many ways in life, but I choose to not let any of that hold me back any longer. Today is the day. Today is the day my healing begins.

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Healing Hurts

I’ve been thinking a lot about deep hurts lately. The kind that cut deep into one’s soul and make one’s heart bleed for a long time. These hurts…these hurts that steal one’s breath, these hurts that cause body shaking, soul quaking sobbing crying…these hurts, I’m familiar with.

Today, I told someone about a memory of my oldest and youngest child together. It is probably my only clear and specific memory of these two children together since my youngest’s life was stolen from us way too early. The memory is a fond one, but after I mentioned it, I felt a familiar and yet horrible pain that I wish my heart had never known. The pain of grief…the kind of grief that you could never know unless you are a parent that has held your dead child.

It doesn’t matter how long has passed, there will forever be moments where intense grief sneaks up and squeezes my heart so hard it feels like I won’t be able to catch my breath again. Now, admittedly, these moments are rare now (thank God), but they happen at random and will happen forever. I can talk about my daughter without crying, and I do this frequently, but there are just those times where it is painful again like back at the beginning when she was first gone.

I’m certain that today’s pain was a byproduct of other intense hurts I’ve been feeling lately. It’s like having a fresh scab that gets bumped. While that bump wasn’t much, the wound is fresh, so it bleeds easily. That is my heart these days. I can only handle so much before I’m bleeding all over the place, and lately, baby, I’m bleeding.

I get told frequently in life that I am strong, and this is true. I continue to wake up each day with a smile and fresh hope, but it doesn’t make what I endure any easier. In fact, I don’t even know anymore that this is necessarily a good thing. It just is what it is. I personally don’t feel like it’s anything that I have a choice in—it’s just who I am.

So lately, while so much is searing my heart, while I continue to wake each day filled with hope, while each day something hurts deeply and I smile anyway, please know that doesn’t mean any of it is easy. I’m human and I hurt. Like so many others out there, I’m just trying to get through life. I’m trying to not just survive, but thrive. I have no choice but to believe that while there is so much that hurts today, there can be so much that feels amazing tomorrow. It is in this hope that I find healing. A healing that lets me keep going. So in the midst of pain tonight, I smile knowing that once again, I will be up in the morning with the world’s biggest hopes, and maybe, just maybe, tomorrow the hurts will be healed.

Forgive Me???

I’ve been thinking lately about forgiveness. Not just forgiveness in general–not the kind you give someone else, but the kind you give to yourself.

When you make big mistakes, when you hurt others that you love the most, when you have moments that become the ugliest skeletons in your closet, how do you forgive yourself? This has been a question I’ve had for many years now.

More than a dozen years ago, when my child passed away, there was a member of my now ex-husband’s family that went around saying horrible things about me. When someone approached me and said, “’So and so’ is saying that you killed your baby,” I saw an anger I’d never known in my entire life. It took over everything and was all I could think about. I would sit at work and think about all the ways I wanted to hurt this woman like her cold words hurt me. It very quickly got to a point where I knew I needed to seek out help in figuring out how to let it go because the anger was eating away at me.

The advice that I was given was to forgive her. This shocked me at first because how was I supposed to even think about forgiving someone that could say something so heinous about me?! That was the answer though. “How do I do that?!” I asked. I was told that I needed to just keep telling myself that I forgive her. Every time she popped into my head, I was supposed to remind myself that she is forgiven, until eventually, I truly forgave her.

I can no longer recall how long it took for my anger to stop overpowering me, but eventually, I no longer felt hatred towards this woman. Eventually, I forgave her even. Ever since this, I’ve used this tool in many scenarios with many people because it is effective and gives me inner peace.

Back to my current issue though, I have held onto some intense grief and guilt about something else aimed at myself for many years. I’ve always felt that I didn’t deserve forgiveness. I made some horrible mistakes and I hurt the people most important to me. I didn’t just hurt them, but they are forever impacted and changed by this time period.

Now, because this was from so long ago, I don’t think about it all the time. I don’t dwell every day on the painful memories or even the guilt, but any time it is brought up, that guilt comes rushing right back to the surface. I feel a weight on my chest and I feel strangled, unable to breathe easily. I messed up. Now, we all know that for most of us, we are our own worst critics, and that’s true here too I suppose, but I just haven’t been able to let it go.

A few nights ago, something of the past was brought up and once again, I cried and grieved. As my body shaking sobs slowed, I thought about how long this has been plaguing me for. “Do I deserve my own forgiveness yet?” I wondered to myself, “Do I deserve for it to happen ever, at all?” For the first time, I’m thinking that maybe I do.

So now, I’m trying to figure out getting over that hump and allowing it for myself. I have to figure out after almost 10 years, how do I let go of this? My guess is that it is going to be the same way as it was to forgive the woman that spread those horrible rumors. I have to just keep reminding myself that I am forgiven when it comes to mind. Every time the guilt rises, I need to tell myself that I don’t need to feel that way anymore.

Already, there is some relief. Deciding that I am worthy of my own forgiveness is a big deal. That’s more progress than I’ve made in years and years. I have finally decided though, I deserve it.

If you are hanging onto guilt and grief and unforgiveness of yourself too, I’m encouraging you to take this step with me and choose to lay it down. If you can forgive others, what makes you so much worse? The freedom found in self forgiveness is worth it. You are worth it. So take that step, my friends. Embrace the inner peace. Forgive.

Forgive
*Picture from Google*

Rest Peacefully, My Child

I’ve heard before that grief is like a drunk family member leaving a get together. He’s announced he’s leaving and he’s got his hand on the door and all of his stuff in his hands, but then he steps back in and he just keeps talking. The process then repeats. That’s exactly what grief is like. Just when you think you can pull yourself together and it’s all going to be okay and that grief is going to leave, it steps right back into the living room and sets his stuff back down.  

It’s been almost 12 years since I held my baby, rocked her, and sang to her as she took her last breaths here on earth. That’s 11 birthdays, 11 Christmases, 11 Mother’s Days, and so much more missed. Countless kisses, learning to ride a bike, booboos I can soothe, “I love you, Mommy”, moments of watching her sleep peacefully, brushing her hair, late night snuggles and talks, school concerts, and dancing in the kitchen have all been taken from me.

When my sweet baby first passed, I thought I was going to die from heartache. I thought there would literally be a chance that I would close my eyes and drift off to sleep and my heart would just stop beating because it hurt so badly. I prayed every night that God would bring her to me in my dreams so that I could snuggle and nurse her and breathe in her sweet baby aroma even if only for a moment. He didn’t though and almost 12 years later, I still wish that He would.

I used to write her poems. I wrote them randomly at first and then I wrote them on her birthdays and the anniversaries of her entering Heaven. Writing has always been my coping mechanism to help the chaos in my soul and losing her has been no different.

I initially started out writing this post with an entirely different plan and story to tell, but I just can’t right now. Instead, I’m baring my already naked soul to you all in a different way. Some day I will tell that story, but for today, I’m just sharing some old posts and poems.

For her 9th birthday I wrote:

Another One
I have a heartache, for which there is no cure,
I know a pain that most never will.
It claws, and it burns, and it tears me apart,
Yet, for it’s hurt, there is no pill.

It doesn’t matter how many years pass,
This day always takes me right back.
Back to the day you came into this world,
Up until the day that you passed.

You should be turning 9 years,
But you never even made it to three months old.
I didn’t get enough time with your precious smile,
Didn’t get enough time with you to hold.

I ache every day for you,
But on this day the ache is a little more fierce.
I miss you, and I love you,
And forever my heart, with grief, is pierced.

Happy ninth birthday, Gracie,
This poem is all I get to do.
So until next year’s day,
Know that Mama truly loves and misses you.
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For the 10th anniversary of her passing, I wrote:

It’s been 3,652 days. 522 weeks. 10 years. 1 decade since I held you in my arms as you took your last breath. In some ways, it seemed to fly by. In other ways, the time crawled. Every moment of the last ten years my heart has ached with the loss of you. Here I am, all these years later, and I still feel like I have a gaping wound in my soul. It will never heal. That hole will never be closed. I love and miss you with all that I am, Gracie. I’m in no hurry to leave this earth, but I’m joyous knowing that when I do, we’ll be reunited and enjoy eternity together in His kingdom. ♡

For her 8th birthday, the day before it I wrote:

Tomorrow
I just cried so hard it felt like the world was gonna end.
Tomorrow, we were supposed to celebrate the day you turn eight,
But instead, I remember every moment of your two months that I can,
And even after all these years, I still can’t believe this was your fate.

Missing you, I think and wonder about you so much.
Would you prefer your hair short or long, worn up, down, in braids, or in curls?
Would you be the girl outside playing sports and getting dirty,
Or would you be the one trying on dress after pretty dress, turning in the mirror and watching as it twirls?

A million questions I will never have the answers to,
Yet they constantly plague my heart and mind anyway.
These are not the thoughts and pains I should be having to endure
As we celebrate what should be your happy birthday.

Gracie, I’ll miss you each day that I have breath in me.
Forever on this earth, I’ll have a gaping hole in my heart.
But, my sweet baby girl, don’t you worry,
I take comfort in the knowledge that there will come a day we will no longer be apart.

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In January of 2006, I wrote:

In Time

My life must continue now,
Even though grief tore it apart.
The pain was enough to kill me
I thought I’d die from a broken heart.
But my family needs me stable.
My kids need me to be strong.
I know I’ve gotten better
‘Cause in the beginning, I thought I couldn’t go on.
I thank the Lord for every day,
Each day is a gift from God above.
I’ve gotten where I am now
From his all-powerful, never ending love.
Someday, I will see her again,
And a joyful reunion it will be.
Because, in time, life will continue.
It will be my family, Gracie, and me.
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In 2013, I wrote:

Never should a mother out live her child,
Never should a mother have this ache in her soul.
Forever and always part of me will be broken,
Because without you I’m never quite whole.

My sweet, precious baby,
Without you, I should not be.
My whole heart aches for the loss of you,
This pain, I’ll never be free.

As your birthday nears once again,
The pain is once again brand new.
Because no matter what joy life brings me,
I’ll always be without you.

Gracie ****** *****, I love you with all that I am,
And I live a life with a wound in my chest,
Because no matter what comes my way,
I’ll always feel pain, knowing I laid my sweet baby to rest.10487201_1446806232264022_1392835415485502560_n

I’m never going to be the same. I’m never going to not hurt. I’m never going to get to a point where I’m suddenly all better. For the rest of my entire life, I will deeply miss her, I will ache intensely, and I will be incomplete.

Happy birthday once again, my sweet angel. There will never be enough words to tell you how much I truly love you and will forever. Rest peacefully with the angels until I see you again…PhotoGrid_1469225388613

Love,
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The Disowned Devil

Things have been crazy weird lately and I’m not really sure which end is up and which is down. I wrote about finding my biological father’s family in my blog, but on Facebook, I only had said that I met family I’d never known before from my biological father’s side and that I have older siblings. The other night, I received an intense phone call from my grandmother (my mother’s mother). I was answering a call from the high school at the same time as she was calling, so initially it went straight to voicemail. Because I detest listening to voicemails, my recorded message requests that callers hang up and text me.

The voicemail she left started off with her sternly saying, “I will NOT text you. . .” and I knew immediately that things were headed downhill.

“I am SO upset with you right now over this taking up with that puke bastard’s offspring. I wonder if all of them are legal, and if any other people out there have been raped by him. I am FURIOUS.”

Tears instantly sprang to my eyes as I felt the blood drain from my face. I knew there had to be some kind of fallout somewhere from all of this and it looked like I’d found it. I didn’t want to have any confrontation at all, but I didn’t want to disrespect my grandmother by not calling back either. I took a deep breath and redialed.

She began to yell as soon as she answered. She was upset for all that my mother has gone through. She talked about “her baby” and all the bad that she had endured. I tried to defend myself. I tried to explain that I wasn’t looking for a relationship with my father (which is impossible even if I was since he is deceased). I tried to explain how I just wanted information and I didn’t set out to have a relationship with anyone. She didn’t care what I had to say and told me that I have to choose—either them or her.

My grandmother mocked me crying, refused to listen to what I had to say, and then told me, “You know, Niki, you have to think of someone other than yourself for once in your life.”

That touched a nerve. It is very much in me to care about others around me. It is very much in my nature to bend over backwards for others, and I would give the shirt off my back to a stranger if need be. To be told I’m so selfish and need to stop thinking about myself was a slap in the face. On top of just who I am in general, I had agonized over all of this for all involved. I didn’t want to step on my mother’s toes. I haven’t wanted to step on my new siblings toes. I haven’t wanted to stir up negativity. I have spent hours thinking and worrying about it all, thinking about everyone, and thinking about everyone’s feelings.

I ended the phone call there. There was clearly going to be nothing positive from continuing to talk and I was no longer in control of my emotions either. I cried. Hard. During the conversation, my grandmother claimed that my siblings couldn’t be good—they come from the Devil. She refused to acknowledge that they had not done anything at all personally against my mom or anyone else involved. I felt defensive on their behalf, but even more, I felt stunned because if they are bad simply because of their DNA, I must be bad too. I’m his child too. Am I the Devil???

Then, things got even worse when I got on Facebook and saw that my grandmother had commented on the status about finding my siblings. My original post had said, “. . . Most people don’t know that I’ve never known my biological father and that while all the surrounding details aren’t public business, I can say that my heart is truly happy to have found that I have 2 brothers and a sister. . .”

My grandmother commented, “And if all the details were made public who would be so proud. I used to be your grandmother but you go with that new family now and leave me out of your life.”

I was so embarrassed and hurt. That comment had been there for 30 minutes before I saw and deleted it. I didn’t want to delete her from my profile because I was hoping she would just be temporarily upset and would calm down. I’m also not a fan of social media drama and deleting and re-adding people. Less than an hour later though, another comment appeared, “You can go with that my granddaughter but cross me off the list of your family. You know why.”

Again, I deleted the comment and cried some more. I then shared a poem I’d written about being a strong woman, and she then commented beneath that saying, “Bull.”

What was I supposed to do? My own flesh and blood was angry at me. I never in my life thought I could do anything to make my family disown me. Isn’t a parent’s (and grandparent’s) love supposed to be unconditional?

When I was finally feeling like I was starting to recover from the crazy emotional roller coaster of all of this, this event set me reeling again.

I don’t know what is going to happen from here. I don’t know that my grandmother will ever forgive me (even though I feel I’ve done nothing wrong). What I do know though is that I’m going to just continue on with my life. I’ll keep going to work every day, parenting my children every day, and just living life every day with some faith and hope that everything will be just fine. I also will continue on knowing that I am indeed a strong woman, and all of this will be all right.

*Update: A few months ago, I received a call from my grandmother. She had apparently started to worry that some health problems were maybe going to take her life, and she feared that she could suddenly die with my thinking she hated me. She called to tell me she loves me and that nothing I could ever do would make her not love me. We’ve only talked once since and my heart still feels like it is recovering from this event, but I am grateful to know that she is not standing by her original “we’re no longer family” stance.*

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Her Rapist’s Eyes

***Trigger Warning, I’m going to discuss sensitive topics including rape in this post. If that makes you uncomfortable, please do not read further.****

I was conceived in a prison. That’s right, you read that correctly. My life came into existence because my mom was incarcerated (unjustly in my opinion, but that’s another story) and my biological father was a prison guard. In short, I was conceived in rape.

There was no clear, out of the blue moment I remember being told this, it’s just something I’ve known my entire life. In fact, I do remember a moment when I was 5 years old that I wanted my mother to clarify for me what the word “rape” meant. It was understandably a confusing concept to me as I barely understood where babies even came from—and the only reason I knew that was because I was a very bright child and demanded to know how my sister got into my mother’s belly when I was 4.

Rape. It’s an ugly word. It puts a bad taste in one’s mouth. If you’re like me and it’s something you’ve endured yourself, it might be a word that makes your breath quicken and your heart race. If you’re fortunate enough to never have been closely impacted by this act, even then, it’s likely a word that makes you squirm in your seat a little. It’s no easy topic, but it’s one I feel has to be talked about for many reasons. One big one is because people (yes, people, not just women, not just children, all people) that have been victimized deserve to know that it’s okay to talk about it. There is healing in talking and telling one’s story. If we as a society walk around whispering it like it’s a dirty word, it makes it that much harder for those that have suffered to find peace. It’s not the “f bomb,” it’s real life; it doesn’t need censored.

Now, my mother has never been fond of talking about that time in her life and I understand that, but there came a point for me where I really started to question what had gone on and I wanted answers. This became especially true when I got married and my mom gave me my birth certificate and for the first time, she explained to me that I could not lose it. She told me that when paternity was established in court, my birth certificate was revised to add “him” to the father line, but when that happened, they (whoever “they” are) also changed my last name on the birth certificate from the one I was born with to his last name. She told me that she never went through the court system to change it back; therefore, if I lost my original and had to purchase a new one, it would have his last name. This really sparked my curiosity.

After that point, I started really considering finding him, but I was afraid. What all did he know about me? Did he want to know me? Did he have other kids? Did they all hate me because of my existence disrupting their lives? Would I be shunned? Would he ever face me? What if………?

When I started wondering these things, it was before the Internet was as easy to use as it is now. I started actively looking and calling phone numbers in 2002. I knew only his first and last name and a couple of states that he’d lived in over the years. I had no success and so it was put on the back burner for a long time after that, and yet, it was always in my mind still. 13 years passed before I decided to try something to find him again. I paid a private investigation company to find him. I gave them the details I did have, gave my debit card info, and then waited. Within days I had an email. I was given what the company thought was his address, the names, addresses, and Facebook account links  of his 3 children, and the phone number for his youngest child.

I immediately checked out his kids’ Facebook profiles in search of at least a picture of him. I couldn’t see much info, and so I started thinking about how I should reach out. Should I Facebook message them? Should I send a letter? Should I call? What should I say? And it was in that panic of not being sure of what to do that I let that info just sit for almost a year. It was only just over a week ago that I finally decided to just send off a Facebook message and see what would happen. I said:

“Hello, XXXX,

I hope you see this message in your “other” box. I’ve had your Facebook contact info for almost a year but I’ve been afraid to reach out. I’m looking for information (especially medical history) and hopefully some pictures of XXXXXX. He is my biological father, making you my half sister. I’ve never had any real info and I’ve been nervous to ask. I don’t want you guys to shun me or shut me out. I’m extremely nervous sending this, but figure tomorrows are never promised and I might as well try. Please feel free to contact me here or email me at XXXXXXXXXXXXXX..

Thank you.”

I sent the message knowing it would be difficult for them to see it because of the settings with messages from strangers, so when I knew the messages hadn’t been read by the time I’d left work that day, I knew I was going to use the one phone number and just call. I stopped by the liquor store and decided it was totally appropriate to have a shot of whiskey before taking a deep breath and dialing.

Two rings, “Hello?” I felt sudden panic and was shocked at someone actually answering an unknown number (I didn’t even know other people still do that these days).

“Hi, um, I’m not sure how to really say this, I don’t know if you’re aware of me; I’m XXXXX’s daughter.”

There was some shock on the other line and lots of “Um’s” in the middle. His son explained to me that he was indeed in shock, but aware of me and asked to call me back. I totally understood his being blindsided by this and told him to go ahead and process and call me back later.

“But wait, can you tell me really quick, is he still alive?”

“No, I’m sorry, he passed away last year.”

I cried. I started crying before I even got off the phone. I hung up and cried hard. I cried body shaking sobs over this information. I felt instant grief. Not grief over my loss as one would feel over the death of a parent he or she knew, but grief over this missing piece of my personal puzzle. Grief over the fact I never got to face him. I never got to ask him any questions. I never got to hear his side of the story. I never got to know if he was sorry for what he put my mother through or the impact it had on me. I never got to know if he was sorry that he never reached out to me. I never got to look into his eyes and ask anything at all.

I walked back into my house after I hung up and poured another shot and then stood in the kitchen just holding it and bawling. My poor teenage boys had no real idea what was going on. My children, whom are extremely connected to me and my emotions, jumped into action and immediately came to me. My oldest hugged me tight for a few seconds while I proceeded to cry harder. When he let go and I was still standing there doing the ugly cry, my younger son then came and grabbed me with such intensity, I was surprised, He held on even tighter while whispering comfort in my ear.

I was shocked at my own reaction. I had no idea I’d feel so intensely. I had no idea it would hurt me to my very core. I had had a feeling when I was driving home from work that night that I was going to find out he had already passed away as I knew he was in his late 70’s, but I was unprepared to hear it for certain. I literally cried without stopping for more than an hour. Then, for the next several hours, I cried at the drop of a hat. And just when I thought I’d pulled myself together, my biological brother called me back.

We talked for 30 minutes and in that first phone call, I could tell that I liked him already. He was open, honest, and tender. He told me facts I’d been wanting to know my entire life. He told me that he thought that his (our) father had had an affair with my mother. We discussed how even if it was consensual (a claim my mother adamantly denies, and I believe her), the law is very black and white on this topic. When being employed as a prison guard, it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with an inmate. Much like a “willing” teenager with an adult, it is considered rape, and for good reason. It was then that he told me something that was incredibly dear to me; he told me that no matter what the circumstances were, he was embracing our newfound relationship and that he is there for me. I then cried some more.

That night on Facebook I wrote, “Those moments. . .those moments that knock the air from your lungs. . .the moments that punch your heart with the force of a Mack truck. . .the moments that hurt so intensely you don’t know when you’ll come up for a breath between sobs. . .I hate those life moments. I feel a MAJOR blog post coming on.” That blog post I spoke of is this here.

***

In the time that has passed since that first day, I’ve had so much on my mind. I can’t help but think about what my mother went through. My heart hurts for her. I can’t imagine it’s easy for her knowing that I’ve reached out to his family. I know that she just wants me to have peace. I can also imagine that me revealing what I’ve done to get in contact with them has probably also brought up old feelings for her. Unfortunately, I don’t really get to know what she is thinking and feeling because we’re not very close and we don’t talk much.

Because of the situation surrounding my conception, we never bonded like normal mother and child. She remained in prison after I was born and I went off to foster care. The first 2 years of my life are something I know almost nothing about. But even once my mother was “free,” she was never really free. She endured hell and then had a child to take care of in the center of that. I love my mom, but her entire situation was damaging and had an impact on everything about me. The foundation I had in life set me up for failure–and oh boy have I failed (there are plenty of old and future blog posts about that, so I’ll skip over that here). But I don’t blame my mom. She lived through a really shitty situation and she came out of it the only way she knew how to. She chose to give me life even when the prison tried heavily to convince her to have an abortion. She kept me and later told me that it didn’t have to matter that I was conceived in such a manner, I could be just hers. Sadly, it did matter, it still does, and it will matter the rest of my life.

Through all of this though, I have a newfound respect for my mom. One of my first requests of my brother was to see pictures of “him.” I was simply curious to know what he looked like. Because I look so much like my mother, I never thought there would be any physical resemblance. Within a couple days, my brother sent me some emails with several pictures. I was totally unprepared, and when I opened an obviously old photo of his wedding, I found myself staring at a male version of my own face. It took my breath away and tears again sprang to my eyes (for like the millionth time in the last couple weeks) because I was looking at my own eyes in this old photograph. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, I again thought of my mother. This woman, this incredibly strong woman, raised me as best as she could, she loved me, and she disciplined me–all while looking at a child, her child, who has her rapist’s eyes.

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Side note: When I started writing this blog post two weeks ago, it was meant to be about “him” and I. It’s turned into a complicated post, but more about my mom than anyone else. My mom is exactly where I get my strength from. She is where I’ve gotten my independence, my strong will, and my courage. Ladies and gentlemen, my mother is a regular badass, and I’m proud to call her my mom.

I Am More Than My Cleavage

I Am More Than My Cleavage? Seriously?! What kind of world do we live in that I feel the need to write a blog with that title?

In order to truly explain my thought process and feelings behind all this, I must give you some background info. As a teenager, like many confused kids, I had attention issues. Hell, I still do (I mean, hello, I write a blog—pay attention to me! Haha). My attention issues then were different though. Yes, I was that girl that fooled around with the boys before my peers did. As a young woman with large breasts and a curvy body, developed long before I knew what to do with it, it was easy to discover how I could get the attention that I craved.

When I moved to my small town, the place I now call home, I was just beginning to really act out. I desperately wanted to fit in and be one of the Cool Kids. I wanted to be liked and paid attention to. I was a mere 13 years old, but thought of myself as a grown up. It only took a month or two to not only catch the attention of some of the popular boys, but also to make myself ostracized. I realized after it was too late that I was the girl the boys wanted, the girl the girls hated, and the girl no one wanted to be publicly associated with. I wasn’t understood and I didn’t know how to behave any differently.

I struggled with this stuff my entire youth. It was a constant fight inside myself between wanting to be paid attention to and wanting with all of my aching teenage heart to not be an outcast. I wanted to be liked for who I was inside my tender soul, but I kept searching for it with my cleavage.

Now to fast forward many years, many heartaches, many milestones, and much personal growth, I’m no longer that broken girl. But you know what? Society is. We live in this era of everything being sexual, insane beauty standards constantly in our faces, and the most casual attitude of sex that our nation has ever seen. Teenagers (along with the adults, of course) are exchanging naked selfies, even fast food commercials use sex to sell, no one bats an eye at casual sex and “friends with benefits”,  and we push birth control on 12 year olds. Along with all of this, women seem to be seen in general as sex objects and nothing more. When one is lusting after the barely dressed woman on the cover of Cosmo, he or she is not thinking about who that woman is, what matters to her, or what she has going on in her life—he or she is thinking about how great her breasts look or how amazing those thighs are, et cetera. This objectification doesn’t just go for those we see on television, on magazine covers, or in online ads. It spills over into how we see women in real life. In fact, that statement right there, “real life”, shows just how deep this goes. Those women, photoshopped, covered in makeup, and in glossy print everywhere you look—they’re still real women.  They still have feelings, goals, family, struggles, and triumphs that have nothing to do with the image you see on those screens or magazine covers.

While writing this, I decided to do some quick research about how many ads the typical American sees in a day because it’s relevant to my point on what we as Americans are seeing without even realizing it on a daily basis. There are no hard and fast numbers, but many sources estimate that the number of daily ads we see can reach into the thousands. Think about it, every time you log onto Pandora, every time you pass a city bus, check out at the grocery store, sit in front of your TV, get on Facebook, play a mobile game, flip through a magazine in a waiting room, step in front of a television in Wal-Mart, shop online, walk down the cereal aisle, drive through town, use the Internet to help your children with homework, and even getting into an elevator in bigger cities—your eyes are bombarded with advertisements. Thousands of images every day flood into your brain whether you realize it or not, and many of these are using edited images of “sexy” women. According to mediaed.org, it is thought that only around 8% of an ad’s message is consciously received into the mind. So much info is being put into our minds, and while we may not realize it, that data soaks into our brains anyway.  **If you’re curious about the info on advertisements, please check the mediaed.org link at the bottom of this. There is a ton of info in their pdf about sexual images, consumerism, and specifically women and girls and how they are used and manipulated in the media. It’s quite eye opening.**

But I’m straying from my point here. When we are teaching those in society through this constant onslaught of images that women are to be lusted after, that deeply ingrained, unconscious act cannot be compartmentalized into just viewing women in media this way. It becomes how our youth sees their female peers. It is how grown men see their coworkers. It is how old men see younger generations of women (side note, did you know the number two most searched porn term online in America is “teen”, second only to MILF? That’s a whole different blog to be written but helps to show how much our current youth are in danger with this). It is even how us women now tend to see each other and ourselves. As human beings, our eyes take in how others look and our bodies and brains are stimulated accordingly. Without having guarded hearts and trained minds, we unconsciously objectify others based on these standards in America, and I have recently had much personal experience to remind me of this.

I have been struggling the last several months with having gone through a breakup of a serious relationship and all that goes with that. I’ve had loneliness and a desire to be accepted and wanted by others. In some ways, bits of that broken teenage girl in me crept back to the surface, and that allowed me to put my guard down without realizing it. Unlike when I was a kid though, we have this wonderful thing called social media these days. It often gives a false sense of connectedness with others, and it also gives many people the guts to say things online that wouldn’t be said face to face. I could give several examples of this, but to save face and space to this already very long post, I’m going to just give one example of how outrageous this objectification has become, and it has an impact.

The one incident that punched me in the gut emotionally and I knew would result in this very blog post with this exact title happened around two months ago. Like most, I have a Facebook account and almost 300 “friends” on it. Also like most women, I change my profile picture on it often. I use a little app on my phone to make pretty edited pictures that make the perfect size for a “pro pic”. One day, I changed my picture without thinking about the unintentional cleavage that was showing. Remember, long gone are my days of wanting to draw people in with my breasts, but because they are large, cleavage happens sometimes regardless. I was leaving work when I suddenly got an instant message from a male friend that threw me off. I wasn’t on Facebook at the moment and wasn’t even aware yet of the comments on my new profile picture, but all it took was one friend to comment about my cleavage on this picture before there were suddenly a small handful of comments about my breasts. What was worse though was the message from my “friend”. One word. Boobies.

I had no idea what it meant when the Facebook message texted my phone. I honestly thought it was an accident. I got online to inquire about it. I opened up my messages, and sure enough, it was the one word and then a selfie of him.

Me: Boobies?

Him: Yeah, I like them.

Him: *shirtless selfie*

Him: Where’s my pic now? You always show your boobs hanging out. Let ’em loose.

I was appalled and so very hurt. I had previously thought this guy was kinda cute and had known we had stuff in common, so I was actually pleased that he messaged me at first. But I was not happy that he felt it was okay to not just bring up such ugly subject matter so boldly, but to talk to me as if I wasn’t even a normal human being deserving of respect. I was ashamed even though I’d done nothing to ask for this kind of treatment. I was deeply hurt that he talked to me like this completely unsolicited and without an ounce of respect–especially when it was the first time he’d ever initiated conversation with me.

Me: There’s websites for that ya know.

Him: Yeah, but why online if it’s local?

I teared up reading his messages. I was thoroughly blown away. In an instant, I was that hurting young woman that wanted to be one of the Cool Kids so badly, but I was also the adult I am now and knew that no matter what I was feeling, I was NOT going to allow this to continue.

Me: Because I’m more than just my cleavage.

Him: Yeah, you got an ass too.

Me: *Closes Facebook*

I realized that I felt shame before I had even done anything. There was embarrassment that had lived there inside me so long. Humiliation from acts so long ago that caused me to still feel that hurt as a grown woman. But he didn’t get what he wanted, and I kept my dignity. I honestly meant what I said. I AM more than my cleavage. Whether it was intentional or accidental, cleavage did not give him permission to completely disregard the fact that I am a woman with feelings. I have lived and succeeded through major struggles, I have experienced great joys, I have beautiful children that think I’m the most important person on earth, and I have been hurt badly, loved madly, and helped others gladly. I am a woman, not an object! Even though it’s taken me a while longer in life to discover it, I am worthy of love, tenderness, and respect. I. Am. More. Than. My. Cleavage.

Resources

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2292582/Most-popular-porn-site-search-terms-revealed-Americans-favour-MILF-Syrians-like-aunt.html

https://www.mediaed.org/assets/products/241/studyguide_241.pdf

http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=medialiteracy&page=fastfacts