Find Your Tribe

When we traveled in Costa Rica, we met a family from the Bay Area. When Guy and I celebrated our anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoyed conversation with a young couple from the Bay Area. On both occasions, we found something in common with strangers simply by being in and from the same places on the planet. But sometimes we go through hardship and the only people who truly get it are others who have shared a similar experience. Those experiences can connect us in ways we’d never imagined.

Guest Post: Donna Schweitzer

When my oldest—born three-and-a-half months prematurely—was three years old, I discovered an online community for NICU parents. I never thought I’d be one of those people who talks to people online but, in that community, I found people who just got me, people who understood the journey we’d been on and were still traveling.

I found a place to share my grief, fears, dark moments, awful memories. It was also a place where people understood my great joy in the smallest milestones. I could safely let it all fly—and I finally began to heal from his premature birth and those long months in the NICU. I’d had no idea that I needed to heal but, in this community, I learned that I wasn’t crazy, or paranoid, or a horrible mother for letting my body do that to my son. We began having regular Sunday evening chats and, soon, these women became what I would call friends.

A few months later, the director of that online community brought five of us together at a volunteer leadership conference. I arrived wondering if those online conversations would carry over. I had no reason to fear. Seeing each other in person, we picked up right where we’d left off. Over the course of a few days, we shared so many hugs, stories, tears, and gut-busting laughter.

We decided the rest of our community needed to meet in person as well, and planned a “Union” (we couldn’t call it a “reunion” as we’d never been all together before). The Union—a beautiful gathering of so many people who understand the language, the pain, the guilt—became an annual thing. I’ve traveled the country to spend time with these NICU parents. It’s always an emotionally-charged event, but also so healing and hopeful.

As with any large group, you find your smaller group—the ones you just click with. I have my people. I couldn’t tell you when exactly we gelled but, for years, we’ve texted on a near-daily basis. We try to get together for a long weekend every year. We nicknamed our crew “the MoomSquad.” The text tone assigned to our thread never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I rely on these four women, and I wouldn’t be the mother I am without them. We met because we had one thing in common: our pregnancies and the births of our children went horribly wrong, and we all did NICU time. When one of us has a freak out, we’re all there. We don’t judge because we know what’s behind it. But I believe we were brought together for a larger reason.

We’ve walked each other through so much…autism diagnosis, illness, loss of parents, subsequent pregnancies…all the ups and downs of life, marriage, and parenting. When something amazing or horrible happens, they are my go-to people. They have my back, and I have theirs. I couldn’t do life without them.

They each have their “specialty” in my life…the Nurse also has mad-Cricut skills; the Educator helps me with IEP/special ed situations for my youngest; one Mama has an autistic daughter older than my autistic kiddo (and they totally speak the same language); one serves as our personal Cheerleader/story teller/voice of reason/jokester…

I’m prone to try to make sense of my life’s events. Sometimes, it takes the perspective of years before I can see the purpose. When we spent three months in the NICU with our oldest, I couldn’t believe I would ever understand why, nor what good could come of it. I believe in a Grand Plan, and now I believe one purpose of his prematurity was to bring me to these incredible women. Through his prematurity, I connected with a group of women who get me. I now almost count his early arrival as a blessing. In that online community, I found my tribe.

When someone I know experiences hardship, I always tell them to find people who have been or are there. It makes whatever you’re dealing with that much easier when you can talk with people who get it. Among other things, my MoomSquad taught me that reaching out to those who’ve walked the journey can lead to more than just a support group. You might find your tribe.

 

Donna Schweitzer (pictured with the Moomsquad) has been married to her husband, Michael, for almost 20 years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

Creating a Written History

For all the crazy social media hoists onto our lives, it can also create sweet connections. Today’s guest writer and I attended the same college for a couple of years before life took us in different directions. But Facebook, and then blogging, allowed us to reconnect as friends and mothers and women making sense of life through writing. Life gets hard and writing can be just as messy but we’re doing it–and we get to support each other along the journey.

Create Challenge #40: Donna Schweitzer

I never considered myself a particularly creative person. Right out of the gate, I felt myself to be rather ho-hum. I could color within the lines like a machine, but I couldn’t draw a stick figure to save my life. I played the clarinet and sang well, but couldn’t write my own tune if you begged. I can analyze a story, breaking down character, storylines, themes, and symbolism, but I find it near impossible to write my own Great American Novel. Most of our couples’ photos are the ones friends snap of us, so there’s no great photography skill there either. I can sew to a pattern but can’t design anything on my own. I suppose you would say my creativity lies in following the directions.

I became a mom the first time in September of 2000. Our oldest son entered the world in dramatic fashion, arriving over three months early. He weighed a mere two pounds, and was fifteen inches long. His life hung in the balance for weeks. I spent days by his plastic isolette, bargaining with God for my son’s life, watching my son battle with all his tiny might to learn to breathe on his own, eat and digest food before his body was ready, and endure more medical tests in three months than I have my entire life. Before he was even born, though, I’d begun a journal for him. I continued to write even when we didn’t know if he would survive. I wanted him to know how much we loved him, my experience of his life, what courage we saw on a daily basis, what each tiny milestone meant.baby-1681181__340

As mom of a micro-preemie, you don’t get to hold your baby whenever you want—your baby has to be stable enough that day, that hour, to handle the stimulation of being held. Those hours by his bedside I wasn’t able to hold him, I would write. It helped me in so many ways—it helped me focus on the positive things, it helped me gnash out my grief and fear, it helped me process, it helped me feel more like his mom. When he finally came home on Christmas Day 2000, that journal continued by my side, documenting his milestones, the setbacks, me growing into motherhood. We went on to have two more children—both full-term, normal, healthy pregnancies—a daughter in the middle, and our youngest, another son. We call them our Herd.

When our oldest was three years old, we discovered a particular foundation had played a vital role in his survival. Without the research this organization funded, he simply would not be here. That organization also has an online support community for NICU parents. That community began a blog-hosting forum for its members a year into its existence. By then a seasoned journal-writer, I jumped at the chance, especially as the site was small, close-knit, and felt safe. My writing took on a life of its own. Blogging helped me continue to heal from what we’d endured. It helped me reach out to others just beginning the prematurity journey. It gave me a voice. It helped me through new diagnosis for our oldest, some gut-wrenching parenting decisions, allowed me to share the funny side of parenting, and gave me a place to vent, because goodness knows, this parenting gig can be a struggle. More importantly, it gave me community—a safe place with people who understood completely what I was experiencing as they’d been through it too.

I moved my blog to a more-public site years ago. I kept it private in the beginning. It was more of an outlet for me, and a way to keep family and close friends in the loop on our family’s life. Then about four years ago, I decided to make it a public blog. It was terrifying clicking “Post” that first day, sending my words out into the world. What if no one read it? What if I didn’t ever have any followers? What if no one responded or commented? I’d decided I eventually want to write that book—not fiction, mind you, but a book of my experiences. More than that, I still hope my words, my stories of our family’s path, will help someone else, give hope to someone else, or at the very least make someone laugh. In addition, my children have my written take on their lives, our lives as a family, from before they were even born.

My writing isn’t always pretty. There have still been some medical repercussions for our oldest from his premature birth, although he is healthy and as normal as any other sixteen-year-old boy. Our youngest son was diagnosed autistic five years ago. I never gloss over what that journey is about. I feel the need to be brutally honest about what we deal with. Then there’s parenting in general, parenting teens, raising a ballerina, and still learning what this mom thing is all about.

I’m convinced God gave me this gift of journaling to reach out to those who will be helped by my words. Most of my ideas come in the middle of the night. Then I process them out while I’m running. Finally, I get to put them down on the screen. I don’t often think too much while I’m writing—I prefer it be more of an unconscious process. Often, I learn how I feel, what I’m afraid of or worried about, when I read back what I’ve written. Words that began often as bargaining prayers for my son’s life sixteen years ago have turned into thousands of posts, creating a written history for my children and our family. dschweitzer

 

Donna Schweitzer has been married to her husband, Michael, for eighteen years (on December 5th!). They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children, ages 16, 15, and 12, who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.