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.
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.
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.