Pregnancy, Loss, and Anxiety

Kylie, with her husband, Ben,
and their second child, Camden

Today’s guest blogger, Kylie Gibbons, lives in Massachusetts with her college-sweetheart-turned-husband, Ben, along with their daughter, Camden, and dog, Reese. They also have a baby who was born into the arms of Jesus in February 2016. As a family they enjoy walks around their neighborhood pond, Chick-fil-A, and serving at church. Kylie has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in organizational leadership, both from Geneva College. She enjoys working on political campaigns and leading women closer to Jesus through speaking and teaching. Here is a piece of her story to remind you that you aren’t alone in your anxiety or grief…

I’ll never forget the day we learned that our first baby had left this earth and gone into the arms of Jesus. We were twelve weeks pregnant, expecting to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, instead we were met with deafening silence. February 25, 2016 rocked our world, but at that time we didn’t know how lasting the aftershocks would be.

Just three months after learning our first baby had died, we learned that our second baby was on the way. We hadn’t intended to get pregnant so quickly, and while we were thankful it happened that way, I would be lying if I said I was excited. Yep, I was pregnant and terrified, talk about mom-guilt. In fact, I waited for over a week to take a pregnancy test because I was in denial that we would be walking down this road again so soon after such devastating loss.

Initially, I felt overwhelmingly guilty that we would be welcoming another baby before our grief was even healed completely (as if grief ever really goes away). I was guilty that I wasn’t excited for this new life because I feared that we might not get to meet him/her just like our first. Guilty that I didn’t have the nerve to tell anyone out of concern that he/she wouldn’t make it very long.

It didn’t take long for guilt to turn into fear and anxiety. No sooner had I taken the test than I started to have spotting/bleeding. A clear indication, or at least I thought, that we would lose this baby, too. So just a week or so after confirming we were pregnant, I was heading to the doctor to have blood work drawn and an ultrasound taken to ensure everything was okay… and it was.

The spotting continued for a few weeks and each ultrasound confirmed that this baby was growing and developing just as she should be. While my fears subsided, my anxiety only worsened. I couldn’t get past the thought that the other shoe would drop, that the rug would be pulled out from underneath of my feet. Each appointment was met with anxiety, not excitement. Anxiety during my second pregnancy felt like constant fear. It was a sense of doom that I couldn’t shake. Even after a good doctor’s appointment I would feel a heavy weight that something was wrong with our baby. I over-analyzed every movement, or lack thereof, of our baby— every test result, every normal pregnancy symptom. It was a constant, never-ending worry that things weren’t going to be okay, and it lasted for months. My anxiety ebbed and flowed throughout the months of my second pregnancy, and it lasted through delivery, even until Camden was in our arms after she was born.

I don’t share this for sympathy, or even to show how strong I am, I share it to say, you aren’t alone. Every family experiences loss, many of children or babies, and the effects of loss are life-altering. Each loss and each grief looks different, but they are tied together by the cord of death. I write to say there is hope, even in the middle of the hard, maybe especially in the hard, there is hope. You see, while the anxiety was ever-present, there were a number of things that helped keep it in check along the way. 

The absolute biggest source of comfort was the truth of Scripture made accessible through music. After losing our first baby, we were confronted with the truth that, “Even if not, God is still good.” That truth is eternal and everlasting, but not ever believable. Songs declaring the goodness of God became our anthem and provided comfort as we walked through pregnancy after loss. We purchased an album by Hillary Scott and Family soon into our second pregnancy and the words of those songs, to this day, bring a flood of emotions. But the lyrics, while difficult and necessary, were reminders of the truth of the character of Jesus Christ and His unfailing goodness.

My husband, Ben, was my earthly rock through it all. He gave me space to grieve and work through the anxiety. Sometimes that looked like a reassuring word, but mostly it felt like a warm hug of “I’m here.” He spoke truth to my soul while stepping into the hard and letting me stay there for a while. Ben didn’t expect that I would just move on and suck it up, instead he led me with grace to the throne of Jesus, the true Comforter.

Surrounding myself with people praying for me gave me strength to face each day. My mom and sisters were fundamental in walking me through anxiety during pregnancy. One of my sisters also experienced miscarriage and she allowed me to talk through the hard stuff, the stuff you “aren’t supposed to think or say,” and she gave me room to process it. The rest of my sisters and mom wrote out prayers for me to read as we drove to the many doctor’s appointments we had. The rest of our families checked in on me, but not just about pregnancy, they gave me distractions and conversations that kept the anxiety at bay, even if only for a few minutes.

I knew that pregnancy after loss would be hard, but I don’t think I realized just how hard it would be. You see, this second baby didn’t replace our first, she wasn’t a do-over. She was new life, given as a gift, a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness (though, it is absolutely necessary to say that He would still have been faithful if the outcome were different). Our first baby will forever have a place in our hearts, and our Camden will forever be a picture of God’s grace in our lives.

Anxiety couldn’t take that away from me. It couldn’t steal my joy. It didn’t rob me of life. Anxiety took away excitement during pregnancy, but it didn’t take away the love I have of both of our babies.

For more from Kylie, please check out her heartfelt blog, Nehemama. (The sweet and silly backstory behind her blog’s name is worth the click!)

9 Ways to De-Stress

May is #NationalMentalHealthAwareness month, and what better way to celebrate than by kicking stress to the curb? Here are 9 ways you can get started today!

Counseling. You knew it would make the list, right? So let’s get it out of the way. If you’ve got a counselor, schedule a check-in. If you’ve considered counseling but haven’t pulled the trigger, May is a great time to start! Check out my FAQ page to get the ball rolling.

Change your posture. Research shows that our body language can positively affect our brain chemistry! Sit more openly, take a superhero stance, smile, listen to a comedic podcast, watch some stand-up specials on Netflix, or hang out with your funny friends.

Snuggle up. Giving and receiving affection work wonders for stress reduction! You can start with something light, like giving a friend a hug or getting a massage. For the times when you need more, you can have meaningful conversations with someone you trust, or get flirty and physical with your partner. Love is pretty powerful stuff, and neurobiology is seriously cool.

brain chemistry love GIF


Get moving! The weather in Pittsburgh is making the April showers/ May flowers shift, so it’s a wonderful time for me to get outside, take a run around the block, and dig around in the garden. Whatever your favorite activities are, schedule something this week.

Express yourself. Find a creative way to express your story: put on some music that speaks to you, play with something artsy (or try my favorite messy journal!), get messy, write a blog. Whatever you do, funnel your enthusiasm!

Get by with a little help from your friends. Social time is important, particularly with quality friends who are empathetic, supportive, and authentic. But start small! Greet someone when you pass on the sidewalk or smile at the person in the car next to you. It’s good for you to see smiling faces, and it’s good for the other people, too!

Belly breathing. Yep, it’s exactly as glamorous as it sounds, but it’s something you can do anytime (especially at work since that’s one of the top four stressors in Americans’ lives). Shallow, short breaths are often associated with stress, so slow things down and engage your tummy as you breathe. There are lots of apps to help guide your breathing. (You can check out my instagram for my favorites.)

Let it out. When is the last time you had a good cry? It might be time. Even if you don’t have access to tears on demand, you can always watch a movie or listen to a podcast that brings sadness to the surface. Our bodies cry to release things they can’t figure out how to mange, so why not?

Take a break. (insert naps here) Press pause on non-essentials: social media, social obligations, extra projects, even self-care if it feels like more of a burden than a help. By temporarily stepping away, you free your mind to spend energy on other things, like using different approaches to solving problems.

Give one (or all nine!) of these a shot, and share your favorites with a friend.

Marie Kondo-ing Your Personal Life

Is it cool with you if I use Marie Kondo’s name as a verb? It’s a pretty big compliment, I think– that a person could have such a great impact that simply hearing her name conveys a powerful message. We love you, Marie Kondo, for helping us fold laundry with intention and hold onto things that spark joy.

Back in 2016, Kondo wrote this article about her 6 rules of tidying. One visit to my house, and you’d discover I’m not one of her great success stories. But one visit to my office, and I could show you how crucial her rules are for tidying up our relationships. But why wait?! The day after Easter is a great time to start cleaning house… your emotional house, at least.

1- Commit to the task at hand. Healthy relationships take work. Counseling requires effort. Healing is messy. Progress isn’t linear. But once you commit to tidying your life and relationships, you can partner with professionals and develop strategies to help you succeed along the way. Go all in. That doesn’t mean you’ll do it perfectly; it just means you’re committed.

2- Imagine your ideal lifestyle. More friends? Less drama? More time? Less fluff? More meaning? It’s important to know your “why,” your purpose for Marie Kondo-ing your life. Without that big-picture vision, you’re more likely to fall off the wagon and right back into old habits and toxic relationships. Make a vision board, ‘pin’ things that speak to the future you see for yourself, journal, vlog… whatever your thing is, do it in a way that encapsulates your vision.

3- Discard. This sounds much more harsh when talking about relationships than clutter, I know. Let’s clarify. When Marie talks about discarding, she generally doesn’t intend for people to put everything they own in a dumpster and start over. She encourages people to approach messes with intentionality, only letting things hang around if they meet certain criterion. We can assess our relationships similarly. Are you holding onto toxic relationships just to use or be used? Are there acquaintances in your life who take without giving? (Not to be confused with a person in a difficult season, because I’ll be the first to tell you we’ll all be that person at least once in our lives) I desire healthy reconciliation for virtually every broken relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s possible. Hope isn’t the same thing as genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If a relationship is messy, that doesn’t mean it needs to be tossed; it means it’s probably time to reassess your level of investment.

4- Tidy by category, not location. Take inventory of all you’ve got. Check out your friends lists, your recently texted contacts, your followers, the people you may know. Popularity isn’t the same as emotional depth or security. So, where are your messy spots in life? Where have you taken in too much? What areas have you neglected? Check yourself and make sure you’ve been investing in real relationships with real people, because when the (hopefully-not-)real crap hits the fan, you’re going to need real people in your corner.

5- Follow the right order. To be clear, save the most emotional stuff for last. If you want to practice healthy boundaries, it’s wise to start by saying no to someone at the grocery store, not taking a bold stand at a family dinner (although that’s sometimes necessary, too). If you’re in an abusive relationship, plan first. None of these things are meant to be done in haste.

6- Does it spark joy? This is probably the single phrase Marie Kondo is best known for. I’ve often advised clients in criris: “If it doesn’t bring peace or joy during this difficult season, then don’t do it yet.” It’s not about what you’re pushing out of your life, it’s about the things and people you’re keeping closest to your heart.

Have you taken inventory and tried to clean house in your personal life? Share these ideas with a friend and try Marie Kondo-ing things for a while. PS: counseling is a great place to come up with a game plan!

Types of Grief

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a group of Pittsburgh women about grief, loss, depression, and the effects these things can have on all of us. Truthfully, grief is everywhere, and today I’d like to make space for some of the most common losses as well as specific types of grief that don’t usually get the attention they deserve.

The death of anyone close to us can shake our worlds, but grief isn’t always so straightforward. What about broken relationships? Loss due to moving or changing jobs? Do we validate people who have lost pets? Unborn children? We grieve expectations when life doesn’t go as planned. We grieve phases of life as we let go of the old and step into the new or unknown (singleness, menopause). We grieve roles as we lose them (parent, spouse, child, sibling). We grieve spiritually as well, especially if there has been wounding in our church. Other types of grief exist, so let me lay them out for you.

Anticipatory grief. This refers to the drawn out period when we know death of a loved one is imminent. A blogger once wrote: “To suffer a loved one’s long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.” There’s a heaviness we carry for that extended period of time that we hope will be enough…and then it’s not.

Traumatic grief. We are not only experiencing loss, but are also traumatized by it, such as a violent, unexpected, or deeply painful death. Our fight, flight, or freeze responses kick in. Logic shuts down, and life becomes about survival.

Compounded grief. This occurs when grief piles up over a period of time and negatively affects the way we experience emotions and cope with life. We become numb, irritable, shut down, irrationally in denial, checked out, or even manic. Piles of grief are overwhelming to all our senses.

Ambiguous loss. There are two types of ambiguous loss. The first is when someone is psychologically present but physically absent, such as when a loved one is deployed. They’re present in our minds even though they’re physically somewhere else. Singleness also fits into this category when someone desires to be in a relationship because a person’s mind can be focused on the idea of a future spouse even if the person has not shown up yet. It’s particularly difficult because there is room for hope as long as a person lives, so the only solution is the thing being longed for. The second type of ambiguous loss is when a loved one is physically present but psychologically absent, such as when someone has dementia. They’re bodies are in front of us, but psychologically they’re not. It’s very difficult to have one foot on each side of the line, both present and absent.

Disenfranchised (aka Invalidated) grief. This type encompasses losses that often aren’t seen as being worthy of grief. A non-death loss, like relocation, fits here. Loss of a relationship that is stigmatized fits here too, such the divorce of a partner following an extramarital affair. It’s easier to vilify and dismiss that person than to help a friend grieve the relationship. This category also fits losses where the mechanism of death is stigmatized, such as when a person completes suicide, suffers an overdose death, or loss by abortion. And what about when the person grieving is not recognized as a griever? Co-workers and ex-partners usually fit here. When the people grieving are stigmatized (ie: if they have no outward grief response or have extreme grief responses), the usually fall into this category. See how many people have been falling through the cracks when we don’t make space for them?

Odds are, we’re all grieving something at almost every stage of life. Make space for your mess, make space for the messes of others, and let’s face all of it together.

10 Ways to Help a Friend Who is Struggling with Mental Illness

It’s painful to watch someone struggle, especially people we love. People may struggle with mental illness for many reasons: genetic predisposition, body chemistry, life circumstance. No matter the reason, there are ways we can help.

Here are ten ways you can help a friend who may be struggling with mental illness.
click here for more

1- Know potential signs of mental illness. Although these things aren’t exclusively signs of mental illness, it can be helpful to keep these things in mind: Feeling sad or down. Confused thinking. Reduced focus and concentration. Excessive fear, worry, or guilt. Mood highs and lows. Significant increase or decrease in sleep. Paranoia. Impulsive, risky choices. Drug or alcohol abuse. Suicidal thinking. Excessive anger, hostility, or violence. Major changes in eating habits. Reduced pleasure in activities. Inability to cope with daily stress. If you see some of these showing up in a friend’s life, keep reading.

2- Be a person who assists in getting help. To start, you can offer to help make phone calls and screen counselors using online services. You could babysit while your friend attends therapy sessions, or even volunteer to go with him if he feels nervous going alone. Encourage your friend to see a primary care physician for regular screenings and medical care. What about when things escalate or you see symptoms increasing? If you’ve browsed my website, you’ve probably seen my extensive list of crisis resources that covers everything from PFAs to domestic violence shelters that accommodate pets. But if you’re ever unsure where to start, please call the Re:Solve Crisis Network (888-796-8226). They want you to call “before a crisis becomes a crisis,” so you don’t need to feel weird about it. They can help make sure your friend is safe or point toward resources that might be a better fit. Re:Solve is also an option if you’re unsure whether your friend is in immediate danger or may be expressing an intense emotional experience without intent to complete suicide. It’s not your judgment call, so just contact someone at Re:Solve. Oh, and please don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1 (or drive to the hospital) if someone is in danger.

3- Avoid cliches. Pray about it. Just have faith. It could always be worse. Isn’t it about time to let that go/ get over it? God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. You get it. If you’ve never suffered with mental illness, don’t pretend to know what your friend is going through. It’s better to say other things, such as, I wish I knew what to say. Can I sit with you? I’m here with you, and you aren’t alone. Here’s a funny meme I saw yesterday.

4- Don’t use illnesses as adjectives. Can we acknowledge how simple yet profound that is? When you see someone struggling in a social situation, don’t call him autistic. When that guy at work is acting totally self-absorbed, don’t call him a narcissist. Stop calling your friend bipolar because she was happy yesterday but feels sad today. When said like that, it sounds like you don’t understand the diagnoses associated with such disorders. Plus, you aren’t qualified to diagnose your friend, and even if someone else has talked to her about that diagnosis, she is not her illness. So cut it out. Oh, and don’t use the “c” word (‘crazy,’ in case you needed clarification). Admittedly, that has been the most difficult one for me to shift. It has become so normalized in our culture that it’s difficult to remove from the vernacular. Instead try to say things like, “That game last night was intense!” or, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and unsteady right now,” or, “Her behavior has seemed erratic to me lately.” We’ve got options, not excuses. For more examples of words to avoid, here’s a list. The reason this language shift is important is because it will eventually lead to a cultural change and end stigmas attached to mental illness. No matter the type or severity of a friend’s mental illness, that person doesn’t need to feel sensationalized.

5- Belonging. Include your friend when making plans. Invite him to hang out even if you’re sure he will say no. Save a spot for him at the table, and then allow him to sit in silence if he needs to. Making space for someone who is struggling is invaluable, especially when they’re entering into that space with authenticity and vulnerability. Companionship fights the lies that thrive when a person is isolated.

6- Love. This looks different for everyone. If you’re comfortable enough with the person to ask, then consider something like, “I’m trying to find a way to express to you that I care about you and that you aren’t alone in this. Can you think of any specific ways I could do that which would be particularly meaningful to you?” But, maybe not. Maybe your friend feels unlovable, can’t put words to what she needs, or isn’t responsive. Luckily, the five love languages aren’t just for sweethearts. If you know your friend’s love language, focus your efforts there. If you’re unsure, try something in each of the five areas and see what sticks. Or, if you’re comfortable enough in the relationship, just ask. Again, seeing your friend as a person beyond the mental illness is key here. Allow your friend to have a voice wherever possible.

7- Boundaries. This may be more important than you realize. (Check out my detailed blog about boundaries here.) When it comes to supporting friends struggling with mental illness, the more the merrier! Nonexistent boundaries will leave us burned out and exhausted. Rigid boundaries shut out our loved ones. But with a balanced approach, we spend as much time investing in self-care as we invest in caring for others. It’s the old put on your oxygen mask before helping the person next to you analogy. A wise step here is to align yourself with the primary caretakers. If your friend is living with parents or a spouse, ask those people how you can be helpful, or share concerns with them when you see things that are a little off. And definitely support your friend’s family! Take a meal, bring coffee, send a text, write a note: the possibilities are endless.

8- Grace and understanding. Plans may change at the last minute. A yes may turn into a no. Leave space for that. Treat a friend with mental illness similarly to how you’d treat that friend if he or she had a cold or the flu: graciously.

9- Nonpredatory behavior. This should probably go without saying, but don’t take advantage of people suffering with mental illness. Don’t use your friend’s phobia to prove a point. Don’t use someone in a manic state to finish painting your living room. Don’t use someone who has been traumatized to normalize your own experience. Don’t use your friend abusing alcohol to have a party buddy when you feel lonely.

10- Be present, and ask your friend. As with many issues in our culture, the most obvious answer is often the most overlooked. Show up! keep your word and follow through. When you’re not sure what your friends need, just ask. They may not have clear answers right away, but it’s worth a shot. At the end of the day, there’s no perfect formula. Here are some conversation starters to consider:

  • I’ve been feeling worried about you. When is a good time for us to talk about what’s going on?
  • What can I do to help you talk about these issues with someone else you trust?
  • How else can I help?
  • It seems like you’re going through something difficult. How can I help you find the help you need?
  • I’m concerned you might not be safe. Have you thought about harming yourself or anyone else?
  • Can you save these numbers in your phone in case you ever need to talk? Re:Solve (888-796-8226) and National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255)

What have been helpful things you’ve done for a friend? How has someone helped you? Spend some time today thinking about a specific person in your life and how you might take a balanced approach to supporting that person.