The Goodness of Grief

Five weeks ago, the day before Valentine’s Day, I rolled over in bed and handed my husband a positive pregnancy test. I giggled as I hid behind the sheets. We both had mixed feelings about adding another child to our family. Equal parts insanity and joy with a little side of– “Are we really doing this… again?”

Before we ever had kids we talked about our future family with elusive grandeur. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a large family. Three to five kids. Chaos. Love. Joy. A million messes to clean up.

Idyllic, right?

That was all before. Before Eliana, Roma, and Lucia. Before complicated vaginal delivery meant future recurring cesareans. Before his career meant traveling for weeks to months at a time. Before we figured out who we were as a married couple who also carried the titles mom and dad. Before we experienced what three kids sick for three months straight did to our mental health. Before we knew anything about changing diapers, and vaccines, and rashes, and when to call the Dr. and when to wait. Sleep training, and nursing, and organic foods vs processed foods. And educational decisions: Schools, curriculum, teaching style, public vs. private vs. charter. And the list goes on and on and on and on.

It’s easy to talk about what you think you’d might want when our brains develop the most ideal circumstances to house those ideas in. But then you put one foot in front of the other and start to actually make choices. You start to see your story play out and you start to make a life together. One kid. Two. Then a third. All girls. All boys. Or maybe a bit of both.

And then you realize it’s not as idyllic as it sounded. Life is messy. Regardless if you do or don’t have kids. We start off going in one direction and then along the way we veer off into a million different tangents. Some choices, others consequences, and many outside our own control. We start and stop. Chapters ending before the first sentence is written and others continue on until the day we die.

I’ve always felt that I’ve had an easy life. Great parents. Wonderful sister. Amazing marriage. I’ve been spared a lot of horrors and a lot of pain. Because of this I often disregard parts of who I am or experiences I have because it just doesn’t seem as heavy as whatever else is going on out there. My optimism can be infuriating. But I’ve realized that part of having a good sense of self-worth is also valuing my journey regardless of what others may think. And sharing my story is more about connecting and processing and understanding life with those around me than validating it. My validation and my purpose comes from my faith and my faith alone. The world around me will always fail me. The people closest to me included. But–my God, my Jesus–will never forsake me.

We had opted to not tell anyone about the pregnancy because we weren’t telling the kids yet. Eliana was going through some very emotional opinions about whether or not we should expand our family. In fact, a week or so after I found out I was pregnant my friend Allison had returned our infant car seat that she had borrowed for her last baby and Eliana freaked. She kept asking why it was back. That we didn’t need it anymore because we were done having babies. That babies are too much work. It’s presence obviously disturbing her.

This broke my heart. For all of two seconds and then I realized she would get over it. Kids are fickle. And a six year old is mostly driven by what’s best for her and another sibling would mean (for a period of time) that we would be stretched thin again. We also reminded her that she felt the same way about both Roma and Lucia and that those feelings had passed and morphed into a deep and adoring bond of not just love but of friendship and of sisterhood.

Another week passed and she was singing a different tune. Our next-door neighbors have a set of sisters 8 and 10. They come over begging and pleading to play with Lucia because they both would love another sibling. This brought Eliana some perspective and made her realize that the very thing she resented lived as desire in another.

Eliana also made an observation about how lonely her papa might be in a house full of females. She thought a brother could fix this. We then had to kindly remind her that we don’t have a choice when it comes to getting a brother or a sister and that if we decided to have more kids (reminder that we were already pregnant here) that she would have to be ok with either or. And then she smiled, “I’d love another sister.”

Kids. Fickle is an understatement.

I wasn’t scheduled for my first ultrasound until about 9 1/2 weeks gestation, but I would only make it to 8. I realize miscarriage is common. But so is death in general and yet we don’t go around patting people on the back telling them that.

If I’m being honest with myself I felt something was off from day one. With all my past pregnancies I took one test, accepted it’s validation, and then waited for my first appointment. With this one I took 5 tests. Five. I kept brushing it off as fourth pregnancy fears. The first three were so textbook that I thought it couldn’t be this easy. Maybe it was God preparing me, or maybe it was me being acutely aware of how my body responds to pregnancy and I just knew… I knew things weren’t progressing like the prior three.

My fears were confirmed in a Target bathroom as I watched my middle, Roma shake a jar of prenatal vitamins while my youngest, Lucia squeezed an applesauce packet into her mouth. The majority of which dribbled out of her mouth, down her chin, and over her pajama clad exterior.

My palms turned cold, my heart a raging fire, and a muffled cry implanted itself in my throat. I was shaking. My brain knew what was happening but my heart refused to accept. This much blood at any stage of pregnancy was not good. I illogically began to think I could fix it. I just had to stop the bleeding. Put my legs up. Lay down. Something.

Kids have a funny way of making you pull yourself together and move on. There’s no space for emotional breakdowns in public because tiny humans require your attention every twenty seconds to prevent injury or starvation from occurring. Yes, every twenty seconds. That’s why all mothers operate with a certain level of high-functioning madness.

To add insult to injury I left the bathroom to return the prenatal vitamins back to the shelf.

Roma: “You not need those anymore, Mommy?”
Me: <internal sobbing with simultaneous joy at her three year old speech> “Nope. Not anymore.”

I returned home from Target with a new acceptance and a small sliver of hope that I would be that one story where there was still a heartbeat and I just had some random, unfounded, and unserious complication that resulted in severe bleeding for a short period of time. Unfailing optimism.

Three hours later and a very short and very quiet ten minute ultrasound confirmed loss of life at 6w and 5d. My sidekicks Roma and Lucia were present and once again gave me the distraction to not lose my sh!# in public. The tech was as kind and as warm as possible considering her job and the news she had to deliver.

I had an hour+ drive home in San Diego traffic. I texted my husband to confirm what we already had assumed.

Me: sobbing my guts out in traffic, girls are quiet it’s like they know
Hector: wait for me
Hector: I want to cry with you
Me: *sobs harder*

I spent the next two days bleeding and cramping and trying to process the sobering truth that we would not be delivering our fourth baby in October. I broke the news to my parents who in some ways took it even harder than I did. Our family hasn’t had the best track record with medical health recently. So this just felt like kerosene to an already raging fire.

Burn. Burn. Burn.

I had to navigate through a lot of dark thoughts. Lies that tried to imbed themselves as truth and a weight I just didn’t want to carry. For the last six years my “job” has been to make, deliver, and raise our babies. Alongside carrying for our home and my husband, but if we look at what our society defines as our surface level identity–the question most often asked when meeting someone new–“What do you do?” Then that was what I did.

And miscarriage made me feel like a failure.

To the degree that I even apologized to my husband who then cried and thought I was insane. I know it’s not my fault. I know this is my body’s natural process in responding to a pregnancy that was not viable. But I felt like I had been found unfit and unworthy of the next promotion of motherhood. That I had done something wrong. And then we both processed those daunting questions that serve no purpose in asking… “What if it was a boy? Are we just not meant to have a son? Are we not meant to have any more kids? What does this mean?”

These questions are our brains way of justifying and maneuvering through mysteries that just cannot be solved. A woman I follow on Instagram posted this excerpt the other day and I found a complete and total peace in reading it:

“Never debate anything God is putting you through, and never try to find out why you are going through it. Keep right with God and let Him do what He likes in your circumstances and you will find He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will be a benefit to others.” – Oswald Chambers 

Oh, Oswald. You always deliver.

Loss. Pain. Grief. They all refine us. Transform us into new and different beings. They make our sense of humanity even more human and allow us to connect and relate and love like we are not alone in a world full of incredible darkness. They remind us that no matter what we may see on Facebook, or Instagram, or snapchat no one has it all. We are all traversing our own story and paving our own way with an ebb and flow of pain and beauty. Which is the very heart of what it means to live.

I feel like I’m in a good place now. I believe we will get pregnant again. I believe this experience ultimately has made me a better mother for all my children those born and yet to be. Who knows what paths my daughters may cross in adulthood and I am now more equipped to help them face their own pain. This alone is worth it.

I have moments of deep sadness for what could’ve been. Random things that trigger emotions I can’t control. I’m accepting that this is a part of the process. And I’ve never been real good at grieving. So I force myself to lay down and let it wash over me. Instead of working hard to fix and move on. Because somethings can’t be fixed. They can only be accepted and brought alongside us as a new part of our story. To produce the kind of bread and wine that will be a benefit to others.

If there’s one thing I know it’s that from here on out whenever I fill out my medical history and I’m asked the following:

How many pregnancies? 4
How many births? 3

I will think of you. And this experience. And how with losing you I was able to find a way to love. Love more compassionately. Grieve more deeply. And share that which has broken us so we may all feel a little less alone.

And to all my friends near and far who have experienced this loss: I grieve for you and your pain. Whether present or deep in the past. And I am sorry for not knowing more at the time of what this felt like and for not offering the love you may have needed to get through it. We don’t know until we know and then it can never be unknown.

This is the bread and wine I have to offer today. May it encourage, comfort, or offer the love you may need in this moment.

 

 

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Pain Collectors

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

We all have it. Sometimes it’s public. Sometimes it’s private. Some people deny it. Others shine it. One day you give. The other receive. Pain lives on the edges of our picture frames and in the crevices of our dusty bookshelves. It’s old, it’s new, it’s a moment, it’s forever.

Pain is inevitable.

It isn’t something that graciously passes some people by while eviscerating everyone else. Sure there are varying levels and varying situations, but pain is pain. No matter the trigger behind it. Let me repeat: pain is pain.  

 
The internet can be such a wonderful tool. It has so many useful purposes, outlets, and connections. It can bring complete strangers together and form incredible bonds of friendship based solely on the mutual love of reading. It can raise support for children fighting cancer. It can help a family devastated by a natural disaster. It can heal.

But it can also kill. And it doesn’t kill quietly. It rages war.

I’m very cautious in using the internet to share the really delicate parts of me. The ones that need to be handled with care because I’m afraid of being shut down. I share them with the people I know and trust in the flesh who will love on me and remind me that whatever I’m going through is important. It’s important because I’m important. And it doesn’t need to be compared to someone else’s pain. Because pain is pain. 

But some of us have a problem with collecting it.

We go through something tragic, something monumental and it changes us. Pain changes us. And that’s ok. Change is good. Pain can ultimately be good. It grows us. Shapes up. And usually allows us to understand the pain of others with a greater sense of intimacy and delicacy.

But somewhere, in all of that tragedy, we’ve started to collect our pain–a row of gold statues that we shine, dust, rearrange so they are just perfect, and stare at for hours on end. We place our pain on the best shelf, with the best view, so everyone can see it. But not because we want you to journey with us through our pain but because we want to say,

“Mine. Mine. Mine. My collection is bigger and better and more painful than your own.”

And it’s not. The only real truth about pain is that it’s different. Yes, there might be a distinct level of minor pain vs major pain when we talk about the physical body, but I’m not trying to compare a paper cut to brain surgery. I’m talking about life pain. The whole of our days. The sum of our years. The pain we carry in our souls–emotional, yes– but it can be physical, too.

I was reading a blog post the other day by a dear friend of mine who is finally seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Months and months of pain that have finally led her to a new journey of restoration. I ventured into the comments section to read about the women who had been encouraged by what she wrote and to be filled with their hope. And that’s when I found a pain collector.

Now, I don’t believe this person meant any harm in her comment. I truly believe she too just wants her pain to be acknowledged. For someone to come alongside her and hold her. Validate her. Tell her, “Yes, yes. I hear you. This is hard stuff. This is painful. I’ll help you.” But the delivery of that pain translated into–my pain is worse than yours.

The situation looked like this… A woman was lamenting about the struggle she’s had in mothering–trying to keep her head above water while being surrounded by her ocean of littles. And then came a response comment from another woman… Try being a single parent. It doesn’t get harder than doing it on your own.

Do you see where I am going with this? That mother of littles can’t try being a single mother. She isn’t one. All she knows is that her days are hard according to what she’s accustomed to handling. You know who steps in after that single mom comment if we keep collecting our pain instead of learning from it?

The mom with no kids.
The mom with infertility.
The mom who isn’t a mom, but prays, wishes, and dreams about it every single moment of her existence.

And then you know who steps in after the mom with no kids? The single woman in her thirties who is home alone on a Friday night because she’s tired of the bar scene. She’s tired of e-harmony never panning out. She’s tired of putting herself out there to only discover she can’t find someone to share her forever with. She’s tired, but her exhaustion isn’t from a house full of kids and a husband who is disgruntled from work. So is her pain any less valuable? Is her loneliness any less important?

We’ve all collected our own pain. We’ve all made these comments where we try and one up someone’s situation because we think our own is worse. And it’s not. No matter the situation your pain is not worse than someone else’s. It’s just different. Pain is pain.

We need to start thinking before we speak. Question our words and the intentions behind them before assuming that what we’ve got going on is more painful than someone else. If pain demands to be felt than it also demands to be processed. Everyone deserves to feel what they are going through and to share that with those they love.

We need to stop collecting the pain and start learning from it. Pain is constant. Allow the world around you to feel it. Allow yourself to feel it. And in that process help each other to heal. Don’t slap the pain of someone else with your own.

An adult who loses a parent should be loved upon and allowed to grieve as if still a child.
A mother of one should be supported in her trials as much as the mother of five.
A child with a drunk father should be fretted upon as the child with none.

Pain is pain. And all pain demands to be felt.

 

A Rationally-Irrational Fear

I am pretty sure I just made up the term “rationally-irrational”, but sometimes double negatives are a necessity in life.

You see, I have an irrational fear of having a second child, but this irrational fear is technically made rational when you understand my predicament. Therefore, I have a rationally-irrational fear of procreating for a second time. In my mind it makes sense, but sometimes my mind is a very interesting place to reside.

If I could explain to you how I feel via nursery rhymes it would go something like this….

This was the least frightening humpty picture I could find.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses, And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty back together again!

Now I know your utterly confused, but stick with me here. Most people would assume that after having one kid the second would be a walk-in-the-park. Sort of going with the whole been-there done-that mentality. And of course there is that concept that Mother’s apparently forget what goes on in the delivery room and that’s why we end up rushing to have a 2nd, 3rd and possibly even a 4th, when just 9 months before we were literally wondering why we ever decided to have children in the first place, as you attempt to push a 26 cm head out of a 10 cm hole.

But as much as I would like to think I have forgotten, I don’t really think I was blessed with this so-called delivery amnesia. And to be honest its not really the delivery that was the problem for me, but more-so the post-delivery circumstances that have my panties in knots whenever I even remotely entertain the idea of getting a sperm to reach one of my eggs. Seriously, I have to work hard to suppress the mild anxiety attacks that threaten to overwhelm me and to top it off these feelings are intermixed with the giddiness & joy of adding to our family. Which, I dream about often and want more then anything else in the world (except possibly our trip to Italy in the fall, kidding, well maybe just a little bit). Continue reading “A Rationally-Irrational Fear”