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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Too Much

I woke up yesterday and felt like I was drowning.

It was a slow descent of sorts.

The water had been pouring down my head for awhile. Sometimes it was just a trickle and then other times a downpour. But the water had begun to collect around my ankles until one day it reached my knees then rose above my waist and was now sitting right below my chin. It could be days or mere seconds before it overtook me. It all depended on the weather.

And I could feel exactly how close I was to choking.

When my husband got home from work he could sense it too. I felt physically and emotionally done. I wasn’t angry or irrational with the children if anything I was extremely calm and understanding, but I felt distant. Like my spirit was gone and my body was just going through the motions. Do homework. Make dinner. Clean dishes. Bath bodies. Done. Done. And done. But my tank was empty and I felt immobile.

I think I spent the first 9-10 months of Lu’s first year just waking up and getting through the day. It was a survivalists approach. Don’t think too hard about all the things you can’t do or aren’t doing just do what’s right in front of you. And it worked. We survived! But it was hard. And hard can be good. It stretches us and teaches us and molds us into more capable human beings. But hard can also be very very exhausting.

It wasn’t until I stopped nursing that I realized the contrast in who I was and how I felt. How tired, how drained, and how absent I had been from the normal me.

And it’s not like our home was all doom and gloom and depressing. Or that my children felt neglected or ignored. Or that I was rocking in a dark corner every night unable to function. Most days looked good and most weekends were filled with joy and love and fun. But that’s part of who I am. That’s how I handle hard things. That’s how I carry on. That’s how I get through it. Because if I stop and think about it too long I start to feel the weight of it all and doubt begins to grow.

You can’t do this Melissa. You’re failing Melissa. You’re not giving enough Melissa.

And I don’t believe in these voices even when they hang around for a few days, tapping me on the shoulder, trying to point out all the bad things.

The last two months of not nursing have reminded me of who I am when I’m at full capacity. But I think this is why I started to drown. Instead of accepting that the me I was during Lu’s first year was me operating at full capacity for the demands presented to me I told myself that was me just surviving. Instead of seeing everything I was doing and rejoicing in accepting the day given to me, no matter how simple it looked, I told myself things like it’s going to get better. This is only temporary. It’s just a season.

And those are all true, but it doesn’t really help. Everything is temporary and seasons are continuous. Easy seasons don’t stay forever and hard seasons will always return. It’s called Life. But I feel like I cheated Lu out of a better me because I was so focused on what was next. Because her first year was hard. Because Eliana started a full day of T-K and daily pickup was sometimes impossible. Because illness ran amuck in our house for months. Endless months. Because my sister moved away. Because potty training. Because my husband was gone for weeks. Because my Dad got sick.

Because. Because. Because.

I have a problem with letting myself grieve. When I see others grieve I grieve with them. When I see myself grieve I feel weak. My life is so wonderful you guys. It’s magnificent and beautiful and perfect in our own way and so full. Full of everything I’ve ever imagined and more. My own little fairytale with a pair of converse instead of glass slippers. I love it.

And so I hate complaining because I hate complainers. But grieving is so very different than complaining. I need to let myself feel this more. I need to let my emotions play their course. I need to let it go. I need to be free of the burden that grief is weak.

I am a naturally joyful, highly optimistic, overly positive person. I don’t need to work at doing those things. They just happen. But I need to work at being sad. I need to let myself sit down and cry more often over all the things that weigh me down that I can’t change that won’t ever change and that burden the small part of my heart that I allow to carry the dark and heavy stuff. Because when I do it, when I allow myself to let it wash over me instead of puddle up at my feet until it sloshes against my chin threatening to drown me I don’t feel weak. I feel human. I feel closer to my life. Closer to others. Closer to God.

So I’m sitting down and figuring out what’s important. To me and to my household. I’m throwing all of these dumb misplaced expectations into the trash and starting over. I feel like the world has told me that as a Stay At Home Mom I should have the time and energy to cook a huge meal every night. And I listened. First, because I love cooking. Second, because everyone else said it was important.

I’d like to confess that I’m no longer cooking anything complicated on a school night. I’m saving that for weekends. Why? Because it seriously sucks up two hours of my time. The process of prepping, cooking, serving, then cleaning, and putting away. I hate it. In the writing world we call this “Killing your darlings”. It means that me must get rid of our most precious and self indulgent passages for the greater good of our literary work.

So I’m getting rid of cooking for the greater good of my children. Because I’m realizing that the time my husband and I get with them together, as a whole family, is now so precious with Eliana in school. Our influence has been dwindled down to a single hour before bed. That’s how she’ll absorb and view family 5 nights a week. And I don’t want to spend it cleaning vegetables and roasting chicken.

I want to spend it on the couch, in a big giant pile of books and games and music and love. I want to spend it asking questions and then listening to their answers. I want to spend it investing in them. Pouring into them. And loving them.

This hour has become so precious in our house. How we end the day. Not stressed, or rushing around trying to finish up homework or clean up a million little messes so we can throw them in their beds and close the door to only let out a sigh of relief and exhaustion. And then go focus on the laundry.

I hate it. It’s TOO MUCH you guys. TOO DAMN MUCH. I want more for them and for me and for our hearts. I’d venture to say that 99% of the stuff you’re stressing over as being important counts for nothing if you don’t have time to just be together and love on each other.

So I’m yanking my hand back. I’m putting it on my heart and I’m saying, “NO, THIS IS WHAT’S IMPORTANT.”

To feel. To live. And to accept each day as it’s given to me regardless of what it looks like. To love my children more and cook less. To grieve. To worry less about them eating vegetables and focus more on how they feel about themselves. To make messes. To read more books and watch less tv. To dance.

To have it all. With each day. Even when the seasons are hard.