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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Forever After

Before Hector and I got married I had started writing letters to him in a journal. It was something a girlfriend of mine had recommended to me in order to capture my feelings towards him leading up to our wedding and also my more private thoughts in regards to *ahem* our wedding night (wink-wink). img_6566

Ten years later and we are still writing in it. There are some years here and there with few to no entries. The years where life sort of piled up and the days, while endless, blew away without much acknowledgement except that we survived. We made a good effort to sit down annually and write down goals for ourselves, for our marriage, and for our kids. We put them in the journal to then reflect on the following year and see which ones we made good on and which ones we didn’t.

Included are also letters of apology and passion, letters of friendship and forgiveness, and letters that encompass what it means to not give up on love. To not give up on each other.

Eliana, my eldest, asked me quite earnestly the other day if her papa and I were ever going to move away from one another. At first I didn’t quite understand her. But as she continued I realized she was asking me if we’d ever have separate houses because of divorce and while she has no clue what divorce is she’s understanding that the majority of her friends live with split households. And she’s wondering when it’s going to happen to her.

I got fairly quiet and pondered for a few moments how I wanted to respond. How I wanted to present our marriage and our commitment and the future in front of us. But also not placate her worried heart with fairytale romantic notions of endless joy and happiness because life is perfect if you only just believe!

But here’s the catch… No one gets married assuming they’ll get divorced. Because why commit to begin with knowing it’ll only end.

So I kept it simple and told her that papa and I are committed to not giving up on each other. That part of the decision in choosing who to marry isn’t just finding someone you love because loving is easy. It’s finding someone who you are willing to forgive. Someone who at their ugliest, even at your own expense or more so especially at your own expense, you can see through to their goodness. Their whole parts not just the broken bits.

Because when you love deep and true and monogamously there is no threshold for pain. Everything hurts when trust is broken.
Everything hurts when you are taken for granted.
Everything hurts when someone stops caring.
Because everything is given to the other. So even the smallest transgressions cause pain and doubt and fear and anger.

You love with your entirety. Heart. Soul. Mind. and Body.

That is marriage.

To give even when nothing is received and to trust even when we fear. We must wake up and look at the day and curse those around us who mean to come between us. Curse the things, the people, and the situations that mean to take what is not theirs. What does not belong nor will or should ever belong to them.

I know that every successful and longstanding marriage has shadows. Darkness settled in amongst the light. Sometimes the darkness is a living, breathing thing that must be battled daily. Other times it’s dormant–tucked away into the corners of buried emotions from our past. Sitting and waiting for an opportunity to be awakened, a slumbering dragon whose only desire is to breathe fire, burn, and destroy.

As we repeatedly choke on the ash.

But that is life. A consistent cycle of light and dark. Good and bad. Joy and pain. For even day turns to night over and over again. It never ends.

I had this whimsical idea of taking Christmas photos in my wedding dress with Hector in a suit and the girls all in fancy dresses. A way to commemorate our tenth anniversary and for us to reflect back on the years we’ve traveled. And all the little people we’ve made along the way. My expectations were to have my hair and makeup done. The girls cute and frilly and the backdrop an open field with the sun going down.

What I got was five minutes of my mother’s gracious time clicking away on my iPhone in front of our garage, where chalk drawings covered most of the floor, my hair three days unwashed and pulled back in a messy bun, Harley (our dog) refusing to not be included, and Eliana embracing her hatred towards all things photo related.

No sunset. No makeup. No gorgeous open field.

But guess what they turned out pretty darn great. They weren’t what I imagined. Not even close, but they are better than nothing. Better than just good enough. And in another twenty years when we celebrate thirty years we can look back and smile and be grateful we have the memory. And thankful that I did in fact still fit in my dress.

One of my favorite closing lines of a movie is from Ever After…

And, while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.

I am not hoping for a happily ever after in my marriage. But I am working towards a forever after. We started with a day, that we built into a year, that piled into a decade and we are just going to keep on repeating.

Love with your entirety. Heart. Soul. Mind. and Body. That is marriage.

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.

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.