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.

Dear Dad, I Remember

251170_230722910276855_6729367_n17 years ago Mom sat me down on my bed and told me we needed to talk. I could tell by her face and the tone of her voice that it wasn’t good news. She looked at me, grabbed my hand, and then said, “Honey, I can’t explain why and I’m sorry I have to tell you this, but your father won’t be coming home any time soon. Honestly, I don’t know if he will ever be coming home. And I know this doesn’t make sense and I know you might be upset…” The tears started to puddle in her eyes and all I could do was swallow back my own emotions.

Because she was right. I was confused. And I wanted to ask questions. But I was also thirteen and I didn’t know if I wanted to know the answers. I can’t remember where Heather was exactly. Volleyball practice maybe, out at a friends house. But there Mom and I sat and all I could do was say, “Ok.”

I trusted Mom. And I knew that whatever was going on she had her reasons. I was scared and angry, but there was nothing to be done. So I just accepted it. I remember being worried about Heather finding out because Heather is Heather and very different from me. She wouldn’t accept anything you or Mom said without putting up a good fight. And she loved to fight.

In my small, simple, adolescent mind I became immediately consumed with this concept that you and Mom were going to get divorced. And maybe you were. Maybe it was discussed. Maybe it wasn’t. But three days later it didn’t matter because you came back. And with your return there was a new weight to our home. Things had changed. Life had happened. And mom was hurting.

I remember her crying more often. The two of you whispering more often. And no one talking to us about any of it. I thought that one day–when I was older–it would all make sense. That we would have answers. That we would talk about it. But we haven’t.

And guess what, I don’t want to. I’m married now and I have skeletons of my own. And if there is one thing that my husband and I have come to understand it’s that not everyone can handle your story. Your truths. Or your mistakes. They can’t be trusted to understand, accept, or even forgive. You and mom figured a way out of it all and that’s all that matters to me.

Because you know what else I remember…

I remember you spending every afternoon with me for two weeks teaching me how to shoot free throws so that I could try out for the basketball team. I made the team because of that. I made the team because of you. And I am still to this day great at shooting free throws. Did you also know I tried out for you? Because you loved the game so much. Because you loved the Lakers. Because honestly, I sucked at the sport except for free throws.

I remember you never missing a single swim meet, volleyball game, basketball game, or softball game in all my ten years of being an athlete.

I remember you believing me when I said that the little ducks on the valance Mom sewed for my bedroom window truly did come alive in the middle of the night. And that they grew teeth and scared me.

I remember you moving me into my college dorm, wearing matching USA shirts with Mom, and running away after you hugged me goodbye. I remember Mom calling me two hours later to “check-in” on me and let me know you had both made it home safely and that you had also spent the entire drive crying. She told me your shirt was soaked with tears.

I remember you teaching me how to drive a car. Check my oil. Fill it up with gas. And how to get back into your Chevy truck and drive it home after backing it up into a Ferrari. Fifteen years later and I’ve never hit another car since.

I remember you sitting down at Mom’s sewing machine the night before Pajama Day in high school and figuring out how to take an old bed sheet of mine and turn them into wickedly cool hot pink pajama pants.

I remember you teaching me how to properly eat a pop tart: slightly toasted and topped with buttered.

I remember you calling me the morning after my wedding night to check-in on me. Because you were happy and excited and nervous. And it wasn’t weird or awkward. Because you loved me and you loved Hector and you just wanted to make sure we were ok. And we were. We were great 😉

I remember you calling the police when I was three hours late home from work because I was stupid and had gone to Jack In the Box with a boy. And was only two blocks away from home, but didn’t want to call and check-in because I wasn’t suppose to be out past 11pm. I remember that you’re leg was still in a cast and that you had gone to my work yelling and screaming that no one had walked me to my car that night. You thought something bad had happened to me. I listened to weekly jokes about my father and how he came inside the market waving his crutches in the air like a mad man. I loved you for that. Because I was a dumb teenager and you were a worried father.

I remember you pushing me for hours on the rope swing in our front yard. Teaching me how to ride a bike. How to hold my breath for long periods of time. How to cliff jump into Lake Havasu.

I remember how patient you were with me when I didn’t want to ride the rides that went upside down at Six Flags. How patient you were with me when I didn’t want to do anything that scared me or made me uncomfortable… which was a lot.

I remember the dozens upon dozens of days when we’d wait for you to get home from work and we’d cross our fingers hoping you had stopped at 7-11 to get us slurpees. I loved slurpees.

I remember the day I got my acceptance letter to San Diego State. I remember how worried you were about me going away to college. I remember you sitting down with mom and telling her that you couldn’t keep me from going because you thought maybe that’s where I was suppose to meet my husband. Seven days later, seven days after that terrible drive home where you cried for two hours straight from leaving me in San Diego I met Hector. Four years later we were married. Nine years later and you have Eliana, Roma, and Lucia as a result of being able to let me go. And find my life.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I remember it all, the good and the bad Dad. But isn’t that life? You had a temper, but you loved to laugh and dance stupidly to Elton John music. You didn’t go to church with us growing up, but you were always present. For everything. I always knew you’d be there and you always were.

While there were moments in life where you may have failed, you didn’t fail me. I love you so much Dad and I’m so thankful and grateful that you are mine.

Happy 32 years of Fatherhood. You’ve kicked ass every single one.