As anyone whose ever gone to grade school knows, there are a lot of times in our lives that we are expected to do stupid things that someone else thinks will be good for us.
When I was younger, I was always right. The stupid thing was exactly as stupid as I thought it would be and it never did me any good.
What can I say, I was born knowing everything.
Until I was approximately 17 at which point I distinctly remember the first ever stupid thing that was actually good for me.
My first ever therapist made me do lots of stupid things. I was on the struggle bus and I just really didn’t understand how doing coloring pages in her office and making collages of magazine pictures in my dorm room was going to do anything to help with the fact that I was sad, down, miserable ALL. OF. THE. TIME.
But I (my parents, and their insurance) was paying for this lady, so I jumped through her hoops. I did her stupid things.
Every so often, I’d sit in what’s-her-name’s office with a coloring page and a big box of colored pencils, I’d scritch and scratch on the paper and answer her questions. Talk about my stuffs. Without fear… very open… about things I vowed not to talk about…
Damnit — the coloring! She tricked me into spilling my guts!
And her mind tricks only got more tricksy with the collage business. We talked about a little photo of a martini glass filled with milk for such a ridiculously long time. Why did it attract me? Was it the juxtaposition that I related to? And so on. It had seemed so silly until she really made me think about it. Not to mention the sort of mindful mindlessness of clipping the pictures on the floor of my room night after night.
Art projects, journaling, nerdy ice breakers, flipping through pictures, doing yoga, forced show and tell, filling my body up with sunshine, repeating tiny positive phrases…
Over the years, the stupid things have actually been so effective, that I have even stopped thinking of them as stupid. Actively pursuing things I once-upon-a-time would have immediately, and vehemently, poo-pooed.
And that’s the me of today. I like to try things — stupid things. Weird things. Out of the box things. Recently, through some of the hardest struggles and biggest hurts, I’ve found various artistic endeavors to be particularly helpful, healing, grounding, calming, enjoyable. I’ve pressed flowers and experimented with water colors. Hosted a painting party and DIY decorated my home.
This past weekend, I tried something new yet again. My friend Marie (my spiritual guuuu-ru) hosted a retreat at St. Anthony Spirituality Center in Marathon, about an hour north of me, focused on the use of beads in prayer — Pray One, Bead Two. Sounded neat… and the weekend did not disappoint.
Marie taught us the millennia-long history of the use of beads in various spiritual practices across geography and time. She told us stories about her innate attraction to the repetitive, tactile nature of the use of beads in her own life and the way that translated into a robust spiritual practice in her life today. Marie shared her stories, her knowledge, and her beads with us — oodles of beads — and we built things that meant something to us from the things that she shared.
I made a mental health focused prayer bracelet – a soft, sea green, with beads in sets of three, and a St. Dymphna medal; the patron saint of mental illness.
I made an earth amulet – one big clay circle representing God, the Earth, the universe, the totality, and a single wooden bead above it, representing myself and my place in the whole.
I made a beaded prayer shawl focused on healing – a heavy, long string of lovely beads with colors representing the bodily chakras from head-to-toe, toe-to-head, and back again.
And finally — the story beads.
The second Marie mentioned story beads, the idea of creating a story or party of a story from your life in a strand of beads, I was enamored with the idea. It was the last thing we did, but the first place my mind went as I started sifting through the different colors, shapes, and sizes of beads. As I made every other piece, I set aside the beads I knew I’d use to represent different pieces of the story I wanted to tell. And in the end, putting together my journey through expectation, infertility, miscarriage, depression, and to the place I am now was incredibly cathartic.
Want to see?
It started when we got married. We’d been together FOR-EV-ER. We were both crazy cute kids. We knew we wanted to make some more. We wished for a family all our own.
A year went by. It can take time. We knew that. We saw the doctor, did the tests – probes in unpleasant places, awkward samples in tiny containers. Nothing was wrong. So we stepped it up a touch, another 6+ months of clomid. So hopeful still, it was just a matter of time. It was going to happen. The wish was unchanged. It still had not been granted.
So we went to a fertility clinic in Madison. If anyone could make us pregnant, grant us our wish, it was Generations. Still so hopeful. We started with intrauterine insemination (IUI). Three crystal beads for those three whole-hearted attempts. We had a 30% chance of success each time… if it was going to work. It didn’t work. So we stepped up our game, we went with in vitro fetilization (IVF). Three more crystal beads for our three fertilized eggs — my little maybe babies. Hundreds of pills, injections, patches, swabs, ultrasounds, trips represented by six shiny beads. All the hope in the world in that tiny little section.
And one of those little embryos, the one that survived to implantation, she took root. My body knew her early. My heart fell in love immediately. It felt so uncertain at first. I was nervous and wary. And then one morning, I was in the garage, getting into my car to go to work and had to run quickly back inside to throw up and… it was so real. Who’d have thought vomit could be represented by a big pink bead covered in butterflies? But there it is.
I didn’t know it was a girl, but I felt so certain. I dreamt of of her future, of the uber feminist mom I was going to be. She was going to always feel beautiful and brilliant and bright. Worthy of all the love in the world, all good things, always. I was in love with her. The dream was real for a minute. So real.
Until it was, just like that, over. A picture perfect baby on the screen, but no blip of life. And all of it was over. Forever an angel baby.
We tried three more times. That’s these three beads. One round of IVF with my own eggs and two with donor eggs. But it was harder — harder on my mind, my heart, and my body. And we experienced unexpected and inexplicable failures. Things that weren’t supposed to happen, things that never happen, happened. We got discounts to “make up for it,” but I didn’t want a discount… I wanted a baby. Our baby. The baby we lost. The baby we’d tried so hard to have.
We had to give up. We had to stop. And things were black. My world was so dark for so long. And I still struggle with the darkness. It makes up a really big part of this story, of my story — it’s easy to see, easy to feel, hard to ignore.
But with letting go also comes some sort of acceptance. And we did some big things for ourselves to facilitate a reset — a shift in mindset, expectations. This bit represents the amazing trip we took, across the ocean and back again, the incredible treat we gave ourselves. The incredible joy I felt watching dolphins play in the water far below us. The profound groundedness and acceptance I felt spending those amazing 12 days with my husband and our two best friends in this world.
The two of us came home fresh and refreshed. Ready to do life together. Knowing that our family is just as real as any other family, regardless of whether we end up with human children someday or not. We’re so lucky to have each other.
And so we come to the last segment on the string. This one is me — big and imperfect. I’ve been through a lot, but now that’s behind me. It’s just my story, the tale of how I came to be this big, imperfect rock. And in front of me — 11 beads. 11 for a new beginning. 10, a number of completion, plus 1 to keep going. (Except you know I love Joe Dirt, so I’m going to say it… plus 1 to keep on keepin’ on!)
Finally, the one big special bead that I made myself, molded out of clay. It’s a heart. My heart. With a tiny heart missing — the piece of my heart my girl took with her when she left us. But she also left something behind, an imprint that won’t ever go away. My heart is changed.
It’s been 18 months since we saw our little baby on the screen… only to learn that her heart no longer beat. 18 months since the D&C, the blackest of black, and I’m still grieving. But over the course of those 18 months, I’ve moved from the constant brink of tears to a place where talking about it — walking through the story, remembering what could have been — is something I actually want to do. When someone (anyone) asks about whether/how many kids we have, I don’t want to just say “no” or “none,” I want to say, “Unfortunately, no. We do not have children. We tried for a long time, did everything we could, and even lost one baby, but we don’t have any kids. And we might not ever. It’s been hard, but we have each other and our sweet pup and that’s ok.”
That’s my story. The story the beads tell. And the story I get to share.