Mother’s Day is an interesting holiday in my shoes. I have an excellent mom, a really amazing mother-in-law, a sister and sister-in-law that are mothers to 2 whole nieces and 2 more half-baked babes on the way, a kick ass grandma and another kick ass grandma-in-law. So, legitimately, I have a lot to celebrate.
But, what about me and motherhood? How do I think about that?
Am I a mom? Was I?
Lots of people in positions similar to the one I currently occupy — GXP0, in medical terms, where X can is any whole number greater than or equal to 1 — might say yes.
Personally, I am G1P0 — pregnant once with no pregnancies reaching viable gestational age. Because I miscarried. And I do not say yes, for me. I say no.
No judgment on anyone who believes otherwise. It’s necessarily personal.
I’m honestly not saying this out of a sense of self-deprecation or even self-pity. This is a legitimate no. I do not feel as though I have ever been a mother and truly do not want to be celebrated as such. In fact, to do so only makes me feel worse — simultaneously a fraud and a failure. I never really knew what it was like to be a mom and I did not succeed in bringing life, or even the possibility of life, into this world. Anyone can imagine motherhood, and that’s all that I ever did.
Yes, it’s true that I would love to be a mother. Very much. It’s also true that I think I could be a good one. In fact, in a lot of ways, I’m quite good at caring for and supporting others. I can clean up vomit without flinching and I’ve done so on a number of occasions. But that’s not the same as motherhood and Mother’s Day is not a day for me. I don’t expect you or anyone else to worry about me on this day either. I mean that.
Is it hard? Most definitely. But as with most things that are hard these days — bumps and announcements, ultrasounds and smash cakes — it is not about me. And it’s certainly not my job, nor my desire, to take the joy away from others on account of my own pain.
So this Mother’s Day, please do celebrate yourself and the mothers in your life. Grieve with the mamas you know who have lost little ones, help them know that they are loved and their sweet angels are remembered. But also know that not everyone considers themselves a mother or needs to be told that they are – we’ll have other days, this one isn’t ours.
Imagine with me for a moment that things had worked out as I thought they would…
April 13, 2016 would have been a big day. The day we welcomed our sweet babe into the world. New life in the spring, pink and perfect.
But I mourned last April instead.
Imagine again, another year in that perfect world…
April 13, 2017 would have been another big one – a first birthday. Chubby cheeks and bouncy blonde curls. A big, open mouthed smile and frosting everywhere. Sugar and sprinkles and tiny little fingers.
No sprinkles, though. No frosting. No fingers, no smile.
Another April gone by, same as the last.
Two roads diverged in the wood that day, the day there was no heartbeat. And I didn’t get to choose which one I took. It was chosen for me.
I did choose to walk, though. Forward, always forward.
It’s natural to look back. To sometimes get caught up in the waves of grief that come unexpectedly. Is it natural, also, to imagine the same distance along the other road? To wonder what it would have looked like had I been able to turn right instead of left at the fork? I don’t know. But I do imagine it, I wonder. Sometimes. Not always. But especially on April 13th. Another year gone by, an imagined point on that other road.
There is no baby. There is no first birthday. There is no other me. Only this grief, a depression that seems to set in this time of year. The flowers bloom, the sun sticks around longer and longer, and yet I struggle to get out of bed. A little harder, just for a while.
Then the imaginary party fades. And I keep walking forward, always diverging from the road I couldn’t take.
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 sodark for solong. 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.
I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.
It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.
Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.
On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.
The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:
(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.
(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.
I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!
I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.
But I had never thought about the converse question:
What does it look like when you’re living in fear?
I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.
I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.
I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.
I have been afraid.
Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?
The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!
It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.
This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.
I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.
Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.
We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.
My friend Kacey, fellow blogger, displaced Ypsilanti-ite (Ypsilantian? What do we call ourselves?), and Lincoln-lifer, recently called me out on her blog. She said, and I quote, “Hey, Rachel — post something, loser!”
Or maybe I’m actually paraphrasing via my self-deprecation filter. Ahem. It was probably more like a gentle, personal, encouraging call out suggesting I write a little something something in the month of December.
The truth is, I’ve written lots and lots and lots of words since my last post. They’re all sitting there as drafts. Four, pretty much complete, thousand word drafts. So it’s not really writer’s block that I’ve got going on. Rather, it’s more like writer’s disdain. I’ve got lots and lots of words — I just hate them all.
Writing has always made me feel so good and it’s still cathartic, but not the positive release I’m used to. The words I’ve put down on the page don’t feel together, with it, insightful. They don’t feel funny or clever. Not even clear. That makes me exceptionally sad. Depression and grief have taken so much already — my light, my exclamation points. My words too? It’s too much!
So Kacey is right. It’s time to put something back out there.
Here’s a list of all the things I wrote about with all those unlikable words:
I went back to the fertility clinic for a post-IVF, post-miscarriage, here’s-what-we-learned consultation. The verdict: the chances of us having children, even with IVF, are exceptionally low.
I am devastated.
So… in some sort of desperate attempt to control my body and overcompensate for all the things I/it cannot do, the things I’ve lost, the panic I’m feeling, I signed up to run the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in March…
… and the training has been going really well. Running is so good for me…
… also, I emailed my girlfriends in DC to see if they wanted to run or just hangout while I’m there to run and they were AMAZING. I’m so lucky to have them. They are so good for me.
Then the day before Thanksgiving, my grandfather, my dad’s dad, known to my young self as Papa, passed away unexpectedly. We went to Marquette for his funeral on Monday and it was beautiful — full of light, literally and figuratively. A beautiful service in a beautiful church…
… and I was reminded that no matter how much my anxiety/depression tells me I don’t want to be around family, that I’m not good enough, pretty enough, pregnant enough to even deserve to be in their presence — I freaking love them and it was really amazing to spend time with all those Voncks back in the yoop. My grandfather passed away and I was so sad, but his legacy, the family he built on rock, is a good and beautiful and powerful thing.
Seven relatively brief points. That’s better. Delete, delete, delete the drafts. That’s what’s been going on and I’ve mostly just been feeling down about all of it, even despite the good bits — the family and friends, support and love. Because depression is kind of like that.
Then, yesterday, after I saw Kacey’s public slam (except not really), I was talking to my friend Marie and, because our conversations always take wild and weird turns, she told me about a super bitter guy who never got over losing half of his hand in a factory accident and I instantly imagined him as Nicholas Cage playing Ronny in the movie Moonstruck.
I love the movie Moonstruck so ridiculously much — I mean, it’s kitschy (Marie’s perfect word!) and ridiculous and Cher-filled and perhaps Nicholas Cage’s poorest acting ever, but OMG, I cannot help but LOVE it. And my little chat with Marie and the knowledge that Seth’ll be out and about policing the good city of Marshfield Friday and Saturday night settled my plans to stream Moonstruck at least once over the weekend, probably with popcorn and some cider and a pup to snuggle me. Yes, this sounds quite good.
And then as I was scrolling through Facebook last night (took it off my phone, but I cannot completely kick the habit), my friend Sandy posted about watching Moonstruck. Of all the random 1980s movies…
“I lost my baby! I lost my family! [Every single other woman my age] has her baby! [Every single other woman my age] has her family! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget it?” in a self-righteous pity party many bitter years in the making. Just like the movie, except considerably less likely to lead to a tumble between the sheets, amazing wolf-based monologue, and a bloody steak for dinner. Because (1) Seth isn’t super turned on by my crazy, (2) he’s really not really much for metaphors, wolf-based or otherwise, and (3) he doesn’t generally do the cooking. Instead, he’d probably just shake his head, suggest I make an appointment with my therapist, and leave me be for another 5 – 10 years. No makeover, no opera, just real life and bitterness… because life is not a movie, no matter how much I love Moonstruck. (Although — basement bakery, babe? Let’s please consider that for seriously someday…)
I don’t want to be that person. I really, really don’t want to be that person — spending the rest of my life bitter over my missing limb.
Granted, depression, sadness, grief… none of that is the same as bitterness. But I think it could be a gateway, so to speak, if I don’t keep working on myself. Keep looking for the positive, finding ways to expose myself to light and love and goodness, to let it come in through the cracks. Bitterness would probably be easier, born of non-action, but it won’t end as well for me as it does for Ronny. I choose to work for the alternative, even when it’s hard.
And maybe that’s what the commitment to 26.2 miles is, the email to my friends even though many of them are the “every single other woman my age” that bitter-Ronny-me could end up ranting and raving about, the time spent with family despite the panic in my chest on the way. But it’s also gentleness — because life is hard right now, I did lose a limb, and that doesn’t heal overnight. I can only bend so far without breaking, but even slow progress is progress. Or so my yoga instructors tell me (that’s point 8 — it was another thing I wrote about).
In the spirit of advent, my friend Dawn recently reminded me of a Leonard Cohen quote:
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Turns out, he wasn’t the first one to say something like that. Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” And Sufi mystic Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” That’s a lot of pretty wise people — Muench, Cohen, Hemingway, and Rumi. My job, as a person full of cricks, cracks, and crevices then, is to expose myself to as much light as possible, even when it’s hard, when it’s blinding, and when it’s faint, if I want to avoid the bitterness that can creep in otherwise. Right now, that means running and yoga, family and friends with self-respecting gentleness, and, as Kacey was right to point out, Under the Tapestry too. thanks for hanging in there with me and for being a source of light, always.
Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of this post! You’ve earned a bonus photo!
Yesterday was a hard day. In the same way that every day has been a hard day, but a little bit worse. I had a big work deadline during the day and a remembrance service for the baby in the evening. Work was stressful, I got home late, Curly couldn’t even be bothered to say hello when I got home (oh that moody pup can cut me!), and the remembrance ceremony was more than just hard — it was disappointing and untouching and all it did was make me cry more tears without any of the healing I had hoped for.
I’m sure it wasn’t the service, I’m sure it was me. I’m sure it was the bitter shell that’s building up around the outside of my tender heart. There were so many families there. Families with kids. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I expected a room full of other sad women and while it probably was actually a room full of sad women on some level, my eyes could only see something that made me feel jealous and angsty and ungrateful. I felt ugly from the inside out.
But before that, between my bummer of a non-greeting from Curls and the short drive to the hospital chapel for the service, I opened some mail and sat down to the table for a quick bowl of chili and walked through the park with my pup on a leash. Though hurried, I felt like I had a couple moments of clarity where some big stuff started to coalesce…
We’d been gone for a week with the mail on hold and Monday was a federal holiday, so the stack that arrived on Tuesday was kind of enormous. I studiously ignored the multiple insurance EOBs (people talk about children being expensive — non-children are too and it hurts quite a bit to open those up and see the bill for a broken heart continue to grow and grow) and other bits of business-y junk and not junk, but kept aside a letter that made a rattling sound from my friend Adriane and a heavy envelope from my Auntie Pam.
For a second I thought that maybe Adriane, realizing my appreciation for the dramatic, love of all things microbiology, and need for rest (maybe in a coma), might have sent me some anthrax spores and a guaranteed trip to an isolation suite in a hospital in Minneapolis near her where she would be my only visitor. She’s tiny and adorable and would be really hilarious to the out-of-body-coma-me seeing her in a big biohazard suit. It was such a good idea, but I was disappointed on the spores end. What Adriane had actually sent was a really, really beautiful note and an incredibly thoughtful gift of forget-me-not seeds. Forget-me-nots. Because she knows I’ll want to remember.
My Auntie Pam (the reason I’ll always insist on being an auntie and never an aunt) also sent a beautiful note and gift of remembrance — an angel ornament for our Christmas tree. But she also sent me two ridiculously exciting and probably haunted books she picked up at a little used bookstore across the street from the super-haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, located very near to my best cousin and his best wife’s house. (To be clear, Mike only has one wife, I don’t mean to imply that there are multiple and that Christina is the best — she just earned the title of “best” when she married my best cousin.) She had thought of me, really me and my gone forever baby and the things I love, even while she was there visiting her own newest (and probably best (see above)) grandbaby. More tears.
After I opened the mail, I sat down to my finally-cool-enough-to-touch chili and re-read the words of Shauna Niequist about grace that I had already read once in the morning. I started reading Savor again on Monday morning. I had put Shauna away for a while, unable to bare her musings that sometimes (often) include family and motherhood in a way that I just couldn’t hear for a minute. But Monday and Tuesday were both about grace and powerfully so.
I re-read those passages and looked up from my bowl. My eyes and my mind flashed around the kitchen at the clutter on the counter top and table that I had been (jerkily, ungratefully, offensively… but probably somehow protectively) referring to as “pity presents” and they suddenly weren’t that any more. They were, all of them, tangible reminders of so much love.
I finished my chili and picked up Curly’s leash for a quick walk through the park. My mind turning over and over and over in the cool air. Pieces clicking together even as I bent over to bag up dog poop (because I’m a super responsible pet owner, even when distracted) and threw it away.
I was mad at God and the words “God has a plan,” the words I’ve heard so many times since the middle of September, felt like acid crawling through my insides. Because if God has a plan and his plan includes infertility, the months and years of waiting for nothing, then God is kind of an a-hole. And if God has a plan, and his plan is to take my baby, to prevent me from being a mother, to punish me or to hurt me or to cause me pain, then God is a jerk and I hate him. But that didn’t really fit for me because if God stops the hearts of babies, then God must also be responsible for whipping up the atmosphere into the frenzy of tornadoes and hurricanes. God must also slam tectonic plates together in a way that causes earthquakes and tsunamis. God’s blueprints must include untold levels of death and destruction. I don’t think I believe in that God.
And, bag of poop in hand, I realized I do believe that. Always. Because in addition to God, I also believe soundly in biology and physics. Meteorology and plate tectonics. Love doesn’t change biology, it can’t stop gravity from happening. Love can’t seed a rain cloud or move the winds. Love can’t shift the earth’s crust, make mountains or waves. But love can and does, as I have soundly witnessed, stir people’s hearts to do amazing things in the wake of unpleasant biology, physics, meteorology, plate tectonics, or any other unchangable earth-fact.
Love sends words and notes and gifts of comfort and remembrance (i.e. not pity presents and I’m sorry for ever even thinking it). Love is the reason anyone ever healed or rebuilt, from the (universally speaking) small miscarriage to the large floods of New Orleans and earthquakes of Nepal. When these things that cannot be helped, by God or anyone else, happen, when our lives are shattered, God is love and love is there to help us pick up the pieces, to inspire others to grace and compassion and goodness in ways that were unknown before the break.
And I hate that and love that for the same reason that Shauna Niequist wrote about yesterday, October 13th, when she said:
“I don’t really want to need grace… I prefer to believe instead that the math works: there are good things about me, but they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.
If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.”
It doesn’t have to make sense or to work out mathematically. Which is what I’ve been trying to do. To account for the heartbreak of infertility and miscarriage as something deserved and the kindness of others that, since not earned, must be pity. The God I believe in, the love he is and inspires, the grace, compassion, goodness, and even grief, that necessarily follows, just doesn’t work that way.
So what about Under the Tapestry? My whole premise — the idea that God is weaving a design that, no matter what it looks like from down here, is really, really beautiful “up” there. From the other side, whatever that might mean.
Well. Apparently in August of 2013, I had an idea, and it was a good one, but even I didn’t completely understand my own words — the bedrock on which I based all the rest.
I still believe that God is the weaver. But what this experience has taught me is that he is not the spinner too. Life produces threads, sometimes we color them ourselves — sometimes we do even more than just color them. Sometimes we shear the sheep, clean the wool, card, spin, and dye it all ourselves before we hand it over to the weaver. Sometimes life does it for us — biology, meteorology, physics, time. God just (not really just, but I think you know what I mean)incorporates those strands into our tapestry. Weaving them all together with the love that he is, into the design we cannot know on this side of eternity. A love so big and broad that it spreads out to all the people in a way that seems huge, but is really only a tiny glimpse.
Love begets compassion and kindness. Love begets grace and forgiveness. Love even begets grief and hurt. All those things stem from love and God is love. Love. Not a genie, puppeteer, or master of the physical universe. Not an architect, blueprint in hand. Not in my mind, anyway. He can work on our hearts, souls, and minds… but not physically. I really don’t believe that that’s how it works.
As hard as it is for me to wrap my mind around the above, it’s even harder to write about. Honestly, and not humbly, it takes some courage to put my thoughts about something as big and contentious as the idea of God out in space knowing that someone could hate it; will hate it. Especially when my thoughts aren’t exactly reverent (e.g., “then God is a jerk and I hate him”). While I was in Hawaii, though, my friend Dawn (bringer of light — her name is perfection) demanded I listen to a podcast (my first ever, truth be told, which is surprising for an Audible fan like myself, don’t you think?). Dawn has often sent me inspiring and powerful and thought provoking things to read and I’ve never been disappointed, but she has never ever demanded anything. And this time she demanded, so I listened. The voice on the line (Thomas Keller — here) was talking about how when we express our emotions and our questions, even the angry and fearful ones, it’s a prayer. A prayer for understanding, acceptance, peace, grace. Considering my general opinion of myself as an absolute crap do-er of prayer, this was music to my ears. I may not be good at on-the-spot holy father thou arts and such, but confused, out loud emoting is definitely my kind of thing. So let’s chalk this up to a prayer of that type. I’m confused and I’m hurting and I need desperately to better understand God in a way that brings me comfort rather than anger, because I don’t think anger is the point. And it’s certainly not a healthy place to stay. I wish mightily to be a person who is comforted by a well-timed bible verse or a phrase like “God has a plan,” but I’m not. I don’t find a lot of meaning in platitudes, no matter how true, probably for the same reason I don’t like small talk. It has to be deeper for me. Nearly 2000 words deeper plus 217 other posts, I guess, all to get to the place where I started:
The dark threads are as needful
In the weavers skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned
So I guess God is good. Always. Even still. Because how can love ever be bad in a world that can be so hard?
In my last post before the Worst Thing happened, the one where I talked about being scared about the Worst Thing (EFF, right?), I ended with an HP quote from Hagrid, the loveable half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts. I said:
It’s funny because I thought that when the IVF was over, we’d have an answer and I’d feel resolved in some way. But I don’t. Not at all. Excited and happy, of course, but definitely not resolved. And what I probably need most of all is to circle back to that lovely prayer of relinquishment — the one that, with both hope and gratitude, accepts what is to be. Or, as Hagrid says, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
It made sense when I said it. It made me feel like a confident person, ready to handle anything, good or bad, with a bit of grace.
I’m devastated and angry and broken and oh so messy — always on the brink of a sob, full on water works with snot and ugly crying and ohmygod why does my mouth do that. Swollen lips and puffy eyes. Kleenexes and kleenexes and kleenexes. There is not a single thing that is graceful or dignified, stoic or brave about it.
But I finished HP very, very early on Friday morning (I fought the sleeping pills — which are the only thing keeping me alive, I believe — until 1:40 in the morning, just to see sweet Albus Severus get on the Hogwarts Express). And it was fitting that I finish it now, the end of the series coinciding with the end of… everything. The IVF, the pregnancy, all of it. Interestingly, though, the thing that meant the most to me this time around wasn’t the defeat of Voldemort, the duel between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange (“Not my daughter, you bitch!”), or Neville’s moment of glory. I still felt sad over poor Fred and overjoyed at Ron + Hermione. Grateful to Narcissa and shocked, pleased, amazed over Snape. But the thing that meant the most this time around… it was Hagrid’s grief over Harry’s lifeless body. His absolute devastation in that moment, the messy, sloppy tears and absolute wretchedness. It led me back to remember the other moments that Hagrid wept, over Buckbeak (whew) and Aragog (also whew?). Nearly lost it when he discussed his dear, departed dad.
The very same Hagrid who said with confidence implying grace and stoicism: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” And I suddenly felt just a little less stupid about all the things I’d said. Have ever said. The things I told my therapist made me a complete and total idiot, full of shit, writing and writing and writing about things that made absolutely no sense and that I didn’t actually believe when it came right down to it. (He said that we probably didn’t need to discuss that quite yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t obsessed anyway.) Because what was coming did come, and I have met it as I am. Having said all the things I said and wrote all the things I wrote. I never did promise to meet it with grace, just to meet it — because what, exactly, does grace look like when your baby dies??? Quite frankly, I reacted just like Hagrid would have. A curly-haired, creature-loving, half-giantess in my own right. Snot and tears and full on grief — grief because I loved. Like Hagrid.
But, sadly, also like Voldemort. Because when my baby died, a piece of my soul went with her. My grief is like Slytherin’s locket turned horcrux, hanging heavy around my neck. Making me think crazy, twisted, untrue thoughts — all the reasons it’s my fault, all the reasons I deserve to hurt, to have lost, to not be a mom. It drove Ron mad, and he was magical… what chance do I have?
But then again, Ron found his way back. The strength to try again. I guess I have to believe that I will too because despite the fantasy, the magic, the make believe… is there anything truer than Harry Potter? Good and evil, yet nuanced — “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” And outside us too. We all spend time basking in the brightest light and plunged into the deepest dark. Harry, Hermione, and Ron… Ginny, Luna, and Neville… Hagrid and sweet Dobbie, even Kreacher… they can teach us so much about that.
I started re-reading the series from the beginning on the day I started injecting the IVF drugs, in the hopes of producing a baby who loved it too. Of imbuing my eggs with a sense of magic. Of passing that on to my little one.
But she didn’t need it. I did.
It’s fiction. Children’s stories. But it’s parables too. Messages and lessons and thoughts worth thinking about, characters worth learning from. When nothing else helps, I’m glad I had it. Have it. Magic.
I had surgery last Wednesday. I woke up heart broken and body destroyed.
I’ve spent a lot of my time crying since then. And by Sunday, all the crying started to make me feel panicky — shouldn’t things be getting easier? Why does the pain keep coming? Wave after wave, worse and worse.
I made an emergency appointment with my therapist on Tuesday morning. I told him that I couldn’t stop the thoughts and that when the thoughts came I couldn’t stop the pain. The tears. The torture.
He reminded me that I’m grieving. He told me that this is normal.
I had a follow-up appointment from my surgery with my ob/gyn today. I told her about all the bleeding that comes and goes, about my puffy, swollen (think over-risen bread in a loaf pan) ankles and feet. Everything hurts. She reminded me that I just had surgery. That my ovaries are still hyperstimulated. She told me that this is normal.
I explained it all to Seth over gchat and ended with “I hate this new version of ‘normal.'” It was the truest thing I ever typed.
Normal has never been this hard. Normal has never felt so broken.
One of the weirdest things about this new normal is the lack of intense focus, the goal in mind. We’ve tried for years (YEARS) to get pregnant. Appointments, pills, ultrasounds, procedures, injections, the works. Since April, when we started gearing up for IVF, the intensity has been even greater. All eyes on the prize. And we won the prize. We held it in our hands, so briefly. Even after winning, so to speak, the focus didn’t lessen — 9 months ahead to parent-dom and a baby on the way. The goals changed, but they were still intense… eat not to vomit, avoid the smells, schedule the appointments, do all the things. Until in one awful moment, there was no longer any goal at all.
And this weird place, broken body and soul, became my new normal.
My therapist suggested on Tuesday that maybe now I just focus on healing — my body and my mind. It’s hard to say ok to that, honestly. Because I don’t want to heal, I want my baby back, to go back to two weeks ago when that little heart was still beating inside me. But one of those things is possible and the other is not.
So to heal is the only way. The only focus worth having.
Healing has to become my new normal. Maybe I can hate that less?
Admittedly, healing definitely starts from without in this instance. I can’t tell you… can’t even begin to express… how much love and support Seth and I have felt in this difficult (absolute crap) time. My friend Margaret said to me, “I pray that you can look out the window at a beautiful day (as I’m doing now) and be able to thank God for all the amazing blessings that you HAVE received, knowing that there will be many more to come.” And the blessings that we HAVE received are unbelievable and generous and innumerable and amazing. We have so much love in our lives, we have each other, we have our pup, our families, our friends, our jobs, our health, and so many other really, really Good Things. Even the weather, which actually has been lovely, like Margaret said.
We are lucky in a lot of ways. And no one is lucky in all the ways.
On Saturday evening, my dad and I sat on a boardwalk on Mackinac Island watching the sunset over the bridge.
Admittedly, my faith has been shaken and my beef with the almighty feels kind of big right now, but my dad assured me that someday, I will find Meaning in this. Even this. I think he’s probably right. I can’t look too hard for it at the moment. I’m still too sad, too angry, confused and upset and… as I’ve said a million times, broken, to find it. To even know where to start looking. But maybe that meaning is what comes with healing. And eventually incorporation of that meaning into my life can become my normal. That would probably be a better place to be. Another new normal, a little better than the last.
We saw our baby yesterday — big head and little arms, a perfect little t-rex. It actually looked like a baby. And I wanted to be so happy, but something was missing. That rapid blip blip blip that had been so obvious the first time we saw her. I didn’t want to ask; I couldn’t bare for it to be real. But I also couldn’t stand the silence.
“There’s no heartbeat, is there?”
“No. I’ve been looking. I’m so sorry.”
And in that moment, our baby was gone. Her life was over before it even started and my own heart was obliterated.
Shattered and destroyed.
All the air was gone and the tears came so fast. So steady. So constantly. Even still, right now.
I know it’s not my fault, but I’m still so so so sorry. So sad. I feel terrible that after struggling for years with infertility, Generations gave us this most precious gift and I couldn’t carry it. That I failed to be a mom and to give Seth the chance to be a dad.
The cruelest part is that she’s still there, inside of me. That my body still feels her in the ways that have always been known only to me — the nausea and the fatigue and the incredibly tender and swollen breasts. The little bloat to my belly, the uncomfortable tightness of my pants. My body doesn’t understand yet. Only my heart.
My heart feels it acutely — the pregnancy is over, our baby is gone, and life has once again careened off the rails. We have no plans right now except to continue breathing in and breathing out and to let the tears come when they do. I’ll probably spend some time today boxing up the Painful Things, the gifts and maternity clothes and other stuff that suddenly seems like useless, premature, wishful thinking. All the while, hoping that time will pass and work its magic as only time can work on pain.