Pregnancy Mentioned (and, the post is long... be forewarned)
I highly suggest popping over to Mrs. Spit's page and reading her latest post, Ruined, if you haven't already. In discussing how losing a child ruins you (a statement she heard on the radio), she responds: "We know because we had to make a choice. We had to come back from this. We know that life, the universe and everything may come to an end in a terrible way one day. We know that life isn’t fair, it doesn’t even out and that declaring how you would never recover is no guarantee that the fundamental inequity of the universe won’t visit you." She goes on to say, "So please, in the middle of this horror and pain, don’t use the word ruined. Because, when they are ready, there is a group of us who will help them try and crawl out of the hole. Just like others did for us. We will sit at the edge and wait, until they hold out their hand. And then we will tell them – what we did, what worked for us... The pain doesn’t go away. It is simply balanced, more distributed. It will not always hurt like this. It won’t always seem like this... We know that the universe that broke them, that dealt with them so brutally still holds sunshine and joy. We know that the universe will wait for them, will hold out the promise of better days...We know that you can come back from this. We know that you have to."
I sat in the car, in my garage this morning after I dropped Bobby and Maya off at my in-laws for their weekly visit (which, I swear, they may love more than they love me... little buggers didn't even wave goodbye to me in the window today!). A song had started as I reached the house and, although I know I've heard it before because it sounded familiar, for whatever reason, in the midst of this season of my life, the words literally drenched me and I sat there, engine off, sobbing.
I’m Tired. I’m worn. My heart is heavy from the work it takes to keep on breathing.
As this pregnancy continues and life moves on at a breakneck pace, there are moments... Moments where I just feel like I can't take a breath. Where I feel like I'm just so tired that I want to say "F- the world" and escape to some private island. As I sit and write and mail out appeal letters to our insurance and I ponder the fact that, 2 calendar months from now, I'll be in the OR (fingers crossed) delivering the first child that I'll be able to hear screaming as he leaves the only world he knows for the scary world we all live in, I just feel overwhelmed at times. It's not Bobby's meltdowns or Maya telling me that my ass is getting big (okay, so her exact words were "Mama, your belly and butt are getting REALLY big"). It's not even that I miss Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander so much that the air is sucked out of me and I feel like my fingers are clawing aimlessly at dirt too loose to grab. It's just all of it... Everything... Sometimes taking a breath seems like the hardest thing in the world and there are times that I just don't want to. That, if I thought I could, I would just stop... hold it in... never let it out... Not in a morbid, I-want-to-die, sort of way. Never like that. But just in a if-I-could-stop-time sort of way. There are days where I just feel worn out and tired beyond measure. Days where I feel trapped beneath what I "should" be able to do.
Sarah has often given me the words that a therapist once told her. There aren't "should"s in life. There is what we can do, what makes sense to do, what our hearts want us to do. But there isn't a should do. Shoulds just give us the excuses to beat ourselves up over what we haven't done or what, legitimately, we cant do in the moment. And she's right of course. But when you hear and internalize what you should be able to do and it eats away at everything because you thought you were doing a pretty decent (if at times, half-assed) job, it starts to eek its way into your armor, finding that chink. I have many chinks, but two of the big ones are pregnancy and parenting.
I suck at pregnancy. I mean, I'm staring 31 weeks down (tomorrow!) but as my cervix tries (unsuccessfully!!!) to change (did you know you can actually feel that craziness when you have a TAC?) and I have moments where I have to just lay down and remind myself that, although I'm "fixed", I'm still physically "broken" with a thin loop of thread separating Michael from an early delivery, I feel that worn out, tired of the world, ready to throw in the feeling. My heart feels heavier than Florence and the Machine. I feel the weight of what I should be doing. I should be able to throw my kids up in the air endlessly. I should be able to make dinner, clean up, and still have enough energy left to laugh at whatever cartoon I'm watching for the hundredth time while playing with trains (whose names I should know) and then help Peter get the kids in and out of the tub, ready for bed, storied and prayed with, and asleep. On top of which, I should still have enough energy to catch up with my husband about his day. Instead, of course, I usually just manage to clean up dinner and crash on the couch or, if I'm lucky, in the bed, so utterly exhausted that I can no longer stand up. This is funny when, on the other side of reality, I'm able to go out and, before the exhaustion hits, run a few miles or mow the grass (like I'll do once this post is done). I do take the kids to the playground or go crazy with them cooking in the kitchen (and making a mess that I'm able to clean up before Peter gets home) or watch them have a ball in the water table. Things that would have been unimaginable in a previous pregnancy and for which I am so grateful I cannot even find words to say. And yet, that "should"... Those shoulds are still the things that haunt me. Even when I'm in the final 2 months of this very blessed and very miraculous pregnancy, I am still made tiny and small and feel so worthless at times. Because of what I "should" be able to do.
And then parenting... What another chink... There isn't a right or wrong, there's what we do because it works in the moment. But, at times... At times, it feels like I should just have the words "Epic Fail" printed on certain things. I'm still feeling pretty bad for Bobby feeling sick and me not getting it, but it's not just that. It's those moments that I cant diffuse or where I just have no idea why they are starting in the first place. Where I wonder what type of example I set when I have no recourse but to sequester myself in the kitchen and cry. Or when I just load the kids in the car and drive somewhere because I need to get away (and, obviously, there's no leaving them behind if I "escape" to my deserted island.) There's no playbook and no coach to tell me what game to play. Maya is so tenderhearted that calling her out on behavior can lead to a sobfest; not exactly ideal parenting there. Bobby doesn't always understand why you are frustrated with him so, although you've told him a zillion times over not to dump the dredges of his (almost) empty cup on the floor, and you want to just grab him and be like "DUDE, WTF GIVES????", you don't, but it doesn't mean you don't feel it. Or when your husband- great parent that he is- does something (or doesn't) that you'd never (or always) do and you just shake your head because all you can think is "am I the only one who gets the parenting thing" when, in reality, no one gets parenting... It's fly by the seat of your pants and doing what works for you in the moment and hoping that you don't screw up to the point that your kids, twenty years from now, look back and say "Man, I'll never do what my mom did. That was just awful."
Part of this comes from this fear, I suppose, of turning into that mom. The one who really is awful and doesn't get it. I don't know where the fear stems from (and, maybe, we all have the same one). I had great examples growing up. My mom was (and remains) a great mother. But, even in talking with her, she's revealed some of the doubts of her own ability, concerns that still linger, even as I'm out of the house 15 years and have kids of my own. So, it's normal. But when you are in the thick of it and something goes "wrong", all you can do is question what you "should" have done... Ah, there we are... back to those "shoulds".
I’ve let my hope fail. My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world... Life just won’t let up...My prayers are wearing thin...even before the day begins
Recently, my heart has hurt even more as I look back on the last 5+ years. As I remember the joy of growing two little lives inside of me and the utter devastation of feeling like I failed them. How crushed I felt. How I would have welcomed not being able to breathe and how each breath felt like some sort of cosmic joke. The first miscarriage nearly killed me, but the truth is I was young and, while I didn't believe another pregnancy could or would replace the first one, I believed I'd go on to have more children and things would be alright. When it didn't happen, it was easy to blame myself for the miscarriage (even though, now, I realize that losses that early are a result of chromosomes and embryonic abnormalities typically and that nothing could prevent them.) After finally having that happy, glowing, and seemingly normal pregnancy, I thought nothing could touch me. Until it did. Until Nicholas and then Sophia died. I couldn't do anything to prevent it. I could barely stave it off. Losing Nicholas was hard enough but then, after feeling like we- and she- were fighting so hard, to lose Sophia too. I couldn't understand. And then, another miscarriage... and another pregnancy. Another healthy, normal pregnancy- until... I prayed, I hoped, I believed. I loved Alexander beyond all measure and, holding him in my arms, when his little heart had stopped beating... Where was the hope? Where could it possibly be? Another miscarriage... another twin pregnancy... More prayers. More hope. Because, really? What was left?
Let me see redemption win. Let me know the struggle ends. That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.
I remember being asked what we would do if we lost Bobby and Maya. I remember feeling like the story of parenting would end there. I couldn't possibly fathom trying to actually get pregnant again, being pregnant again, or what life would be like if, after the TVC and bedrest, I still couldn't get them safely here. I had to believe, even as the TVC struggled to hold on at 17 weeks and then failed at 20 weeks and we were put in the hospital that we'd see the light that was beckoning from the end of the tunnel... That they would be okay. They had to be. Every breath was a breath taken for them. Every ounce of hope and strength was just for them. I had nothing left. I was completely and utterly bereft of any sense of being me and surviving beyond the fact that I had to get them here, alive, okay. It was naïve- utterly so- to believe that 24 weeks and subsequently 27 weeks were marks in the sand to guarantee life after birth. So many of us in this community have crossed that line and still ended up holding our children, clinging to life or lifeless. But, there was nothing left. I had to believe that we would make it that time...
We did. I'm so thankful for everything that brought Bobby and Maya here safely. I cant imagine another outcome and I don't. I don't even try. Their lives are the most sacred of sacreds, and to feel that I'm one of the people entrusted to care for them and who gets the enormous privilege of loving them... Well, there just aren't words. But my heart still felt heavy... There remain questions of what else I could have done... Perhaps, what I "should" have done.
I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life and all that’s dead inside can be reborn because I'm worn.
A mom friend of mine commented, right after we found out that Michael was a boy, that it was so great that I was going to be able to live out the life I should have had: boy/girl twins and a younger son. She didn't say it to be hurtful or mean; she was actually quite in awe that Fate had granted me this "do over". I've even heard (and I've even commented myself) on how the TAC was my second chance at pregnancy. And, clearly, it is. I wouldn't be here, belly popped out, and feeling this little guy all over the place if the TAC weren't in place. I wouldn't be running or playing with the kids or doing anything else "normal" if not for it. Is this my phoenix? Is this the rising from ashes and dusting off and learning to breathe again? Is this the entrance to another world? Is this some sort of rebirth?
I thought, shortly after my conversation with the mom friend, and I pondered it again this morning (which led me to this post, as disjointed and long as it is), what life could have been like, without IC. If I'd gotten pregnant with Bobby and Maya sans a history of loss and just happened to deliver them full term... and then, gotten pregnant 3 years later with Michael, carrying on in this normal way, until it was time for delivery. I think my kids are who they are because of their genes, so I don't know that prematurity 'changed' them in that much (although, no doubt it does play a role), and I try to picture life without the loss.
Without the loss of innocence, would I treasure every moment, regardless of how awful it may be in the second?
Without my losses, would I have ever thought to seek out training in bereavement? I mean, I knew (in theory more than anything else) that babies died; my uncle was stillborn and it was no secret in our family. I know moms who've had miscarriages. But, without the firsthand experiences, would I have ever thought to work with parents?
I'd have had to idea about groups like PAN, which is run by NICU and bedrest parents at my hospital and which I'm starting to become involved with. I wouldn't be "qualified" if that is the right word to work with parents through F2F or any of the other organizations that I've recently been in contact with. I wouldn't even know they existed. I wouldn't have some of the awesome friends that I've made through- because of- our shared grief.
I wouldn't be me. I wouldn't be writing here. I'd be writing somewhere, I'm sure. But it wouldn't be here, and it wouldn't be a journey through life with you. I'd be a different me, I guess.
I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life because all that’s dead inside can be reborn, still I'm worn.
This life, this one, is the one I was meant to have. For all the shoulds and coulds and didnts and cants. For all the heartache and the joy and the pain and the gifts. I didn't know it 5 years (or 10 years) ago. I didn't think it was possible then, in the midst of the grief, that I'd ever be anything other than broken, than near-ruined. I knew life had to go on because, without that, my children couldn't go on. But life... rising from ashes... being reborn... The idea was impossible. The concept was too abstract. And I suppose that's because it has to be. Are we reborn? Or do we just remake... remove and redo... rise and press forward in spite of- because of- what we've been through. Marked by our scars but beautiful nonetheless.
And still worn. Worn thin like a favorite pair of faded blue jean that are soft from too much washing and with busted out, threadbare knees. But our go-to pants nonetheless.
But still perfect.
(The italicized lyrics come from the song, Worn, by Tenth Avenue North, and from the 2012 album, The Struggle. Written by Donehey, Owen, and Ingram; copyright Sony/ATV, 2012)