October 26th, 2000

I was twenty-four years and seven months old, to the day.

The doctor who had saved me with a shot six long years before had been the one to tell me, with saucer wide eyes, that my uterus had been the biggest mangled mess he’d ever seen.

That poor piece of me had survived through so much brutality. I was sad that she was gone, but also relieved too.

My eighty-nine year old soul was tired…

The thought of never having to wonder if I was pregnant, or if I’d lose a baby again, was something only alive in my past.

Seven little babies who would never know me, my arms or the beautiful bits of this world, had become in that pocket of me. The excruciating loss of those seven little heartbeats would forever be the ugliest bits of this life, for me.

I had a scheduled procedure which led to an emergency hysterectomy. In the course of one day my body experienced the equivalence of a catastrophic train wreck in my endocrine system. As I lay, half drugged, in my hospital bed, the doctor tried explaining to depth of it all to me.

I could barely comprehend the reality that my uterus was gone, much less the information about my last ovary being taken too, the discovery of cancer cells, screenings for the rest of my life, or the hellish journey that lay ahead due to the sudden halt in my hormonal system.

My second day in the hospital resulted in the worst migraine I have ever known. While I screamed and throbbed, begging for help, the nurses had to restrain me because I had an abdomen full of sutures and staples that needed care. When I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t help my head pain, they expressed their matter-of-fact answers about this being what happens when a woman loses her ovaries before her body is ready.

I was warned nearly every time that a doctor or nurse visited my bedside, that I was at an incredibly high risk of breast cancer now. I was also being automatically put on HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which they cautioned would increase my odds of breast cancer significantly.

“It’s a little scary that you’re so young and you’ll take it for so long. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared for you.” one nurse muttered, one morning as she took my vitals and changed my bandages.

In so many ways it seemed like there was a community opinion that I were there as some consequential result of a horrible decision I’d made.

There had been so many hospitals, so many nurses and doctors, over those years. SO MUCH negative, so much pain, and so little compassion… When I was wheeled to the car, the day I was discharged, I was filled with relief at the closing of that horrible chapter.

It has been twenty long years since that day. Two decades of life and loss, love and light. So much time has passed, so many things forgotten, and yet…

And yet, I can travel back to those moments where my aching heart fragmented over and over again, in an instant. Trauma is like that.

I could be both the woman who had lost her babies, and the woman who flourished beyond those chapters of my life. It is possible to be both, because I am. Remembering the big, dark things, is as important as reminiscing about the brightly lit ones too. Life is a balance. Acknowledging the hard does not mean we won’t move on.

“Getting over” a horror, is not healthy. Let’s stop expecting that of grieving mothers. Those babies, though the other side of heaven now, are just as much a part of me, my story, my purpose and my every breath, as anyone’s babies are.

~~~

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Miscarriage and pregnancy loss is something seen as unacceptable to talk about, by more people than not. The silence translates a disregard and implies that we should know how to deal with this trauma… Cliche’ sentiments tell us that this loss of life was meant to be.

It is imperative for women’s emotional health and well being, that we share our stories and normalize our experiences with loss. It doesn’t matter if the mother was a teenager, or forty-two, loss is LOSS. There is grief and trauma and so many things that are so misunderstood and, tragically, so many things that women are encouraged to bury and ignore.

This month I have shared my stories here, and others via the podcast and social media. I will use my voice and platform to spotlight resources. I will adamantly state, for the record though, that I believe the most powerful resource we have is that of connecting and empathizing with others… Through one of the most isolating and lonely experiences in this life, I want to be a voice that tells others this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

fade to black…

It is not that I didn’t fight to get pregnant, and once I did, to stay pregnant. I did the holistic creams on the belly, I drank the raspberry leaf tea. There wasn’t an internet in those days, so whenever some well meaning person had some “advice”, I was willing to take it.

When I found out I was pregnant, for the third time, I was surrounded by all of the people who chimed in with third times a charm, as if this was some fun game I had been playing. I was working the night shift, in those days, at a physically taxing job. Immediately my doctor (new to me, because I was always on the lookout for a professional who seemed to care) notified them I was a “high risk” pregnancy, and while it seemed my employers were very irritated, they were flexible. It was only three short weeks of their begrudging accommodations, before a 3 a.m. call for an ambulance had me on the way to the hospital. The pain and the bleeding had ripped through me, from side to side, like the slash of a sword.

I remember I felt all at once devastated and matter of fact, as though I’d been holding my breath and waiting for this to happen.

I lost my baby. I was just under 8 weeks along, and there were odd complications so I was put on 7-10 days of bedrest, determined by pain and bleeding. Ultrasounds were less frequent, I guess, because once it was confirmed that I was miscarrying, the hospital didn’t feel one was needed.

We passed the days reading cheesy romance novels allowed, in bed. (well, Chw still went to work, but when he wasn’t working…) Somewhere along the 6th day, I received a registered letter (which I had to get up from bed to answer the door for, which felt like the icing on the cake of that situation) that I’d been fired from my job. While it wasn’t a loss to the caliber our baby had been, we needed the money and panic set in.

I never did like pulling up to that production plant, after that, which was something we’ve had to do fairly regularly as my mother-in-law still works there.

The ambulance ride had ushered us into the era that felt so much like a numbed out version of shampooing. Scrub, rinse, repeat… Scrub, rinse, repeat…

My fourth pregnancy, sometime later, had me miscarrying at 7 weeks, only to learn three weeks later that I’d been pregnant with twins and one had survived. This sweet little survivor became known as our miracle. It was hard not to feel a shift in the universe with this plot twist. I was put on bedrest and I was determined to make “this one stick”, but at 15 weeks, I was once again in the hospital saying goodbye.

Throughout the duration of both of my following pregnancy losses, I remember very little. It seemed I’d grown so skilled at the art of miscarriage that I went about it completely blank. I remember settling for a deli job close to home, and a lot of tension because my husband’s employer threatened his job often due to the missed time he’d had, from ER visits and my hospitalizations. He took that frustration out on me, which is valid. We were young. By the time we lost our seventh baby (6th actual pregnancy), he was done. His biggest reason was grief at work. I was not done. My biggest reason was my achingly empty arms.

Some people mean well, with the words they give the grieving. Some people don’t stop and think about what comes out of their mouths at all. In the five years that felt literally defined by struggle and loss, I had a lot of such words.

One time, flipping through the channels, late at night, I caught a seen from a horror movie. The face of a character morphed into this terrifying demonic being. I knew nothing about the context. I wasn’t even one to stay away from scary movies. Even so, decades later, that face will still randomly pop into my vision, and I hate it. This is similar to the ways those words stitch themselves into our souls. I hate them. I don’t cling to them, but forever they are there, reminding me.

Reminding me of my failure as a woman…

Questioning if I’m even a woman, since I can’t do the one thing women were made to do.

Highlighting my flaws, and how God, or even those precious little babies, chose to leave me.

I’m older now. I know better. I know just what to do with those words (and frankly, their speakers) but this doesn’t take away the instant power to knock me down, that the wordy memories have…

This week, on the Rainy Day Collective Podcast, guest Ashley Cherie is here sharing her story with loss and how she has used that pain in incredible ways, to restore rightness to the world around her. Her story is so inspiring and brave, and I hope you’ll check it out!

~~~

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Miscarriage and pregnancy loss is something seen as unacceptable to talk about, by more people than not. The silence translates a disregard and implies that we should know how to deal with this trauma… Cliche’ sentiments tell us that this loss of life was meant to be.

It is imperative for women’s emotional health and well being, that we share our stories and normalize our experiences with loss. It doesn’t matter if the mother was a teenager, or forty-two, loss is LOSS. There is grief and trauma and so many things that are so misunderstood and, tragically, so many things that women are encouraged to bury and ignore.

This month I will be sharing my stories here, and others via the podcast and social media. I will use my voice and platform to spotlight resources. I will adamantly state, for the record though, that I believe the most powerful resource we have is that of connecting and empathizing with others… Through one of the most isolating and lonely experiences in this life, I want to be a voice that tells others this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

a little lemon yogurt cup…

I don’t remember learning that I was pregnant again.

I DO remember that we couldn’t afford a baby and I was panicked about how to keep the light bill paid, have some semblance of food in the house, and the timing seemed overwhelming. We didn’t even have the “luxury” of a telephone, which is a thought I cannot even fathom now.

Months into our marriage, it felt morally different this time. The deeply buried shame surrounding my first pregnancy, and loss, belonged in the past. This time it was all different.

I was differenent.

It was all right, and proper. Even though it heaped onto the stress of struggle, we were excited about this little baby our love had made. We saw ahead to only good things…

It was a completely ordinary day when the spotting occurred. In a panic, I went to my neighbor’s house to phone my ob-gyn first, and my husband (at work) second. The doctor wasn’t worried, but wanted me to come in anyway. My husband was trying not to worry, across the phone lines, as he assured me he’d be home as soon as he could. These were the days before cell phones. The days of a shared car, and living in the middle of nowhere because it was cheap.

I waited, resting and paranoia-still, in the embrace of our waterbed. It felt like it took forever for my husband to make it home. Eventually I drifted off, into a dream where I rocked my baby in a warm room, streaming with rays of dusty sunlight. When he finally came through the door, and woke me with a kiss to the forehead, I knew that everything would be ok…

It was different this time.

My engineer minded husband, with all of his facts and science, grew so animated as he told me about how he’d felt prompted to stop at a yard sale on his way home. He didn’t know why, but as he quickly scanned the table, he’d seen these three adorably vintage nursery dishes and he knew they were meant as a sign.

“It’s different this time!” He’d said the words I was gripping, so tightly, hope pouring from his mouth as a glint shone in his eyes. The hope from him poured all over me. I was usually the one who chased after signs and clung to the projected evidence I needed so desperately to believe in.

Last time, he’d been so detached. Wasn’t his presence proof enough that our baby would live? He was usually so negative, wasn’t his optimism the evidence I needed?

For the thirty minute drive, the man I loved chattered on and on about the nursery and how cute it would be.

“you love to decorate and I can’t wait to see the home you make for this baby!”

Signs, signs… everywhere were signs

In the waiting room I was, naturally, surrounded by other pregnant women there for routine appointments. I allowed myself to live in their energy. They baby bumps became more of the same signs I was seeking. I’ve been wearing maternity clothes for a few weeks now, once that happens, it’s obvious the baby is going to be just fine. I spoke the lies deep within the confines of my mind. They were naive reassurances for me, but also bargaining tips for God, as if to say “you’re the one who let it get this far, so don’t you owe me now?”

On the other side of the waiting room door, my doctor saw no concern.

The spotting was light. “Normal”, his monotone delivered. An ultrasound showed a healthy baby boy, and his words literally promised us there was nothing to be concerned about. He sent us home with bedrest instructions, and we floated the entire way.

My mother was my best friend in those days, and I was too elated of the news that our baby was a healthy boy, so before I headed to bed I went next door to make a collect call.

It had been just over four hours since the spotting had started, as I stood at Heather’s yellow phone mounted on her kitchen wall. I wore a flowery cotton maternity shirt and white capri pants. My own baby bump was small, but present. Since it’s appearance, my left palm always wanted to cover it. As I stood there, I couldn’t stop touching that tight, round tummy. I remember how divinely bright the world seemed, reminding me of my sweet dream from hours before.

Everything was going to be ok.

The call wasn’t more than a few minutes long. Even so, before I was able to cradle the receiver, I felt the unexpected crack of an egg break against the top of my head. I still remember the feeling of that imaginary egg’s insides as they traveled through my head and down… Down my center, gaining momentum and force, until it pushed through to my toes.

It was instantaneous and jarring. My neighbor Heather let out a small scream, jolting me from the confusion of the moment. I looked down to note the now crimson crotch of my pants and the red quickly pooling, at my feet.

I ran to the solace of my own bathroom, my husband on my heals. As soon as I pulled my underwear down, we saw it there, our boy. Pink and palm size.

I could still see dusty sunlight everywhere.

From a thousand miles away, I could hear my husband’s wailing. I knew I had never heard an agony like the one escaping him, but I could not take my eyes from that which I held in my hand.

Was this him?

Was he gone?

This wasn’t how miscarriages happened. It was too fast. It hadn’t hurt at all.

The doctor had promised

Heather’d had the sense to call our doctor, and then drove us in. They’d asked us to bring the fetus, so we put him in a large plastic yogurt container because what else were we supposed to do?

I remember, it was from an old lemon yogurt. Lemon was, oddly, the only yogurt I’d ever been able to eat, but I loved it and ate it every chance I could. In those days of poor man’s meals, yogurt was a luxury.

I spent the long car ride staring so intently at that cup. Beside me I could still hear the devastation of my husband. Even more distantly I could feel the quiet-wet of tears upon my face.

“Yep, that was the tissue.” the doctor delivered, as he walked into the our exam room. His tone was the same as if he were announcing the appearance of junk mail, in the mailbox.

“I thought he was going to be ok?” my voice cracked some, as I asked it. I realized I had spoken nothing, and that my throat muscles had been strained tight for far too long.

With a slight chuckle he responded, “yeah, obviously I did too.”

He reminded me, as if I’d forgotten, that I had experience with miscarriage and to just go home and rest like I did before. Nature knows how to take care of things.

There was no physical pain until later that night. Two ER visits later I had an emergency procedure done, sans anesthesia or pain killer, in the hallway of a Caldwell Idaho hospital, by a resident doctor acting on impulse. I held my husband’s hand and screamed. It was a pain I’d never known before, and then we were sent home with a prescription of codeine. As the days passed, the pain only grew more intense. It would take an entirely different doctor actually listening to me, to solve the problem with one shot. Eleven days later, anyway.

Those days had my husband running into interstate traffic because he was so overwhelmed with the grief he felt. There was walls punched, agony screamed. Every day felt like the emotional equivalent of the pain from the hospital hallway.

Those days had me numb to the agony of loss, while consumed by the shame I felt at having not been able to give him a baby…I knew that this horror he was living, was because of me. The guilt I felt over not going home immediately and instead standing to call my mother. If I had done as I was supposed to, I was certain our baby would have lived.

Also, I felt stupid… Stupid for hoping. Stupid for believing. Stupid for thinking we could have a baby. We couldn’t even have a home phone.

I would never buy a lemon yogurt again…

I was 18 and he was 20.

Our pregnancy had been just shy of 16 weeks along.

~~~

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Miscarriage and pregnancy loss is something seen as unacceptable to talk about, by more people than not. The silence translates a disregard and implies that we should know how to deal with this trauma… Cliche’ sentiments tell us that this loss of life was meant to be.

It is imperative for women’s emotional health and well being, that we share our stories and normalize our experiences with loss. It doesn’t matter if the mother was a teenager, or forty-two, loss is LOSS. There is grief and trauma and so many things that are so misunderstood and, tragically, so many things that women are encouraged to bury and ignore.

This month I will be sharing my stories here, and others via the podcast and social media. I will use my voice and platform to spotlight resources. I will adamantly state, for the record though, that I believe the most powerful resource we have is that of connecting and empathizing with others… Through one of the most isolating and lonely experiences in this life, I want to be a voice that tells others this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

brink…

It was the September of my 20th year when the combination of feel and scent in the air took me back, ala’ movie montage moment, to so many Septembers past. High school Septembers, Jr. High autumn evenings. Flooding, internally, from one to the next.

When I was thirteen, I declared I would one day have a daughter and name her September. It turns out that I neither had a daughter, nor named a child (or pet) that. I do not regret this, just so we’re clear.

All in all, if we were keeping score, September probably shouldn’t be a favorably definitive month for me. It was when school years began, and growing up I was not a lover of school. September marked my first full month as a group home kid, when I was 12.

It carried me into my two definitive adolescent romances, which led, in different ways, to deeply broken hearts…

It also, in fairness, introduced me to my husband, when I was seventeen. That September nearly killed me, as I dealt with a health crisis of extreme proportions, which may (or may not- we will never know) have led to my inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Pretty much nothing, at all, was going remotely ok that September, but in walked Chw and I knew that the two of us would be married, so for that I will declare September 1993 a victory.

A year later, September would bring us full circle, to a horrific miscarriage.

Why it stands out to me that Septembers marked more loss than gain, I’ll never know. Sometimes my biggest gifts (I met each of the kids I loved like a mother loves, in Septembers. First, 2000 and then 2003.) Beautiful gifts, further falling in love and inevitable heartbreak.

Shattering.

Destroyed irreparably.

September…

Two of my three beloved dog besties were laid to rest in Septembers.

My husband left me for another woman in September. Though we reconciled two years later, that first September had us glued to the tv as planes hit the towers and we gained perspective unlike we’d ever had before.

SO MANY milestones of trauma mark the ninth calendar month, of the year.

And still… still, I find myself to be a lover of September. The autumn air ushers in this crisp scented magic, and I am here for it.

This year’s janky calendar had hoards of people unable to wait for summer, because summer would fix the world.

Then it didn’t.

And now, now people are chasing after pumpkins, and spice and new sweaters earlier than ever, with a misplaced faith in this next season bringing the reset needed to right the world.

I don’t know… Maybe it will. September has proven to be a magical and tricky beast. These Sept’s of past have been known to bring about some incredibly unexpected gifts- I’ll just caution us all to be weary.

Whatever these days actually hold, (and let’s be honest- it’s 2020, September could bring us ANYTHING!) I’m pretty certain we will arrive at the first of October scathed in someway.

For all of us, I hope it is a beautiful healing way… A restorative way.

I’m cautious, but also here for it. Despite the track record, I’m a September girl through and through…

Little birds…

In the quiet silence of aloneness I am left on my own, to reflect. There were years of flowers and clumsy breakfasts, all blooms in what would feel (for a very long time) like a crowning achievement.

After so many years of heartbreak and pregnancy loss, my life suddenly held this bubbly little girl who called me Momma. It truly did feel like everything, for a time.

From fifteen years old, and on, though I had other dreams and other goals, being a mother was the heart & soul of all of it. It was everything I wanted, and the motivation for moving forward. I had only ever really seen this plan work for others, so I had no clue it could simply NOT work for me.

When you are lying in a pool of blood, on cold tile, sobbing to heaven about why your babies all seem to die before they’ve had a chance to breathe, there are thoughts that rise up during broken prayers.

Voices that tell you why…

They tell you it’s because the babies saw what a disgusting person you are, and would rather die.

They whisper about how you can’t do anything right and you would be the worst sort of mother.

When you trust someone you love enough to confide those fears to them, they will kiss your matted forehead and tell you that these are lies, and the amount you ache to have a baby will make you a beautiful mom too.

As time passes, it’s hard to tell which things are truth and which things are lies, because we rationalize a world of either/or. We don’t conceive that it is possible the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

That sweet little girl made me feel like a mom, for the happiest years of my life. After fighting with every ounce of me, for unborn babies, and then fighting with everything I had left, for already born kids, that big-blue-eyed girl let me live there, for awhile.

I’ll always be grateful.

Family didn’t understand the idea of loving kids not from your blood. In hindsight, I think they wanted to. I think in unique ways, they tried. Then again, they couldn’t actually understand the journey of loss we’d known, so I can see the difficulty. So many times, over the years, these people who really did love us, would use the phrase “playing house” when it came to our family. Whether legally adopted, or so heart loved, it made no difference in the legitimacy they perceived.

The frustration and disappointment of this, mostly for the kids, triggered those dark post-miscarriage whispers to rise up. Was I playing house? Was I not a real mom? Was this all just pretend? The truth, somewhere in the middle, is that life is complicated.

I have loved with every inch of my mother-aching heart. I have advocated. I have sacrificed for. I have had my cup so full, down to so empty. I have known the tears, and the worry. I have held crying daughters and put my life on hold to do so, without regret. It wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t perfect. Early childhood trauma leaves a lasting effect. Sometimes it was hard.

It wasn’t perfect because nothing is perfect. I never expected it to be, or them to be. I did expect me to be… And it seems they did too. While they were younger, I covered the multitude of ways I was proven to never be enough, with so much grace. So many excuses for how they’d endured so much hurt early on, how they were still so young. Well meaning people promised it would be so much better when they were older… when she specifically was older.

It has been years since I’ve spent any real time with that sweet little girl of days past. One of the last gifts I gave her, before she left the nest, was a little key with the word love etched into it. I told her that my biggest wish for her would be that she could learn to love herself and accept the love of others, the love of me. That had been our biggest struggle, really, her inability to accept my love. I would never be the mom she wanted me to be. So close to that truth, I was shattered and haphazardly put back together again and again.

My truth is that part of my motherhood dream involved daughters becoming mothers too. It involved loving their babies and porches filled with things like lemonade, laughter and pie. It involved vacations and photos and smiles for as far as the eye can see.

It involved, plainly put, things that a lot of moms get. It is not a guarantee, it is not a right of passage and it is not a plan set in motion for me.

Once, when asked, I proudly told the world I had two daughters. Anymore I am honest that I never really had any. I was never their mom, but for a few really good, hard, raw and fulfilling years I played the part with everything in me, and then one day the role was simply done.

I am not a victim, and neither are they. They are both beautiful survivors of things no children should have to go through, and the results of that have never been easy for them. I talk a little bit about this in my book, but in the same way that we crave absolutes, we expect them too. Couples are allowed to break up. Unrequited loves happen all of the time. It is unfair to expect adopted/foster children to reciprocate a love for a parent. The hurt, sacrifice and effort a parent makes does NOT mean the child has to return it. This is a truth no one talks about. This a truth that fearful women in the hurt-filled pursuit of motherhood do not want to know.

For five months, last year, I felt like I was losing everything. My worst fears were coming true, all around me, and I could not find my breath. And then, it happened… And my everything became not mine to hold anymore.

I was sad, and I grieved the most brutal of loss.

One daughter indicated, with absolute silence, that she did not want me anymore, while the other proceeded to tell me the cruelest and most hate-filled things she had in her arsenal. Then, I was wounded to my core, because I was so close that I couldn’t see the truth.

They each know what is best for them, and as adults that is their responsibility. I did not ever want them texting, calling, gifting or visiting on birthdays and holidays because they felt like they were obligated to. If they did not want me as their mom, they were allowed.

This did not mean my love for them was wasted. It did not mean my love for them died, at all. It just meant that I would have to grow my courage to be brave in different ways, for them. When one daughter had a major car accident, I would stay away. I would send flowers, because it was so soon and I didn’t know how to not… but she didn’t want me in her life, and I could respect her. That was something I could do for her. When birthdays passed, I would ache to see their beautiful faces and shower them with love and gifts, but instead I would make a silent donation to an organization that rescues women and children, in their honor.

It isn’t the same, but what one meant for me was a prison sentence of obligation for them and I love them enough to believe they deserve the freedom they asked for.

I am not a victim, I am not perfect.

I am a woman.

I am a writer, a mentor and a wife.

My heart will forever love two daughters.

I was never really their mom.

That’s ok. I am ok. Five hundred times a day, when my gaze falls on a photograph or a memory comes to mind, I pray that they are ok too.

Ok, and happy, and free.

I never wanted to be a cage.