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.

On trend…

I am an enneagram four. It is literally NOT in my wiring to follow a trend. Growing up, seeking love, I might have dabbled in a music or apparel style only to get all cringy when I realized I simply could not commit. All of those weird 90’s kids, angsty and flannel clad, wearing our docs or converse, listening to music that made us FEEL- we were the real kids in America… The kids who didn’t want to follow the pattern, or color inside the lines. Most of us were Fours, only we didn’t know what that meant then. We found confidence (usually) in our need to find our own rhythms, and we found immense value in accepting all of the other “freaks” who weren’t trend followers either. We also, I’ll admit, still likely felt as though we were on the outside, always looking in; on the brink, but never really belonging…

When I was a young wife I developed a deep affection for Classic Pooh things. They were artistic and obscure little trinkets, hard to find, with steep price tags, when we did stumble upon them. Just before I turned twenty-three, a trend was emerging where every adult woman in the world wanted Disney store apparel themed in Classic Pooh. Dish-sets emerged, followed by entire kitchen ware collections, and household decorations, of the gently sketched little bear and his friends. Honestly, I was lived. Ironically, I was also on the verge of a shift, so as much as I may have wanted this trend to matter and wound my consistent strive for individuality- it didn’t.

When I feel in love with that sweet little bear, I was in this stage of my life where I deeply wanted a baby. In the way that I have always designed and decorated a room, within my mind, I imagined a nursery filled with unique little treasures featuring the gang. Those classically drawn images represented all things innocent and nurturing. They seemed to embody a heart full of aching, and my desperate need to hold my baby in my arms. As time passed, with each miscarriage I endured, the room filling my mind became more intentional. Whenever I’d stumble upon a new piece, I’d buy it, whether I could afford it or not. These were the things that I could do to control my shattering spirit. It wasn’t ever about Disney or trends, or anything other than the symbolism of something imaginary come to life- something cuddly and so incredibly love-able. My heart’s desire…

My seventh miscarriage had me so incredibly disheartened with doctors. It was the 90’s, and while women’s health medicine is still filled with frustration and horror stories, that decade really had this special way of making a woman feel like a complete piece of crap when she managed to have any fertility problems at all. (I have horror stories. I have small surgical procedures in a hospital hallway, by an eager (almost giddy) male doctor, while I was given no anesthesia or pain killer… I have football sized blood clots slapping onto a hospital floor, with a nurse saying “well, that happens! Hopefully the baby is there so we can be done with this and you can get some rest.”, I have promises of how I “definitely will not be losing this baby”, from the experts, while I sat miscarrying 3 hours later. The brutal times were significantly impacted, for the worse, by the medical industry of the time.) Each loss experience was completely different from the others. It is one of those bizarre, indescribable things… And so, when that stick showed a plus sign, in the autumn of 1998, I swore I would not see a doctor until I knew I was halfway through.

You see, in that same way that I was attempting to will God to give me a baby by creating a space for said baby to live, I was needing to blame someone for the lack of babies, thus far. The doctors seemed like the obvious common denominator in each messed up instance. No one would argue that they were not to blame for some terrible things. All of the people consuming my support network, at the time, would also wager that these doctors really did not care about me, my vagina or my future motherhood. The ambivalence with which I was handled was sickening… So, I blamed the doctors and I stayed away.

I ate saltines, took prenatal vitamins, and relished in the mornings I spent on my knees over the toilet. Everyone loved to reaffirm that the morning sickness was a good sign. The breast swelling came once again, the only consistent symptom with my pregnancies before. We slid gently into 1999, and my baby bump was slowly rounding. I had made it, I knew. This was it, finally. We found a highly recommended specialist, for at risk pregnancies, and I reluctantly agreed to see him. (By my rustic calculations I should have been 19-21 weeks along.)

It turns out that hormones are an odd duck. I wasn’t pregnant. My baby bump was a lovely nerf-football sized tumor, which had consumed an entire ovary and made a gigantic mess in my entire uterine area. The rise in some sort of something (this is how well I get science) had convinced my endocrine system that I was pregnant, and so symptoms mimicked pregnancy. It all sounded VERY Twilight Zone and I just knew the doctor was lying, and had disappointingy joined the big conspiracy against my babies, but eventually had to realize this was true. On a Wednesday night, in late January, I downed my first every peach bellini, and the next morning they sliced me open to bring that fat tumor into the world. I lost all of one ovary and a portion of the other.

Then March came, and I turned twenty-three. We had a big party, with a lot of friends, and I wore a denim Winnie the Pooh jumper as we paid a 90’s arm-and-a -leg for glow bowling. My white stitching was radiant beneath the black lights and while our beautiful friends were celebrating that I was alive, I wanted nothing more than the opposite. The doctor had said I could try and have a baby in the following year, but that the condition would happen again, and next time I’d probably lose everything. He had been encouraging, and internally I questioned how I hadn’t already lost everything. I didn’t understand how each bloody puddle that I’d sat broken in, upon ice-cold tile floors were so insignificant to everyone else. Hadn’t they been everything? Hadn’t those little heartbeats at least been something? The world was encouraging. Everyone acted like this had somehow solved the mystery of why I couldn’t carry a baby, and suddenly all roads pointed to a child of my own. I knew they didn’t. I knew that it was over. I couldn’t celebrate. I couldn’t find the happy, there within my inadequacy. I couldn’t have anything to do with that silly old bear again.

Just as the trend swept the nation…

I am an enneagram four. I feel things deeply. I process. I grieve. I march to my own rhythm, never following a trend. I, by nature, feel like an outsider aching to be a part of something. I couldn’t have a baby.

I got swept up in the fastest growing trend among American women…

I am an infertility and miscarriage survivor, and this is my story. One story, lost in the sea of millions.

(On the Collective Podcast this week I come together with four other brave women, vastly different in their own stories. They share their journeys and unexpectedly we find there, despite our differences, the commonalities of of both shame and hope. We find real. We would love for you to hear these stories. This is a safe space if you feel the need to share your own. Here is the link and it is episode 57.)

We are them too…

There is this amazing time-lapse video bouncing around the internet that shows the blossoming of various mushrooms deep within forested areas. It is absolutely fascinating, disgusting, inspiring and flat-out-weird all at once. Isn’t that life, though? Most of the time.

As humans, we stumble upon stories ripped straight from the lives of others. The horrific crimes we can’t comprehend, the amazing tales of survival and super human fathomings. We love the miraculous, the oddly tragic- the real life stories. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been inspired to do something bold, brave or heroic after looking at an individual, upon hearing about their boring upbringing, which was followed closely by their average college, marriage and work experience, carrying them to this point of completely mundane normalcy. Films and books certainly aren’t written about people like this.

Two reasons for this are:

  • because that sort of life wouldn’t really inspire much of anything. (Maybe a little envy from someone whose lot in life has been particularly harsh.)
  • That sort of life doesn’t really exist. A perception of that sort of life can, but that sort of life itself? It’s not even possible. There may be seasons when we identify with feelings that our own journeys have been that uneventful. There will be other times, perhaps when we’re drowning in our own overwhelm, and we may perceive someone else’s seemingly drama free life is just like that.
  • bonus point- the moral of the lesson here is, just because something may look, or feel a certain way, in a moment- doesn’t mean that it is.

That idea, the idea of normal + boring, I think most of us have pretty wrong. We think, in times of distress, that this must be what simplicity and peace is like. It wouldn’t be. That imaginary life I’ve described? It is a one dimensional, apathetic version of what we minimize in our minds. Period. We only feel our lives are dull and boring, when we are discontent in our own circumstances. We only reduce someone else’s story to such when we are attempting to reduce them, in our minds, or when our circumstances feel too big/loud and we long for small/quiet. It is a perception. Period.

If we could see a time-lapse of our own lives, we would be amazed. There are hardships and heartbreaks we’ve all known, and many of us are living them as I type this. Sometimes it is easy to hear the circumstances of our own journeys in comparison to another person and think we have nothing to share. It isn’t true. Each and every one of us have lives comprised of many things, things both beautiful and horrifying, that others may need to see.

We love the stories of the hero who lived through incredible difficulties, overcame extreme odds and we sit through the movies and documentaries about them, awed. They inspire us. We read books about them, tell others about them, and often make changes in our own lives because of the incredible examples those people were. Our entire world is built on the foundation of everyday people living through something and then paving the way for a better future because of it. (NOT despite it. BECAUSE OF IT.)

Guess what, friend- you and I? We are that very sort of person. The abuses we’ve known, the mistakes we’ve made- these things can bury us in their rubble, if we let them. How do we not allow that to happen? We choose not to let it. We move on, altered for the better, because. Because, because, BECAUSE- Always.

Someone, somewhere, can see the time lapse of your life (in a sense… not an actual time-lapse video, because that would honestly be awkward for everyone.) and move forward, for the better, too. The mushroom is merely a fungus, living on the ground, and sprouting from the mildewed bits of dirt on the forest floor. Often they are toxic. Sometimes they can make people happy, or paranoid, or what have you. Some of them are ugly, many are beautiful and often they are an annoyance. They come from the worst, often remain the worst- but their journey when viewed with a nutshell perspective is mesmerizing.

Friend, we are so much more than forest fungus. We may come from the worst, but we don’t have to settle for becoming that.