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.)

Not too old to die, but SO hard to beat…

www.rainydayinmay.comMy BFF had to put her sweet dog Duke down this week. It was something they were aware wasn’t likely too far off, but anyone who has been there knows that no matter how “prepared” you technically are- you are never ready and there is never a best time… Not really.

I have knelt across from those huge eyes, pained and ready, three times. I have held the tears behind a dam of self-control until that sweet soul took their last breath. I have heard it said that crying is cathartic and there have been so many times in my life when, amidst sobs and a salted downpour upon my cheeks, I have felt this to be true- when I’ve had to say goodbye this way however, it has felt gut wrenchingly far from catharsis.

We were living in upstate New York when my husband decided to make my dreams come true, and get a puppy. We responded to a newspaper ad (because I’m dating not only this post, but us) for a yellow lab. We drove out into the rolling hilled farm land and turned down a long dirt driveway. (In case anyone is unclear about a timeline, we did use mapquest to get there… Which we had to print, on paper. We felt super high tech and advanced. Also, we did have cell phones. They were PHONES. You used them to talk.) My husband was a self proclaimed cat lover and so the willingness for a dog was a huge sacrifice that did not go unnoticed. The very second that pudgy ball of yellow fur came rolling down the hill, so anxious to greet us, he internally shredded his Cat Lover club card and switched over to the canine party. His heart was stolen but that little ball of sleepy love!

We named her Makaila, and honestly I have no idea why. There were no name contenders, on that long drive, but the second we held her it just came out- Makaila. Makaila was that puppy from the little golden book- she slept all of the time. She slept everywhere. We have dozens and dozens of photos (on film) of her asleep in the oddest places. Makaila came to us a little tummy sick, which turned out to be a theme of sensitive stomach problems, as she grew. Also, when I say she “grew”, I mean she weighed 82 pounds the day she turned 1, and was a whopping 120 pounds the day we put her down. For nine beautiful years that beautiful girl taught us so much about love and loyalty. She made us laugh harder than anything had. She walked us down the aisle of becoming parents and fell head over heels in love with absolutely any human being who breathed within a 25 foot radius of where she stood. (also, if you were say, 27 feet away, she’d love you too. 50 ft… 100 miles. She didn’t care. Makaila’s earthly mission was to love all of the people.)

She was just under a year old when we learned that not only did Makaila have no yellow lab in her, (we were so confused about her fur, her looks, her sensitive digestive system. It just made no sense) but our vet was certain she was a Golden Retriever. One hundred percent of everything indicated this breed. Well, almost everything- she was gigantic. (one could speculate horse for a father? Cow? Buffalo? I digress…) Through a series of other, vet led, revelations we came to assume she’d been the product of a puppy mill.

We always made the best choices we could for her. Because she was our first “baby”, we were very thorough and intentional about her grooming, bathing, diet, etc. Even as our family grew and changed, when ever I daydreamed about things like grey hair, retirement and luxurious family vacations, Makaila was there beside us.

In June of 2011 we threw Makaila a big birthday bash. (Yep, we are those people!) We made a wide array of pupcakes, decorated the back yard, made and bought a bunch of kids and canine outdoor games. It was to be a time! The day before the bash, Chw and I ran to the pet store to pick up a few supplies for the dog-goodie bags. While there we ran into a Blue Buffalo dog food distributer. We’d been hearing a lot about this brand and so, (me being who I am) I decided to chat with the guy for awhile. It was a great and informative conversation up until the point when he asked 2 seemingly innocent questions:

1.) What breed is your dog? (Golden Retriever. We left out that she was likely the bastard child of a rogue, 2 ton farm animal)

2.) How big is she? (The odd tone and hesitation in his second question made me wonder if perhaps he already knew this about her bio-dad)

It was with the delivery of our second answer that his face fell for a brief moment before he shook it slightly and regained composure. I wouldn’t let it go though, (remember- me being me and all) and he finally said that he was really surprised she was turning 9. He couldn’t believe she’d made it to 8. Spraying us with far too many details about Golden Retriever trivia, he sort of devastated our party moods.

The next day, at her soiree, Makaila had the time of her life. She devoured her (sensitive stomach friendly) “smash” cake. She played and played and played. She was so happy and so tired, her only real complaint being that we’d invited other dogs when no one had wanted them there, it was a party for humans- no dogs allowed. Despite all of her fun and her doggy smiles and youthful energy, all we could think about was the ticking time of her life. While friends smiled at her silly cake consuming antics, my eyes filled with tears. This could be the last time I see her devour a cake. (it was the first) When she opened a present, I cried- she probably wouldn’t even make it to Christmas

In August Makaila seemed like she couldn’t pee. It was fast. We took her in and our vet proceeded to run tests and confirm that she had cancer. There was a tumor blocking her bladder. Surgery would prolong her life by a few months, but she didn’t recommend it. (I will use this little parenthesis corner of the web to also point out that the vet almost scoffed when she confirmed our sweet girl had cancer, then stating “It’s not a shock since she’s a Golden. Golden Retrievers ARE cancer factories.” Wait- what?!?!?)

We took her home, eerily reflecting back on the two months spanning her birthday and this day. We gave her one last gift, a week filled with DQ ice cream cones, (Gross) Moist and Meaty dog food, car rides and all of the things she loved so much. There was no question- she said goodbye to this world a very happy girl who knew beyond a doubt she was so loved! Her ashes were scattered at a Christmas tree farm, where families frequent every holiday season, to play, choose a tree and make holiday memories. There are no words to explain how much she would have LOVED this…

I became a mom with Makaila by my side. I wrote my first novel with her laying at my feet. I endured the tragic loss of my grandmother with her there, head lovingly in my lap. The chapter of Makaila housed so many precious life bits.

And that seems to be how it is… We’ve lived a Paisley Chapter, A Knightley Chapter and currently exist within the Chapters of Elenor and Emma. With my broken sense of time keeping, these are the ways I remember my adulthood moments- my canine chapter. In one quick second I can feel overwhelmed with so much love for that chapter’s sweet soul and then remember the deep, deep cut of their loss. (Shoeboxes hold our heart, you should read about them)

Living two thousand miles away from my BFF (and “home”) it naturally feels like way too much time passes, between visits. Like way too many things change while I’m away… It is slowly beginning to sink in though, that this Duke Chapter is complete. The page has been turned and with it, all of the years of loving him become something shelved within the past. With one last peaceful sleep, the world shifts and everything changes. One day, for my bestie and her family, things will feel ok- but things will never be right again. Not the way they were anyway…

My next visit to their home will not have his sweet little feet welcoming my arrival, his adorable little AC/DC shirt always melting my heart a bit. From my position, over here and totally out of the picture, I still find myself so broken for her loss, for their loss.  I am sure that Paisley and Knightley were more than happy to welcome Duke over that rainbow bridge. Knightley and Duke had never met, but dogs are pack dwellers and those two are absolutely in the same pack. it’s been a few days and they are absolutely bro’s now! (This makes me super happy and then so sad for all of us left here without them.) (I am also sure Makaila did not show up as a part of the welcoming committee. Our sweet girl is very is confident in herself and likely stays content in the neighborhood of human heaven, with her people.)

It is all so sad, and so hard to face. We love them so deeply and then they leave us after hardly any time, and we remain behind shattered and so alone without them…

Dukey, you were such a sweet boy. See you later, alligator <3

“Broke another promise and I broke another heart. But I ain’t too young to realize that I ain’t too old to try. Try to get back to the start and it’s another red light nightmare. Another red light street. And I ain’t too old to hurry. Cause I ain’t too old to die, but I sure am hard to beat.”

~ Ride On by AC/DC