Put Up Or…

I can always tell when it’s time to get back to the keyboard and write. I wish I could tell you that it’s when my creative juices are flowing, and thoughts and ideas are pouring out of me, barely contained by the page.

In reality, I know it’s time to write when I start getting a little bitchy and critical of what everyone else is writing. It could be the author I love’s new title; three chapters in I’ll be wondering is going ON with all of these commas? It could be an influencer’s Instagram post, with a typo, and a picture that’s clearly staged, and I’ll think, “the nerve of this woman, having photo shoots and ‘planning content’ like anybody really cares!” And then I’ll grimace when I note that all 100,000+ of her followers care very much. It could be several pages into a memoir I’ve looked forward to reading by a new author, that’s getting rave reviews, and finding grammatical errors and resenting her success because I would never make those mistakes.

Spoiler alert: I would.

Ugh, it’s not my best side, this part of me that tears others down. If envy is green, it’s a baby poop-like shade that looks good on no one- least of all, me. I envy these writers–some for their talent, and all for their success. I ask myself, what are they doing that I’m not? What do they have that I don’t?

Balls. Guts. Moxie. Courage. Grit.

As for what they’re doing? Well, they’re creating. Then, they’re putting on their vulnerable panties and sharing their art with the world. And they don’t really give a damn if I like it or not. And even if they did, they don’t let it stop them.

So when I find myself criticizing these brave artists, I have to get REAL honest with the woman in the mirror and recognize that how I’m feeling has nothing to do with what they’re saying or how well they’re saying it, and EVERYTHING to do with what I need to say but am keeping to myself.

And until I’m consistently creating and sharing and allowing jerks like me to criticize my work, I have no business criticizing anyone else’s- and even then, I should be so busy keeping my eye’s on my own paper that I won’t have time or energy to do anything other than cheer everyone else on.

May it be so…or shut up.

Like Riding a Bike.

I rode a bike yesterday.

Many of you probably read that and thought, “Uh…ok?” Maybe you went for a bike ride with your kids yesterday. Maybe you’re a triathlete. Maybe you commute to work, or at least you did when we all went to our offices. But me? I hadn’t been on a bike in over 20 years.

As in, I have not ridden a bicycle since I was 14- and even then, it was a rented bike I rode for two hours on vacation with my family. Biking as a hobby was never really my thing- I lived at the top of a steep driveway, on a hill, at the bottom of a much larger hill, with not a sidewalk in sight. But it really broke down for me when I graduated to bikes that required hand brakes vs. coaster brakes.

For those who don’t know me, it would help to know that I was born with a congenital hand deformity that left me (gratefully) with “normal” thumbs, with fingers significantly shorter than average. Frankly, it’s not something I talk about or think about much these days-all in all, it hasn’t really kept me from doing anything. I have a great life- family, friends and children who love me, and a husband who loves holding my hand and put a pretty ring on my short little finger. Which, BTW, I look forward to wearing again when I shake off a little more pregnancy weight. As far as limitations go, I don’t have many- I can’t bowl for shit, but I’m at peace with that. And then, bikes. That one day on vacation, on the rented bike, I found my fingers struggled to reach the brakes. I never crashed or failed to stop when I needed to, nor did I fully trust that when it came down to it, I could grab on and hold tight enough. What if I couldn’t maintain control?

And if there is ANYTHING I hate, it’s not having control. I’m sure no one else relates.

So really, at the tender age of 14, I closed the book on bikes. I wrote it off. “That’s just not a thing I do”, I’d tell myself. And then I had a daughter.

My daughter Sadie is the most delightful human. She’s wicked smart, funny, and has bright blue eyes and lashes that are just plain unfair. She has attitude for days (for better or worse) and the kindest, sweetest soul. Like me, she loves making music and jokes, even when they aren’t funny. Like me, she loves to sing. Like me, she’s pretty good at it. And just like me, she hates feeling out of control. When Sadie was a baby, she’d have major sleep regressions every time she was learning a new skill. My research taught me that she was “practicing” in her sleep. My initial response to this was “what sleep?”, but I would eventually see her just take off with that new skill. I’ll never know what was happening in her little brain when she learned to crawl- I just know that one day she just started doing it. My girl showed little interest in walking at first–walking is hard, after all. But then one day she just…walked. Like she’d been doing it for months. And so it’s always been for my big girl- she doesn’t want to do anything if she’s not 99.9% she can do it well.

I have NO idea where she gets that.

Anyway, such a mindset doesn’t bode particularly well for a newly-minted 5-year-old. Girlfriend has a lot to learn, and deciding that she’s not up for making mistakes along the way isn’t going to benefit her. Nothing has made this more apparent than the saga of trying to get Sadie to ride a bike. We’ve tried a balance bike, and training wheels, and holding the handle bars and helping her steer. No dice. As quarantine dragged on, our desperation to get her to enjoy riding a bike only increased – as did her insistence that she just not. It was honestly a little exhausting.

We decided to try another angle: we bought her a scooter for her birthday. Maybe something a little closer to the ground would feel more accessible? Maybe mastering the scooter would inspire the confidence needed to master the bike?

Sadie and the scooter took their maiden voyage together yesterday afternoon. She pushed off and started rolling, immediately got scared and dragged herself to a stop, and then–wait for it– KICKED the scooter before marching herself back into the garage. That’s my kid, all right. Somehow we got her to try again. And again. And soon, she was getting it. And then she was loving it. At one point, I asked my husband to get out the bike I’d borrowed from my mom. “How hard can it be?”, I thought, hoping that seeing me on the bike combined with her newfound scooter love would propel Sadie right onto her bike.

As Ryan wheeled the beast out to me, I wondered if the bike had always been that huge. I took the handle bars and thought, “my, this is heavy!” Then I wiggled my way onto the seat. I pushed off with my right foot and was utterly shocked at how quickly I lurched to the left. I made my first attempt to balance and pedal and nearly faceplanted onto my driveway, in front of my daughter, in front of my HUSBAND. It was mortifying. I questioned out loud (very loud) why this wasn’t just coming back to me.

“It’s like riding a bike!”, they say! Pardon my French, but that is plain bullshit. Fight me.

I don’t recall a time where I’ve felt so out of my element. It took me roughly 11 tries to make an attempt at pedaling- and I’d go in a straight line for a few feet and then panic/flail until one of my feet made contact with the ground. I barely attempted to use the hand brakes, convinced I couldn’t reach them. If I’m being really honest, I wanted to dismount the damn thing and give it a solid kick before marching back into the house.

Oh.

Ohhhhh.

Well, crap. Like mother, like daughter, yes? And she was watching me. Turns out, she’s always watching me.

So today, we loaded the bike and the scooter into the back of the truck and drove to an empty parking lot a mile or so away. She zipped off on her scooter, confident in forward motion, but only able to stop herself by jumping off, and turn by literally lifting the scooter and repositioning it. Meanwhile, I zipped off on my bike, screeching to a stop instead of turning. So I yelled out to my daughter:

“Sadie! I’m feeling nervous about turning! What should I do?”

“Just be brave, Mom! Do it a little bit at a time!”

So I did. I eased the handlebars to the right. This lasted for 20 minutes, because I had apparently developed some kind of goddamn Derek Zoolander complex and couldn’t turn left. But then I did. And when I glanced over at my daughter, I saw that she too was cautiously leaning into turns. “You inspired her”, my husband called out.

“I think she inspired me”, I called back.

Spoiler alert: I am still relearning to ride a bike at 34 years of age (and my daughter still won’t get on hers, but we’re optimistic). I skidded to a stop with my feet flailing more than once today. I reached for the brakes more times than I can count. But you know what? I DID reach them. Truth be told, I probably always could. It was never about the bike. It was never about the brakes. I was the only one telling me I “don’t ride bikes”, and the only one standing in my way.

I could always reach- I just needed to believe that I could, and trust that even if I fell, I’d be okay. And as I made my 3rd consecutive left turn on that bike today like a freakin’ BOSS, it occurred to me that I can apply the same reasoning to every other thing in my life I’ve told myself I can’t or “just don’t do.” It occurred to me that I can keep showing my daughters how to do the same. Doubt and fear creep in so easily, and hold on so tight. You’re bound to falter and sway a bit as you shake them off, but if you can withstand the fleeting unsteady moments, you’ll find your rhythm. It’s a lesson worth learning once, and a thousand times more. Even if you think you’ve forgotten, it always comes back.

Kind of like riding a bike.

 

Riding a Bike

Savannah: A Love/Birth Story, Part 1

I’d be remiss to tell Savannah’s birth story without first telling the story of my pregnancy.

It’s no secret that Savannah Grace is our rainbow baby, after four consecutive early pregnancy losses. After the fourth miscarriage in April of 2019 (ironically, a year to the day from the first) I met with my fertility specialist to discuss our options. I remember sitting in that high-rise office, exhausted to be grieving at square one again, and hearing her bring up IVF. Originally, after reviewing our history, she’d told us that we weren’t great candidates for IVF- we had a healthy living child, and I got pregnant fairly easily—chances were sooner or later we’d have a successful pregnancy. She suggested that we could try an IUI to hopefully get pregnant sooner. So we did, and we did. But when that pregnancy too ended in a loss, we needed to take another look at why.

There isn’t much research on it, she said, but anecdotally, it’s a thing- “hyperfertility”, and its relationship to recurrent pregnancy loss. Some women have uteruses (uteri?) that are extremely receptive to embryos…even the poor quality ones. Where other women’s bodies might reject and fail to implant a poor quality embryo, mine is SO hospitable, it welcomes any and all. It made perfect sense- and was perfectly maddening. Where other women would just not get pregnant on a given cycle because the embryo wasn’t compatible with life, I would. I’d see a positive pregnancy test. Maybe even increasing HCG levels. Once, even, a heartbeat. But each time, mother nature showed her cards, and the deck was once again stacked against us.

With IVF, my doctor said, we could test our embryos for genetic abnormalities (the #1 cause of miscarriage). My body had demonstrated the ability to get pregnant, and the ability to carry to term. All we needed was a quality embryo. Of course, I asked if we could/should just keep trying. We could, she said- with a 40% chance of miscarriage each time. After everything we’d been through, and the months and years ticking by on our journey to build our family, those weren’t odds we were willing to take. We are fortunate enough that our insurance would cover 100% of an IVF cycle. So we decided to go for it.

When we started discussing our plans with close friends and family, one of the most common questions I heard was, “isn’t IVF really hard on your body?” And the short answer is, yes, it is. But so were the two surgeries, 25+ blood draws, multiple vaginal ultrasounds, and 15 office visits involved in our miscarriage journey. If I was going to put my body through hell, I was ready to give us the best possible shot. We prayed over this decision, and weighed so many pros and cons of the process- we know IVF isn’t for everyone, but we determined it was right for us.

So at the beginning of June 2019, I started birth control pills to take control of my menstrual cycle. On June 24, with shaking hands, I administered my first hormone shot. And felt like a complete badass. Eleven days later, after 2-3 shots a day, and ultrasounds and blood draws every other day, I went under general anesthesia for our egg retrieval. All of the hard work and waiting had led up to this. When I woke up, I heard the good news- 14 eggs retrieved!

The next day, as I worked from a coffee shop, I got the call — 13 of those eggs were mature, and 10 had fertilized. And so began the agonizing 5-day wait to see which of those new embryos survived to the blastocyst stage, where they could be biopsied and frozen to await transfer. On the 5th day, I was roaming Nordstrom Rack when a nurse called to give me an update- one “excellent quality” embryo had been biopsied and frozen. I was a little crushed at first- all that for just one? That may not even be suitable for transfer? Then she told me that 6 more were still growing. To make a long story a little less long, of our 10 fertilized eggs, we lost nearly all of them in the process. This is a part of IVF no one really talks about, but probably should- almost every couple who walks this path will almost certainly experience even more loss. I still grieve them, hold space in my heart for them, and honor them.

Later that day, when I told Ryan about that first frozen embryo, he said, “Watch, that will be our baby.”

Ultimately, when our transfer date (September 7, 2019) finally came around, and we were ready to place an embryo in my uterus, it was indeed that first little blastocyst. We sat in a tiny room adjacent to the fertility clinic’s lab. An embryologist showed us a picture of our little one- the sweetest little blob of cells I’ve ever seen. Then we viewed “it” (we opted not to know the sex of the embryo) on a screen for a moment as the doctor prepared me for the transfer- then the embryologist quickly brought the embryo in, and we watched on ultrasound as the doctor guided my daughter safely into my uterus. As I type this, I can see her sleeping on the baby monitor, and feel gratitude to my core for that moment.

Savannah Embryo

It was you, Savannah. It was always you.

Ten days later, I was scheduled for my beta HCG test- the blood draw that would confirm that our transfer was successful. I cheated and took a home pregnancy test that morning so that Ryan and I could learn the news—whatever it was—together. So I peed on a stick, and quickly threw it under a towel so we couldn’t see it. We snuggled in bed for 5 minutes or so until I couldn’t wait anymore. We walked to the bathroom lifted the towel.

Two pink lines. Savannah Grace was on her way.

 

Dear Sadie: Big Sister.

Dear Sadie,

It’s (once again) been awhile since I’ve written to you, and oh so much has happened in our world.

First and foremost, you’ve become a big sister! Baby Savannah Grace was born on May 22, 2020.

I’ll never forget the day we told you she was on her way. Having lost four pregnancies before hers, we’d never gotten to the point where we felt confident telling you the news before. Someday, I’ll tell you the whole story, but for now, I’m grateful you were spared the knowledge of what could have been but wasn’t. In some ways, I feared telling you this time, too. I had sort of hoped that maybe we could just present you with a sibling and not have to put ourselves in the position to possibly disappoint you, or make our grief yours. But we chose to have faith, and when I was 12 weeks along we sat you down and showed you an ultrasound photo.

“That’s your baby brother or sister”, we said.

“Wait, for real?”, you replied.

Yes, my girl, for real. And two months later, you were so overwhelmed you cried when we found out the baby was a GIRL. Sisters.

And then, ugh…two months after THAT, a pandemic was declared and our world came to a halt. We didn’t leave the house, ever. We walked most days until we grew tired of taking walks. Unable to visit playgrounds, you drew one yourself in our driveway, and let your imagination run wild as you played on it. We didn’t go to school, or the park, or friends’ houses, or church, or Target. And I was so very pregnant and tired that being the playmate you needed was impossible.

It was hard, babe.  It still is. For the first two weeks I cried daily for you. For your loneliness, for the abrupt change to your whole existence. I recognized the privilege I’d held as a parent- to feel control over where you went to school, if you took ballet class, when you saw your friends. I was privileged with the illusion of control over your quality of life—privilege I never recognized until it was altered. For the first time, something was hurting you that I couldn’t fix. You were struggling, and there was nothing I could really do to make it better. And struggle you have—we have. You’ve yelled, kicked, screamed, and hit more in the past four months than in your entire life. You’ve been frustrated, and so have I. But Sadie, I am so proud of you…of us, really. We’ve had some crappy days, and we’ve ended them laughing. You’ve adapted and understood when you shouldn’t have had to. Daddy and I are still agonizing over what’s right for you now, as this mysterious and scary virus continues to wreak havoc in our country. We may not get it right, but we are doing our very best to make sure you know how loved and cared for you are.

And right smack dab in the middle of this quarantine craziness? You became a big sister. In the weeks leading up to Savannah’s birth, you were equal parts elated and apprehensive about her arrival. You hugged and kissed my belly incessantly, and announced multiple times a day that Baby was in fact the family member you love most—aside from your beloved stuffed dog, Sparkle Pup, of course. The morning of my induction, we left while you were still asleep. I watched you sleeping for a minute, and fought back tears. I was sad that it wasn’t going to be just us anymore. I was REALLY sad that we weren’t able to spend your last months as an only child doing all the things we love to do together. And I was sad that you wouldn’t have the in-hospital meeting I’d dreamed of, wearing your “Big Sister” dress and beaming with pride. When we brought Savannah home, you literally ignored her for the first few minutes. I get it, kiddo. Sometimes, when something seems too uncertain, we keep a safe distance until it starts to feel okay. Now, you adore your sister. You kiss her forehead and cheeks and feet all day, and rarely seem annoyed by her crying. I know you miss when all of our time and attention was reserved for you, and I promise we will do our best to make time for US.

In 2 weeks, you’ll turn FIVE. You’re supposed to start kindergarten this fall, and while we believe we have a good plan in place for you, I’m constantly second-guessing every decision. I want to keep you and your sister safe. I want to keep Daddy and I safe- there’s nothing I pray for more than to be here for you and teach you while you grow up. I’m sorry things are so weird right now. I’m sorry I can’t fix the world for you, but I’ll keep trying. Truth is, kiddo, I’m anticipating living on planet earth will continue to be a bumpy ride for all of us. But it’ll be beautiful, too, if we remember to see the good stuff. Sometimes we have to fight for the good, too.

Sadie, I am so unbelievably proud to be your mommy. I’ve learned that I don’t get to control or decide everything in your life, or my own. So it is, with motherhood, and life, I guess- My job is to hold you as tightly and loosely as I possibly can, all at the same time.

I’m so grateful.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Dear Sadie: FOUR

Oh, my sweet and precious girl. As I type, you are in fact nearing three months past turning four, and the mom-guilt I feel for not keeping up with you a little better in this space is a little bit brutal.

Truth is, I should be writing about you every single day, because you are different every single day. Your vocabulary grows and refines daily–just as I was growing accustomed and charmed to you calling them “asternoids”, you figured out that they’re really called “asteroids”. And thanks to Ready Jet Go, your current favorite show, you can also tell us that asteroids are responsible for the craters on the moon. You can also tell us that Neptune has 14 moons, and Mars has two. You know both of their names. You understand why Pluto is no longer a planet, but express your disappointment about it frequently. And frankly, I’m with you on that. I was pulling for Pluto, too. You know all of the planets in order, and know that Uranus is tilted and the red spot on Jupiter is a storm. Though I’ve let you watch way too much TV lately, I’m constantly stunned at just how much you take in. You are so very smart, ladybug.

Your letters are solid, and you’ve gotten all the consonant sounds down- vowels are a little tricky, but we’re working on it. Writing letters hasn’t been of much interest to you, but you write your own name like a pro and are starting to practice other letters/words too. You are something of a perfectionist (something neither of your parents would know anything about) so frustration comes easily. We are working hard on deep breaths, patience, and being willing to try again. It’s a learning curve for us too, baby girl–we are doing our best to model this better for you.

Your personality is EXPLODING. Truly, you are becoming your own person in every single way. Your developing sense of humor is nothing short of delightful. Whenever I make smoothies in the blender, and you cover your ears because you hate the sound, I do a little “blender dance” in the kitchen. You HATE it. It’s like I’ve already leveled up on embarrassing you. Last night while we were getting you ready for bed and playing, you yelled out, “I don’t like your blender dance!” and we all laughed and laughed. You’re starting to understand sarcasm, which is truly momentous for me and I couldn’t be prouder. Often when Dad or I make a joke, you’ll pick up on it, laugh, and say with a sigh, “Oh, mom.” You make some hilarious faces and are starting to appreciate the joy of inside jokes. I love that we are developing our own little language, and have silly things that belong only to our family. Your whole life, I’ve wanted nothing more than for you to feel like our family is your tribe, your people–the ones who see you and GET you. It feels like we are beginning to cultivate our family identity, and it’s such a sweet season because you are so much an active participant now. You make your presence and opinions known. You really, REALLY like to talk (another mystery trait with which I have no familiarity) and you ask, no exaggeration, thousands of questions a day. I do my best to answer them all, and let you know how much I love your curiosity. Because I WANT you to come to me with your questions. I want to be the kind of mama who doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, the scary stuff, or the confusing stuff. And if that means I’m currently the mama who identifies every scene in Moana as we listen to the score in the car, so be it.

You get emotional sometimes. It’s such a contrast to your usual sweet, level-headed, easygoing nature that we have often struggled to respond well. Yesterday, you had an epic meltdown because you couldn’t get your shirt off. There were tears, literal kicking and screaming, the works. And your dad and I looked at each other for a minute like, “What is even happening right now?” and then finally stepped in to try and help you out. Your feelings are big these days, and your big girl body, heart, and mind struggle to contain them. I know my job is to help you hold them. I hope you know I always will, even if I don’t always get it right.

Speaking of big feelings and hard things, our family has been working so hard to add a borther or sister for you. Someday, when I tell you about my four miscarriages and the IVF process we went through this past summer, it will all make sense to you. You love pretending to care for babies, and when you encounter a real one, you are so gentle and loving it cracks my heart open. At press time, I can’t say for certain that you will ever be a big sister, though we are doing our damndest to make that a reality. What I can say for certain is that you would be a really, really good one. Someday I will make a direct apology to you for the distraction that this journey has been. How much of my time, energy, and soul it has taken away from you. It’s a terrible feeling to neglect the child you do have on the quest to have another. I hope you know that the joy that is YOU is what has kept us invested and moving forward. You showed us how wonderful it is to be a mommy and a daddy. And for the record, sweet girl, you still do- a little more every day. And just so you know- a sibling for you would be icing on the cake. You are more than enough to complete our family. Never, ever forget that.

Sweet Sadie, I hope you are loving being four. I pray daily that you find friendship and community. I pray that the world is kind to you, and that when it isn’t, you will still be at peace with yourself. May you learn much sooner than I did that not everyone has to like you. Most of all, I pray for so many more years of watching you grow into the person you’re meant to be. No matter who that is, I’ll always be your biggest fan.

Love you forever,

Mommy

On Grief and Grace.

It’s been over four months since my most recent, most horrible miscarriage, and while I’ve talked about it plenty, I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to write. When you talk about your heartbreak, there is an immediate sense of throwing your pain over a wall, so whomever you’re talking with can take it from you, even if just for a moment. There’s something so freeing about speaking about it, that lifts the burden, however momentarily. Writing is its own brand of healing, certainly—but it’s different. When I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, it’s personal. Until I hit “publish”, these thoughts and these words belong only to me. There is no one else here on my couch to share the burden of what I say here. It’s mine to bear, at least for now. And all these months later, it’s still heavy.

In late October, I needed a break. It took me several days and many private tears to say out loud that I wasn’t handling this well. It felt like some additional failure-like I’d not only failed to carry my child, but now I couldn’t even move on with my life properly? Over time, I’ve come to understand that this is not an uncommon response to miscarriage. Women are so conditioned to NOT talk about this kind of loss, that when it happens and destroys us, we don’t believe it’s okay to be destroyed. With some distance and healing in the rear view, I look back on October and think, “Of COURSE, you needed a break. Three weeks is not a sufficient amount of time to ‘move on’ from losing a pregnancy.” (Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as “sufficient time” to move on from losing a pregnancy. There is no moving on, really.)  So even though I was frustrated to need a break, I asked for one, and checked into a hotel in a little island town.

Across the street from my hotel was a bookstore/coffee shop combo that would make any reader or writer swoon. Since the weather (crisp, cold, perfectly fall) was foggy and prevented doing much sightseeing, I took a notebook and a snack and settled in. And I wrote about grief. It’s funny now, the idea that I could have “figured grief out”, three weeks out from my loss. I mean, my hormone levels were high enough that any pregnancy test I took came up positive. My body certainly hadn’t moved on—what made me think that my heart could be healed so soon? In those days, grief was like my shadow. When the sun was overhead and the days were bright, it would minimize- but as the sun retreated it loomed larger. In the quiet early mornings, too. At night, in the darkness, it seemed to cover everything.

Drinking my iced latte in an overstuffed chair that day, I explored the popular analogy that likens grief to waves. I get why it’s so popular—it works. Like the waves, when you are brave enough to walk with grief, it is ever-present, reliable, rhythmic. Always at your feet, but gentle. When you dive into grief, as under the waves, it swallows you whole, but you are still safe in it. Even swimming with the current of a riptide, while it’s all-consuming and takes you far away from where you began, it will eventually let you go, back to the relative safety of the shore. And so it is with grief:  when you are willing to be IN IT, it takes you over and takes you somewhere new, but sets you there gently. We get into the most trouble when we turn our backs to the waves. When we ignore them, deny their strength, dig our feet into the sand in defiance…we get our asses kicked. Every time. Grief, like the ocean, is a safer place when we acknowledge, “I know that you are infinitely bigger and stronger than I am.  I will not outsmart you or outrun you, so I will follow your lead.”

And as I watched families that day, seemingly all of them with an infant or baby bump in tow, I had no other choice but to take a deep breath, and dive under. I spent the first weeks after bidding farewell to the third pregnancy, third DREAM in a row fighting grief. I fought acknowledging the truth that what happened to our family was devastating and unfair. I fought with busyness and contrived silver linings and constant empty reminders that “there must be a better plan.” I fought, and I lost. I got my ass kicked, every time. After three weeks, I’d been so thrashed by the surf I didn’t know which way was up. I was like that woman on the beach who tried to gracefully exit the water and ended up with sand in places she dare not say, and a bikini top floating 50 feet away. But way less amusing. So I dove under. I let grief wash over me and under me. And it was the safest I’d felt in months.

But just so you know, I didn’t “solve” grief that day in October.

I cried on Halloween because had our first pregnancy stayed, I could have worn a bump-highlighting costume. Like an avocado, or fish bowl.

I was sad on my birthday in December, because I had been looking forward to another pregnant birthday.

I was heartbroken on Christmas, because December 25 was the due date for our first lost baby.

Every month that has gone by without a new pregnancy, I have grieved. Even though I left feeling empowered and hopeful, I struggled with my first fertility clinic appointment, because as any loss mama can tell you—it wasn’t supposed to be this way. And in all of this, I have celebrated, too- a healthy, beautiful child, a husband I love, family and friends I adore, and a growing career. Grief hasn’t taken my joy, but has certainly changed it.

Truth be told, I don’t know what happens next. We could be pregnant in a few weeks and have a healthy baby in November. We could have another miscarriage. We could pursue IVF. We could give up. I don’t know. But I know wherever the tide takes us, we’ll get back to the shore.

I didn’t solve grief. But I did something better- I made peace with it. I made space for it. Somewhere in my soul, I’ve found grace for it. And when I follow its lead, grief returns the favor and gives it all back.

Peace. Space. Grace.

 

 

 

 

Between 33 and Me.

December 1 is my birthday. There are now just 28 days between me and 33. And as is my pattern every year in the weeks leading up to my birthday, I’m reflecting on the year I’ve had, and hoping, dreaming, and planning for the one ahead.

Age 32 was…transformative. The past year has held so many beginnings and endings—some of them have been bittersweet, some have been only sweet, and some have been decidedly bitter. I started 32 about 65% of the way through my master’s degree. I was attending classes and interning 3-4 days a week, and sometimes more. Thinking back on that season of endless deadlines and meetings, papers and tests, early mornings and late nights, I really and truly can’t believe that a. it happened, and b. we survived. Only now, four months removed from school, am I able to really assess the havoc graduate school unleashed on our lives. People have told me since day one of my program: “I don’t know how you do it.” And now, as life is still hectic and full, I look back on that season and wonder for myself, “No, really-how DID you do it?” Well, I had a lot of help, and asked a lot of my husband and daughter.  As for the rest, I guess Jesus took the wheel.  I don’t miss the exhaustion or the stress, but I sure do miss the people I walked that road alongside. Graduating was the greatest relief I’ve ever felt, but leaving my school family broke my heart a little. Bittersweet.

Through my entire 32nd year, we were trying to have another baby. It took months to get pregnant at all, and we went on to lose three pregnancies in a row. So, so bitter. There is more to say on this, on the lessons grief is teaching me, about letting go, about comparison and joy and contentment. And someday soon, I’ll say it all out loud, but for now, all I can say is that there is sweetness there, too.

I’ve lost friends this year—not in any dramatic fashion, but in the way that people grow and change, so too do their relationships. I’ve done quite a bit of growing and changing this year. Perhaps I’ve “outgrown” some people, and/or some have outgrown ME. The latter is kind of a striking thought, but it’s convicting and it’s true. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When any relationship doesn’t work out, or runs its course, it doesn’t have to mean that one person was the good guy and the other bad. It really just means that we aren’t on the same page anymore. The story is beautiful on their page and on mine. We’re just in different places. This acknowledgment brings a bit of anxiety though, because it forces the issue of knowing where you’re at, and owning that particular place in your story, however unfamiliar it may feel. It can be something of a lonely place, too, but there is freedom in knowing that I can bring full authenticity to whatever comes next. Bittersweet, again.

I started a business this year, and I’ll level with you—it’s been a slow start. I’m finding I’m doing battle with every “You didn’t think this through” and “What made you think you would be successful here?” demon that comes my way. No one else says these words, by the way. Just that damned inner dialog that won’t quit. And yet, in true Brené Brown fashion, I am crashing forward into unfamiliar territory, vulnerable and open as I can be. Where I may have once backed down I’m digging in, and it feels good. Sure, it may all completely crash and burn, but my gut tells me it’s going to be okay. So sweet.

I’ll be turning 33 in a dark time for our country and for our world. My daughter is only three, and I still want another child. Part of me wonders if it was a mistake to bring her/them into such a broken place. I fear for her future, for THE future, because so much feels hopeless and out of control. So my goal for next year is to do what I can, and encourage others to do what THEY can, and heal the pain in the world I’ve been trained and blessed to heal. There is still SO. MUCH. BEAUTY.  It’s everywhere, if you’re looking for it. For me, part of noticing it will be putting down my phone a little more often. Fine. A lot more often. I’m writing about 33 when it isn’t even guaranteed to me. Like everyone should, I will plan and fight for a better future, but I’m not promised tomorrow. So I will also aim to present, healthy, strong. In this beautiful and messy world, there is so much more to see and to do. I’m here for it. Bitter, and sweet.

Finally, the most valuable thing I’ve learned at age 32 is this: Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be too easy on yourself either. I know there are areas in which I’ve worked too hard, and areas I haven’t worked hard enough. Balancing the two will be an ongoing adventure.

So many dreams for 33. I want to grow a business, a family, and a woman (the woman is me, in case that wasn’t clear.) I want to sing, dance, write, travel, and laugh my ass off- alone and with every person I love. I want to drop all the pretense and show UP in the world that so desperately needs exactly what I (and you) have to give it. And the rest, I suppose, is between 33 and me.

 

Sweet.

 

Missed.

I sat in the waiting room of my midwives’ office, absently playing on my phone to pass the time. I checked my husband’s location- he was somewhere on the hospital campus, and I snapped a screenshot and sent it to him, captioned, “this eases my anxiety a bit.” When he walked in and sat down next to me, I reassured myself that this pregnancy was different. It wasn’t like the miscarriage we’d had at five weeks back in April, nor the chemical pregnancy we’d experienced just four weeks later. This time, the pink lines on the pregnancy tests were strong and dark. There’d been no bleeding, only minor cramping, and best of all—a sweet, strong heartbeat just 12 days ago.

With the medical assistant, we discussed how I’d been feeling, our future appointments, and took my weight and blood pressure. When the midwife came in, we got straight to the point- let’s see this baby! I made a passing comment about my anxiety, how you can never quite believe everything is fine in a pregnancy when you’ve experienced the very opposite of fine. Still, I felt confident as she applied the cold gel to the ultrasound scanner and lifted my shirt.

When the screen lit up, my first thought was, “Wow, it’s dark in there.” She moved from one side, to the next. “How far along do we think we are?”, she asked.

“8 weeks, 6 days”, I replied. And I didn’t think, I was certain.

More searching, more zooming, more silence.

“How accurate are your dates?”

“Pretty foolproof.”

Then I knew. I knew she wasn’t seeing what she needed to be seeing for how far along we were supposed to be. I knew I wasn’t going to be meeting my April 30th baby. She set down her instrument, and told me we had a couple of options: we could use the transvaginal ultrasound to see what was going on, or we could wait a few days and go for a more sophisticated ultrasound. I couldn’t look at my sweet husband yet, and still couldn’t tell you if he understood what was happening at this point. So I looked at my midwife, the one who’d delivered my daughter, and told her to get the transvaginal scanner.

“I’m going to want to get this over with, aren’t I?”

She didn’t reply. When she stepped out of the room, the tears started to flow. “Maybe we have a hider?”, my husband ventured. “No, we don’t”, I whispered. “We don’t have anything”, I thought. When the midwife returned, she didn’t try to tell us it would be okay, or maybe we were mistaken. She only told us she was so sorry—she knew how much we’d been through this year. I swore to myself I wouldn’t look when she finally found what she’d been looking for, but found I couldn’t look away. Measuring at 7 weeks, 1 day—our baby. Our “rainbow” baby, the one we were sure would redeem all the pain of our previous losses, the one we’d cried happy tears for, the one we’d celebrated with our closest friends and family. Our rainbow baby, suspended in darkness, missing the flicker of life that had once filled us with hope.

She left the room for a moment, and we cried together. My legs still splayed open, ultrasound goop all over me, completely exposed in every way. I finally whispered, “I need to get dressed”, and stood up on shaky legs.

When she returned, she presented the three courses of action one could take in a “missed miscarriage”. One, I could take medication that would contract my uterus and hopefully move the process along (no). Two, I could wait up to four weeks and see if my body miscarried naturally (hell no). The third option was surgery. As she described the procedure (I won’t do it here, but if you aren’t familiar with a D&C, Google will inform you), I watched my husband hang his head in sadness. I told her, without question, I wanted the surgery. It may have been the most expensive and invasive option, but I couldn’t bear to be a time bomb, and I couldn’t bear to witness another dream depart my body. Once was enough.

Actually, once was more than enough. To go through this again seems cruel and unusual. But it ISN’T. That’s the totally screwed up part about all of this—most of the medical community has assured us that what we’ve gone through is NORMAL. Pardon me, but what in the actual hell is NORMAL about any of this? As I’ve walked this road, I’ve heard stories from so many women—family members, strangers, close friends, who have lost one, two, three or more pregnancies. And through my own searing pain I want to ask all of them, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME? Why on earth would you go through this alone? When even your rainbow baby faded away, why didn’t you reach out?”

But then, I get it. This isn’t a club anyone wants to belong to, but it’s bigger than any of us knows. In the same way those of us who have lost a pregnancy are certain every pregnant woman we see is personally attacking us with her occupied uterus, we are also convinced that no one wants to touch us and our scarlet M. I am writing this for two reasons: One, it is my own brand of therapy, because even my therapist is pregnant right now, and how’s that for irony? And two, because I want you to know that if you are reading this and know what I’m feeling, I am reaching out and holding on to you with every ounce of my strength. You are seen, and you are loved.

And to my sweet April 30th baby, the one we “missed”. You will always be just that—missed. I never held you, but I carried you. And that is an honor I will feel in my soul for the rest of my days. I will always remember you as the child whose loss shook me to my core, whose short existence transformed mine in ways I don’t yet understand. I am grateful for every day we had together. I’ll love you forever.

Mommy

April 30

Dear Sadie: TWO…and a half.

Little girl, I cannot believe you are halfway between two and three. Turning two felt reasonable–still basically a baby, just getting a little bit older. You still had pretty short hair then and leaned on the petite side of things, but now…now you’re a little girl.

Your hair is still taking its time to grow, but these days you rock a little half-up, half-down ponytail that adds about three inches to your height. You *probably* have enough hair to wear other styles, but your hair-inept mom is too nervous to take on the cowlick right on your hairline.

Right around the time your hair started to grow, your body kicked the growing thing into overdrive-strangers tell me all the time : “She’s so tall!” I don’t really notice how tall you’re actually getting until I see you in someone’s arms, or you reach up and grab something off the counter I was certain you couldn’t reach. You’re wearing size 3T now, which still floors me, daily. You are “long and lean” like your dad these days, showing now signs of slowing down. You have a sweet little gap between your front teeth that just melts me, and the way you run is so amazing. You seem to just launch yourself forward and then let your momentum propel you. When you stop, you literally jump to “land.” Your favorite toys these days are the race track and cars your Papa got you for Christmas and your trampoline (which you called a “jumpoline” for the first two weeks you owned it). You love coloring and stickers, and are known to decorate the whole family when you get your hands on a sheet of them. If we remove the stickers, you will ask where they’ve gone. You miss absolutely nothing.

Speaking of Christmas, your third one was magical. You were old enough this year to help me pick out a little green and gold dress, and watching you twirl, with your white tights and gold Mary Janes just melted me. You seemed to understand that Christmas was a big deal, and loved our Christmas tree and making cookies with your grandmothers. Seeing you dump half of a container of sprinkles on a single cookie was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Did I mention that it SNOWED? A white Christmas! You’ll learn as you get older that our area is not known for such things, and the whole scene was just surreal. You opened your presents and forever cemented your love for the holiday. As the adult family members opened their own gifts, you stood on a box with your new toy microphone, belting out song after song at full volume.

I guess this brings me to your personality–it is magnificent. You are equal parts sweet and spicy. You love, LOVE to sing–this thrills me to no end. You have learned songs I never taught you, and can perform pretty much any song ever sung on an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (which, BTW, has been replaced by “Dinosaur Train” as your favorite show). You sing without any hesitation whatsoever, and your joy is contagious. You are a big talker, and we no longer count your words or sentences, because you seem to have moved on to full conversations. We can chat about traffic (“No thank you Mommy, I dont think I want traffic right now”), or the weather (“It’s such a sunny day,  I think I need my glasses!”), or body parts (“Mommy, wow! Is that your nipple? Daddy has a penis. Where’s your penis, Mommy?”) You tell me when you’re scared, when you’re sad, when you’re happy, etc. When we’re playing a game or doing something silly, you start laughing and shouting, “this is fun, this is fun, this is fun!” ad nauseum until the activity is over. You are a toddler, as as such, you have plenty of moments of not listening, whining, screaming a piercing scream out of nowhere for (seemingly) no good reason. Most nights you sleep well, but sometimes you’ll still rouse us in the middle of the night. If it’s a particularly difficult night, your Daddy ends up sleeping on your floor, but those are growing fewer and fewer.

Generally, you have an incredibly sweet disposition and love your friends and family so much. You are a pretty easy child to take in public–if I bring snacks, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll behave well and enjoy yourself. You’re so observant and interested in your surroundings, outings are an adventure for you. You love being outside and going to the park, which I’ll confess we haven’t done much of recently on account of rain and your mom being a wimp. Your dad and I are hoping to welcome a sibling for you at some point, but have some fears that a second child will be a terror (if you’re reading this someday, second child, we love you!). What I mean to say is, while we are trying our best to raise you well, we’re fairly confident that you just came to us this wonderful, and so much of your personality is inherent to YOU.

A couple of other details: Your molars are almost all in. You still sleep in your crib and have (to my knowledge) never attempted to escape. So, we’re in no big hurry to promote you to a toddler bed–we all like our sleep. You aren’t potty trained and show zero desire to be. You’ll tell us when you’re peeing or need to poop, but will refuse to do so anywhere but a diaper. I’m doing a fair amount of deep breathing on this, but know when you’re good and ready, you’ll tackle potty training like you do everything else–your way.

Sadie, you are becoming a real, live person- I’m so proud of the one that you are. I love the way you share your thoughts and sing out loud. I pray every day for the patience and wisdom to encourage every sweet and strong quality you possess, so you will never lose the spirit you have now. It’s true what they say about kids- EVERY age is the best age.

Thank you for the honor of being your mommy-I’m grateful for every single minute.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Dear Sadie: TWO

Oh, my sweet girl.

You are TWO years old. Actually, you’ve been two for about 6 weeks now, but nevermind that. And we love you, SO MUCH. Your birthday falls in the heart of summer, so celebrating you fell in the midst of many other adventures.

In June, you started attending day care twice a week. Just the very act of putting you in the care of strangers wasn’t in the plan when you were born. But as my time in grad school has unfolded, and it became clear that my internship would require me to be away for at least 2 days a week, we made the decision to try it out. Because I used to teach preschool and know that putting on a brave face and staying consistent were key to your adjusting well, I kissed you goodbye on your first day and walked away as your cries echoed after me. Know this, my love–you stopped crying before I did that morning. I locked myself in a bathroom stall and tried to get it together. Waves of guilt washed over me, wondering if I was doing the right thing–was I being too selfish? After all, you didn’t NEED to be there. I hid out in the coffee shop operated by the church that houses your day care, and ducked behind pillars whenever your class walked by. I did a double take the first time I saw you. You fit so well in that little group of toddlers, yet managed to stand out, chatting loudly and happily to anyone who would listen. I was so proud of you in that moment, and so relieved that I cried again. Once again, as always, you showed me: “Mommy, I’ve got this.” In a moment where I did not feel at all like I had this, or had anything at all, you did.

You have a knack for that, kiddo: proving to me that I’m doing just fine here as your mama. You are two now, and are further spreading your wings, testing your limits and my patience. And on the days I feel like a failure, like I’m failing you and failing the world because you keep yelling “STOP IT!” at the top of your lungs, and I’m convinced that I’m the mom raising an asshole, you somehow find ways to remind me that really, we’re doing okay. After screeching with frustration, flailing about when you don’t get your way, literally kicking and screaming for most of an afternoon, you’ll suddenly remember to say “please” before demanding another snack. Then you’ll say “thank you”. You might help me clean up your toys when I ask, or give me unprompted hugs and kisses. You might say, “I luh you, Mommy” and shatter my heart a little, but those are the times I know: I’m doing okay. And for the record, every mom of toddlers is raising an asshole at some point or another. Everything you do is developmentally normal and appropriate. God help us all.

You are a natural caretaker, Sadie. You are constantly rocking your baby dolls, covering them with blankets and giving them “pats” (read: smacking them repeatedly on the back). When Daddy or I stub our toes, you’ll say “Daddy, you ok?” or “Mommy, need a kiss?” Yesterday, I was carrying a stack of boxes into the kitchen and you exclaimed, “Whoa, Mommy! Be careful!” The way you love the people in your life brings me such sweet reassurance that Daddy and I, for all of our imperfections, are doing something right in this whole parenting gig.

It will surprise NO ONE who knows me that you are a big talker. You’ve been speaking in full sentences for months, and are still rapidly picking up language. When we visited our family in Ohio this summer, your 8-year-old cousin Cooper was frustrated with his video game and shouted, “Oh, come ON!” No less than once a day now, you still say, “Oh, tum ON! Cooper says ‘tum on!” Needless to say, we watch we say around you now, and marvel almost daily at the words you know. As your abilities continue to grow, I am always both impressed and a little sad when you master something new. For months, when you were done with dinner, you’d say “All Dee!” Then one day out of the blue, you threw your hands in the air and proclaimed, “All done!” And we cheered you on, but I was sad. You used to say “Oh no, I all down!” whenever you fell. Now you clearly say, “I fall down!”, and I mourn another little bit of you I won’t get back. For the longest time, your feet wouldn’t leave the ground when you attempted to jump. When they did, I knew we’d left another sweet piece of your story behind us.  I bet that’s how it will always go, where you are concerned–desperately missing what’s gone, while breathlessly anticipating what’s to come.

Sadie, there are so many Sadie-isms I’d like to immortalize here. The way you sing to yourself when you think we aren’t paying attention to you in the car. The way you laugh and jump when you’re excited, and the gap in your teeth that shows best when you’re screaming mad. The way you say, “applesauce”, “Microsoft”, and “Mooooommy!”, 756 times a day. I want to remember forever the way your feet sound as you run around the house from one activity to the next. I want to remember the way your eyes light up and your eyebrows raise when you hear Daddy come home from work. And please, dear God, don’t ever let me forget the way your little body stills fits against mine when I’m snuggling you at bedtime. The way your hair smells after a bath, and your morning breath in my face early in the morning. Baby, I want to memorize every single second with you.

So much of your future in this world is uncertain. History will show the early years of your life as tumultuous at best. I won’t detail them all here, but suffice to say that I have so many things to fear about the planet you’re growing up on, and the impact it will have on you. But kiddo, you keep making me braver. Every single day. I’m praying that together with your Daddy and all the people we love, we can navigate it all. I have to believe that you’ll just keep showing me:

Mommy, I’ve got this.

On to the next year, my darling.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Sadie 2