The email came through with the subject line, Sad but quick note …
My friend just miscarried, it began.
Do you have any advice, books or things I can do to help her? No one is a better wisdom keeper about babies and life than you.
There was little time for the thoughtful response I wanted to give my friend Kristin. The chaos a school holiday can cause in my home was already in full force, thanks to Halloween: Two Power Rangers were sparring to my right and a 7-year-old diva was passionately negotiating extra TV time two inches from my face. In my periphery, an infant was eagerly crawling towards the tiny colorful pieces strewn across my living room. LEGOs, it seems, are much more fun to toss than build. The confetti of blocks morphed into a serious choking hazard when eyed by my crawling daughter Rose.
I scooped her up just in time, confined her to the safety of a playpen and then sat down to type:
I think the most important thing is to allow her to grieve it as the loss that it is. Give her space to cry, be angry, and to ask those hard questions there are no answers to. Sit with her, allow her tears to flow and be okay with the sadness. Don’t try and talk her out of the pain because it was a baby she never saw. It is a hope, life, dream, a creation lost … and from the moment we see those two blue lines on a stick, we are irrationally attached to the life in our womb …
Without offering all the things I intended to — read this, do this, say this — I distractedly sent the above email about allowing sadness to happen. Then, I hesitated, thinking that the suggestion to do nothing was so not the advice Kristin was looking for. But with Rose protesting her confinement and my older daughter escalating her argument, claiming I was “ruining her life” (over a TV show, mind you), I couldn’t hear myself think, let alone formulate a proper follow-up.
Hours later, when the noise level in my home quieted and I’d tucked all four of my kids into bed, I read Kristin’s reply to my miscarriage support advice:
So helpful. I notice so many people wanting to fix it or make comments about the future being better and it makes me sad that we can’t just let ourselves be where we are. You are so beautifully wise. Thank you for helping me be better.
I was grateful the words I quickly tossed into cyberspace were so helpful, but I couldn’t help but think about how I became that mom who knows how to cope with sadness. Especially since it wasn’t that long ago I found myself in situations I couldn’t fix or make better, and feeling hopeless.
There were miscarriages, a baby with a birth defect, and my 2-year-old’s burn injury. There were surgeries and tears and scars — both physical and emotional.
There was an unexpected pregnancy that I thought was going to be our rainbow baby after weathering a long and difficult storm, but that ended in loss too.
Adversity isn’t the credit I imagined I would carry on my resume; but there it is. I have become a wealth of information I never wanted to have. I’m that mom “who’s been there” — not because I wanted to, but because … well, life happened — and while my story isn’t what I expected it would be, I am owning it.
The truth is, my role as Mom doesn’t feel anything like I expected it would — in a million different ways. I mean, how do you explain to a non-mom that you can look at your kid and feel love so intensely, it manifests in the urge to bite them?
I assure you my self-regulation keeps my children safe, but the passion, love, and joy I have found in parenting has far exceeded my expectations.
Simultaneously, the lows of frustration, sadness, anger, and the general feeling of being constantly overwhelmed has caught me off guard. I thought I would be able to better navigate my way through the chaos, and avoid these “negative states” of being. This would make me a “good mom.”
But after finding myself in a position where my mothering skills were in question (this happens when your kid suffers a scalding burn so severe he almost dies), I have learned that maybe being a “good mom” is more about doing the best we can with the cards we are given, rather than trying to avoid the messy or be perfect. I mean, how else do you move forward from a stumble like this?
What I’m getting at here is that I have not always been this “wise” or rather, “comfortable” to sadness because I spent my life avoiding any negative state until I couldn’t run from it anymore.
In fact, the woman I was before all of this adversity hit once said the wrong thing to a friend in pain. My intention was to comfort her, but instead, I hurt her. She graciously forgave me, but I still cringe knowing I’m guilty of spewing a lot of wrong things in the past. It’s only spending time in a dark place of my own that I know how insensitive and hurtful such comments can feel. Better put, I now know what not to say when someone is hurting.
The night of the “Wisdom Keeper” email exchange, I analyzed my past transgressions along with the cracks on the ceiling in my bedroom. I came to the conclusion that I have become “wise” not only because of what I’ve faced, but because of the many compassionate women who showed me the way.
When my 2-year-old son was in the burn unit undergoing the surgeries that saved his life, I was 36 weeks pregnant with his brother who I had just learned had a birth defect requiring surgery. My girlfriends didn’t give me the false pretense that I could fix either of my boys. There simply wasn’t a Band-Aid big enough to cover the pain of that situation, so my girlfriends let me cry. They loved me and supported me even though I was a red-eyed, snot-dripping hysterical version of myself. They never tried to fix me, and through this unconditional acceptance, I learned that the ugly, the sad, and the hard is okay.
This lesson that is accepting our dark side was driven home with the last baby I lost. My friends didn’t point to the thriving children I had as solace. These wise women knew I wanted that baby — the one in the sonogram photo I clutched, whose heart I heard wafting through the exam room but was no longer beating. With endless compassion, these women let me be sad, confused, angry, and hurt for as long as I needed to. They trusted that I would eventually make the choice to move on, loved me until I did and now celebrate with me now that I have again found myself in a place of joy.
Perhaps the real-life chaos in my living room that day kept me in a place of authenticity as I responded to my friend’s email. Maybe my disgruntled daughter, crying baby, and raucous boys helped me give some decent advice. I think if I had sent that email when my healthy children were tucked snugly in their beds — after I poured myself a glass of wine and sat down to write in silence — I would have been a little more guarded, and most definitely less raw.
I suppose on this ordinary day and all the “good” chaos it brought, I was reminded that our hardest experiences can bring about our greatest growth if we allow them to. Somewhere in a sea of LEGOs and discord, I rediscovered the importance of remaining vulnerable. I strive to accept who I am in any moment as flawed but resilient and scarred but beautiful. As this more authentic version of myself — a woman who embraces the discomfort of life — I might actually have the courage to meet another woman in a difficult moment of her own.
Perhaps this really is the best way we can bring a friend comfort in loss.