The Things We Lose
May 8, 2017. I woke up this morning feeling off. It was a big and busy weekend, yes, but how I felt was more than fatigue. It took me a couple hours to realize that it was May 8th which is not just any day for me.
May 8, 2006 was my first due date. I remember my doctor sitting there spinning her little calendar wheel, looking up at me, telling me that this was when my first baby would come. I loved this because it was so close to Mother's Day. There was a poetry to it, a rightness. I think this was also the day we heard the heartbeat for the first - and only - time. Thump. Thump. Thump. Rhythmic and strong.
But Mother Nature had other plans. Several weeks after this appointment, there was another. It was October now, and I was so eager to see how our baby had grown. But our baby had stopped growing. There was no longer a heartbeat. When my doctor told us this, I began to shake. I couldn't believe it. I was twenty-seven. This was my first loss.
I was shattered. Utterly devastated. Probably depressed. I'd just told friends about the news and now I had to un-tell them. The sadness was not pure; it was mixed with anger, with anxiety. We had some tests run and learned that there had been a chromosomal abnormality incompatible with life. We also learned that the baby had been a girl. Almost twelve years later, writing this sentence, sharing this truth - it was a girl - hurts.
Time is a balm. All this time later, I don't think of my miscarriage very often at all, but the memory of it, the initial sting of this loss, finds me every year on this day, on this day in May. And maybe this sounds strange, but I'm thankful to be reminded. The pain, diluted now, is welcome. It has changed me.
Because this is what pain does, and loss does. It changes us. It alters the chemistry of who we are and how we face our lives. Only now can I see what this first loss did to me. It made me anxious about medical stuff. White Coat Syndrome, as the doctors call it. When I walk into a doctor's office - or worse, a hospital - my anxiety revs and my blood pressure spikes. My body fills with fear.
Also: I see this now, but my miscarriage - and then not long after, losing Dad - changed the way I drank. I'd always been a wine drinker, a fan of exuberance and excess, but only when dealt these losses, did I start to use alcohol to numb and escape. I forgive myself for this; it makes perfect sense to me that I turned to wine. The pain was more than I could process, so I ran, I fled.
But now I'm doing the work to look at all of this, to face it. I no longer drink alcohol, but I do other things to distract myself. I scroll and scroll and I shop and I eat candy and do silly cleanses... there are many things I do in a conscious or unconscious effort to feel less, to feel okay. This is true for all of us.
But today: I feel it. A sense of faded, faraway sadness, of a former self. Of a young woman whose invincibility was taken, who was blindsided with a breed of loss that was neither unique nor unfair. These things happen. We all lose things. It is part of what it means to be human. And here's what I'm beginning to really see, and maybe even celebrate: It is the hard stuff, the losses and heartbreaks and dark times, that teaches us who we really are, what we're made of. We are strong, guys. We can survive things.
Today: I am the mom of three beautiful, healthy girls whom I love with every bit of my being. The girls I was meant to have. Tears fill my eyes as I consider the depth of my love for these creatures, how full my life is because of them.
But try as I might, I won't forget that punctuated prologue of profound sadness, that lost heartbeat, that lost life. Even as my mind works dutifully to forget, my body reminds me, if only on this day. And to the muted pain, I surrender and even smile.
Life is not easy. It is not meant to be easy. We all - every single one of us - lose things and will continue to lose things.
Time passes, but our losses, bigger and smaller, remain etched in body and mind. They are ours, these losses; part of who we are and how we carry ourselves in the world. They give us the kind of strength that can't otherwise be taught.