Baby Steps & Mother’s Day

Photo by Lena Mytchyk on Unsplash

It’s been over a year since I’ve written. Over a year since I poured out my thoughts onto a blank canvas, processing as the words tumble out of my fingertips. More than a year has passed and I’m still not sure I’m ready to fully process all that has taken place. So instead I’m taking baby steps and writing what is on my mind today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more thoughts that need to be written down or maybe another year will pass, and that’s okay.

“Baby steps”. This phrase holds a whole new meaning for me. I am currently watching my almost one-year-old learn to take those monumental, extremely unstable first steps. Her little legs wobble and she grasps for things around to steady her, often finding only air to meet her fingertips before collapsing on the ground. But then what does she do? She stands up and tries again.

A few more steps.

A little more ground gained.

A victory as she reaches the thing or person she was headed toward.

Baby steps often feel small and insignificant, without much distance covered, and yet they are foundational. Before we can walk, run, and sprint our way forward we have to first learn to take those baby steps. And so, I’m taking “baby steps” back into the writing world.

In the last year and a half, our family has experienced: job changes, the birth of our daughter, death in the family, selling a house, moving to a new state, buying a new house…so…just a few things to process.

Today though I am sitting here, trying to grade essays, while also planning a list of things that need to get accomplished during nap time, and somehow finding myself distracted instead by the fact that Mother’s Day is rapidly approaching. What does this tell me? I probably need to process Mother’s Day. So here I am, putting my thoughts down in the hopes of finding better clarity.

Mother’s Day is both/and. It is both a beautiful way to honor those who work hard, day in and day out, to keep the tiny human(s) alive while also staying alive herself, and it is a day full of emotions for those who:

  1. Have lost their mom
  2. Have a complicated relationship with their mom
  3. Have an absent mom
  4. Long to be a mom
  5. Are mom to children no longer here on Earth

Last year I celebrated Mother’s Day by preparing to welcome our second daughter into the world, praying the delivery process would be different than our first. Sure enough, on May 11th (a mere two days after Mother’s Day), Jovie Jane joined our family and changed our lives forever. Jovie means “joyful” and we knew, from the moment we saw her sweet, squishy face, that was her name. Our little joyful, energetic, bundle of entertainment and delight! This year I will get to celebrate Mother’s Day with a healthy, exuberant, almost one-year-old little girl in my arms and oh how grateful I am for that! But, with that joy, there is still sorrow her older sister isn’t here to celebrate with us as well.

This year we will celebrate Verity’s 5th birthday. Five years since we held her in our arms and said goodbye. Honestly, I thought it would get infinitely easier when Jovie arrived and, in some ways, it has. But, being Mom to Jovie has also shown me all the more vividly what I have missed out on getting to do with Verity. I’ve missed getting to see her open her eyes for the first time, smile when someone says her name, belly laugh at her Dad’s antics, and take her first steps. I’ve missed getting to watch her be a big sister to Jovie and play with “Buba-dog”. I’ve missed playtime exploration and bedtime stories and what it would look like to be a mom of two littles.

So, as we head into Mother’s Day, my heart needed a reminder to be gentler with myself and more aware of those around me. My community is filled with people who have lost children, lost mothers, long to be mothers, and/or long to have a healthier relationship with their mothers. My friends, I hope this year you feel loved and seen on Mother’s Day. I hope you find space to feel heard and space to simply breathe. And, most of all, I hope you find your own ways to process all that Mother’s Day holds because Mother’s Day, like much of life, is both/and.

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“Growing As I Wait”

Honestly, while I have always known/been told that grief comes in waves I didn’t realize just how difficult the healing process would continue to be. A process only intensified by our infertility journey with aching arms still empty, desperately longing to hold a little one of our own.  Living in the tension of the unknowns about whether or not we will have another little life who looks like us, having Ben’s eyes, or my nose, or his wavy blonde hair. And while we look forward to the day God expands our little family again, hopefully through both adoption and biological, our life will always hold some really hard grief triggers. 

When we got pregnant with Verity my heart instantly became attached and transformed into being a “mama’s heart”. I know this isn’t necessarily the journey for everyone, for some it doesn’t seem real until the baby is actually placed in his or her arms and for others it takes time even after that to become connected to their child. For me though, I became a mama the day the pregnancy test said “pregnant”. Since the day we found out her heart was no longer beating, there has been a large piece of me missing. It isn’t just a Verity-sized hole in my heart, it is the calling of being a mother still unfulfilled. While I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is still good and that He gave me the absolute perfect husband to walk through this journey with, something opened up in my heart the day we found out we were pregnant that has had to go back to trying to lie dormant. Trying, and most days failing. There is so much in Hannah’s story from 1 Samuel 1 that resonates with my heart. The longing, the bitter tears, the feeling of not getting to fulfill her purpose/calling. As much as her husband, Elkanah, wanted to be worth “more than ten sons” to Hannah, still she went to the temple in distress and prayed and begged God for a child. She begged to not be “forgotten”. She bartered, promising to give her son to the Lord all the days of his life. That feeling of being “forgotten” or “passed over” has played on repeat in my heart more times than I can count and is often an indicator of a “hard day”. There are good days, hard days, and days that feel impossible. 

On the “good days” I can get out of bed without immediately feeling as though the weight of each of the 7×10(to the 27th power…aka: seven billion billion billion) atoms in my body are impossible (not just improbable, IMPOSSIBLE) to lift. On the “good days” I can get on social media and see past the grief triggers of baby announcements, pregnant bellies, exhausted newborn parents sharing #real talk about the difficulties that come with raising tiny humans. On the “good days” I can simply celebrate with others, drop off a much earned 5th cup of coffee for my mama friends, and snuggle all the littles who call me “Auntie” without sorrow. 

Those are the “good days”. 

On the “hard days” I am a fraction of who I once was. I can’t seem to remember who I once was, who I am now, or who I want to be. I am full of doubts and “why me!?!”. I am reading the words of those who have gone before me and desperately trying not to close myself off to the rest of the world for fear the grief triggers will be too much to even accomplish one small thing, like getting out of bed. On the “hard days” doing the dishes OR walking the dog OR grading a few papers is a victory. On those days I manage to deny most of the lies telling me I am a failure as a wife, a failure as a mom, a failure as a daughter, sister, friend, human being…most, but not all. 

Those are the “hard days”.  

On the “impossible days” I am curled up in the fetal position, the irony not lost on me. On the “impossible days” I am lost, drowning in the weight of the infinite worlds created in my head of how life was supposed to be. Reading books and telling bedtime stories with our daughter.  Learning how to navigate bedtime schedules and finding the best babysitters for when family wasn’t available (as a teacher, I’ve never been too worried about this one because I have had the privilege of teaching some amazing humans!). A house full of noise and the patter of little feet as siblings chase each other around. Oh the worlds my mind creates. They are beautiful and captivating and haunting. Most of my “impossible days” don’t come from comparing myself to others, they come from comparing myself to the many different versions of my life dreamed up since I was a child. Versions I haven’t truly grieved the loss of, even though they will never happen. Versions that seem silly and insignificant when I type them out but oh so real and weighty in my head. 

But not all days are “impossible”. Not all days are “hard”. 

In this season, while there are still more “hard” and “impossible” days than I would like to have, I am learning to be thankful. Thankful for the “good” days. Thankful for a husband who is patient and kind and meets me exactly where I am. Thankful for the time and space to process through my feelings. Thankful for distance learning and jobs coming along right as we need them. Thankful for a home church who still sees one another via Zoom or socially distanced. Thankful for friends and family who love me and try so hard to understand. I am thankful for friendship hats, “Auntie Allie” dates, and pushing play on tv shows at the same time even though we are watching from our own homes. I am thankful for words of encouragement from those close to me and those who have never even heard my story. 

I started this post on July 23rd and only made it so far as the “impossible days”. There was no hope in my writing, only a blank page for me to get out my feelings of sadness and anger and sheer exhaustion from the number of grief triggers I still navigate each day. And so I held onto it, I left it sitting in my Google Drive waiting for a “good day” so that “impossible days” would not be the end. Yesterday I read two different things from people who do not know me nor do they have my same story or experiences, but still they managed to reach into my heart in a profound way. The first was in Fields of Joy by Ruth Chou Simons. Her book combines beautiful artwork with Scripture and a small sentence or two of inspiration, specifically geared towards joy. While multiple pages resounded, I was particularly struck by what she had to say on Proverbs 17:22. That specific verse says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Oh how my spirit has felt crushed as of late. To the point that normally a verse like that would simply become white noise, something that I know is playing but isn’t truly being heard. Yet because I am currently teaching a college course on child development and developmentally appropriate learning, and just wrapped a unit on neurodevelopment and the power of the brain, instead of tuning out, my heart tuned in. Simons’ says, “What we dwell on in our hearts and minds carries consequences in our bodies. The best healing your body can have will always begin with a heart glad in Him.” God has not failed me simply because my dreams do not look the way I thought they would. He has not abandoned me, nor is He punishing me. This world is broken. If you didn’t think it was before, is there any doubt left in your mind with a global pandemic and wildfires raging? Because of reading Ruth Chou Simons words I felt strong enough to get on Istagram and seek out some of the trusted voices I follow on there to continue to do the hard work of turning my “hard day” into a “good one”. The first post to pop up was Morgan Harper Nichols as she voiced her struggle in finding something “positive” to share with the world. Her words sank deep into my heart as I felt the gravity of her vulnerability and transparency. I am not alone in struggling to find the “positives”. I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed and that I don’t have the right words to say and as I scrolled through her artwork I was captivated by one piece in particular. It is a beautiful piece, simple, elegant, and only has four small words, “Growing as I wait”.  

I know now that grief will continue to come in waves, washing over me and pulling me down with the intense weight of the seven billion billion billion atoms in my body. 

I also know that I am “growing as I wait”. 

A Month of Both/And

This post originally began out of a desire to recognize the kindness of sweet friends who, in the past two days, gave me gifts I didn’t even know I needed. Their gifts reminded me of things I hadn’t known I needed reminding of. That it is okay to need grace each day and that I am not forgotten. I seem to forget these two things in the days leading up to July (okay, I forget them a lot but ESPECIALLY in the days leading up to July). The following processing is what then ensued. It is raw, it is honest, it is a bit rambly but if you know me by now you know I have a tendency to do that from time to time as I process through things. 

July is a month of both/and. 

I realize now, July will always be a complicated month for me. In my journey of working to become more in-tune with my body and my emotions, I have come to recognize I dread July’s approach, feeling the stress aptly in my body and mind. I am more quick to anger and judgment. Less likely to give myself grace on the hard days. More prone to isolation. Less likely to celebrate the beauty that has grown from our loss. 

Honestly, I thought I would be past it by now. 

But the end of June arrives and I am transported right back to July of 2017. 

July 1-3, 2017 – while camping with friends, we revealed our baby was a girl! We were overjoyed but also cautious because we had been told in our gender-reveal ultrasound that our girl was measuring small and they wanted to measure her again after a few weeks of growth.

July 7, 2017 – appointment with a perinatologist/genetics specialist to see if she had done it, if our girl had grown or if we were looking at a potentially life-long genetic disorder that would alter how we did life together. We were hopeful she had grown and we would be told all was well. We never once stopped to consider the alternative, that she was gone. Her heartbeat had stopped. 

I’m pretty sure mine stopped too, if only for a moment. My mind, on the other hand, was racing in search of answers. Was it my fault? Am I being punished? Why us, we had waited for her for what felt like an eternity! Could the doctors be wrong? Did they miss something? 

We had our last night at home with her, praying her heartbeat would miraculously re-appear the next day when we went in for delivery. 

July 8, 2017 – still no heartbeat. Instead, I labored and we grieved and felt the weight of all the things we weren’t going to get to do with her anymore. 

July 9, 2017 – Verity Grace Drake was born. We held her and cried and said our goodbyes. 

Each year, leading up to July, I am brought back to that place. The hospital rooms, the goodbye, the deafening silence that echoes in our house where an almost-three-year-old should be. 

I also know it is felt by those around me. Especially those who have walked this journey with us. But somehow I still feel alone, isolated in my grief and frustrated by my inability to just “move on”. My head still needs reminders that I am not alone, even though, deep down it’s a truth I already know. 

In the last two days, the final two days of June, as I brace myself for the start of another July, I received two perfect gifts reminding me there is grace for each day and that I am not forgotten. 

After a full weekend of laughter, bubbles, walks, Monopoly Jr. (which is the ONLY kind of Monopoly that should even exist in my personal opinion), and Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse with two of our favorite tiny humans while their parent’s celebrated their anniversary, we were given a “thank you” gift. This gift was a combination of thanks for taking care of the girls AND in honor of Verity’s upcoming birthday. It is a beautiful sign that says, “Just enough grace for today”. Not only did this gift remind us we are not alone and have our daughter’s middle name represented, but it also serves as a beautiful reminder to me that it is okay to need grace each and every day. 

Days when I feel like I shouldn’t have such a hard time with the month of July…grace. 

Days I am frustrated at life not looking how I thought and dreamt it would…grace. 

When I am discouraged by still having unbearably hard days…grace. 

The second gift arrived today from a friend I have known since college who, although we go through seasons of silence, has always had a way of reminding me I am seen, heard, and loved. This gift arrived in the form of a Willow Tree figurine titled, “Forget-me-not” and a note reminding me that she remembers Verity with me and that she always will. For the second time, in as many days, I was brought to tears over the kindness and thoughtfulness of my friends. 

These gifts not only reminded me to have grace with myself and to remember that Verity is not forgotten but also encouraged me to reflect on the other Julys. 

July 2018 – we traveled to Austin, TX to visit my sister and brother-in-law. My sister has dealt with me her ENTIRE life. If anyone can survive my anger, tears, and dark sense of humor and still come out loving me on the other side, it’s her! So we celebrated the 4th of July and Verity’s birthday exploring Austin and eating our weight in smoked bbq, Tex-Mex, and Hop Doddy’s burgers! We flew home on Verity’s birthday and were greeted with thoughtful gifts from family members, reminding us she is loved and celebrated and she will never be forgotten. 

July 2019 – for the 4th of July we headed out to the Gatewood beach cabin for a few days with our friends (the same friends who gave us the sign). We introduced their then 3-year-old to the Tillamook Creamery cheese sample line and yummy ice cream, played with sparklers, watched fireworks and turned pop-its into ammunition (I’m pretty sure I was the favorite target, at least it felt that way…maybe it’s because their aim was way better than mine). Then, for Verity’s birthday, we went to the Oregon Humane Society just to look and came home with, what I am pretty sure, is the world’s best pup, Kili Kaleo! 

With July 2020 starting tomorrow, I am holding space for the sadness, loss, and grief AND I am also remembering to look forward to the good things I already know the month will hold. We are headed back to Texas (Buda this time) to visit my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. There will be time to relax in the pool, eat really good food, play games and just breathe in and out together, relishing the moments of getting to actually be in the same space. We will celebrate Verity Grace’s birthday AND Kili’s gotcha day, welcome our new niece, and celebrate our wedding anniversary. 

July is exceptionally hard. July has a lot to offer. July is a month of both/and.