When those Facebook memories pop up each day on your FB page, there are days that you skim through and laugh or take a moment to remember an event fondly (and let’s face it… most of what we put on social media is the good stuff anyway). Sometimes, we might see something that makes us sad and there are other times that a picture or memory will come up and it stops you in your tracks. On Wednesday, August 23rd I had one of those days. This picture popped up and I can’t get it out of my mind.
This picture is from the Santa Rosa Marathon in 2015. I had a PR at this race. There was beer at the finish line. The weather was perfect. I was among friends. This is where our lives on FB can appear to be far different than what the reality happens to be. The reality is that I was not supposed to be running a marathon that day. I had planned to participate in a different type of marathon. I had planned to become a mother on August 23, 2015, but instead I found myself running through grief and that grief led to this day.
My husband often teases me that I am too much of a planner. What did he expect? He married a Virgo. One of his favorite stories from our college days occurred on the day that he asked me what if my plan to get married to my college boyfriend, teach in a small community and have the white picket fence with a couple of kids didn’t work out. As usual, I rolled my eyes at him and assured him it would go as planned. Fortunately for him, and for me, that plan turned out quite differently. I didn’t marry that college boyfriend after all. I married that same man that teased me so many years prior – the yin to my yang. I don’t teach in a small community and I certainly don’t have a white picket fence (in fact… we have an old redwood fence that needs removed… please refer someone to do the job in comments ;o), but I still wanted children. Adam was on board for having a kid and he was realistic that with my history of a pituitary tumor that it wouldn’t be easy. He reassured me that if it didn’t work out that we would be okay. After years of never not trying, we finally caved and walked through the doors of a fertility clinic. It eventually worked and we braced ourselves for this crazy life of raising a child. Plans were made.
And then… those plans changed. When we left the doctor’s office, she looked at us with the kindest eyes and told us that she would tell the fertility clinic we would be coming back. Except, we weren’t sure. We decided to take a couple of months to process what had just happened. I also started running and running and running a little bit longer until I noted that the date of the Santa Rosa Marathon lined up with our due date. Running a marathon on this date was my planned closure. The marathon itself was physically easy. My running tank was still awfully full when I crossed the finish line, but my emotional tank was drained. At one point during the marathon I completely broke down in ugly tears and sobs that took my breath away. To get a bit of a grip, I asked the man running next to me if he would just talk to me. Bless his heart… he had no idea what he was getting into, but he heard my whole story and he knew just what to say. Finally, the tears dried up and he informed me that he couldn’t keep pace but that I was going to be okay. When I crossed the finish line, I really thought I would be okay. There was closure. Except there wasn’t.
As a special education teacher, I’ve loved a poem that has been around for years. The name of the poem is Welcome to Holland. You can read it here, but if you want the cliff notes version, here you go… The author, Emily Perl Kingsley, is the parent of a child with special needs. She is asked what it is like to be the parent of a child with special needs. In the poem she discloses that it is like planning a wonderful dream vacation to Italy, except when the plane lands, you are not in Italy. Instead, the plane has landed in Holland and it is here you must stay. There is an incredible array of emotions when you don’t get what you had expected, but over time, you realize that Holland isn’t so bad after all. In Holland, you can have a beautiful life, but you will always wonder what it would be like in Italy.
Looking back at the picture from Santa Rosa, I see a smile on my face, but I’m very aware of my fake smile and that would be it… even my eyes are sad. Crossing the finish line did not solve all my problems. My grief didn’t just disappear. The plan wasn’t working and I didn’t have another plan. Unfortunately, there isn’t a guidebook for heartbreak. Trust me… I looked… and looked… and looked. I also pretended to be okay. I was sad that we had lost something that was so hard to get in the first place, but I was even more sad that in my heart I knew that I would never step through the door of a fertility clinic again. That’s when I learned that there also isn’t a guidebook for mourning the dream of motherhood. Unexpectedly, this ended up being much harder than miscarriage. As a result, I continued to pretend that all was well when it wasn’t.
Eventually, I found myself in such a hole that the people and things I held so close to my heart were suffering because of my grief. My new plan to cope was to reach out for help, even from the scariest or most unexpected places, and to surround myself with people that would celebrate the journey I was on… cause it was not always going to be fun. Unfortunately, infertility and miscarriage are things that people don’t want to acknowledge. I get it… it’s sad and uncomfortable, and it’s hard to find the right thing to say. It’s much easier to pretend that there isn’t a white elephant in the room. The people that shared in my journey back to health were the one’s that simply asked, “How are you doing?” and then… they listened. I felt seen, heard, valued and safe… never judged.
“People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witness. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpful vigil to our pain.” -Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir
So two years later, FB reminds me of where I was and now I see where I’ve landed. It’s just like the poem… I had planned to go to Italy. There would be such wonderful and chaotic experiences in Italy. That kind of travel would be exhausting, expensive, fun, adventurous, and so much more. Except, my plane landed in Turks and Caicos instead. (Side note… not long ago we had a small dinner party and out of the three couples seated around our table, 100% have ridden, or are still riding, the fertility struggle bus. We decided that if the bus eventually stopped for all of us, we would meet up in Turks and Caicos.) So here I am, landing in Turks and Caicos. It doesn’t mean that I sometimes don’t long for Italy, but in my new destination I have learned that life can be just as wonderful. There are times that friends comment on the lifestyle Adam and I live… naps, sexy dinners out, gifts just because, travel, and more naps, and we sometimes wonder if they would like to be in Turks and Caicos too. It’s only natural to yearn for what we’ve lost, whether it’s the loss of the reality that you’ll never step on a lego or the loss of getting to go to the restroom uninterrupted, there is always beauty in the darkest cracks of this tough thing called life. When things get tough and ugly and uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to seek out those that are willing to celebrate the journey you’re on… and if they’re along for the ride, they may have already reached out. If they’re not then move on… you’re not the problem… you’re not a taco… not everyone will like you. Not everyone will truly understand, and that’s okay too… the right people will.
“People in the real world say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will ‘lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end, we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.” Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
Have you ever found yourself in an unexpected place? What beauty did you uncover in your new destination? If you haven’t found beauty in the new place yet, you will. Take your time, seek help, surround yourself with those that matter, and most importantly, be nice to yourself.