When you lose a baby, the whole world seems to just stop turning.
Instead of sunshine lighting up your life, there seems to be this impenetrable, unending darkness. Your once bright and shiny world filled with baby naming websites and cute onesie finds on Etsy falls apart with the simple sentence of, “We can’t find a heartbeat.”
For me, that day happened in September, holding my husband’s hand as we waited in the emergency room for the doctor to tell us what I already knew was happening. Our little surprise that I lovingly called my Sea Monkey was gone after a very short ten weeks. There was no explaining it, no reason that it happened, just a split second of joy turned to seemingly never ending pain. Through my tears as I lay in the hospital bed I could see the pain in my husband’s eyes, maybe a little regret for his initial mental breakdown at the thought of having a baby after only being married for two months, and I knew I wasn’t going to face this alone. Even if he didn’t understand, he was there holding me in his arms and his heart.
“I had it marked in every possible calendar that I could get my hands on in my house, just to remind me and Joe that this was the day we were going to welcome our Sea Monkey into the world.”
That was seven months ago. I still cry, still wonder why this happened, but I can feel myself healing every day that goes by. But this month I faced a new obstacle, the inevitable day of April 11th. This date used to be viewed on a calendar with hope and excitement. I had it marked in every possible calendar that I could get my hands on in my house, just to remind me and Joe (the husband) that this was the day we were going to welcome our Sea Monkey into the world. After my miscarriage, though, I viewed this day with a sadness so deep and dark that I wasn’t sure how I was going to crawl out of it. I used to think that I would spend this day in my bed with a bucket of ice cream and sappy movies on Netflix, unsure of how else to handle the intense emotions that were roiling inside me. It just seemed easier to not deal with anything that day than to take the day head on.
But time, family, and the Army had a way of throwing monkey wrenches into my plan to do absolutely nothing with my life on April 11th.
Back in January, Joe came home from a long day of playing Army (he’s a Second Lieutenant) to inform me that he was heading off to Ranger School two months earlier than expected. I couldn’t believe it (actually I kind of could, he’s awesome and totally deserved the early slot) and once I calculated when he would be gone, it came to my attention that I was going to spend April 11th alone. I didn’t tell him how that made me feel, how unsure I was about having to spend that day by myself. Not to mention I was counting on him to take care of our two giant dogs while I wallowed in my sadness, but that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was that, as my partner in life, I count on him to help me through things. On this day, of all days, I needed him by my side. But as an Army wife you learn that sometimes it’s just easier to not plan on having your husband there sometimes.
So I made a new plan. With Joe gone, I would disappear and do my favorite thing in the whole world and go scuba dive somewhere (I planned on Florida since it is the easiest to get to from where we live). That was before I was asked to go grandparent-sit in Ohio for my in-laws while they went visit my brother-in-law in Australia. After a little bit of a guilt trip from Joe (“They’re counting on you, Tess.”) I decided to change my plans yet again and make the eight hour drive to one of my least favorite places in the world. Now what? I can’t wallow in sadness here when I have two big dogs and grandparents to take care of.
“That was when the thought struck me. Yes, I need to take care of everyone else while I’m here, but I also need to take care of myself. “
That was when the thought struck me (after a nice chat with a very awesome friend of mine). Yes, I need to take care of everyone else while I’m here, but I also need to take April 11th to take care of myself. Laying around and letting the day go to waste wasn’t going to serve me, and going diving wasn’t an option unless I wanted to go to a quarry in a dry suit. I needed to make a plan so that there wasn’t a second of April 11th that wasn’t a celebration of my Sea Monkey and the love that I had for them. And that was exactly what I did.
April 11th started like any other morning for me. I got up bright and early to take my furbabies, Braxton, and Ulysses, outside at 7am. With a combined weight of 140 pounds at the moment, it is hard to think of anything but flying fur and happy, yet slightly violent, bounces. While Uly is completely oblivious to everything around him unless you have food in your hand, Braxton watched me like a hawk. He knew. He always seems to know when my heart is aching. So after putting Uly back to bed, Brax curled up next to me in bed for some quality snuggle time before I decided that it was time to drag myself out of bed for my first April 11th adventure.
I don’t think I am what they call a “yogi” quite yet, but doing yoga classes every day for the two weeks I was in Ohio I think I was starting to get pretty close. Normally I am all about nice, relaxing, deep stretch yoga, with old cheerleading injuries nagging my relatively young body. But I wanted to push myself, do something that was out of the norm of my routine. So, for some godforsaken reason, I picked “Heated Power Yoga”. I started sweating as soon as I unrolled my mat, and after my first downward facing dog I might have started to feel a little bit of regret. Until our instructor started talking about leaving it all on the mat. If you’ve been to a yoga class (and if you haven’t, I totally suggest it) the instructors tend to give you a little bit of enlightenment as you go through your poses. This day, I found my enlightenment. Throughout the difficult practice, with my balance and will to go on being tested, our instructor kept talking about taking whatever was bothering us in our lives and channeling it into our practice, leaving it on the mat and going out into the world with a better sense of ourselves. That’s what I did, I took the pain, the uncertainty, and the pressure to move on and chaturangaed my little heart out. Despite feeling a little light headed and sweating more than I have in my entire life, I left the practice with a smile. So now I call on the overused “Legally Blonde” quote, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy…” so on and so forth.
Also, let’s talk about retail therapy and how it is a real thing. I was lucky that April 11th brought a nice break from nonstop storms we’d been getting in central Ohio, and blue skies welcomed me as I drove with a family friend for lunch at an outdoor mall called Easton. I hadn’t been there since I moved away from Ohio for college and a warmer climate in South Carolina, and I hadn’t realized how much Easton had grown in the years I’d been gone. After such a trying yoga practice, I treated myself to a cheeseburger and a nice romp around the new shops. I am like my mother, in the fact that when I’m feeling a bit down, I like to treat myself to a little something. That day, it was a new makeup palette from Sephora and a dress for Joe’s Ranger graduation. There’s something about trying on pretty dresses and picking out inappropriately named lipstick shades that does wonders for self-confidence, and that was what I had lacked for a long time. I didn’t want to make an effort anymore, what was the point when I was feeling the way I did? But standing in the mirror and putting on a particularly bright shade of purple lipstick and giggling at how ridiculous my reflection was, I could feel that I wanted to make the effort to feel that confidence I used to be so proud to say that I had. I don’t think I would’ve gotten that if I had been lying in bed crying as Rose told Jack she would “never let go”.
“As a notorious introvert masquerading as an extrovert, I needed time alone.”
So my day was going pretty well. At the very least far better than I expected it to. But as a notorious introvert masquerading as an extrovert, I needed time alone. I had gone from a crowded yoga class to an overcrowded mall, and back to my in-laws’ house with Grandma and Grandpa. There were very few places I could go to truly be alone. I thought about all the places that I could’ve gone, but only one of those places made sense to me, and I have no doubt you’ll think it was a morbid idea.
Almost seven years ago, during our junior year of high school, a very dear friend of mine passed away. That was another time in my life where grief took hold of me and refused to let go for months, maybe even years. And then, much like now, I was expected to be the strong one that held it together when no one knew quite what to say to help me. So I made the trek to the cemetery on the other side of town, a bundle of white roses and a cupcake with yellow icing in tow, to visit my friend Chris. As I approached where he’s buried, under a tree that was flowering mysterious pink blooms, the tears started to fall. A celebration it was, but I knew the emotions would catch up to me as I sat with Chris for a time, eating my cupcake and talking about the little life whose birthday should’ve been that day. I needed that moment, to reflect on how I ended up in this place and what I needed to do to get myself through it. Everyone needs that moment, to lay flowers down in a place, cry big fat ugly tears, and leave knowing that, despite it all, you have come through this stronger. The setting certainly doesn’t have to be a cemetery either, just to throw that out there.
April 11th was a day that I will never forget, even if it is for the reason that I wasn’t expecting it to be. Instead of welcoming a baby into the world, I celebrated what could’ve been and did all I could to make it count for me. Would it have been wrong to lay in bed and eat ice cream? No, because who is to say I didn’t turn on Titanic at the end of the night and dig into my leftover Easter candy while I snuggled with my pups? You do what you have to do to get through the tough days and, if by the end of the day, you can say you feel better than you did when you woke up, your day has been successful.
So make your days count, even if it is something as small as knocking out a to-do list or planning a whole day like I did. Take care of yourselves, be gentle with your heart, and remember that there is a little angel watching over you.
Photo credit: adapted from Jimmy Benson | Flickr