20 September 2014

Two In A Row: Lessons of Multiple Miscarriages

My baby says she's no longer a baby anymore.
I declare this a year of the baby! Everyone seems to be making their special announcements one right after the other and I can hardly attend an activity or meeting or run errands without spotting pregnant bellies and wrinkly little newborns.

Unfortunately, Jack and I have missed out on sharing any good news about upcoming babies. Twice. In a row. The first miscarriage was sad but it was fast and furious and over within a few days. The second was much more devastating. On top of the torture of wondering whether or not something was wrong with my body, the miscarriage took FOREVER. It interrupted vacations, camping trips, weddings and everyday life and was always there, stretching on for months and months despite our patient efforts to be done with it--it just wouldn't go away (my doctor said she'd never seen one last so long...I'm seriously considering contacting the Guinness Book of World Records).

While it's been a sobering experience, I'm not fishing for pity (sympathy and empathy are fine, haha) it has given me time for reflection, pondering and prayer and I have learned innumerable things from it.  Allow me to share a few:

1.  Have a good cry...
Sometimes, all there is to do is sit down and have a good cry. I'm not a believer that we should never cry, but it is a balancing act. In fact, that usually is the first step I take when I'm feeling overwhelmed, defeated or deflated. The trick is to cry it out, then get up, wipe your tears, and move forward. Steve Maraboli said it well:
"Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness."
2. ...but don't complain.
Just like a garden, too much water is as harmful as too little. The right amount of tears is an effective healing balm. At least for me.
A healthy crying session can do wonders to relieve stress. However, most of life is good and bright and joyous. I find that when I dwell on my problems, become weepy, negative and downtrodden, I immediately start to complain. Soon, everything is dreary and it drags everyone else down with me. As Jeffrey R. Holland once said:
"Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of [my] maxims for living--no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse."

3.  Be happy for others.
I will confess to the stinging feeling of jealousy as it appears that just about everyone I know has gushed about their soon-to-arrive baby. It seems it's a natural, innate quality in humans (or at least me) to be be fiercely envious of those who have what we want. Two miscarriages in a row has given me the chance to work on mastering that imperfect part of myself. It wasn't like I was in line for a child and someone cut in front, taking my baby. When I step back from our situation, I can think more clearly and it is easier to come to the conclusion that someone else having a baby has nothing to do with my ability or inability to have one, which in turn, has allowed me to be happy for others, even in the midst of hoping for what they've been blessed with. Again, Jeffrey R. Holland sums up my thoughts perfectly:
"You are not diminished when someone else is added upon." 
How simple and true (and easy to forget)!

4.  Keep things in perspective.
We often don't understand the reason for the happenings in our life but as Paul said, we are meant to walk by faith.  Partly, it means keeping things in a larger perspective, especially when life seems to be difficult.  It's so easy to focus on a pinpoint moment of sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, etc. only to forget it's a small portion of our existence.  I would have never wished for anything like this to happen to our family but it has and will continue to be a growing and learning experience. As Abraham Lincoln puts it:
"We can complain (see number two) because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."
It's all about how we look at it.
I love this woman's perspective on life, difficulties and challenges.

5. Keep busy.
Between three small children, a foreclosed, fixer-upper home, a cluster of animals and a fairly demanding volunteer church calling, I don't have trouble staying busy. It has been a blessing to not be able to sit and focus on my problems. Sometimes, I just needed something to do to distract me from the grief I felt--people needed and expected something from me. Sometimes, that desire has driven me to accomplish some goals I didn't think I had time for previously. In this past year of trying to have another child, I've run a half marathon, published my first novel, made wonderful family memories, made phenomenal progress on our house, adopted a dog, became a blood marrow donor, donated more blood, hair, time and money, learned new skills and visited new places. While I would have traded them all in a heartbeat for another baby, I am satisfied that I lived life fully and made it purposeful. While motherhood is the highest, holiest partnership I could hope to attain, I am not defined solely by that role. I am my own person, regardless of the number of children I bear.
6. Serve Others
With a trial so personal as something like a miscarriage, it is incredibly easy to become focused on myself. The antidote to self-serving is to serve others. While it seems counterintuitive to visit and help people with predicaments (everybody's got 'em) while I've got my own problems to face, I have always felt blessed for the time I've spent in service to another. For one, it puts my own difficulties in perspective (see number four). I'm not dealing with the death of a family member, a life-threatening disease, family issues, money problems, a war-torn country, religious intolerance, rebellious children or any of the other long list of tribulations that I could be facing. It also has created personal relationships with those who have shared their trials and what they've learned from them, which in turn strengthens me. Don't we all have challenges to face? Being reminded that we all have reason to weep as well as rejoice has been a wonderful review and reminder that we're all very similar and can therefore cheer each other through the times that test us.

7. Be Grateful
Dieter F. Uctdorf said, "How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?" There are always going to be challenges that test and try us. Will we spend out life being bitter and angry every time something goes amiss?

The other day, I was working on the house, enjoying the cool weather, the children playing after my oldest returned from school, and literally thought to myself, "I am so happy." It was an interesting feeling--I was joyous and content even though there are things in my life that are not perfect and going according to plan. It's a difficult phenomenon to explain but you know it when you have it. The first step to obtaining that peace is by being grateful. I have a wonderful, supportive husband with a great job, three healthy, beautiful, hilarious children, horses in my backyard, space to breath and a giant foreclosed home for an art project. What do I really have to complain about (see number two)?
8. Make plans. But don't plan on it.
If things went my way, I'd be done having a dozen children, would have my 17 year old waistline back, live in a paid-for mansion on a self-sufficient 500 acre horse farm and homestead, have written several books, all of which have been made it onto various best seller lists and many of which have been adapted for the silver screen, have several patents and worthwhile inventions to my name, be able to display my Olympic and World Cup medals and trophies in dressage, eventing and probably a triathalon too, have created works of art that sell for millions, solved world hunger, cured cancer, memorized the scriptures, have the Christlike attributes down and have a spot guaranteed in heaven. But, so far, all those plans are still in progress. It is good to have goals, to have a plan for the future so that our life has direction and we can reach our fullest potential, but how often do things go perfectly? Part of the life is learning to enjoy the journey. The detours, the learning curves, the resulting adventures are what life is all about. If I'd accomplished everything my heart desired already, I'm not sure I'd have much to look forward to in the future. Though we're sad that as of yet, we haven't been blessed with more children, anticipation for what will come and gratitude (see number seven) for what we have, what we've learned and what we've accomplished has been comforting.

9. Don't be offended.
I once stumbled upon a conversation between someone I knew and a friend of hers where her friend said an old woman at church had asked her when she and her husband were planning on having children. The young lady, offended that anyone would ask, gave a crude answer about her bedroom life which shocked the woman into silence. Though when and how many children to have is a very personal choice to make, that kind of attitude and response is exactly why people are afraid to inquire after one another, which only separates us, makes it difficult to relate to one another and in turn, to be supportive. We assume everyone else is judging when they ask when in reality, they're more likely excited for our upcoming adventure. Though there have been times I haven't been able to find the words to speak when someone asks me about having more children because I'm so choked-up and sad, more often than not, people have had similar experiences in childlessness and miscarriages. Some people have not and have offered words that were anything but comforting. "You're just stressed," or "It's not your time yet" or "I hope you aren't too upset about it," have been said, straight-faced to me. I felt like bursting into tears but I always waited until I was out of sight. When I think about it though, they really were trying and that's what's important. I've learned from these miscarriages that the best thing to hear is "I'm sorry," or "That stinks," or  "I've been there too." In the end, being offended doesn't help the situation at all--it doesn't make me feel better and it closes my relationships with people who were well-meaning. As far as I know, none of us are perfect and I too have stuck my foot in my mouth more than once. I can give others the benefit of the doubt.
A double rainbow seen from our deck.
10. Believe in miracles and tender mercies.
Around the time of my second miscarriage, there were an unusually high number of rainbows. I'm sure some would dismiss it as a coincidence in weather patterns, but I like to think of it as a small miracle and tender mercy. I'm not able to look at a rainbow and hear my girls' shouts of excitement and not be heartened. So, I try to see the miracles in my life more often. We take so many things for granted and forget that indeed, they truly are miraculous. I had a reproductive physiology and anatomy class in college and though there are millions of things that could go wrong, the creation of life, more often than not, happens flawlessly. What a miracle! Seeing my daughters grow from helpless infants to talented, intelligent, independent beings has also been a miracle. Watching a garden grow, experiencing nature, seeing the stars at night--all miracles. Being bitter and angry reduces those things to seemingly insignificant. Reminding myself that there are miracles and tender mercies if I'm willing to look for them has been a blessing.
While it's easy to read a list of lessons learned, it's harder to put everything into practice. I think about the things I've learned often and will admit to slipping back into my bitter, unhappy, jealous self on occasion. Still, I'm making progress and that's all I could hope for and know that I'm blessed for trying. Life is about gaining experience, both good and bad. In the end, we can only control our reaction to it. For now, I'll keep rereading my list, working hard and looking forward to the future.

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