Forty pairs of shoes. Eighteen bags. Eleven rounds of fertility treatments. Six pregnancies. Two live children.
Since I was young, whenever I feel out of control I unconsciously count things. It distracts me from discomfort. It is, essentially, a coping mechanism.
I don’t do it very often these days. But here I am, sitting on my bedroom floor, counting shoes. It’s quite a fun game, counting the things I have. Shoes, bags, my house, my car. Relatives, friends, my husband, children. It’s quite shocking, really, to step back and see how privileged I am.
I start to cry. And so, I start to count other things. My strength, my resilience, my ability to reach out for help, my ability to feel my feelings, that I don’t need coping mechanisms to “survive” pain.
I can see the shimmer of Godliness that exists within all humans, reflected in myself. Radiated out in moments like this, where I feel so grateful and so sad at the same time.
Eleven rounds of fertility treatment. Six pregnancies. Two live children.
I was just 19 when I found out I had a condition that affects fertility. It wasn’t easy telling my then-boyfriend while we were dating. He took it well, he still asked me to marry him. I was 28.
Herbs, acupuncture, healers… Eventually it was IVF that worked and my son was born when I was 31 years old. I waited nine months and then started again. Medications, injections, painful surgeries… two attempts and six months later, I was pregnant with my daughter.
I wanted another. I again began the needles, the pills, and the pre-dawn trips to the hospital. The first attempt failed, the second attempt worked. At seven weeks I miscarried. I felt disappointed and frustrated.
I decided I hated IVF and didn’t want to do it again. I had an appointment scheduled but I said I wasn’t going to go. That morning, my body woke up at 5 a.m. and I went. My feet walked me there and I started again.
It worked, and I felt excited and relieved. But at 14 weeks I had a feeling that I needed to see if the baby was OK. I got an appointment and the ultrasound technician immediately started to scan the brain. She told me to return the next day to see a doctor.
Two weeks pass, more ultrasounds, more doctors. They all said the baby has abnormalities, survival was impossible, her condition was lethal, and if she was to survive full-term, she’d die within hours or minutes. The recommendation: termination, before the baby dies, causing challenges that are better to avoid. A whirlwind and many more checks later, I am lying in a hospital bed, two pills under my tongue. They bring on contractions. I breathe through each wave. It’s painful but I don’t really mind; it feels empowering to be birthing my baby.
I feel pressure, she comes. I’m alone, my husband is outside praying, and no nurses are around. I scream, “She’s been born!” My husband and the nurse rush in. I hold her. I can see the blood pumping round her fragile body and feel her soul, warm in my palm, in my heart. I cry. I scream. I pray and I bless her.
The nurse brings a small box. She cuts the umbilical cord. I see the blood stop pumping and I feel her soul begin to leave. I place her in the box. I hold it and I talk to her. I cry. As her body becomes paler and limper, I feel her essence slip away. I’m not ready to let her go for quite some time.
I return home a day later. It’s so wonderful to see my children. I have so many messages on my phone. I’m sent flowers, a fruit platter, and chicken soup! I feel so loved.
What’s helped me to connect to gratitude despite so much grief?
Since Covid-19, WhatsApp has become my space for connection. A group of local mothers, in particular, is my lifeline. When I first heard there was something wrong with my baby, I turned to the group for support. As things progressed, these magnificent women were by my side, along with many other loved ones, as well as incredible colleagues who were patient and understanding.
This community created an opportunity for me to speak things aloud as they happened, a tool that greatly helped me process. It’s not easy to do — it’s a muscle that you need to build. A lack of shame about my emotions helped me to do this; I totally accept that my responses to what was happening were and are valid.
Despite all the sadness and pain, I’ve been able to connect to the Source of it all and make sense of what’s happened. I don’t like it, but I see the holiness of it all.
The baby was never mine. She was and is an eternal being that has existed for much longer than I have. She needed a vessel, to come down once more and experience total, abundant love. Perhaps she hadn’t felt that enough in previous incarnations. I don’t know. I was and am her mother, but she’s so much vaster than I am. I nurtured her, but she’s watching over me now.
When a mother loses her child in a terrorist attack and speaks on TV, portraying unwavering faith and supreme groundedness, she’s described as strong.
When someone with a fatal illness continues to count their blessings, they’re described as strong.
Because I can articulately describe my process and speak of my connection to God, in spite of what’s happened, I’ve been described as strong.
Strength in these kinds of circumstances is seen as the ability to keep going, to stay positive, to see a bigger picture, despite grief.
Those things are all true — but what’s also true is that I break down daily, hysterically sobbing. I feel the empty space in my womb and heart where she was and everything around me stops. I am furious with God. I feel betrayed and afraid, and wonder: How I can ever trust God again? I ask myself: What if more grief and pain — worse grief and pain — is to come?
I don’t feel strong. I feel small and vulnerable.
I feel I need to tell people I’m sad but OK. I’m mourning but seeing the bright side of things. Though that’s true, what is also true is the anger and the fog of frustration and fear.
Strength is allowing myself to be this hurt, this non-functional. Not fighting it, or covering it up. It’s not as palatable for people to hear about this side of it. But let me tell you, it takes a lot more strength to cry over and over again, and to shout at God, than it does to count my shoes.
Strength is being authentic and not forcing recovery. Therefore I am strong. Full of tears and really, really strong.
So there you have it. My story. There is grief and gratitude. There is digestible, commendable “overcoming of adversity.” And there is uncomfortable, awkward-to-hold-space-for anguish.
I won’t be the last woman to experience such a loss. So I write this for those women, and for the people who will support them. And for the people supporting me. Mostly, I write this for myself. So I can read it back one day and remember and learn and cringe and commend and never forget my sadness nor my strength.
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