I have barely had any sleep in four days. I usually fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow at night, but recently things have kept me awake – thoughts, and emotions, and plans and worries – future ones and present ones– real ones and imaginary ones – for sure.
So there I am in the bathroom at 6 am. I’m knackered and exhausted, sleep-deprived, hair is a mess, wearing a milk-stained t-shirt from breastfeeding the baby, eyes still more closed than open. My three-year-old bouncing up and down in front of me: “Mummy, mummy, can I take this teddy-bear downstairs with me? Can I? Can I?” At that moment, some very sleep-deprived cells in my brain can’t take any of it anymore: “If you carry that teddy-bear downstairs with you, we need to throw away three others. I’m so tired – I don’t want to tidy and tidy and tidy anymore.” She stops bouncing and just stares at me. What? Wait. What did I just say? Where the heck did that come from? Keep that one – throw three others away?! Sweet lord! “I’m sorry baby,” I muster. “Of course you can take your teddy-bear downstairs. It’s yours. Mummy is just really tired,” I manage to say. Big hug. Faith restored.
My babies crack me open – they break me physically, mentally and emotionally every single day, and I love them with a love deeper and truer than I have ever loved ever before: with a wide-open, unguarded heart. So scary! I didn’t see this pain and mess, and beauty and love coming, but it’s here, it’s real. Sometimes the love I feel inside my body is so overwhelming that it spills out all over my edges – it expands beyond my body and seems to solidify in front of my very eyes into a big fat heart-shaped balloon that is about to pop and sprinkle stardust all over the whole wide Universe. A balloon so gigantic I can’t wrap my arms around it. A feeling so vast that I can’t put it into words.
I pray to God every day that my grumpy teddy-bear murdering moments won’t break my tiny babies’ souls before they get a chance to fully explore the world with all its beauty and pain. That they won’t think that I’m the mum from hell or worse, that there is something wrong with them that might have made me snap. Then at the same time, I’m thinking, “well wait – your children, their hearts, their souls, are much more potent and capable than you could ever know – how dare you fathom that you could ever break infinite spirits and their infinite souls with a ridiculous comment like that.” I know. I’m instantaneously humbled. I know people are so so capable and resilient –children all over the world have endured and are enduring famine, disease, wars, abuse, sometimes all at once, and they’ve survived. True, but people everywhere are also suffering from PTSD and need psychiatrists. So?! I’m still really torn.
There is always this tug at my heart – this desire to keep my babies warm and safe and whole – shielded from life’s horrors, tiny or real serious ones – and from “teddy-bear murdering me” mornings.
I want to protect them and be real at the same time. I want to be sweet mum all the time and yet allow myself to have shitty mornings and show it. I want my children’s world to be just perfect, but I don’t want it to be too perfect at the same time either to prepare them for all of what is “out there” and yet to come. The world is a “brutiful” place says Glennon Doyle: beautiful and brutal. I want my children to see that at times this brutiful world breaks me with fatigue, with worry, with decisions – the ones I can take and the ones that are taken for me – with loss, with death, but that it rebuilds me too – us – with friendship, with love, with support, with a random smile. I don’t want to be accountable for my children’s welfare, and at the same time, I just love being accountable for their welfare. All those thoughts and emotions – all rolled into one. I’m trying to be the very best version of me, and I am failing at it every single day. And yet I keep trying – insanity. I would have quit any other project by now under those circumstances, but this one I keep sustaining with all my might. I guess that’s what real love does. It keeps whispering into your ear to try and try again because it’s worth it. After all, you care. It makes you want to keep trying and trying and trying even if you know that you’ll always fall short – mostly falling short of the expectations you had of yourself. And actually, you know that in the end, it doesn’t really matter if you are your very best version or just any decent version of you, because this you that you are is the you that your children call mummy.
Glennon Doyle wrote something along the lines of “as long as you are in there battling, you are doing this living right.” The ones with no heart-break are already numb and dead. Well, seen from that perspective, I’m mightily alive with all those badass emotions and thoughts keeping me awake at night. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this tug at my heart and this inner back and forth leave me with no clue when it comes to being a mum – when it comes to being a wife, a friend, a daughter, a teacher, a woman, … – any and all of what makes me me, really. I’m taking one moment, one emotion, at a time and see where it will lead me – all of us, as individuals and as a family. That’s all there is to it really.
And those are the thoughts swirling around in my head at 6 am after 20 minutes of sleep all night – no coffee yet. “Damn, I can’t have a cup of real coffee, see: breastfeeding.” Fuck that. Break those parenting rules. I’ll have my cup of coffee—just one. So here’s to all the milk-stained mummies out there, to all the ones trying to be their very best – mummy or not – for the ones they love – failing and trying and failing all over again, to great books that keep you sane in the middle of the night and to friends who laugh at your text messages, also in the middle of the night, when irrational worries keep you awake, and you can’t fall asleep.
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Yesterday, at 5 a.m. I woke up with excruciating stomach cramps, and I couldn’t get out of bed without fainting. We called an ambulance, and I was brought to the hospital. The paramedics arrived wearing face masks, and I had to wear one too. I had taken a pregnancy test the previous day. Positive. Elation was followed by fear. What a stark contrast.
I was wondering for a long time, whether I should write this post or not because we are in the very early stages of my pregnancy, but then I changed my mind in the blink of an eye. Of course was I going to write this post. All of me just has to, and here’s why: When I was pregnant with our first daughter, Catherine, I had kept the pregnancy a secret until the end of the fifth month. I had done everything according to the “unofficial rule book.” I had been hiding my morning sickness at work, and I hadn’t talked to anyone about our growing joy. So it took me until the beginning of the sixth month before I posted a picture on social media saying “it’s a girl” revealing our secret and finally being able to openly share our fantastic news. We were elated.
Then only three weeks later, things started to go wrong. We discovered that our beautiful baby daughter, our firstborn, was suffering from a fatal heart disease, very rare, and that she would enter this world stillborn. We hadn’t seen that coming. At some point, I thought, “damn, I wish I hadn’t posted that picture on Facebook, because now I have to tell everyone that we lost our tiny, perfect baby.” Silly me, because it turned out that whenever anyone asked or addressed our loss we managed to openly discuss what we had experienced, and our sharing led to many other people opening up about their past losses and grief – things they hadn’t dared tell anyone before or pain from the past that had been buried deep down in their heart of hearts for decades was finally being partly released. It was the beautiful amidst the ugly that managed to raise its head in that safe space of mutual trust and respect.
So now, four years dowm the line, my only regret from that time when I was carrying our first child is that we didn’t start celebrating every single moment right from the beginning on and that instead we had been worrying way too much about trivial stuff and thinking about the perfect timing for the big reveal. We had been wondering for so long if everything was going to be alright, until all of a sudden it wasn’t alright anymore.
Why keep a baby a secret when it is more than welcome in your life? Why for three months or even longer? Who gets to make all those arbitrary rules in the first place? Losing a baby is just as bad three weeks into the pregnancy as it is after seven months or three years. Sure, the emotional and physical connection has gone through different stages of development, but what all those losses have in common, no matter at which stage they occur, is the sudden break down of hopes and dreams that had started to emerge on the blank canvas of our imagination. Stories we had started telling ourselves since the first positive test about all the adventures we were going to experience with our babies and indulging in speculations about their hair or eye colour, their looks, or character, all screechingly brought to a halt.
What I learned in the past is that in case of doubt, or uncertainty or if you are in a position of really not being able to know what will come next, then maybe choose to focus on the joyful now and share it with others. Brighten someone’s day with your joy. Radiate it out into the world. Then at least the “now” is joyful, even if the “next” might not be. I choose to tickle our babies until they have a belly ache from laughter – I choose to look at my husband and repeat over and over again with a smile on my face: “we are going to have another baby” – I consciously choose to share our happy news in dire times; not with one or two or three, but with as many people who want to share in on our joy. You are so welcome to be part of our journey.
If I am deeply honest with myself, I do feel a lump of fear in the pit of my stomach – a tiny one – it’s there. It’s undeniable. I do know, and I am fully aware of what is happening all over the world right now, and I don’t intend to trivialize all of that grief. What about the baby – will we be able to get the regular check-ups? Will all of this have calmed down by the time the baby will be born? All of those questions are of course crossing my mind, but at the same time I stubbornly refuse to let the fear creep in and get the better of me before my physical health, or my loved ones’ health has actually been impacted. It’s tricky at times to keep the darkness at bay, but we keep choosing the sunshine, and the tiny new baby, and our children’s laughter, and our peace right now. A tiny ray of hope that is bravely saying hello amidst a world of the unknown.
When we lost our first baby daughter, one night my grandmother called and she kept saying: “Why do all those tragedies happen to us? To our family?” But I had never ever considered losing our daughter, or losing my mother, or growing up without a dad, or experiencing my grandfather’s death to be some sort of divine punishment. In the midst of all of this – of this current crisis – and of personal past and future crisis – maybe there is no “Why me? Why my family? Why our country?” in the way that we understand it as some sort of punishment for whatever so-called past sins we might have committed. I am adamant that no matter how excruciating the emotional pain might be, there is and will be the aftermath of unexpected support and emotional and psychological evolution and deep insight, healing, and understanding too if we allow this growth to take place.
After our daughter’s passing, I didn’t see all the trauma and the “why did this happen to us?,” but I saw the messages, the phone calls, the cards – our loved ones reaching out to us and we experienced doctors who deeply cared, beyond their medical duties. We found our gynaecologist call us on his day off, just to make sure we were okay. We had our wedding to look forward to, and we had us. How lucky is that?
Losing our daughter didn’t “happen” to us. She brought us joy and lots of experiences. Yesterday, I listened to a podcast, and there was a stage four cancer survivor who explained that from his point of view, there are no positive or negative experiences – there are just experiences full stop. Our soul came here to experience all of what we are going through, and it’s how we handle our gains and our losses that defines our time here on earth.
Before my first pregnancy, I didn’t know what to make of doctors really. I had this vague stereotypical idea of what a doctor was like, but experiencing our daughter’s heart condition brought us lots of new insights and understanding. We asked lots of questions and discovered that experts are all too willing to answer our questions if we ask. We learned that we were the odd ones out because usually, people weren’t asking that many questions. At least apparently not in our country. But asking questions is imperative. The gynaecologist who delivered our stillborn baby told me: “I’m always wondering why my patients are like sheep in a herd. They never ask any questions. They just sit there, numb, quiet, motionless, like deer caught in headlights.” I guess people being hesitant to ask questions boils down to a combination of several things: fear of the unknown, fear of getting answers that we don’t want to hear, but would rather avoid if we could, fear of coming across as stupid or uneducated, or fear that after asking, we are being left with even more unanswered questions.
If anything, I learned from what we had to go through that we should collaborate with our doctors and medical staff and ask – ask plenty of questions to help them help us. I was confirmed in my belief when I was in the hospital two nights ago: When I was lying in emergency care, waiting to be wheeled up to the maternity ward for further check-ups, the doctor opened a dose of paracetamol and wanted to administer it to me. She went through her motions without any explanations. I stopped her in her tracks, asked what she was about to do and declined the treatment. At first, she was perplexed and went on to say that she couldn’t leave me in pain while I had to wait for further treatment. At first, I was annoyed that she had not even attempted to let me in on her medical plans for me, but then I realized amidst the chaos and hushed voices in the hospital that this doctor too was acting out of fear: I realized it was standard protocol and she didn’t want to be blamed in case anything had gone wrong in the end. All of us want to feel safe and do the right thing at the right time. Especially if it comes to other people’s lives and happiness. In hindsight, I should have emphasized that I’ll take on full responsibility for my medical choices and that she will always be safe. Sticking to our own decisions is so empowering for us and relieving for people who usually need to be fully in charge.
By the time I was wheeled into the maternity ward in the hospital. I had tears in my eyes. The stress in the hospital was palpable, and I felt so sorry that I had unintentionally added to their stress. But then and there, one of the nurses looked at me, I mean, she really looked at me and said: “That’s why we are here. For personal stories and personal emergencies like yours. That’s what nurses, and doctors, and hospitals are for. The world is not all virus right now, although it might feel like it. The world is still also new beginnings and new life and very personal worries.” I loved her for that comment. She had said exactly what I needed to hear. In times of crisis, it’s wonderful nurses, and beautifully calm people, that make all the difference. I felt so lucky. Thank you so much for your kind words, Diane. Thank you to all the doctors and nurses. Due to the circumstances two nights ago, I could experience first hand the pent-up stress and fear regarding the uncertain future events. However, at the same time, I felt confident that there is a capable team in charge that we can rely on in times of crisis and that there are people that go out of their way to brush their own feelings of fear and uncertainty aside to help fellow human beings in distress. Those miraculous people have outgrown their former selves. I am so very grateful to have experienced this comforting side of humanity too. I admire your bravery! Thank you!
So why am I writing all of this? Currently, I am watching a free video series released by Hay House (thank you Hay House , the videos are amazing!). The series deals with the phenomenon of “radical remission,” which is when people beat the odds and fully recover from a usually terminal disease. There are ten practices that radical survivors seem to all have commonly applied after their diagnosis. One of those practices is doing shadow work and walking once more through all those moments that have caused us pain in the past. But this time around consciously – really looking at what had happened and processing the feelings, hurt, and emotions. I have been writing blog posts for a few months now, and only after the launch of the series did I discover that what I was and am doing has a name: shadow work – processing past, traumatizing experiences, and turning them into positive life lessons, using every tiny inkling of hope there had been in those episodes and turning them into life lessons, providing future personal guidance, values, and standards. I hope for all of us that we manage to use the boulders that were put in our way and that we laboriously had to work through to pave our future roads with resilience and memories of growth and goals and expansion – for us and for future generations to come, like for our tiny baby.
We might not know the “why,” but we can apply the “what.” What am I going to do with this newly added experience now and in the future to make my time here on earth more joyful – to turn my loss into gain? Well, we, my husband and I, for one, transformed losing our first daughter into celebrating every single pregnancy that came after that right from the start on. No shame, no regret. No “what if anything might go wrong down the line? It’s still so early…” So what? What if it might go wrong? At least we laughed and rejoiced and got all caught up in positive momentum and revelled in the happiness of the moment for a minute, or a week, or for as long as it might last and hopefully all throughout the pregnancy, and way beyond. For what people forget is that even if you make it through the pregnancy, then there will be your child’s entire life that lies ahead of you and him or her and at any given moment an unexpected tragedy might strike, like the one we are in the midst of. And in times of darkness, we will be so grateful for the amounts of decisive moments and joyful memories we have been able to bag in the past, for it’s our sunny moments that are the bridges we can choose to walk on to get to the other side of this. So do you postpone celebrating life’s joys for fear of anything negative interrupting your happiness down the line? Let’s hope that the answer to that question is a fervent “no.” Let’s hope that we will all find within us the courage to celebrate a new life, or newly found love, or a new friendship or a new hobby, even if there might be a potential disappointment or heartbreak, or full blown crisis like the current one lurking down the line.
To courage. To joy. To tiny babies. To laughter. To medical professionals. And to all that is still good in this world, because there is.
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In response to my post about finding my dad, after I had been looking for him for over 30 years, someone asked me “so, are you finally happy now?”
At first, I was taken a bit aback – are you finally happy now? – it sounded almost like a reproach, although I know it wasn’t meant to be.
After my initial response, I chose to allow the answer to that question to find me – am I fully happy now? Yes and no. And that is the truth – my truth right now.
Yes, hell yes – I am happy to get to know my father, to pick his brain and to discover and uncover who he really is and what he has gone through and experienced all those years – with me, when I was little, and without me, all those years leading up to now.
So yes, that part of our story does make me incredibly happy.
But, there is a “but” – there is a reason why my dad hadn’t been part of my life for such a long time and there are a lot of facts and realities I need to come to terms with right now. Truths that hurt.
For one, I want to point out that there will never be that one magical event that will make a person instantly happy – you might glow from within for longer periods of time during the day, or weeks, or years, because a vital spark within has been rekindled by that sudden turn of events, but a person’s overall wellbeing and happiness comes down to so much more – we have families, friends, jobs, and so many more factors that make up our identity – so a sense of genuine calm and serenity in all those areas is what contributes to an individual’s overall happiness. It’s not “the one life-changing incident” that turns you into a glittering happiness mirror ball over night. People would rather think you have gone mental if it did ☺️🙃
So, “am I finally happy now?” – spending time with my father and being able to gather the missing pieces of the puzzle has certainly contributed to me finding my place in this world and consequently allowed me to access and retrieve a significant amount of childlike happiness and wonder that had been hidden away for so long – but –
– but having to face the circumstances and events related to our story has also been unsettling on so many levels and in so many ways. That’s where the “there is still room for happiness improvement” comes in – That’s why my – our – journey doesn’t end here ☺️ I believe a new chapter has only just begun 🥰
– allowing and accepting the glorious and the painful and dealing with the pieces of the puzzle one bit at a time ❣️☺️
“choosing to remember the love instead.” ❣️
Understand that as you sit here right now, no one has ever thought what you are thinking. No one has ever occupied the space you occupy. Really try to comprehend what philosophers call “the existential aloneness”—that you are alone in the universe, and you must experience that aloneness in such a way that you never allow yourself to feel down or depressed by it. Nobody can ever get behind your eyeballs and feel what you feel and experience what you experience, except for you. You can be in a room full of people and still be alone. You could be making love to the person you adore more than anything in the world, and you’re still alone. You are always experiencing things in your own unique and special way. In all of time, no one can ever get to an understanding of themselves, of the universe, of what it means to be a no-limit person, unless they get to this point called inner peace—and that is something you can never obtain but can only feel inside. Learning to tune in to your own specialness and consult your inner signals will help point the way to lasting and genuine success.
Dyer, Wayne W.. Happiness Is the Way (pp. 81-82). Hay House. Kindle Edition.
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I can distinctly remember a time when I was walking on the beach with my cousin. I must have been about seven or eight at the time, and he was at university back then. While all the other adults were busy talking, he was simply holding my hand, while strolling down the beach. I can vividly recall this memory as if it happened just yesterday. This simple act of my hand being held made me feel seen. It was an act of caring, and to me, it mattered. I mattered. I mattered to another person so much so that he held my hand and silently walked a part of the way with me while everybody else was busy with their own thoughts and chatter. I have never shared this memory with him, and he must have long forgotten, but at that moment I felt protected, and it meant the world to me, and obviously, after all those years, it still does. Now he has a family of his own, and when we visit, I often recall how I felt in his presence as a young child. In those moments, I smile to myself in the knowing that he is a great dad to his girls, because real deep caring, the kind of caring that can be felt by simply holding someone’s hand, is genuine. At least that’s what I believe: I believe that when you feel someone’s greatness by their mere presence, then they are the real thing, and I feel fortunate and privileged to have made that experience at a young age.
I might not be able to remember phone numbers or impress by recalling historical facts, but I accurately remember what people’s hands look like and what their handshake felt or feels like for both speak volumes. It’s the first thing I notice about a person when I meet them – that and their eyes. The state of your hands shows the state of your life. Are you hardworking? Are you taking care of yourself? Smoking? Being artistic? It might sound very superficial to assess a person’s self or self-worth based on what their hands look like, but to me, it makes all the difference. Hands matter. Holding hands matters. To me, holding hands is one of the most intimate things you can do – it states: we belong together; you belong to me, and I am proud to tell the world; you matter and I care about you. How lucky are you if there are people in your life who are willing to make that statement. How blessed will I feel if at the end of my life I can sit with my loved ones, hold their hands and share mutual understanding without any of us having to say a single word? How great would or will that be?
Makes me think of a book I once got from a dear friend of mine: The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have always liked the title: The hand that first held mine… I can think of many moments in my life when I found myself in unfamiliar situations and when I needed someone to hold my hand to calm my nerves and to get me through to the next day or to the next stage. Makes me smile to recall those people who have supported me; who have steadied my nerves by placing their palms on my hands “and heart”. Linked to that truth, I also remember holding my friend’s hand in primary school when we were away on a field trip. We were away for the night, and we were sleeping in bunk beds. From the top of the bunk bed, I was reaching down to her, and we were holding hands until we fell asleep. I adore thinking back to that day. It sounds so innocent and naive, but I find that the most mundane and most naive experiences in life are those that really stick around. In our most unguarded moments, we don’t have any hidden agendas, we don’t try to impress, or comfort, or become, we just simply “are” and back then, in my memory, we simply “were” – we were two small girls holding hands, steadying each other’s nerves, when being away from home for the first time in our lives was a quite scary thing. As adults, our handshakes leave a first impression, but often enough we try to influence the impression we give or “inform” that handshake with a particular “message”: we want to convey to the other person “I am your boss,” “I am the one in charge,” “I got this,” or “I am stronger than you,” or even “please be kind.” What if we all came from a place of innocent, childlike, or heartfelt intention when shaking hands. What if?! What would it reveal?!
So listening to the line “Mi mano en tu mano” – my hand in your hand, in Perdo Capo’s song, makes me think of all the hands I have been lucky enough to have held throughout my time here on earth – the hands of small babies, – some of them my babies-, the hands of dying people, -some of them people I loved and still love fondly and would have preferred to never let go of-, hands of loved ones and sadly enough also hands of people that have later betrayed me. At the time, I was furious, when I found myself in a situation of betrayal or when someone I loved was dying or leaving, because I had shared with them part of my time and showed them affection and all of a sudden they were gone, often without any real explanation or without any means to stop them or prevent them from leaving or moving on. I wish I could say that I have outgrown those distressing emotions and that separation of any kind now doesn’t affect me anymore at all or to that extent, but the truth is it still does. “Having to let go of someone’s hand” still makes me feel very emotional, and it probably will continue to do so for the rest of my life. However, I have come to the realisation that some hands you are holding today might be gone tomorrow without an explanation, either through death or betrayal or for another reason. That realisation in itself is no profound revelation, but as a consequence to that truth, I have chosen to consciously reach out to my loved ones and other people even more, instead of allowing potential heartbreak to make me more fearful, weary, or cautious. The fact that people I appreciate might be gone in the blink of an eye, or that strangers I don’t know yet might turn out to become really dear friends, just makes me want to “hold hands” with those I love and enjoy having around more than ever. And by “holding hands” I don’t necessarily mean physically holding their hands, but I mean a text message, a quick hello, a postcard, a bunch of flowers, or even a careful thought throughout the day, for I believe that even the most humble acts of kindness matter. Even in busy times, small, mundane acts of “holding hands” can mean the world to someone and they might remember your simple act of caring even twenty years later, like in my case, without you being aware of it.
“Tu mano en mi mano” – I know I am not the only one whose memories and emotions are triggered by a line in a song, but it still always amazes me that people can profoundly affect each other without them even being aware of it: Pedro Capo will probably never know (or even care 🙂 ) that his “your hand in my hand – tu mano en mi mano” made me reflect about my first love, my babies, my dead relatives, my loves, my friends, and teachers in life and wonder about the people in his life who inspired that song or whom he must have met when recording or making the video, but it did.
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