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.