On Growth and Grief

My “One Word” theme for 2016 is “Grow.” I picked that word while stifling a smile; I had hoped to literally grow a new baby and therefore literally grow in size this year. I thought I was so clever. But that’s the funny thing about how God works; He so rarely works in the ways we think He will (or should).

Growth never comes through comfort. And there is nothing comforting in change.

The growth of this year has come through discomfort, as it always does. 2016 has been a tremendously difficult year: starting the year off grieving a friend’s suicide, watching my sister and brother-in-law mourn the loss of his father before they had children of their own, hospitalizing my mom for her depression and anxiety long-distance, and now I am wrapping up the year with a miscarriage. (But hey, how about them Cubbies?!)

The strange thing is… I knew. When it comes to my pregnancies, my intuition has been strong. With all three of my girls, I knew it was a girl. 90% of my friends and family guessed Hannah was going to be a boy, and even though I felt like my first was going to be a boy before I got pregnant, the instant I actually was pregnant I just knew she was a girl. To both Becca’s and Lizzy’s ultrasound, I wore the exact same pink maternity sweater because I wanted everyone to know that my vote is “girl.” So when friends asked me about this pregnancy, I wasn’t sure how to answer, because I had absolutely no instinct as to the gender, only the sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to matter because I would never know the answer to that question.

I tried to convince myself that it was the mild depression I was battling that caused me to feel such doom and gloom over the pregnancy.

But it wasn’t. I just knew.

I told quite a few people that I was pregnant because I started showing almost instantly and couldn’t hide it even if I wanted to. But even though this pregnancy had almost the exact same schedule as my pregnancy with Lizzy, I watched the date that I announced that pregnancy on Facebook come and go through my Memories feed yet could not bring myself to announce this new pregnancy because I knew it was futile.

My mom kept pestering me to call her parents to tell them, but I kept procrastinating because—my exact reasoning was—I didn’t want to have to call them back when I miscarried.

I read a fantastic book by Brene Brown on the importance of vulnerability, but the only quote from the book that I transferred into my journal had to do with preparing for loss instead of loving fiercely.

I wrote a prayer on October 1 acknowledging to God that I want to hold my children with open arms (versus clutching them to myself), knowing that they are only mine to grow for a time and then to give back to Him.

When I caught a cold that caused me to pee my pants every time I coughed too hard, I wore pads for several days, and every time I changed one out I thought to myself, oh good, this will also catch the bleeding when it starts.

Not if; when.

And what do you know, that is exactly what happened.

When I did start bleeding, the first thing I felt was not horror but relief. Is that awful? I felt as if I had been holding my breath the entire pregnancy, just waiting to miscarry, and so when the time came I felt as if I could finally exhale and put that stifled energy toward doing what I had to do to get through the miscarriage I had been waiting for all along.

I suppose some may say that my negativity impacted the pregnancy, but I don’t believe it did. I just think I knew from the start that something wasn’t quite right.

I. Just. Knew.

Of course, knowing doesn’t make it any easier.

But I was ready. On multiple levels. Even as the prognosis deteriorated, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly thankful for my past experiences with PPD because of all of the friends I made who also had experienced a miscarriage or two. Though I felt and continue to feel a lot of things, I do not feel alone. I am so thankful for two friends in particular that weren’t afraid to tell me the very graphic details of their own miscarriages, even though the doctors weren’t sure yet that that was what was happening (even if I was).

In this case, knowing the details of the “worst case scenario” was what I needed. I knew how to “do” the best case scenario if the bleeding turned out to be harmless, but I didn’t know how to “do” a miscarriage. Hearing the stories of other women who have been through it and are now standing on the other side of that experience in strength is what I needed to feel strong going into my own miscarriage experience. Their knowledge gave me strength.

So how am I doing? Pretty well, I think. Some days are harder than others, of course. I feel super overwhelmed by my other kids right now, which feels awful because then I go down the road of “If I can’t even take care of the kids I have, maybe it’s better I don’t have another.” I am trying to counter those thoughts as best I can, though not stifle them entirely, since I am guessing this is probably a normal part of the grieving process, to believe it’s better this way.

And yet, as strange as it sounds, grief actually does feel better than depression, in my opinion. In almost all of my depressive episodes I experienced, I never felt like I had a good “reason” to be depressed. But for now there is a very distinct reason why I feel the things I feel, and that feels so very different. And so much better. I don’t know if that makes sense to others, and I don’t mean to downplay grief. Grief is HARD work. But it feels more… purposeful? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what exactly makes it feel better, but it just does.

Perhaps it is because this kind of grief isn’t as all-encompassing as depression. When depressed, there is no relief. Everything is flat and gray. Everything is lifeless. Everything is joyless.

But with grief, it is more of a rollercoaster. I have emotional whiplash a little bit, but it is a much “lighter” sadness because the joy is still accessible, and laughter still feels good. When I told the older girls that the baby died, they asked me exactly three questions; first, “Why did the baby die?” then “Will we have another baby?” And from there one of them immediately asked in all seriousness, “Can we have gummy worms now?” I laughed. I laughed my head off. It was just hysterical.

That, to me, is the difference between grief and depression. In grief, I can still laugh at things that are funny. In depression, nothing is funny. In fact, that innocent question would have made me feel horrible, either like they don’t even care about the pain or even as if I were a bad mom for not teaching my kids to have more empathy for those who are hurting. There are a million reasons the depression would rob me of any lightness in that moment. But in this grief, I belly laughed, and then we all ate gummy worms together.

I still feel tired. Physically, yes, and also what I refer to as being soul-weary. I still want to sleep for hours and hours and hours, but even then, it doesn’t have the same heaviness as depression. As one friend said, “Grief is exhausting work.” It is indeed.

I wasn’t prepared for how badly I would feel FOR others around me. I felt (and still feel at times) so sorry that I am “doing” this to those around me. It took me several days to accept their grief and give them room for their grief without trying to place it on my own shoulders to carry.

I understand now why people wait to announce their pregnancies. Before this miscarriage, I always believed I wanted everyone to know that I was pregnant because I wanted their support even if I lost the baby, as I have done now. My next pregnancy, however, I don’t think I will share with so many people. Having to chase down everyone that knew and update them about the loss—especially in the midst of the most intense period of grief—was absolutely heart wrenching. For my own heart’s sake, I don’t think I could bear to do it the same way again.

I think Chris is doing okay. I guess I don’t really know. We had a good talk right away as it happened where I asked him not to hide his grief from me thinking that it will burden me further. I told him that hiding it will only make me feel isolated and alone; sharing his grief, on the other hand, will make me feel better because it reminds me that we are a team, we are on the same page even in this grief, and we will get through this together. Perhaps he wouldn’t have hidden it from me anyway; I guess I don’t know. But he has cried more in the past 10 days than in the past 10 years of marriage, and it has been nice. (Weird?) I worry for him a little though, because immediately he had to jump into taking care of our kids and the house fulltime while I rested and slept it off, so I am concerned that he is going to have no choice but to jump back into the busyness of normal life without having ample time to process or grieve.

We spent last night at a local hotel just to get away from the kids and be together. Going into it, I confess I was envisioning this touching evening away where we would hold one another and just cry, but we ended up not talking about the miscarriage much at all. In fact, we mostly just goofed around and enjoyed being together. (And there was wine, because hey, not pregnant!) I suspect all of that was probably even better, and probably what we needed more. Again, joy.

I am able to enjoy and embrace not being pregnant too, if that makes sense. We have a longer getaway planned for our ten year anniversary in December, and while planning it several months ago Chris was looking forward to visiting a winery or two along the way, and I had to remind him that I would most likely be pregnant then. Well, now I’m not going to be. A 10 year anniversary NOT pregnant sounds way more fun.

One thing that is hard, however, is that Lizzy weaned pretty suddenly just a few weeks ago, which is FANTASTIC, but now I am suddenly neither pregnant nor breastfeeding for the first time since August of 2013. That is a very long time to have my body not be my own, then suddenly it unexpectedly is again. That sounds like it would be exciting except for the fact that I feel like it wasn’t my choice. I chose to cut Lizzy off, but I didn’t choose to not be pregnant. So that’s weird.

But this now means I finally have zero dietary restrictions, which is not helpful going into the holidays after the 10 pounds I already gained during the pregnancy. Ha. None of my pants fit. Oh well.

And yet, I was unprepared for how quickly my body would go back to not-pregnant-looking. You can’t tell I was 10 weeks pregnant just a week and a half ago. It feels strange to have my body “move on” before my heart is ready to.

So what’s next? I don’t really know. We will try again, yes, and probably not after too long because I am starting to feel old and don’t want to do this baby thing forever. But I also suspect I have some hormonal issues that need to be worked out first. I know blame is part of the grieving processes, so it has been my knee-jerk reaction to blame myself for not fixing the problems I knew I had or to blame the doctors that I asked for help that didn’t help me.

But I am mostly able to move past blaming now, primarily because I feel this sense of peace over the fact that this is the next chapter in my story, and it doesn’t really matter whose “fault” it is, because this is how God is writing the script and nothing I did or didn’t do changes that.

I have felt this kind of peace only twice in my life—now, and also immediately upon hearing the news that a close friend of mine from high school had been killed on his military base while trying to break up a fight. The instant I heard the news, my first thought was, “Of course. Of course this is his story. Of course this is how God wanted his story to go.” The circumstances of his death just… made sense to me? It didn’t change how incredibly awful it was, and it didn’t make grieving any easier, just like now. But it is a different mindset, I’m guessing, than when you haven’t yet accepted that this is the story that is being written. I feel as if I skipped the denial stage in both instances.

It is strange to know that a miscarriage tends to be a somewhat significant life event. Not necessarily life-defining, but life-altering to some extent. I feel a little lost in the middle, then, in-between the before and after, as if I am currently swinging from the hinges. But I guess that’s okay.

I look forward to the “after,” knowing that it is coming. Again, I see the difference between grief and depression. Depression feels permanent; it has always been this way and will always be this way. This grief, though a permanent part of my life now, will change. It’s a process. And knowing that, I feel freer to ride the waves of grief as they come, knowing that the tides will change tomorrow.

And so… growth. All of this is growth. With plenty of growing pains. But growth nonetheless. As my best friend pointed out, I am in the best place I could be to walk through the valley of grief right now. I’ve never been stronger or healthier emotionally to do this grief thing well. In the past, it would have probably swallowed me whole. But now I know more about how to live wholeheartedly, embracing all the joys and the sorrows and not letting one overwhelm me.

I want to grieve well, and live well as I grieve…

Knowing that I am okay.

 

And that even when I’m not, I will be soon.

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About kneumair

Karen Neumair is a lover of God and a lover of words, especially when those two things come together. She has experienced multiple depressive episodes in her life, most severely after the birth of her second daughter, but is overwhelmingly thankful for how God has used her depression to teach her more about Who He is (and who she isn’t). Wife to Chris and Mommy to Hannah, Becca, and baby Lizzy.
This entry was posted in Depression, Motherhood, Spiritual Growth. Bookmark the permalink.

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