It's amazing how much you can plan without even meaning to. It's even more amazing how quickly it can all come crashing down around you.
As my mind continued to wander, my eyes fell on one ornament in particular. The fact that I was able to notice and focus on one is actually kind of impressive, all things considered. See, my Christmas tree is no ordinary Christmas tree. It's my Christmas Tree. I grew up with a tradition that grew more precious to me as the years went on in which every year, I was able to choose one (or two or three or four as as the years went on and I was the only kid left at home) new ornament to add to my collection. As a result, I have a good 10 years worth of ballerinas and teddy bears, but as I took it with me when I left home I continued to add to it, pretty extensively. I should also point out that I worked for a well-known artist while in college, and every year she would have me help her decorate her 12 ft tree, stuffed to the gills with a beautiful collection of vintage glass ornaments. She would always say "the more you put on, the prettier it gets!" And I guess you could say I agreed with her, because as of right now my own collection is up to about 423 pieces. (I'll give you a minute to process that one.) Every year my favorite part of decorating the house for Christmas is when my husband lugs in the boxes (and boxes and boxes) from the shed and I get to sit down and unwrap them one by one. With each piece comes a specific time, place, and memory. Maybe it was one that I picked out while at a craft fair with my mom. Or maybe it's the set of glass characters from the Nutcracker that remind me of the yearly tradition my parents started when I was very young of taking me to see the ballet. Or the funky circus animals with tutus and feather boas. And then there are the precious ones that Jesse made when he was little--cut from paper with cotton and googly eyes pasted on, yellowed from time, but representative of the childhood of the one I love most in this world. Of course there is no shortage of shoe ornaments, bright colors, sequins, or glitter. I've always had my favorites that I hang first, in prime locations and right at eye-level. But last year. Last year I discovered a new favorite. It wasn't one that I brought home from the Briar Patch or found while digging through the piles at Home Goods. No, it was one that was fairly old. About 30 years old, to be exact. This particular piece was added to my collection when I got married, because it belonged to my husband. It doesn't have any glitter, sequins, or rhinestones. In fact, it's fairly simple. It's handmade of 2 wooden beads for the body, brown pipe cleaners for the ears and paws, a red ribbon bow tie, a sprig of holly, and a drawn face and tummy. It's a cute little teddy bear, but the best part is actually hiding on the rear side. Written in black pen is a simple "?" and "'82." My mother in law made this ornament for Jesse, if my calculations are correct, very soon after finding out that she was expecting.
Recognizing that she was already a mother to this baby, she made sure to include him in the holiday celebration by beginning his ornament collection before ever even having met him. Because he was real, she was excited, and
she didn't see any need to wait until his arrival to begin celebrating his existence.
As I layed and stared at the little bear, I began to think of ornaments that I could make and that finally, I would be able to begin a collection for my own kiddo. These thoughts brought more sentiment than I can really even articulate with words.
Eventually I was forced to pull myself from my reverie as the doctor had ordered a blood draw. We went, they drew, and we returned home. It seemed pretty routine and even though I had just seen my best friend go through an early pregnancy loss the month before, I don't remember feeling all that afraid or nervous. The doctor said she would call the next day with the results, and so we went about our evening, smiling and continuing to dream.
And I realize now that it will never feel that way again.
I woke up the next morning, remembering all over again and realizing that in fact it wasn't a dream. Against my better judgement, I took another home test and was incredibly confused when it showed negative. Perhaps it was because it was a different kind of test, but the details were irrelevant as a shadow of doubt had already been cast and from that moment on, I waited on pins and needles for my phone to ring, to hear some kind of reassurance from my doctor.
There are so many moments in this particular journey in which you will grasp at just about anything to give you some kind of peace of mind, something to put your mind at ease. And so you Google and you google and you google and you text your friends, desperate to find something to give you hope. To bring certainty.
But there is no certainty when it comes to life or death.
And so when the phone rang and the medical assistant informed me that I must have gotten a false positive, I was at a complete loss for words. I don't understand. I didn't make it up. It's not like I thought I saw a line where there wasn't one. The stick told me verbatim, "pregnant" in digital letters up on a screen. How could it be wrong?
I felt like an idiot.
How could I let myself believe something that wasn't true? Was I the crazy woman who wants something so desperately that she begins to see something where there is nothing?
Little did I know that this struggle would continue for almost two months. Within a day of receiving that call, nature took its course and I was definitely not pregnant. But something was definitely not right either. It would take me almost 8 weeks to piece together that I had experienced what the medical community describes as a "chemical pregnancy." A chemical pregnancy is generally defined as a very early miscarriage. Sometimes, it occurs so early that a woman may not even know that she has experienced one.
As you might imagine, this scenario is a prime breeding ground for all sorts of doubt, grief, uncertainty, anger, and confusion in the heart of the woman who experiences it. In my case, since I didn't realize what had occurred until some time later, my grieving process was a bit stunted and didn't really catch up with me until after the fact. It took almost 3 months of counseling and a lot of love and encouragement from my fellow baby loss mamas to really deal with this loss in a healthy way and to feel like I had the right to even grieve this little one. Through it all, for some reason, I could not get that morning of day dreaming or that little teddy bear out of my head. As inconsequential as it seems, I kept coming back to it, over and over again.
When we had our second loss in early May, I informed my husband that Christmas was cancelled and under no circumstances was I putting up my tree this year. This may sound like an odd response to what was a very traumatic experience, but I couldn't bear the thought of looking at the tree, immersed in the memories of not one but two lost little ones. Baby #2 would have been due on 12/2. She would have had her own ornament already and it would have said her name and 2013 on the back. And now. Now, I was left with 423 ornaments, but the one that I had hoped for, planned for, dreamed of, the only one that even mattered to me, would not be on the tree. Time and again I had walked the first ornament aisle at hobby lobby, full of pink and blue figures of rocking horses, teddy bears, and "baby's 1st" and thought about what that would be like to bring one home. And now again, that dream was crushed. And so, my husband, being the wonderful man that he is, nodded his head and said "whatever you need, babe." And we could have left it at that, but every few weeks since then, I've brought up the "do I or don't I?" conversation. And really it came down to a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.
Because any way that we sliced it, nothing about this holiday season was going to be easy. And most days I just wish that I could sleep through it and wake up when it's all over.
And so, on October 7th, 2013, when we experienced our 3rd miscarriage in a 12 month period, I made up my mind that the holidays were officially out of the question. I couldn't imagine getting dressed up, laughing and smiling, reminiscing of all the good times we'd shared this past year, and listing off things we were thankful for. Because the bottom line was: I didn't care. About any of it. The food, the tradition, the merriment, the wish list. There isn't anything that I want that anyone on earth can give me. And so.
I didn't care anymore.
Nearly 7 weeks have passed since then, and there are still a lot of days where I don't care. I feel sad and angry. I don't need anyone to spout all of the "right" answers for why this happens and how I'm supposed to handle it.
Because I already know what all of them are.
God isn't doing this to punish us. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. He can see the things that I can't see and is always working for my good, even when it doesn't feel like it. He has given me so much that I do have, and I should be thankful for it. Paul praised him in the midst of great turmoil, and so should I. He allows us to experience trials to bring us closer to Him and to help others who are also hurting.
I know these things. But I would be lying through my teeth if I said that there weren't moments, brief as they may be, that I struggle to really believe and really live in these truths. Nothing about this is simple. Nothing about it is easy. When your very world is shaken and darkness threatens to settle in, choosing to believe these things can be an all out, ugly, bloody, tear-soaked battle.
And that's where I'm at today. I'm fighting. I'm fighting to not let my grief cross over into bitterness. I'm fighting to not let my fear turn to paranoia. I'm fighting to let God into those moments because I am just still so upset with him so much of the time. I'm fighting to believe. I'm fighting to hope.
I'm fighting to not give up.
And some days, the victory is just getting out of bed and getting dressed. Other days, it's making a meal for my husband. And on others, it's reaching out to a fellow baby loss momma to let her know that she isn't alone. And yesterday, it was asking my husband to bring my Christmas boxes inside...
My tree isn't the same. The holiday this week won't be the same--no matter how much good food there is. And this season in general hurts. It just does. I can't go back in time and I can't change it. But I can open the door just a crack to let some hope back in, painful as it may be.
I made a statement earlier about there being a lack of certainty in life and death. And when it comes to our earthly existence, that is true. But I know for certain that I will see my children again when we are reunited in eternity, because I know where my eternity lies.
And for today, that's enough. And for today, that hope is visible in the first 3 ornaments that I decided to hang on the tree. My husband helped me craft handmade tokens of love for our babies, monogrammed and with special charms to represent each unique loss, a promise that we will never forget them and that no matter what comes in the future, they will always be a part of these family-centric holidays, because even though they aren't with us here, they are a valuable and loved piece of our family and we will always honor their memory and do what we can to keep it alive until we meet again.