A few weeks ago I was talking to my friend Jessie on the phone. She and I seem to be on similar life paths. We were thesis buddies in college. She moved away, but we ended up getting married just a few months apart. And this year we found ourselves pregnant with our first child at the same time—each of us having a boy. Shortly after Patrick died, she was admitted to the hospital with severe preeclampsia. She was on hospital bed rest for five weeks before she delivered her sweet boy. When we talked, she had been home a bit. It was almost time for her to go back to work, and she said to me:
You know, I thought the hardest part was getting pregnant—that once I got pregnant everything would be better. Then they diagnosed me with placenta previa. I thought that was the hardest part; I just need to get through that. Then I was put on hospital bed rest for the preeclampsia. I thought if I could just get through that and have my sweet boy, everything would be better. Then he was a premie and was in the NICU for eight days, and I thought this is the hardest part. Then we went home with a newborn, and wow, I thought that was hardest part–getting used to this new little guy, new life. I thought if we could just get through those first few weeks it would be better. And now I have to back to work, and this feels like the hardest part.
Our outcomes were different, but our stories again felt so similar. I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating the many different times I’ve felt this exact same way. I’ve often said that I think that the hard experiences I’ve had in life have been to prepare me for something big. I remember sitting in my psychopharmacologist’s office a week after delivering Patrick and sobbing while I said, “I’ve always known that my struggles were preparing me for something bigger, harder; I just never thought it would be this awful.” I can’t help but think about what’s brought me to this point.
In 1995 I contracted viral encephalitis and mono at the same time. I was hospitalized for several days and told that I’d have a headache for four to six weeks. I thought that was the hardest part, if I could just get through that I could start college and everything would be ok.
A month or so before I started college I realized that the headache wasn’t going away. I made an appointment with a neurologist. He prescribed a few medications, which made me violently ill. The morning I had my first college class I had a follow-up appointment, and I told him they weren’t working, that I couldn’t function in college vomiting every twenty minutes. He stood up, picked up my file, threw it on the desk, and said, “I am the doctor; you are the patient. You have no right to dictate to me what medications you will or won’t be on.” Then he slammed the door behind him. I drove to school. I was sure that was the hardest part.
I found a new doctor. She discovered that I was having seizures, which were contributing to the migraines. She put me on Depakote. Every time she checked levels, it wasn’t absorbing into my blood, so she would increase the dose. I gained 40 pounds in six weeks. I couldn’t function in college, though I tried. Eventually I had to drop out and move home. The doctor recommended that I see a specific specialist in Chicago. I thought that was the hardest part, and that the new doctor could help me.
The new doctor did help, but it took 78 days of hospitalization in 1997 trying to get the seizures and migraines under control. During this time my depression and anxiety was increasing. I really thought that was the hardest part.
In 2001 I moved to Massachusetts. I found a job, but quickly realized that my depression was ruling my life. Something had to give. I had an appointment with a psychopharmacologist, but I needed immediate relief. I checked myself into the hospital. New medications made me quite ill again. I thought, surely this was the hardest part.
We couldn’t find medications that actually helped. I was in and out of the hospital, in and out of treatment programs. It truly was the hardest part.
We tried ECT. Because of my seizure disorder, it wasn’t as effective as it could have been. My psychopharmacologist started to prepare me for accepting that this was as good as it was going to get. That was the hardest part.
A new medication came out, and we tried it. It did help. I started DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Learning skills to help regulate my emotions and my life more livable was absolutely the hardest part.
I went back to college. I self-sabotaged a lot. It was the hardest part.
I worked part-time jobs. I struggled through life, each part seeming harder than the last, with occasional relief. I met my husband, and I was sure things were turning around.
Then I had to plan my wedding while my father-in-law’s health failed. We weren’t sure he’d make it to the wedding. One of my dearest friends died suddenly and tragically (at 7 months pregnant) five days before my bridal shower. I thought that was the hardest part.
The Friday after we got back from our honeymoon, my husband, Lloyd was laid off. That was the hardest part.
Three months later, Lloyd got a new job. And three months after that, right after Thanksgiving, he was laid off again. The next 18 months were definitely the hardest part.
Then we got pregnant. Lloyd found a job. We were feeling relief. Things were turning around. It was short-lived, as the doctors started having concerns about Doodlebug. That anxiety was anxiety I had never experienced before. It was the hardest part.
Doodlebug kept falling further behind in growth. We decided to have some testing done to try to ease the anxiety. That two weeks waiting for the results was definitely the hardest part.
We got the results, and they were reassuring! We thought everything would be ok. The next Tuesday there was no heartbeat. That was the hardest, most devastating part.
Until I had to deliver my son still. That was the hardest part. Until I had to say hello and goodbye in the same day and leave the hospital with empty arms. That was definitely the hardest part.
But then I had to get through the postpartum body stuff and grieve and go back to work and get through my first Mother’s Day. Each felt like the hardest part.
We had to sit through a report on our son’s autopsy. That was the hardest part.
We had to decide if we were going to try again. That was definitely the hardest part.
We decided to try to get pregnant again. Trying to conceive after loss is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
And you know what? I know from reading others’ stories, that getting pregnant won’t make it better. Pregnancy after loss will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That is, until I give birth. Then parenting after loss will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And God forbid, if something goes wrong, that will certainly be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Here’s the thing, though. Each hardest part prepares me for the next hardest part, so I don’t crack under the pressure. My friend Andrea Miller shared this with me after Patrick’s death:
Grief is a heavy burden which is laid on our backs when we lose someone. And then we are told to stand up under that burden and walk. At first we can barely stand, let alone take a step. With every step we take, we stumble under the weight. But we keep getting back up, we keep walking, we keep going.
Little by little, it gets easier to stand and walk. We go longer between stumbling.
Then one day we realize we’ve been walking for so long without falling that it would be easy to think the burden of grief has grown lighter.
But in reality, the burden is just as heavy as it ever was; it is only that we have grown strong enough to carry it. I, too, walk with grief.
My burdens are heavy—not just with grief, but with life. I get depleted and defeated under the weight of it all. But each hardest part really does strengthen me for the next hardest part. Losing Patrick and all that goes along with that really is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. But, I also know I would have never survived it if I hadn’t strengthened my back with other burdens along the way. I can’t say I’m thankful for them, but I am thankful for the strength to get through one more hardest part.