That’s me up there, four months pregnant with the baby I lost in December. I remember feeling way further along when I took the pic. It’s one of only two belly pics that exist from that ill-fated pregnancy.
They say by the time you sprout your second or third or, if you’re Michelle Duggar, your 19th kid, your wrung-out stomach “pops” early, making it doubly or triply or quadruply harder to resurrect your abs. This is the sad truth for all gestating women, except Heidi Klum.
I read a description somewhere that likened the bellies of women who’ve had babies to balloons that have already been inflated. New balloons are a bitch to blow up. They don’t give. You have to pre-stretch them and blow like a mother to fill them with air. Your face turns red and the tail can be difficult to knot.
Twice inflated balloons are another story. They swell immediately.
With my second pregnancy, I quickly inflated, then quickly deflated – both physically and emotionally. When it became apparent that I couldn’t repress my way back to feeling normal, I did the only two things I could think to do at the time: I ran and I blogged. More accurately, I ran a lot and blogged just once.
This miscarriage wiped me out. Running made me feel strong again. Blogging – as heavy as that last post was – helped me compartmentalize my thoughts and articulate things I couldn’t in person.
The thing is: I’m a lighthearted person. I cry NOT AT ALL in front of people. Prior to this miscarriage, few people outside my family and BFF of 20 years have seen me cry. In the last five years, I can count two: the veterinarian who euthanized my dog and my friend Kim, who watched me break down over breakfast when my son’s off-the-wall behavior became too overwhelming to handle. “I can barely parent one,” I tearfully confessed. “How will I manage two?”
Despite my propensity for writing blog posts that make people cry, in person I’m a totally un-serious, un-dramatic person. I’m the person making inappropriate jokes in a room full of awkward, serious people having awkward, serious conversations. (Example: I recently photographed the grand opening of a foofy restaurant in Tampa. During the ribbon cutting ceremony, I couldn’t help myself. The pomp and circumstance was too much to take. “Where does one go to purchase oversized scissors?” I asked the restaurant’s overly bubbly marketing rep. “Is there a store that sells giant scissors specifically for ribbon cuttings?”)
On the day that would have been my due date (May 5), I refused to wallow. I refused to walk into my office – the room I had intended to turn into a nursery – and sulk over what might have been, what should have been. Instead I planned a day full of activities for myself and my son.
We started with a drop-in music class in downtown St. Pete, where we danced to infectious pop ditties and rocked out on guitars and pianos. We pounded on drums and tambourines. We plunked out a dissonant duet on a church organ. We got our hands on a cowbell, and we played the shit out of that too. We got lunch with friends at a cool little teahouse and after that, played for hours at a park.
At the park, Henry latched onto a little girl with a similarly high energy level and together they shrieked, giggled and ran circles around myself and the girl’s middle-aged nanny.
“How old is your son?” The nanny asked.
“He’ll be four next month.”
“He’s big for his age!” She remarked.
(I get this a lot. Henry is a Hulk of a child.)
“Do you have any others?” She asked.
“No, just him.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” she said. “My daughter stopped at one too. Kids are a lot of work. Some people can only handle one.”
My face flushed. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Was she seriously making this comment today of all days? I bit the inside of my lip, refusing to take offense, or worse – get emotional. She doesn’t want to hear your sad story. Just smile and nod, feign a small uncomfortable laugh and let it go.
“One day I’ll give him a sibling,” I said, squeaking out a pained smirk. “Maybe I’ll wait until he’s in high school. It’ll be less work.”
She should have kept her mouth shut. Instead I did.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t have two kids. I only have one. The other one didn’t work out.
Earlier this month, I was interviewed by a grad student at the University of South Florida for a research study on grief and social media. I spoke about how my miscarriage post served as a therapeutic outlet for my pain and a powerful resource for women who had been THERE.
“I’m not one for airing all your woes on social media,” I told the interviewer, “but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to doing it myself.”
I spoke about Sawyer’s Crossing – the online photo project I launched after my sister lost her newborn last summer. I explained how moved my sister was by the comments she received on Facebook in the months following her daughter’s death and how she didn’t regret for a second sharing her heartbreak on the internet.
“We grieve differently now,” I said. “We don’t all put on a happy face and soldier on. Or maybe we do, but online we’re able to express ourselves more freely without feeling like we’re burdening people. I think for some people, especially my sister, the comment section on a Facebook thread can serve as the ultimate sympathy card. My Oma routinely reads the sympathy cards she received after my Opa died. It comforts her the same way some people are comforted by Facebook condolences.”
“Is there a line?” The interviewer asked.
“Between discretion and oversharing?” I asked.
I told her my unofficial parameters for broadcasting the cold hard truth: is there a story in it? Will people want to read it? Am I adding something to a particular subject that will resonate with people? Is the urge to share so great that denying it would make me feel crazy? Then yes, I share it.
Life is not a picnic (and anyone who knows me, knows I love picnics).
On the other hand, life is not a pity party. Technology hasn’t changed the way we heal. Social media or not, grief is still grief. You can cry the blues until your entire friend list blocks you from their newsfeed and that still won’t change the way you feel INSIDE. The trauma of delivering this baby, and the loss of his potential, was a harsh lesson in fortitude. In the end I still had to put on a happy face and soldier on.
Life is as terrible as it is beautiful, as funny as it is tragic, as rewarding as it is unforgiving. It is everything and nothing at once. It is what we make of it – a gift, a journey, a highway and every other dumb ass cliché you’ve ever heard.
We are each our own flash in a bright and frantic universe, a body of energy and a canvas of experiences. Whether our bad days are a result of our actions, the actions of others, or things beyond our control, they do not mean the world is out to get you. The world is not out to get you. It’s out to get everyone.
I thought I’d find God this year because that always seems like a good place to start when you’re feeling sad. I found something else instead: resiliency. It doesn’t come with scripture or prayer or even a pedantic promise of a divine plan, and I’m OK with that.
It’s just the pure and simple act of moving on, which is really all we can do anyway.