Friday, July 4, 2014

More Lessons From Lamb's Ears: Repeating History

Who here has seen the movie, 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'? Please be raising your hand. You remember the time travel thing right? They have to go back in time to save Ted from being sent to military school and learn life lessons and improve their future selves, etc. Naturally they do it rocking the coolest high top sneakers you've ever seen in your life and jamming to a soundtrack that would make Brett Michaels proud.

In the beginning, the heroes seem totally superficial and focused on a single goal. At the end, however, the characters have gained perspective and maturity, having been taught lessons from their future selves who went back to teach their past selves who are actually their present selves. That junk confuses the ever loving daylights out of me. I watch the movie to absorb new catch phrases to impress my friends with. I digress. My point is that they learn things from their past that change them and help them and make them stronger characters.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you feel like you learn from your past in unexpected ways? If you have a phone booth that transports through time held together by a massive wad of chewed-up bubble gum and saliva of historical figures, send me a pm because I want in on that. I digress further. See what classic films of the 80's can do to a person?

Sometimes I get into this habit of thinking I know everything and that I have learned everything I need to from a certain experience.

A few years ago, after our first two miscarriages, I wrote a blog post. That blog post inspired an article, which I submitted to Motherhood Muse magazine. I remember reading the blog post as I was writing the article, remembering the heartache but thinking how lovely it was to not be in that place in my life anymore. One of those, "thank goodness that is over" moments. I've had a similar experience each time I have re-read that article over the years. I will admit, it hasn't been frequent. I have mostly tried not to think about that time ("the dark ages" as I like to call them). But again, anytime that I did read, I was filled with gratitude that I wasn't in that place anymore and thankful that I now had these experiences that might make me more empathetic to others. I truly, whole-heartedly believed that those particular trials were behind me. Perhaps my experiences from the past would someday be a strength to someone else, but I personally didn't need them. I was done with that. Lessons learned. Character strengthened. Check.

Insert mallet to the head and chirping birds circling over.

Yesterday, while weeding in my garden, I found myself right back in that exact place that I was in almost seven years ago, pulling up those very same lamb's ears, crying those very same tears, mourning yet another baby who should be with me and is not.

I wanted to hop in my Bill & Ted style travel machine and go straight to the future, the space where I know everything again and I don't need any strengthening or fortifying or humbling. That space where I am not filled with longing and sadness. Then I'd like to go back and give my present self a hug and tell myself that it's going to be okay. It's going to get better. There will be better days and peaceful nights.

I don't have that time machine, but I have hope that history can repeat itself in all ways, the bad, the good and the redemptive. I have to believe that my lamb's ears and my heart can heal and become better and stronger and more tender...again.

If you are interested in reading my original blog post, you can view it here:

If you are interested in reading the article that was published in Motherhood Muse, I am posting it below.

Lastly, if you know someone who is going through a miscarriage, a stillbirth or infertility, would you consider giving them a lamb's ear plant and sending them the link to this post? We are not alone in this. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to mourn one.

Lessons from Lamb'€™s Ears

"Why couldn'€™t I have been born with that infamous green thumb?" I wondered to myself. After all, it was certainly a family trait. Virtually everyone on my mother'€™s side of the family was a gardening guru. I wondered why this knowledge had not been implanted in my brain at birth. While weeding in my garden I had noticed that my lamb'€™s ears (which are my absolute favorite of all plants) were starting to brown and wither at the bottoms. I had marveled all summer at how much they had grown, now almost as tall as my azalea bushes. I had never seen lamb's ears grow that large, they were amazing! It surprised me to see that they seemed to be struggling as tall and glorious as they were.

I consulted a gardening friend who suggested to me that the plant might be getting too big for its root system to support. The only solution was to cut back the long stalks and remove some of the base plant. I am sure the look on my face expressed my feelings adequately. I'm sorry, perhaps you didn'€™t hear me?! They are as tall as azaleas! They are amazing and beautiful, how could I ever cut them back?! "€œUm, okay."€ Gulp.
 After delaying a bit I decided it was time to trim them back, knowing that it was the only way that I would save my lamb'€™s ears, which were becoming increasingly brown and withered by the day. It was a sad sight, all those beautiful stalks laying in a pile on the ground, huge sections of lamb's ear up-rooted and removed. What was once so beautiful now looked so pitiful. Ugh, what a mess. For a moment I contemplated reaching down and ripping up the whole plant, roots and all and just calling it quits. After all, the poor thing would probably die now anyway, might as well make it quick. I clenched my fists in frustration at the wreck that had once been my beautiful plant and then sighed. I turned and trudged into my house with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes. So much for Mother Nature knowing best. It seemed all that she did was pick and choose what could live and what would die and there was nothing that I, or anyone, could do about it. My interference certainly had done the plant no good; at least, that was how it appeared at the time.

 My demolished flower bed seemed a perfect metaphor for the past year of my life. Like the lamb'€™s ears, I too had been cut and pulled and left alone. My lamb'€™s ears and I were now only shadows of our former selves. For about the eight hundredth time that year I wondered, "€œwhy"?

 As I sat on the floor in my bedroom, still donning my pair of gardening gloves, the memories of the past year came galloping back at me, uncontrolled, wild and in full stampede mode.

 It had only been a few weeks before last Christmas when I had made that first trip to the hospital. I had already take notice of the fact that my five-month-pregnant belly was not as large as I would have expected, my appetite was no where to be found and I had not felt so much as a nudge from my little belly dweller. It wasn'€™t unheard of but for my fourth pregnancy, it was strange. When the bleeding started I knew, still I don'€™t think I'€™ll ever forget the fear I felt as the nurse struggled to find my babies missing heart beat.
The ultrasound confirmed that our baby had died a few weeks earlier. I was sent to the hospital to deliver. I decided that I didn'€™t want to see the baby afterwards. I didn'€™t want to hold it. I didn'€™t want to know the gender. I didn'€™t want to know the weight or the time of---, time of what? Birth? Death? Delivery? It didn'€™t matter. I felt like knowing those things would only cause more pain.

It was almost four in the morning when my theory was confirmed. The medication I had received after the delivery had helped me to sleep soundly and I awoke to an empty hospital room. Everyone had gone home. There was not a nurse in sight. Down the hall I could hear the sweet sounds of newborn babies crying out to their mothers. I desperately wanted to rip the IV from my arm and run full speed down the halls and out the doors, miles away from that room and from the pain. As I sat on the bed crying I noticed a small table covered with the flowers, cards and candy that my friends had left for me. Next to one of the vases was an unfamiliar yellow box, with a flower on the top. I wondered which of my friends had left that for me. I went over and opened it, only to find the unwanted answers to all my questions. I curled the tiny hospital bracelet around my fingers, trying to be angry at the nurse who had left that box, after I had made my wishes not to know anything about the baby clearly known. Instead of anger all I felt was overwhelming sadness.

As I left the hospital delivery room later that day I remember thinking, "€œthis just isn'€™t fair. I should leave with an empty belly or empty arms; I shouldn't have to leave with both."€ All that came home with me was my little yellow box with that tiny hospital bracelet and a little blue card, "€œBaby Boy Ramsey, delivered December 10th."

What followed was six long months of trying: trying to heal, trying to be normal, trying to get pregnant again and finally succeeding. The first seven weeks of my pregnancy were flawless, maybe a little too flawless. I felt absolutely perfect, normal, as if I wasn'€™t pregnant at all. Then the bleeding started again, the same way it had last time

Again, I found myself on that drive to the hospital. I will never forget sitting at one particular stoplight. It was red, of course, another small delay on my seemingly endless drive, and truly the longest ten minutes I have ever spent. My stereo, as if feeling my surge of emotion, seemed to be speaking to me. All the sudden the lyrics of a favorite song, one I had heard a million times, were written for me, for this moment in my life: "€œI'€™m not okay. I'€™m not okay."€ How very appropriate I mused. I allowed a small and strained chuckle to escape at just how true those words were. I was most definitely not okay. By the time I finally reached the doctor's office I felt so dizzy I could hardly see. My entire mental energy was innately focused on keeping the room from spinning. I could hear the nurse but it sounded as if she was talking to me under water. "€œI'm so sorry dear, there is no heartbeat."€ No heartbeat. No heartbeat. Would I still have one when this was all over? Could I actually die from a broken heart?

I tried not to look at my husband, though I would not have been able to see him through the tears even if I did. This could not be happening, not again. This had to be a dream. I hoped it was a dream.

After all of this how could I possibly be back at this awful hospital, getting ready to go home with no baby? This time there would not even be a box; there would be nothing to have of my little precious baby except the emptiness I would feel without it. How much could my one little heart really take? How were we going to tell our other sweet children at home that the baby that they were so excited for was not coming after all? Why was this happening?

 The two miscarriages were one day shy of seven months apart. For everyone around me, these two days would be entirely opposite in every way. For me, however, these days were marked with the same overwhelming sadness.

 For weeks after the second loss I tried to focus on the good things. I had a wonderful husband and three beautiful, bright children. I had been assured, re-assured and overly assured that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was, by all accounts, normal and healthy. I had been given every pearl of wisdom ever collected and stored for these very circumstances: "you are so blessed to have the children you have." "€œyou are so young, there is plenty of time for you to have more babies."€ ,€"there is a time and season for everything"€, "€œmother nature knows best". These words, spoken with love and concern, and being quite true, still they did not console my aching heart. Truly what could they have said? Nothing short of, "oh I am so sorry, there has been a terrible mistake, your baby is just fine"€ was going to ease the sorrow. Reminders stared me in the face from the cover of every magazine, every advertisement on the television, every novel and every film. Had there always been this many pregnant women roaming through the grocery store? I cringed at the image of times I had walked through the isles with my cart full of my fidgeting children, my pregnant belly a shining beacon in the eyes of some poor woman who had suffered a miscarriage, some aching heart that I wasn’t even aware of. The onslaught of emotions was overwhelming, not only sadness to cope with but also anger, frustration, envy and guilt. I was angry for feeling so sad. How could the sadness of losing two babies that I never even met be so overwhelming that it clouded the happiness of raising the three healthy ones who were right there with me? At times, the emotions felt entirely overwhelming, like trying to swim with all of your clothes on, seemingly impossible and yet somehow doable.

My mind was constantly engaged with questions that appeared to have no answers. What would happen now? Would I be able to get pregnant again and did I even want to? Would it just be followed by another devastating miscarriage?

Now, sitting alone on my bedroom floor, tears streaming down my face I mourned my babies and my lamb'€™s ears, two broken things that I could never put back together. I looked at my gloves, covered in dirt and thought of the baby that had been ripped away from me, the way I had just ripped away part of my lamb'€™s ears. My stomach twisted and the back of my throat ached trying to contain the sobs from escaping my chest. I wondered if I would ever understand why these things happened.

 It was not until a week or so later that I received an answer to that question. One day as I passed by my garden I started to notice the change in my lamb'€™s ears. They were gaining back their beautiful color; the leaves were reaching up and out, strong, vibrant and full. More startling still was what I found in the middle sections where whole parts of the plant had been removed. Little tiny buds were sprouting and reaching up for the sun. New life was forming in spite of what I had seen as insurmountable challenges. I had thought that removing part of the plant would mean the ultimate demise of its entire being. I was wrong. My lamb'€™s ear did not just decide it was not worth the effort and wither away. It did not turn away from the sun and stop absorbing water. It did what it was intended to do. It kept on growing, changing, becoming better. I had removed so much from it and yet, ultimately, it had to lose a part of itself in order to thrive and reach its full potential.

I too now felt prepared to overcome my personal tragedy. I found myself smiling again and recognizing things that I had learned. The loss I had suffered had given me new compassion and empathy for others, tender and soft like a new budding lamb’s ear. The tears I had shed helped build my root system and reminded me of what I treasured most. When I finally let go of that painful part of my life, I was able to fill that space with something new and wonderful. In the end, my beautiful lamb'€s ears grew even stronger than before, and so did I.