I was crying. I had just found out I was pregnant. I wanted a big family, but this felt out of control. My oldest was only 8 months old; I was taking medication to battle postpartum depression and crippling insomnia. News of a pregnancy meant I would have to quit immediately and face the nights on my own strength.
Fast-forward three years, and I am crying again. I had overcome the depression and insomnia and took joy in two beautiful sons. But I had just lost my daughter five months into her pregnancy. No heartbeat. A stillbirth.
Another year, and I am crying again. Another daughter lost at five months. Another silent birth; another funeral. Doctors suspect that my husband and I are genetically predisposed to this sort of pregnancy “glitch” that terminates the lives of our otherwise-healthy five-month-along babies.
Life and I have not always been on good terms.
I had imagined that a brood of little ones would come effortlessly to me. Having grown up with eleven siblings, I wanted the joy of my own big family. Even though other kids had gotten to wear designer clothes and take cruises to the Caribbean, I hadn’t envied them too much; the love I shared with my siblings—wild, artless, tearfully funny—was beautiful. And, yes, my parents toiled around the clock for us but not without mastering certain Jedi skills of hard work and good cheer, which seemed impressive and worth emulating.
To have my hopes and plans for life so violently contradicted broke me. Grief, suffering, the finality of biological life and death: Reality has a way of laughing at our expectations.
Yet I cherish these experiences because of the lessons they bore. I believe that life isn’t meant to be confined by fear or distress, but rather lived thoroughly—even the parts that hurt. Pain often feels dark, but the darkness isn’t in an unexpected pregnancy or a restless night, the death of one’s child, or the rocks upon which we shatter. The darkness is within us—in our fears, in the limits we allow to define us. We might run away from the situation, but we cannot escape ourselves. The only way to overcome our own unhappiness, I’ve learned, is to face it head-on and with vengeance.
Daring to Hope
My pregnancies thrust me face-to-face with two very dark realities—fear and grief. With my insomnia and resulting depression, fear was both the symptom and the cause. I learned all too intimately that when fear gets the better of us, we death-spiral into hopeless despair. But when we give up hope, we really do lose the fight. For two years, I went to bed praying and fighting those fears almost every night—not with wits or weapons but by daring to hope.
I learned that the most effective cure to insomnia was faith that, sleep or no sleep, the day would bring its own strength. I refused to let my lack of sleep stop me from enjoying the morning, my children, or anything for that matter. To the best of my abilities, I banished fearful thoughts. The more I did that, the better I slept. Insomnia is now a memory for me—a handy study on fear.
Hope is actually a very natural human trapping—it grows within us the same way hair and fingernails grow. But our fears can prowl through our consciousness like a blade, cutting hope down before it has the chance to take root.
When I lost my daughters, I had to ask myself: Why me? Why such pain? The odds against it are so far-fetched—I am a lottery winner of stillborn children.
I wanted to resent it, but deep down, I already knew better. Suffering is the universal condition of this world. Though my pain took on a particular form, everyone faces their own darkness in their own way and time. When I want to compare lots and claim an unfair measure, I consider that Mozart’s mother gave birth to seven children, yet only two survived their infancy.
I found that resentment felt cold and bitter, like turning my back on the sun and disowning its warmth. I couldn’t own it. Only embracing my grief wholeheartedly gave relief to the love I feel for my girls. I am so grateful for them, for the time we shared, and for the courage that their deaths required of me.
Grieving my stillborn daughters tore me apart internally, but, hidden beyond these shreds of broken dreams, I discovered what really matters in life. There is great beauty and healing to be found in grief—in discovering that our love endures even painful separation. Cradling my dead daughters, letting them go—I don’t know what changed in me, but I no longer fear death.
If I fear anything anymore, it is getting to the end of my life without living up to my own potential—knowing that I didn’t give life my absolute best shot.
I must make peace with a future in which a sizable share of my pregnancies fail catastrophically. I want another child, but how many funerals will there be before our bassinet is filled? My husband and I decided to try again. We prepared ourselves for the fifth month to welcome without fear whatever came—either another death or new life—and thereafter gave birth to a beautiful daughter.
So now my task is that of your average ma—Jedi training, basically: churning through unending chore lists, homework tutoring, juggling all the balls that everyone else keeps dropping (especially the toddler who seems to think it’s funny), making soccer practice, authoring nutritious and timely meals, and observing punctual bedtimes. My latest project is to learn how to enjoy the work—I can just see Yoda exhorting me to greater feats of strength and fortitude. “Now the toilets clean you must, my young Padawan.” Cue the galactic battle hymns!
Find the Strength to Overcome
As I cope with life, this truth stands out to me: Human pleasure is a function of the soul—not the body. Happiness isn’t getting what we want out of life the easy way. I know this because I have tread both routes—very thoroughly—and the data is conclusive. Happiness isn’t found in self-gratification, avoidance of pain, or even chocolate. To my surprise, I have found my greatest pleasure in serving others, in loving even when love is tremendously difficult, and in voluntarily submitting myself to the pain of learning.
When I was crying all those years ago, betrayed by my own body and terrified of the future, it was love that saved me. Of course I didn’t know whether I was strong enough to overcome the darkness within, but it didn’t matter. I would find a way because I had to find a way . . . because my family needed me . . . and I loved them too much not to manage it.
I suspected it then, but I am quite certain of it now; the only thing worth living for, worth fighting for, is love. And if my battles can testify to this truth, please take it from me—whatever darkness ails us, if we love, hope, endure, and believe against all odds that we will find the strength to overcome . . . we will.