Monday, June 2, 2014

Grief Makes Room for Gratitude

"I am paying attention to small beauties, whatever I have--as if it were our duty to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world." -Sharon Olds

Don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. I haven't had some Oprah epiphany; I'm not about to tell you that losing a baby in the second trimester is some sort of gift that makes you a better person. The truth is, I think that in one way it may -- that ultimately the deep suffering of this loss I will grieve forever will help me to better relish the gifts of the present and future. But I'm pretty sure that if I'd been consulted, I still would have chosen door number two, which involved a delicious smelling newborn sleeping on my chest in two months.

Caveats aside, here's where I am. There are still moments of raw, relentless grief. It lives in the background more often now, like radio static, with some snippet of the song amplifying in full volume from time to time. When this happens, what I do -- and I am not necessarily recommending this, as for sure some might say I'm only delaying the inevitable -- is, I stuff it back down. I change the station. Right after the loss I let it move right in, unpack, stay a while. But I just can't live with it anymore. There is no good that can come of it. I have already felt the lowest lows, tried to see it in all its forms, as if bringing the grief itself to life, yielding to its physical presence, could somehow give me something more tangible to mourn than a shadowy ultrasound photo. I've cried the tears until the well ran dry. 

What I see, as close as I can come to the Oprah epiphany, is that gratitude is the yin to the yang of grief. When the loss happens, what you do is, you take stock. What do I have that will keep me breathing until it feels like there's more to wake up for than just getting through. In her truly lovely memoir Survival Lessons (which I will from this point forward gift to anyone going through any kind of hell in life), Alice Hoffman writes that when crisis strikes, you strip down to the bare essentials, you take only what you need for the journey. It rings perfectly true for me, and what I've found in doing that is, I see what I have more clearly than before. The simple joys aren't so simple; more than ways to pass time, they're exactly everything you have. And what follows, what you start to recognize bubbling up, consuming more and more of the grief, is gratitude. 

Losing this baby has brought into even sharper relief the true miracle -- not a cliche, a real miracle in the intended sense of the word -- that the one successful pregnancy out of my seven actually was and is. If you've ever felt in reading a post on this blog that maybe I was missing that point, maybe I didn't get that I should be happy with what I have, please know it was never lost on me. But if the memo was signed and sealed before, it's been delivered. I can no longer sacrifice quality of life, the ability to be present, to relish the family we clawed our way to, for a possible second child. Can no longer teeter on the brink of sanity, obsessed over lining thickness, fetal heart rates, placentas, AFPs. I always wondered if I'd know when I'd finally had enough, and now there's no doubt: When you know, you know. Emotionally and scientifically -- I'd say seven tortured, abnormal pregnancies (even if one was ultimately successful) is a pretty decent sample size -- it no longer makes sense to continue this quest with my own womb. And so please join me in wishing my uterus -- my poor, tortured, tested, poked, prodded, medicated, scarred, restored, instrumented uterus -- a very happy retirement, which it will no doubt spend playing shuffleboard and starting happy hour promptly at 3 p.m. each day.

That my own uterus must be released from duty has been as clear to us as anything possibly could be, from the moment the ultrasonographer ran the probe across my very pregnant abdomen and shook her head when I asked if there was a heartbeat. But in that same moment, I flashed to our frozen embryos, and I knew right away that the thing that could break me may not be the loss itself, or the realization that I can never carry another. It may be letting go of those embryos that took so much of our time, money and emotional investment to create, without giving them the potential to become the baby we still long for. We can try to look at the black and white of our finances a hundred different ways, and in no way is there somehow $100,000+ for surrogacy in the end. Not even close.

From time to time, I've seen stories of friends and family altruistically carrying for couples who'd been through some horrible hell trying to make babies. I always felt a tug of envy, not necessarily about pursuing surrogacy, because only with this loss has the idea of someone else carrying for us become the greatest relief, the best idea I can imagine. I think the envy was more that these parents had people in their lives willing to do something so big for them. I didn't have anyone in my family that would fit the bill, and I adore my friends -- they are there for me with exactly the kind of support I need when I need it -- but I just wasn't sure I could ever ask something so significant from any one of them (nor did I feel anyone was obligated in any way to save me from my reproductive plight), or that they'd be in a position to offer. Until one of them did. 

Talk about gratitude. When it comes to this offer, which feels so much bigger than us and makes it possible that this story may wrap up happily, with this huge act of generosity that sets us permanently free from the years of heartache, no words feel adequate. But hopefully -- and yes, I am filled right to the very top with renewed and relentless hope -- I will spend the next year or so trying to come up with the right ones. 

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