Welcome to 30

I stopped writing.

I do that. Stop doing things I love when I find myself at my most lost.

I stopped singing when my Dad died.

I stopped a whole lot of things after the birth of my son as I went through postpartum depression and processed my difficult birth experience. Some of that related to being a new mom; the missed showers, the lack of sleep. A lot of it related to how traumatized I was; the missed laughter, the missed enjoyment of almost anything for a long time.

It’s strange to go through segments of your life like that; where you find yourself going through motions and not really present. Before you know it you’ve lost some indescribable amount of time and some irreplaceable amount of present living and some inexplicable self-deprivation of things you love.

“You need to write about it,” my husband said. He would leave the computer window open to my blog, sitting silently on the screen collecting cobwebs and losing meaning.

“I will,” I would reply, and then busy myself with the comforting monotony of daily life tasks that never find themselves completed.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you write anything,” he would say again urgingly.

“I just don’t have anything to say,” I would lie, and he would pretend to believe me.

And so tonight, I’ll write about it.

The last time I wrote anything was on the eve of my 30th birthday. I was not-so-subtly freaking out about it and I had all these great post ideas about how I was going to reveal my hidden worries about turning thirty, or the things I was actually looking forward to about turning thirty, or maybe even breaking down that terrible list of what a woman “should” have accomplished by the time she turned thirty and revel in what I’ve accomplished instead.

Instead, I woke up on the morning of my 30th birthday and got ready for a hair appointment. In true “oh-my-God-I’m-turning-thirty” style I planned to get a drastic hair cut. I stopped on the way at this very nice French restaurant that serves lovely chocolate croissant pastries and a special Ginger Chai latte and ordered it to go. Only it’s been so long since I’ve treated myself there that they no longer serve the ginger chai latte and someone had just purchased the very last chocolate croissant.

Still optimistic, I continued on to my hair appointment where I showed my stylist a picture of the new cut I wanted, one that required chopping 7 inches off of my hair, adding layers, and adding some red highlights. (Did I mention the whole I-was-freaking-out-about-turning-30-part?) In order to add red, first we had to get out the blondish highlights that had been in during the summer, so my stylist matched my hair all back to it’s original color and than cut off all of my hair. Per my non-chocolate-croissant-eating request. (Side note: I don’t make good decisions when I’m hungry. Or, apparently, 30.) Then we went to add in the red.

And it came out bright purple.

Truly.

Like, Halloween witch purple.

By the time all of this had occurred it was time for me to go pick my son up from school.

With short, purple, wet hair.

Despite my speeding I was a few minutes late to pick up my son who greeted me with a “Mommy, why is your hair purple? Is it for Halloween?”

I got us home and settled the toddler with lunch. I was feeling a bit sick but thought it was probably from the lack of eating and just my general state of being stressed about the day.

I went to the bathroom and then I saw it. All of the blood.

It had soaked through my clothes and the sickness I was feeling was cramping.

And then, I knew.

My husband came home from work about an hour later to find me hunched over, crying, with purple hair.

“I don’t think there’s a baby anymore,” I sobbed.

We quietly whispered our conversation and spelled words between the little voice that asked “Why is Mommy crying?” and “What are you guys talking about?”

“Do you want me to call and cancel tonight? I have something planned but you don’t have to go.”

“NO! It’s my fucking 30th birthday. I don’t want to spend it being completely miserable. This just isn’t how I wanted this to go,” I continued sobbing.

I found myself laying in our king sized bed surrounded by the hugs of my husband and my son and realizing that the short lived excitement of a June 2014 baby would never come true.

I had discovered the two tell tale pink lines on a pregnancy test just a little over a week before. And just to be sure, seen the words PREGNANT on another test. Within a week my husband and I had both discovered and lost a baby.

I called the OB/GYN who put told me to wait for the triage nurse to call. When she called she encouraged me to go straight to the emergency room.

“Why?” I asked. “Can they do anything? Or would it just be for informational purposes?”

“It would just be for informational purposes, but it’s important to know what’s going on with your body,” she replied.

“I already know what’s going on with my body. I’m having a miscarriage” I replied in my mind, but in reality it probably came out more like “Ok, thank you.” I’m an eternal people pleaser.

I talked to my husband about it and ultimately decided not to spend my 30th birthday sitting in an emergency room. I took some advil, splashed water on my face, and went back to the hair salon to get out the purple.

It was, after all, my birthday.

A few hours later my purple hair had been dyed black because it was the only way to cover up the color. It was not the look I was going for but it was styled and curled and I purchased a lovely red lipstick to fully embrace my bold new look. The reality of what was happening set in every time I went to the bathroom and every time I let myself think about it. I found myself crying as I drove home and again when my sister called and my husband accidentally answered the phone.

I had been avoiding all of the happy birthday calls and messages all day.

By 6:00 that evening I was dressed and had fixed my make up. A friend picked me up and drove me to a local restaurant where I was surprised by a group of girlfriends waiting for me. My husband had organized a girl’s night complete with pre-ordered appetizers and wine (which I happily drank. Because, in light of recent events, there was no reason for me not to.)

We laughed and drank wine and told stories. I was so thankful to be in the company of such sweet friends and to find moments of genuine joy in a day that had certainly not gone as I had imagined.

I came home late at night and curled into the arms of my husband. I heard my son sigh in his sleep across the hall and felt my cats curled up at my feet.

And finally, I slept.

Welcome to 30.

My surprise girl's night on my 30th birthday. I am in the blue dress, black belt, and newly acquired black hair and red lipstick .

My surprise girl’s night on my 30th birthday. I am in the blue dress, black belt, and newly acquired black hair and red lipstick .

 

 

 

11 Years

The last picture I have of my Dad and I was taken in May of 2002. I was a senior in high school and was wearing all black and stage make up to perform in my high school musical. I had the leading role and would be going to college on a voice scholarship in the fall.

My Dad wore a red t-shirt tucked into his blue jeans and a belt; his signature style. 

We have our arms around each other and big smiles. 

Then, at 7:20 in the morning on October 5th, 2002, he would pass away.

I kept that picture in a small frame with pink metal flowers for a long time. With me in my college dorm room after I dropped out and returned, changing my major. With me in my first apartment and the first home my husband and I had together.

And somewhere along the way, with moves and with time, the little frame with the metal flowers and the picture of my Dad and I got packed in a box. Packed away as more of a memory than an item to be unpacked and displayed.

A lot changes in eleven years. Graduations, marriages, jobs, babies, moves.

Eleven years feels like a long time. It is a long time. Its an amount of time that allows a lot of things to change.

And people say that time heals all wounds.

I thought eleven years would be a long time.

But today, on the eleventh anniversary of my Dad passing away, I found myself in tears. Sobbing, hysterical tears. Not able to get out of the bed tears. Or talk to my son without crying tears.

I didn’t think eleven years would have felt like that. So I decided to have a regular day. I had 8 hours worth of rehearsal today. And I went to them, just like I was supposed to. And I made a spectical of myself and cried the ugly cry and had to explain that even eleven years later, the passing of my Dad felt as if it had just happened.

How even eleven years later, the wound was fresh and I could remember the details of the entire day. Like the hole in my heart had just been created.

The first few anniversaries of his death I gave myself permission not to do anything. I would skip class and spend the day crying in bed. Perhaps not functional, but it was my own version of therapy and it allowed me to avoid the inevitable embarrassment of public crying.

The anniversary in 2006 was the first one that I actually went about as a normal day. I was teaching in England, and I got up and taught. And the day was actually good.

There have been other anniversaries like that. Where it wasn’t so heart wrenching; it just WAS. I dreaded last year’s the most; the tenth anniversary seemed like such a milestone and a significant time period. My mom, brother, sister and I wanted to commemorate that occasion so we went on a weekend get away, just the four of us. It was a lovely weekend and the perfect way to celebrate and remember.

This year didn’t feel so significant. Eleven isn’t even a significant number. I had rehearsals and regular life on the calendar.

And yet, as it tends to happen with grief, this anniversary took me by surprise and left me inconsolable well into the afternoon.

The people who came to tell me it would be ok at the church rehearsal were older ladies who would say, “I lost my Dad a couple of years ago. I know what you’re going through.”

And I appreciate it. I do.

I can’t imagine that losing a partner would be easy at any point in life.

But we all know that this happens. We know that we grow older and pass away. We know that as we age our parents age, too. We must expect that at some point, in their old age, our parents will pass.

I feel like it’s entirely different losing a parent when you are young. They didn’t get to live their entire lives. They didn’t get to do everything in their careers, or travel everywhere they wanted, or become a grandparent. They didn’t get to be there for all of the things in yours. They missed your graduations, your wedding, and your baby.

I don’t think you know what that’s like unless you’ve experienced it. To have your heart entirely broken and then pieced back together again, every so slowly, and then every once in a while it loses one of the pieces all over again and you feel that you are starting over.

Starting back at the beginning of the most vulnerable time when you lost a part of yourself.

The truth is, I hate this day.

I hate the way that it always makes me remember losing him. I remember the good parts and the bad parts and our family and who he was as a father and a husband. But I remember those parts everyday. Those are the parts I can tell to my son when something makes me think of my Dad, or when I look into my son’s eyes, because I am lucky enough to have a child with my Dad’s eyes.

I hate that it makes me ponder all of the things that could have been different; SHOULD have been different if he were still here.

I hate that this day makes me remember the details of the day we lost him. The sting of that realization, the exact moment when you are told that your whole life is forever changed.

And I hate that I will never know, for the rest of my life, what days it will strike like this. What days the grief will become so overwhelming that you just can’t plaster on your usual smile and get through your day. That being comforted by someone who says “It’s ok” and “I know what you’re going through” seem meaningless because you are absolutely certain that no one knows exactly the extent of your pain or your loss.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It lessens them, perhaps. I’m not grief stricken every day. It’s not as intense as it was at first, or as paralyzingly hard as the very first anniversary.

But when the grief comes washing over you, it unavoidably takes you back to that first place. The first time that you felt yourself break.

And sometimes there’s nothing you can do but to live there until it passes.

I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. I miss you every day, Dad. I love you.

My Dad 2002

My Dad 2002

 

 

 

Get Over It

A few months ago, while visiting my mom, she brought up something she found on Facebook.

“Oh, Julia, did you see that funny picture on Facebook? Of the pumpkin in the labor and delivery unit for Halloween? Wasn’t that hilarious?” 

“I saw the picture. I didn’t think it was that funny, but I thought about you and thought you might like it.” (My mom used to be a labor and delivery nurse.)

“You didn’t think it was funny? I thought it was hilarious. I thought you would like it!”

Why is she pushing me on this?

“I guess I’m still just a little sensitive about my birth experience. That pumpkin is obviously having a vaginal birth, and not everybody gets to do that, so I guess I just didn’t think it was that funny.”

“Julia, you just need to get over it. And the sooner you do, the better,” my mother said in a tone that rang in with a combination of a sigh and finality.

I sat in stunned silence from the sting of those words. Get over it. Get over my birth experience.

Having a baby is supposed to be the most wonderful experience of your life. You are supposed to feel awe and wonder at the amazement of your child. You are supposed to fall into a complete immersion of love as soon as you give birth and lay eyes on this new little person. You are supposed to say that having a baby changed your life, was one of the best days of your life, and you can’t imagine your life being any different.

You are not supposed to say that you had a terrible birth experience. You are not supposed to say that after 7 hours of natural labor and 5 hours of labor with an epidural, that the emergency c-section you had to have made you feel like a failure. You are not supposed to say that you have no memory of meeting your son because you were so over-medicated. You are not supposed to say that you had pain in your incision for 6 months following your son’s birth, because you should be healed by then and that seems like complaining. You are not supposed to say that even though you always thought you would want more kids, that experience makes you never want to be pregnant again. You are not supposed to say that even though you love your son, the day of his birth was one of the worst days of your life. You are supposed to “get over it.”

I grieved that comment for a long time. I grieved comments made by my mom and others in my family who have been insensitive to me about my birth experience. I am aware that the end goal of a pregnancy is a healthy mom and a healthy baby, and I am extremely grateful for the amazing gift of my son. But doesn’t the experience of giving birth matter?

Having a baby is a life changing event. If you have a positive birth experience, it can be awe-inspiring, spiritual, and life affirming (I’ve heard.) If you have a negative experience, it can haunt you, dishearten you, and devastate a piece of your heart.

My mind ran through a list of comebacks, but I choose to say nothing. I chose to sit there in silence and look out the window. I choose to dismiss the comment.

There was nothing I could say to make her understand, in that moment, the impact of those words. There may be nothing I can ever do to make any one else understand the way my birth experience has affected me.

My grief over my birth experience does not detract from the joy I have for being a mother. I feel truly blessed and honored to have my little boy. But I can choose to grieve and process my experience in my own time. It’s ok for me to have these feelings. It’s ok for me to gather the pieces and process the puzzle in my own way. I think that when a profound event happens in our lives, we never really “get over it,” but rather find that it holds less intensity with the passing of time. As a dear friend once told me, “There is no time limit on grief.” I couldn’t agree more.