Self Confidence In Mourning
Last August I sat in front of my computer, make up smeared from crying underneath my eyes, my stomach twisted + turned in what was the worst pain I've ever felt in my life, trying to attempt to write what I was feeling. I've written this post a million times from a million different view points + have never had the courage to post it until today.
Last August, when I first began writing the post, I was on the verge of a miscarriage. One I'd been told I was going to have at any time now. One that my OB/GYN possibly thought was an ectopic pregnancy (An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself in a place other than inside the uterus - instead in the fallopian tube or cervix - which usually requires surgery so the tube doesn't burst. Terrible side note about ectopics - they are extremely hard to diagnose believe it or not).
As someone who has been married for almost three years, it's inevitable that people ask us multiple times a week when we're going to have children.
WHEN. Not IF.
The question has always been laughable to me (and also, TBH, a little rude). I have known for awhile that I didn't plan on becoming a mother. This is not because I don't love children. I love & get along really well with kids. It is instead my sometimes crippling anxiety, my incredible fear of being pregnant, & of my mind & body not being able to handle it. I never felt in my heart that I was meant to be a mom.
However last year I'd been having some unusual bleeding for a few months off and on coupled with some stomach pain. My doctor wasn't super concerned but wanted me to do an ultrasound just to see if we could see the cause of the bleeding. As luck would have it, I made my husband come with me. This is not something I normally do but - remember that anxiety I mentioned above - it goes to Defcon 5 when I am at the OB/GYN (that's another story for another time) and I wanted him with me in the very off chance that something was actually wrong.
"The lining of your uterus is very very thick. We are going to wait 10 days and if your period doesn't start, we are going to give you some medication to make it start then do a follow up ultrasound. Is there any chance you could be pregnant?," my doctor asked.
Ten minutes later, after peeing a cup I received the news that the reason my lining was so darn thick was because well, in fact, I WAS pregnant. My doctor wrapped her arms around my husband and I and said "CONGRATULATIONS!" I was in a state of shock mixed with happiness mixed with fear. I was whisked away to do some preliminary blood work & told to schedule a follow up in a week for my first official ultrasound.
As the rest of the day and evening wore on I felt something inside me change. The incredible fear & anxiety were still there. I'm not going to sugar coat that - I was full on terrified. But coupled with that was something else. For some reason I pictured myself and my mom walking into Pottery Barn Kids at South Park Mall. Me with a six month or so pregnant belly. I pictured us looking at their beautiful cribs & the rocking chairs and something inside me felt..... maternal? I thought about Christmas and how much I still feel like a child during the holidays. I thought about my husband & I passing that love of the holidays on to our child. I wondered what the baby would look like, if she'd have blue eyes like me with skin that tans easily like my husband's. I thought about my husband's love of the Tar Heels and pictured our baby in Carolina blue Jordan's (girl or boy!) on game days. I thought mostly about what a wonderful father my husband would be, how gentle and good he is with kids, how he speaks to them like they are on the same level, how he loves children's movies just as much as I do despite that fact that we had no good reason to still be watching them. I reached out to a few friends who live in our area, not telling them why, but asking them what churches they attend & if they feel welcomed & at home there. I was already wanting us to find a church we could be a part of as Dusty & I both grew up in church but fell out of going when we became teenagers.
But there was something else I was feeling. A nagging suspicion. A voice in my head telling me not to get excited. Not to fantasize or go too far in my head thinking that maybe I WOULD be an okay mom and maybe I COULD make it work. I told my husband something was wrong & of course being the strong, supporting, loving person he is told me everything would be okay.
The worst part of being told you are going to miscarry or that you might be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy is having no clue what is going on & also, not being the least bit comforted by the fact that your doctors also have no idea what is going on.
But even worse than that is feeling the change in your body before the physical things happen. Waking up and suddenly not feeling pregnant any longer. Waking up and feeling an indescribable emptiness in your stomach + in your heart.
There were so many ultrasounds (one every day other day for 3 weeks), so many blood tests, so many dr's trips where the nurse happily asked "So, are you taking pre-natals?" EVERY time despite the fact that I was told miscarrying or an ectopic were happening and inevitable.
I wanted to rip my hair out at the irony of it all. The gyno's office with all the ecstatic pregnant women and their husbands, the "Fit Pregnancy" magazines, the way the ultrasound tech encouraged me to "look at the monitor!" to see something that was disappearing as we spoke.
When the inevitable finally happened I felt empty & alone. It was a long drawn out process (nothing like you see on TV or in the movies) and I was in so much pain but that wasn't the worst part. I had never wanted to be pregnant, never thought I'd wanted kids yet despite those decisions I felt like a bad person. I thought over and over of caffeine, wine + working out and wondered how much all of those things contributed to this outcome. I thought of how I was in the latter part of my 30s and this might have been my only chance.
I went into a depression that I wish I had the words to describe. It was a depression that sent me crying by just going into the grocery store and seeing a woman with a pregnant belly. It was a depression that, when I was finally able to start working out again, in hearing a particularly moving song in the cycle studio, I was moved to tears and had to leave. There were nights for months I would draw a bath and just sit alone until the water turned cold talking to God and asking Him what was wrong with me.
After a few months of this, I sought help from my primary care physician who diagnosed me with post-partum depression. Yes, the kind of depression many women get after giving birth. Except I didn't have a baby. He said many women who miscarry experience it and that it often goes undiagnosed.
I've never been a confident person. In fact I am the opposite of confident. I'm unsure of myself and sometimes of my place and role in the world. This miscarriage and the post-partum made me even more unsure and more self-conscious. I felt ugly, ashamed, and sad. I didn't like looking at myself in the mirror and when I did I would stand and pick apart all of my physical shortcomings - which somehow seemed more pronounced after being pregnant.
But slowly, very slowly, with the help of my doctor I got better. There are still days when I see a baby and I get sad. There are days when I sit on the couch watching TV and think, there would be a little one in my arms right now if this hadn't happened. And I've found I've reached a threshold where I'm not sure that feeling will ever fully go away. But I do feel happy again. And confident again (well as confident as I can be).
This weekend I was asked by the wonderful local photographer, Lindsay Lay, to model for her boudoir sessions. I felt an itch, a pull, telling me to do something for myself, something that would make me feel good about myself and good about my body again after it was overcome with pain for weeks. More importantly, I wanted to do it for my mental health - as a celebration of sorts of being able to look in the mirror again and not berate myself for all the things I could have/should have done differently.
We are so hard on ourselves. We tell ourselves lies that our worst enemies wouldn't even think much less say to our face. We tear ourselves apart for decisions we've made in the past and for things, like miscarriages, that are ultimately out of our control. We don't do things for ourselves, to take care of ourselves or to make ourselves feel good about the mind and the body God gave us.
My hope for you - the woman (or man) - who is reading this - is that you will remind yourself on a daily basis that you are special and beautiful and unique and you were made for a purpose. You can remind yourself by doing a big gesture like a photo session or something more simple, like not talking negatively to yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning.
I hope that these images show a new version of me - a happier version - because that's certainly how I now feel. Now for a glass of wine that I desperately need after hitting "publish post" on this insanely personal account.
PHOTO CRED: The insanely talented Lindsay Lay.
HAIR + MAKE UP CRED: My amazing, talented #workwife Jaime Spencer of A Well Dressed Life.