Motherhood: It Gets Easier

A few weeks ago, I saw a mom at the gym. She was wearing a newborn, carrying a duffel bag of gear. I watched her walk over to the elliptical, bypassing childcare. She placed the bag on the floor next to the machine and hopped on. As her legs started moving, she used one arm to balance her baby’s head and another to hold on to the machine.

Something about the scene felt both desperate and beautiful to me. I remember those days so clearly - when Chris was traveling and Mac was too little to go to childcare (read: I wasn’t ready for it.) I felt desperate to find time to exercise and it often seemed impossible.

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I yearned for space from him - for time to myself - and absolutely dreaded the thought of him being out of reach.

On my first run without him, I cried. It was a mile! I was a few blocks from the house and something smelled like him and I called Chris to make sure they were OK, asking through tears. I had been gone, maybe, three minutes.

The beginning is so tenuous and tender. It’s beautiful and exhausting and short, but feels long. The raw, whole love you feel for your baby is completely, beautifully, overwhelming. And yet, the way they need oh-so much can be a little panic inducing.

I felt caught in a cycle of praying for time to slow down and also yearning for milestones ahead - like more four hour stretches of sleep and an actual, intentional smile.

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I don’t know, exactly, when things started feeling easier. But I know they did. At some point, your baby starts sleeping and your schedule forms and, before you know it, you feel like yourself again. Not your pre-baby self; she’s gone. But, one, I think, who is a better version. One with more perspective and tenderness and grace.

Years ago, I talked to a girl who is a professional log roller (for reference). She said the sport had taught her about life because, when you get on the log, if you don’t just start going - putting one foot in front of the other - you fall off. The more you step forward with confidence and intention, the more stable you become on the log, less likely to fall off.

I’ve noticed motherhood is a lot like this. You wake up one day and you’re on the log in the middle of the lake. If you stand up, putting one foot in front of the other, you gain a little more confidence in each step. You mostly have no idea what you’re doing, but you keep trying.

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Before you know it, you’re growing and going forward and all of those tender, tiny days seem so far behind. Those shaky middle-of-the-night feeds seem like a distant memory. Was that really my baby crying at 2 a.m., totally inconsolable? No way. Not my happy guy!

There will always be hard days ahead, no doubt. But today, here’s to celebrating you, mama! You survived those newborn days. Here’s to standing up, putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how unstable you felt.

Photos by Kristen Finn

Words for a Miscarriage

We lost the baby.

We aren’t having a baby in November.

We won’t have a newborn at Christmas.

I will never hold this baby in my arms on Earth.

These are the words I said aloud as I stood in the kitchen crying. My sister told me I should try saying them. She thought it might help me process the loss - both physically and emotionally. One of the weirdest parts of having a miscarriage is that your body and brain are so wholly out of sync.

I was nearly 12 weeks pregnant one month ago. I started bleeding and, instantly, knew something was wrong. I called my doctor’s office and they told me not to worry - some spotting is normal. But I burst into tears and the nurse suggested I come in for peace of mind.

As I drove to the office, I begged God for the baby to be OK. I sat in the parking lot, waiting for Chris, and tried to pray for acceptance - to trust that whatever was meant to be, would be. But I wanted that baby so badly.

It’s crazy how much you can love a baby you’ve never met. From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you begin to dream of and make plans for this precious life.

I found out I was pregnant at four and a half weeks. For nearly two months, we’d been making plans for McCoy’s newest sibling.

We’d talked to him about being a big brother. How good he was going to be at it! We had asked him if he thought it would be a boy or a girl (He didn’t confirm.). We told him about what a big responsibility it was to have a brother or sister just 19 months behind him.

We’d made plans to paint the nursery this summer. I’d researched double joggers. I’d looked up 100 different names, saying each one out loud, feeling it on my tongue. How does it sound with McCoy? And with Mac? Do they sound like siblings? Best buddies?

We hung a fourth hook in our bathroom at the same height as McCoy’s. I’d already pictured their precious towels hanging there after splashing together in the tub. It’s these little things - the nearly meaningless physical reminders - that, on hard days, feel like they’re mocking you. They become constant indicators that you bought into the idea that a baby was coming; you let yourself sink into this joy.

I’d pictured Mac going to first grade as this little babe started kindergarten. I’d thought of them holding hands walking into school, with side-by-side backpacks. They would have been in neighboring grades, just like my brothers. I had already written their sweet, best friend relationship from start to finish.

The dreams, the plans, I’d made in just a few short months were endless and beautiful.

But then, the bleeding started.

There is no need to worry, the nurse told me as we walked into the room. She weighed me, telling me we would treat like a normal prenatal visit. Normal, normal, normal. They kept saying it, reassuring me.

But I was down four pounds. I saw the worry in her eyes as she assessed the number. Has anything been different in your life over the last few weeks? She asked. It hadn’t. By all accounts, in fact, it had been normal.

The doctor wasn’t worried, he told us. He would use the doppler to try to find a heartbeat. Spotting happens all the time in the first trimester, he assured me as he washed his hands.

I laid back and watched his face as he searched for a heartbeat. He was calm, passive. I know now that passive doesn’t mean everything is OK. He didn’t look sad but there was no relief on his face, either. As he ordered the formal ultrasound, he assured me, still, that this could be normal. Sometimes, when they are this little, you can’t find it without an ultrasound.

The nurse walked us to the next room. It was 5:30 p.m. and we were the only ones left in the office. It was eerily quiet. We prayed as I sat on the metal table, feeling exposed in the gown, and even more exposed emotionally in the empty office. For one moment, I relaxed when I saw that sweet baby on the monitor. But then, I realized, it had been almost a month and the baby was nearly the same size as before.

Even before the tech checked for a heartbeat, I knew it was the last time we’d see this baby. I knew we were saying goodbye right then and there to our sweet Thanksgiving baby, Mac’s little sibling, just 19 months his junior.

I’m so sorry guys. There is no heartbeat, she said. And I could tell she meant it. I could tell that, even though she’d probably already said this to at least one other couple today, she was so sorry. We cried right there in the cold, quiet room, the lack of heartbeat somehow ringing in my ears.

I had a D&E two days later. The days feel like a blur and, yet, will remain poignant in my mind for years to come. It felt like something we’d held so fully in our hands was suddenly gone, like sand between our fingers, leaving only the dust behind.

If you, too, are experiencing a miscarriage, there is nothing I can say to make it hurt less. There are no words I can give you to take away your pain. But I want you to know a few things:

You might lay awake at night over the coming weeks, picturing the baby you will never get to meet. You might burst into tears at a birthday party when everyone else is feeling joyful (I did). You might be caught off guard by how happy you feel one moment and how utterly sad you feel the next. Grief knows no boundaries and follows no roadmap. It just descends upon you.

This is, dare I say it, normal.

You might also find that your husband moves through this grief more quickly than you do. Chris cried with me the first week or so. But then, he began to move forward. I still had some pregnancy symptoms, like a heightened sense of smell and aversion to food. I was also still bleeding. It felt so odd that he was moving out of the emotional grief, yet my body had not even caught up.

There are also a few things I try to remember when sadness feels overwhelming. Some might be helpful to you, so I thought I’d put them on paper:

  • When I can’t sleep at night, I picture our baby in Heaven. I think of other loved ones we have lost - my grandparents, my dad’s best friend, my friend’s dad - and I picture them holding our baby, rocking her to sleep. I yearn to be the one holding her. I ache at the thought of never feeling her soft skin, smelling her sweet breath. But I find solace in picturing people I love deeply loving our baby until we are someday all reunited in Heaven.

  • I believe this baby would not likely have been healthy or strong enough to survive on Earth. I don’t know. I can never know. But I do trust the doctor’s assurances that there was likely something life threatening that would have made it difficult for this baby to live more than a year. And losing a baby in its first year of life sounds absolutely unbearable.

  • I look for little assurances that this is not the end: the double rainbow above our house. The sun on my face, warming my soul. McCoy’s laugh. There is life and hope all around us each day.

  • I find hope in other people’s stories. I don’t know when we will get pregnant next, but I have listened with open ears to women who have told me, over and over, that they got pregnant quickly after a miscarriage.

  • I know that you are more fertile after a miscarriage. Statistics confirm it. Friends’ stories confirm it. I will not stress about how quickly we will conceive again; I will allow myself to sink into this fact.

  • I find hope in the numbers. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, yes. But just two percent of women experience two miscarriages in a row (source). I hold these numbers tightly in my hands, praying over them, finding peace in them.

  • We memorialized the baby. We planted an azalea in our yard in its honor. I bought a necklace with a November birthstone. It’s close to my heart and reminds me of the life that was. We will not forget the life even as we heal and move forward.

We are trusting that this is not the end. This is simply a semicolon - a pause between two sections of the same sentence.

I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I wish you could escape the pain of a miscarriage. I wish I could hold you, hug you, tell you it will be OK. And it will be OK. Right now, it’s going to hurt. And then every now and then, it will hurt again - out of nowhere. But it will get easier each day.

Take heart, dear friend, there is hope. There is always, always hope. Remember, this is not the end.