Week 22: Practicing Gratitude
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
When I was going through our miscarriage last Christmas, I remember thinking things like, “I hope all those women who are pregnant right now realize how much they have to be thankful for.”
“I hope they know how easily things could have gone wrong for them.”
These thoughts came from a place of deep sadness and emptiness. I was mired in what had just happened. Unable to recognize anything good about my present. Unable to see the future or even a way forward.
But, let’s be honest, they also came from a place of envy. As Brene Brown writes in her wise book, Daring Greatly, envy is rooted in a fear of scarcity. It drove me to think,
Maybe I’ll never get pregnant again.
Maybe I’m destined now for a life of miscarriages.
Or just the ugly sentiment that,
I can’t stand the thought that happiness exists anywhere right now.
Because I have none of it.
I envied women whose pregnancies seemed to march on without any complications. Their lives seemed so full of good news and overflowing blessings.
I envied them even though I had once been one of them.
I had forgotten that I had been one of those women because I lost sight of all the things that I had in my life for which I should have been grateful.
But with time and space and a partner who helped me gain perspective, I was able to find my gratitude again.
My healthy daughter.
A job with a salary and benefits.
Enough money for our bills and even a bit beyond that.
My mother, still living 10 years after her last cancer diagnosis.
But now that this pregnancy is here, full of its own discomforts and changes in my daily life, I’ve felt that gratitude sinking into the background again.
It’s easy to forget the incredible truth of my present–that I am carrying another human being. That this life grows every day without my guidance or intervention.
Instead, I get frustrated with my weight gain, although it is completely within the normal range for pregnancy.
I get tired of waking up with sore hips and a popping spine, now that I’m sleeping on my side at night.
I get tired of answering the same questions about my pregnancy. Multiple times a day. (Because now that I have a bump, clearly, that must be the only thing that I want to talk about–fodder for another blog post, I’m sure.)
Stupid stuff. All so stupid.
Last Friday, I was scrolling through my WordPress Reader, following the pregnancy tag, which is one of my favorite ways of reaching out to potential new readers.
I came across a blog post that ripped my heart out.
It was written by a woman who has been struggling with infertility for quite some time. With much help, she conceived and gave birth to a healthy girl, who is now a toddler. She and her husband wanted to try again for another, using IVF again. She had been posting for several weeks about being excited that blood tests had revealed that her second child would be a girl. She wrote about North Dakota law’s strange decision that for legal matters, embryos were also fetuses, which made it difficult for her to donate her embryos to others.
She had been using a fetal doppler at home to check her baby’s heartbeat and give herself reassurance that everything was going well.
Then, at her 20-week ultrasound, came the diagnosis.
Her daughter had the worst neural tube defect. A terminal diagnosis.
Her baby had no brain.
No head above her chin.
No eyes. No nose.
Yes, this mother could hear a strong heartbeat because her daughter had a brain stem. Her daughter even had a strong, developing body.
But her daughter was “incompatible with life.”
Three paths now lay before this mother:
1) travel to another state to stop her baby’s heartbeat and have a D&E (because North Dakota has decided that she cannot end her pregnancy in North Dakota. Thanks, state government.)
2) wait for her baby to die in utero, a 7% chance, or
3) give birth to her baby and watch her baby die within days of being born, a 100% chance.
She has decided to travel to another state to end the pregnancy, leaving her toddler at home with family for several days. She freely acknowledged that some parents would find healing and closure in choosing to go ahead with the birth.
But she also bravely admitted that giving birth was not the best decision for her and her family.
As I consider what this mother faces in the next few weeks, my gratitude comes forward.
Not a gratitude rooted in pity. As if I’m thinking, There, but for the grace of God, go I. But a gratitude that her story pushes me to remember just how easily things can go terribly wrong in a pregnancy.
One week, you’re carrying life. The next week, you’re carrying death.
One week, you’re comforted by your baby’s beating heart. The next week, you find out your baby is terminally deformed.
One week, your baby is alive, kicking in your womb. The next week, the placenta mysteriously detaches and your baby suffocates inside you.
One hour, you are in labor, ready to deliver your child. The next hour, your child is lifeless, asphyxiated by a compressed umbilical cord.
These are the risks and the dangers and the horrors that mothers experience around the world.
They are the potential costs of being the bearers of life.
This stuff happens.
It can be easy to forget all of this. It’s easy to assume that all will go as planned. That the OB has it under control. That your body is wise and will know what to do. That as long as you follow all of the recommended guidelines, your child will be born alive and healthy.
But let’s be honest: That doesn’t always happen.
And this truth is important to know and acknowledge. I argue that it is even necessary for us to acknowledge. Because it helps those who face devastating news to feel less abnormal and persecuted. It helps those who are suffering see that they do not suffer alone. Many, many other parents have walked that lonely, grieving road before them.
A healthy, whole, live baby, resting in your arms is not a given. It is a kind of miracle.
So I’m grateful that until this moment, I have been spared devastating news. But that also doesn’t mean devastating news won’t come.
And this is where the hard work of gratitude comes into play.
I could choose to be paralyzed by all that could go wrong in this pregnancy. I could choose to let horrible after horrible scenario play out in my daydreams.
But I choose to be grateful in this moment.
That right now, as I sit here typing, this baby is moving and kicking.
That I can still run 2 miles in the morning and feel better for it.
That I have access to enough nutrition, safety, and medical care to sustain this pregnancy.
That today, I am still pregnant, still sustaining this life.
Today, this moment, is what this child and I have together. And I’m grateful for it.