Trigger Warning: Pregnancy loss / miscarriage
Quite frankly, 2015 sucked. Nationally, the U.S. suffered from a series of mass shootings; racial-based violence; entire cities having their water supplies poisoned; the hottest year on record; and a racist, sexist bully leading in the polls for a major political party. Personally, I dealt with the trauma of having a miscarriage, followed by the added stress of restrictions on my next pregnancy, my church community going through a difficult transition, and a number of promising professional opportunities falling through. It was a year of crushed expectations, metaphorical doors slammed in faces. It would be easy to say “Good riddance” and not think about it again. But I’m not doing that, for a simple reason – I love to learn, and there are no better circumstances to learn from than terrible ones.
I didn’t feel this way in the beginning of December. At that point, I felt like my life had a tremendous number of moving pieces I was trying to keep in sync, all of which were exhausting and none of which I had any control over. Even though I was always doing too much, yet it never felt like enough. I wasn’t a good enough mother, co-worker, activist, wife, daughter, writer. I longed to have peace and satisfaction.
So I did two things that would have previously been anathema to me; I went to a therapist and joined a personal coaching group.
I had been thinking about the therapy since last year, when I had what I recognized after the fact as a panic attack at Disney. While I hadn’t experienced anything nearly so dramatic since then, Chris saw the toll that stress had been taking on me and encouraged me to talk to someone. I dragged my feet for months, taking weeks to answer emails that should have taken minutes. As a chronic over-achiever, I emotionally felt like getting help was weak, even though intellectually I knew that was bullshit. After all, I’m good at everything else – why can’t I fix myself? But I was too far inside my own head to know what was actually going on; I needed an outside perspective.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what I got with the therapist. Contrary to my Far Side-esque fears, she listened without judgment or even for the most part, recommendations. In fact, the most radical thing she told me was that what I was feeling was perfectly normal. My stress was understandable, considering the year I had been through. My feeling of never being or doing enough is common among folks who become invested in big causes, especially those associated with systematic injustices.
In other words, there was nothing wrong with me. Just hearing that was a relief. While I would want to get help if something was wrong, hearing that what I was feeling was justified (even if my coping mechanisms weren’t great) was so satisfying.
Following on this first dose of self-help, I signed up for Stratejoy’s Holiday Council. I had no idea what to expect, except that I felt drawn to it. In the past, I had dismissed this sort of thing as too touchy-feely or woo-woo. But my feeling of helplessness during the last year made me crave something to help me process it and move forward.
My intuition was right – the Holiday Council was just the thing to fulfill that need. It consisted of three group phone calls, a workbook to fill out and exercises (like posting in the private Facebook group) to complete between the calls. Each of the three weeks had a different focus: the first on looking back during the year, the second on visioning for the coming year, and the third on concrete planning for 2016.
The first week inspired a deeper look at some of the realizations I had come to with the therapist. In particular, the challenge to post a photograph to Facebook that summarized the year brought surprising insights. While I had previously dwelt on the year’s disappointments, I also wanted to acknowledge the beautiful moments I spent with my family. In fact, it was often those joyous times, whether playing in the basement with Sprout or camping in the mountains, that buoyed me through the hard ones.
I finally decided on a photo of Chris, Sprout and I at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, taken by my sister-in-law during our trip to Las Vegas. It was only days after I found out about my miscarriage, but I still have a genuine smile. On that trip, I experienced the freedom of being happy despite the surrounding circumstances. That lesson carried me throughout the year, teaching me how to function in spite of loss and disappointment. When I got pregnant again and then had complications, I found ways to revise our adventures around my restrictions instead of allowing my fears to control me. Sometimes that meant sitting on the ground at the Renaissance Faire because there were no seats available, but dirty pants were better than not going at all. Although I didn’t get a highly anticipated job, I coordinated a complex social media campaign while also launching a completely new website. Although I felt overwhelmed about the future of our church, I started chipping in so the congregation can run the services without a pastor. Reflecting back helped me realize how strong I had been, even when I felt helpless.
While just choosing the photo was a challenge, posting it to Facebook was even harder. It was the first time I had told anyone outside of my immediate family, my church pastor, and the therapist about the miscarriage. I held my breath as I hit post.
But even though I hadn’t been able to speak of it in more than a whisper before, sharing my story with this group removed the barriers I had been holding on to. It enabled me to confront my feelings and write the piece just published on the Good Mother Project. It drew it out of my head, reducing its power over me. Even though I had been haunted for months by those images, writing about the experience was like writing about something that happened to someone else. I wrote that piece on the way up to my parents for Christmas break and was able to talk to Chris and Sprout as I wrote, even occasionally laughing. I can’t say I’ve moved on completely – I don’t think I ever will – but the safe space the Holiday Council provided allowed me to process and then share my story.
I’m glad 2015 is over. But I’m also glad I took the time and energy to consider how it changed me and what that means going into 2016.