I thought I was cured. I thought I was whole. After several years of intensive psychotherapy, I had at long last come to terms with my past. The terms were delicate, but I felt stronger. I felt better equipped to handle life’s daily challenges. I had gained an understanding of how my disorderly upbringing informed my behavior as a young woman and beyond, and I’d learned how to alter that behavior and improve my character. Along the way, I’d achieved success as a top sales producer for Apple and Xerox. I owned an apartment in glorious San Francisco. I had a loyal, hard working husband, and a healthy, precocious daughter. Life was good.
Then I got pregnant. My daughter was four at the time, and I had given up my career in the high-tech industry when she was born to devote myself to her. I worked part-time here and there while juggling the tasks required of a mother of a young child but the work was menial and the industries were far less prestigious than what I was accustomed to. I had thrived in my previous positions. The responsibilities I had at the two companies were demanding. They were also exciting, and I was rewarded for my efforts with fat paychecks and great bonuses. The part-time work? It left me down. It convinced me I wasn’t capable. But it was only part-time. It was doable.
When we learned we were having a second child, however, we also realized we needed more money. My husband suggested I take a full-time position that was below my capabilities. I said yes to please him, even though the mere thought of the job depressed me. The profound lack of self-esteem I had endured as a child returned. Like nearly all children who have been abused or neglected or both, I had a tremendously difficult time saying no. I was desperate for love and security, and if that meant making sacrifices to please others, so be it.
I was forty-two when I became pregnant with my son. Forty-two and spent working and caring for a husband and a child and another one on the way. Four months into my pregnancy, I started to bleed. In retrospect, I should have been put on bed rest (and to this day, I question the competency of the doctor I was seeing at the time). Instead, I pushed through and continued my long days and late hours. I continued dismissing the signs my body was telling me. It was failing me, and I overate to find temporary relief from depression and anxiety. After all, I could not fail.
Another two miserable months went by when my water broke. I was rushed to the hospital. Flattened on my back, I heard the concern around me. Bleeding to death was not out of the realm of possibility. After a few days of hospitalization, my son arrived. My Luca. He only weighed a pound but he had two tiny perfect hands, two tiny perfect feet, and miniature nails in the shape of crescent moons. He also had a head of dark, lustrous hair, and lungs that were too underdeveloped to survive the traumatic departure from my womb. He died trying.
I wasn’t new to agony. I wasn’t new to facing tragedy. Losing a baby, however, was a completely different hardship. The despair was acute—I couldn’t get away from it. I quit my job, I nearly quit my marriage, and I went into hiding. For five dark years, I was in a stupor. I delved into spiritual tomes with the hunger of someone on death row. It didn’t matter how much I read, though. I couldn’t find light if I were outside under a mammoth sun. I had no hope, no faith, no desire to connect with others, and very little desire to live on. What kept me breathing was my daughter. She was too young to understand the ramifications of loss but she intuited my anguish. Rarely did she want me out of her sight.
I emerged from the well of grief, fragile but somewhat intact. I began noticing the beauty of small things—a rose in bloom, the fog rolling in from the city, the charming sound of a young couple laughing over a private joke. I began taking care of myself again, and going for long walks in the redwoods behind my home.
I also began to get very, very angry.
I realized how I had betrayed myself. I had stopped listening to my intuition long before Luca’s conception. I knew, deep down, that I still had work to do to truly heal and become whole and reconcile with my past. I knew it was dangerous to have a child in my early forties. I knew that agreeing to a job that left me spiritually drained and physically depleted would jeopardize my health and the health of my unborn child. On some level, I knew that it would end tragically.
It’s not uncommon for women to dismiss their worries and needs. I can now only hope that the price I paid for silencing my intuition will inspire others to pay special attention to theirs. And so I offer you this:
—Follow your heart. It’s a basic rule and often repeated because it’s true. Act outside of what you intuitively know is wrong and consequences will ensue.
—Be mindful of triggers that create anxiety or deepen depression. Perhaps it’s a song that sets you back. If it comes on the radio, turn it off. Perhaps there’s a time of day that reminds you profoundly of your loss. Fill that space of time with an activity that brings you peace.
—Persevere through creative expression. Maybe journaling is your thing. Maybe you love painting. The form doesn’t matter; what matters is that you do something with your pain rather than flounder in it.
—Stave off panic through meditation. Too often we turn to distractions to still our anxiety, from a glass of wine to overeating, which offer only temporary relief (if any) from our discomfort. Practice the art of stillness and breathe deeply and you’ll find that your mind will calm down on its own. Your body will follow suit.
—Keep in mind that the only love that will never leave you is the love you have for yourself. Don’t resist this—relish it, and happiness will soon follow.
The death of Luca was tragic, and there is no doubt my grief will persist. That said, it’s possible to use a tragic event as an incentive for growth and discovery. I did. And I know you can too.
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