There is a clear "before" and a clear "after."
...and sometimes I have a difficult time processing it.
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those long ago. On this day 1 year ago...on this day 2 years ago..."
I used to enjoy these posts and part of me still enjoys them. Reflecting on those times before my high risk pregnancy does bring a smile to my face. I remember meeting my husband and our first date. I remember the early days of our relationship, our engagement, and our wedding day. I remember starting and graduating from doctorate school. I remember my pregnancy with my son and giving birth to him. I remember all of the vacations we took, our first apartments, buying our first house, buying our second house, and the feeling of walking that second house for the first time...knowing immediately which room would be the new nursery when the time came to continue growing our family. I remember finding out we were pregnant with our daughter. I remember conferencing Josh in to the phone call with my OBGYN when they called to tell us the results of our initial genetics screenings and that she was going to be a girl. I remember telling our son he would be a big brother, I remember telling our families and friends, and I remember setting up the crib and buying the first few things for the nursery. I remember the lightness I felt in my soul and in my spirit during all of these times...
...and then I remember the words, "we have concerns about your daughter's
brain," just after I finished my ultrasounds at my 20 week anatomy scan. In a single moment I had gone from "before" to "after" without even realizing yet the full impact of that moment.
When I was 26, I stopped for a school bus that was dropping off kids after school on my way home from my doctorate classes. It was an exceptionally wide road, but it was a two lane, nonetheless, with a turning lane but no median. By law, I had to stop, but the road leading up to that point was curved, and I had to stop fairly quickly upon seeing the bus. Instinctively, I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed a large van coming up behind me. Within seconds, my brain processed that the van was moving too quickly to stop. I released the break momentarily on my car and braced for impact.
It took me a moment to regain my senses after the hit. After calling 911 and cautiously moving my car off the road to be away from further traffic, I took in the damage that had been done to my car. Completely totaled. At the time, I didn't realize how hurt I was. Bruised. Concussed. But I was in shock and the adrenaline was coursing fiercely through my veins.
That feeling of impact and the shock I felt afterwards are the closest comparison I can think of to describe the way it felt to hear those words from my doctor about my anatomy scan. In a single moment, everything about my life that I had anticipated, everything we thought we knew, everything we were racing towards came to a screeching, catastrophic halt.
It's been a little over a year since I heard those words. Since that day, we have navigated 15 weeks of a high risk pregnancy, life threatening complications with that pregnancy, pre-term labor, a c-section delivery, a NICU stay, meetings with specialists to confirm life limiting diagnoses, 3 months worth of hospital stays, and the every day life of being parents to a medically complex child. I look at pictures from "before" and I look at myself now and can't help but feel that the weight of this journey has aged me more in the past 402 days than the 11,404 days I spent on this earth prior to that. I know that other people likely don't see this. I know that may seem irrational or exaggerated, and perhaps it's not necessarily that I feel aged so much as it is truly a
disorienting experience. I don't recognize much in my own reflection. The photos and the memories tied to them elicit a sadness, but mostly a state of numbness. Additionally, I often find that I am unintentionally invalidating my past self, her feelings, and her experiences. While I frequently tell others that I don't expect them to understand this journey unless they have walked it, I am slow to give my past self the same grace, holding resentment toward her for the joy in her spirit when times were good and the pains she felt in times of struggle. It takes a conscious effort for me to look at my photos from "before" and speak to that past self with compassion and understanding...
...but she deserves that compassion. She deserves that understanding. She would give it to me.
My "before" self wouldn't hesitate to acknowledge the strength I have built, the lessons I've learned, and the joys I've been so blessed to experience. She would be proud of the wife that I have become, of the mother that I have become, of the woman that I have become. It is unfair of me to resent a past version of myself for lacking perspective I had not yet had the opportunity to gain. That past self
deserves gratitude for the foundation she built that allowed me to navigate my struggles with courage and resilience.
When we have experienced trauma, it's natural to feel a sense of dissociation from the "before," or even resentment toward our past selves for what we thought was difficult at the time and the perspective we had yet to gather. However, we owe it to ourselves in the present to look upon those memories with gentleness and to acknowledge the ways in which our former experiences shaped the way we are pressing on in our journey. Rather than sowing seeds of bitterness, we deserve to continue building upon that foundation of strength, graciously preparing a version of ourselves we have yet to meet for the new paths on which we will inevitably embark.