It was a Monday in September.
“Gym day” at school.
I was in third grade.
Zack and I were dressed in our green sweatsuits that made us look like little lanky string beans.
Mom and dad sent us to the neighbor’s house after school while we waited for the news.
“It’s a girl!”
We jumped up and down and cheered.
We had a little sister!
We drove the hospital and could barely contain our excitement.
We arrived, beaming with joy, and could hardly wait to cradle you in our arms.
Sweet Baby Jane.
I couldn’t get enough of you.
Your tiny fingers and tiny toes.
Your big blue eyes.
You were a special one, a gift, a long-awaited blessing.
About a year before, Zack and I sat dumbfounded at the kitchen table as mom sobbed because she had lost the baby she was carrying.
The little one we’ll never know.
We mourned the loss, not even knowing if the baby was to be a brother or a sister.
And then came you.
A little one whose arrival was an answer to prayer.
I remember singing you to sleep to Colors of the Wind,
Rocking you, holding you, kissing your small round face.
I adored you.
I look back at gratitude journals from high school.
“I’m grateful for my little sister, Jane” was written on every other page.
You brought so much joy to our lives.
You made us laugh until we cried.
You amazed us with your intellect and maturity.
But you had a secret.
We didn’t know you felt so much pressure to always be funny, always be sweet, always be okay.
We didn’t know you felt so alone, so unknown, and so misunderstood.
We didn’t intend for you to have to hide that pain for so many years.
If only we’d known.
I’m sorry we didn’t know, sweet sister.
I’m sorry you carried that alone.
It’s now 24 years later.
On a Friday night in August.
Bill and I have just finished a game night with you and your boyfriend, Patrick.
We like him. He’s kind. He’s gentle. He’s funny. You suit each other.
We’re sitting on the couch in our basement as you look at us and say,
“Patrick and I have something to share with you guys.”
I pause and glance at your hand.
“I’m having a baby in March.”
Time stands still.
I don’t know what to do.
Instead of reacting (my norm), I respond to you with love.
I draw toward you and hug you, holding you tightly, trying to process what you’ve just told us.
You begin to cry.
Both of us do.
“It was a surprise, but we’re excited,” you continue through tears and a smile.
You’ve always been so good with children, so I imagine how you’ll be with one of your own.
You are 10 weeks along but had only known for about three weeks.
Just a few weeks before, you had finished an Ironman triathlon…pregnant.
You are already a fighter, someone who persists in the face of difficulty.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay,” you assure me, as you wipe away tears from your cheeks.
I want to ask you so many questions.
But they would likely have been condemning and shame-inducing.
And I know there is no place for condemnation or shame in this situation.
Because shame and love cannot coexist, and it’s not my role to judge.
Instead, I tell you about grace and love and compassion.
That all life is a gift.
That I’m glad you are keeping the baby.
That we love you, support you, and are here for you.
We hug again.
I don’t want to let you go.
I pray over your belly and the little one inside.
I pray for protection, peace, health, and strength.
For casting off any feelings of shame, guilt or judgment.
For wisdom about how to tell mom and dad.
I wake up the next morning.
I didn’t sleep well.
I reach out to a few friends to begin to process the news.
One is a pastor and a friend of 15 years.
“It’s normal to grieve the unmet expectations of a life…but then you have to let go.”
I lament how you don’t have a strong community of support, a close network of girlfriends who can rally alongside you during this part of your journey.
Tori reassures me.
“She has you.”
Bill and I spend the morning in the car, driving up to Pennsylvania for his alumni soccer game.
I go to the outlets while he relives his glory days.
Maybe some retail therapy will help.
On the way there, something in me breaks open and pours out.
I sob uncontrollably.
I cry the ugliest of cries.
I wail from the depths of my soul.
I cannot remember a time I have felt so intensely.
As I walk from shop to shop, I feel increasingly numb, listless, overcome with sadness.
I try to hold it together and pull myself together, as I always do.
But every few minutes, I start crying again.
I can’t snap out of it.
The sadness won’t lift.
I call Bill through tears.
I’m supposed to meet him and his buddies post-game at a bar.
“I can’t be around anyone right now. I can’t stop crying.”
I meet him at a restaurant for lunch.
He holds my hand.
Just when I think it’s over, another wave of tears and sadness passes over me.
I wipe away my tears and attempt to eat my lunch.
I’m not hungry, but I need a distraction.
As we drive home, I feel sad, broken, emotionally exhausted.
I had just started seeing a therapist a few weeks prior.
I share the news with her at my next appointment.
I don’t spare any details.
I cry some more.
At the following appointment, she checks back with me to see how I’m doing.
“When you left last time, I couldn’t help but think, ‘That’s an awfully strong reaction to someone else’s pregnancy.’”
I sat there in stillness,
Feeling the weight of her words.
“Yes, I think you’re right.”
What if I was actually grieving the unmet expectations of my life?
You see, I’ve always been the career-driven woman, climbing the ladder of success.
I’ve defined myself and found my identity and worth at work.
By society’s standards, I’ve been successful.
But I can’t fight the feeling that something is missing.
That all of my efforts to impress and achieve are empty because they are trying to fill a void that no recognition, promotion or word of praise can fill.
For years, I’ve feared what having a kid would do to my future.
How could I handle my career and a baby?
How could I walk away from opportunities to advance, to be known, to build my platform?
I was blind to the possibility that motherhood could be beautiful and wonderful and fulfilling.
Because I was so wrapped up in the fear that it would destroy all that I thought I wanted.
So I suppressed my desire to be a mother.
For my entire adult life.
I recalled mom telling me she never saw herself as a mom before becoming one.
She didn’t see herself as the nurturing type.
“Maybe I’m not meant to be a mom,” I reasoned.
My body gave me plenty of signals that this might be true.
Half a year of missed menstrual cycles and clinical malnourishment a few years ago.
Sacrificing my immune system and being diagnosed with mono last year.
Monthly cramps that were a recurring source of agony,
A reminder that something was wrong with my body.
I braced myself each month, anticipating the debilitating pain they would bring.
But now, in light of your pregnancy, the cramps took on new meaning for me.
Maybe they were a sign that my body was longing for something I refused to give it, that my empty womb was yearning to be filled.
I began to realize I had never truly opened myself up to a desire buried deep down in my soul that was now being stirred and awakened.
The desire to be a mom.
On March 11th, he arrived.
7 pounds, 11 ounces.
With a name that means “strength” in Celtic.
Bryce Allen Wood.
You became a mom.
I went to the hospital to see you and hold this precious little life we’d prayed for months ago.
You courageously made it through a challenging and unexpected turn of events with his delivery.
You were beaming, proud to be a mom, enamored by your sweet baby boy.
It made me happy to see you so happy, so full of life and joy.
You were born to be a mother.
I held his tiny hand, kissed his tiny toes, gazed down at his little round face.
What a gift, what a blessing, what a wonderful surprise.
Nearly two weeks later, it’s a chilly Friday morning, and I awaken from a dream.
I rarely remember my dreams, but this one is unforgettable.
I dream that I am pregnant.
With a little bump under a pale pink shirt.
A symbol of a little girl, perhaps?
“It happened on the first try!” I excitedly tell my friends in the dream.
I place my hand on my lower abdomen right where the bump would be.
I call Bill into the room.
“I had a great dream last night. I was pregnant.”
He hugs me and smiles,
“What a happy dream.”
I’m grateful for you, my sweet, brave sister.
I’m grateful for all the lessons I’m learning from your journey to motherhood.
For the unexpected news you shared with us last summer.
For all that it broke open in me that I have worked so hard to suppress.
For the hope and excitement I now feel as I think about motherhood.
For taking me from fear to the possibility of life and love.
For unlocking my heart and its desire to be a mom.