Sunday, September 19, 2010

Genuine Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about genuine pain and genuine happiness. I’ve been thinking about it partly because several people keep sending me this wonderful poem called “Welcome to Holland.” I actually LOVE 99.9% of the poem because it perfectly describes what it feels like when life doesn’t turn out the way we expect. But I sorrow, deeply, every time I read it because of the phrase, "And for the rest of your life you will say, 'Yes, [Italy was] where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned. The pain of that will never, ever, go away.”

I’ve also been thinking about it because I've had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people who have been through similar experiences as mine. I’ve also met people who have been through far more difficult life challenges than I. Many times, I’ve noticed they, too, believe that part of the poem—that the pain of loss will never, ever, go away.

Wondering how to offer the Gift I’ve received to these very people preoccupies most of my thoughts, because I know from personal experience that there is a Cure for the pain, there is an End to the suffering, and I so badly want to share my joy.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Cure makes pain nonexistent. Grief and sorrow most definitely come and must be passed through. Had I not been through it, it would be impossible to imagine the flood of uncontrollable emotions that would hit me as I stared at Brynn's tiny little fingers for the first time, or watched as her little body heaved just to take a single breath. It is impossible to describe the pain I felt as I watched Brynn go from my happy, healthy little girl--just days away from coming home after a long fight for her life in the NICU--suddenly go pale, stop breathing, stop responding, stop digesting, start swelling, and altogether look as though she were knocking at death's door...and then to have to wait 24 hours to find out what was causing the decline. It is impossible to describe what it felt like to lose all my expectations--from being able to get pregnant right away (vs 2.5 years of infertility), to a natural birth with a midwife, to a healthy baby I'd take home from the hospital when I left, to the hope that she would, indeed, learn to suck from my breast.

I also don’t mean to suggest that new pains or new challenges of living in Holland won’t arise. Sometimes it’s the unexpected pain from a well-meaning but extremely insensitive comment, like the complete stranger at the grocery store who says, "Does your daughter have trouble hearing? Is that why she has to wear those things on her head?" or the woman who told me recently that, "If you'd only gone to see a chiropractor regularly, you could have avoided all the trouble in your pregnancies." Or the woman who thought it was her place to tell me how many children I should have since, after all, "a few months of a difficult pregnancy is a small price to pay for a child." Now don't get me wrong--I love these people. But I'll confess there's a certain amount of shock I experience when I hear such things.

Other times it’s the fresh realization of another loss you hadn’t considered was gone as a result of your new destination. For example, I never expected how hard it would be to pump exclusively for 7.5 months--and then how it would be even more difficult to stop pumping. Not only did it feel like I was no longer able to give her the best nutrition available, but also like I was giving up on the oh-so-precious dream that someday I would cuddle my precious bundle and she would suck. I also hadn't realized that all the drugs helping to keep me pregnant (including Procardia) would make me feel so sick most the time. I never imagined I'd be so weak that I'd feel like I was going to pass out at the end of a shower because of the way these drugs affect me.

Still other times it’s a surprise reminder of a particular past pain you know hurts, but you haven’t yet resolved. Once specific example that comes to mind is the anger I still feel when I think of the time Brynn was poked 9 times--tortured for an hour--for an IV she never even needed.

Yes, these losses and pains will need to be experienced, felt, and passed through, too.

But I do want to emphasize that there is, indeed, an end to each pain. It is, indeed, possible to not only accept the fact that you landed in Holland, to not only be grateful for some beautiful things about Holland, but also to actually cherish Holland. It is possible to feel nothing but love for the people who make insensitive comments about Holland or who whine about the minor inconveniences of Italy. It is possible to love Holland SO much that if you had the choice all over again to intentionally go to Holland instead of Italy, you’d do it in an instant. Although I recognize my Holland wasn’t an easy journey (and it still isn’t over)—and although I wouldn’t wish it on someone else because I know they will have their own uniquely fitted destinations—I genuinely love my destination.

I genuinely love my Holland.

More than anything, I wish I could share my joy with others. More than anything I wish I could help them see that the pain will, indeed, have an end if only they seek the Cure.

I’ve found a few new favorite blogs and short films lately. I’ve read and watched them time and time again on while bed rest. Here’s a sampling:

This girl titles her blog "The NieNie Dialogues" but she also recently had a short movie made about her story:

I met through the bloggosphere another remarkable family, who recently lost their happy, healthy 18-month-old in a tragic accident. They are passing through pain with incredible perspective. This is one of my favorite posts.

All three of these people have something in common with me: we all belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we all attribute this super-human power of healing and support to our Savior Jesus Christ and the principles taught uniquely in our church.

But even if you prefer to call the Gift by a different name, I have another favorite lady who effectively teaches the principle I'd been using for years in my own life from 2 Tim 1:7:

Did you catch the principle? If a thought causes stress, who does it come from? Here's a cheat sheet again: 2 Tim 1:7. Conversely, if a thought gives you a sense of power, love, and a sound mind, where does it come from? Which thoughts do you spend the most time entertaining?

I invite everyone to re-examine their lives a little closer. And I'm not saying use me as a model . . . no, no, I am only a recipient of the Gift who is trying to learn how to accept and apply it in many different parts in my life. Rather, use Christ as the model. He is the Healer. He is the Balm. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. It is possible to completely make it through the pain. It is possible to feel stronger than you've ever felt before. It is possible to genuinely love your Holland and no longer wish for Italy.

The truth is, I have fond memories of the NICU. I don't cringe when I drive on I-435 and pass the familiar exit to the hospital. I don't see tubes and monitors when I look at early pictures of Brynn. I don't secretly wish I'd had a "normal" birth and delivery. I am not sad that I am on bed rest. I'm not even sad if we need--for the safety of our future children and for the time constraints on our family--to adopt or foster instead of have more biological children. I am genuinely happy. Yes, I experience pain like everyone else. But it doesn't have to last forever, regardless of my losses.

And I wish that peace--the peace I could never take personal credit for having--could fill everyone I know.

May you all have a genuinely happy, healing Sunday,


Anna said...

Thank you so much for this! The Holland story always bugged me for some reason, but I could never put my finger on it. I liked the way you put it. It made me think, what if you have another baby without any pregnancy problems and the baby is healthy and strong and typical from the very beginning? Does that mean that you've finally reached your destination? Is that what you were REALLY looking for?

My goodness, that would totally discredit Brynn and Heidi. No one could EVER say that they're not as desirable as a baby born on time.

I believe that you need to mourn the expectations that you had before, and then come to peace with it and then just fully appreciate what you have.

Natalie, you've taught me so much. You're one of those people who I look at and think, "Man, if I think I had it bad, what about her!" And it's so obvious that you've made the best of it and wouldn't want it any other way. You're the perfect person for the job of raising Brynn and Heidi and whoever else comes along (and however they come).

The Morton's said...

Beautiful poem and a an amazing post!