Last year marked the start of my very own midlife crisis. It started, as I describe in my post, http://fiveunder8.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-big-birthday/ on the cusp of the big scary birthday. I was 38 going on 100 weeks pregnant, as sick as a dog, out of breath and very overwhelmed.
I was expecting my fifth child, and about to embark on another leave of absence from my job which, I was reminded by a senior colleague, was going to have a pretty negative impact on my team. In other words, support for my impending maternity leave was reluctant. My manager had been given the orders to juggle my clinical duties to exclude my research project, meaning I would have to pursue that endeavour on my own time; clearly a sub optimal arrangement for my work-life balance. Basically, my career at my current workplace was taking a turn in a direction I didn’t like at all.
My son was having a terrible year at school. Watching him struggle but still put on a brave face each morning and muscle his way through the day, was really tough. He wasn’t sleeping, had developed anxiety and said that he felt stupid every single day. His confidence was in the toilet. We picked up the pieces every day when he returned from school, doing the dance between psychologist and cheerleader, trying to reinforce that he was bright and capable, offer some coping strategies and then help him get through his homework. Between this dance, parenting other children at the same time, and managing the situation with the school for countless hours each week, I was very stressed and exhausted.
I didn’t feel like celebrating much as I turned the big 4-0. We decided to wait to plan a big to-do until later. Later meant after the baby came and I felt more human. In 2 weeks, I would be receiving the very best birthday gift in the whole world anyway. I had been anticipating that gift for 9 months! No birthday party could beat that! The pregnancy had been hard the whole way through. I had been sick and unwell the whole time. I often said that I felt like I had been working really hard for this baby.
So at 40 weeks, I asked my doctors to induce. I might have even begged. I told them something seemed unusually hard and that I had never felt this way before. I needed the baby out and I needed it to do it quickly. They calmly reminded me that there was no clinical reason to induce me. Being exhausted was just the way it was and that given the number of kids I was already parenting, as much could be expected. I insisted that I needed to get on with it. Then my physician looked at my chart, and exclaimed, “Ah! You just had a birthday! Normally we wouldn’t induce you as you are only just past 40 weeks pregnant, but you are 40 now. The risk of stillbirth goes up significantly at that age. Now we have a reason to induce.”
Now that’s foreshadowing. They scheduled the induction for 24 hours later.
Then it happened; the sucker punch out of nowhere. The day before I was going to be induced, Samuel’s heart stopped beating.
My baby boy dying was simply the final straw. I am quite sure that some type of midlife crisis was already well underway, but the death of my beautiful baby boy really was like gasoline to fire. I hated 40 more than I have ever hated a birthday or an age ever. The entire past year, I have turned down every offer from everyone to celebrate it belatedly, over and over again. “I don’t want to celebrate this stupid birthday.” I have said each time. “There is nothing about 40 that is worth celebrating.” “I hate 40.” So we didn’t do anything.
But over the past week, I have suddenly felt like I should have done something. After all, you only turn 40 once! I started to regret that I let the whole year go by without doing any particular thing which would mark the occasion with some significance. In the twilight of this milestone year, I realized that what had most certainly started out as the year I thought I would never survive, the year I have hated the most out of any other of my life thus far, and had become the year that I survived.
I made it through. I am still standing! And I think maybe I am even standing straighter and taller and with more grace and faith than ever before. All of the challenges, the stress, the grief, and the heart crushing pain were superseded. They were transformed by strength and love, support and friendship and lots of prayer, reconstituting the rubble that I stood in the midst of into a brand new version of me. This rendition looks much different than last year’s version.
There is an obvious scar that I don’t hide. I let it show. And I give the cause of that scar a voice. The silence of stillbirth makes me crazy. So I am not silent.
I am fiercely proud of my family. My children are quite simply the light of my life. And though no one will ever know my Samuel like I did, they will know his name, and his story. It is my story! It is our family’s story. And I am unfazed by those for whom this is uncomfortable. Their discomfort may have given me pause before. Now it gives me the words I write here. My creativity has seen its rebirth because of them.
In this new version of me, I am clearer about what I want and what I don’t. Much of this is different than it was before. I don’t apologize for that. I would have done before.
I experienced other unexpected losses this year in addition to my son. Certain relationships ended because I finally stopped fighting for them. They were unhealthy and just didn’t work. I have completely let them go, without reserving hope for their future. I don’t hold onto “maybe one day…..” anymore. Enough is enough. This has been a difficult and painful process, but it has been necessary. I feel free and more peaceful since.
I am kinder to myself and more protective. Sometimes that means I am less kind to others, and less open. I am less forgiving in some ways, but more tolerant. I am indifferent to more things which don’t concern me, as my energy is more focused on what does. I am still courageous and as always a fighter, but now I pick my fights more judiciously. But may the good Lord help you if I bring that fight to your door.
I have allowed myself to become important to me again. I learned how to let myself weigh back into the equation of my life. I had been last on my own priority list for so long, I had fallen off of the bottom. Sadly, this didn’t even bother me that much! Now, I have a workout appointment almost every day with myself. I don’t cancel. I get more sleep. I remember to take a snack for me, not just my kids. I go out more with my friends, and I have hobbies that I actually pursue, not just remember pursuing.
Thank you little miss 40. I am not scared of you anymore. I don’t hate you anymore. The journey of discovery I took along your road has been affirming. You marked the launching of a new part of my life in a new version of me, whom I am still just getting to know. Sometimes living within this new skin feels uncomfortable, like a pair of new shoes which have not been completely broken in, but it is who I am now. And the evolution is worth celebrating.