Choosing Joy

A few months ago, I miscarried. It was early, but I’d known somehow that I was pregnant. When we got the positive result, Casey and I were ecstatic. Thanks to cancer, we weren’t sure we’d even be able to have another baby, so the fact that we got pregnant on the first shot was kind of a miracle. Naturally, we were unable to contain our excitement – we went a little crazy and told our families and a few friends.

I lost the baby a few days later.

I was devastated. We were devastated. I kept trying to think positively, reminding myself that at least we could get pregnant. But it was hard. I blamed myself. If I hadn’t had that cup of coffee… If I hadn’t gotten that wax… If… If… If… The anxiety that I’d managed to keep under control for the past few months returned in full force.

I stopped writing. I couldn’t stomach it; the thought of writing anything that was circulating in my over-anxious, slightly depressed head made me feel physically ill. Instead, I hyper-focused on the next time we could try. I couldn’t think about anything except getting that stupid smiley face that meant it was go time.

We went a few rounds with negative results, forced smiles, and reassurances that it would happen eventually. And then somehow – magically, blissfully – it did. About 8 weeks ago we found out I was pregnant. I was determined not to waste this pregnancy whining, like I did during my first pregnancy.

But fear took over. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t stop worrying that I was going to miscarry. I Googled miscarriage constantly, looking for odds and statistics, for symptoms, for anything to reassure myself. I worried because I wasn’t sick. Maybe I’d made it all up – a hysterical pregnancy, all in my head because I wanted it so badly.

Then the morning sickness kicked in and I was happy, really happy, because it meant the baby was growing and things were progressing as they should. That lasted approximately three days before the constant nausea began to interfere with living. I was miserable. I would have to stop myself in the middle of a downward spiral of woe is me to remind myself that the baby was growing and things were progressing as they should. I’d do this in between bouts of dry heaving. I’d remind myself that things would be better in the second trimester if I could only ever get there. 

On top of the sickness and fatigue and general pregnancy woes, my doctor put me on progesterone because the cyst that feeds the baby in the first trimester was shrinking too quickly, so then I worried that I’d lose this baby too. I’ve spent the last four weeks trying not to think about it. I take the pill in a hurry, careful not to dwell on its use, and when the nausea rolls through and my body expands, I remind myself that the baby is growing and things are progressing as they should.

And I feel guilty all of the time because I haven’t enjoyed any of this. The initial excitement was almost immediately lost in a mess of anxiety, fear, and illness. I try to remember back a few months, when we thought Zoey would be our first, our last, our only baby, and how devastating that news was. I try to think of the women I love who are having trouble conceiving. I try to feel grateful, but all I feel is guilt as I pray to move past this moment.

Everyday I struggle to remember the good, to fight the urge to cry because I’m so sick and so tired and so nervous. Then, last night my sister made me a second dinner when I couldn’t stomach the first. Casey quietly left the house with Zoey when I fell asleep on the couch and then took her out for ice cream when I didn’t feel better. Zoey took my hand, led me to the toilet, and held my hair when I got sick. And this morning, I got to see the little beast who’s causing me so much distress.

Suddenly, the fear and pain? It was all worthwhile. And I realized I have a choice – I can choose to let fear cripple and debilitate me. I can let it ruin precious moments. Or I can choose to laugh through tears. I can be happy in the pain. I can choose joy.

So I will.

Even when I’m sick and tired and nervous. Because right now, the baby is growing and everything is progressing as it should.

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the state of our nation

I mowed the lawn today. I played outside with my daughter and watched a movie with my husband. I saw some friends. I wrote. I laughed. I enjoyed a truly delicious cookie. I read a book in my feather-soft bed. And I thought about the state of our nation.

The problem is: I don’t know what to think about the state of our nation.

With an abundance of information and misinformation spreading faster than it can possibly be absorbed, I feel bogged down by opinions. So bogged down, in fact, that I don’t always know what my own opinion is. Someone is always telling me what to think and everyone disagrees. I’m overwhelmed by constant political posts on social media, each disagreeing with the last, many claiming to be inclusive and willing to engage in friendly political discourse, and then quickly falling into political battle. (And do we really expect someone will emerge the victor?)

Every time I get online or turn on the TV, I have to suit up, to put on my metaphorical armor and prepare myself for the onslaught. Which friend will say something inflammatory today? Which will be cruel? Which will mock another for their beliefs? Which will shame their peers?

It’s a world I don’t want to be part of.

I don’t have all of the facts. I have pieces of information: the reactionary information carefully (or not) doled out by the media, the (unclassified) bread crumbs allotted by the government, (seriously) biased articles placed on Facebook acting as canon, but in truth, I have almost nothing at all. I try to remember this when I read this post from the left or that article from the right. I don’t know it all. I probably don’t know anything at all. So I do what I shouldn’t and I try (unsuccessfully) not to think about it at all.

Because I’m afraid to.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if my real thoughts ruin our friendship? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if you don’t know what you’re talking? And, worst of all, what if I just wind up contributing to the problem?

So I don’t talk about it. Not much. Not unless I’m in the mood to be crucified. Instead, I make dinner. I dance in the kitchen with my family. I cuddle with my daughter. I work on my novel. I talk to my husband. I laugh with my sister. I sing “Mermaid” as a little one’s eyes close. I fold my hands as I lay in my feather-soft bed and I pray about the state of our nation.

#blessed

These past few weeks have been a struggle. I’ve had to force myself to write. I sit at my computer and stare at words that don’t make sense, storylines that sound contrived, and I cringe. I don’t want to write. I’ve read – losing myself in stories not my own for hours at a time – but I can’t write. I have nothing to say.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the bone-weary task that is adulting, easy to forget the good things in the midst of the truly terrible, easy to dwell on the fuck you moments, easy to forget that I’m blessed by so many and so much.  I know; I do it all of the time.

But today I’m not going to. Today I’m going to take my daughter to the park because it’s a beautiful day and she loves the slide. I’m going to sit on the couch with my husband and watch TV. I’m going to kiss them both as much as possible. I’m going to laugh at my hilarious kid. I’m going to sing songs and play peek-a-boo and watch “Punzel” for the twelfth time this week. I’m going to make jokes with my sister.

And I’m going to ask you a favor. Share some good things with me. Text me. Comment. Call me. Whatever. Just lend me a little of your happy.

In return, I’ll lend you a little of mine.

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This. This is my happy. Her name is Z and she’s my favorite person in the entire world. And she’s one of the many reasons that I am #blessed.

 

To My Sister on Her Wedding Day

This Friday is your wedding day. I wanted to write something meaningful, something beautiful, something worthy of the day and, more importantly, of you. I wanted to say something clever and funny and sweet, something that you’ll remember forever, something you’ll open when you need a smile or comfort. I wanted to share some brilliant advice for surviving marriage, but I’m still figuring it out myself so I don’t really have any.

So, I’ll say this instead: It has been such a pleasure being your big sister.

Growing up, you may not have known that. Most of the time I didn’t act like the sweet, caring, big sister, the big sister who only gives her little sister a hard time to teach her life lessons but always ends the day with a hug. I was, instead, the stern, superior, asshole big sister who was either teasing or ignoring her emotional little sister. And there weren’t many hugs. Differences in age, temperament, and interests kept us from being friends for far too long. It wasn’t until we grew up and I was a slightly lesser asshole and you were slightly less emotional that we started to like each other. Over time, we’ve even become friends.

And I’m so glad that we have because you’re incredible, little seester. Over the past few years, you have grown and changed so much. You’ve figured out who you are and what you want. You’ve embarked on a successful career. You’ve met a great guy (yay, new brother!). You’ve figured out how to make dirty hair look great for days on end (#lifegoals). You’re independent, strong, charismatic, compassionate, vivacious, and unique, and I am so proud to call you my sister.

Even when you laugh – that loud, obnoxious laugh – and everyone in the room turns to look and I want to duck my head in embarrassment. Even when you cry and no one is quite sure what you’re crying about because weren’t you just laughing 30 seconds ago? Even when you’ve had too much to drink and it takes you 45 minutes to tell a story about drying pants that were too big.

Especially then.

Because, sister, you’re so intensely joyous that people can’t help but want to stand in your light.

I know this day, your wedding day, will be one of the happiest days of your life. I know you’ll dance until your feet hurt and kiss your new husband a thousand times. I know that you’ll hug a hundred people and you won’t care (much) when you spill a drink on your dress. I know you’ll be overwhelmed by love. I know it will end too soon and not soon enough. I know you’ll be totally overwhelmed by love and happiness. I know you’ll laugh and cry and drink too much. I know this day will be one of the greatest of your entire life.

And I know I’ll be a mess as I stand by alternately laughing and crying (and maybe also drinking a bit too much). Please don’t mind me – I just heard the funniest story about oversized pants from my radiant little sister who’s marrying a Jedi, and I’ve never been more pleased to be a big sister in all my life.

SisterWeddingMichbelle

I Chose Him

Last week, one of my students dismissed marriage – the idea of marriage, the institution of marriage, my marriage – with a shrug and a few thoughtless words. He asked where I’d been the day prior and I responded, “With my husband at MD Anderson.” He said, “Your husband? The same one you were with before (“before” being last year)? You’re still with him?” I told him we’d only been married three years and of course we were still together. His response was, “It’s 2016, so you never know.” Just like that. So nonchalant.

It’s 2016 and suddenly marriage doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. It’s outdated. It doesn’t work. Everyone knows it. Even kids know it.

Well, it’s not really working out, so let’s just call it a day.

I think I’m interested in someone else, so I’m going to try that out instead.

I’m bored.

I feel ignored.

I’m unhappy with something and I don’t know what it is, so I’ll say it’s you and end things.

Class continued, but The Great Gatsby spurred questions of marriage and relationships, fidelity and trust. One girl asked me whether I’d stay with my husband if he cheated on me. I thought for a long time, stumbling over my answer, before settling on the simple, but honest:

“I chose him.”

The girls asked what I meant while one boy mumbled that I should have more respect for myself than that. I explained to them that marriage is complicated, that it’s not easy, that while we vowed to love each other, we still have to choose each other every single day. Because getting married is easy. It’s deciding to stay married to each other that’s hard.

“But if he cheats, he doesn’t love you!” They insisted.

I hesitated, weighing my words carefully, wanting them to be meaningful, considering how I might feel if my husband ever were to cheat on me.

I told them that yes, it would be difficult for me to get past and I would have issues of trust. I told them that forgiving him would be hard, that I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to because I’d never been in that situation. I told them that I would probably struggle everyday to get past the indiscretion. Then I told them that I’d try because I love him, because I promised to love him forever – in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, until death.

I chose him. And he chose me.

I talked about mistakes and how we’re fallible because we’re human. Hadn’t they, after all, been placed with me because they’d made mistakes? They nodded, thoughtful. We resumed class, but the idea of choice, of choosing to stay married to my husband, stuck with me.

A few days later, my sisters came to visit. One of them is getting married in a few weeks and part of the assignment their pre-marital counselor gave them was to ask married couples what their biggest struggle was and how they overcame it. Nearly every married couple said the same thing: choosing love, choosing to fight for love, choosing to fight for each other – that was the biggest struggle, but it was also how they overcame.

I’m still relatively new to this whole marriage thing, but I know that if I want my marriage to work, to be successful, to last, I have to make the conscious decision to choose him every day. And he has to choose me too. We have to choose each other. When I feel like he’s ignoring me and he feels like I’m nagging him, we have to choose each other. When I’m tired and he’s frustrated and the baby has been crying for 12 hours, we have to choose each other. When he wants to buy a golf cart and I want to go to Hawaii and we can’t agree on anything, we have to choose each other. When I feel neglected and he wants his space, we have to choose each other.

We’re fooled into believing that marriage and happiness are the same thing, but sometimes marriage isn’t happy. Sometimes marriage is hard and horrible and scary and weird, but we get past that because we made a choice to love each other even when it’s hard.

And it may be 2016, but I do know one thing – I’ll choose him forever.

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NOTE: A version of this piece ran on The Huffington Post.