I am a naturally squeamish person.
Sixth grade was, unfortunately, the year when I stopped growing taller, and thus, it was the only year that I was ever tall enough to stand on the top tier of the risers in choir – every year after I progressively moved lower and lower to the bottom tiers, and eventually to the floor, as my classmates grew taller and taller and I shrunk shorter and shorter.
I remember one choir practice distinctly. As I stood on the very top tier of the risers, preparing to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” with my classmates, I noticed that the boy in front of me had a gnarly gash in his lip that was being held together by four gruesome blue stitches. The boy next to him said,
“Whoa, cool! How did you get those?!”
To which, the other boy began describing through his stitches about the grotesque injury that he had endured and in nauseating detail how the doctor in the Emergency Room had stitched his lip back together.
I remember feeling the world go dark, as my hands became clammy, my stomach grew nauseous, and all of the blood rushed out of my head.
“You will not faint. You will not faint. You will not faint,”
I repeated over and over again as an inner mantra. The only thing that kept me from toppling headfirst from that top tier of the risers directly to the ground below was the even more horrifying realization that a fall like that would surely result in many more stitches and much more blood – only this time it would be on my body.
This is a familiar story in my life.
I almost fainted in my middle school science class once, when my teacher projected a picture of an X-ray of a foot with nails stuck through it. I have almost fainted countless times while having my blood drawn. I nearly fainted in the doctor’s office after receiving a TB test, when I was overcome with the terrifying realization that they had just injected me with a disease. And I almost fainted during my first day at work as a chaplain at a hospital, just by touring the ER.
All in all, I have an embarrassingly long history of squeamishness – (which my colleagues at the hospital find endlessly amusing).
Yet, when I first saw those two not-so-faint pink lines on that fateful pregnancy test last December, I immediately ran to the big box of medicine that I had received from the doctor’s office and frantically tore the shots that I had been prescribed out of their packaging.
I remember my hand quivering as I held that first shot mere millimeters from my skin, gearing up to stab myself in the stomach but then chickening out each time at the last second. With my “Fight Songs” playlist from Spotify blasting in the background, I finally summoned the courage and plunged the syringe in – a moment of victory and bravery.
Patrick and I have, thankfully, never had difficulty getting pregnant. We have never needed to go through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or use any other medical intervention to help us conceive. However, during our fifth pregnancy, this was the first time that we had ever tried a battery of medications to help my body stay pregnant.
This meant that every day I stabbed myself with multiple shots. I ingested countless pills. I used messy progesterone suppositories. Every other day, I went to the doctor’s office early in the morning for repeat blood tests, testing to see if my pregnancy hormones were rising as they should. I sustained weekly internal ultrasounds to watch the babies’ growth progress. And each week, I even endured an IV intralipid infusion, pumping my veins full of a strange mixture of egg yolks, soy oil, and water – all in a desperate hope to save my babies from my own body.
They say that when a child is trapped under a car, mothers have been known to summon nearly superhuman strength in order to lift the car off of them. Surprisingly, it is not an urban legend born out of watching too many superhero movies, as I had initially suspected. Actual cases have been documented of parents performing this incredible and otherworldly feat.
Psychology Today – “Yes, You Really Can Lift a Car Off a Trapped Child”
It is this unearthly strength that I must have summoned that night in the hospital, as I could feel my body dying yet was so desperate to save the lives of my babies.
Admittedly, I was just as squeamish while I was in the hospital as ever. When I first started hemorrhaging, the fact that I could die amazingly did not prevent me from resisting the nurses’ attempts to place a second IV in my arm in order to pump me full of much-needed, life-saving blood. Like a small and scared child, I actually hid my hand under the blanket from her at first, totally noncompliant with her desires to poke me with her horrifying looking needle.
In fact, throughout my stay in the hospital, I complained my way through every blood draw, every invasive internal exam, every tortuous poke and prod. I was not a good patient. Ask my doctors and my nurses, and they can reassure you that at the time I certainly did not exhibit any superhuman strength or heroic courage. I certainly have not been cured of my squeamishness!
However, there was a distinct moment when I did feel myself summon an indescribable strength within me.
In that moment, I knew that I would have willingly sacrificed it all for my children. There was a time when I started hemorrhaging again, in the moments before the emergency surgery I needed to save my life, when the doctors told me that they would need to deliver my babies, with no chance of them living, so that I would survive.
I screamed. I lost my mind. I begged in a pitiful desperation for another way, any other way, to save my babies.
In that moment, before the pain and the inescapable instinct of self-preservation took hold, thoughts of my own life took a back burner. It took my mother whispering reassurances to me through my screams and my tears to remind me that she needed her own daughter to live.
For many women after a miscarriage or stillbirth, they can become consumed with a sense of blame and an irrational guilt that they caused this to happen.
“If only I had done something different…
If only I hadn’t lifted that heavy box, or exercised so hard, or eaten that sushi…
If only I had prayed harder, or been a better person, or made different decisions…
If only… If only… If only…”
The number one thing that you can say to reassure a woman after she has endured such a tragic loss – remind her that this is not her fault.
Reassure her that she did not cause this. She is not to blame. There is absolutely nothing that she could have done any differently. There is no magic prayer that she could have uttered. There are no miraculous foods that she could have eaten. There are no decisions that she could have taken back.
I am one of the lucky ones. For I know wholeheartedly, without doubt and without regret, that there is nothing more that I could have done. From the very beginning, I fought for my children tooth and nail – with every shot and painful procedure, even to the brink of death. I entered a tortuous hell for them, all in a desperate hope and with the strength of a protective mother, in hopes that I could somehow save their lives.
And ultimately, when they could not be saved, I fought through hell and back to survive.
I am a survivor. I battled my way through the tortures of hell, and yet I have been resurrected. I have been broken and shattered into pieces, only to find that I am unbreakable. I defy death each and every day, as I walk back into the hospital, the very same hospital where I too was a patient, and declare that life and love will win as I help families save the lives of others through organ donation.
After this experience, I will never again doubt my strength as a woman.
Every day since this has happened, people have told me how brave, how strong, and how inspirational I am. Yet, I really do not believe that this strength is something unique only to me. I do not think that I am some superhuman anomaly, some kind of superhero walking unnoticed among the mortals.
There is no choice in this for me. I did not choose to be brave, or strong, or inspirational – and in an instant, I would trade it all if I could just have my children with me.
No, I thoroughly believe that
you are brave when you have to be.
It is one of those “if I can do it, anyone can do it” things.
Everyone has this capability within them, an inner and superhuman strength that you may not even be aware of but can be summoned when you need it most. Inside every person is an inner warrior just waiting to be unleashed.
It reminds me of a quote that I absolutely love –
So summon your superhuman strength, my fellow traveler, if you need it. You have it within you – even if you don’t know it yet.