“I can do hard things.” I wrote that phrase on post-it notes and stuck them around my apartment one fall morning. My husband was in his first semester of graduate school. My daughter was a busy toddler, and I was six months pregnant carrying a baby girl with a devastating diagnosis.
“Your daughter’s situation is very dire.” I will never forget those words from the pediatric cardiologist’s mouth. When I went for my 20-week ultrasound, I found out that my daughter had Ebstein’s Anomaly, a heart defect that was so severe nothing could be done to correct it. I was given options: terminate the pregnancy or carry to full term and watch my daughter pass away.
My husband and I decided not to terminate but instead to carry full term. We had lost a baby when I was six weeks pregnant before our first was born; we were familiar with loss, but nothing could have prepared us for this. So from September to January we waited for this angel baby girl to join our family. We named her Emma. I would feel her kick and move while I was looking up cemeteries to decide where she would be buried.
Her heart was so big she did not have room in her body to grow lungs. She could live inside me, but soon after she was delivered she would pass away. During the holidays one of my doctors asked, “How can you do this emotionally?” My answer was, “I can do hard things.”
Emma was born on January 18, 2011. She lived four days. As I said goodbye to my sweet baby girl I kept telling myself, “I can do hard things.”
Often I would ask myself: “But how? How can I make it every day with pain that is so deep and dark? How do I keep going?” I soon realized I did not have to take it day by day. I could simply do minute by minute, slowly working through the cycle of grief while holding on to hope for a better tomorrow.
My husband was back in class within a week of our daughter’s death. “I can do hard things” turned into, “We can do hard things.” My husband graduated with excellent grades, and we had a “rainbow” baby boy a year after Emma’s death. As my husband started his career, the years passed and things slowly turned joyful again.
We found ways to serve others in remembrance of Emma. When I felt the despair creep back into my heart, collecting donations for a local children’s hospital helped heal the wounds that came with birthdays, holidays, and missed milestones.
I found great joy in comforting and encouraging mothers who were going through similar struggles. Now as I raise my little ones, I often tell them our family motto about doing hard things. When my kids learned to ride a bike and told me it was too hard, I told them, “We can do hard things.”
My husband and I decided to have just one more baby to complete our family. At the 12-week ultrasound I saw on the screen that my little angel baby’s heart was no longer beating. Amid the heartache, anger, and questions of why, I walked into my kitchen and saw the sign that still hangs on my wall: “I can do hard things.”
After recovering from a D&C and allowing my body to heal, we decided to try again. This week at my 20-week ultrasound I found out that I am expecting a healthy baby girl. I cried with joy after that appointment, thinking, “I did hard things!”
My experiences with miscarriage and infant loss have taught me how to love all mothers on a deeper level. Through it I have learned that even in our darkest, most hopeless moments, we can find light. We can keep fighting, keep going, and one day the rainbow comes.
So for today, whether you’re chasing after toddlers, working long hours as a single mom, or dealing with a child struggling in school, a teenager rebelling, or an adult child with a mental illness, get a post-it note and write, “I CAN DO HARD THINGS!” Rain ends, rainbows come, and there is always joy in the mourning.
QUESTION: What hard things have you been through or are you going through right now? Despite the difficulty and pain, are there things you’ve learned through your struggles that you feel grateful for?
CHALLENGE: Take a moment to think about your best coping methods for getting through serious hardship, or even for enduring your day-to-day challenges. Are there other methods you’d like to be able to use? If so, learn more about those methods and try to prepare by practicing them however you can now.
Edited by Lisa Hoelzer and Katie Carter.
Post images provided by the author. Featured Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally posted on October 17, 2016.