Stay Ahead of the Pain

This post is one I’ve been working on for a while, mentally. Recently these events came back to mind with details I had forgotten, and with new relevance and understanding, so I felt it was time to write it all down. 

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to share this story, but I’m venturing into it, nonetheless. I’ve never written anything quite this personal, and I almost fear it’s too much, in parts. 

I know my experience is not unique and if any of you are sensitive to talk of miscarriage or are longing to become pregnant, you might want to skip this one. I tried not to be graphic, but it comes close, at times. 

In November of 2000, I found out I was pregnant. It was very unexpected because Dave was still in pharmacy school and we were trying not to become pregnant again just yet.

Despite that I was excited from day one. I told a few people and began imagining what it would be like to be a mother of two kids. Would it be a boy or a girl? What would we name him or her? 

I took a black and white photo of a bun sitting in our oven and gave it to my parents, to tell them we were expecting. It really was cute,  if I do say so myself.

A few weeks later, on a Friday morning, I was at work and I began having the tiniest bit of spotting. I went into panic mode and called the doctor. They told me to keep a watch on it.

It continued throughout the day and when I called again, the nurse basically said, “It’s the weekend. If you are miscarrying there isn’t anything that can be done about it this early in the pregnancy, so just wait it out.” It felt like she was saying, “Look, it’s Friday and I’m ready to go home. This thing that’s happening is inevitable so I’m not wasting my time on it.”

I was pretty upset by her callous way with me. What she said was true, but it wasn’t helpful. I thought she sounded like a woman who had been at her job a little too long because she had lost her compassion. I wanted to call back and suggest she find a new occupation, among other things I might have wanted to say. I didn’t say anything at all, though, except, “Okay.”

I went through the whole weekend trying to go on as usual, trying to not to panic. Monday morning is when I finally, fully miscarried the baby. It happened in the bathroom.

At that point, I began swinging wildly back and forth between what I call “clinical mode” and emotional turmoil. I’d begin thinking logically about how this clearly wasn’t a viable pregnancy and I knew from my genetics class that it’s very common, so this wasn’t unusual or a big deal. 

Then I’d think about the contents of my womb which were now in the toilet and I wondered what I would do, because I could never flush it again. How could I flush it away?

Thankfully (I think) I was instructed to gather what I could from the toilet bowl and bring it in to the doctors office, so they could determine whether I had completely evacuated the pregnancy and whether I’d need a D&C. 

I walked into that office alone, with a ziploc bag hidden inside a brown bag, hidden inside my purse, and tried to act nonchalant. Thankfully, the doctor didn’t feel I needed a D&C and I was sent home to rest.

Before I left the doctor told me that he could tell I was a very low key person, so next time I really needed to speak up for myself and demand attention. He promised to talk with the nursing staff so nobody else would be left to wonder and suffer over a weekend, without being seen, the way I was. I was grateful for the way he validated my experience.

I continued to vascillate between clinical mode and my emotions and never could get the contents of the ziploc bag out of my mind. After several days, I called the lab to ask for it back, because I knew someone who worked there. Yes, I really did that. I couldn’t bear the idea that my lost child would be disposed of without being acknowledged. I don’t know if I ever told anybody I did that. 

She let me know that they didn’t find any signs of life in there, which partly gave me relief and partly made me think I was crazy for grieving something that maybe never really existed (it did exist, I wasn’t thinking straight).

Due to circumstances and schedules, I was alone for most of the day. An older friend checked on me a few times, and offered to meet me at the doctor’s office, but I declined because I didn’t want to make a big deal or inconvenience her. 

Really, I didn’t think I could hold it together if she showed up. I did end up going to her house for a bit, but I felt like I was on the spot – expected to feel a certain way, respond a certain way, say certain things. I ended up going home to an empty house to try to rest. 

On one hand I was kind of glad to be alone. I wasn’t used to sharing hard feelings with anyone. In my life I rarely gave voice to my pain. For one thing I learned that weakness is like blood in the water – just like a shark, a bully can sniff it out and will make you his or her next meal. For another, it was simply too uncomfortable to be seen as needy. I believed that people don’t like needy.

Sometimes people just don’t know how to show up and sometimes it’s plain awkward. To be in the presence of others when I’m in pain is hard for me – probably for most of us.

On the other hand I was really angry that I was alone. I had to go to the doctor’s office alone and go back home alone and recover alone.

In medicine there’s the concept of staying ahead of the pain. It just means you had better medicate yourself before the pain has a chance to set in because if you don’t it can be difficult to manage it, or make it go away. 

That works really well with physical pain, but when it comes to issues of the heart, it’s better to let the pain come and deal with it head on. If we don’t it will just keep coming back until we do. It will manifest in different ways until we address it, until we agree to feel it, and grieve it out. 

On that day in November, I opted to try to stay ahead of it. As I lay in bed I couldn’t fall asleep, so I turned on the TV as a distraction. 

Before long a commercial came on for the Black & Decker Scumbuster. Basically, it was a power tool for cleaning. You need to know that I have a deep love for power tools and my go to distraction when I’m hurting is shopping. I want some little something to numb myself – it need not be expensive, just new. 

As I watched the commercial and saw all the magical things it could do, I knew I had to have it. The last thing I needed to do was shop (I needed to stay off my feet) but I grabbed my purse and keys and headed to Sears, because I figured they’d have the Scumbuster on the shelves. I did not have time to order from a 1-800 number. I needed my bandaid right then. 

I walked into Sears, sure I would find it, but it was not there. I searched the aisles to no avail. 

And that’s when I broke. 

They didn’t have my Scumbuster, there was no bandaid, and all the pain from the past four days came up to the surface. I quickly left the store before making a scene, but finally began to fall apart in the car. 

It was good. It was needed.

Unfortunately, after that, I managed to package it all back up and it was months before I let it out again. Clinical mode took over. 

This story is a prime example of how I’ve gone through life, trying to dodge pain, trying to keep it inside, trying to appear strong. That was a day I should have been free to fall apart, but no. 

I’m forever trying to stay ahead of pain, but that leads to a shut down heart. It’s been said that we can’t numb one part of ourselves, without numbing everything. 

I do all that despite the fact that I also have a deep desire to be known and loved for everything I really am. Sometimes when you’re known you aren’t loved. And that’s the risk.

I wish I had been able to ask for what I needed from people in that situation. 

I wish I had said, “Yes, I need you here with me.” 

I wish I had said, “I need to see the doctor today. I need help. I need you to pay attention to me. Your bedside manner sucks, get another job.” 

I wish I had even known what I needed, to be able to ask for it. I wish I had been able to sit and feel the feelings right then and there, for as long as it took. 

Trying to keep ourselves busy or distracted so we don’t feel doesn’t make pain go away. It only prolongs the inevitable and makes us sick. 

The pathway through is to go through. 

I wish I could say I was much better at this today than I was then. At the time I had no idea how to engage with the Lord in situations like this. That’s one area in which I’ve grown. I’ve learned to listen and learned to sense His love and compassion. 

What I haven’t gotten much better at is asking for what I need and being honest about my feelings. It’s vulnerable to express a deep need because what if it isn’t met? What if the person doesn’t show up? What if he or she blows me off? What if I’m just being selfish or whiny? What if I end up feeling that I don’t really matter? 

This is where I am right now. This is what’s front and center for me. It’s the heart of relationship: honesty and true communication – good, bad and ugly. 

One thing I know for sure is that I was made for community. I was made for relationship and that’s one of the primary vehicles God uses to heal us. 

Relationship requires vulnerability. It requires an, often, uncomfortable level of openness. The question is, am I willing to do it? Do I want everything I’m meant to have? Am I willing to work on me so I can be there for others?

I believe meaningful relationships are what we need most outside of the grace of God. In fact, it takes his grace, his empowerment, to do it and do it well. It’s hard to live a wholehearted life alone. We were never meant to try. 

•••

What about you? Is this hard for you? Are you able to show who you really are to the people in your life? Are you willing to let yourself be loved? Are you willing to ask for what you need? (If you’ve got it figured out, let me know, teach me your ways!)

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