I love the month of November. Always have. The reasons are not unique to me, I’m sure. The cool, crisp weather. The crackling of logs in the fireplace. The sound of geese flying overhead. The spectacularly colored foliage. The smell of mulling spices. Thanksgiving. The start of Christmas music. It’s such a cozy time of year.
And this year’s November was going to be extra-cozy. This was the month that I was going to deliver our long-awaited daughter into the world.
Instead, I feel like I’m just hanging on for dear life as I go hurtling towards her due date.
Over the past few days, I’ve overly-indulged in the “what-if’s” and the “what-should-have-been’s.” They’re toxic and counterproductive, but man are they tempting. I handle them about as successfully as I do a bag-of-anything-chocolate. The first few that I mindfully eat are satisfying, but then something switches on and before I know it the whole bag is gone and I’m lying on the couch or the floor stuffed with regret wondering why I lack any self-control.
I suppose that I am addicted to sugar and self-pity equally.
This past Sunday, I went to get my nails done. After we lost the baby, I started patronizing a new salon because I couldn’t bear the thought of having the girls at the old place ask what happened. They were just so excited for me. But about 15 minutes into my manicure, a very pregnant woman came in and sat down a few chairs down from me. One day it will finally register that I cannot out-maneuver reminders of my loss. Sunday just wasn’t that day.
The woman was greeted by name and asked a series of questions about her baby. Part of me tried to tune out the conversation, but a bigger part of me was desperate to hear it. I have no idea why. Probably to feed the self-pity. And of course– just my luck– she was expecting her first girl after three boys and was there to have her nails done prior to the birth in two and a half weeks. A quick calculation in my head put her baby’s due date around November 28. Two days before my first-girl-after-three-boys was due.
Over the course of the past several months I have slowly managed to piece my heart back together. Or at least hold it together with a lot of duct tape. But yesterday at the nail salon, it shattered all over again.
My husband has been reminding me recently to keep looking forward. It’s good advice, but being the highly-emotional, not-always-rational self-pity addict that I am, it’s not easy to follow. So I’ve taken his advice and modified it. I try to make sure that I’m looking forward more than I am looking backward. This feels more natural to me. It’s like driving a car, which involves mostly looking ahead while glimpsing in the rear view mirror occasionally. You can’t drive safely unless you look back from time to time, but if you look back too much then you won’t see what’s directly in front of you. And depending on what that is, you’ll either miss out on something beautiful or crash into a tree.
As my nails were being buffed on Sunday, I thought about my husband’s (modified) advice and realized that I’ve been so sad recently because I’ve been looking backward too much. I’ve been looking backward because that’s where she is. That’s where the positive pregnancy test is. The cupcake filled with pink icing announcing the arrival of a little girl. The boys’ smiles when they learned they were having a sister. The look on my husband’s face every time he talked about having a daughter. My baby’s sweet little kicks.
All of that is behind me, so I’ve spent most of my time recently looking back. But focusing almost exclusively in the past hasn’t brought me joy. All it has brought is unimaginable sadness. I haven’t been paying attention to what’s in front of me, and you can’t find joy if you aren’t paying attention.
November is a month of gratitude. There are reminders about it everywhere. Thirty day gratitude challenges on every social media platform. But it’s so hard to be grateful for what you have when you want so badly to have something else. Something more.
Moments before I left the salon on Sunday with a fresh coat of paint on my nails and a fresh crack in my heart, I decided that I wanted to be intentional and live in gratitude for my abundantly blessed life. (There’s something about a manicure that changes your perspective and makes your life feel more organized, isn’t there?) And in order to do so, I have to get out of the past and fight for forward progress. That does not mean that I forget my daughter or stop mourning her loss. Of course not. But it does mean that I stop viewing every pregnant woman as some kind of cosmic assault aimed directly at me.
That woman waiting on the arrival of her first-girl-after-three-boys? Perhaps she has also suffered a tremendous loss and has finally gotten to the end of her rainbow.
So before I left, I decided to keep my eyes in front of me instead of looking in the rear view mirror. And I congratulated the woman on her pregnancy and wished her luck with her delivery and happiness with her daughter. I told her that I, too, have three sons so her comments about crazy-boy energy resonated with me. I did not tell her about my daughter because I didn’t want to make her feel bad, but mostly because losing one child does not diminish the other three that I have.
I kept my focus on what is right in front of me.
She offered a sincere smile and a genuine thank you and I suddenly felt like my old self again.
Then I went shopping.
And then I found joy.