Grief is a funny thing. When I was doing my graduate coursework at USU, I had an incredible psychology professor. He taught us the stages of grief using the example of an adult losing his favorite red pen. “God, I promise I’ll eat all my green beans forever if you’ll just help me find my pen.” Hilarious, right? Well it was a pretty fun lecture but more importantly, it stuck. I’m not claiming to remember all the stages of grief in order and all the possible manifestations of those stages, but what I did manage to retain after 10 years of filling my brain with Go Diego Go episodes and cleaning play doh out of the carpet is that grief isn’t just about losing someone you care about to death, and it’s not just about crying and anti-depressants either. We grieve over many things in life and most significant to me right now is the fact that we grieve over what could have been. As if I didn’t have enough to be emotional about, now I have to deal with feeling sad every time something doesn’t go as planned?!? Yep. But luckily, most of us “grieve” all those what-could-have-beens very quickly and almost without notice. Like when you’ve had a bad day and you can’t wait to get the kids in bed so you can finish off the tin roof sundae in the freezer only to realize hubby finished it last night. Grrr. Oh well. This what-could-have-been has been a little tougher for me to swallow.
I had a hysterectomy. There. I said it. I will not bare any more children. My uterus is gone. I’m grieving my uterus. Saying it that way made me smile, which helps. I’m actually grieving the loss of my ability to have children.
Now before you feel too sorry for me, I do already have 4 beautiful children. To most people this is already a very large family so they aren’t quite sure why I’m upset but I’ll explain. I have a thing for even numbers so when Dusty and I got married in 2004 and I happened to have our first child in 2006, I really liked the pattern and I decided that we would have a child every 2 years until they were all here. I will admit to having a certain number in mind but I didn’t tell anyone about that number of children that I wanted. It’s not really up to just me and we had only been married a few years! I wasn’t going to give Dusty a heart attack!!! But let’s just say I like things organized and I have a journal entry were I listed the years and then there’s a column for each child and their age and grade when each subsequent child would be born (and yes, their names are there too). Psychotic? Probably, but it’s there on paper. And more significantly, it was written in my heart. Since we got pregnant with Brian as soon as we stopped preventing pregnancy, and because wanting children is definitely a righteous desire, I never dreamed anything would prevent my perfect plan from happening. And nothing did, at least not for a while. I had child #2 in 2008, Child #3 in 2010 and Child #4 cutting it a little close in December of 2012. Life was perfect.
So spring of 2014, I naturally started thinking about baby #5. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m pretty sure I thought about baby #5 a long time before Spring of 2014 but Mary was quite a handful so I quickly set those thoughts aside. So here I am, it’s 2014. It’s a baby year. I really want another baby, I always have! But, for the first 5 months of 2014, our family of 6 was living in a 600 sq ft 2 bedroom hotel room on Ft. Sill in Oklahoma while Dusty completed Basic Officers Leadership Training for the Army. There were many days when I felt ready. Someone else scrubbed my toilet for 5 months, how can you not feel ready to have another baby!?!? Hehehe But Dusty wasn’t. He was very overwhelmed with how demanding training was and already feeling like he was neglecting his family. It was not time yet. To Dusty’s credit, I’m pretty sure if I would have said, “Babe, I’m ready. I want a baby.” He would have been happy to oblige! But since a marriage is a partnership and because deep down, I had a few doubts (remember that incredibly feisty 2 year-old Mary…) I decided to give up my perfect 2-year plan and wait. And I was ok with that. Oklahoma was an amazing adventure for our family and could have been pretty difficult with a pregnancy. So when we arrived home that summer, I was ready and while we both had a few reservations about having another child (we’re going to support 5 children on a how much money?), we knew God would provide as long as we kept our priorities right so we stopped preventing pregnancy and I will admit, I fully expected to be pregnant 30 days later, just like our other 4. So when my period was late, I was super excited, and then when it came, super devastated. But it’s only been one month. No worries.
One month turned into 2, 3, and then 6 months went by. In my denial and grief, I actually got kind of excited with the start of 2015 because now, just maybe I would have a 2016 baby and still have my perfect even numbers!!! Silly Melanie, God has a plan and even though you’re even numbers thing is a little obsessive, He’s going to bless you with what you want.
I had had several appointments with my midwife throughout this time addressing my periods that were now always late and always longer than 7 days and getting much heavier than they had ever been. After trying several other options, I finally had some testing done in March and the Dr. found a uterine polyp. “That’s what’s causing the bleeding, it’s a simple day surgery and you’ll be good as new.” Well, it was a simple day surgery with a couple of days of recovery, but a few weeks later, I was not good as new. I was bleeding again. I was bleeding a lot. My hopes for pregnancy were dashed again.
In the New Testament, there is a very brief but memorable scripture where a woman with an issue of blood reaches out to touch the Savior’s garment and is healed. She had been suffering for 12 years! In the past year I have bled for 151 days. That’s 41% of the year. I would consider that an issue of blood! I have no idea how the woman in the bible survived that long. When I get to heaven, I would like to give her a big hug and say, ‘I get it.’ The other thing I was beginning to get is the pain women experience with infertility. Now before you get on your soapbox and remind me that I had 4 complication free pregnancies that resulted in perfectly healthy babies, I will reiterate that I was beginning to get it. I will never understand the pain of infertility and miscarriage completely. Everyone’s trials and experiences are unique and only the Lord has a perfect understanding. But, by April 2015, I had spent many nights crying. I had prayed and prayed and asked why and I had received priesthood blessings and I had tried to eat healthy and exercise and follow the Dr.’s orders and gone to the temple and prayed some more.
This is the part of grief that I think is the hardest—this searching for the why part. At this point, my Dr. (because I couldn’t see the midwife anymore, I was beyond help from her) basically said, “you have 2 options: You can have a hysterectomy, or you can do hormone therapy which will only mask the symptoms and not actually solve any problems.” (For those of you who want the medical details, my uterus and cervix were so prolapsed that they were literally falling out of my body anyway so hormone therapy would have controlled the bleeding for at least a little while. But, eventually, I would need the hysterectomy anyway.) So during this searching for the why part of grief, I finally started praying “thy will be done” and looking and asking for comfort and acceptance rather than the miracle that I wanted. It was also about this time that almost every single general conference talk was about the family and how important it is! That hurt. Why? Why is this happening when what I want IS what God wants? Why can’t I have another baby when God wants us to have families? Why can’t I have another baby when the family is THE most important thing for me to do on this earth? Why is Dusty so ok with this and I’m the one balling my eyes out every night? Why, why if this IS God’s will for me can’t I be okay with it? If my family is complete and that is what God wants for me, then why do I have to hurt and cry and be so NOT OK all the time? If this is God’s will, why isn’t He sending me peace? And then I would think about all the women who can’t have 1 baby let alone another one and I feel like a complete shmuck and I don’t dare say anything to anyone because I’m completely selfish and heartless. And I’d cry some more.
The truth is, God WAS comforting me. He sent me hugs and kisses from my kids. He sent me people to serve. He sent me friends to listen. He sent me good doctors so I could get medical care. He sent me the most caring husband who held me every single time I cried and listened even though I had said the same things a hundred times. He was patient with me and said, “It hurts me too, I just don’t show it the same way.” And finally, God sent my mom who knows me too well to believe me when I say I’m fine. And she said, “Melanie, maybe it’s not God’s will. Maybe it’s not that God doesn’t want you to have more children. It’s just that something is going wrong with you physically and it needs to be taken care of so you can raise the children you already have.” And that’s the day I was finally able to stop asking why. Sometimes things happen. And it hurts. A lot. And I firmly believe that it hurts God a lot too just like it hurts us when something hurts our kids. But, in His perfection, He understands what we have to gain from allowing us to hurt. So in the midst of my asking why, He was preparing my heart for some pretty significant understandings that would never have come without the pain.
In a small way, I am now able to mourn with those women who suffer from infertility. It hurts, but it does help to have a friend who listens and understands that it hurts.
In my perfect, even numbers life, I have now had a significant trial. I have struggled and questioned. I have hurt and had to work and pray to overcome. I know what that feels like. The Lord has come through for me again, just as He has with every other trial in my life and just as I know He will in the future no matter what.
I am a mother. I will always be a mother and I will mother far more children than the 4 that I bore naturally. In his infinite wisdom and care, Heavenly Father put a bug in my ear to host an exchange student this year. Why in the world would that be a good idea when we just bought a thrift store and I’m homeschooling Brian and Dusty’s starting his master’s program? Well, because He knew in my pain and loss, I would need concrete proof that my worth as a mother is not dependent upon my ability to get pregnant. God sent me another child in the year 2015. She just didn’t come as a baby. And she has been a great blessing and joy to me. I’m confident that the future will hold more children for me.
I will be a mother forever. I now have an unshakeable testimony that I will have prosperity without end in the eternities. Death is not the end and neither is surgery. Jesus Christ has overcome it all and so will I as I do my best to keep his commandments.
So I scheduled my pre-op appointment for late October. I had to go to the Doctor a week later because I was once again, bleeding to death. The PA I saw, put me on the next surgery schedule because waiting a few more months was just not an option anymore, they squeezed in my pre-op appointment the next week and here I am 6 days post-op having a very cleansing cry as I write.
Recovery has been brutal for me both physically and emotionally. From the nurse who said, “congratulations on being barren” to the need for narcotic painkillers, the ride is not over and neither is the grief. But, there is hope. There are smiles and there has been laughter. One particularly depressing day during recovery, Dusty looked at me and said, “well, I guess you can quit.” I laughed out loud, which hurt, but I laughed again and was grateful for the perspective of not “quitting” recovery.
Those who know me well, know that I bought a thrift store, and hosted an exchange student in the same year because I enjoy working and I enjoy being busy. They also know, resting is excruciatingly painful for me. So for now, I will pick up another good book, start crocheting another blanket, and pray to find new learning from so much rest. I will take the good (no more periods!!!!!) with the pain (seeing Dusty hold our beautiful infant niece) and know that God does have a plan for my future that includes healing, happiness and eternity with my favorite husband and my 4 amazing children.