What’s better than carrying a secret with a cheeky smile and hopeful heart?
I remember well the feeling of carrying a dream of long-term travel. I stockpiled links to message boards and forums and piled library books by my bedside. I’d talk in hushed tones with close friends about this crazy scheme to work hard, save like crazy, and then burst out onto the world with a backpack and a plan and an open horizon.
Ted and I crept toward the point of no return, purchasing plane tickets, reserving ship cabins, and then ultimately breaking news to our employers that we’d be leaving our jobs and departing on a one-way flight to South America.
The desire to prove to ourselves that it could be done.
Then: a year spent reaping the fruits of what we’d sown. Adventures and new friendships, tales and escapes and missteps (made right, eventually). We learned so much, we stretched and grew so much. We became older and wiser and returned to our little life in Oregon with a mental suitcase of souvenir-memories to outfit us for ages and steer our steps on future paths.
And then we stretched and grew a little more and added sweet little Lucie to our lives.
That adventure (still unfolding day by day) of guiding a new little human’s existence on earth, mirrors and mimics (and outshines) the experiences of learning to live in foreign lands. It continues to give inspiration and head(heart)aches. It calls for learning new languages, changing forms of transportation, existing in new child-friendly-timezones. (Yes, this once-student accustomed to frequent all-nighters in landscape architecture studio has cried uncle many, many more times than once at hours well shy of 9pm.)
Honestly, though, framing my perspectives to align with my joys helps keep my wanderlust heart anchored during this long-term season of parenthood.
And ever the adventure junkie that I am, when Ted and I got our positive pregnancy test this past autumn, my heart did a somersault, and we braced for another round of logistical planning, mountaintop highs, and slightly heavier bags.
We joked with each other: what kind of guy gets accepted into grad school while sitting in a little guest house in Chiang Mai, Thailand and then comes home, rebuilds a life, buys a house, and has two kiddos all before the diploma’s on the wall? A little ambitious, eh?
We two overly-ambitious firstborns aren’t ones to naturally take the easy road, that’s for certain.
Like those early dreams of travel, the visions of a growing family overwhelmed and terrified…and lured us in with promises of sweet discoveries, irreplaceable memories, and a brand new, lifelong friendship.
So we began the new adventure with our tiny new little Oregonian. A fluttering heartbeat on the ultrasound screen confirmed the fluttering in my own heart, and a week and a half later we flew to Hawaii with a toddler in tow and the Christmas surprise tucked away in my barely-rounding belly. (P.S. They say as you travel more, you pack less and your suitcase shrinks, but I’m telling you it’s a bit the opposite with kiddos: with each new one you carry, the faster and larger your pregnant tummy expands. And the heavier the luggage for family vacations.)
Oh, how I wish I could tell you a picture-perfect tale.
The funny thing is, I have a perfect picture to share.
Our extended family (30 people together in Maui) gathered on the beach on a Tuesday morning to take group photos, and Ted and I decided to spring the news on them just before the photographer opened the shutter:
That night we celebrated in style on the north coast at Mama’s Fish House while rainbows filled the sky and waves rolled in to shore…
And then, like a train derailed or a ferry sunk, like a flight gone missing over the ocean or a moped ride gone wrong, adventure took that dreaded turn for the worst.
Paradise turned bittersweet while we waited out the days and returned to the rainy mainland and the ultrasound confirmation already sensed in our hearts: our little one was gone.
I wish that had been the end, but the physical journey to finish the process of death took a heavy toll over the rest of Christmas. As in seasons before, the shared joy and moral support of family and close friends made new adventures all the more glorious, and this time, the kindness of loved ones kept Ted and me comforted in a time of grief. Mercifully, by the time the New Year arrived, my body and spirit began to make steps toward better health and fresh perspective.
Even now though, two months later, I’m still experiencing the ripple effects of such a drastic change of plans. The number of friends and acquaintances due with July babies is staggering. I see the curves of their growing bellies and later peer at my now-flat profile in the mirror: the very real reminder of an adventure stopped short.
At the same time, possibilities of other endeavors for 2015 are taking shape, and I have to weigh in my heart the truth of that verse that kept me going through earlier years of ups and downs and unknowns about life:
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps… (Proverbs 16:9)
The truth is, I do believe that with all my heart. I really do.
It’s a profound mystery, and I’m willing to walk in it.
I reconcile so much with this thought: Ted and I were never guaranteed the outcome of our travels before we departed. There were many, many hopes and desires, many surprises and blessings, and more than a few rough roads, too. But at the very end of it, the very time when we were being asked what the most valuable part of the journey was, and how we could sum up the year, we concluded quite simply, it was all about the people.
The payoff of adventure, the reward for the risk, was the connection with fellow humans.
The sharing of stories. The breaking of bread at tables around the world. The richer perspective on what it means to share time and space, to exchange histories, to absorb the experiences of other lives, other cultures. To grow in compassion and kindness, to extend curiosity and give pause to consider different points of view.
The payoff at the end of adventure is a change in the condition of the heart.
For those weeks that our little one was alive and with us, I cherished its life and celebrated what it could become, and when that little life was over, I shared the experience of sorrow and mourning with dear ones who have also lost their children and experienced shifting pictures of the future.
When I first drafted these thoughts, I labeled the post: “Pregnant Pause: The Sorrow of Adventures Lost,” but now, with more time and thought, I see that the adventure was not lost. No. Though it ended abruptly and took a much different shape than I’d envisioned, it still took me through something transformative.
I’ve connected with fellow humans and experienced a changed condition of my heart.
More empathy. More perspective. More understanding.
I’ve adventured again.
And forever I’ll carry sweet memories of being pregnant in Hawaii.
Briefly, there were four: Lucie, Bethany, Ted, and a new little babyOregonian who came and left again so soon…
This post is dedicated to our sweet little one who came and went from our lives so quickly, and to parents everywhere (especially you sweet friends – you know who you are) who have traveled this road of hopes and dreams and sorrow.
The more we share in life, the more we know we are not alone.
For resources and encouragement: The Compassionate Friends
For great suggestions: How to Care for a Friend (and Her Family) After Miscarriage or Stillbirth
For the song that played on repeat in my head for many weeks: Watermark’s Glory Baby.