Angel ornament with Hope across her chest.
Self-Care

Leaning On Others: What I Wish I’d Known

This story is a deeply personal one. If you’ve recently experienced a miscarriage this may hit a little too close to home. It may also be just what you need to hear.  

A bathroom. I found out I was pregnant, at 40, in the middle stall of the dirty, stinky, bathroom of the base gymnasium.

I’m pretty sure I was on the verge of hyperventilating. When I met my husband in the parking lot outside his office, all I could do was shuffle the kids, then ages six and eight, to my car and bury my sobbing head in my husband’s chest. How can this be happening? How can you be so calm? And how can you be heading back to the field tonight?

A few months prior, my husband’s job took us to Germany! When I saw those double-pink lines, I was just a few months into a new role as a “Senior Spouse.” What the heck? I JUST turned 40. I don’t want to be known as a senior anything, but like it or not, I was. And apparently, I’m supposed to know stuff.

So, when the biggest shock of my life happened, I was supposed to know what to do. I was supposed to be strong enough to handle the news with grace and a grateful heart. But I wasn’t there. It was news my Type-A brain, with a plan for our future, couldn’t wrap around.

Every emotion – ALL of them – came. The negative emotions took hold quickly: fear, disbelief, anger, and then guilt for being angry. Who gets angry at a baby? I sent my husband back to the field, somehow got the kids to bed, cried, and made a plan.

Step one: Make a doctor’s appointment in the morning.
Step two: Gather facts about having a baby over 40.
Step three: Text my bestie and drop my bombshell.
Step four: Try to not get freaked out by step two, and sleep.

The next morning, I snagged a walk-in appointment and confirmed what I already knew to be true. On my way home, I invited myself over to my friend’s house (who was also a midwife) and sobbed some more: Step five. I should have taken my cues from how I felt that day. Sharing my new reality hadn’t made it heavier; it had made it lighter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention to that detail.

So then, I told no one. It’s big news, but I’m Fort Knox. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t ready for the jokes: “You do know how that happens, right?” (wink, wink). I wasn’t ready to be ‘knocked up.’ Yes, I know now how ridiculous that sounds given that I was 40 and happily married. But my head can be a loud place, and all the noise was saying that I couldn’t handle the raised eyebrows or the comments that were a kick in the gut version of “wow, starting over?” People mean well, but they get the whole ‘diffusing an uncomfortable situation’ thing wrong all the time. I simply didn’t trust my relatively new tribe to get it right, and I knew my heart couldn’t handle them getting it wrong. So, I kept my secret. Literally. Just me and my pillow and my midwife friend and the amazing clinic nurse I’d sobbed to (who, by the way, I was sure thought I’d had an affair by the way I was carrying on). Logic was in short supply, and my emotions were in overdrive.

I spent the next couple weeks in a haze, bailing on commitment after commitment, unable to trust myself to keep it together. I was convinced that losing it was not an option. My husband finally came home from the field and could take up his post as the voice of reason. He could show me all that was good about such a dramatic change in our lives during such a demanding time in his career, THE most demanding. Yep, perfect time for no sleep and solo parenting. But he was getting in my head, and it was helping.

German OB experiences make great stories, but the greatest blessing was that they ultrasound the heck out of pregnant ladies. Every visit! So, a month after my initial peak, I got to see the changes in our third child. I’d had time to sit with our new reality, and the OMG voices in my head were beginning to quiet. We left the appointment, and my husband declared that he had it! Uh, what it? “Bean! We’ll call it bean” (complete with the hand gesture to show how small said bean was). He’d dubbed our first child peanut, our second sweet pea, and this one would be bean. It was adorable, and I loved him as much in that moment as I ever had for being the cheerleader in this season of our lives. And so, that was that. We were doing this, us and bean. I was terrified, but I left that second appointment opening the window for joy.

Other than missing out on Gluhwein, our last Christmas as a family of four was perfect! I’d finally fallen in love with the idea of new beginnings and more years with Santa. We’d told our families, an ocean away, and I couldn’t wait for the New Year ahead, so we could tell the kids! We’d made a plan to tell the kids after the upcoming month-long training exercise, at 14.5 weeks. I’d fallen in love with our new reality.

Then week 10.5 came and brought heartache like I’d never known. How could something I’d resisted imprint so deeply, so quickly, on my heart? Did all my initial worry cause this? What if I’d been thrilled at the outset? The guilt and regret took my breath away. The whys and what ifs rarely make sense; nor did what came next.

Over the years, I’d bought into the idea that military spouses are resilient, strong, and capable. So, in the midst of heartache, I shifted into military spouse mode. I told my husband I was okay. I sent him on his way to a month-long training exercise, just days after my heart was broken. I ignored the fact that just being in the same room with a baby made me ache. For weeks, maybe more, my friend (the midwife) and my neighborhood bestie were the only people in my circle that knew. I’d lost our baby overnight on a Sunday, and by Monday morning I was deflecting questions about my weekend like an Olympic champ. It was as if it never happened. But it had. 

I leaned on no one. I did the one thing I’d never tell a military spouse to do, isolate from others. As much as I wasn’t ready for the jokes, in the beginning, I really wasn’t ready to catch up my circle. I was pregnant. I was sad about it. Then I was happy about it. Now it’s gone, and I’m devastated. The pendulum had swung so far, I didn’t trust they’d get it. I look back and wonder how it might have all been different if I’d chosen vulnerability, if I’d chosen to let others help. They would have; I know that now. They would have done more than I needed and wrapped me in their own special blanket of understanding, compassion, maybe even empathy. 

So why didn’t I let them? Pride? Maybe. Embarrassment? Probably. Fear? Definitely. But, while somewhat subconscious, my decision was also influenced by my role as a senior spouse. I was supposed to be the one helping others, supporting others, mentoring others. I was supposed to be strong enough to weather this storm. I was supposed to be (insert absurd, self-created expectation). I wasn’t actually any of those things. I was broken. And in my brokenness, I robbed others of the opportunity to help and robbed myself of the opportunity to know what it feels like to receive that kind of support.

I feel like I see this all too often. If we’ve been around the military block a few times, we tend to raise our own standard for intervention. We raise the threshold, often without even noticing, for what qualifies us to reach out when our own lives turn upside down. We are the helpers, not the helped.

What I learned as I struggled with my grief was how much lighter the load really does get when you share it with others. People that I considered friends likely never knew what I was dealing with, and I wish that wasn’t my truth, but it is. I’ve used every available opportunity since I gained clarity to remind others to let people help. 

We all grieve or struggle differently, and some need more privacy than others, but the sweet precious soul I never met taught me so much about my blind spot. Asking for help, accepting help, feeling worthy of the effort of others, those are the moments when tribes are built, friendships cemented, and hope born. Today, as a blessing of where I’ve been, I’m more honest about the hard days and more willing to share my own struggles as they occur. 

Incidentally about a month after my miscarriage, I walked into a favorite store and hanging unclaimed on the shelf was a single ornament. An angel, a German-looking girl, with ‘Hope’ written across her chest. I stood there looking at her and cried. I knew she was there for me. Each Christmas since then, we hang our German angel on our tree, and I remember to hope and to ask for help when I need it.

Have you ever stopped yourself from asking for help because you thought maybe your situation wasn’t “bad enough” to call in the cavalry? How do make that decision? How do you communicate what you need from your circle?

Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, comfy socks, cream cheese icing, warm bath towels, and morning snuggles with her kiddos. 

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