Growing up, nobody ever really teaches you about overcoming adversity. They tell you to “stay strong”. “Things’ll get better,” they say. “Pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” they say. But nobody ever prepares you for the adversity that you face as a first time parent.
I was 17, on the back of the bus, traveling up Coors to the group home that I was staying in at the time. “I want to be a single mom,” I thought to myself. “I can feel it. I’m going to have a little girl.” I didn’t know much about the world. I didn’t care to. I just wanted someone to love, and who would love me in return…unconditionally.
Fast forward to a year later. I was riding my bike to the hospital, SWEARING I would NEVER drive (cars are bad for the environment, after all). I was also 4 months pregnant. My swelling belly was making it ever more difficult to maintain my balance on this two-wheeled beast of a machine. I had received word that some of the bloodwork that I had done the previous month had come back abnormal. I wasn’t too concerned. Everything always worked out in my world.
My boyfriend and I arrived at the hospital for my first ever ultrasound. I was so excited. Was it a boy? A girl? Oh god. What if they discovered that the abnormality that showed up in the blood test was that I was pregnant with twins? Oh geez. We were barely making it. As it was, we were going to have to move to another apartment. My job wasn’t paying me nearly enough for a bigger place. What would we do with TWO babies?
I laid back on the sonographer’s table, my stomach doing flips. “Please just say it’s one baby. Oh, and that it’s healthy.”
This was when we found out that the baby was going to be born with a life-threatening congenital defect where a large portion of her intestines were exposed, hanging outside of a small hole next to her little belly button. “Well,” the sonographer sighed. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but your baby is going to die. You need to think about abortion now.”
All I remember doing after this was climbing onto my bike and somehow landing on my face. As I placed my palms on the ground and lifted my head, the same questions kept swirling around in my mind. Talk about overcoming adversity.
The thought of it turned my stomach. I couldn’t possibly entertain the thought.
But I stopped smoking
But I was eating healthy.
But I quit coffee.
What in the world did I do to cause this?
Four months later I found myself in premature labor with my soon-to-be little girl. I had no idea what to expect.
“All I know is that this is going to hurt a whole lot more than when she got in there,“ I thought.
A news crew heard that I was about to give birth to this “miracle baby” and asked if they could be in on witnessing my little family overcoming adversity.“Whatever,” I thought. “There is already a parade of people that have been in and out of this place. Why not invite a news crew?”
Three hours and an epidural later, sweet little Abby arrived into a room of 8 doctors, my mother, my boyfriend, and a news crew.
The doctors diligently wrapped her exposed bowels in gauze and they whisked her away. I was so relieved to hear her cry and to kiss her beautiful little perfectly round head.
I was so eager to see her again; to hear her sweet cries and to touch her soft skin. I wanted to take some time to gaze into her brand new baby blue eyes and to touch her tiny toes as she would wiggle in my arms.
But what I saw when I arrived in the NICU was not a swaddled, sleeping baby. Rather, what I saw was a very still little being with her intestines held suspended above her tiny body. Her little belly was too small and the skin would need time to stretch to accommodate the mass of swollen guts that would, eventually, be tucked neatly back where they belonged.
I felt helpless.
As I write this, I realize just how numb I became over this whole period of time. It was the first time that I ever felt my spirit leave me. I felt myself softening more than I ever had. I also realized how powerless I was. Somehow all of my power had left. It left me and was transferred to her.
I completely surrendered to whatever was happening. I realized that I had zero control over the outcome, over my emotions, and over fate. Overcoming adversity became something that was not an ACT. It was something that happened.
After her final surgery (a good 5 weeks after her birth), I was finally able to hold her. I was terrified of breaking her. When they placed her in my arms, I trembled. I wanted to tell her how very perfect and precious she was. I peered into her sleepy, drugged eyes and examined the parts of her face that weren’t being deformed by the surgical tape that was holding the breathing tube steady in her mouth. I just wanted to be with her.
I felt tremendous relief as the warmth of this tiny being filled my arms. Just then, a nurse rushed up to me. Abby’s heart had begun to race and the nurse snatched her out of my arms, placed her back on her plastic tray of a bed, pushed some more medicine into her IV, and I watched her body go limp once more.
My heart was beyond broken. So much so that I had resigned to the idea that I may never bring her home. If I did, anything could happen. She might die. I was unable to panic. I was a shell of a mom.
The following weeks were a blur as her health improved and she was transferred to a less intensive care section of the NICU. When I saw her in the incubator, she had her breathing tube removed and her bed was adorned with a delicate pink crocheted blanket that one of the hospital volunteers had donated to her.
After scrubbing in, I took the back of my finger and allowed it to lightly graze the side of her little fuzzy arm. It was so soft and so perfect. The nurse opened up the incubator and encouraged me to pick up my daughter. Tears filled my eyes and my heart raced as my hands slid underneath her shoulders to pick her up. I lifted her and watched her closely for any signs of distress (surely I would be asked to put her down again).
But nothing happened.
“She needs you to hold her,” the nurse said. She guided us to a rocking chair where I was encouraged to remove my shirt and allow my baby to rest on my bare chest.
And there we sat. I rocked her and held her. My heart filled to the brim with such universal joy that this was finally happening. I touched her perfect head. Smelled her sweet scent. Listened to her adorable grunts as she would strain to move.
I could hardly believe that this was real.
As she settled there on my chest, I couldn’t think of anything that could be more perfect.
“You’re home,” I whispered to her.
And we sat in stillness, in our perfect little bubble, for what felt like an eternity. I loved her. She would love me. In this moment, I felt as if we were the only two beings that existed in the universe. We were successful in overcoming adversity. And it was at that moment that I felt a force that was much bigger than me…
…and it loved us both unconditionally.
It is true that you will run up against challenges in life that really don’t feel fair. Circumstances may feel so far out of your control that you will feel as if the world is spinning, yet you are standing still. In these moments, we, humans have no choice but to trust, surrender, and let go. These elements are key in overcoming adversity.
The medicine is in the journey that is the experience; the bliss that is waiting on the other side is nothing short of purely divine.
If you are in a space right now where you feel that the circumstances are way beyond your control, TRUST that there is a beautiful life lesson in store. SURRENDER all expectations of and attachments to outcome. Finally, LET GO and allow the journey to unfold in ways that are more beautiful and magical than you can ever imagine.
So much love.