The Best, Worst Days
Resilience, Radical Acceptance, and Letting Two Things Be True
Last October I held my breath and pushed “publish” on a post that was more personal than most. In that piece, I shared the story of my twin babies' birth. The abridged version of the colorful tale is this: On October 25, 2017, my husband and I welcomed our son and daughter into the world, but doctors didn't think I'd live through the night. I was 31 weeks pregnant and hemorrhaged severely following an emergency c-section. Against all odds, my body surprised my surgeon and managed to hold on, thanks to a hysterectomy and lots of transfused blood. It was one of the best, worst nights of my life.
We don't always choose our stories—sometimes they choose us. Then, it's up to us what we do with them. As a psychologist, I go through a complex decision-making calculus about what and how I show up and share my life publicly. I carefully think through every like, tweet, and post a patient could see. As I contemplated sharing our story on Substack, in the end, I opted for the vulnerable risk. I wanted people to think about some things we don't talk about very often: infertility, maternal mortality, birth trauma—serious topics that affect more people than we tend to believe they do.
Last week my babies turned five. I watched them blow out candles, eat all the cake, and devour their first Kinder eggs. I listened to their laughter and shrieks of joy as they played with friends in a park. I sat back, took a million pictures in my mind, and thought, "I'm so glad I get to be here for this." October 25 is an annual gut check for my husband and me. We're reminded that these babies that have been entrusted to us for 18 short years are absolute miracles through and through. They are an embodiment of grace, and for reasons we will never fully know, we're all here together living our bonus rounds.
My kids' birthday is always an incredible celebration, but it's haunting all the same. Each year my husband and I flashback to that joyous, horrible night. I remember next to nothing about the day my children were born. Most of what I know about it has been spliced together from pictures and other people's stories. My brain had to work really hard to protect me that night, so very few of my memories are my own. The ones that belong to me are pretty horrific.
This week, I've been reflecting on all that motherhood has taught me. One thing that stands out is how I've come to let go of unhelpful notions about how things "should be." Very little about my early experiences of motherhood mapped onto most peoples' hopes or expectations about how the process is "supposed" to play out, starting with the way my children were conceived. Over time, I've gotten better at accepting "what is" and realizing that it's up to me whether or not I will make the most of it. Fighting the truth or wishing it was different doesn't change circumstances—it only turns pain into suffering.
I've abandoned the idea that my future should follow certain rules. Life isn't fair, and things often don't make sense. Pain will always, in some way, be a part of the picture. The future will continue to be uncertain. The unpredictable will strike when we don't expect it. Those are the rules. They apply to all of us (as much as we try to pretend otherwise or think we are somehow exempt). Instead of fighting reality, I've learned to practice radical acceptance. I endeavor to use my finite reserve of energy to respond gracefully to whatever is handed to me.
Parenting is an amplifier. As a mother, the beauty of everything in my world has become brighter while the weight of the hard stuff is heavier. The best things in my life have also been the most challenging—marriage, graduate school, being a mom, and running a company. In the most difficult moments of any of these endeavors, it's easy to zoom in, overgeneralize, and get stuck. But, when I have the sense to back up and see the full gestalt, I can appreciate the overwhelming good that I’ve been granted. As quickly as I can, I try to snap myself back to reality and savor it before it slips through my fingers and is gone forever.
To be human is to experience joy alongside pain. Life is one long bittersweet symphony. None of us can outrun tragedy indefinitely. Eventually, grief, injury, or catastrophe will find us, but even in the darkness, if we look for it, there will be light. Both, And. One feeling doesn’t nullify another. Two things can be true. We need to be able to mourn and simultaneously move forward without being forever arrested by sorrow. To prevent being completely pulled under by heartache, it’s important to let dissonant emotional states coexist. If we don’t, we will rarely be able to relish happiness. If you wait around for everything to be wonderful, you’ll waste precious time wishing instead of experiencing.
My life is less of a sleep-deprived circus now than it was five years ago, but most days I still feel like I'm making it up as I go. And perhaps, that's in my best interest. I'd only be fooling myself if I believed I had things all figured out or thought everything will go according to my carefully-laid plans. The world doesn't work like that. It smacks you in the face and waits for your reaction. In those moments, we all have to choose: will we let adversity break us or use it to grow stronger? The hardest, best things are the ones that transform us… if only we let them.
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