Processing Emotions: Truth & Lies

When we lost Ginny, I knew it would be so, so important to actually process my emotions. I’ve heard horror stories of unprocessed grief leading to terrible things later in life. As much as I wanted to be happy and focus on the positive, I knew I needed to face every single yucky, painful feeling I had. 

Letting yourself feel everything is hard because it hurts. It hurts really bad. And just when you think things should be getting better, another wave of grief hits and you have to face it again and again. 

To add a layer of complexity to an already complex situation – after a few weeks of grieving I realized that there is productive grief and unproductive grief. It has to do with your thoughts. There are certain thoughts that would make me feel sad or angry or disappointed. I would process those feelings, feel better, and move on to the next thought. But there are some thoughts that would cause me to feel those painful emotions. I would process those feelings, and then I would feel worse, not better. I would not move on to the next thought. Instead I would dive deeper into that thought. It could become a cycle of despair, leading nowhere. 

Example – thinking of all the “what ifs” that could’ve saved Ginny. What if the midwife sent us straight to labor and delivery instead of scheduling a growth scan for Monday? What if I hadn’t mistaken contractions for movement? How could we have saved her? Could we have prevented this? Why didn’t I have motherly instincts telling me something wasn’t right? This line of thinking was important to process. I needed to think through these possibilities. I needed to come to peace that there is no way to change history and what happened happened. I needed to understand that even if we had done those things, there is no way to know if the outcome would’ve been different. I needed to understand that we did what we thought was best based on the information we had. I needed to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong. I did understand those things… but then my mind would go back. I would go back to the “what ifs” again and again. It would just make me feel worse about everything. I got stuck and fell into darkness. I had to pray hard to get out of it. I had to assure myself of truths I know. I had to read the Bible. I had to control my thoughts and not let myself go to places I knew were leading nowhere. 

Another example – I got caught into constantly thinking about what physically happened to Ginny. Originally Daniel and I thought it was important to find out what caused this, not because we needed know what happened with Ginny but to know what it means for future pregnancies. There was no way to change what happened to Ginny, but we could possible prevent this from happening again. After a while my thought process changed, and I felt like it was my duty as her mother to figure out what happened to Ginny. I read all the test results. I read placenta evaluation textbooks. I am no doctor, but I became somewhat obsessed with figuring out what happened. Bloodclots, cord knots, antibodies, thyroid levels, etc. etc. Was she in pain? Maybe I could find something our doctors didn’t. I have to at least try. I would feel so exhausted at the end of days of research. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I needed to let go. I had to remind myself to change my thoughts when I get in this cycle. 

Final example – Some days I feel like I have nothing going for me. I don’t have my daughter; I don’t have my career. My past self would think my current self is a loser. I focus on what I don’t have and who I am not. This thinking leads me toward darkness, not light. It is not productive. In fact, it is a lie. I have an amazing marriage, friends, family. I have so, so much love. I have a new perspective on life and new passions. I still have all the skills I had before that can be applied in new ways. I have a future. I have a lot going for me.

All these negative cycles start with a lie… You could’ve saved her. You are a bad mom. You are a loser. The enemy wants us to believe lies. But the truth will set us from from cycles of despair. When I hear the lies, I stop and tell myself, “That is a lie. What is the truth?” 

Opposite of these unproductive thoughts are productive thoughts. What thoughts bring me toward light and love and truth? Now I have built a toolbox of productive thoughts I can turn to. Truths that help me progress in my grief. These include: imagining heaven, imagining being reunited with Ginny, thinking of ways to remember her, thinking of happy times during pregnancy, thinking of our future family and how Ginny will always be a part of it, thinking of labor and delivery and holding her body, writing this blog, thinking of all the love and support we’ve received, thinking of how God is using our loss for good, thinking of all I have learned through this, thinking about all our love. Some of these thoughts still make me sad and cry, but the results of processing them are love, peace, and joy. I have to process all my grief and emotions, but I am deliberate about what I let control my thoughts. I have a choice to believe the truth or lies. I choose the truth. 

Fear and Freedom

I am a living witness. I have witnessed death – inside my own body. Besides a near death experience, I can’t imagine getting closer to death and surviving. Death caused me to cry out in despair from the deepest parts of myself.

Because of this, I am not afraid. 

It wasn’t until I experienced the despair that I truly understood that I would never be alone and I would always be comforted. It wasn’t until the loss, that I actually comprehended the hope of heaven in the life to come and in the here and now. I am confident that no matter what I face, the love will outweigh the pain. 

Does this mean I will never struggle with fear again? That would be nice, but I seriously doubt it. I think I will need to remind myself of these truths again and again. 

The day after coming home from the hospital, I had a moment of anxiety and started picturing horrible things happening to others that I love. It became real to me that bad things do happen and no one I love is immune to tragedy. Fear gripped me. As I have always done when I’m scared, I ran to my mommy. I told her about my fear of awful things happening to everyone I love. I thought she’d assure me these were my hormones talking and nothing else bad will happen. Instead she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Aimee, we’re all going to die.” “Ugh! Mom, this is not what your are supposed to say to me right now!!” But then she continued, “We have hope in death, and it really is okay.” This is true. 

For survival purposes we mostly live our lives in a state of denial and avoidance of the thought of death. Because of this, there is always a big, dark elephant in the room. We ignore it. We hide from the fear instead of face it and process the idea of eternity.  When we do process it, there is freedom. 

Let me describe the freedom that I am experiencing: 

  • Being close to death changes your priorities. Have you ever heard someone ask, “When you are on your deathbed, will you be glad you spent your time the way you did?” Death puts life into perspective. Pointless things that once seemed to matter, suddenly no longer do. It becomes clear how you should spend your time. You focus on love instead of stressing the small stuff. The truly important things become more precious. You don’t waste your time.
  • You view your life in terms of eternity. This life is only a small phase in the timeline of your existence – the pain will be over. You’ll see your loved ones again. You won’t be lonely. Your body won’t drag you down forever. Your heart will be light soon. 
  • You realize you have no control. You have free will, but some things are just completely out of your control. This powerlessness forces you to trust and surrender and let go. You don’t have to carry the weight or guilt of living in perfection. You don’t have to hold your breath.
  • You no longer care so much what people think of you. You only have so much time to do what you’re called to do on Earth so just go for it. You put yourself out there in new ways (i.e. this blog). You have freedom from your pride and the things that once held you back. 
  • You have a more intimate relationship with God. He is near to the brokenhearted. In that nearness, you show him your brokenness. Through your weakness, he is strong. That weakness includes anger, frustration, jealousy, misunderstanding. You take your anger to God. He can handle it. He has more than enough grace for you. He loves you in your anger. He empathizes with you in your pain. He holds your faith in your unbelief. You are closer to him in a new way, forever. His grace and love surround you.

This freedom has changed my life in almost every area. The wail of a mourning mother is more than pain. She’s forced to look straight into the darkness of death. God’s light shines on it – it purges fear. Raw freedom and life are left. At least this is true in my case, right now, as one who lives in hope.

I’m sure I will fear again. When I do, I will lay it down at the feet of Jesus. He carried all our fears to the cross. Fear has already been overcome. We just need to live in that reality. The power of the name of Jesus is enough to chase away fear. It was enough to chase away death. Pick up the freedom that belongs to you.

Identity

Yep. Identity crisis – that’s the perfect way of describing it. I was going through an identity crisis even before we lost Ginny. I think everyone goes through a bit of this before becoming a parent. Your role changes and you have to come to terms with that. 

Anytime there is a role change, you grapple with it until you realize this new you. I remember graduating college and realizing I was no longer a student. I had been a student since I was 4 years old! Who am I if I’m not a student? I remember crying on the first first-day-of-school that I wasn’t going to school. I felt so silly because I had achieved my goals. But still I was not longer who I had been, and I had to figure out my new self… an engineer, a professional, an adult. 

It didn’t take long for me to feel myself in this new role. In reality, it wasn’t too far off from what I had always done. It was just another way to achieve. I had performed in school. Now I would do the same in the workplace. I even still wore a backpack and carried a lunch pail (they don’t tell you when you’re a kid that you will pretty much do that your whole life). I excelled in my new role as an engineer, and I put my all into it. I put all my energy into it. 

After several years, Daniel and I realized we wanted more than just work. We wanted someone else to love, someone to show the world. This shift in priority shook me. I knew I didn’t want to be a power-house executive business leader while raising a child. I needed to sacrifice my future professional potential. That’s the reality, and I knew there was nothing wrong with it. I knew it would be worth it. I had just been trained through all the years to achieve all I could professionally. I had defined myself as an engineer. It was my identity. What would this new me look like?

Once I quit my stressful job to prepare for Ginny, I had to understand who I was outside of my career. I was a mother. I was going to be a stay-at-home-mom. This seemed so unreal to me. So much outside what I had done. My life couldn’t be about performance or achievement – it would need to be about service and love. I struggled when people asked me what I did. “Well my degrees are in industrial engineering, but…” Why did I have to qualify that? Why do I need people to know I was an engineer? Pride.

I started putting my all into this new motherhood role. I read books, watched videos, took classes. I got everything ready. I was rebuilding my identity in this new world. I put my all into Ginny – my body, my mind, my emotions, my time, my future, my potential. I had just come to terms with this new me. I was excited and ready. 

Then February 25, 2019 happened. On that day my world came crashing down. I lost my daughter, and I lost my future. My new identity was gone. My old identity was gone. 

All the plans I made for Ginny and for our family were thrown away – out of my reach and control. It is an understatement to say it was a humbling experience. 

So much goes into your identity: your purpose, your self-worth, your character, your pride. When you lose your identity, it is like the floor is coming out from below you. What do I believe? How can I be sure of anything? What is going on? Who am I?

The loudest question for me was what do I do? I remember asking that in the hospital. Daniel would eventually go back to work in his lab. Would I be left in the empty house alone? That sounds terrifying. And I can’t even think about going back to a job where people are stressing out about seemingly meaningless things. I can’t live like that after this! What am I supposed to do?!

The near-term answer was grieve. I would spend days at the library reading and writing. I would wander around UNC campus listening to music and hiding my tears. I felt that was what I was supposed to be doing. During those walks, I asked myself, “Who am I? How would I define myself now? What is my new identity?” I knew I didn’t want my grief to define me. It would be part of me forever, but it can’t be who I am. I had no answers to those questions. 

I eventually brought it to God. I felt so strongly that God was telling me that I am not my career, or my motherhood, or my relationships, or my performance. I am a child of God, and I am loved. He showed me that I love Ginny, not because of anything she did, but because she is my daughter. She came from me and Daniel and our love. I will love her always because of who she is. On a much larger scale, God loves me because of who I am. I came from him and his love. I am his daughter; therefore, he loves me. The same is true for you. 

I can have confidence in that. I can put my identity in that. When all other things fall apart, that holds true. 

These days I’m still reading and writing and grieving, but I’m also volunteering and searching for a job where I can help people going through hard times. I feel like I should be doing something helpful and meaningful. I don’t care if I am called “engineer”. That’s no longer where I put my self-worth. I am who He says I am. 

Normal

During my pregnancy, I remember telling friends how epic pregnancy was. My whole world had shifted. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I felt like someone totally different. It wasn’t the physical symptoms that were so unexpected. In fact, I remember thinking that being pregnant felt like how I imagined being pregnant would feel. It was the emotional and mental changes that shook me. I was constantly aware of how monumental this task was. To build a human being. Not only any human being but one that I love so so much…Ginny!

Daniel can attest to how unlike myself I was. I would cry at almost anything. I would get frustrated when I cried because it threw off the cool, level-headedness that I convinced myself I sported for years. I was always so amazed at what was happening inside me, how she was moving and growing and listening to us. Anytime we were sitting on the couch, I had my shirt up and was feeling and watching for movement. I was never not impressed by it.  

I was always thinking about it. Thinking about being pregnant, thinking about being a mom, thinking about what else I could do to prepare. Going out and about made me even more aware. People would stare at me and smile. People would tell me congratulations and ask how far along I was. 

The experience blew my mind. It was epic. It was all consuming. 

That’s why it baffles me how everyone acts like it’s so normal. I see these families with multiple kids just walking around, acting like it’s no big deal. You created life!! How is that so normal? But it is normal. People do it everyday. Most people have kids. A large portion of the population has experienced this. It is so crazy! How did I know so little about it?! 

Similar to grief, there was so much more to pregnancy than I knew. This is a common life experience, yet you can never truly understand it unless you go through it. But how are people not making a bigger deal out of it?

I went from spending nearly every minute thinking about how pregnant I was to spending nearly every minute thinking about how unpregnant I was. I was amazed at how quickly I physically went back to normal. It was only a few days after birth before I realized, “Wow I haven’t been this physically comfortable in a long time”, “Wow I can climb the stairs without getting out of breath”, “Wow I slept through the night for the first time in months.” Our bodies are incredible.

I feared going into public and being asked how far along I was. To prevent this, I wore a postpartum waist trainer, girdle-type thing I found at Target. It helped flatten my stomach so hopefully I could avoid those questions. Thankfully it worked. 

Even though my belly wasn’t making me self-conscious in public, my grief was. It felt like I was walking around with something on my face. Surely I’m acting weird. I don’t feel normal. I wished we still lived in a time when people wear all black or an armband to signify their mourning. That way people will know why I’m acting weird. Am I acting weird? I would get offended when store clerks would smile and say, “Hello, how are you?” How am I?! How could you even ask that?! Can’t you see I am in intense pain?!! But I would politely smile back and say, “I’m fine. How are you?” I hated myself every time I did. How could I act like everything is normal?

In the first few weeks after our loss, I would panic every time I saw a pregnant woman. I wanted to run up to her, grab her, and say, “Get the baby out now!!” I knew it was irrational. The baby is better off in the womb until the due date, but I couldn’t help but want to prevent what happened to Ginny from happening to anybody else. Since then I no longer panic, but I do seem to see pregnant women everywhere. Look at her over there just chatting…like everything is normal. 

Being a parent seems evasive to me. I know it is much more so for people who struggle with infertility and are unable to get pregnant at all. For me, it seems holding my own child stays at an arm’s reach. Even after nearly 8 months of carrying my baby in my belly, it is still at an arm’s reach. Sitting here writing this, I see another pregnant woman. I’m sure she will be holding her living baby in a matter of weeks. Perfectly expected, perfectly normal. Am I missing something?

Beauty of Suffering

How could a good God allow such suffering in the world? I think at some point we all ask that question. We don’t really have answers, but I feel closer to the answer now than ever before. My perspective on this has changed significantly now that I have endured some level of suffering. 

Similar to grief, suffering is more complex than I once thought. It is possible to simultaneously experience suffering, pain, sorrow, as well as deep joy, peace, hope, and love. Those feelings are not mutually exclusive. Joy and sorrow coexist. 

In our culture, it seems the main goal is to avoid any suffering. We want to be comfortable. We are meant to thrive. Sometimes it feels like being uncomfortable is failure. To suffer is a betrayal of the American dream. We preach that if we have faith enough – if we are obedient enough, God will give us prosperity. I do believe God wants to bless us, and he wants what is best for us. But that may not align with what’s on our vision boards.  

We are not promised a life free of hardship. In fact, we are promised suffering and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:12-13). Can you think of any God-follower in the Bible who did not endure hardship? Everyone will face difficulty. We are promised hardship, but we are also promised comfort and peace (1 Peter 5:10). That promise has been fulfilled in my experience. 

When we found out Ginny had passed away in my womb, our world came crashing down. How could this happen?! Everything was going so well! I had never had to face any true difficulty in my life. This happens to someone else; this doesn’t happen to me. I’ve prayed for protection and health. This can’t be happening! When I finally realized it really was happening, I also realized God was wrapping me in his arms of comfort, love, and peace. The pain was so strong, but at the same time I felt held. He was so near, nearer than I have ever felt in any worship service or quiet meditation. I thought I should be asking, “Where are you God?!”… but he was clearly right there. I thought I should be asking, “How could you let this happen?! Don’t you love me?!”… but I felt so so loved. 

I didn’t ask those questions. I didn’t even pray at all. I felt him in our presence. I didn’t need to pray; he was part of everything we were going through. Even since, I no longer pray for him to be with me. I feel him with me. I don’t pray for this wish or that wish to come to pass. I pray his will be done and for my understanding and peace. Often I don’t know what to pray, and I know the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Romans 8:26). He truly is near to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18).

In suffering you find yourself in a place where you actually NEED Jesus; you need Jesus to get through to the next hour.

You surrender to that reality. When you can no longer hang on, you have no other choice but to let go. There is freedom in surrender. Letting go of control allows you to stop tiptoeing in life and step firm footed. That’s when you experience his love to a new level. You experience mercy to a new degree. You let go and fall back.

Long ago I prayed, “Dear Lord, make my heart more like yours.” Famous last words. If you want a heart more like God’s, it will be broken. It will be broken because his heart is broken and so your heart can grow. It grows in capacity to love and empathize. It grows in its appreciation of life. It grows in hope for the future. The comfort you receive gives you courage to face any challenge. You realize you never have to walk alone (Psalm 23:4). There is a fullness of life in this. In John 10:10, Jesus promises life to the full. I thought that meant we would be given many blessings, but now I understand that it means our lives will be full of love, grief, comfort, brokenheartedness, and all the intense feelings that come along with suffering as well as blessings. It is a full life. 

I used to avoid anything sad; I wanted to focus on being positive and choosing joy. I would never have read this blog. Now I feel I can actually face pain, fear, and suffering and not look away. I have the courage to look at it straight on. I can face it now because I know from experience I don’t have to carry the burden. Jesus already carried the burden (Isaiah 53:3-5). I can help others face it. I can share with them the comfort I’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). 

We have been called to suffer along with Christ, to bear our cross (Matthew 16:24, 1 Peter 2:19-21, Romans 8:16-18). To live like Christ is to have sorrow…. is to have pain…is to have peace…is to have freedom. To live like Christ is most importantly to love

This may be obvious to those who have witnessed a suffering world full of prejudices, fear, and injustice. But for a white, educated, “#blessed” woman in America, this is a revelation. 

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:4-6