Years ago I had a baby. I fell head over heels in love with him from the moment I laid eyes on his little frog face. But just as much – I fell in love with the me as a mama. This cynical, wise ass 36 year old woman became softer, glass half filled with sunshine and rainbows . I fell in love with the world for the first time it seemed – all the babies, all the hope and sweetness that they bring, and I was very aware of this new lens in which I viewed things.
I wanted more of that...as if I instinctively knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last. And sure enough it didn’t. As my baby became a toddler with opinions on things – I could feel that harder, crustier me returning - the softness drying up like paint left on a brush in the sun.
Unsuccessful at becoming pregnant again, I filled the void with a horse named Faith. She saw the softness still left in me – and though she could be high strung – she was particularly soft with my rambunctious toddler.
Then suddenly, I was pregnant. The world was going to be rainbows and sunshine again. Until it wasn’t. At my 9 week appointment I saw the technician’s face draw into a thin line while she was doing the ultrasound. My baby had died, though my boobs and cravings apparently had no idea.
The softness got confused. Turned hard. Why did that happen to me?
Then almost a year later, a baby girl was growing inside of me. A vivacious one according to her heartbeat and ultrasounds. I was four months pregnant, filled with rainbows and sunshine again, about to leave for vacation with my husband and son when the doctor called. The genetic testing had come back with a giant red flag. It would take 3 excruciating weeks to confirm that my baby girl had a fatal genetic condition called Trisomy 18. And just a week before my 40th birthday, I had to let her go.
The softness was gone. I didn’t know what to do with the pain. It clung on my back like an alien with 40 arms and legs, biting into me. I picked up running, but I kept seeing my baby girl’s limbs in the twigs on the sidewalk and would almost twist my ankles trying not to step on them.
Why did that have to happen to me?
One day when I was so sick and tired from crying I googled quickest way to kill yourself. Then I would see my husband and son playing and feel even guiltier that I was so depressed. And guess what – the depression lapped it all up with a spoon. Hashtag WINNING.
The summer from hell ended but the pain was still there. I would get better – even have weeks go by where I felt okay and didn’t randomly burst into tears from hearing a certain note in a song or a movie come on that I had watched while I was pregnant with her. But then out of nowhere the pain would back, more vicious and stronger than before. As if it had just taken a break to pump weights and pound steroids for another go at me.
I began to get really worried. I looked up grief counselors but while reading about them would become really turned off by the idea. After all, some days I felt fine so why would I want to dredge it all up again?
And to boot, my toddler was now a full on little DUDE with the attitude to boot. With every tantrum I would say ridiculous things to myself like ‘Tuesday would never have done this…’
Through it all there were the horses. By now I had bought another one – a gelding I renamed Woody. He had a bad habit of avoiding loading into the trailer so we sent him to a horse whisperer for a month. When we went to pick him up we got to watch Ben work his magic.
Back at home I had been fighting Woody’s resistance with force. If he avoided the trailer I’d correct him with a lunge whip. If he reared, I would make him back up a hundred miles per hour to teach him that was wrong. And guess what – I had been doing it wrong. Watching Ben work I saw no force or anger. I saw softness.
His first attempt to lead Woody into my trailer, Woody did his usual half hop to the side followed by a half-hearted rear. And to my horror, Ben just kind of slumped next to the trailer, his shoulders melted down into his chest as he became COMPLETELY slack. For a second I thought he was having a stroke. And then Woody quieted and he calmly asked him to load again. And after a couple of hesitant steps, he did.
Ben loves to quote one of his mentors – the great Ray Hunt – who said, ‘Expect a horse to be good and they’ll be good. Expect them to be bad and they won’t disappoint you.’
I think about this every time I work with Woody now. I try and channel that softness. I tell him he’s a good boy. And he is.
The depression has waned. And now when I look back on my lost babies and ponder that same question ‘why did this have to happen to me?’ – I think I have an answer. I think I know what they were her for, even if just for a short time.
To remind me to be soft.