My story doesn’t begin as one of regret; few stories do, but rather it begins with a twinkle in the eye of a twenty-two year old dreamer.
I first put words to that dream as a senior in my historical research class when the professor asked each of us about our plans following graduation. I confidently expressed that I would be going on to get my masters and PhD so that I could expertly write historical fiction or write anything, really. When he told me that I could skip the graduate degrees and just begin writing, I decided it was another Texan male letting me know that my place wasn’t in academia or in publishing. After all, wasn’t it the reflection of that pretty little diamond on my left ring finger creating the sparkle in my eye? And don’t all good southern girls pine away, desiring to get married, create a home, have children?
A few weeks later when I got a letter in the mail offering my graduate school experience tuition-free, I smirked thinking, “I’ll show you, mister.” Of course, I had to turn down the offer as my soon to be husband and I had already mutually decided that upon graduation and marriage, we would move to California to pursue his graduate studies. Still, I longed for the day when he would graduate, get a job, and I would begin in hot pursuit of my dreams.
I got a “for now” job, preceded by several “this is all I can find and we don’t want to go into debt” retail jobs. So I taught, because what else would a girl with an undergraduate background in English and history do? Along the way I did the best I could, surrounded by teachers who were living their dreams. Meanwhile, I was living between my ears, ruing the day I had given up the fast track to my dream, but knowing I would be next.
All this time, working at least two jobs, I was suffering daily pain from endometriosis, a condition which can inhibit fertility. At twenty-four, we were told if we ever wanted to have a chance at biological children we needed to begin trying to conceive. The doctor couldn’t promise positive results; in fact, if I were to get pregnant she predicted a six to twelve month period of trying with medical intervention to up my hormone levels.
A little less than thirteen months later I was sitting in a hospital room holding a tiny stranger, who had made my body his home for the past nine months. Though I loved my son, mothering did not come easy or naturally to me … it is laying down your desires, your time, your personal space moment by moment to care for a little being that is entirely dependent on you. It is hard.
Five weeks passed and I tearfully dropped him off at his first childcare provider’s home. One year later, I found I was pregnant with our daughter. Returning to work after her birth, I discovered the once unfathomable – I loved being a mom. After much discussion, I decided to teach part-time the following year.
In this is a conundrum – I love my identity as mother. It gives my life such purpose and I would not trade the experience or my children for anything in the world, but for years I allowed underlying tension to fester in my relationship with my husband. In moments of frustration, in the midst of complaining about his abandoned socks by our bedside or my favorite coffee cups left at his office, I would throw my disappointment in his face. “I gave up my education and my dreams for you – for this. To work a job I don’t love and to come home to pick up after all of you, wipe poopy bottoms, and forever smell like spit-up.”
We can feel things and never express them, but thoughts verbalized can never be taken back. For ten years I have lived, first patiently waiting, then persistently working, now begrudgingly missing out on my dream of being a well educated, well dressed, impressive at least, admired at best author of best-selling historical fiction.
My journey out of disappointment and toward wholeness marches on from a few days forever etched in my mind. March 18, 2009 found me staring at two pink lines. Anyone who has seen those lines knows that brief moment encapsulates much – surprise, joy, promise. The evening of March twenty-first found me staring at a pool of crimson and in like fashion innumerable emotions coursed through me – fear, pain, devastation, loss.
In the months that followed, leading me from that fear-filled precipice into this journey of valleys and mountains, I came to know that my dream was holding me prisoner, deeming me incapable of truly living. What is life if it is not spent realizing the wonder of moments all weaving their threads into the beautiful tapestry of an individual’s existence?
Since that day in 2009 I have been privileged to see those two pink likes two more times (plus a half dozen to make sure this was indeed happening) and bring home another baby boy and another baby girl. After previously delivering naturally three times, it took having a necessary c-section last February to understand first our loss and then how amazing these four children really are. Not only do I have endometriosis on the exterior of my uterus, causing much pain, similar scar tissue has ravaged its interior. Most women with both conditions are unable to conceive, let alone carry a pregnancy to term.
The discovery of this miracle was just one more step in my process of recovery and rediscovery.
Sometimes the dream we are clinging to is not the dream we were destined for.
I am now at stay-at-home, home-schooling mom and full time manager of this little family of six. We are living what once I would have dubbed a bohemian dream in the heart of Los Angeles. I will admit that every day is not pastoral and many are peppered with “what ifs” but I am striving to find little flashes of blessing within the chaos of raising, educating and loving four kids.
This journey has taught me so much about who I was and am, but more importantly it’s unraveling the mystery of dreams and becoming. When I look back at that twenty-two year old, slightly feminist girl in a lecture hall, I want to tell her “Just try to be breezy … you really don’t have it all figured out.”
If I could talk to the twenty-four year old teacher, I would tell her “This might be your ‘for now’ job, but these teenagers are making a mark on your life more than you can imagine. Continue to invest in them. This is part of your story. “
Were I to visit that overwhelmed first time mom, I would say “Relax. Savor this. It is one of the few times in life you will ever be unconditionally loved. Give the same to him, always. The other stuff, you’ll learn together.”
To that mourning mother alone in the cold, sterile hospital room, I’d whisper, “You don’t have to grieve in silence. This baby will forever be in your heart and is a part of who you’re becoming. You will think of her often. Allow yourself time to heal.”
And to the frightened mom who has known loss and is hesitant to be excited about the next two pregnancies, wondering/knowing something will go wrong, still dreaming about what might have been, I’d say “These babies will bring you more joy and fulfillment than you ever thought possible. Collectively the four will cause you to re-evaluate, re-imagine and re-discover a new realm of possibility and potential.
What I’ve learned about myself is that my dreams, like my life, are fluid and that by holding on to one perspective, by using lost dreams as arguments’ ammunition, by not being present in the here-and-now, I am not dreaming or living at all.
It is only in relishing life’s simple graces, by marking and being marked by others, in flexibility and adapting to life’s beautiful surprises that I truly dream.
"We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28 HCSB)