By Justine Brooks Froelker
Sitting over tea in a dimly lit coffee shop she asks, “How often do you think of them?”
I shift my eyes to notice how many moms and babies are in the bustling shop. “Every day,” I respond.
“How?” she asks.
“I wonder how different our lives would be. I wonder what they would be learning and what we could be teaching them. I wonder who they would have been and who we could have been.”
She looks down into her steaming cup of tea and she adjusts her body as if feeling uncomfortable in the booth. “It lasts forever doesn’t it?”
“I think so.”
“Does it get better?” she asks. I know she’s hoping I will say that it does.
“It gets different,” I respond.
I glance down at her very pregnant belly and ask what must become the most annoying question for pregnant women, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m getting tired and uncomfortable but good!” she exclaims being careful to not complain too much.
“How does it feel after everything?” I ask her no longer being able to not show her the compassionate therapist side of me.
“Being pregnant after loss is so hard,” she says, barely getting the words out as her eyes fill with tears.
“I know. It can feel so impossible,” I assure her with the knowing knowledge of suffering loss myself but most especially as a mental health therapist who has walked alongside many women through the infertility, loss and pregnancy after loss journey.
I lean forward and make sure to exude the love and empathy I have with her. She takes a sip of her tea and sets the cup down a bit forcefully startling both of us, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about this or warn us about it?”
“I am trying to change that, I promise.”
The only evidence I have of my three children are black and white pictures from our infertility clinic. The photos show three blobs of 8 cells; and they are my children.
My children I parent from afar.
A grief journey that many will never understand or even try to understand.
A journey that has changed my life so much I can say I am actually learning to trust it. I am honored God chose my husband and me to be their parents, if only in so much as forever wondering about them and getting that one grainy black and white picture.
Because so much has been born of them.
Without them I would not have fought my way out of darkness. Without them I would not have changed my entire life to become the incredible woman living the life I never dreamed today. Without them, my legacy would have been much different.
Because God chose me to be their mother, I found my place in His story.
Because I am their mother, I defined my own happy ending through my longing joy, in what I call the complicated the gray.
The complicated gray is the muck we must walk into, the space between the happiness and the anger, the trust and the loss, the worry and the acceptance, the joy and the longing. Because when I give myself permission to feel it all, to walk into the complicated gray, life awakens in color.
And in that color I have painted a life redefined, a life of coming alive.
Alive in creativity of writing and shining my light through darkness.
Alive in creating life in monarch farming.
Alive in fighting for my joy.
Alive in advocating for self-care.
Alive in deeper and healthier relationships.
Alive in breaking the silence.
Alive in changing the conversations.
Alive in helping others.
Alive in birthing a rare kind of parenthood.
We sip our tea in a bit of silence. She rubs her hand over her smooth belly and I listen to the giggles of the babies and their moms enjoying a snack at the coffee shop.
“You are a gift,” she finally breaks the silence.
“I have become a gift because of them.”
Justine Brooks Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) working in private practice. She is the author of her bestselling book and blog, Ever Upward, and an advocate for breaking the shamed silence of infertility and loss and fighting to recovery thereafter. She also writes for The Huffington Post, St. Louis Health & Wellness magazine and appears regularly on the morning television show Great Day St. Louis. Find her on Twitter: @JustineFroelker Facebook: Ever Upward blog Instagram: @jlbf4