Given the new developments in the spread of COVID-19 I would like to share a personal experience of how gratitude carried me through a challenging time in my life.
For those who are not familiar with my story, let me give you a very brief history of events that will set the stage. After easily becoming pregnant and giving birth to three beautiful children I experienced two consecutive miscarriages in 2015, followed by two consecutive stillbirths in 2017 (January and November).
Despite extensive testing, our team of highly specialized doctors were unable to give us conclusive causes of death or a possible reason for my sudden inability to carry so many consecutive pregnancies to term. After much thought and consideration my husband and I made the decision to end our efforts to have more children.
Then in the fall of 2018 we discovered that I was unexpectedly pregnant again (contraception failure is a real thing you guys!) and I embarked on a nine month experience that I was very unprepared for.
I still remember the moment when I first saw those two pink lines. The most incredible feeling of peace washed over me, it enveloped me and I felt at that very moment that this baby was going to live.
Then, almost as quickly as it came, the feeling of peace was gone. It was overshadowed as fear, doubt, anxiety, and anger crept in and seized control of my emotions. I broke down and sobbed. Afraid for myself, afraid for my husband, afraid for my children and for this unborn baby. Afraid because I still carried an enormous amount of guilt from my past pregnancies, for the way my body had failed in protecting and preserving the lives I had voluntarily chosen to create. Afraid for my living children and the responsibility I felt in causing them so much pain and suffering.
I spent the entire first trimester observing the constant fluctuation of these two conflicting emotions within me. At times I would be so full of faith, sure in the promise I had received that this baby would live, and then, like a switch, I would be overcome with fear and the anguish of having to relive the past day after day, sometimes moment by moment.
These fluctuations between fear and faith become even more frequent and intense as I embarked on the second trimester and began to have more triggers of past trauma creep into my daily life.
One of these moments came the day after Halloween when, within a short 24 hour period, I experienced a sequence of triggers that built upon one another, intensifying, until I could no longer keep the anxiety inside. I dropped my kids off at school and before my car had left the parking lot I broke down, sobbing, then screaming in distress. The physiological load of this pregnancy was becoming apparent and I had no idea how I was going to cope with another six months of constant uncertainty, worry, and daily, physical reminders of the things that had transpired during my pregnancies that ended in stillbirth.
In desperation I prayed for help. The answer came immediately and clearly to my mind.
“Gratitude”. “You need to develop an attitude of gratitude.”
I was confused, resistant, and mocked the idea that gratitude could possibly be the solution I was looking for. “I am grateful” was the first defensive thought that came to mind. “But I’ve had these terrible things happen to me. You can’t expect me to be grateful for them. They are the problem, not my attitude.”
Feeling a tinge of annoyance and self-denial, I proceeded to find something useful to listen to on YouTube while folding the laundry. To my disappointment it was an old episode of Oprah in which she discussed the power not only having an attitude of gratitude, but of actually keeping a gratitude journal and taking the time to write in it daily.
Then, a few days later I found myself sitting in a church meeting where the instructor was encouraging us to write down something we were grateful for every day for the month of November. “You have got to be kidding me” was the first thought that broadcast itself across my mind as I was handed a piece of paper and pen to take home and complete this assignment. My eyes did not leave the floor for the duration of that meeting as I sat in disbelief over what I was once again being prompted to do.
I came home from church and tried my best to ignore the festive Thanksgiving paper and pen now sitting on my desk. Unfortunately, a group coaching call the next day was all about opening up to gratitude and expressing it...the message was getting through loud and clear, but I was still in denial.
Then Tuesday came. My mind was lost in a sea of grief as we prepared for the one year anniversary of our second stillborn daughter the following day when I received an unexpected call from my kid’s school. Apparently a complaint had been filed with the district office against one of my children for bullying. I sat and cried. Again the thought came to mind ”gratitude”. “You will not survive this pregnancy without gratitude.”
What could I possibly be grateful for? Beyond, of course, the usual things like food, shelter, clothing, and family. Those were so obvious and already apart of the gratitude I expressed in my daily prayers. I knew that this was about something deeper than the necessities of life, but I just couldn’t bring myself to search for it when my life was in an uproar, when my circumstances were out of my control.
However, as I sat in the car that evening and waited for my daughter’s music class to end, my mind began to search for something to be grateful for. By the time we had returned home I had given in to my resistance and found one thing to write on the seventh line of my gratitude list for the month. It was very basic, but it was a start. Taking the first step was key in abandoning my resistance and giving in to the possibility that my circumstances did not need to change in order for me to be whole, happy, and grateful. Each day became progressively easier and by the end of the month I was enjoying the experience so much that I started writing five gratitudes a day in my personal journal.
A place that had once been filled with the sorrows and struggles of my life, was now filled with the simple and often ordinary joys and pleasures that were beginning to manifest in abundance. Very soon, five gratitudes was not enough and I began filling a half of a page to a page with my many gratitudes for the day.
Where there was once the dread of what each day might bring, there was now an excitement of the possibility to experience an abundance of goodness. I looked forward to each day and no longer needed to wait until my bedtime journaling routine to notice the many things in my life that I could be grateful for. I was noticing them in the moment and living with more intention and joy filled purpose.
I’m not sure how it happened or of the exact moment that I began to notice the profound impact of my daily gratitudes, but the fluctuation between fear and faith became less frequent in my life. I was carried through many, many moments and many, many days with the stillness and peace that had enveloped me from the moment I first saw those two pink lines.
“It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Was the pregnancy still hard? Unbelievably so! It was a mental marathon. However I was able to cope with the stress so much more effectively because my focus had shifted to the good in my life rather than the bad.
As I entered the final week of my pregnancy with Rose I was once again on a group coaching call. The guidance I received was profound and exactly what I needed to hear. I expressed gratitude to the coach, we ended the call, and I immediately began to cry. But this time, they were not tears of fear or anxiety, but of a joy filled heart bursting with gratitude.
For years I had wanted the result of having a baby. With each failed pregnancy I had dreamed of the moment when I would hold my rainbow baby in my arms. I thought that that would be the miracle. Instead I realized that regardless of whether this baby was born alive or if she met the same fate as her two sisters before her, that I could be grateful for the experience, for the journey. I could be grateful for what I had learned. I could be grateful for how I had changed for the better. The real miracle was the one I had witnessed within myself.
These are uncertain times and in the midst of this COVID-19 outbreak it can be easy to give way to fear. I’m sure in the coming weeks many of us will tire of our kids being out of school (maybe you're already there!), we’ll tire of being inside, many of us will experience financial stress, the loss of a job, or we may become infected with this disease. However this outbreak impacts your life and creates circumstances that are not within your control, I hope you will cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Don’t know where to start? Try writing down one thing every day that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be big, in fact my favorite things to write down are those that seem small and insignificant. The laugh of a child, the way the sunshine warms my face, a text from a friend.
Do it consistently. Write more when you feel inclined to do so. Take a moment after you write to observe how you feel.
It will change you. It will change those around you. Maybe not tomorrow. It might take a few days or weeks. But it will happen, and it will bring to your life a beauty and peace that can be found in no other way. Of that I am completely and absolutely sure.
“We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.
This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Read or watch the entire inspiring message on Grateful in Any Circumstances by Dieter F. Uchtdorf here.