Yesterday, I took my daughter to church for the first time to see (or rather to sleep through) her sweet friend’s baptism. At the party afterwards I found myself choking back tears as I watched family friends parading Marjorie around. We were out of the house and doing something normal. I was finally able to freely share my precious daughter without constant fear or chasing people with Purel. The pieces of me that were once so shattered and pulled in so many different directions are finally coming back together. My spirit is returning.
The past six months have been utter chaos. I have spent every day just trying to hang on. I have been in survival mode. People often ask me how I drove 160-miles every day to be with her in the NICU. How did I manage balancing it with life at home? Truth is: I didn’t ‘manage’ anything. I survived. Just like any other mother would do – I survived for my children. I got up every morning, washed my face, poured my coffee and marched on.
A few months ago I was talking with someone very special to me. I was filling her in on Marjorie’s progress. She always made a point to ask about me and I explained how I felt lost. I told her that person I worked so hard through my recovery to find was gone and that I was just trying to survive. My biggest fear was that she was gone forever.
She quickly said to me, “McCall, you will find yourself again. Normalcy will return. I promise.” My initial reaction was to scoff at the comment. How could anything be normal again? How was I ever going to find time for myself again, let alone find my spirit? That seemed so far away and unimaginable.
Looking back now, it was that same kind of foreign concept that recovery once was to me. My treatment team said recovery was possible and I always scoffed. How could I ever recover? How could I live in a house with food in the pantry? How could I ever go to the beach in a bathing suit without crash dieting? No, recovery did not seem possible, but deep down I trusted them. I knew I had to hang on to that hope that maybe, just maybe, I could recover.
Her statement has stuck with me through this journey. It was comforting replaying our conversation, reminding myself that I was not lost, I was just surviving. And that was okay. I found solace knowing one day I would return. I would find normal again. Sometimes we have to bear down, get through the day and hang on to that hope that one day we will return better than before.
When Marjorie came home, my life did not return to normal. Exhaustion from daily drives and hospital stays turned into exhaustion from a brutal three hour feeding schedule, not to mention the constant state of panic I lived in. My mind raced 24/7 with fears that a germ might get on her or that she would get sick and return to the hospital. If I was not holding Marjorie, then I was holding a Lysol can and spraying off everything (and everyone) in my path. For the next three months, I remained in survival mode.
My mind was so scattered, I could hardly finish a sentence, much less write or work. I was lucky to unload the dishwasher in one standing. I typically started one chore, got sidetracked with laundry, then bottle making and then to make sure Manning was still playing in the yard with all limbs intact. I felt like Gumby being pulled by every dirty dish, diaper and broken dump truck – a feeling most moms can relate to, preemie baby or not.
But in the midst of that normal mom angst, were the raw emotions that sat unattended to. I would just crumble and cry as my mind would shift from feeding Marjorie to remembering that first time she was fed just 2mLs through her feeding tube. I would nuzzle my face into her soft cheek and cry, as I rocked her in our quiet house free from beeps and alarms. Even though she had been home for two months, it was still hard to believe that she was home, healthy and I could hold her forever.
My recovery journey came with so many gifts and skills that I really drew upon to make it through this experience. Recovery taught me that there is no timeline when it comes to processing grief and emotions. There is no expiration date on when you are supposed to be ‘over’ something. My experience of having my daughter three months early and then watching her fight for her life was traumatic. There is no other way to say it. But I never had the time nor energy to process through those difficult feelings until recently.
I have realized that in times of transition we have to give ourselves the gift of patience and time to heal. When we are in the tragedy, we are often surviving, not able to take it all in. It was not until after treatment and after Marjorie’s homecoming, that the gravity of it all really sunk it. I had (and continue to) give myself the space to process through the events and feelings. Giving myself the gift of time and space to heal was the best thing I did. Allowing myself to feel the pain, freed me from being stuck in the sadness and helped me move forward to find a new rhythm in life.
As Marjorie continued to thrive at home and as I continued to heal, I began to crave normalcy and my work. I missed doing the things that fueled my spirit and soul. I love my children and I love being a mom, but to be a good mom, I have to feel whole. And at the time, all I felt like was a cook, a maid, a garbage truck fixer, a nurse and a bottom wiper. The most important person in my life was missing from the equation: ME!
So how do you find yourself again from months of being gone? My husband seemed to think the answer was letting me go the grocery store alone. I disagreed and went my own route. I slowly began carving out time for work, knowing I would not plow through the thousands of unanswered emails in one day. Every day I would sit at my desk with a cloudy mind, not knowing where to begin, but just grateful to be back sitting there. I set small, attainable goals and began ticking them off one by one. My life’s motto rings so true here: “Progress! Not perfection.”
About a week ago, it was as if the fog really began to lift. My energy started to return and I am able to continue my passion for advocacy and helping others. I actually feel like doing things again: getting out of the house, shopping and calling old friends. Normal things that have sorely been missed in my life. I can form sentences, write an entire blog and finish the task at hand before moving on to the next. Actually, I’m lying. The dishwasher is wide open and half emptied as I type. Okay, so we will mark that category as “Still Developing”. Remember: Progress…not perfection 😉
Marjorie is no longer the weak and tiny baby. She grows by the day (almost 11 pounds!) and is laughing and smiling more with each passing day. Manning started noticing his little sister in such a loving way that just melts my heart. I am finally able to lay off the Lysol (kind of) when he walks by her. Our three hour feeding schedule has relaxed and Jordan and I have begun to recoup full night’s sleep. (Yay for Marjorie sleeping through the night!) It seems as though life is slowly starting to become, dare I say it…normal, a NEW (and better) normal.
I am so thankful to feel like myself once again. I am thankful I survived such a difficult period, but my heart flows with gratitude for the normalcy I was so starved for. I gladly welcome sticky handprints and chaotic mornings of bottles and ‘Nickey Nouse’ over hospital beds and monitors. To once again have the ability and brain power to write and do the things that fuel my spirit is surreal. I can’t help but think back on that drive home in December. “You will find yourself again.” I did find McCall again. She was there all along, just focusing on life’s task at hand.
The human spirit simply amazes me. We can go through so much and still come out not just alive, but better than before. Not only has Marjorie pulled through, but I pulled through. I feel refreshed and renewed. I look to the future with eager anticipation and excitement to watch my children thrive and flourish. I can’t wait to see what amazing people they become. And I really can’t wait to see what life has in store for me next.
If you’re reading this and going through transition or hardship, remember this: you will survive and you will find yourself once again. Maybe you’re like I was many years ago who never knew who I was to begin with. We all find recovery and ourselves in our own time. We all have different timelines when it comes to finding our new normal and processing the past. Give yourself space to heal and time to figure out how to manage this new aspect of your life. Sometimes we just have to survive in order to thrive again.
I have nothing but gratitude in my heart for what I have been through. It has been far from easy, but it has shaped me into the woman and mother I am today. I can’t imagine my life without my eating disorder or without those days spent in the NICU praying over my daughter. In both situations, I have never felt more lost. Some days I thought my spirit and self were gone forever. It humbles me to say that I am proof that no matter how lost you may feel, you can always be found. Remember that and never let go of hope.