Like the Corners of My Mind

I managed to find a copy of the elusive Magnolia Journal spring edition at my grocery store, and the theme is simplifying your life (while simultaneously selling their decor and furniture items). The section that spoke to me was a quote from Joanna Gaines, explaining that living simply requires a commitment every day, and not just spring cleaning. You have to consciously decide to make the best choice every moment, as well as clearing your home and mind of unnecessary things. So today, I cleaned out my closet to please my inner Joanna.

Deciding what to part with is difficult, because I have clothes in at least 4 sizes for different times in my life. The smallest sizes for recovering from a major flare of Crohn’s Disease, the clothes for when my health is decent, the bigger clothes for after I’ve been on prednisone for months to heal from the flare that made me lose weight in the first place, and the largest of all: immediately post-pregnancy clothes for when I can’t stand to wear maternity pants another second. My health ebbs and flows, so I’m never sure what is safe to donate and what I’ll end up needing down the road. And then there’s the question of growing the family, and whether or not I need the giant clothes or even the two boxes of maternity clothes I have stashed away. Today I settled on the clothes that were out of style, worn out, or unflattering at any size.

I thought lightening my closet load would be therapeutic, but it was harder than I thought. I’ve been dragging a bin of office clothing around with me since 2008, when I graduated from college and got my first real, full-time office job. I thought I had been keeping them in case I went back to work, but once I opened the box I knew the real reason I hadn’t either hung the clothes up or donated them: I didn’t want to look at a tangible reminder of that time in my life. I made it through an intense round of interviews and was hired to do business to business sales with two other people, down from 20. I saw the tailored jacket I wore to the final interview, and was still wearing when I slumped in my closet crying because I was sure I wouldn’t get the job. I remembered the bright yellow peep-toe heels I wore on my triumphant first day of training. And then I saw the silk top I sweat through before leaving the house one morning, heaving up bile and trying not to wrinkle my slacks. I saw the worn hem of sexy pinstripe pants that were meant to be worn with heels, but I was too weak to balance in them and too tired to change. I saw the cardigan that went with a flouncy top I had to throw away because of the vomit stains, and the tiny pencil skirt that only fit because I was barely able to eat. And finally, the top I was wearing while trying to camouflage my health problems, when my boss caught me throwing up in the bathroom. She told her boss, who suggested I might infect the rest of the office with whatever I had (he suspected mono, my boss suspected a hidden pregnancy) and I should go home until I was completely healthy. I never went back.

My health declined further, until I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I had gotten a real, serious job because I was smart and hard-working, and I had lost it because my body was failing me. I put those clothes away until I thought I had my disease under control. I got another job in a bank a year later, and the medicine I had been taking stopped working. I held on a little longer, but eventually left the job because my boss told me if I took another sick day, she’d have to fire me. I had a chronic disease that wasn’t controlled by medication, so I left rather than be fired. I put the clothes away again, and haven’t opened the box since.

Getting rid of those things meant I was making a decision: I wouldn’t be getting another office job anytime soon, and I would reassure myself I was smart, hard-working, and successful in a sales environment, but life had intervened. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t fail.

And then I saw it. The skirt I was wearing at a country club luncheon with my mother-in-law, the moment I realized I was having a miscarriage. I had completely forgotten I still had the clothes I wore that day, because when I got pregnant again I’d hidden them at the back of my closet. I didn’t want anything to remind me of the baby I lost while I was working on loving the baby in my belly. I tried not to make a big deal about it at the time, both because we hadn’t told anyone we were pregnant, and because I lost the baby so early. There are women who lose babies in the delivery room, so I shouldn’t cry publicly about a first trimester loss, right? It was awful anyway, and was still awful as I looked at my green and black skirt on the floor of my closet today. I threw it in the bag of donations, but I’ll always remember that day. That week. The emergency trip to the doctor to discover there was no heartbeat. How awful I felt for myself, for my baby, and for my husband, who was so excited to be a father. I was so afraid that, like so many women, my autoimmune disease would keep me from becoming a mother.

I am so, so aware of how fortunate we are to have two beautiful, healthy boys, and what a miracle their safe pregnancies were. So many women go through this same pain, and much greater pain, losing babies later in their pregnancies or never getting pregnant at all. All we can do is remind ourselves we are strong, loving mothers just waiting for the right time, the right baby, and sometimes life intervenes. It’s not because we didn’t start taking our prenatal vitamins a month before conception, or because we had that cocktail before we knew we were pregnant. There was a plan, we just didn’t know it, and our miracle is just around the corner, whether they grow it our own belly or someone else’s.

It has taken me some time to absolve myself of the guilt I felt. Who was I to put a baby in danger like that? I have an incurable disease, for goodness sake. It’s reckless to want a child. After two doctors and a ton of research told me that was ridiculous, I started to heal. I got pregnant soon after, and my first son was born early, but healthy and strong. Motherhood is hard, but for some, it’s hardest before it even begins.

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