Sunday, January 26, 2020

Finding Peace after Pregnancy Loss in Sedona

I really needed this trip.  We both did, but especially me.  I was feeling crushed, helpless, and disconnected to the world the days leading up to that weekend.  We just lost another pregnancy.  Just as I was getting excited about passing the awful milestone that we miscarried our last one, I saw blood again, and it kept coming.  I couldn't believe it, I was bewildered, I was angry, I was shaken.  Even as I am writing this, I am feeling waves of those same emotions, like PTSD, just hitting me over and over.

This time around, I had a much harder time accepting what was happening because there are very few I know who have been through more than one miscarriage in a row.  They call this condition recurrent pregnancy loss.  It even has its own medical abbreviation, RPL.  I was scared and in disbelief.  As someone who has never had a major health problem, never done drugs, young, and for the most part optimistic, I was shocked that I was a victim.  Though the first miscarriage was also painful to go through, we moved on knowing that it happens to every 1 in 4 pregnancies.  We know people who have had one miscarriage and then successfully sustained their next pregnancies to term.  But what now?  It felt like I'd never reach the finish line, since I couldn't even make it to the first hurdle, twice.  When the blood was flowing out and I was curled up on my side, sobbing in a voice that I had never heard before, I didn't know what to think, but I was very afraid.  Afraid of what this could mean for our future, and afraid of finding out the "truth" about myself.  Now, I have come to the conclusion that this cannot define who I am.  I am more than this.  I may be crushed, but I am not broken.

Going back to a few days before we left for Sedona, I could not shake the sinking feeling of failure and hopelessness after the disbelief wore off.  I felt like somebody was playing a practical joke on me, like I was being teased over and over for having done nothing wrong.  Or maybe I was being punished for having had it too "good" so far.  I couldn't reason it out, it was just plain unfair.  My body felt like it wasn't mine, my emotions also felt like they weren't mine.  I felt so alone and un-me.  The only thing I could think somewhat positively about was to get away and be with nature.  It's ironic because previously, I would opt for the outdoors when things felt too in control--like things were too predictable.  Not that daily life was boring, but just that I craved a little more adventure, a little dose of the unknown that usually comes about when we go backpacking, snowboarding, and hiking.  This time, nature was what called to me when everything internal was in total disarray.  I didn't know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but I felt like I needed a retreat and some source of renewal.  I already tried retreating into my own mind through meditation, which was actually really great, but I needed more than that.  When I told Wes, he said that he had already googled a bunch of places for a getaway and was going to ask me if I wanted to try going to Sedona, Arizona.  I honestly was down for anything at that point, but Sedona intrigued me.  It sounded like a beautiful and peaceful place full of good vibes, and relatively easy to get to.  With that, we booked a last-minute hotel room and a rental car and packed our bags.

I was so glad to get into the car (even though it was blue) for that long drive after a full week of struggling to get through work.  The miscarriage happened on a Sunday night, and it just so happened that my whole week was busy as hell.  I was tired of putting on my smiling face and using my encouraging therapist voice for my kids and patients.  I was also very tired of seeing everybody's babies on social media, birth announcements, pregnancy announcements, maternity milestones, etc.  I was tired of the bloodwork and the phone calls with the doctors, and revealing to close family and friends the bad news.  In the car, I zoned out to music, podcasts, snacks, and good-natured chats with Wes.  I was excited for what the next three days would bring.  We talked about the trails we would try and the food we could eat.  We had our mountain bikes in the trunk, since we found out that Sedona happens to be a top U.S. mountain biking destination.  It was perfect because we had just started up this new hobby together.  Might as well dive in if I'm not hosting a developing fetus.

The next morning, I woke up feeling down, even though we were here on vacation.  I was reading forums about RPL before Wes woke up and when he did, I told him what I read and cried.  They were different tears this time, though.  I was touched by what I had read that others had bravely shared on the internet.  I wasn't crying out of self-pity this time.  We spent a little bit of time collecting ourselves, and then he asked me if I was ready to see the beauty that lay outside our door.  I was truly not expecting to see those grand rock formations rising straight out of the earth in front of my face when we exited the motel room and rounded the corner onto the street.  Last night when we arrived, everything was cloaked in black, a surprise for the morning.  My spirits were lifted right away.  The skies were blue, the sun was out, and we were in Arizona, getting ready to ride our bikes in the red sand!

We are new to mountain biking, this being really only our third or fourth time out on legitimate mountain biking terrain.  We did the Bell Rock Trail, which was about five miles of bumps, curves, hills, cactus, laughter, and jitters.  It was so, so exhilarating.  I found myself whooping, hollering, and laughing at myself while traversing big bumps, skidding through turns, pushing myself to stay on the seat and pedal through whatever obstacles materialized in my path.  Wes was having the best time, too.  We took breaks to take some deep breaths, stretch out, and stare in awe at the beauty surrounding us.  I saw this new outdoor experience as a very close metaphor of how to live life: When you hit a rocky downhill path, trust yourself, and let go.  When you come up to a steep hill, go hard and don't even think about giving up.  And when you do, you dust yourself off, take some nice deep breaths, admire what's all around you, and keep pedaling!

Still covered in dirt, we ate a late lunch at Wildflower Baking Co.  After that, we explored the town and checked out the myriad of little local shops.  I realize now how much more fun it is to shop for decorations when you have a house and how we would never have cared to step into a store devoted solely to Christmas decorations until now.  Hey, they had some really creative desert-themed ones in there!  There is also a wonderful chai cafe with a patio that I'd love to replicate at our own home!

We had dinner at Elote Cafe - yes, the place with the infamous two-hour wait time.  Normally, waiting that long for food isn't our jive, but we figured we had nowhere else to be, and this place had such rave reviews.  Plus, we had the finale of Cheer (the Netflix documentary about cheerleaders) to finish up.  So, the time passed quickly as we sat in the car and watched our new favorite cheer team dominate the Daytona Beach championships and reviewed our Go Pro footage from earlier that day.  Our patience was rewarded by some of the best upscale Mexican food we have ever put in our mouths, and it wasn't because we were starving or anything.  It was really that good!

Thank goodness there were some chips and salsa waiting for us when we sat down!  We were hungry!

The namesake elote dish.  Like an upscale version (good, but not necessary better) of Mexican street corn.

White Truffle Corn Soup - Creamy corn chowder with white truffle crema and duck chicharron. Yum.

Roasted Beet Salad - Organic arugula, Poblano chiles, fried goat cheese balls and apple balsamic dressing. Loved the goat cheese balls.

Lamb Adobo - Braised Colorado lamb shank served with a sweet & spicy ancho chile sauce. Of course we loved this!

Buffalo Mole Poblano - Buffalo short ribs braised in a traditional Mole Poblano. Wow, this one was perfect.  Didn't think that buffalo could be tender, but this was beyond.

Elote ice cream sandwich - corn cookies with corn ice cream, dehydrated corn sprinkles, vanilla bean agave ice cream, drizzled with homemade blackberry reduction. It was a special of the night and we're so glad that we got it, though I barely had any more room.

The next day, we decided to take it a little slower and do a long hike.  We considered doing hikes that were popular and famous, such as the Devil's Bridge and Cathedral Rock, but ended up on the HiLine Trail coming out of the Yavapai trailhead.  It was perfect - not crowded, great elevated views of the famous rock formations, lengthy, and not too hard.  We were able to take in what nature had to offer us at a comfortable pace.  It was a familiar, relaxing, and happy experience, though in a whole new place.  There were moments when I felt so lucky to be here, lucky to be alive, lucky to have Wes.  There definitely is something about being close to the natural world that works magic on a grieving soul.  Whereas I felt alone in the world before, I now felt that I was at one with nature, and that whatever the plan was to be for me, it would be part of a natural process that I just had to trust.

We intended to see the sunset, so we started this hike later in the afternoon and hiked down in the night with our headlamps and down jackets on.  This spot halfway on the HiLine trail was a perfect 360 view of the valleys and rock formations of Sedona, and we had it all to ourselves.  The golden sunset hour here was gorgeous with the shadows inching over the many layers and tiers of rock.

After this, we had dinner at this place called Cowboy Club Grille & Spirits.  It was a funny, borderline kitschy Western-themed place that happened to have some pretty good, and unique food.  What drew us to this place was the appetizer sampler with the cactus fries and the wild game meat entrees.

Bison brochettes over a cilantro flat bread.

Rattlesnake sausage.

Cactus fries with prickly pear dip.

Wild game trio of wild boar chop, elk chop, and bison tenderloin with tart cherry demiglaze and bomb sweet potato mash.  I didn't take a photo of the inside, but the elk and bison were both a perfect medium rare.

After this, we headed straight to Rocky RD Ice Cream, probably Sedona's only handmade ice cream place that happens to specialize in rocky road, Wes's absolute favorite flavor.  Coming here had been on the list, and it was our last chance to do it!

That night, we both happened to wake up at around 4:00 in the morning for no reason (well, I had to pee and I must have woken him up when I got out of bed).  I knew that it was our last day and we only had so much time to enjoy Sedona before hitting the long road home, so I suggested that we go and do one last hike before Wes was able to doze off again.  We were deterred from doing the Devil's Bridge the day before because it is notorious for being super crowded unless you go early, but if we left now...

It was an otherworldly experience--the entire hike up in the dark and the ghostly sight of Devil's Bridge lit up by flashlight.  I was pretty creeped out, but Wes seemed to enjoy the novelty of it all.  He hates heights, so the fact that he couldn't see how high up we were gave him the courage to go out onto the bridge.  I was getting goosebumps taking these photos of him.   He came back and set up a tripod for us to take pictures (yes, he hiked up with the tripod!).  We got some photos in before the sun came up and after.  It was awesome to see everything become visible in the grey morning light.  We were able to have this whole view to ourselves for a while before anyone else came up, unbelievable!

I felt like I had it in me to go out onto the bridge and do a headstand, which probably isn't something I would do again in retrospect.  I was in a very "yolo" mindset, though.  Something I've decided to do is to just surrender.  Surrender and trust.  Surrender to the circumstances, trust in yourself.

I took a few deep breaths first, I attempted twice and chickened out, but on the third try, I pressed up into that headstand and maintained it, daring to open my eyes and look at the sky, the cliffs upside down, repeating the words "lighter than air" to myself.  When I came down, I lay there on my back, looking at the sky, feeling so grounded and so excited that I did it when I wasn't sure if I could.  I asked Wes if he thought I would actually be able to, and he said that he had no doubt!  I couldn't help but smile.

I am so lucky that Wes has so much faith in me--in us.  He is really my rock through all of this.  He still somehow finds a way to stay positive and encouraging during everything, while making me feel like it's safe to be emotional.  He dries my tears and reminds me that none of this is my fault.  He also cooked me comfort food and drove me around all week.  He tells me "you can," when I am saying, "I can't."  It must be difficult for him to hear, because I almost never say that.  Honestly, I resent him for arguing against me when I'm ranting, or for telling me to be positive when I'm in a rut, but I know it's because he knows that I'm engaging in unproductive, self-deprecating mind games.  It's hard not to fall into the trap of catastrophic thinking and self-blame because that's what gives me a false sense of control.  It's easier to live in the past and have anxiety about the future than to be in the discomfort of the present.  Wes has been the voice of reason and he pulls me back when I've strayed too far from being true to myself.

When there is an irreplaceable loss, we must learn to surrender to the cards that we are dealt.  No matter how much control we think we have over our life choices, some things that happen in life are not a choice.  They just happen.  It's hard when things have been going well so far and we've gotten used to things going our way for a while.  It's all of a sudden demoralizing and disappointing, but feeling angry and resentful doesn't change reality.  I'm not trying to just flip the switch and be cheerful and sunny, but I'm acknowledging that though what I'm going through is tough, it is possible to still be hopeful, to see the light through the fog.  I am trying to focus on the things and people and accomplishments in my life that make me grateful and proud.  I'm holding onto these things like a flashlight in the dark.

This trip to Sedona has not only filled me with gratitude, joy, and self-compassion, but it has also been a great couples' retreat.  We made amazing new memories doing a new sport. We feasted, we shopped, we enjoyed the present, we let go a little.  We discussed (sometimes heatedly, sometimes lovingly) what we need from each other.  Even though it's not his primary love language, Wes did a great job articulating the words of affirmation that I have been needing to hear spoken aloud.  Rather than letting RPL divide us, I feel that we have strengthened our foundation through this extremely trying time.

And as for the "truth" about myself, it's never changed.  I still have the same flaws that I've always had, I still have the same strengths.  I am compassionate, I am sincere, I am fun-loving, I am adventurous, I am determined, I am resilient.  That's what got me to where I am; I should feel no guilt or shame about anything that I have or anything that I lack.  I think I'm ready to not only take that risk of trying to have a baby again, but also to come at all of life's trials and tribulations with more peace and clarity in my heart.  This is what recurrent pregnancy loss has taught me.

"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to." — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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