By Keira Sorrells
Many people can pinpoint a specific moment in time when they decided to choose hope during a life challenge they were experiencing. They can remember the details surrounding the situation when they were able to say: “I’m moving forward. I will not let the ‘what ifs’ keep me from experiencing and enjoying life.” For others, choosing hope is not a singular moment; it is a choice we have to make over and over again.
As a result of giving birth to my triplets at 25 weeks 5 days gestation and the untimely death of one of my daughters, I’ve battled grief, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the last six years. Neither PTSD, grief, or depression follow a linear path from which you emerge unscathed after you’ve felt all five stages of grief or followed some other method for processing these emotions. It is a bumpy ride with many twists and turns.
Over time I have begun to emerge a more centered, compassionate, hopeful person. But I have had to learn to live with and accept the continual state of not knowing what may be around the corner. Hope seemed so elusive for so long that it is difficult to pinpoint a singular moment when hope became my choice. Choosing hope has come to mean many things to me – it means embracing the life I have at the moment I am living it. It means setting my work aside and focusing on my girls. It means resting in my faith that God has an ultimate plan and one day I will see my darling baby again. It means choosing to be a loving, intuitive wife for my husband and partnering with him along this parenting journey. I can remember a handful of defining moments where I chose hope and these have become the moments I reflect on when hope tries to slip away.
My first memory was when I sat at Zoe’s bedside in the NICU; it was week five of what would ultimately be a 40+ week stay. My mother urged me to send birth announcements to celebrate the fact that my triplet girls had arrived. I adamantly refused because I wasn't sure if I was to announce the birth of two and the death of one. I needed to be sure. On this particular day Zoe’s doctor came by for rounds and flatly told me there had been no change in her condition or oscillator settings from the day she was born. This was not good at all. I looked at him straight in the eyes and asked, “Do I need to be planning a funeral?” He didn’t say “No”, instead he replied with: “Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.”
So I took those words and delved into their care in any possible way. I decided that Avery & Lily would come home and so would Zoe; although we had no idea when that might be. I decided to take each day one at a time and not worry about how many weeks or months we had to stay in the NICU. Nine months later, Zoe joined her sisters at home. At the time we had no idea her time with us would be short-lived.
Zoe died just four months later and I was sent into a tailspin of depression. The effects of which had a way of pulling me down, a way of taking me to places of grief and despair I hadn’t known before. And so there I sat in November of 2008, 9 months after Zoe died, with Jeanine, a former NICU nurse who had become a Christian grief counselor.
I saw Jeanine weekly for counseling sessions, most of which involved me sobbing on her couch. I suppose I wasn’t making much progress and on this particular day, she decided I was ready to be challenged. She began by saying: “You have to stop digging in your heels and resisting the natural grief process.” She paused, and continued. “I'm going to tell you something else that's even harder to hear; Zoe doesn't need you anymore.”
With that I had a complete breakdown, an outpouring of sorrow. The hole in my heart seemed to grow larger as my stomach sank to my feet and my shoulders slumped in surrender. When I could finally speak, I looked up at Jeanine and said "But I still need her."
She went on: "Keira, you have to stop living in death. You have to live in the reality that is the life you have now. You have to live in this life for you, for your husband who needs a wife, and for Avery and Lily who need their mom.” And so, I made that choice of hope again, only to find myself six months later with my ten-year long marriage on the brink of collapse.
I had been going about my business being depressed and feeling very self-righteous about it. I was the mom and I was allowed to grieve however I wanted for as long as I wanted with little thought to others around me. This left my devoted and loving husband to come behind me and fill in all the holes that I left open in the care of our house and our girls. There were a couple of days when he seemed off; we barely spoke to each other and he often fell asleep on the sofa. This behavior was very unlike him, since he wouldn’t speak to me I sent him a message. I expressed how concerned I was for him and thought for sure this was his collapse into grief and depression.
His reply caught me off guard and made me see just how much damage had been done to our relationship. He simply wrote: “The way I've been acting these last two days has been the way you’ve been acting towards me for the last two years. I don’t know how much more I can take.” His words frightened me. He had been by my side for 14 years, but I had been so caught up in my own grief that I failed to see that Richard was hurting too. The only other person in the world, whose hurt was as deep as mine, was his, and he needed his wife back. We needed to grieve and heal together. It was a turning point in my grief process and in our relationship.
So I made the choice again, as I do each day, to not give up, to keep moving forward and not let the NICU or Zoe’s death crush our family. Our love for each other and our love for all our children can sustain our family as long as our constant companion is hope.
Executive Director, Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation
Director of Operations, Preemie ParentAlliance
Part-time blogger Tripled Pink