I had a very charmed childhood. It was full of the normal childhood angst: fights with friends, heartbreak over boys, and frustration about my hair. But it was relatively trauma-free. I grew up in a good home. I was never abused. No one close to me ever died. We never struggled with money. I had everything I needed. Not everything I wanted (hello, Easy Bake Oven, someday you will be mine.) But my childhood was happy and content.
My college years were also happy years. I had a great time at school. I met a nice boy and we got married. We went to grad school together. I started a career. Life was easy. I made goals and I met them. I had my mind set on how life would look, and thus far, everything was on track.
Growing up devoid of any serious hardships sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was. However, it also left me unprepared for dealing with real stressors when they came. And oh, they came. My 28th year was the year my world was tilted on it’s axle.
The year began with my 3rd miscarriage. We had been trying to have a baby for about 2 years. Initially, we had difficulty conceiving. We did some minor testing and everything checked out fine, so we were told to just be patient. Once I finally got pregnant, I miscarried a month later. Again, I was told not to worry. These things happen. Try again. After my second miscarriage, my doctor told me it was still highly likely that my next pregnancy would be normal. “We don’t panic unless you’ve had three in a row” . . . he said in an effort to comfort me.
That 3rd miscarriage came, and I did panic. I knew that statistically, this didn’t bode well. I was starting to feel hopeless and helpless. My whole life, I had been able to make a goal and achieve it through hard work and focus. Yet this was the thing I wanted most in life, and no amount of trying could help me. I was distraught.
Mark and I tried to avoid putting our life on hold over the pregnancy losses . . . we tried to busy ourselves and enjoy our child-free life, even though we very much wanted a child. We signed up to go to Zimbabwe on a mission trip with our church. This was our first trip to Africa and, as is the case for many people who life there, it was a life-changing experience. Seeing the joy that so many people had in the midst of extreme poverty was a reminder that it was important for us to not be beaten down by our circumstances. While in Zimbabwe, we developed a relationship with a local pastor named Jasper and his wife Tiwone. They were incredible people who had very little, and yet were constantly thinking of ways to improve the community they were in. Their son Jafta is sitting in my lap in this picture:
Jasper and Tiwone had been through a lot of hardships, and yet their love for each other and desire to help others was such an example to us. We came home with a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to find joy in our lives every day. We also came home with a desire to continue partnering with Jasper and Tiwone.
Shortly after our trip to Africa, I experienced another miscarriage . . . my 4th. It was devastating, and my doctor told me that after a 4th consecutive miscarriage he was concerned that I might never be able to carry to term. He suggested some high-tech treatment options but I was done. Our trip to Africa had also confirmed my life-long desire to adopt. We came face-to-face with children who were living without parents and it was a reminder of a seed that had been planted by an article I had read about Romanian orphans when I was 13. This was something Mark and I had always talked about, and we decided to put our energy into that process. We called a local foster parent agency and signed up for classes to begin the process of adopting from the foster-care system.
A few months after our trip to Africa, we were out with some friends who had gone on the trip with us. On our way home, we witnessed an accident on the freeway . . . a car parked on the shoulder of the road pulled out suddenly and another car was speeding and crashed into it. We narrowly missed being hit as well and pulled over into the shoulder to see if they were okay.
Mark got out of the car to check on the drivers, while I stayed in the car and called 911. Suddenly, another car came speeding down the freeway. And even though these two cars were well off the freeway and in the shoulder, the 3rd car crashed into them both. But before it collided with the first wreck, the 3rd car hit Mark as he was standing there comforting one of the drivers.
Mark was thrown so far that we had difficulty finding him. When I did find him, he was lying unconscious and bleeding profusely from his head. He went in and out of consciousness, and each time he came to, he asked where he was and what was going on. The head injury and his mental state scared me. I cried and prayed and told Mark over and over again that I loved him, in case this was our last conversation. I was unsure if he would make it.
The ambulance arrived, and they quickly cut Mark’s clothes off of him to reveal severe “road rash” on his back and a compound break in his femur. They let me ride in the ambulance and on the way, I called Mark’s family and bargained with God to let him live.
It was a long night in the hospital. Mark was taken into surgery immediately. He spent several days in ICU. He had a broken femur, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, and a concerning head injury. He also had an intestinal obstruction and there was concern about internal bleeding. Finally, he was pronounced stable and moved to a regular room. After another two weeks, his organs and brain appeared to be functioning well enough that he could begin focusing on rebuilding his legs..
Mark then spent several weeks in a rehab facility learning how to do basic things. Things we take for granted every day . . . like moving from a bed to a chair. His injuries were so involved that on his right side he had to wear a brace from the waist down. His right femur had been shattered and his left ankle had been as well, so he could not bear any weight on his legs. He would be in a wheelchair for most of that year.
While he was still in the hospital, friends from church outfitted our home to be wheelchair accessible. The put in ramps and widened our bathroom. They also converted our garage into an office so he could work from home. Mark finally got out of the hospital, but it was just the beginning of his recovery.
It was a surreal year for us. I thought I would be taking care of a newborn. Instead, at 28, I became a full-time caretaker for my husband, who needed help with all daily living skills. It was a humbling time for both of us, and we both struggled with feeling angry about our life circumstances. Still, we pushed through, and I do believe the experience made us stronger and also more compassionate to others.
In retrospect, it’s still hard to make sense of my 28th year. I can’t wrap it in a pretty bow or say that I’m glad it all happened. It was a scary time. It was a time of mourning our expectations, and it was a year when the value of life was put sharply into perspective. Life is messy and fragile and fleeting, and none of us are immune to tragedy, to heartbreak, or to pain. But there is joy . . . there is always joy. Sometimes you really have to fight to find it, but it’s there.
If you read my blog regularly, you probably know that we did go on to adopt from foster care. We named our first son Jafta, after the boy we had met in Zimbabwe. We also went on to have two successful pregnancies, and then we adopted another child from Haiti. But the friends we had made in Zimbabwe had more hardships ahead of them. Tiwone, Jasper’s wife, died a few year after we met her, of a disease that could have easily been treated here in the US, leaving behind her son Jafta and also a daughter. We were able to return to Zimbabwe for her funeral. It was devastating. She was 28 years old.
Today, I’ve partnered with Shot@Life, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation that is providing vaccines for children in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach places. In writing this post, I’m reminded that so many of us have experienced our own tragedies, but also that some tragedies are preventable. I would love to help prevent the tragedies we can, and to make sure that families do not lose loved ones because they don’t have the same access as others in the world. If you would like to join that effort, please leave a comment on this post, and in turn Walgreens will donate a vaccine to a child in need. A child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease. We can change this reality and help save lives, so please leave a comment and share this post so others will do the same.
During Shot@Life’s Blogust, 31 bloggers, one each day in August, are writing about moments that matter. For every comment on this post and the 30 other posts, Walgreens will donate a vaccine up to 50,000 vaccines. Blogust is also part of a wider initiative proudly supported by Walgreens, the "Get a Shot. Give a Shot." campaign. Walgreens has committed $500,000 to donate up to 3 million vaccines for those kids who need them most. Beginning September 3 through October 14, when you go to Walgreens to get your flu shot, Walgreens will donate a vaccine to the Shot@Life campaign. (*Subject to availability. Some restrictions apply. See pharmacy for details.)
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