Monday, November 15, 2010

choose your own adventure, after all

(i should preface this post by saying that a friend asked me to write a guest post on her blog; we ended up going in another direction, but i'd written the following post about how life doesn't always turn out the way you anticipate. i write about m's deafness, and especially those early days of finding out her diagnosis, but we all have these moments-don't we?-when life doesn't go the way we expect.)

When I was a kid I wasn’t the most discerning literary critic. I’d read the back of the shampoo bottle when I was taking a bath or the cereal box when I was eating breakfast; I would read anything; I loved escaping into stories (or even just words, since a shampoo bottle doesn’t exactly transport you very far.)
(reading with my great aunt orpha)

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? You’d read a chapter and then get to decide if you wanted to go to page 26 or page 83. Depending on which page you picked, the plot would go in completely different directions. Then twenty pages later you’d get to pick the direction of your story again. Of course, I kind of cheated choosing my own adventure and just chose all of them. I’d read all of the possible storylines and then decide which one was my favorite instead of just picking one.

Here’s the thing – in real life you don’t always get to pick your storyline. Stuff happens that you can’t change. The trajectory of your life doesn’t always line up with your expectations, and you can’t go back to the last chapter and choose a different plot direction. You have to learn how to live into the narrative you are given and make it your own.

When M was born into a world of complete silence, deafness wasn’t on our radar. At all. Maybe other stuff, but deafness, not so much. I still can’t quite explain the feelings that I had in those earliest days. I was in a very dark and lonely place. I felt emotionally paralyzed. This completely dependent, beautiful baby needed to eat every two hours and all I wanted to do was hide in my bed. My husband would come into our room and say, “You need to go pick her up. You need to feed her and snuggle her.” I would resist. I didn’t want to hold her or look into her big eyes. I didn't want to snap out of the sadness I was in- and when I actually made contact with her, it was impossible to feel completely broken because she was this amazing little being looking up at me. Finally I would give in because she needed to eat every two hours, and then moments into cradling her in my arms she would somehow, inexplicably, cut through my grief. The deep sadness still sat in me, but there were moments of reprieve as I held her.

In those very early days I felt so empty and lost. I didn’t really know how to proceed. It was as if I was treading water and no matter how hard I pushed my arms through the water I was sinking deeper and deeper into grief. I didn't want to be around anyone- even my dearest and closest friends and family. I (briefly, like for a nano-nanosecond) considered giving my daughter up for adoption. It was maybe one of my more dramatic plans. I thought of running away. I honestly felt like I didn’t even know how to be a parent, much less a parent of a child with special needs. I already loved this three-week-old baby, so it wasn’t that I wanted to get rid of her or that I wanted another baby who could hear instead. It was just that I was incredibly scared of messing up, and when it came down to it, this wasn’t the way I’d anticipated my story going. I felt like I was broken in a way that couldn't be fixed.

When I spent time in West Africa right out of college, part of the time was in Monrovia, the capitol city of Liberia, which had been completely devastated because of the tragic Liberian civil war. Driving through Monrovia at the time, buildings were decimated, roads pocked and unusable, neighborhoods gutted. My Liberian friends would always describe how beautiful the city of Monrovia had once been, and would speak with hope of what the city could become, even though it literally was falling apart. That image, of having great hope despite the surrounding and immediate circumstances, resonated with Matt and me. We wanted our child to be a person of hope and beauty even when that wasn't what life or the world looked like at the moment. In retrospect I think I romanticized the actual grief those Liberians must have felt as they longed for their beautiful old city which was now in shambles, with no tangible proof that their city would one day be a place of beauty. I fast forwarded through the deep woundedness they must have been living. (That is what we usually do - right? Minimize grief and fast forward to something more comfortable.) Even though we were naming her for such a specific reason, I didn't really think our daughter's name would be appropriate in her very first days of life. But here we were, with a circumstance that was out of our control, heavy laden with grief and loss, feeling like we were in the midst of a destroyed city.

M’s deafness wasn’t going away. I couldn’t change the basic narrative structure for our family. She was deaf at birth, she is deaf now, and she will be deaf when she has children of her own. But I could affect who I was and how I lived out this storyline. The grief was still there, the deafness was still there, but at some point I chose to crawl out of my bed.

I've blogged about points of joy before. My mom, who herself has had some pretty significantly painful chapter in her life, is the person who raised me with points of joy and then who forced me to recount daily points of joy during an extremely hard season of my life. She believes that we can always find little moments in each day that are glimmers of joy. This isn't coming from someone who has been immune to grief and loss. Points of joy come from someone who has had to chose joy when life was often quite bleak and broken. 

We all have these circumstances-they may be huge things, they may be little things- that we wish looked a little different. Sometimes I think the first step is realizing that the actual circumstance may not change. Ever. We don't always get a do-over. I had to authentically grieve M’s deafness (and every so often, I have to grieve it again) before I could move on towards healing. Life may never look exactly the way we want it to. And so this is the part of the adventure that we get to choose: bitterness and stagnation, or hope, which grows and deepens us despite our circumstances.


  1. Thank you for sharing your heart. Your words speak to my own heart and a lot of remembering that's been going on in my brain as of late.
    In a way it's hard to imagine that when we were each going through that heartbreaking grief we didn't know each other. I'm so glad I know you now.


  2. What a wonderful post. Sometimes I wish life was "Choose Your Own Adventure!" I love how you are honest about the grief and pain, and also how you are always able to find the joy and good in life.

  3. Beautiful post. Wish all "new" parents could read it.

  4. love aunt orpha...... and her corn fields

  5. I like hearing the deeper story behind Monrovia's name. Thanks for sharing that. I'd love to hear more about what Monrovia was like when you were there. Unfortunately, we only crossed the border into Liberia for a few hours one day. I would have loved to see more of the country.

    And thank you for always being so completely honest.

  6. just read this for the first time... love the picture (and you hair- dorothy hamill), M's name story, hearing about your feelings & grief. Thank you for reminding me to find joy, daily. I am so blessed to know you...and so many others are blessed to hear your story and monrovia's story through you. xoxo


Hi friends! This is where you talk back to me. :) Easy peasy: write your comment, then scroll down where it says "comment as" to identify yourself (if you want to just write your name click Name/URL or just click anonymous. xoxoxoxo