Last month I suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks. The pregnancy was a surprise and the loss of it the result of an empty gestational sac, but the experience was nonetheless terrible. As I lay in a hospital bed, a familiar lament filled my head -“What else? Why me?” Fortunately, it was interrupted by a nurse who, after tending to my immediate medical needs, shared that her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and she too had found herself in the ER. Then, the on-call OB doctor arrived. I braced myself for rushed bedside manner as she pulled out the stirrups. To my surprise, she began to tell me how she came to be a doctor at age 40, after three children and three miscarriages.
“I’ve been where you are,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
I couldn’t begin to count how many times she said she was sorry over the several hours she cared for me. Not only did she say it, she meant it. She said it more times during follow-up calls. She gave me her cell number in case I needed advice over Thanksgiving. If I called, she was prepared to answer. This was profound. These simple yet courageous acts of kindness made all the difference for me. I was still really sad, but also relieved and almost joyful that empathy was being practiced at such an important time for empathy to be practiced.
One of the reasons I started writing again was to connect with others. Shortly after joining HuffPo, I joined Facebook. Since that’s where most everyone seemed to do their socializing, I thought I’d try it. I was curious if genuine connection was possible within such odd confines. I wondered how quickly I would succumb to superficiality. Now I realize that empathy exists there as surely as it does anywhere else. The truth is, it’s much easier to escape human connection than to embrace it, on social media or elsewhere. We read walls, texts and emails, send thoughts or prayers, but we don’t practice empathy in its purist form. Practicing empathy requires elusive social-emotional intelligence, and apathy is both automatic and widely accepted. Empathy expects we will come to know people without assignment, willing to be wrong. It invites us to sort through our own pain, make space for mourning and allow past hurts, sometimes lots of them, to pass through. I call this mindfulness meets forgiveness, and it takes effort. I’ve read it gets easier, but I can’t prove it.
If all this seems a little too “New Age” for you, and you’re thinking, “Ugh, coffee with her would be exhausting,” that’s okay. I’m well-practiced in rejection also. I’ve been “unfriended” more than once this year because I’ve learned the value in speaking my truth. I’ve endured enough to call a spade a spade, and I assume the same in return. I can still make small talk, but I don’t want to. I could still wrangle up a few words about weather and football, but life is too short to play pretend, especially when there’s a whole pile of realness under the rug.
My miscarriage was one of many events this year that tested me, moved me, and changed me. It’s been said that enlightenment is often preceded by chaos. I was certainly naive to think I could skip merrily into greater knowledge. Undoubtedly, there’s much learning ahead, but I could use a break. Through it all, I wish to remain grateful.
This year has given me the gift of greater empathy and humility, the gift of perspective, the gift of more clearly seeing others–even those who prefer not to be seen–and allowing them to see me. I will never forget 2016.