When I think of my big sister, I think of that person who always knows what to say and always knows what to do. I can count on her to come up with a plan or solution to just about any problem. She’s my lighthouse.
I imagine a little lighthouse that is white with a deep blue trim, sitting as strong and firm as the rocky coast it’s perched upon, lighting my way for a safe passage. I’m the ship, sailing up and down the coast from port to port. I sail past the lighthouse and wave. Give a little “all is ok!” sign as I pass. My sister winks back and lets me know all is right in her world too.
As one would expect, every now and then my ship sails through a storm. “Ok, I can handle this,” I think as I grit my teeth, grab the wheel and tug on the lines. I steady myself, weather the storm and give my usual wave to the lighthouse up on the rocks.
Of course, the times come when the storms are just too big. Too strong. Too scary. Those are the times I look frantically toward the rocks, praying for the small beam of light to shine out and show me the way. It’s always there. Every time. It blinks on as soon as my eyes search the darkness and starts to show me the path to safety. Every time.
I can tell you about each of these storms in great detail because they were huge life events for me. Like the time I nearly gave up on my college degree because of one final paper I just couldn’t figure out how to start. I sat up into the wee hours staring at my blank laptop screen, resigning myself to the fact that my degree just wasn’t meant to be. At least, not at the end of that semester. My sister called to see how I was doing, and I filled her in. She knew exactly what to do and helped me get the paper done and turned in on time. She’s helped me through breakups, problems at work and parenting dilemmas. If something is important in my world, then she becomes an expert so that she can help in the best way possible.The times come when the storms are just too big. Too strong. Too scary. Those are the times I look for the small beam of light to shine out and show me the way.
Most recently, she was my light in a more difficult storm. I had gone to the doctor for my nine-week pregnancy checkup, and they didn’t find a heartbeat. My third miscarriage. Although it was my third, I wasn’t prepared for it at all. I had already been to the doctor earlier in the pregnancy and saw the precious little heartbeat twice before. I was way past the time my previous miscarriages had occurred, so I assumed I was in the clear and had even started to share the happy news with friends and family. I was at the appointment alone because, well, why not? We were just going to do the usual pee in a cup, draw some blood and listen to a heartbeat.
As my appointment went from discussing VBAC vs 2nd C-Section and due dates to an emergency ultrasound and discussing D&Cs with sad looks from the staff, I completely fell apart. I called my husband who was traveling back to Chicago to tell him our baby was gone while I sat alone waiting for the doctor to come tell me next steps. My doctor walked in, and I hung up with my husband as he promised that he would be home as soon as he could. The doctor said stuff to me. Kind stuff, doctor stuff. But most of it just flowed over me without ever sinking in. I just got bits and pieces. “Three miscarriages is not okay — we’re going to find out what is going on,” “I’m so sorry,” “D&C on Monday,” “we’ll run tests,” “stay here as long as you need.”
I cried alone for a while in the private room set up for sad occasions like this, but I knew I couldn’t sit there all day. I tried unsuccessfully to pull myself together, and then I stumbled out of the office with my head down while all the glowing pregnant ladies sitting in the waiting room looked on. As I left the building, I found myself standing right at the corner of Michigan Ave and Chicago Ave. (If you’re familiar with Chicago, then you know that is one of the busiest tourist spots in the city.) I stood on the corner with the beautiful spring sun shining down and people rushing all around me. Tears were running down my face as I stared at my dark phone screen wondering, “What am I supposed to do now?” I was thinking about how sad I was, how my body had let me down again, how unfair this seemed and how there was this whole list of people I had to un-tell about the pregnancy. Oh, and how was I supposed to get home? I couldn’t get in a taxi, and I couldn’t take the L, not when I was such a wreck. The idea of strangers sitting and watching me as I was falling apart, wondering what could have happened, was too much.
I turned and started walking up Michigan and semi-toward home, which was about 30 blocks away. And then I called my sister.
“Are you busy? Can you talk?” I choked out.
“Sure… Are you ok?”
“No,” I squeaked.
“Is it the baby?” She asked in her comforting voice. Seriously, she has one of those voices that feels good to hear. “Is the baby gone?”
“Yes.” I took a deep breath and rushed through the rest. “I went to the doctor, and there’s no heartbeat. I don’t know what to do.”
And that’s when she turned on the light in her lighthouse. She showed me the path. Through her quiet tears, she told me how sad and awful this was and that it was okay to be sad. That this wasn’t fair and that she hurt for me. As I literally wandered the streets back toward my house, I would gasp out random things that came to my mind as well the one thing that felt so overwhelmingly huge and difficult.
“How am I going to tell people? I don’t have the capacity to deal with their pain right now or begin to think of what to say.”
“You’re not,” she gently guided. “You’re going to go home and hug your husband and hug your son, and you are going to be a family tonight and not worry about anyone else. No one needs to know now.”
I’m not sure how many times she repeated that to me, but it was enough for it to sink in. She kept talking to me as I kept walking. She offered to fly out, and I seriously considered but declined. The offer alone meant so much because I knew she would not think twice about coming to be with me if that’s what I needed, never thinking of how inconvenient the timing was or how expensive the flight would be.
I know the news of my lost pregnancy was difficult for her. She was as excited as I was to have another baby in the family. We had talked about the pros of having a boy and the pros of a girl, deciding either way would be so perfect. I knew this was a loss for her as well, in addition to hurting just because she knew I was hurting. But not once did she try to talk about how difficult or sad this was for her. She stayed with me, focused on my loss and pain as if I was the only person in the world.
I finally calmed enough on our call that my mind was blank and I had nothing left to say. She sat in that silence or said comforting, warm things, never forcing me to provide any more to the conversation than I could. I finally made an awkward exit from the call. I wanted to talk to her forever, but I also wanted to be quiet and not think. I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted, and I knew we couldn’t sit there on the phone forever. She had her family waiting for her, and I had mine to get to. We told each other how much we loved each other and hung up. And I knew what to do, thanks to my lighthouse’s signal. I went home to hug my husband and hug my son and be a family.