I've got a blue t-shirt that I inherited from Josh. Maggie has a matching shirt in red; Josh got it at a 5k run he and Maggie did last June, when I was about three months pregnant with Wendell.
The 5k was called "Strong Girls" and the logo is emblazoned on both the front and back of the shirt. I picked this shirt as the one to bring to the hospital as part of my "going home" outfit. I picked it because it was soft and loose-fitting and because I knew I'd need the reminder -- I am a Strong Girl. I can do hard things.
I picked that shirt out of my dresser only hours after the middle-of-the-night ultrasound that showed our son had no heartbeat. Earlier that morning, after a sleepless night, I sat in the bathtub blankly staring at the wall, wondering how I was going to get through what I knew I had to get through. How was I going to labor to deliver my dear son, knowing that there would be only silence when he entered the world? How could it be that I had to do this huge, wrenchingly sad thing? There was no one else who could go through the process for me. I would have to do it all myself. The only way through the dark valley was to walk through it.
I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the last moments I spent with my baby son, after the six hours that I labored without pain medication while Pitocin-induced contractions ripped through my body. I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the moments when I laid Wendell's body out on the bed and looked at every tiny part of his tiny self and kissed him and told him I loved him. I leaked milk all down the front as I kissed him and it seemed appropriate because I was so craving the ability to nurture him, to take care of him, even as I knew I had to prepare myself to get up and leave him. I wore that Strong Girl shirt as I handed his body to the nurse, walked down the hall out of the Maternity wing, and exited the hospital.
If I've learned anything this last year, it is this: I am a Strong Girl. I've borne two children in my life and have buried one. I've labored for six hours on Pitocin with no pain medication. I've learned to ask for help and to receive it when it is offered. I've learned to love myself, to have confidence in my own ability. I've produced milk and given almost 500 ounces to feed other mamas' infants. I've come out holding life as all the more precious. I've learned there is strength in weakness and that walking in vulnerability is a beautiful thing.
I went through most of my life thinking I was a failure, a flake. I didn't think I could follow through with anything. I felt doomed to destroying relationships, to shattering my own hopes. Early in life I had absorbed the message that I was inherently wrong at the core and no amount of self-help books or pep talks could wipe that away.
Last year, I began to believe something new: that I had inherent worth and goodness in my core. As the veil of self-hatred and self-doubt began to lift, I began to be able to tap into inner resources I never realized I had. I received love and support from other women who had been in the same dark place that I had and had come out on the other side. I was told over and over again, by their actions and words, that what happened in my life was important and that I was loved and cared for and worthy of good things. Worthy of health and a life lived fully and in the light.
As I've learned about self-care, I've seen how when I put myself first, I have so much more to give.
My intention for this year is simple in theory, yet complex in execution: To love myself more deeply. To love myself right where I am, not when I lose ten pounds or get up early every day or cook dinner every night. To love myself in all my beautiful, broken, imperfect humanity and embrace the wholeness that comes with authentic imperfection. To remember that I am a Strong Girl and capable of doing strong things.