Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.

Lost

I sat on the toilet staring at the results. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I could, but I was shocked. I had only gotten off the pill the previous month and while I didn’t exactly trip and fall onto my husband, it wasn’t like we were really trying. I wanted to be overjoyed. I wanted to keep it a secret and do some fabulous announcement where he would cry and then I would cry and then he’d scoop me up into his arms and music would come out of nowhere. Instead, I burst into tears. I came out of the bathroom wailing, “KURTIS!” (tears and snot running everywhere), “I’m pregnant!”

He jumped out of bed, startled, “That’s it? I thought something was really wrong with you.” That’s it. That’s it was his response to our first pregnancy. In the coming weeks when I would hold this over his head every chance I got, he would explain it was a terrible answer and he was caught off-guard. It was a terrible answer but yes, he was caught off-guard. Plus I couldn’t give him too much grief considering my response was ugly crying and hyperventilation out of panic and, “what the hell have we done.” 

This wasn’t an accidental pregnancy per say. We had made the decision to start a family. It happened so quickly though, that I think we were both a bit shocked. It didn’t take long for us to slip into the excitement of expecting. Before our first doctor’s appointment was even booked, we made the 20-minute trip into town to buy all the books. What to Expect, What Not to Expect, How to Break it to Your Dog, What to Eat, What Not to Eat, How to Not Screw it Up, How to Compare Yourself to Every Pregnancy on Earth. You know, all the classics. I stopped drinking and became hyper-aware of what I ate—only the best for the baby. I even contemplated a halt to my workouts—mustn’t do anything to risk hurting peanut. After our initial appointment though, I was given the green light to live my normal life. Looking back now I have to laugh at the contrast between that pregnancy beginning and my others. I was so naive. So cautious. So new to it all. 

We told everyone immediately. Well, not Facebook announce everyone, but close family. Kurtis drove me around in his truck to every single family member like I was his prized hog. “We have some news…we’re expecting” AHH!! JOY!! Tears!!! Hugs. Then all the questions—when? Are you going to find out? How far along? How do you feel Lauren? And so on. The first week was navigating emotions of bliss and joy and newness. Sitting here typing this to you still brings a tear to my eye because that moment was the only moment in our lives that would ever be that moment. That made zero sense. Basically, the first time you find out you’re pregnant happens only once in your life. Regardless of how it ends, it’s worth treasuring and reliving often.

I kept on with our normal schedule other than checking my profile every day to see if I had a bump yet. Didn’t that happen at nine weeks? I had zero sickness. It was almost odd how completely normal I felt. It was as if I wasn’t pregnant at all. I already figured it was because we were having a boy—less morning sickness. I remember devouring each book and making lists of baby names. Yes, with our first I had Kurtis cornered almost daily to go over potential baby names. Every boy name I offered Kurtis responded with either, “No. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. He was a loser.” Or, “That’s a good one. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. I liked him.”

Around the time our first trimester was coming to an end, Kurtis had to work out of town. I remember feeling a bit panicked during the time he was gone. It had bothered me for awhile that I wasn’t feeling pregnant. I mean, nothing. My doctor’s appointments had been fine and I hadn’t had any of the tell-tale spotting. I knew from skimming my books that if you had spotting it was over. But I was still feeling off. Oddly, I always skipped over the sections in each baby book that talked about miscarriage. I didn’t see the point in reading about it considering nothing was going to happen to our baby. Still, I often felt pulled to those chapters.

On a crazy whim I went and bought another pregnancy test. The first one I had used was the fancy digital reader that told me “pregnant” and then how far along—1-2, 2-3 or 3+ week indicators. When I had taken it the first time, it read 3+ weeks. That next morning it said 2-3 weeks. Do you ever have moments in your life where the truth is staring you straight in the face but you refuse to see it. That night I went to bed after reading the miscarriage sections of my books. It’s not happening I kept telling myself. No way. I was in total denial when I went to bed that night. The next morning I woke up, spotting.

Thankfully, Kurtis was home the next day. I remember he was taking the backhoe up to the farm when my spotting turned into clotting. I called him, sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was so mad. At one point in the bathroom I remember screaming at the blood soaked toilet paper “stop it god dammit.” I’d never felt so helpless. My body was completely letting me down and I was sure I was losing our baby.

Our doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound for the next day and assured us it was likely fine. I had stopped spotting, too. Phew. False alarm. I read board after board on online sights featuring women who had spotted but had perfectly healthy babies. These women had even majorly bled—and still had normal pregnancies. I banked on it being my situation as well and made a mental note to also write into those boards with my own similar experience.  

The day of the ultrasound arrived. I was advised to drink lots of water and eat something sugary to get baby moving. So I grabbed a Smart Water and some Skittles. The drive to the ultrasound was well over an hour, but that day, it felt like three hours. I couldn’t wait to see our baby. We had a painfully long wait until our tech was ready and then the moment arrived that I had been waiting for—the sound of my baby’s heartbeat. The tech inserted the device—a small sacrifice for what we were going to get to see—and there was the tiny little peanut. I mean tiny. There wasn’t any movement but it was right there plain as day. I smiled giddily at Kurtis with tears in my eyes and he smiled back. But his smile wasn’t joyful. You know the kind of smile you give your girlfriend when she’s explaining how the guy she’s seeing is going to change but you know he’s never going to change? It’s a kind, loving and almost sad smile because you just don’t want to hurt her anymore than you know she’s about to be hurt by him? He gave me that smile and squeezed my hand. The tech was oddly quiet as she went to capture the sound of a heartbeat. I listened and listened and listened… to silence. Confused and terrified I looked to Kurtis who was eyeing the tech. Looking back, I know Kurtis knew and I know I knew. Cheerfully, she said, “Okie dokie” followed by, “I’ll be right back.” She never came back.

A random doctor, who I’d never met, walked in a few minutes later. “I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat. You will need to make immediate plans on how you want to deal with the loss. I suggest a D&C but it’s completely up to you. I’m sorry.” Then he got up and left. I’m not kidding. In and out. Gone. Kurtis and I were left there, alone and in complete shock. Like, what the heck do we do know? Sorry doc, but I don’t have a manual on next steps after you leave me in an empty room with a frozen picture of my dead embryo on the screen. Where the heck was that in the stupid baby books!?  I broke. I mean broke down. Kurtis was breaking down too but still keeping it together because, quite frankly, that’s what he had to do in that moment. I look back often on that moment. I looked to him, helpless, and he was there. He was still strong and still calming. He was every bit the strong, masculine protector that I needed more than anything in that moment. However he, equally helpless and suffering, had no one to look to. That moment in the empty room gave me insight about as close as I’ve ever come to understanding what it may be like to bear the expectations of being a man. I know how much I appreciated he was able to be that for me when I couldn’t for him. 

The drive back home was one of the longest and saddest of my life. We called everyone. All the same people we had announced it to weeks before were now asking, “how” and, “what will you do?” “How is Lauren feeling?” was still asked as before, but this time with a dark, miserable, cautious cloud surrounding it. 

I scheduled a D&C two days later. I had no desire to do this naturally. I was dead inside…literally…there was death inside of me. I wanted it out. I wanted a clean start. I wanted to have closure. I went in for my procedure and for some twisted reason, you had to check in and prep in the maternity ward. There I was, lost, surrounded by women with their newborn babies. One very pregnant woman must’ve had an appointment because she was all smiles with her husband as she left. She was so cute with her little bump. I hated her. 

The procedure was simple and fairly painless. I truly believe this is where my healing began. A doctor came breezing in. She had a wonderful accent and was quite to the point. “How you doing sweetie?” She asked me and before I could answer she replied, “You’re terrible. I bet you wish you were anywhere but her right now—and with a glass of wine.” I actually smiled. She squeezed my hand and said, “I want you to know that sometimes God has to be cruel to be kind.” They put the mask on and I counted back ten to one with tears streaming down my face. 

I’m happy to tell you that my ending is a happy one. God blessed us with three other healthy, full-term pregnancies. Tia’s was easy other than we were told she likely had an underdeveloped brain (she didn’t). I don’t even remember Hadley’s because I was busy chasing around Tia. We almost lost Carolyn early on but that story is for another post. Here’s the thing. I think in recent years, people have gotten a lot better in talking about miscarriage, but I do think it’s still a taboo subject. Now that you know my story, I want to take some time to let you in on some of the struggles I went through. I can only speak on behalf of myself. I can’t speak for Kurtis and I certainly can’t speak for other women who have also been through this. Every situation and person is unique.

Here’s what was hardest for me—the complete and total lack of control. I’m not a helpless person. I’m a highly driven only child with a dominant personality, who had succeeded at just about everything I went after in life. So when my body gave out on me, I couldn’t handle it. I have never felt an out of control helplessness like that and I hated it. 

I was angry at everything and everyone for a long time. I lost a few friends that summer. We were in the throws of a baby boom in Midale and I wanted nothing to do with their joy. I resented them. They annoyed me. I didn’t want to see one more stinking picture of the new happy family of three or four or whatever. Sadly, they had no clue I was suffering and I’m sure just assumed I was a wench. I kind of was a wench actually, but I was hurting. Their beautiful little babies reminded me of our loss and the possibility that this may be a recurring road we were about to travel. I was angry at crappy people who got to have babies. Women who dumped their babies in dumpsters or neglected the baby or whatever. It was petty and man was I on my soapbox about how I was beyond more deserving to have had a baby, but it’s the raw truth of what went through my mind. I was angry at people who had found out. I remember shortly after the D&C, a woman at the local convenience store asked when I was due. How she found out is still a mystery and it’s likely a good thing it remains that way. I begged our family to keep it quiet. Someone hadn’t and now if this woman knew, the town knew because that’s how small towns work. I had to tell her, holding back tears, we had lost the baby but thank you for asking. I’d go for walks and every car that drove by was surly talking about me and how I couldn’t carry a baby—that’s what I told myself at least.  I was angry at myself. I shouldn’t have worked out. I shouldn’t have had that deli meat turkey sandwich, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine before we found out. We shouldn’t have told anyone. I should’ve gone in sooner. The guilt pulled me under deep. I was mad at God. That entire dialogue will stay between him and I, but I was mad. I turned away from him for awhile, childishly, selfishly, tit-for-tat. If you are going to be like that to a decent good person then fine, I will be the same way to you God. It wasn’t pretty. I know he was likely carrying me that entire time and there I was, hating on him. 

I was embarrassed. I had excelled at everything in my life and this was truly the first thing I had failed at miserably. The embarrassment threw me for a loop. I didn’t want to talk about it because I saw it as a failure. Initially, I had trouble seeing it for scientific facts and I resented people telling me the facts. Something was wrong. Your body protected you. It may have had something severely wrong. Words falling on my deaf ears. All I saw was me, failing. I couldn’t carry a child. The embarrassment was likely a mask for that particular fear—what if I really couldn’t have children? I didn’t want to talk about it to people. I didn’t want people to know. I wanted to hide behind my guilt and shame for failing Kurtis and the baby so badly. 

Guess what? I came out of it. I laughed again. I looked forward to the future. I stopped hating myself. I stopped being angry. I was able to be around babies and feel joy for the families. Kurtis was strong and amazing and brave and equally devastated but continued to be my rock. There are a few poignant moments that contributed to my healing. 

First, was our dog Norbert. He’s not with us anymore but, as Forrest would say, he was my best good friend. After the D&C he let me cry into his coat for hours and just laid there occasionally licking my face. He never let me alone during that time either. Ya’ll can say what you want about the healing power of animals. I believe it because I’ve lived it. 

Second was time with Kurtis. We had a jam-packed summer of weddings. We went through this in April and decide to make the most of our summer. Despite the doctor telling us we could start trying a month later, I had no desire to go down that path. This had rocked me mentally. I was one hundred percent not prepared to face it again for some time. We took the summer to plan drawn-out travels to some absolutely beautiful countryside in Canada and the U.S. We visited family and friends and spent quality time together—healing. How one of the worst summers of my life was also one of the best is quite ironic and I haven’t yet figured out yet how it happened that way. But that’s ok. 

Third was our priest. He knew we were mad at our faith but that didn’t stop him from trying to heal us and bring God back to us. Over the summer when we were back in Dubuque, he had dinner with us and he blessed us and talked to us in depth about what happened. I cried and cried and cried but in those tears I healed. His guarantee that someday we would be reunited with that little soul had a major lasting impact on me. I still think about that often. My girls have a guardian angel looking out for them at all times. A sibling they never even knew they had that they will someday reunite with and I will someday too. It brings me joy.

Over that same summer we visited family on the west coast. While there, my aunt pulled me aside, hugged me and told me a saying that still, literally to this moment brings me to tears. I have passed it along to many people who have lost loved ones and I think there’s such comfort in it that we can’t help but be moved by the thought. It goes something like this… when someone or something we love dearly dies we are here crying, sobbing, begging for them not to go. To come back. To fill the void. To stay. While that is happening, on the other side in all the glory and joy of heaven is God and his angels and loved ones who have long passed. They are there cheering, with tears of joy, rushing with open arms to envelope the new soul and crying out, “she’s here! She’s here!!” I can hardly type that without still getting teary-eyed. The words carried heavy value to me, especially from her. 

Last and truly my full-circle healing moment, came when Tia arrived. Looking at that beautiful baby there in my arms (with a developed brain thank goodness), this thought occurred to me. Maybe the only way I can really say I’m at peace with losing our first is the fact that had we not, Tia would’ve never graced this earth. It would’ve been scientifically impossible considering we lost our peanut in April and became pregnant with Tia in October. That moment, that genetic makeup, that egg, would’ve never turned into Tia Cosley Peterson had we carried our first to term. Does that take away my love for what could’ve been or that little soul we lost? C’mon now. Of course not. But, Tia is here in the flesh and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. 

Some days I get a little sad. Typing this has been a gongshow of emotions. I revisit buried thoughts—who would this little person have been? Was it a boy or girl? What might he have contributed to our world. What would her laugh sound like? How would it feel to have her hug me? What would’ve that pregnancy been like if we had held on? I hope that in writing this I’m honoring this little soul’s legacy. I haven’t forgotten you. I hope that in writing this I am honoring you and possibly helping someone else who has been through something similar. My little peanut, you never hit the earth, but our story may help someone. It may make someone feel peace or connection. I truly hope it does for someone.

To the person reading this, if you’ve never been through a miscarriage, please tread gently with someone you know who has been through it. It’s far more devastating than you could possibly imagine. It’s also one of those things, while we know you mean well telling us you know how we feel, you don’t. Please don’t tell us to move on. Please don’t try to tell us all the reasons it may have been a good thing. Just hug us. Tell us it’s ok to cry. Sit with us over coffee (wine is better). We will heal and your understanding and empathy could be a huge factor in that healing process. You could have such an impact. 

If you have ever been in this position please know that you are not alone. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. It’s not your fault. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Don’t get mad at God. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep fighting for it and keep trying. Don’t give up hope that someday you will have that wonderful pregnancy and hold your little miracle. I know every story doesn’t have a happy ending, but ours did and I want that to give you hope in a situation that can feel hopeless.