embrace (ĕm-brās’): verb. To take up especially readily or gladly.
detour (dē-tur): noun. A deviation from a direct course of action.
I thought it would be easy.
Maybe easy is the wrong word. I thought it would be easy enough. I thought I would be able to collect detour stories and distill them into neat little snippets: I got pregnant unexpectedly at what I thought was an inopportune time. I was scared that motherhood would take me somewhere I didn’t want to end up. And so I decided to write a novel in the first three months of my baby’s life.
My detour can be summed up in three sentences. Most of yours cannot.
Here’s the thing: there is nothing easy or simple or neat about detour stories, because there is nothing easy or simple or neat about detours. We wouldn’t have to struggle to embrace them if they were.
So now what? Today is Embrace the Detour Day. I said I would give you a highlight reel of detour stories. But the stories I’ve collected deserve more than that.
I’m sitting here, staring at my screen, waiting for a Big Idea. An idea with a capital I. A way to do this, and do it right. A way to honor your stories, to give them the respect and the word count they deserve.
I want to think this through. I want to do this right.
I’m not sure what that looks like yet.
So, instead of posting a highlight reel today, I’m going to dedicate this entire week to your stories. I’m going to start with those of you who have blogs of your own, blogs that aren’t called Embrace the Detour but could be. As we move through the week, I’ll share other stories, stories from women (sorry guys, none of you sent me a story!) who aren’t bloggers but should be.
This isn’t my Big Idea. I’m still waiting for that. But this is a start.
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by Lindsey Mead
I woke up on February 15th, 2002, and remembered that I had to take a pregnancy test that morning. It had been an eventful week. Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, my husband’s father had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a very rare and terminal bone marrow disease. We had spent the day with his family in the hospital, trying to figure out what the next steps were. In the afternoon I’d stepped outside to call the acupuncturist I was going to see on Saturday to confirm my appointment, and she asked me to take a pregnancy test. I laughed and told her that was impossible: I was coming to see her because I did not ovulate, and did not get a period. She gently asked me to please just make sure I was not somehow pregnant. Yesterday evening I had run down to CVS to buy a two-pack of pregnancy tests. An elderly woman behind me in line noticed what I was holding and smiled at me. Clucking, she said, with a sweet old-lady tone that somehow belied the rudness of the question, “Do you wish it?” Startled by the question, I just looked at her. I was saved from answering her when the cashier barked that it was my turn.
I hadn’t been able to get her question out of my mind, though. Did I wish it? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Definitely not now. Matt and I didn’t want to have a baby yet. In my mind I was just following the advice of the head of reproductive endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital, who had told me when I was 23 that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. With remarkable nonchalance, the doctor had told me I would almost certainly never be able to conceive alone, and basically told me she’d see me again for a Clomid prescription when I decided I wanted to have a baby. So I’d gone off of the pill around Christmas, thinking I’d take a year to try to sort out my always irregular period and maybe go visit the doctor for those drugs next year.
That Friday morning, I was sitting in my home office, checking my email, getting ready for a 9:00 am conference call, when I remembered the test. Crap! I ran down to the bathroom, frantically tried to unwrap the plastic covering of the box, finally ripping it with my teeth before peeling it off. I read the directions, and peed on one of the two sticks. Leaving it on the edge of my bathroom sink, I dashed back upstairs and dialed into my call. About 20 minutes into the call I realized I had not looked at the result.
Wearing my phone headset, talking about next year’s recruiting targets, I walked downstairs and into my bathroom. I was literally mid-sentence when I picked up the stick and saw two glaring lines.
I was 27 years old. I’d been married less than a year and a half. I was just beginning my post-MBA career. My father-in-law was dying. The economy was melting down around us. Most importantly, I did not want to have a baby yet. This was not my plan.
That morning, my world shifted ninety degrees. It still shocks me to think about it now. I had been so casual, literally forgetting to go look at the white piece of plastic that brought the news that my life had changed. Of course I had no idea that morning what was coming, no sense of how fundamentally those changes would shake my emotional and intellectual scaffolding. There’s keen irony in the fact that I, the world’s most careful and cautious girl, got pregnant by accident. I joke often that I might not have kids yet, to this day, had it not happened the way it did: there’s always a reason to wait.
I’m glad I didn’t, for myriad and complex reasons that go far beyond the obvious one: my fierce love for my daughter. I’m glad Grace arrived when she did, even with the intense and painful introduction to grace that she brought with her. I’m glad I think she had a small part in helping my father-in-law fight through to his heart transplant and eventual good health. Perhaps most of all, though, I’m glad for the visceral reminder that I got that day that we are not in charge, no matter how we wish we could be. Yes, I frequently forget this, clamping my white-knuckled hands on the wheel in a desperate effort to drive the universe. But always, eventually, I remember those startling pink lines and I’m again in awe of the power of something greater than us, aware of how small we are, humbled into trusting the vast design even though I don’t understand it.
(Lindsey’s blog, A Design So Vast, is one of those blogs that feels important. Like you’ve gained something simply by reading. She says of her blog, “I write mostly about the challenge of truly inhabiting the moments of my life, the joys and difficulties of trying to be a mindful parent. I talk about my effort to find something to believe in and about my groping around the edges of my faith.” Reading Lindsey’s honest and beautiful posts about her struggle to truly inhabit her moments, I find that I do a better job of inhabiting mine.)
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Life is always one detour after another. We detour through this and through that. The best detours lead us down long pasture lined back roads under a cloudless blue sky. We forget the destiny and stare in awe at the beauty of a single solitary mammoth oak tree in an endless field of flowers. We forget about time and deadlines and why we started down that road to begin with. We drive along soaking up the beauty, and find ourselves more than just a little bit saddened by the impending arrival at our destination. The trip, the detour from our busy lives, was more than we expected; it was breathtaking. Those are the detours that I treasure.
Other detours are filled with chaos. We stare at the long line of cars packed inches apart, yet leading in the wrong direction, off of the interstate. We stretch our necks to see the partially covered orange signs stamped with those tragic words: “DETOUR.” There is no time for a detour. An appointment will be missed. The trip will be too long. We crane our necks trying to see where we are going, yet we can’t see past the truck in front of us. We can’t see where we we’re going, and we don’t know how long it will take. We just follow, blindly. Frustration builds, but we have no control. As fate would have it, our cell phone has no signal and it’s raining. I hate those detours.
Like Forrest says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” If I got to choose though, I would always choose the dark chocolate with gooey caramel in the center. Yes, I would always choose that piece, just like I would always choose the pasture-lined back road detour. What happens after your 1000 pieces of dark chocolate? Or your daily ride down a pasture lined back road? Is it still such a treasure, a joy? Or does it get old and normal and mundane? [Okay, so dark chocolate NEVER gets old, but you get the point.]
If life is a roller coaster and we never experience a dip, will we enjoy the ride to the top? Will we even know we reached the top if we’ve never been to the bottom?
I’ve experienced my share of pasture-lined back roads and rainy traffic-jammed chaotic DETOURS with all of their harsh block-letter yuckiness. Both were SO worth the ride, and for both, I give God thanks!
(Back in December, Nicole said of her blogging, “my goal is to be successful, to be consistent, to be creative and even somewhat interesting.” She is all four. Her blog, Mommy’s Little Corner, is sometimes light and sometimes heavy, but always reflective and inquisitive. The questions Nicole asks grab hold and don’t let go. Which is just what good blogs do. Don’t miss the follow-up to Dark chocolate & Pasture Lined Roads tomorrow at Mommy’s Little Corner.)
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Sometimes you see the detour sign before you reach it. You don’t know what the new road will look like, but you know it’s coming. Unplanned pregnancies are like that, I think. If motherhood is the detour, then those two pink lines are the detour sign.
Other times, there is no warning at all. All of a sudden you’re on a detour your didn’t see coming, one you couldn’t have prepared for even if you had.
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Turning Sorrow Into Joy
By Abby Frazer
For our family, “embracing the detour” has meant continuing to seek joy in the midst of great suffering. Findley and I had been married a little over a year when I found out I was pregnant with Virginia. Not my choice for timing, but as my 101 year old great aunt used to say, ”Those things happen when you get married.” We got over our pre-baby jitters and as my October of 2003 due date grew closer, we couldn’t have been more excited.
I have always been a chronic worrier. If you take too long at the grocery store, I assume you have had a wreck. Every mole is precancerous, every plane is doomed to crash. Even I could not have dreamed up what happened to Virginia. I was the only patient on the labor and delivery floor at Baptist Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. The baby was on a fetal monitor, but our nurse wanted to go home to check on her sick kids. She gave me a huge dose of demerol and phenergan without a doctor’s order and I passed out. She went home for three hours, during which time there was no one to monitor Virginia’s heart tracings.
My husband was asleep in the chair next to me because it was after 11 p.m. I slept from 1 cm to 8 cm- if you have ever had a baby, that will show you just how much medication the nurse gave me. I woke up in tremendous pain and sent my husband to find our nurse. He couldn’t find her, but woke up our obstetrician who was asleep in the doctor’s lounge. Upon looking at Virginia’s heart strip, he immediately ordered a stat c-section. When she was born, she wasn’t breathing and proceeded to have several seizures during the first day of her life, one lasting over three hours.
It turns out that Virginia was in trouble about 11 pm and not born until 3:08 am. If our nurse had been watching, it would have been obvious. It could have been as simple as repositioning me or putting me on oxygen, but she never gave us the chance. Many OBs have looked at Virginia’s heart strip, and they all agree she should have been delivered by 11:45 pm and that from that point on, there was nothing reassuring about her heart tracings.
The fact that Virginia’s injuries were preventable has been a source of tremendous pain for our family. I spent the first few years of her life longing to go back in time and relive those critical hours. Both my father and father-in-law are physicians and you just don’t think this type of negligence will ever strike your child. Virginia will never sit up, walk, talk, or feed herself. She was robbed of experiencing so much of the beauty that this world has to offer. For the first 3 years of her life, she cried almost without ceasing because she was so miserable. I did not know that pain like that even existed. Findley and I felt like we had fallen into an abyss of darkness.
If I had known what the future would look like when she was born, I would have fallen apart. But day by day the Lord has given us the strength we need. I try not to look too far in the future and I feel like we are finally starting to do more than just survive. It was a shock, but life has a way of creeping back after tragedy- music starts to sound uplifting again, food starts to taste good again, and the sunshine looks beautiful again. For a while, all of the beauty of life was definitely muted.
I have learned that miracles don’t always look like what we want. No, Virginia was not physically healed, but if you would have told me how much joy our family would have now in the early years of her life, I wouldn’t have believed you. I have slowly watched as the Lord has turned our tremendous sorrow into joy. He has been with us every step of the way.
There are still really hard days when Virginia’s suffering is almost more than I can bear. It is impossible to imagine what she goes through on a daily basis, yet she has more joy than any other child I know. She has no cognitive impairments and certainly knows how different she is, but instead of choosing to be bitter, she chooses to be joyful. Our life is certainly not what I imagined. We will always spend most of our time caring for Virginia, but she has embraced her detour with vigor and that is what inspires the rest of us to do the same.
(Abby (pictured above, with Virginia) started her blog, Ab’s Gab, just a few weeks ago. ”There are things we have been through over the last six years that were too hard to share until now,” she writes, “but there is definitely a healing aspect to transparency and I appreciate your coming along for the ride.” Her writing is honest, unwavering, and, like her three precious children, beautiful. I’m so glad to have found her.)
Learning to Embrace the Detour(s)
My husband and little girls, ages 4 and 20 months, had just moved into our new home six weeks earlier. The day after Mother’s Day, 2001, I had a brain aneurysm rupture while on the phone with my sister. Six weeks later, I awoke from my coma, having endured vasospasms and then hydrocephalus in addition to a total of ten surgeries. July 3rd I was admitted to the rehab hospital. Five weeks later, I was discharged to home with three more months of outpatient therapy to follow. The next week I took my oldest daughter to kindergarten (in a wheelchair) and I was so happy to be there.
During my time in rehab, I had to learn to walk, talk, and eat again. Not easy and not what I had planned on doing that summer. But, I had a detour that has taught me so much more than what my plans for that summer would have taught me. When plans change, I try not to get upset about the change. Things happen for a reason, sometimes the reason is clear, other times it is not. Why I had to experience what I did, I do not know for sure. But I wouldn’t change anything about what happened then. I think my experience testifies to the greatness of God, because so many things came together to make my recovery possible. No man could have planned these things out as perfectly as He did.
So it’s nine years almost since that detour and life is very good. I do still have an occasional pity party, but a good cry gets it out of the system and I think God understands that and forgives me when I ask for forgiveness. The girls and I just returned from a vacation with family in Vegas. The girls are great helpers and quite empathetic towards others experiencing their own detours. I try to encourage others who are dealing with their own detours.
I have followed Katherine’s story since the beginning, having heard of her from our pastor who used to work with Jay’s dad. I pray for her every night. I do not know her, but i am cheering for her every baby step. Knowing some of the rehab process, the progress she has made is amazing- my experience pales in comparison to hers. She is an inspiration and a walking testimony to God’s power and glory. I also learned in rehab that attitude is 99% of the battle. God gives us the hope we need in order to recover, to rehabilitate, and to rejoice in all things. I am rejoicing in Katherine’s on-going recovery. I am rejoicing in God’s mercy and kindness.
Forgive me please, for the random uncapitalized letters. I have residual weakness in my right hand and sometimes my pinky finger does not hold the shift key down strongly enough. Another detour i am learning to embrace (note the word learning- this really bugs me!!)
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Sometimes we don’t get a say in the matter. Sometimes our detours choose us.
But other times, we choose them. We decide to take that alternate route even thought we don’t have to. Even though we don’t know where it’s headed. Even though we’re not certain we’ll be able to find our way back. We go anyway.
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I planned my entire career path the moment I declared my journalism major freshman year. I was going to start out as Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada and work my way up to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. (The fact that the book-turned-movie wasn’t even out when I was a college freshman just goes to show how ahead of my time I really was.) I did everything right—got prestigious magazine internships, wrote a weekly sex column for the student newspaper (My first column began: “I’m not Carrie Bradshaw.” Subtext: “But I could be!”) and networked, networked, networked. The plan worked. In September after graduation I started as an editorial assistant at a glossy magazine. A year and a half later, I was promoted to assistant editor. Less than a year after that, associate editor.
Meanwhile, in my personal life, I’d broken up and gotten back together with my college boyfriend. Getting back together entailed long, melodramatic talks about how this needs to be “for real this time” and how I “couldn’t handle going through that heartbreak again.” He told me that this go ‘round, it was for good. He also told me that as much as he loved me, he still hated New York.
You see, we’d been doing the long distance thing, which is why we broke up in the first place. It’s really no fun, even when the miles are fairly few in the scheme of long distance. I was in New York City, he was in Philly—it was an easy and cheap commute, but it was a commute nonetheless. We agreed that we could survive his law school stint but no more. So saying he hated New York was his way of telling me that if we were going to be together, we’d have to be together somewhere else.
I tried to explain that my career could only thrive in Manhattan, whereas he could be a lawyer anywhere. Would he really be willing to end it over something so logistical as location? When we were together the world would melt away anyway, so what did it matter where we lived?
“Don’t you love me more than you hate New York?” I don’t remember his reply, perhaps because I can’t bear to. I had to make a decision. Would I be willing to give up the professional dreams for the romantic ones?
In the end, I was. I nixed his hometown, partly because I really had no interest in moving to Boston, and partly just to assert my right to say No, too. If I couldn’t have New York, then he couldn’t have Beantown.
I justified my leaving New York, and still do, in a million different ways. Matt didn’t want to be a lawyer in the soul-crushing Big Apple. I got that. I wasn’t even especially happy in my job anymore, and maybe by coming to a smaller magazine community, I could be a big fish. But in the end, it came down to the fact that I’d be happier with him and without the job than I would be with the job but without him.
So I took a detour. I left the magazine capital of the world and came to the Midwest. I chose love over career. I took a local Chicago magazine job that was a total bust, quit, and ended up working on the web instead. Not exactly the stuff of Miranda Priestley. Not exactly my plan. But it works.
The detour has made me happy, minus one thing. I was so fixated on the fact that I was leaving my office gig, I forgot that I was also leaving my friends. Jobs can be replaced, finagled. Virtual arrangements can be made. Lifelong friends can’t be replaced. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make a friend in Chicago that I’ve known since I was ten. I moped about this, literally and figuratively, for our first two and a half years here. Until I decided that if I could embrace the career detour, I can get a handle on this friendship thing too. I could go out and find a best friend instead of waiting for her to come to me. I could test out the friendship waters with women all across the Windy City, to see if anyone could compare to my lifelong BFFs. I could write about it, too, to keep my editorial muscles in shape. It would combine my two passions, first-person narrative and understanding the nuances of social relationships (I knew there was a reason for that sociology minor).
I woke up one day and realized I’m doing everything I love, accompanied by the man I love. I’m just doing it 790 miles from where I’d planned.
(I just discovered Rachel’s blog, MWF Seeking BFF, last week, but I’m already hooked. It’s fun, it’s witty, it’s heartfelt. A trifecta of bloggy awesomeness.)
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Choosing the Detour
by Kelli Powers
My detour came in November 2008 when I got a random call from a woman I only barely knew and with whom I had not spoken for close to 6 years. Her call was to let me know she was losing custody of her son (social services was terminating her parental rights) and she was asking for my help. I didn’t know exactly what help meant? Speak on her behalf in court? Find her a lawyer? Give her money? Help was none of those things. Help meant getting guardianship of and eventually adopting a then 13 year old troubled boy who had gone through years of abuse and trouble with the law. Help meant that my husband and I, who at the time were in the fertility battle of our lives, were to add yet another huge item on our to do list. And so we embarked on a very scary and unpredictable detour that has challenged us in every way. The journey has been frightening, thrilling, frustrating and joyful. Our lives will never be the same. And we’re so thankful for that. So when you’re headed down the same road you take day in and day out, just know that at some point you will come upon a big bright detour sign. You can either take the detour or sit waiting for the road most traveled to open back up for you. I think from now on all I’ll always follow the detour sign. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but I know I’ll be glad once I get there.
(Kelli is about to become a mom to a 14-year-old and a newborn simultaneously. The good news is, she’s invited us along for the ride. You can follow Kelli’s journey on her new blog, Success is Relative, ”a brutally honest blog about women, work, family and fear.” Brutally honest, yes. But also hilarious and tremendously fun to read.)
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The Longest Book Ever Written
By Lindsay Hall
“You want to be a writer? You know it takes at least five years to be published, right?”
Yeah, I had heard of such endurance needed to become a published book author. It had already been three years since I began my book. Well, let me back up–that could be misleading. I was teaching part-time and writing part-time. Does five years mean five years of non-stop writing or do the five years account for the time spent at jobs needed to pay for being a writer?
Somehow the stars aligned enough for me to quit my job and write full time. In a year, I drafted a non-fiction book and send out proposals and queries to all the relevant agents and publishers I could find. One by one the letters came back with the usual opening: “Thank you for submitting _____. Unfortunately we are not able to accept your manuscript at this time…” No rationale, just a closed door. So I did what any truly aspiring writer would do. I went to a writer’s conference so I could meet with these agents and publishers and pitch my work again.
At least the rejections were nicer this time. It wasn’t the idea or the writing. It was just me. Nobody knew who I was, so no agent or publisher wanted to take a risk on me. Platform, platform, platform. That was the number one word floating around during the conference. I needed a platform so that when I published something, there would already be people wanting to buy it.
On the way home from the conference, I took it all in. I fought off discouragement because, hey, rejection is all part of the life of a writer, right? And I knew exactly what I needed to do. For the five hour drive home, I didn’t even turn on the radio. Instead I dreamed up a business plan for how I could build a platform. I was already committing to these next big steps in my heart, so that when I walked in the door at home, I would be ready to embark on yet another adventure in writing.
But instead, my husband and I made a decision that I needed to go back to work and make some much needed income. The very night that I was supposed to launch my dream, I had to update my resume instead.
After three months of full-time job searching and nine months of full-time employment, I have not met any of my goals that I planned on my drive home from the conference. The snail’s pace has been overwhelmingly discouraging for days, weeks, or even months at a time. But every once in awhile, I’ll hear someone else’s story of patience, and I’ll be grateful for having to endure.
The website for building my platform is still not up, but I have managed to build a deep commitment to becoming a writer that, without having been tested, might otherwise have fizzled. My forty minutes of writing each morning has taken my strides in progress out of my own hands, and instead, I am left totally up to God’s timing. God’s timing is something that I will never choose for myself, so thankfully, He chooses it for me sometimes.
And when the website finally comes out and the book is finally published, it will be a luscious victory well worth the wait, and my own endurance in pursuing something worth waiting for will have become a daily piece of my character.
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I’m not nearly as strong as you. I can’t leave.
Oh darling. My sweet, wonderful, intensely brave darling. Sit down with me here, cross legged, face to face. Take a deep breath. I want to lift your chin and look deep into your eyes and tell you some things.
It is not the leaving that makes you strong. Endings do not mark you as brave. Courage does not only lie in being the one who initiates destruction.
Yes, all of those things require strength. And oh, if you have ever been the one to leave, or end or destruct, I want to cradle you in my arms and tell you I know your pain. But the other choices- when the only thing to mark the difference between before and after is your own quiet resolve – those also require strength beyond comprehension.
We are all on a path. Day by day we decide if we’ll follow that path, or forage a new one. Sometimes the choices are not clear, and everything seems twisted and painful. But moment by moment we choose, because we have to. That’s how life goes. The big bold stuff gets the attention. The tearing down, the crashing and banging and wailing and starting anew. And we all say ‘Isn’t she brave? Isn’t she strong? Isn’t she courageous?’
And she is. Of course she is. But you are too.
Oh how strong and brave and courageous you are.
Sometimes stillness takes far more strength than movement. There are times when choosing to stay requires a level of fierce tenacity you wouldn’t need if you decided to leave. Boldness does not always declare itself to the world and demand attention, but rather lives steady and small in the spaces we choose to continue inhabiting, even though we are called elsewhere.
There is no shame, no lack of strength inherent in your decision. To rebuild instead of tearing down. To recognize that perfection is not always found in novelty, and that all the answers lie within, not without. To know that what you have is precious, and to not be willing to risk it. To look it all in the eye and say “I choose this. Not what might be, but what I have now”. This is nothing to ever be ashamed of. It is not the lesser choice.
It is not weak. It is not cowardly. It is not less authentic. No less worthy of respect and admiration than my choice, or her choice or their choices. We often measure our choices with words like good and bad, right and wrong, strong and weak. And they are all of those things, and none of those things. They just are.
No matter which road we choose, it will always require a profound and audacious level of guts. It will be a testament to our spirit and our faith, and it will push us to our edges and pull us to our center. It will be the embodiment of love and heart and soul and inspiring commitment. And it will be brave, and strong and true.
Because living is courageous. Every single moment of it.
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Some of our detours feel more like stoplights. We’re ready for the green, but we get a red light instead. And so we wait. As long as it takes.
And when it turns green, we go.
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The Blessing Is Next To The Wound
By Barbara Nordlund
There are things in our lives that are so deeply embedded in our expectations that we may never even realize they exist until we are told that those expectations may not be realized. I fell in love with Nathan, my freshman year of college and married 5 years later in 2002. As a newlywed we would giggle at the idea of getting pregnant . . . I was methodical about taking my birth control and even though I knew the chances of getting pregnant while on birth control were slim, I would convince myself that I was pregnant even after being just a day or so late for my period.
During our master’s program we had a long ride home one day from Minneapolis to Chicago. We talked the entire way about the pros and cons to starting a family. And it was the first time that I felt the longing in my heart for a baby. That was in 2004. It wasn’t until 2007 that we welcomed our beautiful daughter Sanne, which means “truth” in Swedish and Norwegian. And truth she was. After years of calling out to God asking/begging/praying to have a family, God responded in the truth of our baby daughter. Looking back it feels like the blink of an eye but our journey to conceive was one of the most difficult things we have ever been through. Filled with invasive tests, waiting, hundreds of shots and blood tests, handfuls of negative pregnancy tests and devastation that danced with hope.
We are now pregnant with our second child, another baby girl conceived through in vitro fertilization, God’s intervention and our tremendous dedication to the process. These have truly been detours in our lives/life that we are grateful for and in the same breath, would never wish on anyone. Never a day goes by where I don’t realize the tremendous miracle that is Sanne and the baby growing inside of me. And that is something that I don’t know we would have felt so organically had it not been for the detour. “The blessing is next to the wound.”
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Why Georgia, Why?
By Amy Roberson
John Mayer sings my question in a song on his first album, “Why Georgia, Why?”
I am from Montgomery, Alabama. I lived there until November 2009. For years, I’d prayed and prayed for God to get me out of Alabama. I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be or where I needed to be for the rest of my life. It felt like my life was going nowhere.
When I graduated from college in 2004, I thought, “This is it. This is my chance.”
God had another plans though. He led me to move in with my maternal grandmother, whom I was very close to, for about 2 years. At the time, I wondered why. Why couldn’t I escape? I applied for jobs in Florida, New York, and Georgia. Nothing came of it.
What I didn’t know was at the time of my college graduation, my grandmother was told that she was dying. She held on for two more years, just to make sure I would be okay on my own. In May 2006, she passed away.
I asked God if it was finally time for me to escape. He said, no. Not yet.
I hit so many closed doors over the next three years. Every time I thought it was my chance, I hit a wall.
During that time, I gave my teenage brother a place to live for the summer when he had nowhere to go; I helped my mother through two difficult surgeries; I took care of my 90-year-old great-grandmother when no one else had the time; I helped my mother through a painful and bitter divorce; helped someone I didn’t even know make her own dreams of moving out on her own come true by answering a roommate wanted ad.
But when God is ready to say, “Yes,” you know it.
I was driving down 85 South, heading back to Montgomery after a trip to Atlanta to visit a friend, thinking about how much I needed a change in my life. In an instant, I felt God say, “Amy, it’s time. Why not Atlanta?”
I laughed it off at first, thinking it was going to be like every other time, but after laughing, I grew serious. I could do it. I would do it.
It meant leaving the only full-time job I’d ever had and entering the world of unemployment, which I knew about because my job at the time was in a department that helped people get unemployment compensation. I had to leave my family behind, give up all of those responsibilities I bore on my shoulders of taking care of everyone but myself, and I had to do it all on my own.
I felt like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade where he stepped out over that ledge and looked down into the abyss and was told to take a leap of faith.
When I stepped out on faith, God filled in the gaps. He gave me a place to stay with friends. He helped me sell all of my furniture and pack what I had left in my tiny Corolla and He helped me save up to $2K in about 6 months, which was difficult given the bills I have to pay.
I cried the moment I got in my car to leave Montgomery and cried so hard, I thought I was going to have to pull over to the side of the road. I had never been so afraid in my life.
When you’re on the right path, though, God makes sure everything falls into place. It’s amazing how much fell into place for me almost immediately. Within a week of arriving in Atlanta, I had a part-time job with a babysitting service. Within a month, I had a part-time job at Publix. Within three months, I had a full-time job as an administrative assistant. Within four months, I moved out on my own.
Atlanta’s unemployment rate is around 10-11%. The friend I moved in with, her husband has been unemployed for 2 years. It was totally against the odds that I would find a job and even more so, a job that pays better than any job I’ve ever had and put me with a group of the best coworkers I’ve ever had.
I never expected to move to Atlanta. I thought for sure I’d move to Pensacola and live on the beach or move to North Carolina. I don’t know how long I will live here, but it’s obvious God waited for the right time and the right place to come along before He put me on the path to get here.
Once I embraced the detour between my journey of leaving college and leaving Alabama and said, “Okay God, Your Will not mine,” He said, “Now we’re talking. Just you wait. I go to prepare a place for you.”
And here I am and it’s better than I could ever imagine.
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Two and a Half Years
My Detour is similar to many women in their child-bearing years, but it starts a bit before I was in the “child-bearing mode.”
December 24, 2005, my family (mom, dad, brother, SIL, and husband) was in Hawaii for Christmas. My husband, brother and I decided to go snorkeling that morning, and to make a long story short…our boat driver was reckless on the way back from our adventure. He hit a big wave, the boat – a zodiac – went 8-10 feet in the air, and I fell on the bottom of the boat and could immediately bear no weight on my legs.
When I went to the hospital, I discovered that I had sustained a compression fracture with retropulsion (part of the bone chipped off) of my L-1 vertebrae. Merry Christmas to me. Spent 4 days in the hospital, as I could not walk, not due to lack of feeling or paralysis (thank goodness), but because of the fracture, and was released the day before my 30th birthday. I was determined not to be in the hospital on Christmas AND on my big 3-0. Fast forward 7 months, after a brace, physical therapy, etc….my back doctor tells me I am free and clear and might always have a little pain; will probably have arthritis where the break was, but I can walk, talk and we can start trying to have a baby….finally, since all of my friends have multiple kids by now.
March 2007, am now 31 and learn that I am FINALLY pregnant….doctor does an ultrasound….not measuring quite right…double check and find out that at 10 weeks (May 2007) the pregnancy isn’t viable.
June 2008, am now 32, I am pregnant again after 13 months of trying, trying, trying….gosh it was tiring…doctor does an ultrasound…see a glimmer of a heartbeat…go in for a high resolution ultrasound….pregnancy is again not viable (August 2008). Crushed. Heartbroken. Will I ever have a baby? All of my friends have babies…my best friend is pregnant with twins after her fourth round of IVF…I felt like I was the only one who may never have a baby.
December 2008, I am now almost 33….still trying…celebrate the New Year with friends….and on January 2, 2009 I get the magic positive test…but definitely don’t get my hopes up. I then take seven more tests over the weekend. Call my doctor on the 5th…start progesterone…wait until I’m 8 weeks to go in for an ultrasound…just to make sure…and on January 29, 2009…we find out that I am due with a little one 9.9.2009. YAY!!
September 17, 2009… our little guy is born at 41 weeks 1 day….the detour was a broken back and two-and-a-half years of trying to have a baby….but now our new tour has begun with sleepless nights and the joy of a sweet baby boy.
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More often than not, our detours don’t feel like places or paths so much as the space in between places and paths. Neither there nor here. Neither then nor now. Experiences and journeys that feel tangential. And yet, once we get to where we’re going, we often discover that the tangent didn’t take us off track, it just led us to a different one.
An easier one?
But the right one.
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What does it mean to be disabled? I received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) nearly twenty years ago and I’m still learning.
In the early years (and many of the latter ones too) I was too scared to admit to anyone I had an incurable illness. Denial worked well for me — like the Law of Attraction in reverse — out of sight, out of mind, and out of my conscious reality.
But MS must have remained in my subconscious reality because its strange and mysterious symptoms continued to arrive at sporadic and inconvenient times. Like when I woke up thinking I was hungover one morning and was completely blind in one eye by noon. Or the time I was pregnant and lost vision in both eyes for several weeks. Or the day my dog died and I saw the world in duplicate through crossed eyes for the next month.
Don’t even ask about my ever present clumsiness, bruises from tripping and falling over nothing, slurring my words when perfectly sober or forgetting even the simplest words and names. It helps to have a sense of humor, and I often blamed these deficiencies on being blonde.
In fact, covering up my symptoms became a source of pride. I even went back to school to become a naturopathic doctor so I could advise others about how they too could cure their “incurable” illnesses with the “right” attitude and lifestyle choices.
But then I became a lawyer.
Everything I had preached about “balance” and “stress management” went right out the window, and the endless hours writing legal briefs for corporations I cared little about (for an employer who cared less about me) made me finally admit that MS is a serious dis-ease. Many times while sitting my office the intense itching/burning in the nerves of my hands and arms made me wish I were a wolf caught in a trap so that I would at least have the option of gnawing my wounded limbs off to be free.
But sadly the only “trap” I was caught in was the snare of working for BigLaw with its lure of financial reward through endless billable hours. So my body solved the problem for me by protesting ever more loudly, and my mind finally had to admit the label “disability” really means something.
It is a humbling experience.
I reluctantly asked for (and begrudgingly received) the accommodation of a reduced hours work schedule.
Four months later I was laid off.
Ironically, the firm I was laid off from is named “Payne & Fears” — no joke. (David Letterman once featured the firm name in one of his skits; you can still see the video on the P&F website).
One of the things that has kept me relatively sane since the layoff is my new mantra: ”I have now left all PAIN and FEAR behind.” It’s not always true, of course, but I find the affirmation comforting.
I am in transition. I am (to some extent) grieving the loss of a career. I am managing a disability. I do not know where this path is leading me or how long it will take to get there.
In the meantime, I really just want to have more fun. If you happen to know any good blonde lawyer jokes, I would love to hear them …
(Kate is in transition, but she’s not letting that slow her down. Her new blog, Think Like a (Blonde) Lawyer, is off to a fantastic start. It’s equal parts funny, insightful and inspiring. I can’t wait to see where her current detour will lead.)
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…When You’re Busy Making Plans
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I had been acting and writing in New York for seven years. My resume was modest but I was proud of its contents. Highlights include: a one woman show that I wrote, produced, and performed around the city; the lead role in an award winning short film that appeared in over thirty festivals around the country; and of course, my one money-making gig (although short-lived and useless in forwarding my career): extra work on SNL. Although I feared the cut-throat competition of Los Angeles and having to drive to auditions after mastering the walking/subway life in NYC, I felt ready for the change. However, I was a New Yorker at heart. I figured this would be only a short detour, in environment only. Two years. Maximum.
Upon arrival, I hit the ground running. I got a commercial agent (albeit a crappy one) within two weeks. I had never been able to get any agent in the 7 years I was in New York. Within a year, I had found writing partners and co-wrote, produced and performed a comedy show. I started to write songs and perform them at open mike nights. I even got a couple of gigs. Auditions were spotty and I had a fair number of long dry spells. All the while, just as I had in New York, I worked day jobs in the corporate world. I tolerated these jobs, at best. I mostly complained all day that I was wasting my life. I thought for sure my brain could be used for better purposes, like writing a sitcom, for example. (Ask me if I wrote a sitcom. Nope.)
Then in 2004, my father was diagnosed with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The following year we learned my (then) fiance’s mother’s cancer had returned after a twenty year remission, and worse-it had metastisized. She wasn’t expected to live more than two to three years. Both families were on the East Coast. We were on the West. What were we doing here? Living: our dreams and otherwise. Suddenly we were handed a plate full of reality.
We didn’t immediately pick up and leave, that didn’t make sense from many angles. However, I couldn’t really justify the amount of acting and writing I was doing as a legitimate reason to stay in L.A. I decided to become a teacher. Aside from all honorable reasons to become a teacher, I thought of the practical benefits for me: 1) I would actually be using my brain for something useful, 2) I could teach anywhere, if we needed to move and 3) teaching was a good way to use my creative skills as well as have time to be creative on my own during off hours. I could still write, even perform in the evenings and weekends! Ok, maybe not right away, but once I got the hang of it…
Yeah, I was waaaay off.
After many thousands of dollars in an accelerated Masters program, I was thrown into a progressive elementary classroom full of difficult kids and even more difficult parents. I had no resources, no curriculum, and obviously…no experience. I nearly drowned. Every single day. There was no time for anything, not even for sleeping. Even on the weekends. Vacations became one giant vegetative state. I could do nothing else.
As the health of our family members slowly spiraled downward we began to rethink our plan yet again. Perhaps we shouldn’t be here right now. A new plan was made. A job (mine) was quit. A house was contracted for purchase in New York. A zygote was implanted…
Suddenly, the fact that we were expecting our first child put the brakes on our move again. It didn’t make sense for my husband to quit his job when we needed the health insurance. We didn’t think uprooting our lives with an infant was a good idea either. As for family, we could still visit a lot, and both my father and my mother-in-law seemed stable for the time being so a move didn’t feel so urgent. Solidifying our feelings, the house we had contracted ended up having a major issue which was cause for disolving said contract.
So here we stayed. We’re still in Los Angeles almost three years later. Now, with a toddler and a second child on the way. It has been a rough road and I’m not sure it was the right one based on the events of the last year. My mother-in-law’s health took a dive last spring and we spent the entire year going back and forth to care for her and give her precious moments with her only grandchild. She died two months ago.
I no longer call myself a teacher. I no longer call myself an actress. I don’t like the term “Stay-at-home-mom,” but essentially that is what I am, and for the most part, I have little time for anything else. While I do love caring for my son, I am flirting with the idea of calling myself ‘writer’ again. My writing is not as frequent as I’d like it to be but when I do it, I feel the most like myself. At the core of me, I know this is what I should be doing.
Looking back at the events of the last decade, I suppose I could look at it as one large detour with many twists and turns along the way, or a multitude of detours. Either way, I’m not back on the main road yet, wherever that may be, but I must be getting closer. I must be.
(Naomi is a prime example of why I love this bloggy wilderness. You think you’re in the middle of nowhere, and then you run into a Naomi. Someone with whom your life has already intersected. Naomi and my sister went to grade school together. Now Naomi is my bloggy buddy and my real world neighbor (or close enough, anyway. she doesn’t live next door, but she’s nearby, and I like her better than my real neighbors). After reading Naomi’s blog, I Am Still Awake, I have no trouble calling her a writer. She’s a good one.)
Today Sister C sits for the first day of the New York Bar Exam. And I am nauseous. Not nauseous because I am worried she won’t pass. I think she will. Nauseous because I remember that exam all too well. Nauseous because those were two of the most torturous days of my youngish life.
And she hasn’t passed yet, but I am already so proud. I am proud because C has been studying hard, pulling late nights, and she has a young baby. Baby Bulldog is just six months old and C has been logging endless hours learning the bland intricacies of New York law (blech) when she could have been tickling tiny toes. I am proud because I know this hasn’t been easy.
So, yes. She got pregnant in law school. And gave birth a few months after graduation. Many would say that she should have graduated and taken the bar exam with her peers this past July. Many would say that she should have gotten the career rolling before popping out a delectably cute son. Many would say she did things out of order. That it should have been Bar before Baby and not the reverse.
But I disagree.
And not just because she is my sister and I love her to tiny pieces. I disagree on more objective, principled grounds. I think this society of ours is far too obsessed with its schedule of shoulds. Who says it is always better to firm up a career before starting a family? Who says we shouldn’t sometimes do things at the same time? Who says it is always better to wait?
Many people would say that Sister C should have waited. But you know what? She had the courage not to. When Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer two weeks before Sister C’s wedding, things changed. Our Donnelley world shifted. I think, I know, Sister C realized like I did that life has cruel limits, that days are unpredictably numbered. I think, I know, she realized that family is it. And so, she went for it. She battled morning sickness while studying at school. She donned a polyester cap and gown in her final trimester. She spent several weeks at a law firm before welcoming her little guy.
And then tomorrow, she will do it again. And then it will be over, mercifully over, and I will take her out. And we will celebrate. We will go to the right kind of bar and sip a tall glass of wine. We will talk about babies. About family. About futures. We will talk about life. How, like the bar exam, it is multiple choice. But how in life, there is more than one right answer.
We will clink glasses and smile.
Two sisters. Always.
Two moms. Forever.
And I will say then what I write now. That I am deeply proud of her. For being exquisitely brave. For doing things in her own way. In her own order. For blazing her own trail. For having a baby, an impossibly sweet baby, before taking that exam.
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Postscript from Sister C:
Having had Baby Bulldog, I am genuinely torn as to whether he is the detour or my as-yet-undefined career will be the detour. I imagine it will shift back and forth. For now, he is the most real thing in my life; if I want to feel in touch with who I am and most grounded, spending time with him and taking care of him is what I do. When I am not with him I feel unsettled, but I think that is in part because I don’t really know what the other part of my life will be just yet. When I actually have a moment to contemplate the uncertainty, I feel somewhat crushed by the pressure of figuring it all out. I hope, and sometimes know, it will be something big, but it’s hazy – so it’s withBaby Bulldog that I feel the safest and the most me, and for now at least, my professional pursuits will be the detour off this path that is most defined and clear and unambiguously important.
(I have raved about Aidan’s blog, Ivy League Insecurities, (and Aidan herself) more than once already. Her blog made me want to blog (again with the noun/verb conundrum!) Suffice it to say, I heart ADR and ILI and am anxiously awaiting her novel, LIFE AFTER YES, which comes out May 18th. And to Sister C: I know that whatever you do will be big and important. In the meantime, would you consider blogging? I could use a daily dose of C.)
A Life-Altering Detour
On October 16, 2007, James Thompson, our precious and big-eyed baby boy, was born. He was completely unexpected and like so many young women do, I worried over what this would mean for my career and my future. As a fabulous and fearless woman with so much to offer the world, I wondered if this baby would throw my plans for a loop. I wish I could tell you this was my detour story. Instead my detour is that I brushed death 6 months and 5 days after he was born. The greatest detour anyone can take in life, I imagine, is a near-death experience. James was part of God’s perfect plan to come before my detour. James was a sub-conscious reason to fight for my life.
I had a collection of blood vessels in my brain (called an AVM) that ruptured and caused a massive hemorrhagic stroke. I was on Life Support for 40 days, in a rehab hospital for over a year and I had a feeding tube in my stomach for 13 months. I am slowly relearning to walk and transitioning from a wheelchair to a four-pronged cane. I have no coordination in my right arm or hand, so I cannot write well or hold anything in it. My face is totally paralyzed on one side and I have an eye that is not parallel to the other. This creates severe double vision. I will have another surgery next week where they will try to fix this.
My detour has been extensive, arduous, and very demanding. I’ve already had several major surgeries and I will have many more. Re-learning to walk is so hard when you are almost 5’10 and 28 years old. I would love to tell you how good it is to be on this journey or how inspired I am by my detour. I can’t though. It is absolutely horrible. Having a small child makes it even more heart-breaking.
I wish I could do so many things that I can’t do. Irony is a strange beast. They say “the grass is always greener” and they aren’t kidding! I would love to scrub the floor, eat a vegetable without drinking a glass of water, go on a jog or change a dirty diaper. I can’t possibly do any of those things now. I think my detour is about learning that ultimately, I am not in control. I am a self-professed control freak and I like things done well and in the efficient and competent manner that I always do them in. Now, I’m at the mercy of everyone around me to do everything from cook for me to care for my son. I just have to watch. Sometimes it feels like I am an observer for my own life.
Embracing a Detour in life is about sharing it with those around you and learning and growing while you are in it. When your life takes a detour, let other people go with you on the new journey. Carpool while you try to cope. I have chosen to share my story and have received tremendous support because of that. I have allowed others to bear my burdens with me. Abby shared earlier this week that transparency is healing. I agree. It has made me better. This ordeal is still sad and hard though. No amount of catharsis or perspective-finding will change that. I am discovering joy even in the sadness and CHOOSING contentment when it is very, very hard. For that, and countless other blessings, I am grateful to God.