“Pain is my middle name”

No really, pain is my middle name. My birth name is Ana Dolores, and, as my fellow Spanish speakers (or Googlers) will confirm, Dolores means pain (it also means sorrow). My dad used to joke that they chose the name because of all the pain I caused my mom in labor (completely false, my mom has confirmed I was an easy labor and popped right out like an avocado pit without much pain at all, thank you very much). In truth, I was named after a close family friend whom my parents adored and my dad had nicknamed Dolores.

I remember that as an elementary school kid, I was fond of spitting out the phrase “Pain is my middle name” jokingly to other kids as if to claim that I was a tough girl, someone not to be messed with (despite my not so tough appearance: skinny, shy and in glasses). Then in high school I acquired braces and I began taking the nerdiest classes, so I started keeping this motto to myself. I wasn’t going to give anyone any more reasons to pick on me! I just started using it as a self-motivation tool to get through the trials of each teenage drama-filled day. However, I was lucky and had good friends and a wonderful family, so my childhood was sometimes challenging and annoying, but not very difficult.

Although it was my middle name for most of my life, I have to say, thankfully, my life has been quite blessed and relatively painless. Of all the sorrows in the world, the Lord has protected me from so many of them and that hasn’t gone unappreciated or unnoticed by me. I know I am so fortunate. I had experienced high school breakups, disappointments, lost friendships, work stress and even grief from some crushing close family losses. Yet until this year, I really have been guarded from having a life altering and devastating situation affect me. God always seemed to listen to my almost mechanical prayers. Mechanical because without great pain, I’m not sure how fervently I used to pray. From my experience, it’s not until you are knocked flat down on your face with a heavy blow and your are struggling to get back up that you will really truly reach out and cling to His hand. This is where I am at now, clinging to Him for dear life.

Pain is no longer my middle name. In fact, it is now Lepe because I dropped it for my maiden name when I got married almost 9 years ago. But in a twisted, unfortunate turn of events, I have endured more pain this year than I have in my 32 years of life. I write all this just to say, maybe I am tougher than even I thought I was back in those early survival-of-the-fittest days of grade school. Here I am, still standing, still breathing, still living and all with a fresh open wound in my heart. How, you ask? Well by the grace of God, first and foremost. Also of course thanks to the support and love of my husband, parents, family and friends.

But I’m really still just a scrawny little whimp. I get upset because I wear my heart on my sleeve. My husband always sneaks glances at me during sad scenes of a movie knowing that I will tear up and he still can’t understand how I get so emotional over something that is obviously fictional. He laughs because he thinks it’s cute that I care about the characters and says he loves that about me. I used to think as a kid that maybe I could cash in on it one day, you know, become an actor because after all the good ones could cry on demand and that was easy for me! But then I grew up and decided to go to school to be a psychologist instead to use my empathy to help others, only to realize at graduation that I didn’t think I could handle taking in everyone’s awful situations and decided not to continue with that career. That’s just my nature, extremely empathetic, easily upset and emotional.

But God has pulled me up from my bootstraps after going through the tragic loss of our son Owen and has made me survive a circumstance I would never have imagined living through before. Not only because no one ever imagines being in these shoes, but because I have found strength I never knew I possessed. But I don’t believe it is mine. It is His. He has carefully carried me through each day since Owen passed giving me hope and reasons to continue living, even with this heartache that constantly grips at my chest and threatens to take me alive. From the first day, He placed reasons before me to keep being strong: My fun-loving and confident husband who was now distraught over our devastating loss needing my strength and love to help him get through our most challenging time together, my beautiful and intelligent 4 year old (going on 15, she thinks she’s a “grown up”) who came in to the hospital to see me and looked deeply into my eyes knowing something wasn’t right but needing mommy to be okay and be the same great mom she deserves, the family that poured in overnight from all over that were there to comfort us but still needing to know we were going to be alright when they had to leave, the friends who sent cards, flowers, books, and came to visit just to let us know how loved we are and that we aren’t alone but still needing to feel like I wouldn’t change or let myself be broken by this… Somehow all their needs turned into reasons why I needed to get myself together, wrap up my swollen, engorged breasts and walk as much as I could after having a crash C-section to get myself released from the hospital as soon as possible. I needed to go home to make funeral arrangements with my husband and our good friend; I knew he would need me with him to make those crucial decisions and I wanted to make sure the family that flew in could all be there when we had Owen’s service so we had to get it scheduled as quickly as we could. Though it was the one time when I was probably most entitled to be a wimp and just cry my eyes out all day, life kept going and I couldn’t just wail madly for hours on end.

Four months later and I still feel like crying all the time, and I do anytime I feel the urge because I think I pretty much have every right to. But that being said, I know I am still so blessed. And since pain is no longer my middle name, I am determined not to focus on the sorrow and try to choose joy and peace as my new motto. Owen has taught me that life is completely fragile, unpredictable and sometimes painfully short. Sure, I will always have moments where I will look back at what we’ve been through in sadness and cry over what we no longer have. However, God continues to place reasons and needs to fulfill in front of me that keep me going one day at a time.

I am honoring my son’s legacy by seeking out change for better prenatal health care and spreading information that could help other families bring home healthy babies. As a family, we are hoping to make a difference for other future moms and dads by raising funds for the March for Babies (our team is Owen’s Angels if you would like to contribute) so we can help find cures and preventive measures that can be taken to save babies lives. I also am volunteering to create a Miracle of Life video for a pregnancy center that helps young woman make the decision to keep their babies or give them up for adoption. I am Christian, raised Catholic, and so obviously I am pro-life, but I never cared to get involved with the debate of this issue as I am also a feminist and would never want to impose my views on another woman. However after losing our son, I feel called to at least voice the opinion that I believe in my heart to be true; Every baby is a precious and miraculous gift from God and should be treasured and protected. He is the only one I believe should decide on the number of our days. Though we truly wanted our baby, his days were predetermined and we will have to wait to see him again when our time comes. Through great pain and sorrow, my own life seems to have a more deeper purpose. I love more fervently, appreciate more sincerely, give more freely, forgive more wholeheartedly, enjoy life more fully, and yes, feel even more empathically.

Maybe this is a lesson that must be learned the hard way. Until you are truly tested, I doubt you can know how tough you really are. And in that moment, you might realize, you don’t have to be so tough. God is there to hold you and bring you out of the darkness. He’s got this. Step aside and let Him show you what He can do with your life. It’s going to be more amazing than you or I can imagine. That is His promise and that hope keeps me going.

For all my fellow mamas and anyone else struggling with terrible, life-crippling grief; Stay strong and trust that He will help you through this journey. ????