How Finding Gratitude Helped Me Overcome Trauma

I have a son. His name is Echo, and he flipped my world upside down 4.5 years ago when he was born. He suffered a stroke and came to the brink of death, and then came back to us. We went through hell and back with him several times over the next two years of his life, and each time, he taught me more about gratitude.

I can be grateful for hardship.

When my husband and I decided to do the parenting thing, we were prepared. We embarked on counseling, looked into parenting techniques, researched all of the baby gear and birthing methods and chose carefully. I ate almost all organic food, avoided inflammatory foods, and exercised regularly. My husband put the crib and cosleeper together, moved the furniture around in our guest room to accommodate all of the gear we needed to have a tiny baby. All of the tests and ultrasounds came back normal. His birth was straightforward and uncomplicated.

What we weren’t prepared for was my son’s stroke.

Sitting beside his hospital bed for 20 hours a day, I was constantly aware how differently this story was unfolding. How this was unimaginably difficult. And yet, we did it. The three of us made it through together. My son, who is still the toughest, most zen kid, lived through something that few of us can relate to. My husband and I tackled parenting challenges none of our peers or parents ever faced. We made it through. In the years since the stroke, I have come to feel grateful for that time in our lives. It pulled the very best and very worst of us out into the open, and we used what we had to overcome unimaginable odds. As a result, I know that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined.

 

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I can be grateful for mysteries.

I remember asking my son’s neurologists what I did wrong, and how his stroke could have been prevented. We walked through every day leading up to my son’s birth, reviewed every single medical note, email, and journal entry. My doctor-midwife pored over her files, text books, and timelines. I dug into my family medical history and scoured it with a fine tooth comb. What we came up with was this: My son fell into the 90% of all infant strokes that never conclusively have a cause. I was left with nothing to batter myself with. No what-ifs or should-haves could ever change what was. So, I took the mystery for what it was, a merciful unknowing that allowed me to release self-blame and focus on helping my baby heal.

I can be grateful for life in its imperfection.

Motherhood didn’t pan out the way I anticipated, not even a little bit. It was so much more electrifying and terrifying and amazing than I ever imagined. My days were full of schedule-keeping for meds and feedings and the ever-elusive and important sleep that my baby required to heal. We savored every single milestone my son hit because we knew the next one wasn’t promised to us. We cheered when the left side of his body, which had been temporarily paralyzed by the stroke, began to catch up with the right side. We cried over symmetry. We rearranged our lives to meet the needs of our son, and in the process discovered what we could live without. Our hopes and our dreams dramatically shifted. We hoped for a baby who was physically sound. We dreamed that he would walk. We let go of other dreams and held on to each other in this new, bizarre, imperfect, miraculous reality.

I can be grateful for the ashes.

My world burned down in a day. It was a messy, sad, scary, wildfire that nearly took me and my marriage with it. And that was okay. The life, the structure, the essence of who I was no longer fit into this new narrative. It had to burn down in order to be reimagined and rewritten in a way that allowed for nearly unbearable struggle and daily miracles.

I can be grateful for the rising.

Nothing stays static. Even the burning, even the ashes. Everything rises, including me. I’m grateful for everything that came before the rising because it gave me the power to get up, to rebuild, to refine my motherhood, my marriage, and my sense of self. The rising made me an unbeatable warrior where a hobby boxer punched the air before. I don’t take my newfound strength, flexibility, or amazing family for granted. Not now, not ever.


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