At the age of thirty, I loved my job and my friendships. But I wanted a family, and finally that happened when I married. I was wise enough to expect challenges, but never imagined the course life would take. My husband and I were soon thrilled to welcome Jacob, our baby boy into the world…truly the best gift I had ever received! I was working full-time and managed juggling career and home responsibilities. I do remember, however, thinking that I was becoming more “shallow” than I wanted to be and that I had been spared from grief in my life. . .but those were just passing thoughts and I kept going.
Sixteen months after Jacob was born, Shannon and Lisa were welcomed into the world with just one push each! Unlike my first pregnancy which was more natural, I loved the epidural and wanted to hug the doctor! I was so thankful to have two healthy baby girls and was also terrified at the logistics of the months ahead. How will I do this?
Shortly after the girls birth, I developed a severe headache that was unlike migraines I have dealt with previously. My mom had planned to stay with us for a month to help and the headache occurred on her birthday. She found me slumped over in the bathroom unable to move or speak. In the ER. I was diagnosed with an ischemic stroke at age 34. Months later we found out what happened … I reached up and ripped the carotid artery, dissecting it; a rare event that could happen to anybody. I was unable to receive a certain drug because of my post-partum condition. I just had to let the stroke take its course. And it took a lot.
I remember most details of the stroke as I was conscious the whole time. At first I felt fuzzy or a bit confused, and by the end I had lost all speech. My right side was completely paralyzed and I was helpless lying in a bed in the stroke unit. It was an unbelievable event for our family and a bitter birthday memory for my mom, who ended up staying six months. The hospital stay was an intense month of PT, OT and speech therapy with breastfeeding in between. Because it was the only thing I could do for Shannon and Lisa, with the help of family and friends, and the support of my doctors, the babies were in my room during the day, although I could not lift them because of my arm … a typical feeding of the babies became quite the production!
Even when I left the hospital and started the five months of out-patient therapy, I could not say my name, my husband’s name or my children’s names. I went from a wheelchair to a walker to various canes to walking on my own. There were also cognitive deficits because a stroke is a brain injury. The best example I can give is the realization that I could not pack a diaper bag. Now, a lot does into packing the diaper bag for my little crew … baby diapers, toddler diapers, wipes, toys, snacks, etc. But I panicked the day I realized I could not process all of it. So I became desperate and driven to recover.
As reality sunk in, I experienced dark days. On one memorable day I was in my closet and had hobbled in there with my big leg brace on and no use of my right arm. I was stumbling and I became angry with God. As a Christian, I had believed in God and trusted him but was not doing well with this impossible situation, and of course began asking why. I got mad at God and thought, “I’m done with you; I’m done with praying and asking for Your help.” I tried to cuss but I couldn’t because my speech was so bad. It was a dark place spiritually and in every way. I left the closet resolute never to pray again, and when I almost fell within a few minutes, I found myself asking the Lord for help. That made me mad and made me cry. The Bible says He is faithful when we are faithless. How I needed his mercy then and still do today.
There was great progress in my recovery, and it was bittersweet. Because my speech was greatly affected, I found myself in a lonely place. One day, my dad who was there for support, repeatedly helped me say “house” and “horse”. We both cried because it was so difficult and mentally draining and I was tired anyway from having three kids under 3 years! It was a great day when I was able to say “guacamole” a few months later. There were times of laughter and sweetness with seeing the children growing and moments of tears and grief.
During my hospital stay and the following months, my husband’s response to the stroke and our life events served to show more about him and who he was and had always been. I could not cover for him anymore. Part of my reason I had been so driven to recover was that I was on my own even though we still lived in the same house. So, when the babies were ten months old, I found myself facing life as a divorced mother of three.
Far more devastating than a stroke, in a sense, is a painful divorce. I was humbled because although I had never verbalized it, I thought “that will never happen to me.” Once again I had more grieving over the marriage that ended and what should have been. At the same time, I was encouraged by speech and cognitive progress. I did eventually relearn the alphabet and started by letter sounds to form words, sentences, and I can speak normally now. There are still deficits from the stroke but they are mostly unseen.
My children I and were able to move close to family. More than a decade later, we all still feel the consequences of divorce; it is painful and complicated. And I have the opportunity to work through anger and bitterness … and every evening when the kids are cranky and needy and I’m tired and trying to cook dinner I am reminded once again that this is not the way it is supposed to be. But this is what it is, and I have been given the opportunity to ask God for help and see His provision and goodness in many ways.
Looking back at the time in my life that was busy and free from major suffering, I’m grateful God gave me an opportunity to suffer..suffering has changed me and the changes God has brought about in me have been more valuable than just having an easy life.
*Author’s name is a pseudonym