How To Survive The Death Of A Dream

The cries of “It’s not fair!” rise so loudly around our house that the kids even cry foul over good things. Last year, all of us had a horrific, boogery cold and cough. We were drowning in our own phlegm (Would you like me to describe it further?!?), and I was passing out Children’s Mucinex like it was water. Evie was the only healthy one of us, and she was angry about it. “Aww! It’s not fair! Everyone gets to be sick but me!” I tried to explain to her that health was a good thing, but reasoning with a four-year-old determined to whine is like trying to tell a grown man he can’t have an iPhone.

Sometimes I’m like Evie, and focusing on what everyone else has clouds my ability to see what I have right in front of me. After losing my in vitro freezer babies in both the longest and shortest miscarriage imaginable (freezer time: two years; uterus time: two weeks), I went to counseling for sadness. I just couldn’t stop being sad, and it was choking out my ability to love the life I already had.

When I thawed out my freezer babies and they squirted them up inside me with the giant turkey baster, I felt good. This had worked before. Over the next couple of weeks, I felt changes similar to the first time, so I ventured into hope and told our families I was pretty sure I was pregnant. On test result day, Mom came over to wait with me, and we watched The Last Holiday, and I will always have a soft spot for Queen Latifah. Halfway through the movie, about the time she was trying out bungee jumping, I got the call, and Mom paused the movie. The second I heard the nurse’s voice on the phone, I knew. I could visualize her with her head cocked to the side and brows furrowed. Pity Face. No babies.

I walked upstairs, told Alex, cried, wiped my eyes, and went back downstairs. Queen Latifah bungeed off that bridge.

Alex and I took a weekend to wallow or heal or rest or whatever and checked into a spa with a fancy room and a vineyard. We needed to drink red wine and walk around in public in our bathrobes and slippers for two days. On the first night, we hadn’t been in the hot tub five minutes when a woman joined us and tried to make small talk. “How many kids do you have?”

I escaped back to the room. There wasn’t enough wine in the world to make my heart okay. A few weeks later I started counseling, and when she asked why I was there, I said, “I’m sad, and I don’t know how to be not sad.”

And that’s it. Sometimes we just don’t know how to be not sad. We have things we can do to dull the sadness or distract us or pretend, but nothing makes it go away. Just time. We need time and we need to face it.

My son was toddling around on new sea legs, and I was sinking further down into those old feelings of depression.

So I didn’t know how a counselor could possibly help, and I had weird, guilty thoughts that I could probably work this out myself with just my Bible and prayer, but I went anyway. I went because I was sad, and it’s okay to tell people that and ask for help even if you aren’t sure how anybody can help, short of fixing your problem by knocking you up with a baby. And Bibles and prayers are great. Also great are people who have gone to school for years and years to learn how to help you work through things.

The counselor made me start journaling again. Each week Dad would watch Elliott while I went to counseling, then I’d go over to his house for my boy and a cup of coffee. I’d rock in the chair on his back porch and say, “I don’t know.” And I didn’t. I didn’t know how to get better, but I shuffled my tired feet in the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t know how I’d get there, but I turned toward joy, saw it way off in the distance, and shuffled my feet.

With new challenges facing our family as we learn how to parent our beautiful children, I’m shuffling my feet toward joy again. For the last few months, we’ve been giving things names, winnowing out the descriptions and reasons. Autism. Mental illness. ADHD. Trauma. Naming things helps us. I’m reminded of Adam, of Garden of Eden fame, and how he named things for God. That was his first job, I think. Official namer. The first job of the first human was Namer. Naming brings relief and naming brings weight.

What do you do when parenting is different than you thought it would be? You start out with ideas about what you’ll do with your kids. If you played sports growing up you dream of sports and coaching your kids and cheering from the sidelines. You dream of Gatorade and oranges. If you were spelling bee champ you picture your child up in front of the school owning the whole dang dictionary. If you had good friends, you imagine hosting pizza parties for happy school friends. You say your kids can be whatever they want to be, but then when you arrive at a place where their options or interests or abilities are different than you pictured…you have to sit with that for a moment. Sometimes parenting is different than we plan for. Sometimes we have to lay down all the expectations we didn’t even realize we had. We have to grieve a loss before we can celebrate the unexpected blessing.

I’m learning how to enter my kids’ worlds and getting excited about what makes them tick. I’m laying down the expectations I had and discovering a brave new path. But it can take a minute. It takes time to accept that you’re on a new planet and get out of the spaceship and explore the terrain.

Sometimes we just go through the motions, “fake it till you make it.” And that’s something. I think it starts at fake and transitions into real as your heart remembers how to beat again. Keep shuffling.

Excerpt taken from It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose. You can order your own copy of Melanie’s new book here, or anywhere books are sold. Mel, we're so proud of you!!

Also: it's the LAST DAY TO PREORDER FOR FREE STUFF (!!). Melanie believes we can survive hard things and even thrive while doing it. She's made a Sur-Thrival Kit filled with silly coloring pages and her favorite easy recipes for when you don’t have the bandwidth for anything else, and she's giving it to you for free, along with the discussion guide for book clubs and groups, when you preorder the book today and email the receipt to unexpectedmel (at)