Christmas 2015 brought with it a loss until any other that I ahve experienced. Although many people know why others do not. Since authenticity and transparency are traits that I hold dear, I am finally ready to reveal that on December 25, 2015, my first child was due. Unfortunately, nine weeks into an ultra high risk, complicated, brief pregnancy, my baby died.
I was sad, but more than anything, this experience allowed me to reflect upon my life in ways that I had never done before. Since my brother-in-law, Lavelle, had died in his sleep only a few months earlier, I saw 2015 as a year of loss. While trying to maintain my research and professional life and to transition from one work environment to another, I experienced physical pain unlike any other. In the summer of 2015, I underwent two surgeries- (1) a dilation and curettage to remove the embryo from my uterus, and (2) a more intense in-patient surgery to remove a growth that my specialist suspected might have killed my baby.
Things that were major prior to this personal tragedy suddenly became minor. As someone who had to be strong for others at almost all times, I took time to mourn my loss with my husband and to find ways to live my life more purposefully. Below are some of the lessons that I learned. I hope that these will be particularly relevant for people who are “go to” people or have numerous responsibilities personally and professionally.
Clean out your network.
When I was ill, my bandwidth was really low. I realized that many of the people who needed to ask me questions could find the answers to these “urgent” questions in my absence. I also realized that I had little to no tolerance for people who were extremely needy and had no desire to become more responsible in their interactions with me. My inner circle became tighter, and I found myself being really selective about with whom I worked. This is a practice that I’ve brought into 2016.
Just say “No.”
This seems obvious, but saying no is easier said than done. My husband, who is one of the most giving and helpful people I know, agreed that we needed to focus more on our immediate family whether we had children or not. Instead of traveling on every professional trip or responding to everyone else’s needs, we consciously decided to invest in our marriage and our future. We worked closely with a specialist to plan our family’s future, and we are pleased with the result. Something that initially began as a source of great pain ended in a place of hope. Stay tuned for updates about our decisions!
Evaluate your professional goals and positioning.
At 19, I knew that I one day wanted to be a university president. After 10 years in my current job, I desired to pursue new opportunities- ones where I could apply my formal and informal leadership skills. Last year, I received offers from two universities interested in promoting me to Full Professor (the terminal tenure-track rank in the academy) and a call from a search firm wanting me to apply for a senior leadership position at a prominent university. All indicators pointed to my move to a new position. Was the timing convenient? Of course not. Death, however, is never convenient. Through the support of my close friends, family, students, and colleagues, I pushed past my personal tragedy and embraced the biggest, long-term picture about my future. I had to move on for my family whether I felt like doing so or not. Now, I really am excited and at peace about my future, and I look forward to allowing my experiences to inform my leadership philosophy as the Inaugural Department Chair in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, effective January 2016.
After a loss, take time to reflect.
Instead of ignoring my pain, I asked myself almost weekly what I could take away from this experience. What I know is that we all go through bad experiences in our lives. The key, however, is not to wallow in the negativity. I recommend that people do what they need to do to heal, whether that involves counseling, praying, journaling, or some other therapeutic activity. My healing came from my faith and believing that one day, I would see my unborn baby (who I nicknamed “Bertram”) one day in heaven. I believe that I will be a mother one day, and I hope that this experience will encourage others who may have lost hope about something in their lives.
What I know more than anything is that I am a whole person- one who has experienced high highs and low lows. I am a survivor and a conqueror who uses my experiences to help others and to live the best life that I can live. Please don’t grieve for my loss, because 2016 is going to be epic!