In The Beginning
Almost three years ago, life as I knew it ended.
I was in the final weeks of my fifth pregnancy, anticipating the arrival of our baby girl, Darcy Rose. I was filling her closet with tiny pink outfits and putting the finishing touches on her nursery, a lovely, peaceful space I’d decorated in shades of cream, white and tan. I’d sit in the glider in the evenings after I’d put my other four children to bed, and I’d feel Darcy’s gentle movements from within, filled with anticipation about holding her in my arms and gazing into her precious, newborn face.
And suddenly . . . so suddenly it seemed, there was only a lack of movement, a still, silent ultrasound, a long, dark night filled with my own wails of agony as I fought and strained to bring my daughter’s lifeless body into the world. As the night turned to dawn, I was rolled into surgery and it was discovered that my uterus had just ruptured. It couldn’t be saved. I barely survived, losing not only my uterus, but more than half my body’s blood. As I lay sleeping, my daughter was born still. When I woke, I held my little girl’s small, perfectly formed body in my arms for two days, memorizing every part of her, whispering how sorry I was again and again, begging her forgiveness for that which I blamed myself. Surely, I had done something terrible, surely I was a very bad person to have been punished in such a way. I was wheeled out of the hospital in a haze of grief of an intensity I hadn’t known existed, left only with a small pink urn. I had been expecting that in the early days of April, I’d be sitting and holding a newborn, baby girl. Instead, I sat in the armchair in my living room, a pile of grief books on my lap, her milk having dried up in my breasts, no evidence of her existence other than the six inch scar still healing on my lower abdomen, a metaphor for the line drawn in my mind that would forever delineate before and after.
I was reeling, left gasping with agonizing emotional pain. This is not how my life was supposed to be, I kept thinking. This can’t be real. I might very well live another fifty years, I thought. How will I do that? It seemed unfathomable. It seemed as if someone had just told me I’d be in labor for a decade. I couldn’t survive it. It wasn’t possible.
“You’re very brave,” my grief counselor said gently one June day.
“Why?” I asked, meeting her eyes. “Because I get up every day and live my life? What other choice do I have?”
She smiled. “We always have choices,” she said. “There are a hundred ways a person can give up.”
“Hmm,” I said, latching on to the idea that perhaps there were a few ways out I hadn’t yet considered. Finally, I sighed, dismissing the idea. I got out of bed again the next morning. I didn’t feel brave. I just felt broken.
I continued reading grief books. “Why,” I cried to my husband, “can’t I find a book offering some hope?” I needed so badly to find a book written by someone who had been in the same place I was, telling me there was life after this. I needed to hear that though I was in pain, I wouldn’t always be suffering. I needed not only to hear that others could identify with my pain, but that they could tell me with authority that I would care about life again, that there was reason for hope.
I brought the topic up to my friends, too. “Why don’t you write that book?” they asked. But I wasn’t there at that time. I could hardly offer hope to anyone while I was still very much bereft of hope. I could hardly offer that which I had yet to find.
I wanted so desperately to make Darcy’s story something other than just raw pain. I wanted something beautiful to come from her short life, to make the suffering meaningful. But I didn’t know how. I sat down at my computer to write about her, creating a blog for friends and family who wanted to know how we were doing. “You should write a book,” I heard again and again from those who had read my posts. “The way you describe your emotions makes me feel it, too.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I could never share her with those I don’t know.” It felt vastly unsafe. It filled me with dread.
I started thinking, though: I’d always loved romances and I was reading a lot of them as an escape at that point. What if I wrote a fantasy, something light, but used the story as an outlet for some of my own feelings? Would it help? “Do it,” Kevin said when I brought up the idea. “I’ll watch the kids while you write.” It was simply an act of love on his part. He wanted me to heal and he’d do anything to help me in that effort.
And so I did. I wrote about two foster kids who had been separated by time and circumstance. I didn’t know how to write fiction—not really. I could write a three page list of all the things I did wrong with Leo. Perhaps four pages. I didn’t know much. But what I did know was longing. A soul-deep yearning. What I did know was what it felt like to get up and live life despite my own miserable circumstances. And I channeled those feelings into Evie’s character. It helped. I figured out how to publish it to Amazon, thinking maybe my husband and a few friends might read it eventually. I sent it to a few book blogs. I didn’t even know what book blogs were until that point. I didn’t think too much about it—it was somewhere in the vast nowhere of cyberspace, lost in pages of unread emails. I went about my business.
A week later, I was outside pulling weeds in our backyard when I casually mentioned to my husband that I had put my book up on Amazon. “You did?” he asked. “Like if I look it up, it will be there?”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling, thinking he would think I was pretty tech savvy for figuring it all out.
A few minutes later, Kevin popped his head back out the backdoor, holding my cell phone. “Um, honey?” he said, “you have two-hundred-something reviews and one of them says that you made USA Today.” Ice water hit my veins. I dropped my gardening gloves and hurried inside, snatching the phone with the Amazon web page pulled up. When I saw that he wasn’t teasing me, I burst into tears.
“Why are you crying?” Kevin asked. “This is incredible!”
“I . . . I just . . . I didn’t think anyone would read it.”
“Well, why did you put it up then?” He laughed.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t know what else to do with it. I thought . . .” What had I thought? I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that in that moment, it felt like I had just found out that thousands of people had read my diary and were posting their thoughts online. I ran to my bedroom and sobbed into my pillow, pulling the blankets up over my head.
Kevin followed me and lay down next to me, pulling the covers back and wiping the tears from my cheeks. “Can I read you a part of a review?” he asked. I sniffled, but nodded. “I am absolutely stunned by the author’s ability to create such a beautiful story out of such tragedy,” he read. “In two words this story can be described as Emotionally Beautiful.” He turned the phone toward me so that I could see and wiped another tear from my cheek.
I took the phone and looked at the reviews. “There’s another one here that says she laughed through the whole book—and not in a good way.” My stomach clenched with humiliation.
“What?” Kevin asked, taking the phone back and looking at it. “I’ll hunt her down, and then I’ll kill her.”
I laughed, pressing my face into his chest, inhaling the smell of love and comfort. “Okay,” I said. He laughed back, pulling me closer.
I raised my face to his. “Our daughter is in that story,” I said. “A part of her at least. No one knows that.”
“I do,” he said. “I know. The people who love you know.”
Since that day, I’ve written six more books, hitting the New York Times best seller list with my fourth book, Archer’s Voice. Each story is different. But what they all share in common is the message that there is always hope—even when life doesn’t seem like it can get much more bleak, even when you’re broken and reeling, grief-stricken and beaten down. Whether you’re a foster kid or a cult member, whether you’re forgotten and disabled, whether you’ve done shameful things in your past, made mistakes you don’t ever believe you can atone for, whether you’re lonely and poverty-stricken, there is life after this. That is my message to the world. That is the thing that I can speak of with authority. Not an authority that comes from reading about something in a textbook, or through observation, but an authority of the soul. An authority that only comes from having survived something that felt unsurvivable. Is there a word for that? If there is, I don’t know it. If there isn’t, there should be.
People sometimes ask me if I have any advice for authors just starting out, those who have a passion to write. I guess my advice on writing is the same advice I would give on living: Figure out what you have an authority of the soul on and weave that into your life, your story. Give the world the thing that only you can give. Share it. It isn’t safe—it’s decidedly unsafe. It’s terrifying. It’s revealing. But it’s the thing that people will connect to—it’s the thing we all crave: to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not the only one. If you’re going to do it—do it. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Dig in your heels, bare your heart, open your arms wide and stake your claim. Do the one thing no one can ever teach another person how to do. You.
And to Darcy Rose, thank you sweet girl. If I am brave—if I was ever brave—and if there’s anything beautiful about my story, it’s because you made it so.