Words by Molly Wantland
“You can do hard things.” That phrase has been floating around a lot recently, but it never rang more true for me than in the past year.
I come from a tight-knit family. We love each other deeply and keep in touch, whether via text or in person, often. So, when one member is hurting or celebrating, the rest of us feel it right there with them. Last fall, three huge events happened in our family’s life that were met with a strange mix of joy, grief, and fear: I gave birth to my first child, my oldest nephew passed away two weeks later, and my mom – our rock – was diagnosed with a serious case of bladder cancer two months after that. To say my emotions were in overdrive is an understatement.
I have always been a little afraid of being pregnant and giving birth. There are so many unknowns that go along with those things – if the baby will be healthy, if I will stay healthy, if the birth will go smoothly, etc. – and I wasn’t sure how I would handle those nine months. The fact that everyone likes to share their ‘birth horror stories’ certainly didn’t help either! Thankfully, we had a textbook pregnancy that I found a surprising amount of joy in, and our beautiful baby girl arrived easily in late September. Her entire birth day, I was mostly calm, not scared. I loved joking with the nurses (before the contractions really kicked in!) and listening to my favorite music with my husband at my side. As soon as they laid her on my chest, I (somehow) didn’t cry, but with relief thought, “I did it!”. I always assumed I would seriously struggle during pregnancy and birth, but I kept telling myself that I was made for it, and I was meant for it. Having a little mantra really helped keep my attitude in a positive, strong place.
Only a month before Ellie was born, we learned that my 12-year-old nephew, Luke, wouldn’t beat his leukemia. We always knew cancer could be a complication of Schwachman-Diamond syndrome, a rare genetic disease he had since birth, but I never believed it would actually happen. God gave us a loving gift in letting Luke meet his baby cousin, Ellie. In the weeks leading up to her birth, he would text me often, asking how she was, what she was doing (ha!), when she would arrive; and all I could do was pray over and over that he would get to hold her. The day she was born, he was the first person I told, and his whole family rushed to the hospital (from an hour away) to make that happy event come true!
There’s so much I could say about this brave boy and how special he was; how curious he was, how much he laughed, and how he could fix any tech problem in 3.25 seconds. I will forever wonder what great things he would’ve done with his life, but am constantly trying to remind myself to be grateful for the days that we did have him; especially the two weeks after Ellie was born.
After losing my dad to lung cancer as a teenager, losing my mom has been one of the biggest fears in my life. When we learned the day after Christmas (two months after losing Luke) that she had a serious case of bladder cancer, I went into slight denial for a few weeks – I couldn’t mentally process the fact that something this huge was happening right after such an incredibly hard time. It was unbelievable, really. But we (along with her sister, brother, and many friends) all rallied, and joined her in starting the treatment process. We’d been down a similar road before, and knew it was no good to put anything off out of fear; you just had to begin in order to get through it. Trips to doctors were made, treatment was taken, meals were brought, encouraging books were given, and many, many prayers were said – all to show her how much she is loved and how much she matters to all of us. She is quite possibly the most selfless person you are ever going to meet, and it’s amazing how many people wanted to be there for her in the multitude of ways she’d shown up for them. Mom is the strongest woman I know, and she fought her way through a painful and scary few months. She is now eight months cancer-free and we love to celebrate it!
Last fall and this spring were so heavy. There’s no other way to put it. I’m a tender-hearted gal to begin with, and the fact that these burdens were weighing on some of the people I loved most in the world was almost too much to take. I realized in December that I had postpartum depression, and I struggled to not cry all. of. the. time. I always, always loved Ellie, but I found myself wishing that she was already older, and able to better take care of herself. I wished I could just put a pause on what she needed so I could straighten myself out, be there for my mom, and hug my brother’s family.
My incredible, patient husband was there every step of the way, and if he was ever exhausted from holding me up and caring for both Ellie and myself (which I’m sure he was), I never knew it. He held me every time I needed to cry, listened every time I rehashed the same fears repeatedly, even kept our newborn overnight several times so I could spend the night at Mom’s.
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful counselor in my life whom I could talk (and cry! Lots of crying!) all of my feelings out to – and I made sure to stick to my weekly appointments. Though I’m much more on the “crunchy” side of things, I finally gave into taking a small dose of a daily antidepressant, which was the healthiest thing I could’ve done for myself, as well as my relationship with my husband and newborn daughter. I leaned on friends an extra amount: if they asked what I needed, I told them. If they asked how I was, I would try to say something upbeat first (it’s just how I operate!), but was also completely honest when I was struggling. I learned at an early age that when you’re in pain, those who truly love you want to be there for you, and it’s OK to let them be. You are not and never will be a burden.
Looking back, I see the only way – the ONLY way - I made it through was thanks to strength from God and support from my loving husband, family, and friends. I emotionally ache when I think of those who don’t have faith to hold on to, as well as loved ones to lift them up – I just want to hold their hand and let them know someone is here for them. I honestly have no idea how people get through the hard times in life without trusting in and knowing there’s a God who is WITH them and FOR them. Even when I’ve been at my lowest, treading in the murkiest of unknown waters, I’ve known God has a plan and a purpose for my life, and that’s what kept me afloat.
This Christmas, I joyfully celebrated what a happier December it was than last. Every single day. Over and over, I continued thanking the Lord in relief and gratitude for Mom’s good health, being out of the anxiety-ridden and sleep-deprived newborn stage, and the passage of time that will slowly, hopefully help soften the pain of losing Luke.
No matter what you are going through, know that you can get through it. You can do hard things, friend. Trust in your faith, and let yourself lean on others. We are here for you.
About the Author:
Molly is a lifestyle family and portrait photographer in Columbia, Tennessee with a love for family, friends, and Oldies music.