I always liked to make the joke that I would only get a tattoo once I turned eighty. Part of it was a fear of needles (I’ve been known to faint from time to time), but the bigger issue is my indecisiveness. By eighty, I may finally have an idea of what I would want permanently inked into my skin, right? Also, how cool would that be to celebrate one’s birthday as a fully fledged octogenarian than with the buzz and excitement of your first tattoo? I suppose I’ve lost out on that birthday plan at this point – sorry to my future eighty year old self. This thirty-one year old decided to jump the (tattoo) gun. But I’ve felt the pull for the last year or two to have a reminder of where I’ve been – and who I’ve become – etched into my skin.
So off I went to the tattoo parlor, my best friend, Megan, by my side, and a skilled tattoo artist talking through the details with me. I was nervous – fear of pain and fear of dropping to the floor in a faint were warring against one another – but I also knew I could do it. It might have helped that Megan literally kept telling me I could do it, and she’s legit amazing, so how could I not follow through? She has been there through each one of the highs and lows that these marks represent. If she believed in me, there was no need to fear.
See these hands? This is Megan happily letting me clutch her fingers, a pocket of sweat locked in our palms, and squeezing to let me know she’s there and not letting go. There is nothing better than that person who grips you tighter, especially when things are hurting.
If you ask my kids, they’ll say the first heart is for our first born, Quincy. The squishy little babe that showed me…
what it was like to harbor a life within me,
to be needed fully and always,
to break one’s self in order to provide for another,
to overcome the pain for such relief and joy of a baby’s arrival,
to love in a new way.
Next they’ll tell you heart number two is for our second child, Eloise. The one who taught me how…
to split my soul in order to pour it into another,
to break down any assumptions I had formed after the first,
to realize every person, every child, every life is new and unique and different even among similarities,
to love the same and yet love differently.
Then you’ll hear them talk about a baby that’s up in heaven, the baby that didn’t make it, the baby that never was to be. That star is for the one we lost.
And finally my three beaming babes will tell you the last heart is for our youngest, Cormac. He is the one who brought about…
a glimmer of hope,
a redeeming of the soul,
a reminder of what could be lost and how dear a love after loss can be.
The simple shape of a heart is representative of the wooshy-woosh-wooshy-woosh of a sonogram and the rising and falling waves of a heartbeat. Cormac’s is the heart I felt most strongly because I knew its true weight, a love enhanced by loss and therefore all the more treasured.
So yes, Quincy, Eloise, and Cormac will boast of their stamp upon my wrist – which heart is theirs and which one is of a sibling. But these are also marks that show my greatest triumphs, and my greatest falls. The star in particular – marking the miscarriage that began shortly after entering second trimester – carries the heaviest emotions within its thin frame. For though I experienced profound grief, I also found an underlying vein of bravery. After such a low, how could I not face other difficulties? And now, two years later, I cannot tell you how many women have reached out to me to say “I lost too, I know you’ll understand”. There is camaraderie in grief that pulls courage from frail bodies.
These simple shapes? They are my children, my highs, my lows, my profound grief, my bravery, my collapsing spirit, my faith, my courage, my guts, my frailty. They are reminders of how God can pull me from the hard and the awful and make it something truly beautiful.
What are the moments that have marked you and made you beautifully brave?