It was January, 2018; I was all alone, tightly strapped into my airplane seat, with the expectation I would land in Bali soon. It was my third flight of a twenty-two-hour trip. The feelings of boredom, restlessness, fear and excitement settled in. I watched movies to stay distracted from my racing mind.
As cliche as it was, I chose to watch Eat, Pray, Love because it included a visit to Bali and I wanted to dream about what the next ten days might hold for me. Surprisingly, I didn’t make it to the part of the movie that included Bali.
There is a scene in that movie where Julia Roberts is standing on top of a building in India when she realizes she has to forgive herself for the choices she’s made in her past. I’ve seen this movie probably three or four times, so I knew that scene was coming and didn’t think anything of it.
This time, however, was different. I immediately realized I hadn’t forgiven myself for Adeline’s stillbirth and now I was also coming up against a decision that might mean I wouldn’t ever have biological children of my own. I was carrying around so much guilt and shame. I was blaming myself for things I logically knew were outside my control.
There are two sides of self: the logical side, which understand the laws of science and physics. It’s the side that tells us there was nothing we could have done to prevent our experiences. It reminds us to be rational and realize that stillbirths and infertility are not our fault.
And then there is the emotional side, a side that wonders what we did wrong, what mistakes we made, why we couldn’t protect our children or possibly get pregnant again? That is what parents are ultimately supposed to do, right? We are here to procreate and then protect our children. I could not do either. Despite my best efforts, Adeline was stillborn and I couldn’t seem to get pregnant again after three agonizingly long years. I was a mother who felt responsibility for her child's death and a wife who felt ashamed that she couldn’t give herself and her husband what each so desperately wanted.
I was broken. My soul was suffering because even though I rationally knew I shouldn’t feel that way, I did.
And so, on that plane over an ocean on the other side of the world I let the tears flow. There was literally nowhere to go, nothing to see; it was still dark outside and I was trapped in this airplane seat. I had nowhere to run and so I sat with my feelings, allowing myself the space to feel the shame and guilt.
Feeling the pain is never easy and most of us avoid it because it hurts. It hurts like nothing has ever hurt before. Without taking the time feel our pain, however, we can never truly hope to move through to the other side.
My other side came that first night after I landed in Bali. I woke around five am (because of the time difference I couldn’t sleep any longer) and went outside to sit on my porch. I brought my journal with me. The sun was on the verge of rising, and I could barely see my pen on the paper. I wrote, “I forgive myself for…” over and over and over again. I forgave myself for everything I’ve ever done, every decision I’ve ever made that didn’t result in exactly what I wanted (or thought I wanted). I forgave myself for it all. The tears flowed, the sun rose, and the sounds of a new world woke around me. I was in a new place, both physically in Bali and now emotionally on the other side of forgiveness. A new start, a fresh beginning. One where I felt lighter, braver, stronger.
I didn’t have any other breakthroughs on that trip. I figured that was enough as I was able to let go of so much emotional weight that it gave me just enough space to follow my heart those tens days in Bali and open my mind to making future decisions based upon what I knew was right for me and my husband.
When I arrived back home, we made a decision to stop fertility treatments. We knew we’d continue to try to have children on our own. We’d continue to try in natural ways and to hope for the best, with low expectations, while we started to pursue adoption options.
Little did we know a short eight weeks later we’d become pregnant. I now have a three- month-old little boy and honestly still feel a little shocked. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to follow my path, to listen to what my soul needed, and to have found the gift of forgiveness.
Are there decisions you’ve made in your life that continue to bring you shame? Can you sit with that shame and forgive your past self for doing the best you could at the time? Can you release yourself from the guilt? Can you say out loud, “I forgive myself”? Try it and see how you feel. See how your energy shifts. Let me know how it feels in the comments below.
The picture above is me experiencing the fountains of Titra Empul (Scared Healing Springs) two days after I experienced forgiving myself. This is considered one of the five or six holiest temples in all of Bali, and Balinese Hindus believe the springs offer wellness. I felt as if I was letting it all wash away, all the shame, all the guilt, and all the pressure I had felt up to that moment. And I just let it wash away. If you ever make your way to Bali, I’d highly recommend a visit.