Be a Liz.

Dear Andy,

I haven’t had as much time to write lately. It turns out, having a toddler and several jobs is EXHAUSTING. I’ve also begun to do some work as the marketing director for the Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas. They are an organization that helped me out a lot after you were born, and I felt it was a great opportunity to work with them.

After you were born, we had two doulas helping us out for the first week, since I’d had a c-section. When it became clear to the doulas (Julie and Liz are their names) that I might be wrestling with some PTSD from your birth and depression beyond the “Baby Blues”, they suggested I reach out to PPHA. They made it sound totally non-threatening. “Someone will just ask you some questions. And if you qualify, they’ll help give you a doula so you can keep healing.” I figured I had nothing to lose. I spoke to a very kind woman named Beth. She walked me through some very easy questions about my birth. She told me that I did, indeed, qualify to be donated doula hours from their organization. I was relieved and grateful.

Our doula Liz let me know she’d requested to be assigned to me, and that she was going to be giving me additional hours of her own time because she felt I needed it. I felt totally undeserving and so lucky. I remember thinking that it was too nice. Liz lived so far away from us. And Austin traffic sucks. And yet, she came down to see me (us) every day. She’d arrive at our door. I’d be sleep deprived and un-showered and completely sad and alone, but with you. She’d gently take you and sternly tell me to, “Go take a nap.”

I remember in the midst of one terrible week, Liz came over. I was barely able to move. I was in an incredibly dark and dismal place. I was wearing your dad’s blue and green plaid pajama pants, a t-shirt covered in spit up, and no bra. Liz came in and I began to tear up. She sat down on the couch with me. I asked her if my horrible sadness would ever end. She said yes. I asked her if I was going to be okay. She said she hoped so. Then there was a pause. Liz took a deep breath. She looked me in the eyes and said “I’m worried about you.”

Those four words were simple and honest, and I could tell that they took a lot of guts to say. Because a woman in my position at that time is incredibly fragile. Liz is an authentic person who preaches authenticity. So I knew she didn’t need my lies. She didn’t need me to care take her like some of my family and friends may have. She wanted my truth. She gave me hers, so I gave her mine. I responded honestly and simply, “I’m worried about me too.”

Then, another pause.

“Just promise me you’ll tell someone if you’re thinking about hurting yourself.”

“I will.” I promised.

I was scared. This was the most serious conversation I’d ever had with anyone in my life. It was honest and it was terrifying. Because we were talking about VERY real stakes. And there was a baby in the room. MY baby. And I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t know if I’d get worse or better. I didn’t know if I could trust myself. I didn’t know if I was going to be okay.

What I did know, was that there was a witness to my pain. Right there in that room, another mother had driven an hour down to our apartment in the middle of rush hour out of the kindness of her heart. And she sat down and met me where I was. She confronted my darkness with kindness, and she didn’t back away. She seemed to recognize where I was, and she seemed to accept her own uncertainty of the situation at hand.

I eventually began to heal. Liz and I remain friends. And I am now okay. But that experience with her, and with so many others at that time, changed who I am as a person and set me on a path for life. I’m hoping one day you’ll follow that path, too.

I decided I’m going to be a Liz. Because Liz helped me and I will NEVER be able to repay the way she was there for me. There were other Lizzes. Your Uncles John and James were Lizzes and Aunt Emily and Nana. There was another doula named Katie who was a Liz, and my friends were Lizzes, too.

But THE Liz showed up in the darkest hour. And she showed me how it’s done. In case you were wondering, it’s a pretty easy formula to learn, but a hell of one to follow.

Here’s what it takes to be a Liz.

  1. Be Kind. Give of yourself, your talents, your tools, your money, to someone in need. Not because you can. Because you CAN’T NOT. Remember to be kind to yourself, too. Because giving to others what you don’t give to yourself is impossible. Believe, me. I’ve tried.
  2. Be Brave. In the face of uncertainty, ask the tough questions. End the polite conversation. Surrender the small talk and the cute words and the jokes. Ask a question with an accompanying answer you aren’t sure you’re prepared to deal with. Wait. Pause. Breathe. Witness. Be brave.
  3. Be Honest. Liz didn’t know if I’d get better. She hoped I’d get better. But in that moment, she was honest. She was honest with herself about where her scope of practice ended, she was honest about what she did and didn’t know. She was honest about not being able to read the future. She was honest about what she saw in me, and she encouraged me to be honest with myself and with others. I needed her honesty more than I needed inspirational memes or concerned looks from loved ones. I needed honesty from a woman who understood what it was like.

One of my best friends, your unofficial Aunt Lindsey is undergoing chemotherapy treatment right now. And she recently remarked on her amazement of how kind people are. She told me people she barely knows are bringing her casseroles and offering to shave their heads, and watch her kids. They are being Lizzes. And I told Lindsey that I’ve learned that that’s the beautiful thing that comes out of human suffering. In our moments of deepest pain, when we are debilitated and weak and can’t find a way back, our nervous systems memorize that pain. And as a result, we seek to make sure it never happens again, to us, to others…and when we can’t control that outcome, we seek to help and to heal. We become Lizzes.

Because you see, Andy, strength isn’t a trait that one person possesses. We are all borrowing it. Strength is an attribute of the collective. Sometimes it wanes here and waxes there. One minute you’re suffering the worst depression of your life, the next moment you’re fine, but your best friend has cancer. We get better. We heal. And we find strength again. But strength is never ours. It is moving between us at all times.

Liz was moving her strength toward me that day. In that moment she faced me, she was holding me with her strength, and now I’ve found it again in myself. When I was given the opportunity to join PPHA, I knew it was the Liz thing to do. Because this strength isn’t mine, I’m just borrowing it. And I memorized the crap out of my pain. And I know I can’t control whether or not it happens to someone else. But I know I can be kind, and brave, and honest.

I can be a Liz. I hope and know in time you’ll be a Liz, too.

The gift of suffering is the lesson of faith. The gift of weakness is the strength we get from others. Love comes from seeing ourselves in one another, and make no mistake, this is the gift of despair.

Be brave, be kind, be honest.

Love always,