There has been a theme in the last year of my life, and it has gone like this:
Character: CLAIRE Diaz-Ortiz (Type A / Planner / INFJ / Enneagram 1) with desire to do all the things in the way she wants to do them.
Action: CLAIRE plans all the things.
Stage Directions: Enter LIFE, stage right.
Action: CLAIRE’S plans go to hell, with confetti.
The last year of my life has been this, and only this.
It started with the twins.
On Mother’s Day 2016, while on a work trip to the USA from my home in Argentina, I learned I was pregnant. I took the pregnancy test before going to a Mother’s Day church service by myself, and I sang my heart out.
Over the next three days, I took several blood tests. These blood tests indicated one of two things. 1) Something was very wrong and this pregnancy was going nowhere good; 2) Something was very right, and there was more than one beating heart inside.
Things had gone very right.
At our first ultrasound, the doctor immediately found one fantastic heartbeat.
And then, my husband, Jose: “Are you sure there’s only one? We were told the numbers made it look like there might be another.”
There were two.
The pregnancy, in the beginning, was a mess, as things go. I laid in bed for the better part of three months with extreme nausea, working and reading books about how my life was going to change and how little sleep I’d be getting.
Then things got better. For a while, I waddled around feeling pretty good and fielding sensitive and yet astute questions from people in Starbucks like, “Are you having triplets?”
“No, just twins!”
And then things got worse. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, the list of complications was very long and very annoying and occasionally very concerning.
As my OB would say when I hugged her on the operating table, knowing my boys were coming into the world 9.5 weeks early, and crying that I had wanted them to stay in longer, “Given everything, we did so well to make it this far.”
I laid there, smelling my own burning flesh (yes, they don’t tell you this about C-sections) as they brought two 3+ pound boys, one by one, to my head for me to kiss.
When babies are born at 30 weeks and 5 days, they go the NICU. This is where they went. That first week, things were great. I learned afterwards, when they were home and I was reflecting on the stress of it all, that this is called the honeymoon period.
I moved into the city, near the hospital, to make sure I was close by. I went home on weekends to our house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, and Jose drove in every day at mid-day to avoid the debilitating traffic. We sat down our daughter, 2.5, to explain as much as anything can be explained to a child of this age where Mama was going to be, and why.
When Jose dropped me off at our apartment that first time he said to me, with total confidence, “I feel like you’re going to be really productive in your time here.”
I agreed, a second idiot in a conversation of idiocy.
One day, in the second week, we went to see the boys on a Sunday. We said hi, and went to a celebration lunch with the whole family. They were doing well. My daughter was seated next to my father in law, who had recently gone through chemo because a cancer he had years ago had come back, when we got a call to come back. “Is everything okay?” Jose asked. “Just come back when you’re done with lunch,” the doctor said.
“I didn’t know they called parents?” I said, hesitatingly.
We didn’t finish lunch.
One of the boys had a thing, and it was not a good thing, and this particular doctor was really bad in talking about it. We freaked out. The next two days were a blur.
The next week, my father-in-law was sitting with me on a couch waiting to go in to see his grandsons for the first time. I told him everything Google was telling me and how it sometimes matched and sometimes conflicted with what the doctors were saying and that I was freaking out and that this was not at all the way I wanted it to be.
Don’t Google things, he said. And then he told me this: “If I Google things, I wonder, ‘How am I still here?’”
I did not think enough about this at the time.
Over the next three weeks, things got incrementally better, and then dramatically worse, and then incrementally better again. The boys improved, and then back-tracked, and then improved again. We found the doctors we could handle talking to, and those we couldn’t, and we tried to stay level-headed.
And then my father in law got more bad news.
I had never felt more stress in my life. Amazingly, in the apartment where I was living by myself during the week, I was sleeping ten hours every night. I was ignoring my email. I was reading lots of books.
On Christmas, we dressed up and took Lucia to the hospital and went in and saw the boys before a big family party. At the party, Lucia sat with her grandfather on a saggy couch eating bread and only bread.
Just before New Year’s, after 48 days in the NICU, we brought the boys home.
The day they told us we could take them, Jose had an important medical appointment he needed to accompany his father to. We asked to the NICU doctors to keep the boys in the hospital an extra day, likely the first parents in the history of the NICU to ever ask this thing. Then we changed our mind, worrying that something terrible could happen if they spent so much as another day in there, and asked to change his father’s important appointment by a day. The logistics of our life were entering scary nightmare stage.
The day they came home was an incredibly emotional day. It took nine hours longer than expected, due to paperwork and reasons I will never understand. The moment they handed us the bill for each child (yes, we had great health insurance; no, we didn’t pay a dime) was the first time I had truly laughed in two months.
We went home with hand sanitizer and hospital gowns and lots of help and immediately threw ourselves into the logistics of life as parents to newborn twins with a toddler. (#3under3)
The months flew by. Aside from one scare that more than anything reflected that I clearly have some PTSD from the past year, the boys thrived. Their grandfather, the incredible man he was, did not.
I finished my maternity leave and went back to work OUTSIDE THE HOME, now fully accepting my home office for the entirely useless room it now is given the army of loud, small individuals and their caretakers that are now camped out in my house. We might as well just fill up this lovely room with wrapping paper, I suggested to Jose. (Cue Tori Spelling’s mother, who did this, apparently, at the 89-roomed Chez Spelling.)
In May, I launched a big new book, One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work with a Mentor and Why You’ll Benefit from Being One, with my mentor, Ken Blanchard.
It was an exciting time. I was working harder than I’d worked in a LONG time when the book released, and it was good. I had lots of plans I was trying to execute.
I got on a plane for the first time in a year to go to the United States to celebrate the book launch. First, solo, and then again, a week later, with my three-year-old.
In the hours after giving a big presentation in Atlanta on One Minute Mentoring with Ken Blanchard and signing a couple hundred books, I got a call. In California, my sick daughter had a viral infection, and was in the ER with my parents. And then, I got another call. My father-in-law, a man among men, was losing his battle with cancer in Argentina. It was time to go home.
In the next two weeks, a lot of things happened. I flew immediately to California. I watched Lucia wake up day after day with a random fever (#kids), wondering if that day we could get on the plane. Finally, after flying 12,000 miles in a few short days, I landed in a fog bank in Argentina. We were delayed on the runway, waiting to be towed in to the gate, when I learned my father in law had passed away a few hours before.
The service was bright and cold and even then a mosquito still bit me through my tights. More than 200 people showed up and my brother-in-law read a letter that his father had written him on his 17th birthday. A letter of life and guidance and love written by a man who was a master of the written word, and used it well in his brilliant career as a lawyer.
Afterwards, we went back to our house and shared stories with family about a man among men. The no-longer-preemies, the boys who we learned we were having a year to the day that I got the call about my father in law, stole the show.
It has been a hard year.
I wrote that sentence, and then erased it. It sounds lame. I really should come up with a better one. I haven’t.
So yes, it has been a hard year. But there are some things that I have learned.
For better or for worse, here they are:
Loss is loss is loss and stress is stress is stress.
It’s interesting to me that in a time of hard stuff I realize I DO still worry about the little stuff. Not always, and not all the time, but it is still there. I had a vision that when things get hard you really DO forget everything else, and that isn’t always the case. There have been moments over the past year, say, where I have been really and truly mad about emails from grumpy readers. Let’s read that again. EMAILS FROM GRUMPY READERS. The magnitude of this statement is ridiculous, given that I spent several months legitimately worried my newborns would die, and several months after that not-so legitimately worrying the same thing. But it is true. If anything, this highlights that loss is loss and stress is stress and everyone has a thing and you never know what someone else’s thing is. So yeah, don’t compare and despair when it comes to your grief. Your thing is your thing.
This year forced me to proactively look for help in a way I had rarely done before.
This was hard, and it was not always successful. I emailed with one preemie mom who, through no fault of her own, made me feel horrible and freaked out about my boys. I saw one horrific therapist who mostly taught me once again how I have a problem holding my own against people who claim to be authority figures and who I pay to do things. But in general, help is great. Being vulnerable is greater. And yes, even if you feel dumb writing people you don’t know well emails asking them for recommendations for whatever resource you need that you think they might have (a therapist, a coach, a book), you should do it.
I have good people.
In the days after the funeral, in particular, I kept saying this to my husband in a sort of stunned voice. Like, WOW. We have really good friends. Like, WOW. You have a really great brother. Like, WOW. It was astonishing to me how WOW’d I was by this. But it was good to remember. I spend a lot of time probably thinking about the faults of these people, and the crap they do to annoy me. (Corollary: If you don’t have good people who you think would be there for you, make it a priority to find some.)
Life is long and will carry us on its back.
This is a line from a book that I wrote down years ago. I don’t know where.
The other day, I was saying to a dear friend, as I summarized some item on the list of WHY I HATED THE LAST YEAR, “So yeah, basically it’s been the worse year of my life.” She paused. “That’s a strong statement, Claire. Knowing some of your other years, I mean.” (To be clear, I have had a VERY GOOD EASY life. I am not a widow and both my parents are alive and healthy and so are my three children. But if we are going all-in with the “Loss is loss is loss and stress is stress is stress” point, then I’ve had some stuff.) I defended my choice for award-winning year of crap. “Yeah, I see that.” She agreed. The point, of course, is that I’m still here, after it all.
There is a moment in Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, a story of a kind of grief I pray to never know, that stuck with me. It is when the co-author, Sheryl Sandberg, and her kids are at the funeral of her husband, and the kids are lying on the ground, not wanting to get up and go to the gravesite, because this is too hard. “This is the second worst moment of our lives,” she tells them. “We lived through the first and we will live through this.” This is how I feel about my last year. It’s weird that hard stuff happens, and then you get through it, and then it’s a day after, and then it’s a week after, and then it’s a month after and you’re looking back on the thing.
These days, I am looking back on the things. And, depending on the day, and depending on my mood, sometimes those things seem really bad, and sometimes they seem only so-so bad. Either way, the importance of it all, and the affect it had on me, was about what it meant then, when it was happening, and when I was feeling everything all at once.
I have come to the end of my pages now. (A letter, I’ll call it.)
There are probably other things I have learned, but I don’t remember them now.
There is a baby crying. (There always is.)
And maybe that is all that matters today.