“I can’t believe what you went through,” my friend said, welling up with tears after reading an essay about the molar pregnancy* I had ten years ago.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t believe it either. All I wanted was a baby, but I got cancer instead. When that clusterfuck of a pregnancy–my first one–robbed me of everything I believed to be real and good and safe and normal, the earth tore open and swallowed me whole.
Still, her sympathy caught me off guard. Even though my molar pregnancy is a topic that often comes up in my writing, it doesn’t elicit the tremors of misery that it once did. The experience undoubtedly shaped the person and mother I’ve thankfully become–in good ways (perspective) and in bad (anxiety)–but it’s no longer a wound that throbs. It’s a memory of an awful thing that knocked me down, but also of one that taught me how to get back up.
“It’s okay. I’m fine now,” I assured my friend, and in that moment, I realized my molar pregnancy had lost its power. Its grip had loosened enough for me to let it go.
The idea of letting go has weighed heavily on my mind as I prepare my family for a long-distance move. Packing up the house has been daunting. I’ve spent nearly seven years raising my two boys here. As much as I’d like to blame them for the amount of stuff we’ve amassed, what I find myself ruminating over in dusty boxes in the corners of closets is all mine.
I’m highly skilled at getting rid of clutter. In fact, I’ve been known to traverse the house with a garbage bag in tow to ease my “too much stuff” anxiety. But what’s buried deep in my closets are memories, and the emotions that stick to them like fly paper, so deciding what to keep or toss is risky, even for a supposed expert.
In one box I opened a plastic container that held, among other relics, a driver’s license from my bloated college years (toss… wait… keep), a Blockbuster Video membership card from a store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn (museum worthy… keep!), an expired NYC MetroCard (toss), and a small, homemade, blue cylindrical candle wrapped in a single sheet of paper towel (hmm… toss).
The candle was a gift from a group of Kindergarten students I taught creative movement. My memories are dear, but I’d completely forgotten about the candle, so I let it go. A few hours later, I rummaged through the garbage can like a lunatic to find it, because I’m clearly a “keep or toss” work in progress.
In the same box, I found a fabric-covered box that looked as if it once held matching stationery. I assumed it was filled with old photos (keep) or birthday cards (probably toss), but when I opened the lid. I stopped.
Inside, I found letters written to me by a prayer ministry at a friend’s church. Ten years ago, complete strangers wrote prayers for me after learning about my molar pregnancy. When the letters arrived in the mail, each one handwritten and filled with faith and hope and optimism, I hid them away because I had none of those. Eventually I healed, but by then the prayers were packed away and forgotten.
In the aftermath of my molar pregnancy, I disregarded nearly every gesture of kindness aimed in my direction because I couldn’t let go of my anguish. I was too consumed with fear and pain to appreciate the magnitude of love my family, friends, and complete strangers had for me.
All these years later, opening that box sent aftershocks of gratitude rippling through me. As it turns out, my molar pregnancy hasn’t lost its power. It’s just that its potency no longer rests in the damage it caused, but rather in the compassion and humanity it continues to unearth.
Thankfully prayers don’t expire. In case you’re wondering, I’m keeping them.
Jennifer Gregory writes the blog The Runaway Mama. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else except home raising her two boys, but like the little bunny in Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, she sometimes wants to run away.
* Per the Mayo Clinic: A molar pregnancy—also known as hydatidiform mole—is a noncancerous (benign) tumor that develops in the uterus. A molar pregnancy starts when an egg is fertilized, but instead of a normal, viable pregnancy resulting, the placenta develops into an abnormal mass of cysts.
In a complete molar pregnancy, there’s no embryo or normal placental tissue. In a partial molar pregnancy, there’s an abnormal embryo and possibly some normal placental tissue. The embryo begins to develop but is malformed and can’t survive.
A molar pregnancy can have serious complications—including a rare form of cancer—and requires early treatment.