Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The 10 Year Challenge

 You may have seen this on social media... lots of folks posting a photo of themselves 10 years ago and a picture of themselves now. 

I texted some of my friends and noted that these 10 year posts were kind of getting to me. And not because I think I am getting age spots on the backs of my hands that most definitely were not there 10 years ago (although, yes, that). It's because I have very few pictures of myself 10 years ago. 

Ten years ago, I still clawing my way out of deep, dark, despairing grief. Ten years ago I skipped Christmas because the death of my baby also killed any desire I had to celebrate anything. Ten years ago my general state of being was shifting from suffocating sorrow to buzzing anxiety. I was newly and fragilely pregnant with Zuzu and I didn't want to tell anyone because I had discovered what happened to me when I celebrated and shared and talked excitedly about having a baby.

If this "10 years challenge" had surfaced last year, it undoubtedly would have been harder. But even this year it made me feel itchy. A photo of me ten years ago is hard to find because I felt like I had little to document and little reason to smile about it. So I was going to do what I do--scroll past these social media posts and distract myself with something else (oh, here, another article on Omicron).

But then my co-worker asked if all of our staff could do the 10 year challenge on our department's social media accounts. So... here we are. 

I do have a picture of myself ten years ago. 

It is December of 2011. I am in Puerto Vallarta. I'm standing in front of a beautiful floral hedge. I'm posing to show off my nonexistent baby bump. I am 13 weeks pregnant. I am smiling, but I am grieving and I am scared. I'm scared that documenting this stage of pregnancy means that this baby will die. I'm also scared of not documenting it, of this baby thinking that we weren't thrilled when in fact it was the best news possible for us. 

And here's a picture of me ten years later. 

It's December 2021. I'm at home. These girls are all mine! (Gee is pouting because she didn't get to go to the theatre with her sisters). Our Christmas tree is glowing. Life is full and busy and more fun that I could have let myself imagine when I was in Mexico ten years earlier.

But what you don't see in either of these pictures is the girl who is missing. And I think that's hard on me, too. We're now a full year past the ten year mark. It's been more than a decade since I held Eliza's tiny, bundled body in my arms. And there is so little evidence that she existed. The ten year challenge doesn't reflect my biggest challenge of all--going on without her here.

Ten years ago, though, I was missing a baby who should have been turning one, babbling her baby babble and taking her first steps. I was missing every moment of what I had dreamed motherhood would be, and it didn't matter how beautiful Mexico was in December, there was nothing that could ease the ache of that loss. 

Ten years later, I'm missing an eleven year old girl an a life that I can't quite envision. Personality and attitude and interest and conversations that I'll never know. And there's still an ache. Even surrounded by the chatter and laughter and tantrums and activities of her sisters, there is still a loss. A loss that you can't see in these photos. 

For some of us, the ten year challenge is seeing who isn't there, and remembering how much they matter. It's no stretch to say that everything that has happened to me in the last ten years has been influenced by Eliza--at least, all my best decisions. 

No matter how much life has changed in last ten years, what hasn't changed is how much I miss her.  


  1. Jen (March is for daffodils)January 13, 2022 at 12:06 AM

    This is a beautiful post, Brooke, and I really see the absence of Eliza in those photos. I have so many of my own where Anja's absence is just so vivid. 10 years ago today, I went to the hospital and learned she'd died. A photo of me in the morning show one me, a photo that night another. I've aged a lot in 10 years. 10 years of grief and parenthood will do that to a person.

  2. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ so beautifully said, as always. Thank you for putting this into words.

  3. I relate to so much of this. I can hardly bear to think of myself 10 years ago - also pregnant after losing our first son less than a year prior. It has taken me until this year to be able to put up family pictures on the walls of our house because of course none of them show the one who is missing.

  4. My feelings are not as intense as I imagine yours to be, but I had some feelings about this "10-year challenge" myself. Ten years ago this month, I was very pregnant with twin boys after over three years of TTC. While that was (obviously) a very happy circumstance, it was also ten years ago this month that my twin boys arrived prematurely (34 weeks) because I developed a life-threatening pregnancy complication (preeclampsia), and I also had a post-delivery hemorrhage that was also life-threatening.

    For my sons' first two birthdays, I used to have PTSD-type flashbacks in the week or two leading up to their birthday. Their arrival was an emotionally fraught time that evokes mixed emotions for me.

    So yeah, apart from the fact that I don't think anyone needs to see photos of me looking sick and 8 months pregnant with twins (or sick and anemic post-partum), looking at these (very few) photos of myself from January 2012 stirs up a lot of emotions that I'd rather not revisit.

  5. Glad to see your posts and know that you and your family are okay. This random Californian has missed your voice.

    A podcast made me think of you today--Radiolab aired a conversation between a bereaved fiancé and his friends, and they talked about how some of the passages in Lincoln in the Bardo spoke to him (I remembered that you were a fan of the book). He wrote a letter to the author, who actually wrote him a beautiful letter back.

    Hope you guys stay healthy and happy.

  6. Oh, Brooke…. I know… The distance makes it both easier and harder, all at once.
    It’s so lovely to see a photo of you with your grown girls though. Sending hugs to you all!

  7. These social media "challenges" can be so hard for reasons that most people never dream of. (((hugs)))