When I was going through the hardest time of my life, I was inspired to start writing a book called “Finding” Joy. It’s a play on words because you don’t actually ever find joy. No one gives it to you. No one makes it for you. You have to create joy in and for yourself.
In 2017, I was asked to speak at a retreat. In preparing for the event, I inquired about what message would be helpful for the host’s audience. She said that after a lot of prayer and meditation, she wanted me to speak on loving the life I have, even when it hasn’t gone the way I thought it should. Preparing for that presentation changed my life!
I can look back and see all the ways my journey has gone terribly awry — yet I still love my life even though it did not go according to my own plans.
When I was a teenager, I left my church because I was making some pretty harmful choices and my church leader told my parents. I could have humbled myself and chosen differently, but I decided to leave my church for several years, and I made some very damaging decisions with long-term consequences.
I came back to church when I was 21…and five months pregnant. In my mind, no “good” Mormon man would ever want me, so I prepared to raise my baby on my own. I went back to nursing school and held down a full time job so I could provide for my baby.
As I came back to church (and the things that I knew would bring me joy), I became more confident and more self assured. With those side effects of living a good life, I met my future husband. He fell madly in love with my baby long before he fell in love with me, but he changed my perspective on what a good man was. We married almost a year after we met, and I gave up nursing school to become a full time mom. That was an unexpected happiness, something I never anticipated. My own plan was to just muscle through and be a single mom. Thankfully, Heavenly Father had a different plan that brought me much happiness and joy.
In many ways, we had a very good life, but it was also a very difficult life. When I initially prayed about marrying him, Heavenly Father said, “It will be hard.” My parents’ marriage hadn’t been a bed of roses, so I felt like I knew marriage could be difficult. Undeterred by that prompting, I asked, “But is he the right one for me? Should I marry him?”
Having prepared me for the many challenges ahead, a loving Father in heaven said, “YES.”
Many times when things were difficult, I would look back and remember that God had already told me it was going to be hard, and that I was fully capable of doing this because it was the right thing. I could keep myself and my family going, even in the “hard”.
However, as time went by, things shifted. Where he had been a truly righteous man, seeking to do the Lord’s will and serve others, he became more successful in work, he started caring more about fancy cars and clothes, and then he started caring more about what people (and especially women) thought of him. He started having several emotional affairs that were incredibly painful and really difficult for me to handle.
Because of my own childhood traumas, I didn’t know how to stand up for what I wanted and needed. I didn’t think I could or should demand something better. Instead of doubling down and figuring out how to reconnect, I emotionally withdrew from the relationship and buried myself in raising kids and helping him with his businesses and doing our rental properties. I became a very busy mom and didn’t have a lot of emotional connection with my husband.
But I found a lot of joy in being a mom. I found joy in serving my family and friends. I found joy in serving in church callings.
In 2004, I had my fifth baby and I felt like we were supposed to have at least one more. My husband had been talking about adopting kids but because of my own childhood issues, I felt like I couldn’t love a child that wasn’t mine. I prayed about it and told him that I thought we should have our own baby, so we got pregnant again. That’s how my daughter Lillie began her arrival into our lives.
Money was tight and I knew the drill by then, so I thought I’d get a midwife…eventually. I took care of myself and took prenatals, but I waited until about the sixth month to make the call. When I met the midwife, she did an initial intake and scheduled me out for another month. After a few weeks, she called to say that because of some personal challenges, she couldn’t help me after all. After a couple more weeks, I called another midwife and met with her. However, I didn’t feel comfortable with her. It just didn’t feel right.
We were living in Oregon at that time, but since I wasn’t having any luck finding a midwife in the area and I was seven and a half months along, I decided to call my previous midwife in Phoenix to see if she would just let me come see her for the last month and delivery my baby. She had already delivered four of my kiddos, so she felt comfortable that she knew what to expect with me. Two weeks later, I took my two youngest kids and went to Flagstaff to stay with my parents. Once a week, I would make the five hour round trip drive to visit my midwife, Connie, in the valley.
On the third week I was at my appointment, she said, “I think we could probably break your water. You’re almost ready. We just need to get this baby’s head engaged.”
I called my husband and told him what was going on. Immediately, he said, “I’m going to fly out tomorrow.” I told him that I wasn’t even sure I could get the baby in the right position and that he shouldn’t come out yet. He said that he strongly felt he needed to come right away and he would be at the airport the next day. I wasn’t happy about it, but I got off the phone and started getting Lillie ready for birth. I walked on the treadmill for about three miles and jumped on the trampoline to get her head engaged.
The next day, I was having a ton of contractions and my mom was worried about me as I was getting ready to make the three hour drive for the second day in a row. She wanted to drive down with me or have my high school best friend come, but I said it was completely unnecessary. I would be fine, and I didn’t need a chaperone. After all, Connie had had to break my water on every other occasion because my body just didn’t go into labor on its own. On my way out the door, I heard her say, “If things don’t go the way you think they should, just remember that the Lord has a plan.”
I thought, Why is she so worried? Silly, Mama!
As I was leaving, my contractions were five to seven minutes apart but pretty inconsistent. I picked up my husband from the airport and we went to the hotel so he could drop off his things and change. As we were making plans for dinner, I realized that my contractions were now only three minutes apart. We decided to call the midwife to check in, and she said, “Get to the birthing center RIGHT NOW.” We got a to go order from a restaurant, picked up a car seat at Target, and made our way to the midwife who was 20 minutes away.
When we got to the birthing center, she started the bathtub, but she wanted to listen to the baby’s heartbeat before I climbed in. She tried listening for the baby’s heartbeat with her stethoscope while my husband and I were chatting. She soon grabbed a Doppler and asked me to change positions. Then she got another Doppler and tried again.
Eventually, I said, “Connie, what’s wrong?”
Connie replied, “Well, probably nothing. When was the last time you felt the baby moving?”
I said, “For sure last night. I remember the baby kicking against the seat belt when I was driving back to Flagstaff from my appointment.” My midwife said, “I’d like to do an ultrasound really fast at the clinic.” Even as we walked the short distance to the ultrasound room, my husband and I weren’t really worried. I jokingly told him what my mom had said and asked, “Who says that to a PREGNANT woman?!?” and we laughed as we walked.
We went through the birthing center and the main open area, where there were 20 couples having an orientation, to an exam room. As soon as I lay down, Connie started looking around with the ultrasound wand. My husband tried to guess what body part she was looking at, and I told him to give up, that he was so terrible at figuring them out even after all these babies. After a few minutes, Connie turned to me and said, “Jill, this is the baby’s heart, and as you can see, it’s not beating. Your baby is gone…”
I don’t remember starting to scream, but I soon recognized that I was and that I had been for several seconds. My husband held me in his arms and told me everything would be okay. He asked for some privacy and then gave me a blessing. He said we’d get through this together, but I was totally numb.
I remembered the words that my mother had spoken to me earlier: “If things don’t go the way you think they should, just remember that the Lord has a plan.”
My midwife came back and said we would have to go deliver the baby at the hospital. As I gathered my thoughts and my emotions to walk out of the ultrasound room, I realized I had to face that room full of people attending the birthing class. I was so worried that I had ruined their experience. I had tremendous guilt, and in that moment, I felt like I would never be the same, like life would never be okay again.
We went to the hospital and had Lillie with just a few pushes. She was completely perfect, absolutely perfect in every way. Sadly, the cord had gotten wrapped around her neck twice, and as her head engaged, her oxygen had been cut off. She had passed away some time between my appointment the day previous and that evening.
Again, I felt like life was never going to be the same. I had been thinking I was coming home from the hospital with a baby, and I had to face the fact that the brand new car seat I had just purchased was going to be forever empty.
My husband tried to comfort me, as did my parents and friends, but I was inconsolable. We had this tradition where we liked to go see movies together. On our wedding night even, we had gone to two movies because we were so nervous. The day after Lillie was born, we somehow ended up at a comedy, and I laughed like I had never laughed before! I was almost hysterically laughing, in fact. When we went back to the hotel room, I felt like such a terrible person for having had so good a time at the movie when my baby had just died. But after I did some praying, I felt Heavenly Father teach me in that moment: it’s not only okay to look at the good in a bad situation but it is NECESSARY. It is NECESSARY!
Because of that lesson, I was able to see that my youngest son, just 15 months old at the time, still needed a lot of love and attention, as he was a very needy baby. I had been so worried about how I was going to take care of him and give him the attention he needed with a new baby coming home, but I didn’t have to worry about that now. I felt such relief! I also felt another immediate wave of guilt, but I knew that was okay too.
Driving the 20 hours back home without a new baby, I thought, Well, at least I don’t have to climb over the seat to take care of a brand new baby. All these thoughts started coming to me–things that were benefits.
I thought about what a benefit it was that Connie had delivered four of my five babies. I knew that she had done everything that she could for us. If it had been one of the other midwives, I probably would have blamed them for Lillie’s death. That anger and blame would have eaten me alive! What a blessing that I wouldn’t have to carry those feelings!
The day that Lillie died, two family members told me that they had seen a vision of her happy in heaven. Two separate people described her in almost the exact same way. It brought me a lot of peace and joy to think about her enjoying her time in heaven.
Several of my family members are not active in any religion, so at Lillie’s funeral, I got to stand and testify that God has a plan for us. I got to share my gospel knowledge with them. I got to tell them about the plan of happiness and how we get to create our own joy out of the experiences life gives us.
Life has definitely not gone according to my own plans. I’ve gone through divorce, watched my children make painful choices and even go to prison, and had financial difficulties. But I love the life I have. Because I choose it, I’ve been able to create my own joy in every situation…even when it has been really hard. You can too! All you have to do is choose it!
Jill Fagan is the President of Silver Torch Press and her work can be found at SilverTorchPress.com