Guilt-Free and Grateful: A Real Thanksgiving Story



I was in a return line at a department store, 7 months pregnant, and feeling deeply alone. My husband and I had spatted back and forth about something that morning and my then almost 2-year-old was, well, being a two year old. Honestly, I did not need to return whatever I was returning but I had to get out of the house and that was the only way to do it.  

I reached the counter and the cashier commented on my ever-growing baby bump.

I smiled and said I was expecting in December and I also had a toddler at home as well.  

“Oh, how old?” she asked.

“Almost two years old.  Yep, I’ll have two under two!” I replied with a side smile and a cautious laugh.  The kind that sounds like a laugh but has no truth to it. You know the ones.   

And then those three words were spoken.  The three words that I so did not need at that moment.  

“What a blessing!” she joyful exclaimed as she clasped her hands together.  

I did not respond.  I had tears in my eyes.  I felt guilty because joy and all things happy regarding the life-changing event of a) somehow getting a human baby safely out of my body and b) parenting two tiny humans instead of just one was not what I was feeling at that very exhausted and pregnant moment. 

Did she know what we would be facing with daycare costs? Did she know that I was terrified of childbirth (this would be my first biological child)? Did she understand the ever-growing fear of adding an infant to a home with a toddler who was working on his own behavioral and developmental challenges? Did she consider for a moment that as much as I was overjoyed to have this precious girl growing in my belly that I was not sure how I could handle it? Did she know I feared for the health of my marriage, our finances, my ability or inability to breastfeed, my stepping away from a career I enjoyed, and for the future of our yet to be adopted son? 

Did she know that I felt ill-equipped as a white pre-adoptive parent to a black son as I was coming into the realization of things I will never be able to give him?

Did she know I was over the moon and scared as hell at the same time?  

On the day of my daughter’s birth, my placenta ripped from the uterine wall. Six bags of blood, a relentlessness and dedicated team of OBGYN’S, the calmness of a doula, and the peace only my God could give, saved my life. 

Breastfeeding turned to exclusively pumping for the first ten months, full-time teaching turned to leaving teaching to stay at home, evaluations, diagnosis, hearing the word Autism, running to therapists, working on a marriage, diving into my own internal bias and engaging in self anti-racist work in myself, IEP meetings, driving to therapies, starting medications, taking on new roles, educating myself on trauma, the brain, crying so many tears, whispering frustrated prayers while driving the minivan, and trying to save myself through anxiety and panic attacks all came next. 

But there was also the night we unexpectedly received the news that we could start the adoption paperwork, the noon call giving us the day and time our hearing, and finally adoption day. There were baby giggles, learning to crawl, and those first steps. There was the first day of preschool and running with excitement to little yellow school buses. There were bear hugs, boo-boos, and tiny Halloween costumes. There was playing pretend, wet kisses goodbye, muddy puddle jumping on a Sunday night, and dancing in the living room.

There was the first “I love you” spoken and all the ones after it that rush in hope to the hopeless moments and fills my cup when it is empty. I think if I could hear the audible voice of God, it would sound like the voices of my children. 

Some of the hardest days, weeks, and months have occurred since that day in the return line and I choose to be grateful for every beautiful, messy, funny, exhausting, poopy, snotty, loud, exciting, creative, maddening, blue eye, brown curl, coconut oiled hair on their magical brown and blonde heads on the great days, the good days, the bad days, and even through the ugliest of ugly days.  

We can be overjoyed yet afraid at the very same time. We can be excited yet confused about the unknowns at the very same time. We can revel in the miracle of things we thought we would never have yet feel the loss of our expectations we held so close as to what we thought the picture would turn out to look like. We can be angry and frustrated with our blessings. We can feel inadequate, unprepared, and downright not fit for them. We can feel alone in a crowded room and only see a worn, cracked, and tattered blank canvas when it is actually a mural.  

We are capable of feeling all the feelings while not allowing one of them to make the other invalid so let go of that “I don’t want to seem ungrateful” narrative that so many of us have been told. It’s not working. It’s not healthy and it keeps us from actually unpacking it, working through it, and moving on. 

We were created for much more than to live in guilt of not producing the correct amount of fake smiles and posed family photos with our hashtags of how blessed we are. 

We were created to be brave and acknowledgment is just that! It does not mean you have to dwell in that feeling. If you are brave enough to name it then you are brave enough to claim power over it. 

Gratitude will return because you will speak it into being. Joy will return because you will demand it. Yes. We owe it to ourselves to give space and acceptance for all of the dirty, the ugly, the misunderstood, and uncomfortable feelings because they are showing up for a reason and they are ours.  

Let’s start living in the fullness of our truth even when it’s hard to say, hard to work through, and hard for others to understand. 

If we want to be guilt-free and grateful Truth Tellers we need to start with us.