A Group of Strangers Gifted Me With a Love I Didn’t Know I Needed
If I’m being honest, I’m not exactly the world’s greatest people person.
Content with my tight circle of friends and my network of professional peers, the extroverted introvert in me has a hard time taking new relationships past a certain point. But when I was invited to attend a female empowerment retreat in the Caribbean last summer, I knew it was an opportunity I could not miss.
A normally reserved and even shy person, traveling alone with a group of strangers is not exactly my idea of a good time. Upon arrival in beautiful Jamaica for the Tene Nicole “Support Your Girlfriends” retreat, armed with my business cards and my game face, I prepared myself to make the most of the incredible networking opportunity presented to me. From media executives to television stars, the group was comprised of women with whom you don’t pass on the chance to connect.
But like so many of life’s big moments, I just wasn’t crazy about the timing. Things were stressful and busy at work and my husband and I were busy with renovations on our new money-pit of a home. Worse, just months earlier, I had been hospitalized with presenting symptoms of an autoimmune disorder. Almost immediately, I had gone from feeling relatively healthy to suddenly facing fears that I would eventually lose my mobility and even my ability to see.
In spite of all that, my biggest struggle was one my husband and I were suffering in silence. For almost two years, we had been unable to conceive a child. Our lives, once filled with fun dinners and traveling experience now seemed to be a tornado of endless testing and questions as to why a young married couple didn’t have any children yet. It was devastating and confusing. And frankly, I was becoming angry at the world.
Needless to say, while I was excited to be in Jamaica, I was not exactly in the mood to be social. After a day or, I began to relax a bit and fall into the rhythm of engaging in conversation that involved a lot of asking about others while guarding my own story with bitter walls of self-preservation.
By the third night of the retreat, I was comfortable enough to let my guard down just a bit. During a beautiful dinner hosted by author and motivational speaker Lucinda Cross, we were asked to share our “big ask” for 2019. One by one, the women went down the line sharing their goals and how we could help each other achieve them. Naturally, I took my spot at the end of the line, dreading the moment I would have to get personal.
And yet, as my turn finally arrived and all eyes turned to me, something in me just snapped. At that moment, every struggle I was carrying in secret suddenly poured out of me. As my throat and heart struggled for control, I blurted out “I want nothing more than to be a mother.” Like clockwork, my tears began to fall, caring not for my reluctance or my mind’s extreme hesitation.
I finished my statements feeling as though I could never look at these women in the eyes again. I took a deep breath and allowed myself to feel the sweet freedom of release for just a moment, all while prepping for the embarrassment that would surely wash over me.
What happened next absolutely blew my mind. Lucinda asked me to step forward, instructing each woman to come up and share some words of encouragement for me. One by one, each of these powerful, incredible women whispered a prayer over my health, my womb and my dreams. With each profession of their faith in my future, I felt a piece of the walls around me break down.
It’s hard to put into words just how intensely the love of strangers can change your life. It’s not an experience everyone will have, nor one I can even say everyone would want. But it was absolutely everything I never knew I needed. These women saved me; enveloping all of my messy vulnerability and replacing all the million little pieces of a broken, scared heart with the strength of generations of women before us.
For centuries, women have uplifted each other during life’s major moments; it is why there remains something spiritual and tribal about female relationships. And yet, in today’s “I came to win” society, we are too often pitted against one another. We are taught to believe that we alone must overcome and that it is not our responsibility to help others bear their burdens. This mindset was one that I had not realized had become so deeply ingrained in me. In spite of my many female relationships, I still found myself going through my struggles alone, too afraid to admit that I was deeply afraid.
After all, facing the possibility that you may not carry a child feels like a failure. With every single period, every questioning of “what are you waiting for?” and every whisper that I was selfish to be putting it off, I went a little deeper into myself and my shame. The rational part of me knew it was not my fault, but the emotional parts of me pulled me deeper into my self-imposed isolation. It was in that state that 17 other women gifted me the reminder that I am not alone. With their words and embraces, they reminded me that I do not have to be perfect all the time. Women, and especially women of color, are constantly taught that we must be stronger, better and tougher than the competition. But there in that room, I was able to cast off that armor and just be real.
It was exhilarating, terrifying, cathartic and absolutely unforgettable.
Since then, I have developed a love and sisterhood for every single one of those women. We uplift and celebrate each other daily and they have become some of the most important people in my life.
And as for my “big ask” for 2019? Well, I can’t say for sure that there was a connection, but less than two months after that trip, my husband and I found out that we are expecting a baby in the summer of 2019. While the spiritual part of me believes it is due to their prayers, I’d like to think that a big part of it was the release of the shame I was carrying around for so long. What these women helped me to release from my heart made room for blessings and joy. And for that, I will forever love every single one of them.