Almost one and a half years ago, I made a decision to keep a gratitude journal. I had broadly heard, from multiple people and sources, about the life-altering benefits of expressing gratitude each day. It was almost six months into the pandemic. My family had a fire at my childhood home, my partner had lost his job, and I was in the middle of a job transition, gaining hours to be licensed as a creative arts therapist. I felt like there was no better time than the present to try and reflect on parts of my day and life that I felt grateful for. Right before bed each night I would consider several people, places, situations, and sometimes things. I called them my gratitudes. In reality, this “gratitude journal” I started was really just a bullet point list with six lines on it that I kept in my notes on my iPhone. There were many nights as my eyes were ready to close that I’d pop up in bed and exclaim how I’d forgotten to “write my gratitudes” and that I had to do them. I’d quickly unplug my phone from the charger and jot down some general gratitudes that came to mind.
The decision to start writing down my gratitudes was made on August 1st, 2020 which was several days after I finished Mama Glow’s Level 1 Doula Homeschool. I can’t say that the training directly influenced my decision to start a gratitude journal of sorts. What I do know, is that the Mama Glow training directly impacted my perception of gratitude in a way I could never have comprehended or predicted.
During our doula training, Latham mentioned that there was a certain energy going around in our group, and that she had a feeling there would be several babies to come out of our doula class. She suggested there would be babies conceived that week. As she said this, I laughed a bit to myself and wondered if she said that to every group of trainees. I wondered if she was right. I pictured myself keeping in touch with everyone, and finding out over the next few months who in our midst would be welcoming a baby. I never anticipated I’d be one of them. But I was.
I found out I was pregnant about a month after our doula training ended. My significant other and I had not been planning on having a child at that point, but we welcomed the opportunity. We knew there would be unknowns to embrace, but we felt we were already embracing unknowns as the pandemic danced around and through our lives. I believe we felt like we had lost a lot, and that this pregnancy would be something new we’d welcome as a gift, together. I know that then, we had no idea that facing the pregnancy together wasn’t even a guarantee.
That fall, we moved through the early months of pregnancy with nonchalant excitement. My partner had his job in hospitality back, and I was continuing my work as a music therapist, gaining hours towards my license. We were relaxed, and happy. My partner did have a nagging cough that at first he’d mistaken for COVID but when his COVID results came back inconclusive and the cough stayed for months, he chalked it up to his tough restaurant work. The urgent care he went to for the cough was packed, and focused only on COVID. They never did a chest X-ray. Another doctor he went to a month later diagnosed him with acid reflux because he worked late and ate dinner right before bed. His cough became so bad that he was sent to the emergency room around the corner for a COVID test because one of his coworkers complained that they were nervous about COVID exposure. The emergency room completed a nasal swab and took his temperature. He had a fever. His blood work came back. His blood work was abnormal. They did a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed something abnormal. They saw a large mass in his chest. They sent him to a hospital uptown. They wanted to do a biopsy, but had to rule out Tuberculosis. It was probably cancer. It took days, but they did the biopsy. It was cancer, but they didn’t know what kind. They had to do another biopsy. The cancer had spread. It was stage IV. They knew what kind. I was 12 weeks pregnant.
Our pregnancy, which was progressing calmly, took a frightening turn. Would he even get to meet our baby? We told family and friends about our pregnancy at the same time we told them that he had stage IV cancer. We felt both incredibly fortunate and deeply unlucky. We went from breezing through each pregnancy milestone, each appointment, each test, to just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
Through November, my partner met with his oncologists and developed a treatment plan. He was lucky, and even though the cancer had spread, his cancer had a strong chance for remission with the available treatment options. His treatment would likely last for six months. I had six months left of my pregnancy.
I joked about how our bodies were changing at the same time. He was losing hair, and I was gaining a belly. He stopped working because of his risk of exposure to COVID and other illnesses and I was working from home, so we spent almost every single day of those six months together. We talked about how the love we had for each other and our baby was more profound than it ever would or could have been, had he not been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. But I felt the physical, emotional, and psychological worry of making it through the pregnancy so we could meet our daughter together. I was suddenly anxious that I’d lose him, and her. He finished his last chemotherapy treatment the day before I went into labor. They both made it. We all made it.
This December, the end of the calendar year, I find myself once again considering gratitude. I think back to a year ago, and how scared I was that I would lose the two most important people in my life. I also reflect on how I was living so presently in each moment, whether it was a moment of fear, or love, or care, or helplessness that I was experiencing. I feel grateful for those highs and the lows of the past year, because it gives me perspective and a deeper appreciation of my highs and lows now.
I’ve kept up my list of gratitudes, writing on my phone every single night. But, I realized that there’s a disconnect between what I am truly grateful for, and what I type out. My gratitude journal, my list, had become a habit. Yes, I’m “grateful” for each thing that I write about, and as an exercise, I don’t think it is a harmful one. However, the true gratitude I’m feeling this holiday season is a direct reflection on key experiences, emotions, and memories that I’ve gathered over the past eighteen months. My depth of appreciation for my Mama Glow training, and my partner, and my pregnancy, and my little one, and our health, and our love, and music could never be accurately captured by six lines written on an iPhone. It’s the collection of those experiences, and emotions, and people that I bring to mind each time I’m needing a reminder of all I have to be grateful for.
It shouldn’t hurt to start positive habits like a gratitude journal. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes, a pause, or a single momentary reflection of our journeys, of our highs and our lows, is a gratitude and reflection tool that is more than powerful enough.
Jamie Bendell is a passionate musician, songwriter, and board-certified music therapist who believes in supporting the growth and goals of those she works with through the use of creative arts. Jamie spent close to a decade songwriting and performing original music before completing her Master’s Degree in Music Therapy at NYU. Jamie has several years of experience working as a music therapist and has studied the evidence-based use of music during the prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum periods. In addition to other birth and music-centered training, Jamie has completed several certificate programs in the Sound Birthing Method. Jamie welcomed a baby girl in the spring of 2021 and resides in New York City with her family.
Jamie can be contacted on Instagram!