It has taken me a long time to write anything down, but here I am, 35 weeks into my pregnancy and I have finally found my footing. I suppose the passing of time has helped, but I thank our growing baby boy for getting me through what to this day, has been the most difficult and heartbreaking experience of my life. The moment I feared most had come true; my dad - my source of calm, my hero from a little girl, and my biggest fan - had passed on from this life. A piece of my heart would forever be closed off.

Life from this day on would be different. Plain and simple. And the hard truth is, no one can really prepare you for the moment you lose someone you love. And, no one can fill the void once they are gone. It sucks - and when moments get tough, sometimes you need to just grab onto what tools are in front of you to get through.

On top of a loss, each person has other stories unfolding - whether it be going through a divorce, launching a company, or dealing with depression. No one’s is the same. Mine happened to be that I was a first-time expectant mommy, I just didn’t know in time.

I missed telling dad that we were expecting by two days - just one day shy of my one-year wedding anniversary. In fact, it was two hours before his wake that I took a pregnancy test and watched as two lines began to form in front of my eyes. Every emotion occurred in the next 60 seconds - shock, denial, joy, hysterics. I took 4 more tests and sure enough, my husband, Tony, and I were staring at a line-up of 5 positives. The timing sounds funny but it’s when I noticed I was 8 days late and I couldn’t stop snacking (not my norm during times like this). I assumed the overnight hospital stays and depression hormones taking over my body were to blame, and I truly didn’t expect to see that positive sign. We had just started trying last month and I assumed it would take us some time – how blessed are we?

Tony, whom I grew up with, was like a second son to my dad; he adored Tony and was beyond excited to one day meet our children. Our boy is expected to join us 8 months from the day dad passed. The best way to sum up the past 7 months is filled with the most extreme emotional highs and lows I’ve known - the loss of one life coupled with the start of another. It’s like Papou and grandson crossed paths on their journeys through.

I told dad the good news once everyone had said their goodbyes at the cemetery. I knelt next to him, held his hand, and thanked him for his first gift. I had a million and one fun ways of announcing this news to my husband, parents, siblings, and in-laws when the time came, but I had accepted that this was the way it was meant to go. I could envision the exact reaction dad would have had, throwing his hands up in excitement and pulling me and Tony in for a “filaki” (kiss) while running off congratulatory words in his cute Greek accent. I know he was smiling down, nodding proudly, saying: You will be OK, Stephy.

Since then, each week and month that passes is a milestone moment of the life growing inside of me, as well as a reminder of the growing gap in time since I last hugged dad, heard his voice, kissed his cheek, and held his hand. Your hands are just like your father’s, my mom always says; it’s one of the few things I hold onto as tangible representations of dad these days. I’ll often be journaling and catch myself looking at them with a nostalgic smile on my face.

It’s one of those tools I spoke about. Life goes on around you, but you feel stuck. With time and with lots of conversations, that part of your broken heart will form a bandage as you find ways to cope. There will be moments when that bandage loosens and out of nowhere you’re crying in the middle of a café at the sight of your neighbor’s coffee and grilled bagel (dad’s favorite during breakfast dates).

During these moments, my biggest coping tool has been our baby boy. I swear he kicks me as soon as he senses I am sad! I’ll tell him the memory of Papou that triggered me and the breakdown always ends with a smile and loads of gratitude as I think of the time I WAS blessed with my dad, and of the miracle Tony and I were so lucky to quickly conceive. That bandage will continue to open and close (as I’ve been told by many others whose parents have passed), but it has allowed me to bond with my dad and baby spiritually, and to keep moving forward.

Important to mention is that I am surrounded by the all-time best husband, mom, brother, sister, in-laws, and friends one could ask for. But, lots of times grief hits when you are alone, and the truth is, I was the only one in my support system dealing simultaneously with my parents death and the news I was growing a life inside me (need I mention the hormones that come with this)? First, you’re thrown a bomb, and then a miracle pops in and you’re left to somehow handle the emotions that come with each as if it’s just another day.

It’s not news that staying healthy is paramount in pregnancy, especially during such a critical time as the first trimester. I was so concerned about our baby’s well-being, that I didn’t allow myself the grieving my body needed at first. I had 48 hours of solely grieving dad’s death - soaking in the reality that life no longer had him in it - before needing to entirely reset post-pregnancy test and learn to grieve an entirely new way.

I remember immediately turning to Google in search of answers:

Can grieving cause a miscarriage? How does grief or stress affect the baby? Can grief in utero hurt your baby’s health or mental state later in life?

Once I sat down and spoke with my doctor and started gathering my coping tools, I finally started the path to proper healing that worked for me.

As an emotional introvert (thanks to Baba), I found journaling to be a huge tool. After each ultrasound, all I wanted to do was call him and share the update: Baba, we heard his heartbeat today! I was always so excited for the day I would sit down with him in his office, where he spent long days reading, and place his hand on my belly to feel our baby’s first kicks. I felt very robbed and distraught for a long time that this would never take place but my journal has become a new way of sharing these experiences with him. He has also visited me several times in my dreams.

Loss also opens up a whole new world of friends and comforts. I had known our neighbor since the day we moved into our apartment nearly 2 years ago but little did I know, until we caught up about our summers, that she also lost her father when pregnant with her twin daughters 20+ years ago. He lived in France, and she had written him a letter to share the news - he missed the letter by one day before she learned of his passing. But, it’s these experiences that mold you I’ve learned.

I always come back to one of my favorite quotes by no other than my dad himself. I had the privilege of sitting down with him over a course of 4 months to discuss his life story (one of many hardships) and recorded it on tape.

Me: If you could change one moment or time in your life, what would that be?

Dad: For me, it’s a difficult question because adversity teaches you a lot and if I were to eliminate adversity I don’t know what I would be like. It is through adversity that I am who I am. So to me you are basically saying, in another way, if you could not be who you are, what will it be like? I choose to change nothing.

I think it’s such a beautiful way to look at life. You don’t always need to look at challenges or adversities in a negative way because at the end of the day, they are authentic to shaping who you are at this very moment. Of course, more than anything I wish that my dad were here and he could meet and hold his grandson who will be joining our family in just a few weeks. But, this experience has changed my inner makeup and provided invaluable perspective. The person I was 7 months ago is not the person I am today. Dad’s death has shaped who I am as a daughter to my mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a pregnant mommy, and as a parent-to-be.

Most of all, it has allowed me to appreciate every day and every moment with my people, and to let go of any shit that doesn’t serve a good and healthy purpose in my life.

Love you Baba. Love you Papou.

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