What Unthinkable Loss Taught Me About the "Perfect" Family

What does it really mean to let go? When we turned this question over to our editors and readers, their responses proved that grief, catharsis, and rebirth come in all forms—whether it’s finally moving on from a failed relationship, rebuilding oneself after a painful trauma, or quietly saying goodbye to the person you once were. Our series, Letting Go, highlights these compelling and complicated stories. Below: Reader Josephine Atluri shares what experiencing miscarriage, infertility, and illness ultimately taught her about her own resilience.

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The beginning of our love story was conventional—friends first, a love professed but rejected, other relationships pursued and ended, and the realization that we were meant to be together forever. That is exactly how it went down. But what happens when life gets in the way and throws a wrench in your well-conceived plans?

During my last year in college, my boyfriend and I dealt with an unexpected illness. Over the course of that year, and for a long time afterward, we had to face the prospect that there would be no tomorrow for us as a couple. All those plans that I had disappeared and all that existed was today. When it was all said and done and it was time to rebuild our lives, I found we couldn’t go back to the path we were on before as too much had changed.

Everyone faces challenges in their lives. How you react and deal with the curveballs can’t ever be predicted. I made a decision that I wasn’t going to let life beat me down. Fast-forward several years later into our marriage and we were ready to start a family, so we went straight to IVF. The first couple of years were a tortuous melange of hormones, injections, miscarriages, and so much sadness and loneliness. When I finally did get pregnant with twins, I lost the pregnancy one week before the babies would have been viable. I was devastated. Hadn’t we been through enough? Didn’t we already pay our dues? All I wanted was a “regular” life. A life without so much loss, so much pain, and so much loneliness.

Despite the weight of sadness pulling me down, I looked inward and came to the realization that there was no “right” path, there were just paths. My goal was to have a family one day, so I would find another path that got us there. One year later, we welcomed home our first child—a beautiful baby boy adopted from Kazakhstan. He became my world and brought new laughter and life into our lives. He gave me new vitality and strength. Enough strength that I was willing to give IVF another try, and this time it worked. Twins! Several years after that, we welcomed another set of twins. This time via surrogacy.

The beginning of our love story was conventional, but our life afterward has been anything but standard. If I had allowed life’s challenges to hold me down and not let go of the sorrow, I would not be able to look back on a life filled with joyful moments and five beautiful children.

We all experience challenges over the course of our lives. Challenges that lead to loss. Loss that leads to sorrow. And sorrow that can be overwhelming. I had to learn how to pick myself up many times over the course of my life and here is what I’ve learned.

Experience your feelings.

Oftentimes, it is scary to be vulnerable. Feelings can seem so overpowering as if they could swallow you whole. As children, we are taught to move past our feelings or overcome them. But I have found that sometimes the best way to get past your feelings is to let them flow through you. Allow yourself the space to experience the anger and sadness. Grieve the loss of plans and visions for your future. By shedding the weight of the grief, you make space for growth and happiness.

Remember your strength.

During dark moments when I want to just hide in a corner and wallow in grief, I force myself to remember my strength. “I am strong. I have been through a lot, but I always keep going. Things will get better. I got this.” We are all strong in our own way. Remember your strength. Write down your truth. Repeat it. Believe it. And when times are tough, use your strength to push the weight of sadness off your shoulders. All it takes is one step, and you’ll find the next step is just a little bit easier.

Move on.

Written down, these two words seem so simple, and yet we all know how complex moving on can be. As you begin the process of moving forward, remember that the past does not define who you will be in the future. Every moment in life is a part of who you are, both the good and the bad. Both are part of the foundation that will shape your tomorrow. Letting go and moving on is hard. But focus your strength on taking just one step forward. And if you can take that step, then that same strength will carry you one step further.

There is no straight path through life. It is wild and unpredictable, and it is filled with joy, sorrow, laughter, and love. For me, navigating the trials and tribulations was incredibly difficult. However, I was able to forge a new path by acknowledging the pain instead of fighting it, remembering my strength, and taking one step forward at a time. Consider practicing this strategy on the little things that come up in life so when something earth-shattering occurs, you are already familiar with the process of rebuilding yourself. We all have one life and thus, we all have one massive opportunity. Remember that within it, we have an abundance of chances to learn, improve, and grow.