Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

Category: joy

Giving Birth to the Unexpected

Almost everything about Isaac has been unexpected.

Six and a half years ago, I gave birth to my first baby, Nicholas. I was young, unsure, and overwhelmed, but he was a gift to me. I struggled, but I loved. I was challenged, but I grew.

He was the first baby, but when his daddy left this earth, I realized with a heavy heart that he would be the only one I ever had. The vision I had of my future family was permanently walled off the day the police uttered the words, “he didn’t make it,” right there in my kitchen with Nicholas on my hip. No more husband. No more babies.

More than three years later, Mike was the one who made me smile again, saying, “I do,” as the December sun went down outside the chapel windows. And with those words, another chance.

And so, there was the second pink line. There was the swelling of my belly. There were the kicks and rolling and shifting in my insides. All at once expected and unexpected.

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Till Death Do Us Part… Again

There are some things it’s almost impossible to write about. These are things I can only live. Things that no number of photos or blog posts can do justice.

Virginia Woolf writes, “One can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes.

What is true of the soul is true of other things. One of which is this: This weekend would have been my 6th wedding anniversary with Chris. Instead, it is a marker of having spent as much time as a widow as I did as a wife. The first three years flew by; these second three years have seemed an eternity.

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Birthday Wishes

I’ve found out over the years that I’m pretty good at killing things.

Walk in my house and you’ll see the ridiculous number of plants that thrive in my home. But in reality, they are a mere fraction of all the ones I’ve ever owned before inadvertently killing them off.

And it’s not just plants. I’ve lost count of the number of fish I ever saw floating lifelessly upside down before I decided to get rid of the fish tank.

This year, though, I’ve planted a hundred promising seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, watermelon, cauliflower, and more. Some are growing already, their tiny green heads poking up above the rich soil.

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What No One Tells You About Moving On

“[There is a] universal truth that we are all are responsible for our lives — that we all suffer and we all need to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness.” This quote from Chery Strayed is how I ended my last blog post.

These words are still echoing in my head. I’m wondering what it would look like if I didn’t take that responsibility, if I didn’t try to find the light and the strength.

What would it look like if I gave in to the heart-clenching anxiety that knots itself in my belly and sticks in my throat? What would it look like if I let the particles of my life break down around me, letting the darkness crowd into the emptiness of the night?

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Shutting the Door I Never Wanted to Open

We’ve all heard the cliché saying, when one door closes another door opens.

It’s optimism at its brightest, and when you’re in the depths of pain, these words almost always come from someone on the outside looking in.

I’m not trying to be callous; I’m generally an optimistic person, and I appreciate these words of hope. But at the same time, they feel a little…one-dimensional.


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Confessions of the World’s Worst Ballerina

I’m still not sure what prompted me to sign up for a ballet class.

I should probably mention that I’m not – and never have been – a dancer.

I can’t even reach my toes.

But it’s something I always wanted to try. Plus, I’ve been making a habit lately of embracing vulnerability. And somehow that includes making a fool out of myself in leggings in a room full of mirrors.

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To My Son on His 3rd Birthday

You love trains, puzzles, and peanut butter. Your laugh starts deep in your belly and is the most infectious giggle I’ve ever heard. You don’t go a day without singing, even if it’s Jingle Bells in April.

You have my fair hair and your daddy’s round hands. And you still ask for kisses when you fall over.


I dread the day you realize I can’t protect you from the parts of life that are scary and dark. The day when kisses won’t be enough to heal. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Happiness

When the snow blankets my world, swallowing up the sound and reflecting all the light, I float between the bed sheets, eyes shut, lingering in those last few moments of half sleep.

My fingers entwine with freckled, callused hands; hands that walked me back up the aisle after the “till death do us part,” hands that cradled the tiny head of our newborn son. And for one fragile moment, hanging in the space between wake and sleep, death is defied.

Those last moments of slumber shed away and my eyes stray open. Next to me is the tiny creature I have birthed, not so tiny any more, nearly three years since I first called him by his name. His eyes flick open. He giggles. Need a cuddle, mama? Continue reading