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Complicated Joy

May 27, 2015

A year ago my husband and I lost our first child. We spent Memorial Day at the local state park, sharing a picnic and a hike, beginning to think about how our lives would change with the baby on the way. We hadn’t known for very long that I was pregnant, only a few days more than a week. But I was already thinking about how I would shift my habits so that my growing baby could be healthy. It was a good day…

And the next day the miscarriage began. And the day after that we confirmed it at the doctor’s office. Something hadn’t zipped right with the formation and my body began to discard what had only just begun to form.

Spontaneous. That’s the word they used. It just happens, they said. Over twenty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. As if a number can make my grief any less.

My heart was broken. I had already written two letters to my unborn child and I was preparing to share a home and create a new space in our love for a new person.

I didn’t want to display my grief publicly. I had told only a handful of people that I was pregnant so far. I ended up sharing with a few select friends that we had suffered a loss, they were caring, and I thought I was healing. I was, at least physically, because even a short residency requires healing.

My soul was taking even longer to heal. I named my child Sarah Grace. I lost her, I prayed for her, for solace, and for hope.

I started to hear about other friends who had experienced miscarriage and I began to share with them that we had also suffered a loss. I wrote about it—about the loss and about having to wait again—since the medical field tells you that you must wait and allow for a few more cycles before you can begin again. We listened to them, we waited, then we began to try again, and we had a few more months of waiting.

Waiting is difficult.

I felt like I had already waited for so long. I had waited until I wasn’t on any medications that would interfere with a baby’s development. I waited until I was past my season of four migraines every week. I waited for years.

But I listened to my body, I figured out my pattern, and we conceived again. I kept waiting for my body to reject my new daughter. I was so afraid that this pregnancy would end up the same way as the first. I knew that if that happened, I would be even more broken—that my grief would be even more deep.

This month is the second May in a row that I have been pregnant. It made Mother’s Day this year especially difficult because I had so many people celebrating my upcoming motherhood. They didn’t know that I already had been an almost mother. I still cannot decide if she is our first child or not. She will be the first one that I labor for, the first one we bring into our new home, the first one who changes our lives beyond anything we can imagine. But she is not the first child that I loved.

How odd, to have lost a child, without having become a mother. There’s not really a card for that in the hallmark aisle. We hide the grief and pain of miscarriage so well. We don’t talk about it. We miss the chance to share our grief and pain and provide solace to others. Not that one who is grieving a hidden loss needs more empty words—what is needed is for the pain to be acknowledged and not dismissed, seen for the deep grief that is present.

I don’t want to gloss over anyone’s pain, the many-faceted edges of how each individual approaches and experiences grief, sorrow, and loss. If anything, I want to be able to go and sit shiva with everyone who has ever lost a child, through miscarriage, stillbirth, or at any point in their lives. Too many parents lose their children.

The Wednesday before Mother’s Day this year, two friends went through very different experiences. The first gave birth to her first child. The second had a procedure to complete a miscarriage. I celebrated with one, and I grieved with the other.

I am holding a similar balance within my soul. A grief laden joy—a celebratory sadness.

I feel guilty that I got pregnant again so quickly. I have friends who waited years to conceive and others who have learned that they will never be able to. I have friends who have lost more children to miscarriage than I have. I want to claim the blessing, but I don’t want to parade my joy in the faces of friends who continue to struggle.

My pregnancy is terribly obvious now. My swollen belly is unavoidable. I am unmistakably pregnant.

For some women, my pregnancy is a sign of what they lost or cannot have. I am a symbol of what has hurt deeply inside them. I have glimpsed that side of pain. I have avoided the pictures of pregnancy announcements and birth celebrations. The pain was too deep.

To my sisters who have lost children or who cannot have children, I grieve with you. I cannot be where you are and I do not know exactly what you are feeling. I grieve with you nonetheless. I pray that you may find hope in places where it seems there is no hope. There are no easy answers in grief. There are no simple solutions to healing from a loss. I simply offer to walk alongside you.

Silence does not heal. This experience is too universal to be kept hidden. Grief secluded is grief compounded. As a woman, as a Christian, and as a pastor, my witness is necessary to share in the journey of others who have experienced loss in the same way. Somehow, perhaps through God’s grace, I am able to hold both my sorrow over the loss of my first pregnancy and my joy in our daughter who will be present in the world do very soon.

It’s odd, balancing grief and guilt in this way. It is odd to find joy and sorrow simultaneously in my heart around the child that we lost and the child that is growing in my womb. I have found a way to hold this balance of my joy and my sorrow, my grief and my celebration both, at the same time, with no diminishment of the other. I am able to grieve and celebrate at the same time.

I cannot remain in my sorrow. I can’t stay lying in metaphorical ashes and sackcloth as I grieve the loss of my first child. I have another child on the way. Another daughter that will take all the energy, resources, and love that I have to give. She needs my love and support for the very air she breathes right now. She will need me for her sustenance, my husband and I to meet her needs to be safe and clean, because she will not accomplish or fulfill them on her own.

I am already celebrating. My daughter reminds me that she is there, growing inside of me, encouraging me when I feel like I cannot do the next task in front of me. I have a constant companion. My joy at her presence is bigger than I could have imagined. I remember her sister who never shared her laugh with us, but I anticipate the new laughter that will soon fill our new home. It’s complicated, but I am joyful.

Hope Lies in Wait

February 27, 2015

I have been watching this stand of daffodils for the past few weeks, watching them emerge from the ground, watching the yellow petals form underneath the protective membrane that keeps them from freezing. This stand blooms early every spring we have been here, but this time, they might just wait until spring actually gets here. Perhaps they are waiting for the bitter cold we have had to seep away so that they can take the March winds dancing.

The anniversary of my Grandmother’s death is coming up this Monday. Daffodils were her favorite flower, and when she died the ground around her home was covered in these gaily dancing yellow flowers who lie in wait in their bulbs over the winter, daring to emerge before other flowers are even dreaming about the sun. It is bittersweet to me that from now on, every early spring, when the daffodils come out to dance, I will be reminded of her, as well as of her death. But we need reminders of those we love, those who are alive and especially those who have gone on to join the church triumphant ahead of us.

These flowers display hope for me. They know full well that they are standing in the midst of snow. They know full well that the weather has been deeply below freezing for days on end. But they know full well that Spring is coming, that they will be the first to triumphantly declare the return of warmer days and shorter nights.

I envy them. They wear yellow much better than I do. God has dressed them in radiant silks and glorious shimmering greens. I envy them, but more, I consider them sisters. We are both pregnant with the promise of new life. Hope is seated deep inside of me, waiting for a new season to emerge, to enter the world, not at the violent riot of color that is Spring, but the full breadth of joy that ushers in the Summer months. This hope is taking longer to form, to develop, to be knit together; but as I wait, I am blessed in preparing for this hope that I have carried for seasons, and hope to watch grow and mature over the seasons and years to come.

Creating Our Family Story

January 30, 2015

My husband and I are preparing to usher a new life into the world in about five months. Baby Bryant is coming. We are getting ready to expand our family and share a whole host of new things with this new little person on the way. Among the host of preparations, considerations, alterations, decisions, and worries associated with becoming parents, I want to make sure that we pass on traditions that we cherish from our own families.

One of the traditions of my family is going to really interesting places. This may be as part of a really long trip on a vacation, or as simple as making a set of memories as we go away for a weekend or as short a trip as a picnic. I remember specific picnics that we took while I was a child on Sunday afternoons, the meal already prepared before church, then carried out to the edge of a lake at a bench on the side of a hill at Callaway Gardens. I remember going on a camping trip to Amelia Island so we could watch the full Lunar eclipse. I remember trips to the High and the Cummer Museums to go look at poignant paintings and sculptures four feet across made of ribbons and feathers dipped in wax.

But there were longer trips that I cherish as well. We loved going to Colonial Williamsburg, more than our trip to Disney. There was more to do, more to see, more to learn, and really, there were not as many people there, which made it all the more better. We were delving into history, learning the steps of the old dances and the stories of the people who created our nation. We traveled to California to learn about the westward expansion of the nation, and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Big Sur to see the waves, in the forest to walk among the Redwoods, and at Monterrey to watch the seals flop around. We traveled down the Florida coast to the Keys, and went sixty miles west of Key West, to the Dry Tortugas. We camped on the beach (again) and listened to the waves (and the cars on the highway) lull us to sleep.

I want to be able to share these kinds of memories with my child. I want to learn what different things my husband loved to do, what we want to create for our own family, what memories we have to share with this new thing, this new family we are creating. We are creating a family, and a family is held together by its common story, by the narrative that we weave together. We will take our different parts, the memories of each of our families, and create something new together.

Call to Prayer

January 16, 2015

One of the fascinating details from my experience in Kenya was the prevalence of members of the Islamic community in the area in which I lived. There were so many Muslims living in the town where I lived that there were four Mosques in our area. Even though the home where I stayed was a mile from the nearest one, I heard the call to prayer with regularity. I loved to hear the reminder for the people of the community to stop what they were doing and pray. I didn’t get to catch it all five times of the day, only when the wind was right. If I was really lucky, I would be walking on my route to town, which took me directly next to one of the mosques at the outskirts of the city. They had a school there as well, I know because I would see children coming with backpacks out of the meeting area at the end of the day. They, like all the children in the area, played pick-up games of football (global football, mind you, the round ball kind) with their makeshift balls formed from discarded paper, plastic, and twine.

When I left Kenya, I missed hearing the call to prayer on a regular basis. Even though it wasn’t my tradition, I knew that it was reminding people from another tradition to pause and pray, and so I also would pause, and pray. In the Christian tradition, we don’t have much of that. The only times I tend to hear sounds emanating from a church is when I probably need to be in church, because it is the bells of the beginning of worship. There are a handful of churches with bells that ring the hour, and sometimes a song here and there, but nothing like the intense regularity that comes from a Mosque.

When I went to school at Duke I learned that the bells were played by a carillonneur who began at five o’clock each evening. Perfect timing for a pause after a long day in class. A few friends and I would make at point of going out to listen to the two or three songs that he would play. It was a space to pause and reflect on the holy. And even if I was not able to pause and listen, I still got to hear the bells as I walked away, though the sound didn’t carry as far as I would like.

This week Duke University announced that they would sound out a call to prayer for the portion of Islamic students at the school once a week. The students had already had a worship time each Friday, which was in full practice while I was still there. This single call a week would be a reminder for the students to come to that prayer service, to remember to pray in their tradition.

Unfortunately, the call to prayer broadcast has been cancelled. I don’t know all the reasons why. People spoke out about the proposed broadcast of the call to prayer for reasons of ignorance and fear, saying that the sounding of the call to prayer would crowd out the lifeblood of the Christian symbols present in the University. They must have never stepped foot on the grounds of the University, or seen any symbols from Duke, because the presence of the cross is everywhere on campus. Christianity is not in danger because another group from another faith is saying “God is Great” in their mother tongue.

The Islamic community of faith will continue to gather for their worship and prayer. The Christian community on campus will continue to have its nearly dozen opportunities for worship around campus and in the Chapel. The university is a space for inter-religious conversation and community, where students, faculty, and staff learn from each other, challenged and strengthened in their growth in faith.

If anything, the Islamic Call to Prayer should be a reminder for Christians to also be called to prayer, to our God, who is Great. My faith is not so shallow that someone else worshipping in another tradition does not negate my own worship of the God I serve. I hope your own faith may be strong enough to celebrate the faith of others.

Folks from the school have put together a petition to support religious diversity on campus. I invite you to go read it for more information, even if you don’t sign it. 

Waiting

January 2, 2015

The busyness of Christmas is over. The season of Advent has come and gone, and the new year has begun. Some cultures have yet to celebrate Christmas, they will be gathering together for Three Kings Day, Epiphany, on January 6th. But for most of the people I know, we are winding down on the holiday season, getting ready to pack up the decorations, returning to the regular routine of work and play. For pastors, we are already looking forward to Lent (or at least know that we should be… even if we are adamantly denying it’s coming).

So with all this closure you would think that the waiting was over. We are in a holding pattern, not yet making plans for anything of much import.

For me, the waiting has just begun. I’m now three months pregnant. Which means that for the next six months, I have quite a bit of waiting to do. I am waiting to see what sex our child will be, I am waiting to see his or her face on the ultrasound screen, I am waiting to see whether the baby sticks with the due date, or has us guessing. I am waiting to meet this baby.

This waiting will have preparations and signals: registry lists, appointments and check-ups, showers, thank you notes, new clothes, and the physical reminder of a coming change through a changing body. As my body changes, I will change routines, expectations, and my bedtime, so that I will have enough energy for work, for relationships, and for my body to do its miraculous knitting together of a new life.

This is not the only change happening in our family, my husband is hoping to be ordained this year, and we are looking to celebrating that as well. But I get the feeling that the new baby coming will quickly turn our attention to a new life.

Many times of waiting do not have a tangible marker of the change to come. However, growing a new life creates a myriad of changes in the mother’s body, and changes the relationship of those who are preparing to raise a child. I already do not fit in to most of my pants from before I was pregnant. I will have to go buy a few new things even before I start to really look pregnant.

As I sit in the midst of this waiting, I anticipate that not everything will go the way that I plan. I don’t know what different things I will need to be ready for, but I look forward to finding out what they are, and how I figure out how to handle them. I am looking forward to this new season in my life, but God only knows what it will look like once it arrives.

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