I’ve been missing for a while… I moved and had a baby since my last post. I’ve begun writing again. You can see what I wrote for my UM conference here, and what follows is what I am writing as I begin the practice again on a regular basis.
It’s taken me a while to mend. It has been thirteen weeks since I packed up my house and took a final walk down to the creek and back. I received a gift that day. The Great Blue Heron that frequents that little stretch of water waited until we were down at the base of the hill to take off. It was a bit late for her to be there, the day was growing warm, but still she was there, lifting off into the sky, giving us one final goodbye before we locked the house and got into our cars for the last time.
Twelve weeks ago I was holding my daughter, hours old, wondering at her long fingers and toes, her utter reliance on me for everything, her way of transforming my life completely. I was utterly spent, exhausted from bearing her through her entry into the world.
Eight weeks ago I took another walk, this time from our new home, down to another creek where another heron was taking off and showing me that this, too, is home.
Four weeks ago I began working at my new church, learning people and an entirely new culture. Grace has been extended to me and my family as I have entered this new many-faceted transition. I feel the love that those around me have for my daughter in the way that they have cared for her while I make the transition to working motherhood.
And today I have begun working full time, exploring what it means to be away from my daughter for hours on end. This is not a new thing, but it is new to me. I am learning, still, how I will fit into this new place, how I will live into this new calling.
I had the exquisite opportunity to bless elements today that will be going out into the world, so I had a little Eucharist in my office with a couple of the staff.
It’s ice cream season again. Yes, I suppose that it could always be season, but once summer hits I always want it just a little bit more than usual. And now, just in time for the heat to hit as hard as possible, Summer is officially here, just in time, as well, for me to hit the full term of my pregnancy and moving day. It’s not a big deal… of course not. I wonder when the energy of nesting will set in, and if I will be able to nest in my new home, or if our daughter will surprise us in the next week.
And soon, we get to meet our daughter, discover her personality, find out her favorite foods and whether she likes ice cream or not. I imagine she will. I wonder what flavor will be her favorite and if, like my own, it will change. That is the cool thing about preferences; they are allowed to change. We are allowed to decide that we like new things. It’s a good reason to keep trying new things and new ways of doing them so that we can see if there is a way that works better for us than the old way of doing it.
I wonder if my daughter will be sweet, like the poem about sugar and spice and everything nice… I hope, more than sweet, that she will be compassionate. I don’t much care if she is polite as long as she cares for those around her, for those who do not have the same privileges as her. She is being born to two employed white parents with a good marriage and a stable home. It will be part of our job as parents to teach her that she is able to do things that other boys and girls her age have a harder time at, because of different circumstances. We will teach her that she should listen before she speaks, not to be sweet, but to learn about the people around her.
These are lessons, of course, that will happen in a few years. For now, I need to learn some of these things myself, about what my privilege looks like and how I can be in conversation with those who have lived with different experiences and realities than my own. I continue to learn about how I experience the world differently. I hope to learn enough that I can help my daughter learn as well. And perhaps we will be able to sweeten the lives of others and even share some ice cream together.
In about a month, my family is going to go through some significant changes. We are moving to a new place, both my husband and I are getting new jobs, and we are welcoming a baby into our lives. Any one of these things would not be a small thing. Together, they are going to be huge. We are grateful that we are allowed time and space to live into the new identity of parents before we both jump into our new ministries feet first. Not many folks who have so many life changes at once have the kind of support that we have. I am amazed at the number of women and men who have to choose between keeping a job and spending the first few weeks of a newborns life caring for the child. I’m glad the United Methodist church has provisions for leave for new parents. It’s probably not enough, but is much more than what most workers in the States have access to.
Not only are our new churches providing space for grace for us in our transition, our own families are anticipating the new changes and providing good help to us. My parents have come to help pack our house, my in-laws are helping to make sure we have everything we need, and my sister is helping to make sure we all get to the house in one piece (and that I eat like I should). And there will be much more good help from them once our daughter makes her appearance as well.
I really don’t know what I would do without them. We would manage, of course. But my husband and I would be under a considerably larger amount of stress, probably take it out on each other, and our relationship would suffer. That’s why we need support. Because we rely on our relationships with others to build and maintain our own relationship. We are stronger when we work together. We are healthier when we allow others to participate in our lives, choosing not to do things all on our own. And in the midst of it, we have folks who can call us out on our mistakes, our quirks, and our shortsightedness.
I wouldn’t trade my family for any other. We are far from perfect. We have our failings and blind spots and times when we don’t get along. But when it really counts, when I desperately need someone to come and help me, that’s when our love shines through the brightest. We work together to build each other up. We become a new creation in the process.
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.
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.