Hearts Formed and Unformed

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss

Three years ago, today, John and I lost our first child to miscarriage.

Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. It unravels you. After the fact, we learned that at least a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but no one talks about it, so no one knows. I didn’t tell more people outside of immediate family than I could count on one hand for over a year.

It was the continual questions of, “Is this your first?” when I was pregnant with R that hurt the most. How are you supposed to respond? Do you throw metaphorical cold water over the conversation by saying, no, but there’s not a living kid? Do you grin and grind your teeth?

I was pregnant two Mothers Days in a row but only had one kid on the way.

I had a meeting to go to that night, and I was not sure what was going on, and so I went to the meeting and the only thing I could think about the whole time is, “I think I’m losing my baby.”

The next day, I had a transvaginal ultrasound while the technician spent the entire time speechless. And then I went into the exam room to wait for the doctor and she came in and said, “so you know what’s going on,” and no one had told me, and she went into an explanation of what Down’s Syndrome is… No. I needed someone to tell me I had miscarried, to just tell me and let me sit with it for a little while.

I don’t think it was Down’s. Something just didn’t stitch right. Her heart could not beat. And we lost our child.

I named her Sarah Grace. I’m still learning grace through this experience.

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan. Don’t tell me I should just be grateful for my Rainbow baby. I know this can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you simply need to sit with someone in their grief whether you have experienced the same thing or not, and hold the space of their grief.

The first trimester of my second pregnancy I don’t think I really ever relaxed. I couldn’t write the cheery letter to my firstborn like the one I wrote in the week I knew I was pregnant with Sarah Grace. I didn’t dare to dream until I heard her heartbeat the first time.

My parents, my husband, and I stood around a stand of daffodils in our yard on the first anniversary of losing her and prayed a liturgy for pregnancy loss together. Sometimes other’s words help.

I’m healing, still. I encounter the grief when I think of her, when I remember the experience, when I hear of other women who have experienced the same kind of loss. It’s easier to deal with, to examine, to turn over in my head and consider how I’ve changed because of losing her.

Gradually, my heart mends. Eery so often I’ll find a stitch that slipped and needs to be worked back into the fabric of my heart. The patch remains, but I become more whole.

Life is a very strange thing. It’s tenuous. So many things have to come together in the right way to create a life. But those around us can seem so strong sometimes that we forget the frailty under the surface. We forget the careful knitting that was necessary to form our inward parts and bring us into being.

I pray for hearts formed and unformed.

I pray for hearts broken and healing

I pray for hearts joyful and grieving.

I pray for hearts questioning and certain.

I pray for your heart and for mine.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This prayer by Rev. Karen Westerfield Tucker from “A Service of Hope After Loss of Pregnancy” found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (p624) helped me heal. I offer it to you if your heart needs healing.

Lord, we do not understand why this life, which we had hoped to bring into this world, is now gone from us. We know only that where there was sweet expectation, now there is bitter disappointment; where there were hope and excitement, there is a sense of failure and loss. We have seen how fragile life is, and nothing can replace this life, this child, whom we have loved before seeing, before feeling it stirring in the womb, even before it was conceived. In our pain and confusion we look to you, Lord, in whom no life is without meaning, however small or brief. Let not our limited understanding confine our faith. Draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Lay our broken hearts open in faith to you and in ever greater compassion to one another. So raise us from death to life; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Nauticus

The Nauticus.

It doesn’t exist anymore. You can still go to that stretch of beach in Sunnyside just down the road from Panama City, Florida, but it was sold and razed for a couple of condos when I was in college.

It really does make it a place where only memories exist, then. And I don’t know how many memories there are. My parents began going to that stretch of beach when they were on their honeymoon, and then we began going to the Nauticus, and we just kept returning to this small little space of 14 different 1-2 bedroom units on two levels surrounding a pool and on the shoreline.

It was the perfect place to bring children. I don’t think I will be able to find a spot like this as I raise my children to love the beach. I have vague memories of the early nineties version, but then a hurricane hit and they remodeled to the beach style tile and sturdy furniture and vibrant colors that makes you think of the beach. The units all faced the pool, but you could still lay in your bed and listen to the waves at night.

Once I got old enough to always bring a book with me on vacation, I remember joining my mother in the Adirondack chairs underneath the covered deck at the seawall, feet perched on the railing, enjoying the sea breeze and a new story.

We’d always have New Orleans chicken and cantaloupe. And Cheesy fries. Every trip included going to the place that sold shrimp fresh off the boat by the pound, where they would steam it for you while you waited. The smell of Old Bay permeated the entire car on the way back to our temporary home.

We’d always make a pilgrimage to Alvin’s Island, where they sold cheap tourist trinkets and swimsuits and flotsam and jetsam, the one with the alligators you could pet and the volcano you could walk through.

We went with our cousins at first, where Julie, Will, Beth, Morgan after a little while, and I would get to figure out how to be people together. Will and I always wanted the same cereal. I always thought it was unfair that Julie never had to put as much sunscreen on as I did, nor did she ever have to wear a scratchy t-shirt on the last day in the pool, something I always had to do because I was burned.

Later, we more often went with the our family friends: my best friend Amy, her brother Albert, and Ms. Barbara. I remember the last year before college we got a henna do-it-yourself kit, and I did the designs on my arms and legs and read that people in India put the henna on their nails… I had to paint my toenails for 8 months until the burnt sienna orange grew out.

I remember children plastic barrettes in my hair when they had a brief fad period.

I remember putt-putt games and riding the strip.

I remember a family of boys all in red shorts who tried their best to impress us…

I remember breaking a glass in the shower when I was trying to rinse my hair out.

I remember taking long walks all by myself in the morning, listening to the waves and the sandpipers chase the receding water.

I remember iced coffee, mike’s hard lemonade, chocolate cake with coffee ice cream coated in caramel frosting, boiled peanuts, and tuna cones.

And I remember chance glimpses of dolphins, my favorite animals in all creation, where each encounter seemed a gift that should never be squandered.

Purple Crayons

When I was a child, my favorite color was purple. I liked purple so much that one year I asked Santa for all the shades of purple for Christmas. Santa did a pretty good job; I received a dozen high quality art markers in various shades of blue and purple, even aquamarine.

I’m not sure if I liked the story of Harold and the Purple Crayon because my favorite color was purple, or if I liked purple because of Harold’s world, but I know that it continues to be one of my favorite children’s stories.

I think it is possibility that draws me to the story.

If you don’t know it, Harold has a purple crayon. He leaves home and goes to explore. He designs a whole world, simply by drawing his crayon along the page. Finally, Harold wants to go home, and so draws all the windows he can think of until he finds his own, and returns home.

He, and by extension the reader, ventures out into the wide unknown, finding friends and creating the world he wants to live in. He’s not really powerful, in a way that you might imagine someone who can create ex nihilo could be. He’s just a kid with a crayon, who is on occasion hungry, scared, brave, lonely, and homesick. He creates the world he wants to live in and sometimes it surprises him.

It’s a powerful story for those of us who have wild imaginations. What if we could use our imagination to create whatever we put our minds to? How could we make the world a better place if we could draw something into existence? What does it take to bring something into existence?

If we don’t have purple crayons to do our creating, then we have to create using the tools we have at hand. I wanted to be more like Harold because I wanted to make the world a better place for everyone in it. We do have a similar power to Harold, we form the world around us by our presence. How we move, act, live, breathe, eat, speak, and share with others shapes the world around us.

We have more power than we realize.

I can’t remember if Harold ever has an eraser, even if he gets one in the subsequent books. He can scratch things out, but he cannot erase what he has drawn into being. Once you draw an alligator, you should probably draw a boat to keep you out of the water. Or perhaps you can draw a smile and make it a friendly alligator… but still you will need to be wary.

What we say and do impacts our world. We are constantly creating our own world around us, we just have to decide whether we want to be active participants in this creation, or go along with what everyone is doing around us.

I hope that I am creating a world that is better. I want to be drawn into a better place.

Shadow

I took my daughter out for a walk at the state park a couple days ago so she could run and investigate freely. She likes to come back and touch base with me every so often; we were walking together when I noticed that our shadows were walking ahead of us. I waved my hands and she waved hers, both of us watching our shadows following our motions.

I’ve gotten better at paying attention to what I am doing and whether I am being copied because I’ve got a shadow that comes from the light above me and I’ve got a shadow that is the light beside me.

Are we both awake and in the house? If so, we are in the same room and playing the same game. She follows me everywhere, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, the den, and the laundry room.

She’s becoming a fabulous helper, in her own way. I have to watch myself to make sure that what I am doing is safe for her to copy. She even stretches with me after our walks together. (And then I become momma climbing toy as she balances on me in a final stretch.)

She’s learning new words everyday now, and I’m more aware of what I say and how I say it. I’m tending to my own grace as I share grace with her. Sometimes everything is wonderful, and sometimes nothing can go right. Sometimes the shadows seem stronger than the light. She speaks of the dark as an existential presence. When it is dark, it is Dark. She does not fear the dark, but she names its power.

She lights up my life like the moon lights the earth at night. She revolves around me and tugs me towards her like the moon pulls the tides. She shines and grows dark and always shines again.

I love my little shadow.

Exactly…

I need you to be ok with me exactly as I am. I’m not going to radically change in the next five minutes, so who I am is who you have to deal with.

This is me: all my faults, past mistakes, recent failures, tears I’ve shed and held back.

This is me: celebrations, dances, joys, cheerful memories, laughs I’ve shared and contained.

This is me.

Do you see me? Do you see my scars? Do you see my healing?

Do you see me limping or skipping? Your perception is based on interpretation anyway.

Do you see how far I’ve grown and how far I have come from that one time we know about? (Or those six times?)

Do you see what I could be? Where I could go? What I could do?

And if you do, are you only going to accept me once I get there—wherever there is—or can we work at accepting each other right now, in this moment?

I’m working at meeting you exactly where you are, right now.

I’m learning to accept you exactly as you are, right now.

I’m living into loving exactly who you are, right now.

I don’t know what the future has in store for us, but if we see each other as we really are, right now, I imagine that our future together will be all the brighter.

We will have hidden less from each other.

I want to hide less from you. But I don’t always know if you would accept me for who I am, who I really am, when the bright lights shine and all our masks are shattered.

I want to be exactly me when I am with you. No pretend, no pretense, no pretension. No make believe, no deception, no grand claims.

Only me. Scars, hopes, and all.

Only you. Scars, hopes, and all.

If we see each other for who we are, exactly as we are right now, we see truth.

I love truth.

 

I wrote this reflection as a response to my thoughts engaged with this poem.