Complicated Joy

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.

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