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.

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.

Leapt into New Life

The backyard is a riot of green this week. So much so, that the library is green because of the light scattered through the leaves into the windows. I forget how green it can get while the leaves are waiting to unfurl. I forget how verdant spring can be when we are still in the barren limb days of winter.

Finally the earth has leapt into the days of new life. Finally the daylight lasts until well after dinner so that we can venture out in the cool of the evening. Finally we can celebrate.

Finally we are on the celebration side of Easter. We journeyed through a long and dark Lent and the sadness of Holy Week; now finally we have fifty days of Easter celebration. But we don’t have the end of the story. There are yet more stories to tell of the birth of the church, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the expanse of the Gospel. It’s a story we tell with our lives.

We tell the story of the Easter season with our joys and with our hardships. I’ve got friends whose daughter had open heart surgery yesterday. Their story is part of the Easter story. Another friend has an infant son with a diagnosis that no child has yet survived. Their story is part of the Easter story as they walk in the presence of God through the valley. I’ve got other friends dealing with bad news and hard days. The promise of the power that God used in raising Jesus from the dead on Easter is where we find our promise, for our days.

Even if things don’t turn out the way we hope, we still trust in the promise; we still participate in a beautiful story, we still venture into a new life together.

A Lament, Four Days after Independence Day

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

We woke up to more wretched, horrible, heartbreaking news today. It’s like the United States decided to go insane after it’s birthday. Were we not just celebrating Independence Day four days ago? And now, there have been deaths upon deaths upon deaths. Each day we wake up to more news of lives stolen.

More fear. More hate. More blame.

We want to point fingers at someone else because then we don’t have to evaluate our own complicity in the evil around us.

“I’d never do anything like that!” “Why can’t they just be peaceful!” “They should have known better!”

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have my host of characters that I want to blame for each of the different violent incidents that happened this week, and I bet you do as well. And we probably don’t agree, which makes it even worse. Because then we can blame each other for blaming the wrong people. And then that becomes the new “talking point” rather than grieving the loss of lives that should not have been taken.

I’m sick. I’m tired. I’m weary.

And I don’t have to worry about most of the things that many of my brothers and sisters in this country have to worry about.

Because you know this is about race. And I’m white. So I don’t have to worry about it as much. I’m allowed to not have to think about what I need to tell my daughter about wearing a hood at night. That’s privilege.

And this morning, we woke up to news of more death in our centuries old story about race and power and hate.

Black people shouldn’t be shot if their tail light is out.

Black people shouldn’t die in prison after not turning on their turn signal.

Police officers shouldn’t be shot while protecting our right to protest.

Police officers shouldn’t die in the line of duty.

But they do. They are. And it’s wrong.

I grieve over all of it. I grieve that I don’t have the right words to say. I don’t know enough and I don’t understand how so much death has happened and we still don’t see any change. Whose death will finally turn the tide?

I’m a Christian, so I believe that we have already had that death. But even that death, and the people who so firmly proclaim that death was defeated, have not been able to make the radical change that is needed so that people. Stop. Dying.

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

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.