I usually save this page for what I hope are humorous anecdotes. But today's post is a little different. Three years ago last week, I miscarried our fourth child. I wrote the following two essays, "Small Mercies" and "A Place Called Loss" in the weeks after it happened. These were actually the first two items I ever posted to this blog. I took them down soon after: What place did loss have on a blog called The Mora the Merrier? But, I think it's okay to share them here now.
I wrote the third essay, "The Gift," this week as I took some time for remembering. I have told this part of the story to many people, but I had never written it down.
March 29, 2008: Last weekend, I miscarried.
This would have been my fourth child but I was as excited as I had been when I was pregnant with each of my three girls. In the face of this loss I have focused on the many things I can be grateful for: It was early. It was painless. No medical intervention required. No physical need to wait before trying to get pregnant again. I was on vacation when it happened. Yes, I meant to list that among the things to be grateful for: I was surrounded by family and busy with activity and therefore had little time to sit around and be sad. That would have to wait until later; until I got home.
Now we are back. It's the weekend again and we have stayed close to home, forgoing the usual flurry of activity to indulge in whole lot of nothing much. It's a welcome change. But with it comes the postponed sadness and the need to realign my vision with reality. The day before we left on vacation, I was in the guest room calculating how I would move the furniture to accommodate both a crib and the queen sized bed. Today, it's just a spare bedroom again. Last week, I was looking online at maternity evening gowns to wear to my sister's wedding this summer. Today, I weighed myself, made plans for the gym on Monday and had a diet shake for breakfast. Last week, the dinner conversation between my husband, my daughters and I included a lot of imaginings prefaced with "This time next year, we'll need FOUR (kid chairs at the kitchen table, swings on the swing set, etc) ." Today, I told them Mommy doesn't have a baby in her tummy anymore. The baby had to go home to Heaven.
Although I allow myself these comparisons, I do so only briefly because in truth, I do have much to be grateful for. A great husband who is a wonderful father, three smart, gorgeous daughters who keep me laughing most of every day, a loving family and close friends to support me and who share their lives with me. And all those small mercies about the miscarriage. I can honestly say I am grateful for those.
I am sad. And I am disappointed. I do not understand, but I don't bother trying to figure it out either. These things happen. My faith is not shaken, although a few years ago it would have been. Maybe that's another thing to be grateful for:Timing. A few years ago, I would have railed that God did not care about me. I would have felt rejected and abandoned by Him. Today, I am comforted knowing that while I may not understand how this loss fits into the big picture for me and for my family, He understands. He knows. He is still in control. No, I don't believe for a moment He caused this or He took the baby away from me as some sort of lesson or, worse, retribution.
But He allowed it.
I have to accept that He allowed it in order to believe He had the power to prevent it. He allowed it for some reason and now what is left is for me to grow from the experience, to be refined by it.
I will not waste the opportunity.
A Place Called Loss
I'm coming to find out that my husband and I are worlds apart in the way we grieve. Although I am fully aware of all the ways our culture tells us that men and women are wired differently, I have always at some level, scoffed at these theories. "That's just the way men are" is a phrase that causes me to roll my eyes in disgust. To me, it's a cop out. I can accept it on the most superficial level, but when it comes to the things that matter like relational issues or crises, then no, I do not accept that. If "just the way you are" isn't adequate for the situation, they you must change (break out, step up, rise to the occasion--insert whatever cliché you are most comfortable with).
At least, that has been my theory so far. It has failed me this week.
Everything I had been trying not to feel for the past week finally caught up with me. There was a moment Friday night where my husband was exactly what I needed him to be: strong and silent. He held me while I finally bawled my eyes out, not saying a word, but just hugging me and stroking my hair. When I finally got up to go to bed, he was worried that I was upset that he had not said anything and explained he just wanted to be there for me to let me cry. "I know. Thank you," I said. It was exactly what I needed at the time.
But by the next day, I was beyond the need for strong silence. That was grating on my nerves. It was becoming an insult. What I needed was to talk. And talk. And talk. I wanted to talk though all the things that we could be thankful for in how it played out. But I really wanted to talk about the future. I wanted to talk about "next time."
He did not want to talk about next time. He finally stated bluntly that he didn't want there to be a next time.
It was a huge blow. How could he say that to me? While I acknowledge he has the right to change his mind, his timing could not have been worse. I was dumbfounded that he could not understand that the lifeline I needed him to throw me was "Don't worry. We'll try again." Instead I felt he was pushing me underwater. Don't come up for air yet. Now you need to mourn not just the loss of this particular baby, but any future babies. My chest hurt, like I could not get enough air. If he really felt that way, why not just lie to me? Just put me off with “Let's wait a month or two before we try again.” When I'm feeling better, he could ease into the fact that he has changed his mind altogether. I would probably be angry later. But I will be comforted now.
I can't see beyond the immediate need to stop hurting at any cost.
We tried to talk though it the next day. I explained that I thought we had agreed to have a fourth child. I didn't realize he had only agreed to a fourth pregnancy. What made it all sting worse is that I feel responsible for this miscarriage. I had taken huge doses of flax seed oil thinking I was helping the baby's neural development. When I started bleeding, I Googled "flax seed oil and bleeding in pregnancy." The result was a long list of articles warning against taking flax seed oil because of how it affects hormone levels. So, despite my doctor's assurances that this had nothing to do with the miscarriage, I am not only feeling guilty for taking the flax seed oil, now I have the added grief of knowing that was my last chance at a baby. And I destroyed it.
There was a quiet part of my mind that was telling me "Don't worry. He won't stick to this resolve. He'll change his mind again." But I could not let it go.
He tried explaining that he didn't want to risk another miscarriage, but I explained that away as irrational.
He tried saying that he didn't think I would be satisfied with four and would want a fifth. It went on and on.
I knew I was making him feel terrible by dismissing everything he said, but I could not stop myself. I didn't care if he felt terrible because I felt worse. I didn't care if I said something hurtful, because he was devastating me. Finally, we just retreated from each other for the rest of the day.
Later, after the girls went to bed, we finally started talking to each other calmly, and kindly. "Sometimes I just say things out of fear," he explained. If only he knew how much that meant to me. He was afraid. He was not impervious to this grief. He was not looking down on me for feeling so wounded. All the insistence about not wanting another baby was more about not wanting to risk more pain. Not for himself, and not for me. He wants to protect me.
He is grieving. And this is how he does it.
It could not be more evident that we handle things in completely different ways. But then again, the bottom line is that the "thing" we are handling is the common bond between us. We are both parents. We have both lost something. I have the luxury of allowing myself to crumble here and there because, well, everyone expects it anyways. Friends encourage me to let it out, let it come, walk through it, face it, sit with it awhile. And I suppose my husband expects that he must be strong for me, as if seeing him lose it will send me into some worsened state of grief that he is afraid I won't recover from completely. Or worse, that he will somehow be diminished in my eyes, or his own. In truth, I need to see that he feels something. I interpret his stoicism as indifference, his strength as uncaring, and his seemingly quick recovery from it all as relief.
I know, in some calm, quiet part of me that I can't quite access at the moment, that these things can't be true.
Because that is not the man I married.
So, I have resolved to let all the words we lob at each other while we work though this land softly. I'm going to remember that we are both hurting. I'm going to remind myself that he is not from another planet; he's from the same place I am from.
And today, that place is called Loss.
In my despair and anger, I forgot about the gift.
Looking back, re-reading what I wrote in the frantic need to record my loss, it seems impossible I could have forgotten about the gift. Today, it is the main part of the story I remember. The part I share with others who feel that God has forgotten them, that their "stuff" is too insignificant for His notice. It is the part I share with those who say they need to “get it together” before they come to Jesus, so to speak.
I have written about the night I had my good cry. The night I wailed like a child, loudly and un-beautifully. My husband comforted me without saying a word, smoothing my hair and rubbing my back, letting me wipe my red face and running nose on his shirt. I have told you how he apologized for his silence and how I had thanked him for that silence.
“Do you want to talk?” he asked me.
“No. I’m okay. I’m going to go upstairs and work on my Bible study for a little bit, then I need to sleep.”
He retreated to the basement while I headed up to our room.
I had been working on a Beth Moore Bible study: Jesus, the One and Only. I had started out with enthusiasm, completing my homework daily and keeping up with the dvd sessions. But I was behind now. Busy with preparations for our trip, I had put it off for a week. I had not taken it to Atlanta with us, so now I was two weeks behind. I muttered some disparaging self-assessment as I gathered up my Bible and the workbook, which now had a permanent bump in it after sitting so long with a pencil stuck in the binder to hold my place. Still blowing my nose and rubbing my eyes from the crying jag downstairs, I flipped the workbook open to the lesson I should have done two weeks before.
For those of you unfamiliar with Beth Moore’s studies, each day’s homework always has a sort of “Daily Treasure” Scripture verse in the margin. I looked down at my page to read the verse and my breath caught in my throat:
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
This is when Jesus raised the widow's son from the dead. She had not asked him to. He had been so moved by her grief, he just acted.
What could I feel seeing these words, but gratitude? God noticed! He cared that I was hurting. His heart went out to mine and He comforted me. His timing is always perfect, even when mine is imperfect: Had I “kept up” with my Bible study, I would have missed this gift, this perfectly planned, hidden gift, given to me at the exact moment I needed it most.
No, my child was not resurrected like the woman’s in the story. But my hope was. And so was my joy. Not suddenly, because part of the gift is the permission to grieve. But slowly, surely, joy returned.
The pain of loss eventually dulled until it lost its edge altogether.
But the gift has stayed with me.
I am like a child with her favorite possession. I return to enjoy it over and over. I share it with friends and strangers. There are times when I misplace it, only to find it and rediscover its loveliness and the happiness it has brought me all over again.