My beloved friend Elise, who is also a loss mama, has penned some beautiful words on her own miscarriage experience. She is a brilliant writer, theologian, and human and I am so freaking lucky to know her. Read her original post on her blog, buttheadladypastor.
On September 18, 2017, I lost what would have been my firstborn child.
I was at a pastor’s conference, reveling in old and new faces, attending worship, and enjoying my wonderful luck in getting a room all to myself. I was finally starting to feel like a pastor and not just an outsider in a new community. My husband was at school, teaching children about the wonders of music. Stuff was really looking up.
I started bleeding. I called my new nurse at the clinic I had been going to for my pre-natal check-ups. She said if it continued, I should go in. Or lay down and rest. Or just don’t worry. Whatever. She was supportive, but not entirely clear. I put my feet up. I paced. I sat outside and tried to take deep breaths next to the beautiful lake.
Everything got worse. I found a fellow pastor to drive me to the hospital in Fargo. She was 8 months pregnant with her second child. I laughed like I had lost my marbles and said what a fun thing this would be to share with our grandchildren. A close call, but we would all be fine. We arrived at the hospital and they found me a room immediately. I was certain that it was nothing, just some twinges of pain here and there. Just some bleeding that would all turn out to be fine. The pain intensified and my shock and pride took over.
I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t think. I definitely had not read the chapter on pregnancy loss in my baby book, thinking it must be a rare thing. I’ve learned since then. I didn’t realize the toilet in the ER automatically flushed. My brain shielded me from what was happening. Complete, ridiculous denial. Afterwards, after the ultrasound where they informed me there was nothing in there anymore, one of my doctors told me that most likely the heartbeat had stopped at some point. At six weeks, I had had some bleeding, but we saw the ultrasound and that brilliant heartbeat. I heard from many wise individuals that once you saw the heartbeat, you should be okay. That bodies are strange. They do things that don’t make much sense.
But that brilliant heartbeat that we saw on the monitor. Ended. And everything that was growing inside of me, my true miracle, the one who I thought would never be, was gone. Flushed away like refuse. I thought maybe I was dying. That I should die instead. That I deserved it. There must have been something terrible that I had eaten or done or neglected to do. We’re almost a year out from the miscarriage, and most days I feel exactly that way. Like I’m living and I don’t deserve it. Some days are better. God sneaks up on me and reminds me that I’m beloved, that I’m wanted. That I’m held. Other days are worse.
Joy has returned in little moments. In sermons I feel proud of. In saying the Apostles’ creed with my fellow loved ones, through tears sometimes. In the silly moments with my husband. In the face of my foster daughter, when she learns or tries something new, even if she’s uncertain. In my dumb cats. Holding hands with old ladies. Cackling over inappropriate jokes with said old ladies.
But always, the grief and the guilt and the gut punches live on.
Strange things unhinge me completely.
Pro-life billboards used to just be an surreal roadside thing that I really had no input or feelings about. They were just there in the world. Weird, but whatever. You know. “I’m Daddy’s CEO.” “Mommy’s Little Buddy.” “My heart beat 18 days after conception.” “Babies are a gift from God.” Now when I see one, hot tears fill my eyes immediately. My baby was a gift from God. My baby had a heartbeat that I saw and it filled me with wonder. My baby would have been cherished, held, adored, taught, encouraged. She died. There’s no heartbeat now. No milestones. The crib is stored in our unfinished basement near unopened boxes from our move and cat litter. Didn’t I love my miracle? Didn’t I want her enough? Those billboards kill me and I’m not even the intended audience. I pass at least three or four every time I make a trip to Grand Forks, which is at least once a week for hospital visits.
Baby sections in stores. The lullabies they play every time a child is born at the hospital. The proud pregnancy announcements on the children’s shirts that came before the one in the womb now. The babies that are accidents and the family isn’t sure they want or need another. The babies that are killed at birth that the local newspaper reports on. The pregnancy photo shoots. The baby showers. The Christmas stocking that won’t be hanging in our home. The tiny outfit shoved to the back of my underwear drawer. The pregnancy test that still remains positive despite everything that transpired since last July. The well-meaning comments that I least I know I can get pregnant. The comments that I look like a little child when I feel like an old woman.
I’m a mother with nothing tangible to prove that with.
Since last September, my greatest comfort has been with biblical friends who know suffering best and aren’t here to bullshit about it. Job. Amos. Hosea. Habakkuk. Jeremiah. Naomi. Bathsheba. David. Mary Magdalene. Those guys get it. And it’s not only because they were prophets and apostles with divine messages to impart to the world. It’s because they understood what it was to feel humiliated. Prideful. Angry. Desperately sad. On the edge. Stuck listening to garbage comments by people who didn’t understand the first thing. Caught up in forces beyond their control. What if feels like to have empty hands and arms.
I thank God for my friends – currently in existence and biblical – who have beaten back the darkness with their brave words and presence. For my husband who is always true to himself and honest with me. For members in my congregation who take my hand and whisper, “I know this pain. It sucks. I’m sorry. It’s not right.” For a God that gives me space to rail and rage and then welcomes me in to rest and recharge. For a God I don’t fully understand. For opportunities to get in there and lessen the suffering by a few degrees for others, one child at a time. For the gift of a heart that can break over and over and over again, but is still beating. For a brain that is wonky, sure, but flexible and works to shield me from what I’m not prepared or ready for. That’s what I know today.
The joy of knowing Jesus makes no sense. But it’s real.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Don’t say things you don’t mean or can’t know. Give more hugs, give less lectures. Commit to the people who make it into existence and fight like hell for their thriving. Tell every last person you meet that they are loved and wanted, even if it seems absurd. Believe in the power of resurrection, even when it seems laughable or too late. God’s timing is bonkers – I don’t know any ways around it. God’s vision involves the healing and wholeness that will come to the whole world. It might not arrive overnight. In fact, don’t expect it to. Accept that not much is in our control, but a mighty amount of things are – especially choosing to love and serve our neighbors and listen when they say something isn’t right. Listen to yourself. Trust people that are worthy of it. It’s okay to be full of rage. Not everyone is built to patiently accept every tragedy that befalls them. Be a good sitting buddy for others who are caught in the darkness. Sing anyway.