Thursday, October 16, 2014

"My Lost Desire, So Far, So Near in Woe and Weal"

As my husband prepares to enter pastoral ministry (soon, we hope!), I am naturally pondering the role I will play in the church. Of course, it's impossible to know what specific opportunities I'll have because each church context is different; but one way I intend to minister to the women in our congregation is to reach out to those experiencing pregnancy loss. Thankfully, my generation, largely through social media, is raising awareness of the prevalence and pain of miscarriage and stillbirth. Still, far too many times a lack of compassion or acknowledgement of such a tragic loss contributes to a grieving mother's (and father's) pain. I hope this post may minister to someone who reads it. (My title comes from Tennyson's In Memorium.)

We all know that “everyone grieves differently,” as the common saying goes. Knowing this truth, I can speak only for myself, but I would like to share my own experiences of grief beyond those first crushingly painful weeks.

In January 2012, I was keeping a little (quite literally!) secret from my family. I knew my younger sister was hoping to get pregnant with her first child, and it just didn't seem sensitive for me to announce that I was expecting Baby #3. So, I decided to wait a while, hoping Lisa might have an announcement before I couldn't hide my secret any longer. Sure enough, when she called me one night, I could tell just by her tone of voice that she was pregnant. How exciting to realize we were due within 8 days or so of each other! I anticipated comparing notes about morning sickness, weight gain, and food cravings. But that's not what happened.

I purchased some beautiful maternity clothes including the ivory lace top I wore the February day I saw the little bean of a baby on the ultrasound screen and instantly knew my pregnancy was over.

“I never like to call it myself,” the nurse practioner told me, so an obstetrician was called in. They turned on the doppler, stood watching the screen for what seemed an eternity, and told me they were sorry. It seemed so much like a scene from ER when Dr. Carter or Dr. Green would pronounce a death. I remain touched by the dignity of the moment.

“I'll just send Lisa my maternity clothes,” I told Nathan on our way to pick the girls up from school.

“Don't,” he told me. “We'll have another baby.”

He was right—yet he was wrong—I conceived twins.

Though my doctor had told me not to try to conceive again for three months, I did my research and found a huge Scottish study. (They've got that national healthcare system that gives researchers access to an enormous amount of data.). The evidence showed that the risk of repeat miscarriage was lower in mothers who conceived sooner than later. My OB acknowledged there was no real benefit to waiting, and I was pregnant again after just two periods.

A subsequent healthy pregnancy is very healing. Yet, it does not erase the pain of the loss.

My sister's pregnancy continued—praise God!-- and resulted in my beautiful niece Ellie Jayne. About a month after Ellie's birth, I woke up one morning with my gaze resting on the place our bassinet would have stood had our September baby been born. I lay there crying, all the while feeling “Twin A” moving in my belly. It's not that I wanted that lost baby in place of the twins, but the twins could not replace that child. What I wanted was the impossible: both my one-month-old infant that should have been sleeping in the bassinet beside my bed and the twins growing in my womb. I'd experienced enough of life by this time to know I didn't have to sort out these thoughts or reason with myself: I just accepted that I longed for something I could never have.

My c-section to deliver the twins was scheduled for January 18, 2013. I think it was the day before when I pulled out my photo album containing our miscarried baby's ultrasound picture and all the cards and notes we'd received from family, friends, and students. I felt it would be healthy for me to reflect on the loss before the twins arrived. Their birth was a joyous event. We couldn't believe how big and healthy they were, a true testament to God's grace and compassion.

By that time, I suppose most people expected I was emotionally healed from the miscarriage. Oh, some probably knew there would always be a scar, but not an open wound. I was, and remain, a bit surprised, myself, at how raw my pain still was, however.

I wasn't allowed out of bed for maybe twelve hours after the twins were born, but once I could get to the bathroom by myself, the sight and sensations of postpartum bleeding and clotting brought back painful memories. For the twins' first five or six months, I thought about my miscarriage every day. Different things—odd things, such as food that I thought resembled blood clots—would trigger the memories. At random times, the bathroom at work was a haunting place because it was there that I realized something was wrong with my pregnancy. Perhaps my postpartum hormones played a part in these lingering thoughts; perhaps not.

Eventually, these thoughts became less frequent, but news of a friend's miscarriage or a remembrance day such as that observed internationally on October 15 call to mind that most painful time of my life. My sweet niece Ellie turned two last month. Her pictures have never caused me any grief. If anything, sometimes they remind me what developmental milestones my baby would have been hitting. I try to picture a two-year old building a block tower or smiling as she throws her food on the floor. But the two almost-two year olds who actually are building towers and throwing their food obscure my view of the sibling they never knew and whose death actually paved the way for their life.

The experience of miscarriage is a part of my being. There is a scar, and I actually want it to remain, for other than an ultrasound picture of a baby already gone before the “photo” was taken, a book full of sympathy cards, and an ivory blouse I keep in my dresser, the scar is all I have left of that pregnancy and that child. Just as I view my belly full of stretchmarks from the twins as a badge of honor, so I wear that emotional scar. It's nothing to be ashamed of, and I think it needs to be “shown” to other women who experience the same type of loss. How thankful I am for my brave colleagues who showed me their own scars!

When I know that a woman has endured a miscarriage, I remember that she is still suffering weeks, months, maybe years later. A Facebook message, a card around the due date, and always a prayer that God will send her a healthy baby as soon as she is ready--I hope these small tokens of acknowledgement bring a modicum of comfort, and I believe they do.

To those who have never experienced this type of loss, surely you know someone who needs your compassion and love. Don't be afraid to express it, to ease the hurting in small ways—a card, a hug, a prayer.

We all grieve differently, yes; but we mothers who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy, no matter how far along, grieve, at least to some extent, all the rest of our days. To those of you who have experienced such pain, my heart goes out to you. We are members of a sorority with a cruel initiation requirement, but our Heavenly Father sees our pain and is moved with compassion. One day He will redeem this fallen world. We are not without hope!