October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Normally, I will not be able to keep up with all of the awareness days, weeks or months that occur on social media. That’s not to say I’m insensitive to the wonderful causes and initiatives, I just forget easily. But this year, I was keenly aware of my own miscarriage twenty-one years ago that I thought I would include this story here and now.
It was Labor Day weekend 1998 and I had already been to the doctor earlier in the week to learn that our fourth baby no longer had a heart beat in my womb. I was alone in the doctor’s office hearing the news. It was more than a sinking feeling but less than drowning. The drowning feeling would come later.
In bad news or crisis, I actually get very quiet. Before the days of cell phones, I think I called my husband from the front desk of the doctor’s office. My communication was flat and matter of fact—little emotion passed from my lips to his ears. I drove past his work office to process with a compassionate husband but our hug was equally flat. ￼I was already feeling numb and he was already feeling helpless as to what to do or say.
We had just celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. That’s the night I told him. Tucked away at a table at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant with over-sized sombreros perched on our heads while they wished us ‘happy anniversary’ with singing, stomping and clapping, we held up the number 4 in delight that we were expecting another little one. Mr.Barnabas, my husband, smiling from ear to ear.
We always said we wanted four children. Maybe this was a little boy.
Five weeks later, there was no heartbeat. I was twelve weeks along and just shy of my second trimester. On the heels of three healthy pregnancies, it was an unwelcome surprise.
My three very active and alive children were two, four and six years old. Their understanding was minimal. Turns out, many grown ups have a minimal understanding of the loss of miscarriage as well. So, I began the long journey of coping alone. Some people might not feel miscarriage as deeply as others but this was likely the first unraveling of my emotions about many things left unstitched. Grief was the snag that pulled apart all my loose ends. This was when I knew I needed stitched by a professional Healer.
Even though my doctor told me there was no heart beat mid-week, my body did not know that yet. What dread to wait even a few days to deliver the child who would never have three big sisters or sit for family pictures or graduate from high school in 2017. It was a harsh reality for a thirty year old. It was a new road I’d never walked.
Labor Day weekend. The eve of my first year of home education for a first grader and two preschoolers. The eve of a season of grief that can still haunt me.
My body began the process of a spontaneous abortion— which is a tragic name for someone categorically opposed to abortion—a miscarriage, and a horrible labor and delivery story. There are aspects of that day that I can’t shake so I really try not to think of them. Or at least never repeat them. The ordeal ended with an overnight at the local hospital and surgery. My blood pressure was so low. My body not doing what it was supposed to do ‘naturally’. My emotions so raw. My fear so great. My heart so hurt. My numbness, flat lined.
My body was telling me I had delivered a baby. And I had delivered a baby in a crude sort of way. It was nothing like the rendering of life. That little one would not come home with me. I would never count their toes or tousle their hair, call their middle name or give them a proper burial. Their resting place not even as beautiful as an ugly graveyard. It was all happening so fast. I was expecting nine months, not twelve weeks. I was expecting a lifetime, not a single summer.
Silver and Gold, our dear friends who are like family to us, were my only visitors at the hospital besides my dear mother. Our family doctor stopped by as I was being discharged but more as a friend than professional. She said, ‘No woman after a miscarriage should leave the hospital without something to hold.’ And she graciously delivered to me a beautiful afghan to hold in my lap as I was wheeled to our van.
That blanket became an anchor to my healing. As did my two year old. I’d sit tucked under the blanket on the couch. She would curl up beside me, big blue eyes peering up at me and pat my hand when she caught me crying. She just knew. And she still has the gift of empathy. And I still have the gift from a friend, the afghan. No gesture of kindness was too small during this grief. It was such comfort to be noticed and remembered in the smallest of ways or the more significant ones.
It took me a long time to recover from this loss. It was traumatic for me. I hit every stage of grief and stayed too long in some stages like anger and depression.
I blamed myself a lot. Was it the copious amounts of herbal tea with artificial sweetener I drank over the summer? Was it letting the waves crash against me and thrash me to the ocean floor on our Tybee Island vacation? Was it the contaminated water in our hometown because I was too cheap or too lazy to buy bottled water? Was I just a broken vessel? Mom guilt took on new meaning and some distinct images wouldn’t leave me.
On my journey, two especially helpful ways that helped my healing were naming the baby and sponsoring a child from World Vision that had his expected birth date. I always imagined him a boy, but due to circumstances beyond my control during the loss, we don’t know. I wrote down his name on a crumpled up piece of paper somewhere. The Lord knows his name. He knows he was ours. Providing for the little one in Haiti through World Vision gave me a sense of taking care of someone who ‘needed us’ and redeemed that part of me who felt I had harmed our child.
All in all, it was hard. I didn’t want to end my child bearing years with a miscarriage. I still wanted four children. But we needed to wait. Delivering a healthy ‘rainbow baby’ nearly three and a half years after the miscarriage brought much blessing and healing and joy. She still does. The Lord redeems all things in ways only He can.
There are some years that the anniversary of my miscarriage comes and goes without a thought. We have had some delightful and happy Labor Day weekends that boast of picnics and flying kites and family 5ks. Nothing but a long weekend to worry about. His due date in March rolls around, too, without a thought or a grimace. But this year, Labor Day weekend arrived as it did twenty-one years ago. With dread. And angst. Depression. Unexplained grief. A gnawing impression that I was missing something, or someone.
It took me a minute to figure out where healing’s stitches had ripped again. It took me a minute to remember that I had once labored on Labor Day and my body and soul were reminding me. It took me a week to sit still enough to be mended again. New places healed. New tears shed. Old frayed places gathered together again and knit together in love. Old wounds between husband and wife that had arisen from those misunderstood places long ago were sewn together again. Healing is a process—-sometimes a process like a tedious embroidery or an elaborate quilt. It simply takes time. This year was that time for me, for us. The fabric of our family reminded again to whisper our memory eternal toward the heavens. For the child who never greeted time and space and for the sibling who never snuck downstairs early Christmas morning, memory eternal.
We always wanted four children.
Turns out, the Lord gave us five.
Each, fearfully and wonderfully made; knit together in my womb.