“How many pregnancies? How many children?”
This question is a sharp reminder of loss and grace. It’s a matter-of-fact statement that happens in an instant without pause or acknowledgment. The first time I answered 4 pregnancies, 2 children it took my breath away. It became real again. The grace and gift of two. The loss and grief of one. And the hope and desire of another.
Happy photos of parents with babies usually have a story behind them.
My first two pregnancies were uneventful, healthy, and straightforward. Knowing the statistics on miscarriage I tried to keep myself from connecting too much and becoming too excited – it was a form of self-protection from potential heartbreak during the first twelve weeks.
The birth of Frederick was shocking and blurry. He had the cord wrapped around his neck twice and after an hour at the hospital trying to fix the intense dips in his heart rate with every contraction, he was delivered via an emergency c-section.
When I became pregnant with Edith, my doctor encouraged a natural delivery and it took faith and hope to believe that a new story could be written. The labor was “textbook” according to the doctor – no complications, no red flags, no concerns. But she didn’t breathe. And refused to take a breath until 6 minutes of intense intervention from a team of experts who rushed in seconds after she was born. Looking over at a huddle of doctors surrounding your 6 pound 14 ounce baby is terrifying. You can’t breathe. Your heart stops beating. You pray. She spent 6 days in the NICU and made a miraculous recovery with no signs of the initial trauma.
Friends began to ask if we planned on having more. For two and a half years I absolutely refused to entertain the question or idea. After almost losing both babies right as they entered this world, it was terrifying to think about risking it all over again. Rolling the dice and hoping for a different experience was unimaginable. It wasn’t until a friend sat in our sunroom and challenged me to believe for something different with tears rolling down my cheeks that my heart began to change. She planted a seed of hope that didn’t exist. A month later, glancing up as I emptied the dishwasher I noticed three arrows we have hanging on our living room wall. Two silver ones face east and a gold one faces west. In that moment, I felt God speak to me that our third baby would be different.
I became pregnant right away. Unlike the other two where I protected myself from connecting and feeling excitement, I thought to myself, “it will be different from the beginning – no fear or doubt.” We shared the news with a few close friends and asked for their prayers and support. The evening my miscarriage started I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like a thousand pounds of bricks fell on top of me and I couldn’t breathe or move.
The weight of disappointment is crushing. It causes you to curl up in a shell of comfort and retreat to a cave of safety. I read the entire Harry Potter series in 2 weeks. It took every ounce of strength to get up and be mom to my two living, breathing children, every other obligation faded in an effort to be present for them.
Friends who knew I was pregnant and then about our loss cared for me and it was a massive learning curve in vulnerability. Life was stolen before it even had a chance to breathe. A good friend messaged me saying that in an eternal perspective the baby will always be my child – just not here and now.
I wish I could say that when I got pregnant again hope filled my heart and faith was restored, but until I was twelve weeks it was a tightrope walk of restoration. Carefully balancing hope and realistic expectation is tricky business. Today, fourteen weeks along, it’s becoming less tightrope walk and more balance beam. Peace in the process is a practice that requires trust in the word that this third baby on earth will have a different birth story, one without trauma and drama. Perhaps the beginning days of conceived life have been tenuous and tearful but the beginning days of life in this world will be peaceful and beautiful.
I’m certainly not the first to speak about the grief of miscarriage and I won’t be the last. Some have done so far more eloquently, but there is something powerful and restorative in sharing and hearing stories of loss and restoration, disappointment and hope.
“Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (Romans 5:3-5)