“I’m not finding a heartbeat.” The five words I am now certain every expecting parent finds tosses their joys, their hopes, and their excitement as effortlessly as one flipping a coin. Those five words existed between expecting a heartbeat, and experiencing heartbreak. It didn’t make sense to me. My body was still acting like I was pregnant, the baby was still inside of me, even my belly was still growing! I leaned my head back on the pillow, staring silently up at the ultrasound screen, at my baby. My husband patted my arm incessantly, trying to comfort me, but I simply went numb as tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. I knew better than to make a scene here, in the midst of professionals and white sheets and medical equipment. I knew better than to become someone’s dinner table story that night, “This poor handicapped woman and her husband lost their baby today and her grief was so raw…” So I sucked all of the emotion and the tears and pain and sobs inside of me like I was vacuuming the debris of an explosion, put on my sunglasses, and silently left.
Before the appointment we agreed to stop at the grocery store for a few things on the way home. Not thinking clearly, we stopped anyway but we couldn’t even locate what we needed. As we wandered through the aisles in a daze, there were people going about their day around us. No one smiled, no one seemed to have a clue. Our world has just turned upside down, I thought, and not a single person around me knows it. I could have used a smile, a nod, a touch in that moment. Instead I felt more isolated and more alone than ever. I made a mental note to always smile and to be kind to people in public. You never know what that person next to you in the store is going through, perhaps this is one of the worst days of their life, too.
Just two weeks before this we had sent out an announcement to our friends and families, telling them of our expectant miracle. Any follower of this blog or my book will know of the articles, the prayers, the waiting, the wishing, and the hoping that both Rick and I have held over the years for a child. A few years ago, we finally gave up, accepting that it simply wasn’t meant to be for us, and resolved ourselves to being the best aunt and uncle that we could be in lieu of this. When we were told God had granted us our miracle, we were ecstatic! Now, we thought, we would have our own child to invest in and love with God’s love! Suddenly, it wasn’t meant to be, again. Wrapping our heads around that was hard enough. What made it almost impossible, I thought, was that my grief was going to be so public. When it comes to personal pain I am not a public person. It is my nature to suck it into myself, process it, hibernate with it, work on it, then come out when I can face others without the ache of emotion oozing from me. This time, it seemed I would have no choice.
My life has been hard, full of seemingly harder times than easy ones. So many struggles and so much pain has laced my short life that when I first heard I was pregnant unexpectedly, I wanted to guard my heart. I half expected something to go wrong, because when does anything come so naturally or easy for me? I wanted to guard myself and protect that part of me just in case something bad happened. But when I said this out loud to my mom one day, I realized how incredibly sad I sounded. What’s more, all of my education in trauma resonated within me. Children can be rejected from the womb, they can have issues that stem from that sort of womb wound. I prayed and thought about it for a full day and night and decided that my child must know it is loved, it must know that as part of God’s creation it is treasured, even if it meant putting my own heart on the line and possibly experiencing the pain of loss and heartbreak. Besides, countless people reminded me, God wouldn’t create a miracle and not see it through.
Now, knowing that the little one inside of me was dead, I felt every ounce of that loss and heartbreak to the fullest. The week I waited for surgery to remove the baby was difficult, but also a very precious time. I took that time to continue loving my child, even if he or she was gone. It was a time I cradled it, spoke to it, loved it, and made sure that when the flesh of my flesh was gone from me it would know beyond a doubt that it was treasured. And I believe when it returned to God’s arms after the brief stint it had with us here on earth, he or she knew.
We both felt so foolish for announcing my pregnancy at the expected 12 week mark. We should have waited, we thought, especially knowing my existing medical conditions. But when the baby was removed, the surgeon said the pregnancy was completely normal up until the point when the baby’s heart stopped. There was nothing about my pregnancy that indicated my health had anything to do with the death. There was no reason we should have delayed sharing our good news with people.
But none of that changed the fact that my grief was still public. Messages poured in from everywhere: Texts, Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, and cards. Women from the community surrounded me in every sense of the word. One woman from church came and simply sat with me for hours, as I processed and spoke aloud and asked questions about my body and the changes I could expect. My mother and father were here daily, checking in with me, holding my hand, helping me to doctor appointments. Flowers continuously my tables. My aunt brought meals and let me write some of my feelings to her without judgement. My best friends mourned with me and stood by me. So many women knew the pain of losing a child, but had endured that pain silently. Too many messages started with, “I don’t tell anyone this…” or “This isn’t public information, but…” Women of every shape, size, background, and health condition surrounded me with their stories, their love, their understanding and I am still overwhelmed with gratitude. It reassured me that losing a child doesn’t happen to only certain people, it is not a discriminatory process.
Earlier I wrote about how how isolated I felt immediately after the news when I in the store and no one knew my pain. Yet here, in my public grief, I was not alone! God used the prayers of others when I couldn’t pray, God used their messages and stories to touch me and heal me in a way that otherwise would never have been possible. Rather than being alone and fighting through the grief from a place of isolation, in his mercy I was among friends.
I can hear my readers now, If God was really merciful he wouldn’t have let the baby die at all. And again, I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why it was taken from us or why the precious life he created never lived to see the light of day. I’m also angry that we must go through the pain and suffering and loss for something we had accepted we wouldn’t have.
After unspeakable pain and trauma and loss in the bible, Job asks God why. God let’s him rant and rave for a while, then turns and answers. But he doesn’t exactly tell Job why. He never answers him in that way. Instead, he asks Job a list of questions such as (paraphrased): Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth; Do you know it’s dimensions; Where were you when I filled the seas and hung the stars; Have you given orders to the morning or shown dawn it’s place; etc. In Job 38-39 God asks questions of Job like this, one after another.
God is bigger than anything we can ever imagine and he knows things that we cannot even begin to fathom. I don’t understand his ways, and yes, this grief is hard and it hurts, but it doesn’t change the fact that God is still God. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent in every aspect of his creation, and I can trust that enough to know that it is out of my hands.
But what is in my hands, now, is the ability to walk and love other women when they face the same pain. I can be kind to every stranger I encounter, possibly breaking through their pain and isolation like I needed that day in the grocery store. I can respond and lift up other women like they have lifted me. I can choose how to love others as my heart heals, and stand by them so that they do not know the isolation and darkness that grief can bring when we are alone. In short, I can stand with people in the space between their heartbeats and heartbreaks. And if you are one of those women that stood with me in that space, thank you. Even if I didn’t respond to you yet, even if I haven’t had the courage to face you yet, thank you.