The Art of Losing
What I like about those digital pregnancy tests for dummies is that the result takes out any chance of guesswork or misinterpretation. Instead of squinting at the stick you just peed on and wondering if a second faint blue line is really going to appear or if that single line is going to turn into a cross (depending on which test brand you’ve chosen), you get a clear answer. The test spells it out for you: You’re either PREGNANT or NOT PREGNANT.
But this is what I don’t like. The results go away. Unlike those blue lines that last a long time (I know because I saved my first positive pregnancy test that marked the start of my five-year-old’s life), you cannot hold onto them for posterity’s sake or keep them as a reminder that there was a baby. PREGNANT one day, but all too quickly those words vanish.
And you feel as blank as the screen on the test stick.
After suspecting for several days, you pee on the stick one morning. You wait. You feel even more nauseous than you have in the past week or so and you’re not sure if it’s a flutter of anxiety or anticipation. You try to distract yourself and pick up a simple devotion book for moms and you rush through it, not really taking any of the words in. You read the whole thing, but you comprehend nothing.
You steal a glance at the stick, but there’s only a flashing hourglass. You think about the sands of time, how life slips by so quickly. Then there’s an internal chuckle inside of you. It’s silly, really. You know it. You’re being ridiculous. It’s like you’re trying to think deep thoughts to keep you from feeling anything: Excitement, hope, joy, and maybe just a shred of fear, too. In your humanness, you can’t get the idea of time out of your head, how this doesn’t feel like the best time to have another baby, but then you curse yourself for questioning His timing when He’s always been shown to be a much better scheduler than you.
Then you look again. You pick up the stick, and your hand is trembling. Your heart is too, and you feel joy (and just a twinge of fear; God trusts you so much!).
God is a fan of dramatic irony, you think, considering this was just published (although you wrote it two months prior).
Although it’s not so ironic. You count on your fingers. Your new baby will be spaced 26 months after your now-baby. It’s a miracle. Every baby is, but this baby – wow. Looking back at your just-returned cycle, when you ovulated, you wonder how you could have conceived.
Yet, you’re not so surprised. You knew before you even drifted into that five-minute limbo of waiting to have your intuition validated, that a tiny seed of new life had been planted within you.
You show the test stick to your husband. Your eyes meet and widen, and so do your arms as you embrace.
Happiness shuts out most of the vain and selfish thoughts drifting into your mind. The fact that you probably won’t be able to make it to an event you were excited about. Oh, and you’re going to be a bridesmaid in your brother’s wedding, and you will be eight months pregnant in a shimmery silver dress (color label: Platinum). It’s a beautiful dress, but you’re afraid you’ll look like a giant, swollen anchovy. (Terribly vain, but you’ve always been one who has struggled with vanity.)
But now you’re wishing you’d be too pregnant to go to any event, and you’re longing to be that swollen, silver anchovy. You wish the ongoing nausea was more than a residual biological marker, a reminder of what was but what isn’t any longer. Your mind churns over “what-ifs.” What if I hadn’t done this or had done that? What if I hadn’t been so vain or if I’d just trusted God instead of questioning His providence?
One day after I took that test I looked at that stick, wanting to see those words PREGNANT again, wanting to feel that jumble of happy, amazed emotions that rushed through me when I thought I would be nurturing another baby in my womb.
Instead, what I felt was numb, hollowed out, a sort of emotional paralysis. There wasn’t any “PREGNANT” on the display screen anymore, and there is no longer any sliver of new life within me.
And I’m back to thinking about that hourglass, how life changes so quickly. One moment you’re pregnant. The next you’re not.
I wonder, too: Are my feelings proportionate to my loss? Am I sad enough? Too sad? What is the right way to feel when you’ve miscarried? This is a first for me, and I feel rather lost. Sometimes I feel so sad. Then I’m keeping busy and feel like myself but not quite. Sometimes I feel guilty wondering if I should be crying more. I just feel so much.
It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I started thinking about the new life being knit in my womb when the cramping began. And I knew. Maybe I always knew because I just always felt cautiously optimistic about it all. Then the rush of blood, so much to lose. So much to lose.
My husband and I were celebrating one moment, and now we are mourning each in our own way.
It was very early. This is true. But a life is a life whether it is here for one day or for many.
On Sunday Dave was on call, so my parents came to be with me. I was quite the stoic for the sake of my girls. I’ve always been a decent actress.
My husband and I have never been ones to be able to keep the news of a new baby to ourselves. So we told our children. My oldest jumped up and down, jubilant. She loves babies so much.
A day later I had to tell her that this baby wasn’t going to come be with us.
My oldest daughter’s unflagging optimism was another sword piercing my heart.
“Probably everything will be okay,” she said. Oh, how I wish she was right.
Later my dad cast a shadow on the wall using a flashlight. He made the shadow bigger and bigger.
“Look,” he said.
To me, it looked like a cervix dilating. Weird, I know, but honestly that’s the first thought that popped into my head as I watched the concentric circles slowly widen.
Madeline saw something, too. “It’s getting bigger like the baby in your belly.”
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.
Later my husband texted me: “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I love you.” I texted back.
But I wasn’t fine. Not really. My mom and I quietly slipped away while my dad continued to play with the girls. We hugged, and we cried. We grieved the baby we wouldn’t get to hold. Not now at least. I told her about my guilt, about how at first my experience with postpartum depression haunted me and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the baby that I now wanted more than anything. She understood. She always does.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I saw an advertisement for a catering business called “Sunshine in Your Belly,” and I remember thinking that that’s what carrying a baby was like: Having warmth within you. Even as I hung my head over a toilet bowl to throw-up or to gulp down the unabated nausea that comes with my pregnancies, there was something inside of me that felt good, that felt right. There was something full of hope, something new and wonderful. Even when I had my share of self-doubts and fear, I knew that holding a new baby would turn confusion into clarity.
God has a way of doing that, doesn’t He? (He will do no less with my confusion now. I have to remind myself of this. Jesus, I trust in you.)
Today there is no sunlight in my belly, mostly darkness and emptiness. It’s as if my insides have been scooped out leaving nothing behind but a sun-scraped void.
I haven’t cried buckets. I haven’t cried all that much considering the quiet sadness that won’t go away.
As I passed a baby that would not be ours to have and to hold on this earth, I kept busy, but my busyness didn’t keep me from wondering about this child. Would she have buttery blond hair like her sisters? Or was she a he? Would he love music like my other children?
I stop myself. I get back to work, but it feels like I’m driving with the parking break on.
Eventually I break. My husband finds me weeping. I blame my tears on something that has nothing to do with my real loss. He knew this much. Like my mom, he always knows.
He holds me close. You have to give yourself permission to mourn even in a world that might discount a tiny, new life. And so I really wept for the first time since the loss became real.
The first night after I knew losing the baby was imminent, I fell asleep with my girls. We were piled like puppies, and I went to bed comforted by their closeness and their love. My arms and my heart didn’t feel quite so empty.
There’s been a lot of noise and commotion this week, and I’m very grateful for the noise. Mary Elizabeth has wanted to nurse more than typical, and I’m thankful for that, too. I comfort her as she comforts me.
Mostly, I feel alright. But sometimes – especially at night or when I have to use the bathroom – I feel like my grief has nowhere to go. There’s nothing tangible to hold onto – not even the positive pregnancy test that was my only proof that there was a baby, is a baby, whom I don’t get to nurture, hold, or love – not here, not now.
Words are failing me right now. Forgive me. It’s probably too raw to be writing about, and I fear a maudlin mess is dripping out of me. But writing is what I do when I’m sifting through feelings.
I can’t stop thinking of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art.” I loved the poem in high school because it helped me deal with boy heartbreaks (how silly and insignificant those losses seem to me now, but at the time it felt like my heart had shattered into a million pieces). In the wake of this current loss, I read the poem slowly. I thought of all that I’ve lost in my lifetime – things that I was sure I needed to hold onto to be happy and insignificant things, too, like the wasted time Bishop alludes to. None of these brought disaster. Neither will this loss (God is my strength and refuge; so is my husband); yet, it is hard to master this kind of vague, almost surreal loss. It’s like I know I misplaced something really important, but I can’t remember what it is that I’m missing.
Sometimes you really don’t know what you’re losing and maybe that’s why (Write it!) a miscarriage is so painfully heartbreaking. I know nothing of this little soul that is now a citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven. I have lost a baby, a child whose dreams and features and cries and giggles are only a mystery to me, and I’m left with an ache-all-over kind of longing for a child I never knew.
The art of losing is very hard to master.
Postscript: I wrote much of this reflection/lament this past weekend, and I wasn’t thinking I’d ever post it until a dear friend said that blogging about her own miscarriage was a part of her healing process. Then I thought of how when I wrote about my postpartum depression, my readers offered encouragement and support (thank you so much for that), and I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I’ve often said the blogging community can become a ministry. It’s in our times of great joy and sorrow when this is the most true.
For the most part, I am doing much better now and even when the pain was still very raw, you wouldn’t have known it. This has been an odd kind of hurt. I can’t explain it. At least not well. I am blessed to have many, many friends and loved ones who understand this kind of loss and do not question our family’s sadness.
At first, we shared the news only with our immediate family, but it’s been a blessing to come out of my cocoon of sadness and to be lifted up in prayer. And it’s so true that having my lovely three little girls make this easier. I have them to hug and to hold. When my arms are full, it’s easier to forget that the rest of me isn’t so much.
I also know that this sorrow is an important part of God’s plan for me. I confided in one friend that I’d had a lot of guilt after I lost the baby because I’d been struggling with being open to life in the wake of my PPD. I’d been questioning God’s providence as well as questioning if He was really going to equip the called (as in me). It just seemed like one of those empty platitudes that makes you smile when you read it on a church sign along a rural roadway.
Then I discovered I was pregnant, and I was overjoyed. So was my husband, but we were just a little scared, too. Losing this baby has helped me to face my fears; it has helped me with my trust in God. It has removed the primacy of self (for now) and replaced a stronger desire to bend to His will and to say enough already with all the doubts. It has helped to remind me that despite what I may have assumed, bending to God’s will and being open to life really doesn’t prove to be the most challenging when you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant. No, it’s far more difficult when you find yourself not pregnant and sheltering not a life but the knowledge that you’ve lost a baby whom you had already started to love and to imagine as a part of your family. I hope I’ll never again question the gaining now that I know how hard it is to accept the losing…