How to Recover from a Loss
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” –Charles Dickens-
I was in Target, a cart full of disheveled clothes, baggy shirts and cardigans, waiting to be tried on. I was going to use them to haphazardly hide my growing belly. The phone call came and I already knew something was wrong. I almost didn’t want to answer it. I could feel the head begin to pound and the knees weak and jellied about to give way. I grasped the red plastic handle with shaking hands and tears stung my eyes as I listened to my doctor’s words that seemed garbled and distant. With glazed eyes, I abandoned the shopping cart in the aisle like a forgotten handbag and groped my way out of the store to the car where I sat on the leather seats heated by the sun. The fear knuckled up my ribcage with clawing hands.
Because I had been here before.
Two years ago almost to the day in August, I had already lost my first baby to an ectopic. So when they said the HCG levels were going down, not rising, I knew what kind of terror was possible.
Yes, I was pregnant. Only a poppy seed life at five weeks. Too early to tell most people.
But I believe a life is a life and a loss is a loss no matter how early and it’s time we broke the silence around this taboo of grief.
For those of you who have followed my infertility journey over the last year and a half, you know how much I ached to see those double blue lines, how much I believed it would happen. I knew it in my bones even though the doctors said I would need a miracle. I trusted my insides and it led me to the truth that I could get pregnant naturally.
The day that I took the test I expected it to be negative like it had been every other hundredth time I’d peed on a stick. But that day it wasn’t. I burst into tears from the shock. I wasn’t sure if I could let myself be happy, I was afraid to have that joy slip through my fingers. But Tyson just laughed and said it was going to be okay. Within a day, I’d decided that this baby was going to live and it was ok to speak that out. This was our redemption. What we’d been waiting and hoping for. This was the happy ending to our story.
For one week I knew what it felt like to have an answered prayer.
The world felt like magic lit up by a swipe of my fingertips. Even the hummingbirds in my garden flew closer to my face, their red breasts sparkling in the morning light. I felt like a cheesy Snow White. Every day I sat on the bench and prayed over this little life beginning to form and sent waves of love her way. I thought it was going to be a girl this time. A girl born on May 1st. I always wanted a May baby.
So in the car in the parking lot of Target, I spoke it out again, “Baby you are going to live and not die. I believe it. I’m fighting for you. You’re going to be ok.” And I believed it.
A day later, my legs shook during the sonogram, mostly because the body remembers a trauma, it remembers the shape and the feel of it, the shock and the trembling.
The body remembers what it is to lose.
There was no baby in the uterus, and they suspected another ectopic possibly on my right tube this time, which would mean I would be left without any working tubes, but I remained unconvinced. My doctor, who was trying to hold in both her hands, taking care of me and making sure I wasn’t going to hemorrhage out, all the while without crushing my hope, wanted to admit me to the hospital. But I wasn’t ready. I’m the kind of girl who still believes in miracles.
We called people and we prayed. We went to church and we prayed.
We believed and we prayed, this kind of faith so painful to hold, as though holding on might break me.
On August 29, the five year anniversary of our wedding in Virginia, they wheeled me in a blue hospital gown down the familiar halls towards the ceiling with the round fluorescent bulbs too bright and they took a part of me out. They had found a six centimeter mass on my left tube. Turns out it was a blood clot on my left fallopian tube which, already damaged, had ruptured into shreds with the ectopic. The clot kept me from bleeding out.
A tiny miracle in the mess.
You would think all the hope would have died in me that day.
But I cannot afford to think that way, no matter how many glasses I would like to shatter against a wall into a million pieces to reflect a tiny fragment of how I feel.
There are times when the silence of God is deafening and people’s well meaning words cannot penetrate a soul which has been undone. To say I understand is to lie. I don’t understand why my baby didn’t live or why the babies in Africa I held in my arms did’t see some miraculous rising.
I think being honest is an integral part of healing.
California is in one of the worst droughts in history and there are times that feel like droughts of the soul where everything has been blazoned and singed by a too scorching sun and the wispy green tips of life have crumbled in our hands and turned to dust.
That’s what a crushed dream feels like–like a withered flower becoming chaff in my palm.
I believed this time would be different. I believed and I prayed it so. I willed it with my unquenchable will. I breathed it to life with my passion, with the fight I had in me for the fate of my kids. Some people don’t know if they will have children. So they hope against hope. But I’ve seen mine.
I have nearly touched their blonde curls with my fingertips and I have carried them gently to sleep in their nursery and sung over them a thousand made-up lullabies in my head. I can see them.
Until you lose a child you have no idea how it will feel as though a piece of yourself is slipping away. And all the well meaning thoughts of God’s goodness will feel like poison in your blood. How much faith it will take to say yes, I will still believe and risk your life for it. Most people don’t know how to respond to that or how to respond to dead babies. People will tell you that you will feel better and you will, until you find out you are pregnant again and you will feel that old familiar fear strangle your windpipe.
But when you pray for something to happen for so long and then it does, and then it is snatched away again, you know life is dangerously unkind.
When I woke up groggy from the surgery, for those first few seconds, I felt like I was still pregnant and it was all a dream and everything was going to be ok.
I do not think it is an accident that the very thing I write about, the very thing I breathe out into the world with parched lips–the story of God’s goodness, the very thing that my book is about, and this journey I have been on culminates in—is the very same thing which the forces of darkness in the world threaten at every turn.
I do not think it is coincidence that I lost my second baby nearly to the day that I lost the first one two years ago.
But I also do not think that God is cruel, just as I don’t think that the enemy of this world and of my light plays fair. I did not give my children up. They were stolen from me, snatched from my arms too early.
And it makes me angry.
And it makes me sad.
Not many people can live here with me and I know that. It’s hard to be present in sadness and pain when we are all trying so hard to avoid it and we are so afraid to get drowned by the questions we don’t have answers for, by the miracles that don’t happen, by the things we don’t know how to say.
I am like a shadow, an ominous thing. I am a failed experiment in the world of motherhood and miracles. I am something gone awry and I make people feel uncomfortable.
But I am not afraid. And there is nothing wrong with me.
I know God lives here too—in the grief, in the all encompassing bitter tears of blood and sweat poured out in a garden of desolation and loneliness and despair and not many of us are willing to drink that cup, to know what it means to lie down with Him in the garden.
I know there are truths to be faced here too.
Before the surgery my heart broke again. It broke similar but different than the first time. It broke along another fault line that I imagine God’s hands trace lovingly.
He is not afraid of my ugly scars or my wounds or my anger. He’s not afraid to live here with me for a little while. The dark doesn’t frighten Him. He moves into it as seamless as the ocean swallows the shadow of a person at night, the waves drawing deeper and deeper into an uncertain horizon.
I don’t know how long I will stay here.
How long I will sit on my couch in my pajamas and watch cheesy romance flicks with my mother, or read the Hunger Games, or snuggle deeper into Rosie’s fur, or plant flowers in my garden.
I guess as long as it takes to understand and to know what the universe is saying. Every once in a while when someone empathizes with the right tender word, or sends me the most thoughtful package, I know hope can still exist because love still exists and I am grateful.
When I wonder if God can be counted on, I look back at all the remembrance stones I have, all the place where He was faithful. When the miracle doesn’t come this time, I go back and read the journal inked full of bloody tears and times when prayers were answered.
Like an old lover, I give Him the benefit of the doubt because I remember that one time He didn’t let me bleed out in a hospital in Africa, or how he provided a home at the last minute, the garden with a bench, the tiny dog who sleeps cradled next to me at night, how He cloaked peace over me in the white sheeted bed, or how he gave a child to the mother I prayed for, how He used me to be a place of empathy for someone else.
And I think how He never failed me then so how can He fail me now?
I can’t give up yet.