We might normally expect an article on infant loss to be written by someone a little closer to the issue (in age). I turned 60 this past year, and let me tell you that although child and pregnancy loss gets “easier” (whatever that means) with time, it does not get any less important. Maybe what I bring to the party is perspective.
To frame my story, you need to know a couple things about me. First, I am a planner and a fixer. Secondly, I am determined and I don’t mind hardship – I can always “power through.” Third and most importantly, I love Jesus and I believe God is good. Not squishy cotton candy “good,” but deep down, dirty hands, where-your-heart-aches-like-you-can’t-breathe, walking beside you when you are alone in the darkest valley kind of “good.”
October 30 is the 32nd “homegoing” (death) anniversary for our second son. His name was Darrin Marc (isn’t it cooler with a “c” instead of a “k?”) He was my hard-fought-and won VBAC baby with a doting brother just 22 months older. Each of my children have taught me many lessons that I have carried forward with me. Darrin taught me that life can go terribly wrong, it is fragile, and even when you don’t WANT to live through the worst that can happen, sometimes you just wake up day after day and you go on. He died at the age of two months when a previously undiagnosed lung disorder manifest, and what was supposed to be a concerning-but-brief diagnostic hospital stay turned south quickly, and we left the hospital with a blue teddy bear, a mountain of random paperwork and no baby.
The walk to the car on the night before Halloween in Michigan cut with an icy breeze and the months that followed were dark and involved a lot of arguing with God about fairness and stuff like that. The only silver lining (if you can call it that) was my belief that the “worst” had happened and I was quite sure the universe (translation: “God”) had some kind of quota system for grief and hardship that would protect me in the future.
At the same time, my two-year-old was busy teaching me that I needed to get up every day, put on pants and drink coffee. Truth was I think he is the one who kept me alive by connecting me with life…even messy life with an energetic toddler, during a period that it was very tempting to take up residence in the corner of Darrin’s nursery and let go of unnecessary activities like eating and showering.
Since the passage of time in grief-land is different, it made sense to us to get pregnant again the next summer. I was due the following April. My heart still hurt deeply of course, but it was joined with a big surge of hope and a certainty that my season of hardship was over and the universe (translation: “God”) owed me a good outcome. But at the first 20-week ultrasound something was terribly wrong. The tech clicked off the screen, grew strangely non-communicative and made an immediate appointment with my doctor. How odd that in the drive across town, I turned over all the possibilities….Down’s Syndrome? Maybe Spina Bifida? I was busy planning how we would power through. Imagine how confused I was when my doctor took my hands and she said, “I wish I had anything else in the world to tell you…. But it appears your baby died about two weeks ago.” It was kind of like a slow motion bolder was being pushed off the cliff by the Road Runner as I stood frozen below like the Cayote, but much less amusing and much more permeant.
I was crushed. I am not sure why, but he possibility of fetal death had not occurred to me in the 90 minutes since the tech shut off the ultrasound screen. I spent Thanksgiving weekend (just 13 months after the death of my son) in the hospital with an induction, a quick and uncomfortable makeshift funeral in the delivery room, and another “Walk of Shame” out of the hospital, although this time with no teddy bear. We named her Blair Michelle and the cause of the fetal demise was undetermined. She taught me that life is really, REALLY fragile. It is unfair, and worst of all, there is no quota of loss in the universe. I also knew that all the planning, control and “powering through” that had previously been the hallmark of my life was most certainly an illusion.
I was still mostly sure that God was good. But as time went on, it was hanging by a thread.
Fast forward to the next spring and I was preggers again for the fourth time (something which I had never struggled with.) While you are counting the months on your fingers, let me assure you that there is no “right” time to get pregnant again, and there was no consistent reason for my losses. “Unfortunate freak of nature” might be the term used by one of my puzzled doctors. So yes, I was pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant so far from 1986 to 1989. Still with only one precious child “to show for it” (my mother’s words.)
Pardon my over-sharing, but when you have suffered loss, one of the most stressful things about pregnancy is wiping. Yup, you heard that right! Every time you pee or poop is a fresh new opportunity for fear to prey on your mind as you check for spotting. Plenty of people (like my own daughter) spot during normal pregnancy. I am not one of them. I knew when I stopped at the church restroom, that this was the end of the line….again. This time only 8 weeks into the pregnancy and no discernable fetal development. For extra drama, I didn’t miscarry right away. I wasn’t sure when it would happen but as fate works in my life, I miscarried a couple weeks later in the MIDDLE of leading a teen boys small group meeting at my home. I was subbing as the bible study leader for my husband who was out of town and I was alone with 6 awkward teenaged boys who never suspected a thing! This was at the same time an admirable accomplishment and kind of a grim, weird memory.
We had not yet told anyone we were pregnant because I was a bit tired of the way people pitied us. I thought this might help if “anything happened,” but unfortunately this kept the grief and loss bottled up in an unexpected way. We never picked a name. I was worn out and empty. This pregnancy reminded me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no quota of grief or hardship or loss. Life is fragile and most importantly, I finally embraced the realization that I absolutely do not own my children. Their outcomes are not owned by me, or by a random “universe,” but by a powerful God, whom I absolutely do not understand, but who loves me and loves them with a greatness and mystery that is far beyond my imagination.
For whatever reason, I still chose to believe that God was good, though I am not sure why. It was very much a choice and not a watered-down belief drawn from Sunday School platitudes. This was the God who had walked with me so far, and I developed an unexpected connection to Mary the mother of Jesus. I never thought much about her beyond Christmas, I suppose because I am not Catholic, but her story began to consume my thoughts. She had her baby in dangerous circumstances, kept her secrets hidden because no one would understand anyway, and then had to stand helplessly and watch her son die horrifically. No matter how we dress it up, until the resurrection, I don’t think she understood. Angels and shepherds aside, she didn’t have the perspective of history at the time and probably lived most of Jesus’ life without an audible voice of Father God while she was “considering these things in her heart.”
Oh yeah, I also learned from this pregnancy the profound lesson that “sometimes life just sucks – a lot,” even when you have a Very Good God. He owes me nothing.
My path of healing is still ongoing and contains stories for another time. But after all, here is where I landed 32 years later. I am still a fixer and I still power through, but I know in a deep way that so many areas of my life are outside of my control. The fragility of life which had frightened and crushed me somehow became my comfort. It was an unexpected release.
When my fifth child – my “rainbow baby” – was born in 1991, I knew I was not in control. There was no illusion that I could fix all problems or that anything was promised to me in life. I knew that every afternoon on the playground, every conversation, every school dance…they were all precious and not one day was promised to me or my family in the future. She taught me to sit still for a bit; to take time and to live in the moment and I believe this benefitted both of my children.
I was the planner and fixer that learned to make time stand still and just take it in. I took time when I didn’t feel like I had it. It didn’t change my disposition, but it changed my perspective. I actually worry less (strangely) because I realize how much is out of my control. My two adult children still text me when they travel because I like to know when they are home safe, but it doesn’t consume me. I am still concerned about my grandkids and their safety, so I tend to buy gifts like bike helmets and life jackets. I hope they date nice boys someday and make good decisions, but when that time comes, I know that all I have is the knowledge that there is a heavenly Father who loves them infinitely more than I do, and He is the one that will take care of their bumps, bruises and catastrophes. Right now, I can indulge in tickle fights, fairy gardens and hide-and-seek.
These girls have lessons to teach me too. The first lesson is pure joy that comes with release and perspective!