Well. This post has traveled to and from the trash can a few times, friends. But here goes.
I’ve been reading a book – What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It was one of those randomly selected (okay, I’m am computer scientist; I realize it was not ‘randomly’ selected…) titles on your Kindle that pops up after you finish a book because, hey, if you liked that book or even thought it was okay, reading this book might be a decent way to pass time on your return flight. So, I bought it and started reading. Because, whatever, but Amazon probably knows me better than anyone.
And, gosh, this book. On so many levels it’s struck a chord with me. I’m not reallyyy going to ruin it for you (and I haven’t even finished it yet) but it’s about a woman named Alice who wakes up on a gym floor thinking she’s 29, madly in love with her husband, and sweetly expecting the arrival of their first baby. But when she comes to, everyone tells her that, no, she’s actually 39. And doesn’t she remember anything? Alice wakes up to a broken marriage, three children she doesn’t know, and a realization that she’s turned into someone that she can’t stand. She’s left fumbling to pick up the pieces and figure out what went wrong.
Alice has this sister, Elisabeth. And Elisabeth is the first person she calls when she’s taken to the hospital, because of course, her older sister is her closest friend. But a lot has happened in a decade. And Alice realizes that Elizabeth is a sad, cold shell of the life-filled, optimistic woman she once was. It’s turns out that while Alice had three beautiful children without effort (and even one of them “by accident”), Elisabeth had lost baby after baby. After baby. In Elisabeth’s journal to her psychiatrist, she voices all of the crazy, heart breaking, frustrating thoughts that she keeps so well contained underneath her cool, professional demeanor.
“That’s what’s so embarrassing about all this. Each time I sobbed for a lost baby, it was like sobbing over the end of a relationship when I’d never even gone out with the guy. My babies weren’t babies. They were just microscopic clusters of cells that weren’t ever going to be anything else. They were just my own desperate hopes. Dream babies. And people have to give up on dreams.”
“So now I just assume that it won’t work, and that if it does work, I’ll lose it anyway. This is meant to protect me, although it doesn’t, because somehow the hope sneakily finds its way in. I’m never aware of the hope until it’s gone, whooshed away like a rug pulled from under my feet, each time I hear another “I’m sorry.”
“I have no right to be sad about anything. No right to have therapy from expensive doctors like you for losing children who never existed. There is real grief in the world. There are real mothers losing real children.”
No one knew. No one knew the depth of Elisabeth’s grief and shame and brokeness except a journal that her therapist didn’t even read. And guess what? She ended up shutting everyone out and going through the motions and giving up on hope. And friends, this terrified me.
Because as scary as it is to say out loud (in print?), I’ve been there. A while ago, we found out we’d lost our first baby just a few days shy of the second trimester safety zone.
No heartbeat. No reason. Nothing more we could do.
And no need to be too upset, we were told, because this happens all the time and we still had (what was it??) an 80% chance of having a healthy baby in the future, and blah, blah, blah.
I’ve wanted to be a mom for my whole life. I mean, I remember that for my twelfth birthday, all I wanted was this really special baby doll and my mom kept asking if I was sure I didn’t want to change my mind. And I remember the day – the DAY – that I was deemed old enough to babysit. And I still get that gut feeling when I see a little baby, but I’m too old to fearlessly run up and ask to hold her now. All that to say, I’ve been looking forward to this time in my life for a while.
Even still, I definitely wasn’t naive. I’d heard and seen stories of immense loss and I knew I was not exempt from that. So we did everything right: We kept it private. We didn’t buy a single thing, even though I’d secretly walk by the baby section at Target and let my eyes drift towards all of the things that only mothers get to touch. We talked about our ‘maybe baby’ and tried not to let our hearts get too attached.
We were going to go out for breakfast afterwards. I think to the Landmark, but it could have been somewhere else, my memory of that morning is a bit hazy. We were the first ones to the office, which now feels a bit embarrassing. We called and knocked and wondered if we were in the right place. (We were.) And when we finally got into the room with the ultrasound tech, I was shaking and Ryan held my hand and made some slightly off color joke about the equipment and we all laughed. After that it was silent. And everyone’s seen enough movies to know that’s a bad thing. Without an explanation they sent us to a procedure room to wait for our midwife. It felt like an eternity. We knew. And outside the door, we heard her say to the tech, “You’re kidding. First appointment of the morning?” They sent us out the back door, so we wouldn’t have to see all the rosy ladies, smiling, with swollen bellies in the waiting room.
Gosh, I was bitter. Some nights I’d finally fall asleep and when I’d wake up it’d take a few minutes for that morning at the doctor’s office to rush back to me, almost like when you come to after a fainting spell. That week we got calls or notes from five close friends telling us they were expecting. (I’m not joking. I started keeping track because it felt like a joke.) And let me say that obviously, we were glad for them and (because we’re not the spawn of Satan) we would never have wished our situation on anyone, but it sucked big time and brought out all those emotions that I had worked so diligently to stuff away. Ryan pushed me to tell a couple friends about everything. And I did. That didn’t fix it.
I wrestled with God in the typical way, I assume. Asked all the whys. Wondered how this was fair and whether He is actually good.
And I can’t say I’ve figured it out, actually it still stings every day. And really, I haven’t moved on at all. But I can say with confidence that God has brought good things out of the pain.
I had the opportunity to speak at a Christian girls’ retreat and for some reason I threw caution to the wind and included the raw, unedited version of my story. I don’t know if it made a difference to any of them, but it made a difference for me. I think God does something in us when we share our stories vulnerably with one another.
He brings comfort and peace. Not in a way that erases hurt. But it’s something. Because man, masking all of that pain is exhausting, isn’t it? Acknowledging our weakness and brokenness is unifying, and it seems to bring Him glory.
Also, I’ve decided that it’s better to hope than not hope. While I was pregnant, I had this weirdo notion that if I let myself get excited – for instance, if I bought some little onesie with a monkey on it for $4.99 – then some sort of karma (that I don’t actually believe in) might take my baby away from me to teach me a lesson. I know, my brain is a crazy place – that is just ridiculous. If there is a next time, I’m going to let myself feel it. Because really, was it less painful because I didn’t buy a pair of tiny socks? (No, it wasn’t.)
The prospect of never getting to be a mother scares the heck out of me. But I’ve realized, there is something more frightening: Waking up in a decade and realizing that in trying to protect my heart, I’d become a person that I don’t even recognize – a lonely, empty shell of who I once was. So I choose hoping. I choose feelings and brokenness and vulnerability.
If you’ve lost a baby, it actually IS okay to talk about it and feel it and wrestle with it. I know there’s this weird social pressure to put it behind you and trudge on fearlessly and to that I say, “Whatever.” If you need someone, I’ll be that person. I’d love to hear your story. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.