I was scrubbing the bathroom last Friday night–yes, that’s how I spent my Friday night, and it was four bathrooms actually, but who’s counting?–when it suddenly hit me: It’s November, and the anniversary of when we lost one of our babies was in October, and we’ve been so busy that I completely missed it!
It was October 5th, 2004 when I had my first of two miscarriages. Our little baby’s heart had stopped beating several weeks earlier but for whatever reason (high hormone levels that my doctor suspected might indicate twins, though we don’t know for sure) it took my body awhile to recognize that the sweet little person in there was no longer alive. And so finally, as George W. Bush and John Kerry battled it out debate-style, and to the sound of the audience chanting “flip, flop, flip, flop”, I lost my baby.
He or she would have been our second child. Our eldest daughter was just six months old when I’d become pregnant, and so this sweet baby was quite unexpected–but oh how thrilled we were! Not only was another precious child on the way, but our daughter would be a big sister, and there was something extra amazing about that. Blessings abounded–or so it seemed, until the fateful day I went for an ultrasound and there was no heartbeat, and the baby was measuring small, and so began a rollercoaster of repeat ultrasounds and blood draws over the next couple of weeks to discern if indeed the baby had died.
And finally the day came when the amniotic sac was visibly deteriorated, and I was told by the ultrasound technician that our little one was definitively gone. We waited to speak with the doctor in a room full of pregnant women and happy fathers, too stunned and sad to speak. I held onto our little girl for dear life and fought back tears as I wished I could change it all. I refused a D&C and so began the waiting game, the one that ended the night of the presidential debate.
It’s a terrible thing to mourn the loss of someone that the world never met, but that you knew and loved intimately. And there’s no real consolation, no silver lining. I was grateful to have been able to miscarry at home without need of medical intervention, but beyond that? Just sadness, and confusion as to how my personal suffering fit together with being a mother to this sweet baby I’d never know.
And yet we were hopeful, too, that we would become pregnant again one day. The human condition is such that as deeply as you grieve, you continue mining the well of optimism, and this is a gift because it compels us to move forward and make peace with the past. But as the months started ticking by, that dream began to seem more and more unlikely. We weren’t conceiving, and there was no ostensible reason why, and for twenty long months–nearly two excruciating years–we struggled and prayed and continued to mourn not only the baby we lost, but our very ability to have another one. Those days were hard, even though life went on and was quite beautiful too. We joyfully adopted our sons during that time, which was an incredibly amazing period of my life. But those two years of infertility still seemed an eternity, until the day we learned I was pregnant again. And then when she was born nine months later and healthy and beautiful, we marveled at what a true miracle she was.
Anytime I hear of someone losing a child in the womb my heart hurts because it is just so awful, and I remember how it all felt, and I fear that it could happen to me again, and I want to shout and yell and ask why must this happen to good families and over-the-moon couples and oh my goodness, it doesn’t seem fair.
And it, like much of life’s suffering, really isn’t fair.
The second baby we lost was to be our fifth child, and I miscarried on New Year’s Eve day while vacationing in California. Walking into my parents’ living room and announcing to them and to my children that our precious baby died is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and returning home to Denver a couple of days later was a horribly surreal experience. Because when we’d left for California, I was pregnant. When we returned, I was not. But then the craziest thing happened–literally just two weeks post-miscarriage, we somehow conceived again. And so began the strangest combination of grieving a loss while simultaneously rejoicing in a gain. We were devastated by the death of our baby, miscarriage number two, but thrilled to be parents to another baby.
And when she was born nine months later and healthy and beautiful we marveled at what a true miracle she was.
I used to conceptualize miscarriage as a kind of occupational hazard when you’re open to life. But now I think that pain itself is an inevitable part of the vocation of motherhood, regardless who you are or what your circumstances might be. Mary the Mother of God gave a yes to the Lord that would one day culminate in her standing at the foot of the cross. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta often spoke about “loving until it hurts”. There is just something inherent in the vocation of motherhood that touches us deep within, and stirs our hearts to both indescribable joy, and indescribable pain.
And it was after our second miscarriage that I really started thinking about how the loss of a child fits in to the landscape of marriage and motherhood. I realized that a yes to God carries risk. Because we open our hearts and hands and say, just as Mary gave her fiat at the Annunciation, “let it be done to me according to your Word.” Not “I’m going to have a healthy baby at such-and-such a time because everything will follow my perfect plan.” But simple, pure, childlike faith that says yes to God in the face of an unknown future. Yes to God when it means relinquishing control. Or when, as sometimes happens, babies die before birth. Or are diagnosed with a syndrome. Or when children grow into adults who walk away from the faith of their fathers. And in saying yes, it’s not so much that we want to suffer as we want to live, to be in union with God. It is a most terrifying proposition, but it’s also a profoundly amazing place to be.
It took several years and the loss of two babies for me to uncover this reality, to finally begin to see–really, really see–that any child brought into existence by my husband and I is a miraculous creation of God. A gift to our marriage. The birth of a baby is a tremendous blessing. I have four of them, and nothing compares to the joy we’ve experienced bringing them forth into the world (did you see the photo of me and my daughter?) and watching them grow. And yet we must somehow also learn to rejoice in the gift of a child who, for reasons presently known only to God, lives but a short while. I have two of these children, and I don’t understand why they’re not here with us, and I don’t really know what to make of any of it. Just like I don’t know why sometimes God comforts us with another child right away, while other times He allows us to struggle for two years. I do believe God is right there with mothers and fathers in the suffering though, weeping with and loving us as a tender father should.
And so I press on and find joy and learn to trust, even when it’s hard. I scrub toilets at night and remember our two dear babies we no longer have, and the sorrow I felt all those years ago. And then it’s bedtime for little ones so I wander down the hall and hug my eight children extra tight because they’re here, and they are a miracle, and beautiful evidence that Jesus is life abundant and everything I could possibly need. Then I put my cleaning supplies away and retreat to the living room and my husband, and my mind returns to my two little ones who aren’t here–and I don’t understand, but I do know that I am their mother, and they are my babies, and there is no longer sorrow, but a simple and humble resolve to trust the Lord who created them.
We are mothers, even when there is loss.
And life is beautiful and precious and painful and hard, and it is from God. And so it is good.