Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Unique Walk of Grief

For the past few years, I've contemplated writing a January post about grief. I don't know what's made me feel more unsure -- knowing I'd need to find the courage to be vulnerable in what I say, or not wanting to unintentionally intrude on someone else's experience of grief. But...deep breath...this is the year I've decided to write the post.

Today is the 10th of January. It's an ordinary day and date and it may not have special significance to everyone, but to me, it marks a day that always has a special place in my heart. It was the due date of our first baby, a baby we lost a number of years ago when I miscarried at around week eleven of my first pregnancy.

Miscarriages are strange things. They are incredibly difficult to talk about in our culture. When they first happen, people don't know what to say to comfort you in your loss. Perhaps because the life that has been lost was so small and hidden still. After a miscarriage has happened, especially if any significant amount of time has passed, people expect you not to talk about the experience, as though it's been over so long ago that it should be well shelved in your memory and not need airing. I still sometimes feel embarrassment -- though I know I shouldn't -- when I feel a deep need to bring it up, and when tears form in my eyes when I talk about it.

Even the name is strange: to "miscarry" always sounds to me as though you just accidentally slipped or somehow made a mistake. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. When my miscarriage occurred, I remember feeling more powerless than I had ever felt in my life. Everything in me longed to change what was happening in my body, what was happening to the new little life that was developing inside me. I desperately wanted to find a way to stop it from happening, and after it was over, I went through a period of time when I kept wanting to turn back time.

I think there is also a sense, on the part of many people, that the pain of a miscarriage, once it's over and done, ceases to hurt very much. Especially if you've gone on to have another baby. There's an expectation that the gift of the new child somehow completely heals over the sore places in your heart and empty hands. And there is, of course, a deep element of truth to that. Time plus grace does help heal wounds (of all sorts, not just this particular grief) and holding a whole, healthy baby assuages the maternal ache. Assuages and comforts, but never erases it. Because the life you carried was a different life, a different person. And though you never held that little one in your arms, you did carry him or her in your body...for days, weeks, sometimes months.

And you felt that person's presence. It's different for different women, of course, depending on when the miscarriage occurs. For some, a heartbeat has already been heard, and the worst moment may come when that rhythm ceases to beat its steady pulse. For others (like me) we didn't even get to hear that wonderful music. But still, the changes that occurred in my body, as it made room for that little one to grow, were palpably real. I prayed prayers for that little one. And the physical and emotional journey of the miscarriage, essentially a small labor ending in huge loss, are etched in my memory forever. Truly one of the hardest days and nights of my life, with the prayer of Psalm 121 (sent by a friend) and the prayerful songs of St. Brendan my lifeline in the wee small hours.

The grief never goes away entirely. And that too is unique for each person. The grief tends to wash over me every year in January, right around this time. I feel it coming, sometimes like a tidal wave (in hard, darker years) other years a more manageable wave but still strong and sure. I've realized that there's nothing I can do to stop its coming...that it's a natural part of who I am now, like my hair and eye color. This grief is a piece of me and preparing for the wave is a part of what I have to do every year as the calendar turns. Some years I weather it with grace. Some years not so much. (This is, thankfully, a grace year...hence the strength to write this post.) Some years the grief is more palpable than others. I find myself thinking about the fact that I could be planning a birthday party right now, wondering how our little one would be enjoying the after-Christmas season leading up to the birthday. I find myself wondering if he (or she, but we've always had a strong feeling the baby was a he) would be like his sister.

We conceived the sweet girl just months after the loss. In the present, physical world, these two children could not have both existed -- they were too close in time. There is an absurd feeling to that for my heart sometimes, a strangeness, because I am the physical link that connects them both, and I hold them in my heart in unique ways. I cannot imagine our lives without the sweet girl, now a precious and amazingly creative 9 and 1/2. But I cannot imagine my life without the weeks I carried our other little one, who would now be turning 10. (One day, when she's ready -- she's not yet -- I'll share about all this with her. And I hope that will be a blessing to us both.)

My husband's grief still comes too. It hits him at a different time, around the time of the actual miscarriage itself, which came in June, right around Father's Day. Just a little more than a year or so after we lost our first little one on Father's Day, he held his daughter in his arms, and then three months later lost his own father. It all combines in a tangled web of love and loss, joy and sorrow.

There were people, even at the time of the miscarriage, who treated the loss as an ephemeral one -- as though the only real loss was the loss of our dreams about this tiny precious one (as if that wasn't crushing enough). That hurt, undeniably. I found myself not knowing how to answer their well-meaning statements. (Word to the wise: "these things happen" almost never comforts.) There were people who perhaps didn't understand my need to cry, journal, bawl my questions at God. But there were also people who awed me with their love and understanding, and who -- like the experience of the love and loss itself -- changed me forever, helped me grow in my own tenderness toward others walking this road or other kinds of grief roads. There was the dear friend who sent me the large, thick creamy white candle I still light in the baby's honor every year. There were the people who hugged me without saying anything at all. There was the friend who let me know, tentatively but truly, that he had dreamed I was expecting again (not long before I really was, a sign of hope). There was the woman at church I barely knew who almost brought me to my knees when she let me know, months down the road, that she had prayed for me every single day of the original pregnancy, even after we lost the baby.

The love of those people is one of the main reasons I've wanted to write this post for the past decade. They are the ones who showed me, through God's grace and through very simple acts of kindness, that we really can respect one another's unique roads of grief and walk each other through them. They were the ones who helped me to accept that my own grief is just a part of who I am, and will stay with me in some form for the rest of my life. But that the grief doesn't have to be an enemy, or something I need feel ashamed of. It's helped shape who I am. And it's not the only thing that shapes me. There were the very real eleven weeks of joy I experienced in carrying that tiny, hidden little one inside me, the privilege of carrying my baby for the very short season of that little one's earthly life.

Joy and grief both shape us. And they never fully leave us.


Erin said...

Such a beautiful and heartfelt post, Beth. I can only imagine what a wrenching experience that must have been for you, but you really cut to the heart of the matter with your courageous words.

This post made me think of Anne's House of dreams, the nineteenth chapter particularly, in which Anne gives birth to a baby who dies a day later. Especially the conversation with Marilla, who is trying so hard to comfort her in her own practical way but is really at a loss. I think their conversation can be pretty much distilled into one exchange toward the end...

"It won't hurt so much always, Anne."
"The thought that it may stop hurting sometimes hurts me worse than all else, Marilla."

Sending you lots of hugs.

Beth said...

Erin, thanks so much...both for your own sweet, thoughtful words and the words from Anne. Lots of wisdom there. And yes, there's that whole layer to grief too...the realization that time's passing does dull it. There's both blessing and bane in that.

Hugs back!

Callie said...

Hi- You don't know me, but I found your blog on a friend's blogroll and I just LOVE your writing. She emailed this link to me this morning and I want thank you for sharing your walk through grief. I love how you captured joy and sorrow as it twirls around our lives.
I, too, had a miscarriage and wrote about it a little bit in this post: http://www.calliefeyen.com/?p=252 if you are interested.
I hope it is OK that I left a comment. I think that if you had the courage to write, then I should have the courage to leave a comment. :) Peace, Callie

Beth said...

Callie, thank you so much for having the courage to leave a comment. ;-) It means a lot to me to know this post touched you.

I so enjoyed reading your post as well. Joy and sorrow do so often seem kin...

I'm glad you enjoy my musings here and hope you will come back often.


Free Range Anglican said...

Oh, Beth. This is the most beautiful and wonderful tribute to a lost child that I've ever read. I know it will be a comfort to many and futhers the understanding, which I've long held as firm truth, that every life, no matter how brief and small, changes our world forever. I remember feeling awed when you first told me you had been pregnant and miscarried, like this life was a precious gift that I had been trusted and blessed to meet through you. Your post makes me feel that all over again. Thank you for sharing your little one with the world; and I am sure your words are a balm to many mothers who know your experience all too well.

Beth said...

"...every life, no matter how brief and small, changes our world forever." So beautifully said, Tara. Thank you!

I'm glad the post was a blessing. I think there are reasons the Lord nudged me to write it, beyond the reasons I knew and understood. At least that's my hope.

House of Brungardt said...

What beautiful writing! I found you from your comment on Karen Edmiston's blog. I just celebrated the life of my first lost baby yesterday. For some reason the day she was actually miscarried three years ago is what I've focused on. The kids and I made cupcakes (we call it her birthday) and talked about her. My oldest was five at the time, so they knew from the start about our baby whom we named Mary Joseph. We ask her for prayers every night. And I, too, have a son who would not be here were it not for the loss.

Unfortunately we have had a new loss last September at 14 weeks. We felt she was a girl, too, and named her Teresa Marie. Her due date is coming up in March and I know from the last time that the first year for that will be the hardest. Then we'll start celebrating her "birthday" next September.

For me, time passing takes some of the grief away, and leaves more of the joy. Though I never forget! And at sometimes strange times the grief comes back.

It helps the most to talk to other women who have gone through the same thing. I never knew how many women I knew had had a miscarriage until I had one myself. It's like you enter a club you didn't know existed. Those other women know how it stays with you forever and for the most part don't mind one bit if you need to talk about it months or even years later.

And you know what else? I often have times when I look at my children (we have 5) and have the strongest feeling that someone is missing, and then I realize that it is my two babies. They will always be with me!


Edna said...

Thank you. Funny how things work--I was just talking to a friend who has a friend who has experienced four miscarriages and just started a ministry for people to remember their babies. . . God at work. Thank you for sharing!

mommaof2 said...

Hi there... I am the friend Edna spoke of who started a ministry embroidering hankies for mothers who have lost babies. This is a difficult subject that I happen to be very passionate about.
Thank you so much for your blog post. You write about what you went through so eloquently, and that is not easy to do with such a delicate subject.
God bless you.
If you would like any more information on what I do, you can find me on Facebook. www.facebook.com/lilangelshankies

Beth said...

Janet, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. It's a privilege to hear it. You're right that sharing makes the burden and the grief somehow easier to carry. I too know the feeling of looking around and having the sense that someone is missing.

I'm glad you found me from Karen's blog. She is such a lovely, gifted woman. I didn't realize when I posted this that she was about to publish a book on the topic of miscarriage. I'm sure it's a beautiful book and will bless many people.

Beth said...

mommaof2, thank you so much for sharing! I'm very thankful to know that this post is touching others' hearts. Getting to a place where I could finally write it (it's been on my heart for a long time) felt like a healing step for me too.

I'm sure your ministry blesses many people. I will definitely look your page up on Facebook.

Blessings today!

Beth said...

Edna, thanks again for commenting -- and for sharing this post with others. I'm really grateful!

Edna said...

You're welcome :-). I think connections are such a God-thing. The internet has many bad sides, but it also has some really good ones, and this is one of them--God weaving blessings in and through sorrows and strangers and cyberspace.