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.