A few months ago I posted a quick update and stated that Paul and I would be catching you all up on what has been happening in our lives this summer (and you’ve all been on the edges of your seats ever since, I can tell : ).
Today we’d like to the post the first of a series of “marriage situation” posts that deal with the personal and painful topic of miscarriage. It is a occurrence known by many, but talked about by few. In fact, part of the reason for our long blogging absence has been that, even though we both knew that we wanted to write about this topic eventually, we kept putting the task off. It’s just not an easy thing to think or write about. But God has impressed us with the need to share our story. So we are. We hope that you will clearly see God’s gracious work in our lives and that you will be encouraged. As always, my section will be normal and Paul’s will be bolded.
As most of you are aware, I am 6 months pregnant with a little girl (who is furiously kicking me as I type : ). This tiny baby is a blessing, a wonderful addition to our family. But what many people don’t know is that 7 months ago I was also pregnant, with a tiny baby who we had just begun to celebrate as a wonderful addition to our family. Two babies in two months. One we planned for who is now in heaven and the other a very startling surprise after blood tests ordered by my skeptical doctors revealed that she had indeed taken up residence in my womb.
When Paul and I decided to try for a third child we expected the process to take a while, just as it had with both boys. Amazingly, I became pregnant almost immediately! (Maybe I’m the backwards exception to fertility problems – worse when I’m young and non-existent when I’m in my thirties.) In any case, it was so surprising that I almost couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we had achieved our desired end so quickly. My initial doctor visit went well and I wasn’t particularly worried about anything as the weeks went along. Of course I knew the statistic about miscarriage, that between 10-25% of all pregnancies end that way, but in the back of my mind, I just assumed that God would never make me go through the heartache of miscarriage since he had allowed me to struggle so much with fertility.
But as thousands of women have discovered, there is nothing so terrifying to a pregnant woman as waking up one morning and seeing blood where there shouldn’t be any. And as thousands of women before me have done, I took to the internet in order to discover if there was anything, ANYTHING else that could cause what I was seeing. But as that day wore on, as I went through the motions of doing my normal routine and talking to people as I normally would, my mind started to realize that all those possible explanations were most likely not sufficient to explain what was happening. After a call to my doctor, who gave me little reassurance beyond, “we can’t really do anything right now but come into the office tomorrow and we will check you out” I decided to go to bed.
Rather than sleep however, I spent my time furiously praying. Not bargaining exactly, but just pleading. Paul knew that something was wrong, but up to that point I had downplayed my fear and mollified his concern by blithely describing all the possible explanations. But when I woke up later that night with horrible cramping, I knew. I just knew. And without waking up Paul I lay there and stopped pleading with God and began to cry out to him for strength, stability and comfort for the time of great need that I knew I was about to face. It was probably the most personal prayer time I have ever experienced. I almost literally felt God with me in that room – almost like he was holding me, and my baby, in his lap and gently reminding me that “all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Afterwards I woke Paul and told him what I thought had happened. Frankly, I can’t really remember how he reacted. I know that he (like God had done earlier that morning) held me in his arms and let me cry.
Later that morning we decided to go to the hospital just to make sure I was correct in my assumption. My mom came over to stay with our still sleeping boys and Paul and I made the long drive up to Lehigh Valley Hospital (because even though Grandview is closer, LVHN still feels more personal to me since I work there). After a few hours in the ER with a very kind resident who did an ultrasound and checked my hormone levels, we were given the news that we had fully expected. Our baby had died and I was miscarrying.
I remember our resident (who, in an ironic twist was herself clearly in the last trimester of a pregnancy) saying something about her sympathy and we responded with some type of biblical statement – after all, you have to use the opportunity to be a strong Christian in front of unbelievers, right? – but I don’t even know what we said. Something about trusting God and believing that he was in control. All auto-pilot reactions (though Paul would call it “reflexive faith”).
My journey through the next few days included a great deal of crying and a great deal of praying. I gave out biblical answers to the kind inquires of others and then went home and asked God to keep me believing the things that I had said.
My grief was over an opportunity lost, not so much of a child lost. And that sounds harsh when I write it down but the truth was, I knew where this precious baby had gone. He or she was now in the loving arms of that most perfect parent, living in a glorious home free from fear, pain or sadness. No, what hurt was the fact that I had made happy plans to bring a new member of the family back to our house and now those plans were ruined. Mentally, I floundered for a way to cope with this sudden change in my future. After about a week, I began to feel that my grief was becoming counterproductive. Moving on in my life seemed the more palatable choice since dwelling on “what might have been” hurt too much. I wanted to grieve, heal and move on. And I wanted to do it quickly.
Paul, on the other hand, seemed to want to spend a long time (to me) grieving. He would try to talk to me about the baby, try to ask me what type of person I thought he or she would have been. He’d gain a sad expression at random times during the next few weeks and I would know that he was thinking about our loss. This frustrated me because I felt as though he was simply extending a painful experience rather than “dealing with it.”
Both Jack and Brennan were considered high risk pregnancies, thus, I had learned how to deal with a type of constant fear I felt during the nine months Liz carried each of them. With our third child, I had to learn to deal with a very different type of emotional struggle. Whereas Jack and Brenn had been high risk, with Brenn spending his first week in the NICU, they had both still made it to term. I never expected any other type of outcome for this new baby. High risk, scary nine months, but a successful end. In fact, when Liz told me about the bleeding, I mostly assumed that everything would be ok. The night we lost our child I went to bed, believing that there was a good chance for everything to turn out fine, and while Liz prayed, I slept. Then I woke to the news that my child was most likely gone.
I remember holding Liz while she cried, but even then it didn’t hit me, not really. It’s only when I had to use the word “miscarriage” in a flurry of Sunday morning phone calls (her mom, my parents, one of my pastors so that he could find a sub to teach my Sunday School class) that I finally began to understand. My voice broke over the word and I just wanted to be done with the calls. We drove to the hospital in silence. We sat together in silence, with each of us breaking in here or there to say something. I was numb. I was worried for Liz. I wanted the doctors to stop calling my child a “fetus.” I wanted them to stop acting like it was so normal—this was my child they were talking about—they should be upset because I was upset.
My mind over the next few weeks was a blur of grief. The thoughts I had were sometimes filled with faith, and sometimes filled with grief and guilt. I would think back to how I hadn’t prayed as much for this one (why didn’t I pray more?!) and then God had taken him or her. I shouldn’t have taken this baby for granted. At times I would bless the God who gives and takes away, but quickly become frustrated at the thought, “He already has billions of babies in heaven, why did he have to take mine.” (Even now I cringe at that one.) Mostly, I remember feeling the ache of loss. Not loss of “a baby” but of my son or daughter. He or she was mine and I loved the person they were going to be. My favorite thing about each of my sons is too imagine the person that they are going to become as they grow up—and I couldn’t do that with this child. I didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. This is the way that I grieved. It took months, not all the time, but every so often thinking of my child who I’d never know until heaven.
Liz, on the other hand, seemed almost clinical in her response to the situation. A week went by and she seemed to have pulled herself together. I couldn’t understand how this was possible. I felt frustrated that she wasn’t hurting like I was. I want her to weep when I wept and mourn when I was mourning.
So the question we want to ask (and will answer in our next post) is this: how do two people grieve together, and yet in separate ways? How do they mourn a shared loss if they don’t seem to feel the same emotions? What should they do with the frustration and resentment that may creep in and take root in their hearts?