Two weeks out

It’s a sunny and almost warm spring day in Central Vermont. I even had a robin on my porch this morning. It’s also two weeks since I lost the baby, and I haven’t managed to go a whole day without tears yet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for me. Bit by bit.

The flood of support has been amazing. Cards, emails, pictures, music, prayers, calls and hugs have come from every direction. I’ve heard from an older woman who never had the opportunity to grieve, several colleagues who have been in the same place, and even from a couple I’ve never met and have no idea how they knew what happened, but they sent us a sympathy card and the simple note: “we too have experienced this.”

On this two week anniversary, I offer this, not because I’m ready to say it and be done, but because it’s a beginning. A way of further breaking the silence. A prayer of commendation. Those who have attended many funerals will recognize hints of the standard prayer, “…when all else fails, you are still God…  …Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your son/daughter…  …ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” May this prayer be a gift not only to me, but to others who seek to mourn and heal. I know I change voice a lot, back and forth between ‘I’ and ‘we.’ A prayer of commendation is usually said by the pastor on behalf of the grieving family. In this instance, I found it impossible to separate the two.

Commendation
Love and Life, my body has failed, my heart is broken, but I know that you are still God. Teach me the peace and the healing of letting go, of saying goodbye before I got to say hello. In the face of life and death, knit together in the womb of all creation, grant me and those who surround me hope to keep us going, and courage to hold up one another.
Thank you for this blessing, however brief, this anticipation and this joy, this reminder that each of us is fragile, rare, and miraculous. Each of us is cradled in the arms of your womb, whether or not we ever venture out into the world. In death as in life, we all are yours.
And so, into your gentle, mothering hands, O Love, O Life, I offer my child and yours. Receive back this precious and unopened gift, joy to Joy, hope to Hope. In your love and your light, nurture this life that was and would have been and isn’t. In this tender promise of love unborn, may we still know Love and Life eternal.

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Pamper me

I’m not a stuff person, and I don’t go asking for gifts a lot. But I feel like this might be a good occasion.

I’d like you to give me something. Nothing huge, and preferably something that can be sent by email or explained via phone call. A poem. A picture. A prayer (I’m specifically looking at you, E.D., because you know how I love your prayers).

Some of you have honored me with a gift already. C.Z., your concert dedicated to me counts. T.V., your quote counts. G.D., your email, which you thought communicated nothing except that you didn’t know what to say, that counts. I’m collecting these little treasures, and they help honor, grieve, and celebrate the little treasure I lost.

Consider it a shower, a non-baby shower, a showering of love. Consider it me doing a rare thing– asking for help.

here’s my gift to myself, an unfinished poem:

rose, unopened

pinched and folded,
brightness swallowed
inside  cramped,
clenched, contracted,
folding back
on itself
closed before it opened,
brittle before it bloomed
showered in dew
drops like tear drops
like blood
red petals fallen

Mourning Miscarriage, or not

“Me too.”

After I’m sorry, those are the two most prevalent words I’ve heard the past few days. The number of women and their partners who have experienced miscarriage is staggering, although it shouldn’t be surprising from the statistics. An estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage (although many are within the first month, so often the woman may not even know– or may not be able to verify even if she suspects– that she was pregnant). So if so many couples have experienced it, why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we know what to say? What to feel? How to mourn?

I’m collecting thoughts on that (and a great many other things about what I’m experiencing).

1. Historically speaking, infertility and miscarriage carried a stigma for the woman particularly and for her husband potentially. Whether seen as a divine punishment or something weak in the person’s virility or a genetic aberration, it’s not cool to talk about that. How do I combat that? I talk about it. A lot. I wouldn’t hesitate if my friend died, so I don’t hesitate now. I hurt; listen, or get out of my space.

2. We don’t know when life begins, and so we don’t know what we’re grieving. Is it a person (yes!)? A baby (yes!)? A hope and a dream (yes and yes!)? A child, a legacy, a sibling, a promise, a little one. Doctors will use language like conceptus or tissue or only possibly fetus to describe, you know, what was lost, anything that doesn’t sound baby-ish. But that’s not what the expectant parents are experiencing. I wasn’t terribly attached to my tissue. My baby, on the other hand…

This brings me to an important tangent and lesson in what not to say. I don’t care what your thoughts are on when life begins for the purposes of debates on abortion. You’re not being judged on that right now. If you are speaking with a woman who has lost an unborn child, call it whatever she calls it. Baby. Child. Person. Sweetheart. Now is not the time to say “It wasn’t really a living person yet.” Maybe not to you, but frankly, you don’t matter here. “It didn’t feel any pain.” Great. Thanks. That bloody well makes one of us. Also, for the record, don’t say “you might be able to conceive another one right away.” While this is true and may be what some women need to hear, it should be offered in response to a question along those lines, not as an expression of condolence. When someone’s dog dies, we know enough not to say that they can get a new puppy right away, like that somehow replaces old Spot. Why would someone possibly think it would be comforting to say that about my kid?

3. It feels like an over-reaction. Because of some of the responses I just listed, I kind of feel like I might be over-reacting. Oh, it wasn’t a real baby. Or I didn’t know the gender yet, or the hair color yet, or we hadn’t picked a name or felt the baby kick, so we hadn’t really bonded. There aren’t polite words for this line of thinking, or for people whose insensitivity makes you feel this way. My advice to a sister going through this: if anyone suggests you are over-reacting or it wasn’t a real baby or that their pain was so much worse because they miscarried two months further along than you did, punch them in the nose. I normally (never) advocate violence, but this is an extreme case.

4. There’s no body. Except in cases where the fetus baby had to be removed medically or miscarriages in the later stages of pregnancy, most women miscarry stuff that mercifully is not recognizable or formed. Nothing to bury (which is a very different thing than nothing to grieve, as anyone whose loved one is missing and presumed dead or died in some sort of  tragedy where the remains were not recovered can tell you). Nothing to kiss goodbye, for those who need that closure.

5. On a related note, there’s nothing missing that we can see. Again, late in pregnancy there would be a visible difference in the shape of the grieving mama’s body, but mine looks the same as it did before. Yes, I lost eight pounds overnight, and I can feel the difference quite keenly in fact, but there’s no empty chair, no person that was walking around here yesterday who suddenly isn’t, no pictures to remind me (except the ultrasound photo, which my husband took off the fridge), no physical representation of a person’s life. So you can forget. Kind of like we do when another person dies and we think later oh, Martha would love this; I can’t wait to tell her! and then the wave of grief hits us (different from shock, where we don’t really forget so much as need some time for our brains to actually catch up with what’s happened). Except you can do it a lot in this case, the day after it happens, even. Which then makes you feel really really bad. What kind of parent forgets that their child died? The kind who lost that child to miscarriage.

6. At the same time, pregnancy reorients your life in a way that nothing else really does. You put doctor’s visits, trimester milestones and due dates on your calendar. You change your wardrobe. You get in the habit of refusing alcohol and tuna fish and unpasteurized cheese and non-tylenol pain killers. You skip the grocery store aisle with the maxi pads (which all of a sudden, painfully, brutally, every freaking time you go to the bathroom, you need again). And so reminders are everywhere. And because you just forgot for a second that you can in fact take aspirin, when you remember it hurts like hell.

7. There are no memories. When we celebrate a person’s life at a memorial service, one of the best parts is telling stories. Happy stories, sad stories, funny stories, bittersweet stories. We celebrate the person’s humor or tenderness or brilliant smile. I don’t have any stories about my baby that I lost. So far, talking about the hopes and excitement we felt at the idea of that child hasn’t helped, although it might in the future. I’ll keep on that, mostly because I think I need to keep talking about it.

8. Without memories, stories, a physical representation, and so on, there’s very little community around this loss. Most grief, as my friend Amber pointed out, is communal. Others who knew the person can share their feelings too, and can even conceptualize the loss. With this loss, I understand and feel it the most, where even my spouse has a harder time really grabbing on to it. The circle widens through the immediate and extended family and friends network, but most folks outside our siblings and parents are sad for us, but don’t have grief of their own about this little one who wasn’t able to be in the world. That’s okay, but grief is so much easier a burden when it’s shared.

If you have other ideas about this, whether intellectual thoughts or from your own experience or that of someone close to you, please feel free to add them. Maybe we’ll even create a little resource of some kind that helps someone. Ideas, like grieving, are better and more helpful when shared.

[So this might be where I get feedback that I detach from my emotions or I live in my head, because I’m able to wax all intellectual here. Hey, it helps me, and it may one day help another woman, so that’s not a bad thing. I didn’t cry while I wrote this, which is a milestone, or a sign of detachment. I did, however, shake. Like, a lot. So maybe not so much with the detachment thing, see?]

The Ups and Downs

Heck of a week, folks. Last Friday, I was unanimously approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination this year. They had some great feedback, and some constructive feedback (which is also great, just in a different way), about which I had planned to reflect and stuff.

Then I did manage to get myself into a controversial position by being quoted in part and largely out of context on the evening news. I do plan to post about that specifically a little later, including my best reconstruction of all of my statements, and open it up to comments. Please do not comment on this post about that newscast. Later, okay?

Literally as the broadcast was airing Wednesday night, my body began to go from mild discomfort and symptoms about which I was concerned to unmistakable and painful–physically and emotionally–signs of full miscarriage. By midnight, the worst was over, but that doesn’t make it any easier. A trip to the doctor on Thursday confirmed that I am no longer pregnant. I had been eleven weeks and five days.

People have been incredibly gracious and supportive with prayers, notes, calls, hugs, and even a bouquet of flowers. It’s amazing how many couples come out of the woodwork to tell their similar stories, and makes you wonder about why we don’t talk about this pain very openly. Do we still attach a stigma or blame to the family? Are we confused about what exactly it is we are mourning? Partners of those who have miscarried particularly, help me out here– what’s a spouse to do? Mine seems to not know which end is up, which is fine, but I wish I could make it easier for him.

For me, it’s moment by moment. Sometimes I’m fine. Sometimes a contraction-like pain reminds me, oh yeah, I’ve lost my baby, and then I lose my um, stuff. Yesterday there were big reminders that made me cry: the ultrasound photo on the fridge (now safely hidden away for when I want it sometime later–much later), the pregnancy test that I still had on my dresser, which I never want to see again. Big pain.

Today, it was the little things: talking about the diversity of people being certified, commissioned, and ordained in our conference– a vast array of ages, ethnicities, vocational callings, and even a young woman who will be visibly preg– I thought before I stopped myself. A leftover bottle of gingerale which I almost offered to take home because I drink a lot of it to get through the nausea… oh, right. Asking for Tylenol and being given a generic brand, so I checked to see if it was safe to take… I can take anything I want and it doesn’t matter.

So we plug on. Day by day, moment by moment. One hug, one prayer, one phone call at a time. And try not to think too much about what happens tomorrow and next month and six months from now when we get to the day that was already circled on the calendar and ingrained in my mind. And we give thanks for what we have– an amazing, healthy, beautiful, loving four year old, a strong marriage, a community of support, a faith to sustain. The rest I can weather, as long as I have those things.