Empty Places

When I became a mother my identity as a woman changed forever. The pink plus sign appeared on a home pregnancy test and I knew I was carrying something precious. The way I looked at everything in life changed: marriage, family relationships, and friendships. Previous routines were different: the way I practiced my career as a cross cultural worker, even daily habits down to diet and exercise.

Life began with extended family being the center of my world. Then increasingly I grew into myself and had a little while on my own. Daniel came along, pursed me until he won my heart, and we never wished to be apart again. Having Eva in our lives? I think this expresses it best:

“Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” (Elizabeth Stone)

But the first time I lost a baby…I’m still not sure what happened to my heart.

My identity as a woman changed again, but not in the way I’d hoped. Of course I was thankful to have a healthy daughter (sometimes people enjoyed saying that after I lost the baby because they thought forcing me to be grateful would help). But we’d been trying for a baby for two years. My doctors weren’t sure it could happen and finally it did.

When our friends came on their yearly visit to South Asia they brought new baby monitors. It was the one thing we’d asked for when we felt ready to have a second child. They’d been on the shelf forever and finally we would be able to break them open.

The playroom for Eva and her friends would become a nursery. We’d name him Judah. We fell more in love with every ultrasound; especially the one where we saw his hands waving around. How wonderful. He’d be able to play basketball next door at the monastery with his Baba (Daddy) and our friends who lived there. His big sister unpacked her old pacifiers and put them into my belly button with a funny smile. Same thing with her old bottles. She loved “feeding” the baby.

The shape of Judah’s head. His little hand waving at me. I’ll never forget how he looked on the ultrasound monitor.
Or the next day…when I doubled over in pain just after we’d taken the pregnancy announcement photo.

Daniel took Eva upstairs to our dear friends’ apartment. My last time alone with Judah.

Curled up on the lounging chair where I’d spent my bedrest, cradling my small bump, tears. Staring at the dining room table. The 4 coffee cups to-go from our family’s favorite shop were still there. We’d labeled them according to our favorite drinks for the photo announcement: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and “milk” just above the due date. I’m not sure if we still have the picture.

Daniel and a friend helped me to the car. Thank God for friends who were family.

There had been problems from the beginning. Several close calls. The pregnancy had never felt quite right, but we were almost in the clear according to the doctors. Close enough to make an announcement for family and friends to share in a few days.

How would I explain all of this to Eva? We had to tell her about the baby after bedrest started because she was scared I had a serious health problem. The honesty about what was happening (age appropriate) made her feel better.

A look of understanding from the receptionist as I walked into the travel medicine clinic. She knew what was going on. Tear stained face, wincing in pain, blood. It would be an hour or two before my doctor and the ultrasound technician arrived so the overnight doctor made me comfortable. At one point he decided to try an ultrasound anyway.

After a few minutes of him randomly pointing at the screen and saying,
“Maybe that’s something” I said, “please stop”
He was doing what was helpful in his culture to ease the blow and I knew it.
He wouldn’t listen to me because he thought it was helping. Daniel could see that I couldn’t stand it anymore. The doctor listened to him and I had a few minutes of quiet before the real ultrasound.

My friend from India who performed so many of my ultrasounds was very good at communicating with her eyes even though she wasn’t allowed to share the results on the screen.
“The doctor will be in to see you soon”

I lay on my side while Daniel quietly sat with me resting his hand on my leg. As horrible as this was, I was thankful we were together.

Dr. Mali walked in and sat down in front of us just as he had so many times before. We had grown to like him. Very honest in response to all of our questions. And very kind. When things seemed precarious he would have me stay in the hospital for a few days. After checking on me he’d talk with Daniel and play with our daughter. Once in the middle of the night we all watched a few minutes of Mission Impossible together which I thought was really cool.

From the time I developed complications he’d given the straight answers I’d asked for.

“What does a miscarriage feel like?”

“Labor pains”

“Ok then”

He was right.

But now he was quiet. His eyes were always gentle even though he was strong and tall. I could see him searching for the words.

“It’s ok Dr. Mali. I already know”

“I’m so sorry”

Daniel didn’t want to leave me alone in the hospital that night, but I needed it.
The nurse turned the light off somehow thinking I would be able to sleep.

I’m not sure how many times I said, “I’m sorry” to Judah, but I meant it. Sorry my body wouldn’t carry him. For whatever problem he had that I couldn’t fix. Sorry I couldn’t give Daniel a son. Dr. Mali told me it wasn’t my fault, but I still felt sorry. Maybe it was shame. Had I done something wrong? Or was I simply just wrong as a person?

“Where are you?” A question I wanted the answer to. If I had to accept the harsh reality that my son was not with me, then where was he? Of course I knew what the Bible had to say about it, but for a while that just didn’t feel like enough. Sometimes it still doesn’t when the feeling washes over me that we are without a couple of boys. That our family is smaller than it’s supposed to be.

It’s so strange having empty places in our lives. Knowing two children should be there when we never got to hold them. Trying to think of a response when our daughter says she’s praying for a baby and doesn’t understand why God hasn’t given us one.

A few songs on our iPad helped through the night when I ran out of words and tears and needed to lie still. They weren’t christian songs if you’re wondering, but I wanted them. The titles feel too sacred to share.

I got to go home after a few days. Riding on our bumpy road (one that never wanted to be a road in the first place) was uncomfortable in the best circumstances, but now terrible. The empty arms felt worse.

Back into the lounging chair by the window where I spent so many weeks of bedrest. Where we planned the pregnancy announcement. Where I had daydreams of Daniel and Eva sitting on either side of Judah’s high chair for Saturday Morning Pancakes. Where I lost him.

Kami came downstairs from her flat after we’d been home a few minutes. She was a friend and she was definitely family. We Face-Timed with Aaron and Kami from Thailand as soon as we found out I was expecting. When we arrived home in South Asia they walked with us through the entire emotional roller coaster of the pregnancy. As did other friends who felt like family. One of the hardest things about leaving was being separated from them, but that’s another story.

Kami sat beside me in the lounging chair holding her own small baby boy. We hugged while I cried. No words necessary. From her own life circumstances she reached into mine with love. Just as she was. I found it very brave and very honest. And I loved her even more for it. Realizing I wasn’t alone helped me know I would be ok.

©2017 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved

Grief after miscarriage is intense. And it’s scary to open up about it because you don’t want to create awkwardness or feel more pain. Slowly you learn to live in your new reality. Some people know how to help. Others want to help, but don’t seem to know “what to do with you”. Sometimes they guess right, but sometimes you’d rather feel physical pain instead of receiving well intentioned advice or “help”. 

It can be hard to know what to do or say when someone is hurting. I’ve been at a loss for how to help friends before. Wanting to help, but not wanting to make things worse. I’m no expert, but from my experiences I want to share some ideas about helping families (and how not to help) after miscarriage. I’ll do that over the next few weeks. But I wanted to begin by sharing my first miscarriage story. Our stories are different and I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I’ve been there in my own way. While this is a little more of my heart than I’m comfortable exposing, I think it could help. So I’m willing.

for more, read CAITLIN SECCOMBE LUBINSKI’s “The Miscarriage Secret” at ChristianityToday.com. I appreciate the way she encourages the Body of Christ to deal with an uncomfortable reality.

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