I have a friend who somehow remembered (did she add a reminder to her phone’s calendar?) that this month marks two years since we lost our first baby to miscarriage. She texted to let me know she was thinking of me and remembering with me. Then she sent this song, which I’d never heard before:
Seems a helpful song for personal pain and for collective pain…something that can touch us as a country right now. (Also, has anyone else noticed how impossibly catchy songs are when they lapse into non-word lyrics?) Happy listening.
They would be teenagers now, those crusted-nose, mismatch-socked, pig-tailed grinning first graders.
On December 14 there were presents already hidden in closets and drawers of dressers or out under the tree (Santa gives gifts but so do parents) and I wonder, what did parents do with those gifts after December 14? Ten days ’til Christmas Eve.
Were siblings giddy on Christmas morning, and then stopped and remembered? Did a mother forget a gift she’d bought and hid in the upper left cupboard above the washer, finding it three years later when the family packed to move from Sandy Hook to Anywhere Else, and with the thud of sudden remembrance found herself trembling, scraping at the tape, sure and unsure of what was inside?
Last year at this time, I was nursing a two-week-old and trembling, tossing, turning with anxiety instead of sleeping. A friend sent me a poem by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, who asks if Mary breastfed Jesus and struggled with a painful latch. My phone shows I screenshot it at 3:17 a.m.
3:17 a.m. is a time stamp familiar to those nursing newborns and grinding their teeth into the night guard they wear, familiar as well to those lying not sleeping nearby. I saved the poem because I felt it saved me.
Six hours later I took this photo:
It wasn’t the only milk stain photo I would take in those upended first weeks.
And yes, visits to a lactation consultant can help, but the reality of nursing can look very different than the paintings of a serene Madonna.
Here’s the full poem, with link below:
sometimes I wonder if Mary breastfed Jesus. if she cried out when he bit her or if she sobbed when he would not latch.
and sometimes I wonder if this is all too vulgar to ask in a church full of men without milk stains on their shirts or coconut oil on their breasts preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.
but then i think of feeding Jesus, birthing Jesus, the expulsion of blood and smell of sweat, the salt of a mother’s tears onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth, feeling lonely and tired hungry annoyed overwhelmed loving
and i think, if the vulgarity of birth is not honestly preached by men who carry power but not burden, who carry privilege but not labor, who carry authority but not submission, then it should not be preached at all.
because the real scandal of the Birth of God lies in the cracked nipples of a 14 year old and not in the sermons of ministers who say women are too delicate to lead.
I remember doing Lectio Divina with this passage while sitting on a dock, looking out at Bogue Sound off the Carolina coast. I was on a Sabbath retreat with lots of silence. The skies were gray, and I hugged my knees, trying to get warm.
When I heard Jesus’s question in the passage above, I felt it in my bones—and I also felt a distinct answer: “Give me a child.” It was as though Jesus was speaking to me, and from some mysterious place within, I answered.
But this was Oct. 2017. Jordan and I had only been married three months. I didn’t know if I wanted children at all, and I certainly wasn’t interested in them so soon into newlywed life. I forgot about Jesus’s question, and my answer, until more than a year had passed: Jan. 2019, when the child I wanted didn’t live long enough to grow its little cells and split into more cells and finally, fully form.
Then what I wanted most of all was Jesus himself, and he came and sat with me in my suffering.
Whichever word/phrase stands out to you from the story in Matthew, I pray it brings healing where you need healing and breaks your heart where needed, too.
Lit a candle for Little Story, our miscarried baby, today during communion. Granted, I was leading worship, so yes, I lit his candle, but meanwhile I was explaining to the congregation how they could take these wooden incense sticks, light the end, then touch the tip to a tealight in memory of their loved one, after which I would be available at the altar to pray with them. I guess that’s part of being a pastor — you’re sort of worshiping, but sort of just helping others worship.
Today brought tears. Some of the tears were from worrying about how to survive the newborn stage in just a few weeks’ time. Some were from remembering Little Story. And some were probably just fatigue. But I have a good husband who is not afraid of my tears and doesn’t try to transform them into happiness. So as All Saints Sunday draws to a close, I feel spent but content.
“I’ll never ‘get over’ my miscarriage. I’ve stopped wanting to. I’ll carry it, instead. I’ll carry it and carry it and never put it down.”
Being pregnant so quickly after a miscarriage does not remove the pain of said miscarriage. I cried on Mother’s Day, in D.C. on our babymoon. We had scheduled the trip when we were expecting our first. We decided to keep the train tickets even after the loss, and here we were, expecting again. It could have been worse — I could have not been pregnant — but still I cried in the church around the corner while the choir sang “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
I was supposed to be 23 weeks along, in the peach glow of the second trimester, ballooning with joy and turning heads. Instead I was 11 weeks along, falling into bed every afternoon while it rained outside our rented basement flat. Walking through museums exhausted me, and all our dinner dates — Thai larb, Indian paneer, thick foot-long doughy pizzas — weren’t enough to encourage my appetite. We finally rented city scooters, and as we bumped along the sidewalks, I wondered if I would lose this baby too.
Will the remembrance of miscarriage always make tears coat my eyes? I imagine so. I’ve been keeping track of when and why I cry about the miscarriage — each instance since January. The most recent was August 5. I ought to average them out.
I am excited with each baby kick from “Little Swan,” as we’re calling this one, and I’ve recorded the rapid-hoof heartbeat from the doctor’s Doppler. But when the heartbeat sounded through the exam room, I couldn’t help my first thought, of the baby before: I never got to hear his heart.
Last week, I came into church and was immediately hugged by a woman who’d just heard of our miscarriage.
“I know you know this,” she said, “but, God has a reason. We just don’t always know what it is.”
It was, of course, her way of trying to offer comfort. It was her way of making sense of the senseless. It was her single lifeline, and as a wise pediatric oncologist once said, “Don’t take away someone’s lifeline.”
So I didn’t say, “No, I don’t ‘know’ that. I don’t believe that. In fact, I have preached against that. Or were you not here that Sunday?”
Instead I said, “Thank you,” and meant it. Because her hug was the more important thing. Her broken heart, displayed on her face, was the real comfort. And we all just take our lifelines where we can.
On questioning what happens to your baby when you miscarry:
We can say, then, that an unborn child is a person, not based on biological development, but because we believe that he is loved by the ground of all reality, the Being whose love creates being and grants it to others. Your lost little one was indeed a person, known intimately, loved deeply by our personal God. It doesn’t matter how early or how late we die:
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;
so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
For to this end Christ died and lived again,
so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
At a funeral, a community of believers gathers to remember a life, to mourn its close, and to proclaim their common hope and trust that whatever life looks like on the other side of that deep river separating life from death, it is life lived in the presence of God. This is the posture we take toward those we have lost early to miscarriage. We remember their lives, our hopes and dreams for them, the ways in which their short existence changed us. We mourn their deaths, the deaths that happened in secret places, in the dark of our wombs. And we proclaim our common hope and trust that although we can’t wrap our imaginations around the details, the God who holds the span of life and death in God’s very hands and even in God’s very body, the God who stands beyond the edges of the universe and who dwells within the heart of the atom — this God holds even tiny lost lives in the hollow of the divine hand, calling them by name, knowing them intimately, making them whole and lovely at last.