“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I haven’t had many near death experiences… I’ve done a few fun/crazy things, but nothing terribly traumatic has emerged, thank God. Probably the most near death experience I have had was when I was about 10 years old. My family was having a day out at some park. My Dad was and still is a minister; but growing up, he also worked construction full time. Sometimes he would take Mondays off and every once in a while he would swing home and say to my mom, “lets go on a picnic”… we would pack up some sandwiches and mom would buy Dr. Pepper from the gas station while dad filled up the mini van. Then he would say to one of us kids, “pick a direction” and we would get intentionally lost for a day. Eventually finding a park, and playing frisbee… sometimes swimming in our clothes if the park had a lake. Dad would find a picnic table and stretch out to take a nap in the sun. These were some of my best memories from my childhood and something that has stuck out in my mind as a huge perk of our homeschool schedule flexibility.
Anyway, one of those times my brothers and I ended up going swimming in a man made lake. Perhaps it was an old quarry, I don’t know, but the shoreline dropped off fairly quickly. I was a pretty strong swimmer, but I didn’t notice that my little brother had swam up behind me and was starting to flag really quickly treading water. He wasn’t trying to hurt me at all, but in his panic, he climbed on top of me to stay afloat. My older brother was swimming fairly close to us and I’m told that He pulled my little brother off of me within maybe 15 or 20 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. I know I’ve digressed quite a bit, but here’s what I’m getting at: The one moment that has stuck in my memory that day was not really the fear of that experience, but the fact that everything seemed so silent when I was underwater. I gasped for air and pulled a lot of water in that I would later vomit on the shore. You expect these moments to be violent and loud, but for me it wasn’t. There was just… silence. Like in a nightmare where you try to scream but just can’t.
We have miscarried 6 babies in the last 5 years. 6 babies born into the arms of Jesus. We lost twins at 10 weeks and four others at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 6 weeks and 12 weeks.
This is the memory that keeps flooding back… These 6 little lives that seem to have passed from our lives so quietly and surprisingly. We haven’t necessarily minded sharing our loss, but it doesn’t generally come up in conversation… So you kind of silently gasp; grief sometimes coming upon you quickly and suddenly and other times seemingly not at all. It’s like a fever dream; scenes and emotions bounce around you and just as you begin to grasp the situation the landscape changes again. And along with your empty arms and hollow belly it’s hard to not lose your voice as well. What do I say?… is it easier to say nothing? To bear this weight alone? Sometimes.
October is infant loss and awareness month. Most of these pseudo remembrance days pass without much recognition or pomp. But if you are anything like me, you see a post about this month and this day and immediately a flood of thoughts and emotions and memories flood in. I appreciate the voice that social media can give to an issue that often feels silent.
So many memories of doctors offices and sterile rooms where you are trying to find a measure of comfort in answers. But sometimes there are no answers. There is no one to blame. I have been through the gamut. I have asked so many questions. Watched the crook of my arm slowly bear a track mark from the number of times my blood has been drawn and tested. And each time the Doctor looks at me with sad eyes to explain that they just can’t explain why it’s not working out. I have changed my diet. I have taken hormones. I have rested and pleaded and begged for God to let my body hold onto our babies tiny form. They still tell me that the odds of a successful pregnancy are better than the chance of me losing another. This offers little hope to me anymore.
“Is this your first miscarriage?” the nurse asks glancing down at her clipboard. “no, it’s my fifth miscarriage… sixth baby, I tell her unnecessarily. She glances up at me sadly. “It was twins the first time”. Why am I telling her this? I think to myself. She doesn’t need to know this… but it just seems wrong that one of them is just forgotten. She asks me several questions. I tick off the answers. I know the drill at this point. She asks me if it’s ok if a resident accompanies my doctor into my examination. I tell her that I would rather he didn’t this time. She leaves and I sit with my legs crossed on the exam table… God, I hate how they never have a place to put your feet. I flip through People magazine. A beautiful celebrity just had a beautiful baby. I drop it on the table and take my pulse breathing deeply trying to just calm the flip down. Is it, breath in through your nose and out your mouth or the other way around? Who cares…
The Doctor comes in and so does the resident. I don’t bother telling him I don’t want him there. I know they aren’t going to examine me yet anyway; they will just send me out for labs and then an ultrasound. More questions.
He gives me the form to take to the lab and apologizes for my loss. I say, “it’s ok”… my voice sounds wooden to my own ears. Why did I say that? What else am I supposed to say? I make it out of the Doctor’s office and suddenly I just lose it. half way down the hall I remember having passed by an elevator with an out of order sign. I stumble to it as fast as I can pushing myself in the dimly lit corner and drop the lab orders, frantically digging through my purse for anything to wipe my face with. Nothing. I’ve been crying on and off for days and I didn’t pack anything. I finally pull up my t shirt and blow my nose, hoping that the snot doesn’t come through the fabric.
More labs, follow ups. One particularly painful ultrasound where the technician tells me excitedly that she thought she may have seen a heart beat. She spends the next 10 minutes looking for it. I lean back while another faint contraction comes and sob because I know that I’m miscarrying and it seems like the worst form of cruelty to offer hope.
We didn’t mean to get pregnant this last time. We cried when we found out, because I wasn’t ready to deal with another miscarriage again. And right now, that is what pregnancy means to me. But I had changed up my diet, I was on some medication and I had the “symptoms”. When we made it to 12 weeks I though, “maybe…” But no. No heart beat. That little one had died weeks ago and my body just hadn’t figured it out yet. I wrestled with feelings of hatred and love for my body. “You’ve worked so brilliantly in the past… don’t you remember? Why are you betraying me now? I’ve worked so hard to be good to you. Just work, dammit”
People have said things to me… people I love and that love me, have asked me questions that have seemed like the antithesis of love. “What did I think I did that made me miscarry?”, “Did I work too hard?”, “Did I need to change my diet?” “Maybe if I try “___” next time? “When it’s meant to be it will be.”, “They say when you miscarry it means that there was just something wrong with the baby”. Arrows breathed out with love that all whispered “what did you do or not do that killed your baby?”. Questions and statements that confirmed the very worst thoughts I fought thinking about myself. When I snapped at Judah or Eleanor maybe God knew that I couldn’t even properly love the kids he had given me and didn’t dare entrust another precious soul to my care. Lies. Lies. Lies.
Miscarriage is NOT YOUR FAULT. It is not your fault.
More doctors visits. “How old are your children?” a nurse asks. “3 and 2” I answer. “Well, that’s good. At least you have them”. Maybe I’m selfish… no, I know I’m selfish; but I wanted them all. I know what she means though and yes… I am so, so grateful.
The hardest nights have been when sleep has eluded me. Finally I get out of bed and walk around our home bathed in moonlight. Sometimes going outside when the weather was warm… Praying, listening… just being. And inevitably I end up in our kids room. I lean over their beds until I can see their perfect features and watch the blankets slightly rise and fall with their breaths. I slide my cheek up next to theirs breathing in their scent and thanking God over and over again for His goodness.
And He is good. There is something amazing about knowing we have 6 children that have never known anything but the presence of Jesus.
Don’t fight becoming real. The wearing off of your perfect skin and shine of your eyes might happen without your consent or approval, but there is hope to be found. Even in the darkness, stars linger. And even offer direction if we can bear to lift our eyes. You can feel the warmth of embraces even better with your new skin. And the silly disguise of perfection is removed to reveal a vulnerability that draws you near to other real people. Trevor and I have grown so close through our grief. Though we would never wish this particular part of our journey on anyone, (even ourselves) our trust in God has been strengthened much more than if we had faced no hardship. For every time that someone has said something that stung, there have been 10 others that have cried with us and held us in prayer and loved us like Jesus. They give voice to our pain and tell us that yes, this child is immeasurably valuable.
Miscarriage has given me much more compassion to face the realness and brokenness in others. To know that not all scars are visible, but that the pain of those wounds often displays in seemingly unrelated ways. I bury this knowledge in my heart and remember it when words seem chosen only to wound.
We have been shaken, but our foundation is strong and steady. There is joy to be found in brokenness. Brokenness from a Christians heart is often the catalyst to desperately seeking the Father’s presence. And when we find ourselves in the presence of the God, we face a decision; to either turn away, or else unashamedly adore Him.
Your baby has value. Sometimes you are the only one that knows what is going on. Your voice is important and more powerful than you think. I found mine while I was becoming real.