“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.
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
-Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith
Last month, our twins would have been 2.
I know miscarriage happens to a lot of women– you find out just how many when they emerge from the corners of your life to give you words of encouragement as it happens to you; but sharing the experience doesn’t negate the terrible loneliness you feel– because, there are some kinds of fire you must walk through alone.
“Do you think about them mom?.. the babies you lost?” I asked my mom one day, not too long ago. My mom has had three miscarriages. She paused and then said, “yes, I think about them. I remember when I would have been due, and I still get bluesy when their due dates come around”, she answered. “Even all these years later”.
I still think about our babies when this time of the year rolls in. Wondering what they would have been like, looked like, sounded like… our precious children, born into the arms of Jesus.
We had moved back from the UK in May of 2010. We had been working at a music and bible college over there for 3 years and moving back was hard. Really hard. We basically were in a season of decisions. Do we move back to the U.K.? Do we stay here (in Memphis)? Or do we go somewhere else entirely? After a lot of prayer we finally made the decision to stay in the states. During this time, God kept bringing up to me back to the story of the Israelites entering the promise land in Joshua 4.
1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
I felt like he was saying to me, “you may be in the middle of the Jordan, but pick up the stones in front of you. Make preparations to worship me now, while you are still in the middle of the river… In the middle of your crisis point. Make an altar that you can look back on and remember that I am faithful” I thought God was telling me this because the move back to the states was so hard and heartbreaking to say goodbye to friends who had become like family.
In July we found out we were pregnant. We were thrilled… and terrified. In one sense, it came at the worse possible time. We had just left a country with free health care and we had no insurance to speak of in this country, let alone secure jobs or a 5 year plan. We didn’t have a 6 month plan, but we were so excited. We waited to tell anyone for 3 weeks because we had planned to take a trip to Michigan to see our families and we wanted to tell them in person. Those 3 weeks felt like they took ages. I counted down the hours and days and dreamed and dreamed of what the future held. I had the room decorated and several name options already picked out in my mind. I could already see them in my mind, feel the weight in my arms. I was ecstatic.
This was taken the night we saw those two pink lines.
Finally, it was time to drive to Michigan. We made the trip with in a Chevy Blazer that Trevor’s dad had given us when we moved back to the U.S. The air conditioning was broken and it was unbelievably hot. I remember the sweat running down my back and shivering– then laughing because for a brief moment I felt relief from the heat.
We crept across the states, and as we heading north, we slowly started feeling some release from the heat. I felt like I had finally figured out why the south has become the bible belt; its because every summer, all the southerners get a tiny taste of hell, and its enough to cause at least a mild case of repentance.
My parents met us in Wisconsin where Trevor would be staying to work for a few days and we were able to joyfully announce our news to my parents and sister. I left with them while Trevor stayed to work for a festival and we talked the whole way back… dreams for the future, who the baby would look like, names etc. etc.
I had been at my parents for 2 days when I went to the bathroom and noticed some spotting. I frantically checked everything as fast as I could but there didn’t seem to be any more blood. I yelled for my mom to come upstairs. She came up and her smile faltered a bit as she saw my face. “What is it?” she asked. “I found some blood” I said and showed her the tissue. She looked at it for a moment and then looked up at me, “don’t worry honey, I’m sure its nothing– but we will maybe take you to the care clinic just to get you checked out. You may have just overdone it a bit”. Her voice was steady but I saw a trace of uncertainty in her eyes that was enough to cause me to go into a mild panic in my mind.
We were able to make an appointment at a pregnancy services clinic and though they were beyond kind, I hated being there. I hated the colors and smells of a perfectly lovely waiting room. I hated that I was taking a pregnancy test again… even though it slowly came up positive. I felt a bit better after that and I called Trevor with the news. They were going to give me an ultrasound a few days later once Trevor got back.
Nothing else happened for two days and I felt the fear uncurl in my stomach and excitement grow again. Soon Trevor was done with the festival he had been running sound for and came to Michigan where we told his family of our news.
Fast forward to the day of the ultrasound. I sat anxiously at the edge of the examination bed, clutching the thin hospital sheet around me and the backs of my dangling feet thumping periodically against the drawers of the examination bed. I’ve never been able to figure out why they don’t make anything but stirrups for you to put your feet on. Finally the ultrasound technician came in and introduced herself. I laid back and she squirted the warmed jell on my stomach and started to look around. Trevor and I glanced at each other with nervous grins. She tapped on her keys and then looked at both of us. “Well, here’s the thing… I’m seeing two babies”. “what?!” I shouted. I sat strait up and grabbed the monitor. “but… but”… I floundered. “We only ordered one!”. Yes, yes. I know that’s the dumbest thing I could have said, but there you have it. Trevor just had this stupid grin on his face. “You sure there are just two in there?” he asked. I couldn’t believe it. twins. She told us they were in the same sack, meaning that they were identical. Twins. I had never expected this news. She took us to another room of the pregnancy services center and gave us two small blankets for our babies. Our babies.
I held the blankets in my arms stroking the silken edge of the fabric as we made our way over to my dad’s office. We walked in and he smiled. “how’d it go? Did you get to see the baby?”. There was a pause and then. “babies.” I said, holding up two fingers. “She said there were 2”. “No way!” he shouted. He started laughing. I should explain that my brother had twins earlier that year, so I think we all figured he had won the lottery on that front and the rest of us were safe. We showed him the ultrasound and then made the rounds calling family to tell them the news.
Around this time I started spotting blood again. It was just a bit at first, but it didn’t stop. We hadn’t told very many people at this point, but I started asking for those we had told to pray with us. My best friend Louise arrived from the U.K. to spend a few weeks with us. A week later the three of us drove back to Tennessee stopping in Illinois and Indiana to see family. All the time, the symptoms were getting worse, but my mind just refused to believe what I knew my body was telling me… I was losing them. I had them for so little time and they were slipping away from me already. I frantically googled anything that would give me hope. Stories of women who had bled and remained pregnant, but deep down, I knew why God had been bringing me back to Joshua 4… telling me to remember his goodness and prepare my heart to worship from the middle of a crisis point.
Two mornings after we arrived back in Tennessee I woke up at 3 in morning and I knew without a doubt that I was losing our babies as waves of contractions came on me. I clutched my stomach and sobbed into my pillow. I went and sat in the living room because I didn’t want to wake Trevor. I knew he would hold me… that he would love me and share this with me, but selfishly I didn’t want to tell him yet. It made it more real, somehow.
Finally I just went into our bathroom and sat in the bathtub with the shower running. Draining and filling it up over and over again as the water grew lukewarm, and then cold. I just cried and cried. I begged God to make me be pregnant again. To make me wake up and it all just be a dream. “Why did you allow me to be pregnant in the first place?” I yelled at Him.
I stayed in that bathtub for I don’t even know how long… hours possibly. The hot water ran out and I just waited for our water heater to refill and reheat, over and over again. Finally, I had no more tears for that morning and nothing left to say that could be put into words. I pulled the plug up and just sat there as my body became heavier as the water drained from the tub. And I swear, in the silence, I heard God cry with me. I told him, “God, I don’t feel like worshipping you. I’m close to not feeling anything right now. But I do worship you… I don’t know if saying those words is enough, but I know you are good. I will say you are good when I don’t feel it. I will put my children on the altar and someday I trust I will look back and say that you are faithful”
I came out into our living room to find Louise reading her bible. “Will you pray with me Lou? I… I lost the babies”. We cried together and she prayed words that were balm on my soul. I don’t remember what exactly she said, but truth was spoken. Love was spoken. I remembered things about God that I had forgotten in the darkness. This is why community and Godly friendships are necessary.
One of the hardest times for me was when Trevor came home that afternoon. He asked how I was doing and I just shrugged with tears in my eyes. “As good as can be expected I guess. I think the worst of my miscarriage is over now”. He just stood there. “You are sure you are having a miscarriage?” he asked. It had never occurred to me that he didn’t know for certain just because I knew for certain. “Yes, love… I’m sure”. Then he crumpled. Oh, to watch your soul mate in pain.
The next few days were hard. We got a congratulations card in the mail that said, “a baby changes everything” and well intentioned friends called and asked about details I wasn’t ready to talk about yet. I also didn’t expect the shame I felt. Like some part of me had failed at being a woman. Even at the time I knew that was foolish and a lie, but I still felt it. I also struggled with resentment towards any woman that had ever not wanted her baby or friends that complained about their pregnancies as I stared with envy at their beautiful round bellies.
But God is good. He is good. And every day the haze of my pain cleared a little bit more and I remembered his goodness. I remembered his beauty. Joy became a little easier to find until it wasn’t a hard choice.
C.S. Lewis is my favorite author. He is a master of marrying deep principles with simple concepts. One of my favorite books from the Chronicles of Narnia series is the Horse and His Boy. Its about two talking horses and two children that escape captivity together. They finally arrive in safety at the house of a hermit only to be terrified by meeting Aslan, (Lewis’s Lion portrayal of Christ) in the garden of the safe house.
Then Hwin (one of the horses), though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
And that is the crux of what I came down to. I walked through the fire and arrived where I had always been: joined with the frailty of humanity, and dependent on the grace of God.
I had never learned so much about my relationship with God or the choice of joy before. I had never learned more about worship.
I wrote this in my journal a week after I miscarried: I can’t wait to meet our children someday. But I choose to raise my ebenezer. The Lord is faithful.