the other baby
Last week was the anniversary of the baby we lost to miscarriage.
I could not bring myself to enter into it.
I am sick of being heart-sick.
. . .
Remember when you were a kid and you got sick? Strep throat or stomach flu or whatever winter cold cough crud kept you home from school?
By day two or three, you’d hit that pillow-pounding point of frustration – I’m sick of being sick! – where you didn’t want to lie in bed anymore, didn’t want any more extra attention, didn’t even want to watch TV. You wanted to be free, to be outside again, to be back to your old self.
That’s a good sign. Your mother would smile as she tucked you back in and kissed your warm forehead.
It means you’re getting better.
. . .
He and I never expected all this heartache. We didn’t want the drama.
We were just a couple of kids. Who wanted to have a couple of kids.
But then there was infertility, and then there was miscarriage, and now there is the loss of our babies – and yes, believe me: I know we have three healthy children whose births and lives are shining luminous startling salvific truths in the midst of this present suffering.
And I know so many suffer such worse; I hold my heart at this deep knowing; it shapes every bright blessed day of the life whirling around me – the cluttered house sticky with kids, shouting with noise, trampled with shoes, littered with toys, spilling with food, leaping with games, grimy with dirt, jumping with love.
But please, believe me, too – when I tell you that this story is nothing like we expected.
Still sometimes I want to stamp my feet and pound my fists. How did all of this happen to us?
I want a normal life. I want a boring day.
. . .
(You probably don’t. Hundreds of news cycles ago. Hundreds of shootings since then. Too much, too much, too much.)
A gunman opened fire at random, killing people in broad daylight. Two of the victims were a father and son, outside looking at cars.
Two weeks after the shooting, days after we lost our daughters, I watched an interview of their wife and mother. Startled, I looked at her face and saw my own. The stunned shock. The grief sunken into her eyes. The contortions of cheek to keep from crying.
She looked exactly like what I saw in the mirror. It was the first time I realized how my particular grief was part of the universal.
I never forgot her face.
I have thought of her every day since.
. . .
After the latest wretched week bleeding with the worst of what humanity can inflict, I heard and read heaps about grief fatigue.
Too much! people protested. We cannot take it! We cannot see any more violence, we cannot hear any more suffering. We can no longer deal with the weight of it all.
I get it. I feel it, too – the horror and hatred pressing down on us, threatening to crush our hope (and maybe our breath itself, maybe the lives of those we love, what if we are next? what if it happens here? what if? what next? how long, O Lord?)
But here is why I do not turn off the news. Here is why I keep vigil with the suffering of the world.
Because of that woman in Kalamazoo. Because her story is not mine, but it is woven with mine.
Because she does not get to flip off the TV and sigh that it’s all too much. It is her life.
Grief fatigue? I get it. I’m sick of being sick. But I don’t get to choose.
. . .
After a few months, people lose their patience with grief. This is understandable: they must tend to their own lives. Normal has its needs, too.
(“Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving,” wrote Elizabeth McCracken – and believe me, she knows.)
But when your own life is at the epicenter, you do not get to choose.
In the days leading up to this year’s anniversary of the miscarriage, I tried to hold grief at arm’s length.
I cannot, will not. I cannot go there this year. I cannot enter in.
The other baby. The one without a name. The one we never got to hold.
The day arrived, gaping hole in the calendar. I busied myself with birthday preparations for the living breathing growing boy, itching to celebrate his day next.
But then, of course, grief crept quietly. And snuck back in.
I could not hold that day, that life, that baby at arm’s length. Grief does not work like that. We do not get to choose, control, or contain.
Because it was my story. It was so many mothers’ story, so many women who have written me about their miscarriages and hugged me at parties and whispered I lost babies, too and told me how they labored and wept and never forgot.
I am worn out on grief, but I have to keep going. For me, for my baby, for all those women, for all those babies.
(Maybe it’s a sign we’re getting better.)
Because going means grieving. This is the only way life works: moving forward but reaching backward, imagining and remembering, mourning and rebuilding, loving in two directions because love means you breathe in two countries.
Grief is the toll you pay for passing through.
. . .
Jesus understood this.
Moments of exhaustion and enough edge closer and closer to him in the Gospels, pressing harder the nearer he gets to the cross. All the madding crowds, pleading and begging, grabbing and shouting, pushing on him with their wants and wounds and never-ending needs. There are always more lepers, more sick, more poor, more bleeding women, more dying children.
So he goes off alone to pray. Again he goes off alone to pray. Again he climbs to the mountaintop. Again he seeks shade in some quiet corner. He prays through the fatigue, the temptation to throw up his hands and say too much!
He knows love does not get to choose. Love shows up, sits with the suffering, stays when others leave, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Jesus does not run himself ragged, but he does not run away. He prays and he persists.
So when I want to shove our own story away – forget its jagged edges and chaotic complications and pity potential and awkward avoidance and small talk sabotage – this is all I can do, too.
Go off by myself. Try to pray. Try to persist.
Because life deserves celebration: head-tossed-back laughing delight at what goodness we are given. And it deserves mourning: face-in-hands keening wail at what awful we endure.
I will not do either side injustice. This is what it means to be human.
. . .
Post-script: My friend Haley’s mother makes mother’s bracelets with the birthstones of the parents and children. She sent me this after Maggie and Abby died. It is the only thing I have that includes all our babies. And a woman I have never met made it for me. This, also, is an amazing example of what it means to be human.