leaving behind limbo

I have two items on my to-do list that I can’t get done:

  1. Order gravestone.
  2. Buy car seat.

Every week they stare back at me blankly from my planner. Five simple words. One phone call to make. One purchase to click.

Every week I turn away. I can’t tackle either one. (Yet.)

Both must get done. Ideally before the new baby is born. But limbo—the in-between place, caught nowhere, trapped by circumstances beyond control—is a strange, shifting, liminal space.

. . .

Here is a truth I did not know about pregnancy after loss. You are caught between life and death the whole time.

You do not round a comforting corner. Not like passing the 12-week mark after miscarriage when you start to let out the breath you’ve been holding. Not after babies have taken their last breaths in your arms.

You look at one simple to-do: buy car seat.

And you cannot do it, because of what came before. Order gravestone.

How can I assume I will bring a healthy baby home from the hospital? How can I bank on any guarantees when I know parents who have lost babies at every stage—even in labor, even after a normal birth, even wildly unexpectedly?

I can’t. So I don’t.

I never believed in jinxing or superstition or luck. Yet fear yanks me by the wrist whenever I think of doing something so simple as buying a car seat. One icy grip and I slam the laptop shut: not today. Later. Maybe.

What weighs on my heart is, of course, heavier than anything I have to buy or do. It is the fullness of where we have been and where we are going next.

Two babies buried. One more to birth. I wonder how we did the first. How I can do the second.

Many days I cannot take it all in. I turn the page quickly, pull my eyes away to face the easier tasks. The children’s ordinary problems. The comfortable routine of work. Whatever I can do with confidence.

. . .

What does it mean to leave limbo behind?

The Catholic Church did this years ago. Explained that the belief that unbaptized babies went somewhere in-between after birth—not heaven, not hell—was never an official part of church teaching.

(Here’s the official statement. Here’s a secular summary.)

But let’s be honest. Limbo lingers.

Our collective cultural imagination had already been captured. I had more than one Catholic assure me how good it was that Maggie and Abby were baptized before they died, so they could go to heaven.

It’s hard to leave behind long-held beliefs. Even when letting go opens us up to brighter, better, truer realities.

The same is true for me now. I have to rise and move beyond the in-between.

In eleven weeks (or less), a new baby will push me into a different space. This chapter of pregnancy will end, even as I carry all my love and grief with me into the adventure of loving another, again.

Ready or not—car seat or not, gravestone or not—the story will pull onward. This amorphous place of limbo will evaporate. I will stand on new ground, but it will be solid (I pray). Its tasks clear and concise: feed the baby, comfort the baby, eat, sleep, repeat.

For now I look at the tasks still left to do. I tell myself I have already embraced the bigger realities—the deaths of our daughters, the prospect of a new baby—and that whatever practical steps remain are merely symbolic. I am stronger than any pain they could bring.

But I have newfound empathy for those who are caught in-between. When you do not fit the world’s molds, when your story did not progress according to plan, hazy gray becomes the color of your life.

And to step from darkness into light—knowing that darkness will return and you will retrace your same steps a thousand times—is harder than you ever imagined.

But when the Church let go of limbo, it embraced a deeper truth. That what God wants for us is fullness of life—before and after death. Not some shadowy half-way point, not stuck forever en-route.

God desires abundance of love. Always and already, here and now.

What’s more, our earthly actions do not secure salvation. There is no magic formula by which we are guaranteed heaven, peace, protection from pain or fear.

What is promised us is the abundant mercy of God. (Which I suspect none of us can fully fathom until we are face-to-face.)

Leaving behind limbo moves us into the wideness of God’s mercy. One step at a time, onto more solid ground.

Can I trust that promise? Can I let go?

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  1. Cassandra Ho on 8 June 2017 at 2:00 pm

    I’m so glad I found your blog today. This particular post speaks volumes to me right now. It’s unusual that I would find you at all since I am not usually a blog reader these days, but I happened to be browsing through the podcast episodes for Fountains of Carrots and the episode with you as a guest caught my eye, and I don’t usually listen to podcasts much lately, either. Anyhow, we lost our daughter just over two weeks ago from labor complications, buried her just one week ago, and tomorrow we are supposed to go the cemetery to begin the process of ordering a gravestone. Limbo is an excellent way to describe where we feel like we are right now. Next week my husband will go back to work, but how? And I will continue to recover and try to regain some of our normal routine, but how? Finding our new normal, leaving limbo behind, caring for our children who are here with us right now, and distracting ourselves with easy tasks while avoiding the hard ones is even too much some days. I know it hasn’t been much time for us yet, and the recovery lies ahead of us right now, but we are so eager for more of it to be behind us. I’m sure I’ll be back to read more of your posts, I can’t possibly binge read it all right now as it’s too fresh for us, but thank you for sharing.

    • motheringspirit on 26 June 2017 at 8:02 pm

      Oh, Cassandra – I am so heart-broken to hear your story. I had been praying for your family and was devastated to hear of Miriam’s death. It is such an overwhelming grief. I apologize for not responding earlier – I’ve been so behind on blogging that I’m only seeing comments now. But please know of my ongoing prayers for you and your whole family. You are not alone, even in the raw hardness where you are right now. I am so grateful that anything I wrote might reach your heart, because I know what it feels like to be where you are. Many prayers for you tonight.

  2. Megan on 10 May 2017 at 10:55 pm

    I didn’t get to comment the other day when I read this, but I just want to thank you for the enormous gift you unknowingly gave me. I came here expecting to share in a part of your journey but had no idea you’d be answering the question that has plagued me for years after our two early losses. I first heard of the concept of limbo after their passing into heaven, (both of which occurred, ironically, after the article you shared was written) and I was crushed and wracked with guilt for my unbaptized babies, wishing–wondering–if I could’ve somehow baptized them had I known their souls were in such need. In the past few years I’ve tried at different times to find some definitive teaching on the subject, but kept running into Limbo as an answer, and even heard it being taught within the last year on a prominent Catholic radio apologetics show. Hello! Why?! But I am so thankful now for this beautiful confirmation of the hope that I’ve always held in my heart. Thank you, Laura, for in a sense giving me my babies back.

    Praying for peace and comfort and all the support as you put in the hard work of facig the tasks ahead.

    • motheringspirit on 11 May 2017 at 12:42 pm

      Oh Megan. Your words made my whole day. What a gift and relief to have such a burden lifted. I remember my mom always use to say that babies and children went “straight to the arms of God,” and when I read the Vatican document, I realized her wisdom was right all along. We have every single, good, and true reason to hope in God’s abundant, loving mercy. And I know you will be with your babies again. We come from Love and we go back to Love. Thank you for the gift of your words today.

  3. Jenni Ho-Huan on 8 May 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Dear Laura, hey! “Can I…?” Our ability is easily rocked. Keep leaning into Grace, and then it happens. Praying you experience being carried this season, in a very special way. Hugs. (we met at Collegeville!)

  4. AMP on 8 May 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I understand the limbo feeling. I can’t bring myself to even look at the car seats. I need a new stroller, too, so I start to research, get overwhelmed, cry, decide to do it another day. I’m due not too long after you it sounds like, 12-13 weeks to go. We had 3 kids safely – innocence is so wonderful. Lost one early, then had a rainbow baby. Then lost another one early, and then lost our son at 16 weeks. Logically I know things can and do work out. It’s just so difficult to believe that this time will be different, even as I feel this little girl turning and kicking around in there. Hugs and prayers. It’s not a place I want anyone to be, to experience all of this, but it can be comforting to know others do understand how you’re feeling. God bless you and your little one.

  5. Courtney on 8 May 2017 at 6:48 am

    Spot on, my friend. I have gone on to have six more babies after suffering the loss of an infant death of our second son. Honestly, it doesn’t get easier in this department. There are no guarantees in life and that is scary BUT we can trust in our Lord. His ways are good… always and all of the time. May you be showered with His grace in these remaining weeks of pregnancy!

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