leaving behind limbo
I have two items on my to-do list that I can’t get done:
- Order gravestone.
- 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.
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?