Miscarriage was on my list of fears, right up there with a cheating spouse or living in Alaska. My mind simply could not grasp losing a tiny human for whom I was responsible to protect and guard in my womb. It seemed like the ultimate failure as a woman to me, for pregnancy is a time when your one job is to keep that baby alive and all your efforts focus there. What you eat, how you exercise, the doctor you pick, and the medications you treat your sicknesses with. You carry this weighty miracle for 9 months until one day it ends – in a delivery room with a crying baby. And that cry is the relief of every mother’s heart, only sometimes you never get to hear it.
On a cold, January day I sat in the emergency room with my husband and a brown paper bag. An hour earlier I had been standing in church talking to a group of people when I felt a rush of fear and excused myself awkwardly to the bathroom. It was there in a stall with the sound of women chatting and washing their hands right outside my door that I “delivered” at 13 weeks. Your first thought is, “What is happening?” when you don’t expect anything to be happening at all. Then there is this wave of grief as it hits you all at once and you try to remember every single thing you ever read in brochures and pregnancy websites about miscarriage. I wondered how I could make it from the bathroom to my husband without crumbling into a pile of ugly tears. I wondered what I was supposed to do with the baby. I wondered what they would tell me when we reached the hospital. I wondered if it was my fault…there was that run yesterday afternoon…there was that poison ivy medication I took…I was nursing when I found out I was pregnant…
“MB! Stop. Focus. What do you do with the baby?”
I grabbed a paper bag and waited till it sounded as if everyone had left the restroom. I made a mad dash to tell my husband, but not before a group of women opened the door and began to ask me a series of polite questions, “Was I new here?” “How many kids did I have?” “Where did I live and what did I do?”
“Lose babies. That’s what I do, I lose babies. How many kids do I have? I had 3, but now I have 2.”
Awful things come to your head in moments like that.
I found my husband, we left our girls with my parents and headed to the emergency room at the hospital. There we sat for several hours. Holding hands. On a nightmare date of sorts with our little brown paper bag laid to rest beside us. If I could describe the kind of pain and hurt in my heart during those hours of waiting, I would. Maybe it would make me feel better. Maybe it would take away a little of that January day every year when it rolls around. Maybe it would explain why pregnancy is so different for me now that I know what it feels like to have life one minute, and not the next.
Pain like that is awful.
As we sat there together, I began letting out the tears I had held back while I was in public. I voiced aloud all my questions and my hurt. I looked at other people in the room and tried to trade places with them. I wished I could have had the screaming baby, or the really bad cough, or the toddler with the spiky fever…I would even trade places with the cancer patient. But not a dead baby. You can’t have my paper bag, Lord. I’m not ready to give him to You.
They finally invited us back and they took that paper bag and never brought it back. I laid underneath a thin sheet on the examining table…cold, vulnerable, and scared. The nurses buzzed around in zipped up fleeces smelling of coffee breaks and magazines and I wanted to pull them aside and demand of them to mourn. To show more respect. Act as if this was the last day of a life, and they were attending a funeral.
But nobody wanted to attend.
The doctor came in and I searched his face for any sign of hope that there was life left in my womb. But deep down, I knew. I knew that the size of the mass I delivered could be all that was left and I was as empty now as the faces that talked of nothingness around me.
He wasted no pleasantries and told me with practiced poise that my pregnancy had been “naturally terminated”. He began to tell me that I was healthy and sure to conceive again, but his voice trailed off and my eyes darted to the door. My paper bag was not coming back. I knew that now. There were no apologies or warm words of encouragement. Just sterile doctor facts. And truthfully, I hated everybody in that room for it. I hated that it had to end like this. With me on an examining table. With a paper bag in another room. With an emergency room bill in our mailbox.
The next few days were pure torture. I told myself that I was the cause of the death of my baby. That I shouldn’t have taken the poison ivy medicine, or gone on any runs. That I should have taken my prenatal vitamins more faithfully, and gone to the doctor sooner. My husband tried and tried to tell me that it was nobodies fault…but honestly? You don’t want to hear it. You want somebody to blame, and the easiest person is yourself.
It’s funny how the wake of death brings the strangest people into your life or maybe it just brings the strangeness out of people, I’m not sure. There were things said and done to me during those days surrounding our loss that baffle me to this day. There were the ones who listened, the ones who couldn’t wait to get a word in, the ones who ducked and hid, and the ones who got a pot of soup going on the stove. There were the ones who couldn’t empathize but sympathized, and the ones who weren’t sure what to do, but told me I could ask. Even if it was 2 in the morning.
It has been these very times in my life that I have been strangely surprised by people and the ones who stick around.
After three days of laying in bed and crying more tears than I knew I had, I told God I wasn’t mad anymore. That I was deeply hurt and wounded and a piece of me was gone with that paper bag, but that I would trust that He knew better than I did. That He saw pieces to the puzzle of my life, that I didn’t see. And I finally rested. I rested my baby in His lap. I rested my tears on His shoulder. I rested my head on my pillow at night believing there were better days ahead.
And there were.
Three months later we conceived our son, Keller. And I anguished over every doctor’s visit and ultrasound. I waited with bated breath every time they pressed the doppler to my belly…searching for a heartbeat. I sighed a huge relief when they kept telling me over and over again, “He’s growing. He’s strong. You’re doing a good job, Mama.”
I’m 30 weeks along today with our precious baby Hugh. I feel the fragility of my womb as if I had miscarried yesterday instead of 4 years ago. I can tell you, though, that life is more precious than words could ever describe when you’ve sat in the ICU with monitors and tubes, or waited in the emergency room to hear the news. Moving fingers, the rise and fall of the chest, the flutter of eyelids, and the sight of the scale climbing, climbing till it reaches a healthy weight. It is a rush of relief and a prayer to heaven all rolled into one. I fight for that. I fight for moving fingers and toes and a tiny beating heart that houses a human soul. I fiercely want to protect it. Strive to see it win. And yet, sometimes it is far beyond my own control.
People email and ask me how it feels to miscarry. How does it register with the brain when the life you are sustaining as the mother is snuffed out in a singular instant. And all I know is to say hurt. Deep hurt that courses through veins and exhales with breath. But do you know what else I know? A deep and sustaining power rushes in when you need it the most. The Lord cares. He hears. He binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted.
Your heart expands for the hurting, more than you ever thought it could.
This story is documented for every single one of you hurting women who have emailed me over the years wanting to know my story. I understand. I ache for you. I pray so fervently that you feel the love of God wrapping his arms around you because I know how much you need it.
all my love, mb