Nothing Changed But Everything Did- A Miscarriage Story

I didn’t know it would be so hard to get the day out of my head. I can go back and watch my steps again in silent slow motion. I see me walking into the office, breathing slowly in the waiting room chair. I hear the brittle paper on the bed beneath me, the NeedtoBreathe song from the speaker, the static as the doppler searches for any hint of a throbbing little heart.

I see the walk to the ultrasound room, the forced smile I offered the tech, the ceiling tiles I counted while she quietly clicked the computer, never swiveling the screen to show me the outline of a mini baby. I watch myself walk out the doors carrying a “countdown to baby” calendar the nurse had handed me upon initial congratulations. I see the way I avoid eye contact with the pregnant mothers in the waiting room and make my way to the car. See how I look down at the images of women gazing at their babies and feel the first hint of cramps across my abdomen.                                                                                                                            

I hear the noises dim, everything becoming slow. Methodical. Stoic.

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Pregnancy hasn't taken up much space in my thoughts or dreams before this summer. Adoption was our first choice of family making. When we made the leap from 0 to 2 kids, it took us a while to find our footing again and when we did, we discovered our ideas about family size had changed. We weren't against growing, but quite content with just what we had.                                             

I like to think I am prepared. I scroll through all sorts of scenarios, attempting to wrangle the emotions of surprise pregnancy, infertility, disrupted adoption, special needs diagnoses, difficult birth, etc. so as not to be caught off guard by pain. Somehow miscarriage didn't make the list. I've never seen myself as one in the 1 in 4 statistics.

Awareness is good, I’m no advocate of naivety. But it turns out, the preparation I think I have against being blindsided by pain or fear is mostly a mirage. I couldn’t have premeditated the peculiarity of this miscarriage pain if I’d tried.                                                                                           

I ask for a clear-cut description: How long will it last? How bad will it hurt? How sad will I feel? No one can give it to me, the ones who try get it wrong.           

Walking out of the doctor’s office, l feel frozen in place while the rest of the world waltzes on around me. A week becomes endless when every moment, mind and body are in a state of confusion; becoming un-pregnant, un-imagining the future.   

I am afraid. Of my body not doing all it needs to do, of inducing pain, of more bad news and medical procedures, of risking ever having to experience this again.                                             

Two voices clamor within me; one cruel and bitter voice railing at my body for not keeping life alive, for not even being able to miscarry efficiently. (As if these intricate bodies follow text book time tables.) The other is fragile; wounded and undone at the harsh words self-inflicted, knowing my body is only doing the best it can.

I’m surrounded on every side by fervent love and support. Yet, lying on the bathroom floor searching for any position to gain relief, any place my mind can go to find comfort, I’m desperately lonely.

My own sorrow becomes a side note when I see my daughters’. I look into eyes who have known greatest loss and watch their faces fall with another blow and ache from head to toe for any way to spare them from more pain.  

I dread to see the doctor’s rooms again. The swishing of a rapid heartbeat reverberates from a room down the hall the day I return, a sound track to my cynical thoughts as I stare at ceiling tiles once more and wait for confirmation that my uterus is empty.

The relief that my body has finally completed its grim task is shadowed by the next reality: It is done. Now life goes back to normal. I no longer have obvious reason to ask for help, cry at random, skip social outings. My body can resume activities, but my mind is still in the thick of hormone commotion, disoriented thoughts, and often overtaken by sad reminders: the grief of my girls, the absence of Jazzy’s comfort, the haunt of the prenatal vitamins on the counter and a newborn onesie on the dresser. Sometimes sorrow rises like a storm surge. I feel it’s ache pressing my chest, and when it crashes, it knocks the breath out of me. Fatigue is a lead blanket around my shoulders.                                                                                                                                       

I’m disorientated about what I’m grieving. It feels fraudulent. Did I fake this whole thing? To reference a time “when I was pregnant” sounds like a child’s imaginary motherhood. Does it even count if the baby didn’t grow? 

 I didn’t have a connection to a life within me yet. I never saw movement on the black and white screen, never felt it flutter within, never even felt my body expanding with its weight.

I want a system restore back to spring. Why can’t I resume the contentment I had with my life just a few short months ago? I envisioned a future that now I have to un-think, and nothing changed but everything has.

It isn't a tragic loss, I'm keenly aware of so many suffering so much worse. Nevertheless, hope deferred makes the heart sick and sad. Sad for the disappointment, sad for the way death casts a shadow no matter when or how it comes. 

I read and re-read every note, message, and text, amazed at how few words it takes to be lifted by kindness. No need to attempt making sense or better of the situation, the simple acknowledgment of pain and reminders of love carry me many moments and days. I have never savored every check in, every mention of a prayer offered, every hug and handpicked flower and grocery bag delivered so deeply.   

Amidst hopes and fears and thoughts of a possible next time, I look at my daughters lying next to me in bed and tell them with voice choked but adamant, “Having a baby is absolutely not something upon which our happiness hangs. Our family can stand complete and completely delightful to us as it is.” We have been gifted wildly beyond our deserving with two precious loves. To share in the wonder of a new baby together would be a delight, but there is goodness in store for us no matter what shape or size our family takes. We are not waiting on a delivery of joy. We have it already.

Life is brighter now. I’m surprised how hope springs up again from broken ground. How one can start to dream of better days and better news. Hope is often hard won in my heart, but it's shown up persistently of late.

My thoughts are less often “Why?”, and more often, “Why not?”. If suffering is world-wide, this whole universe groaning to be delivered from injustice, disease, and death, why not me? If it’s 1 in 4 women, why not me? If my place somehow leaves less space for my sisters, my friends, my daughters, in the statistic, I’ll take it willingly.   

I don’t know how I’ll feel next week or next month, what disappointments or sorrows may roll over me again. But today, I don’t wish this experience away.

Every woman who called or sat down beside me and quietly spoke her story, or willingly answered my questions and revisited her heartache for my sake left a lasting impression on my heart. Friends who’ve spent hours listening and reliving their own dark days in order bring a glimmer of light to mine have given me a new understanding of whole-hearted friendship.

Sisterhood shines bright if you look around the corners of this isolating loss.                     

Brittany, Becky, Kayla, Sandy, Alice, Megan, Melanie, Janna, Abbey, Amanda, Angie, Tina, Hanna, Kate, Alaina, Cielo, Erika, Allison, Sara, Michelle and others who prayed, thank you for being a light to me. 

If sharing a story can give companionship to another woman wrestling through the confusion of her loss or give insight to the sisters, spouses and friends trying to understand the peculiar grief of their loved one, I offer mine with open hands, cupped ever so carefully around the fragile edges of this sensitive topic.

Grief has many varying degrees. My recovery from deep disappointment is so different from another's recovery from acute grief, and even within the same loss, the process doesn't look the same.  Comparison and expectations of healing upon ourselves or others are unfair. Each storm moves on its own path and time.

For you maybe miscarriage was a blip on the screen, possibly even a relief, and you move right on. Maybe it was an emergency room and surgery and trauma upon trauma. Maybe it was confusion. Maybe it was a prayer answered and then revoked, and sorrow stings bitterly for months and years. There’s an open page for every version here.

Compassionate storytelling brings healing to the listener and teller alike.                                     

If you are living out your own pregnancy loss or any grief story, I hope for you what I’ve hoped for me: that you realize how much God and your people are for you. I hope you make peace with your body and deal tenderly with yourself. Look, see how she’s doing the best she can? I hope you don’t allow shame to taunt the emotions you do or do not have. There is no formula, no feelings rule book. Sit with whatever emotion arises and be honest with yourself and your people. I hope that hope surprises you, rising from your ashes. I hope in time you find it is well with your soul. And when it is not well, I hope you see a Jesus who weeps with you. 

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I hope beauty shows up boldly in the Autumn of your life. And I hope Spring, when it returns (and it will), is glorious.

Love, C. 

Honoring Sadness, In Honor of Jazzy

I can’t quite explain how a human comes to know and love a dog so much. I guess a relationship that isn’t based on words is hard to find words for. Maybe it was the sum of so many days and experiences. 151 months. 42% of my life spent with her. Maybe it’s how she could read my gestures even when her hearing was gone, how I could guess where she was or what she was feeling by the weather or the position of her ears or the length of her stride. Maybe it’s the way she’d search my eyes and sniff my face when I was crying, the way she’d press against me when she needed courage.

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Maybe it was the acceptance. No judgement. No disapproval or double takes at bedhead or oversized crocs or off-key whistling. Always thrilled to see me even if I woke her from a dead sleep.

Maybe it was her gentle, sensitive spirit underneath the big bark and bull-headed stubbornness. Crazy how we turned out to be so much alike.

Maybe it was the loyalty, the way she was friendly to everyone but always kept her eyes on me.

Maybe it happened in the making of all the pill potions and pillow beds and checking her through days and nights as she overcame a shotgun hit, a leg gash, a serious surgery, and other traumatic events, enduring them with both strength and fragility. I never heard even a whimper, yet she seemed to need me to will her spirit back to life.

She ran miles upon miles with me over the years, scaring off angry dogs, curious coyotes, and a few suspicious ally lurkers. She’s stood steady against me while I gasped for air through a few panic attacks, while I sobbed through lonely nights, broken trust, dimmed dreams, dark depression, and scorching shame. She’s been the soft furry forehead gently nudging my hand, the thread of comfort across a decade that spanned from childhood to adulthood.

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She woke me up in the night last week. I forgot to close the basement door, so she took her post outside my bedroom window (how she knows my room, I have no idea) where she’s spent many a night, barking her bold warning if even so much as a blade of grass moved towards my side of the house. It’s the most irritating kindness I’ve ever been given.

I’ve known we were on borrowed time; the last two years were bonus years. A Pyrenees’ life expectancy isn’t much past 10, and we made it to 12 years and 9 months.

It’s made me pause and appreciate every morning she’d bound beside me back the path to the woods, every time she flopped down at my feet while I was writing, every perked ear when she was able to hear a little bit of my voice, every midnight bark.

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Last weekend the end came. We saw sickness over take her suddenly. The next morning, I found her laying in the creek, the place she visited every day to cool off and look over the farm. Seeking to ease her aching body, she'd laid down and could not get up. As we carefully lifted her on to a sheet and carried her up to the house, her face pressed against me one last time. Back on her bed, her eyes watched mine while I arranged her bedding and then they closed when I rubbed her head and ears in the same pattern I've done day after day all these years.

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When I came back later, she looked as peacefully asleep as she had every other time I’d caught her in a nap, but this time her rib cage was still.

She was a tangible evidence of God’s gentle care and grace to me in ways too deeply personal to verbalize. Even in her death, he offered us the mercy of allowing her to drift away as gently as she’d lived, and spared me the awful decision I knew the morning would hold.

I miss the great white furry buffalo like crazy. I find myself listening for her footsteps, looking for her out the window, wanting to go say, “good morning Puffywuffy! Let’s get your breakfast!” as I have every morning for years. The fun of exploring the farm is gone without her company.

I’ve felt shame creep in on me, criticizing me for not doing more, insisting I shouldn’t be a mess over a tiny drip of pain while the world aches over an ocean of suffering.

I tend to forget sensitivity is a gift of softness, not a curse to harden against.

I don’t want resistance, avoidance, or hardness, to any kind of pain. As my girls process this loss with me, I hope they see that we can honor sadness, in ourselves and others, with no need to stifle or qualify it. If we’re open to receiving both the wonders and the sorrows of life, big and small, hopefully we’ll grow braver and kinder and more whole-hearted from it.

Perhaps an entire blog post about the loss of an old dog seems excessive. Truthfully, loosing Jazz is one of several sorrows our family is holding in shaking hands this week. Her story is the most clear cut and easiest to share. We can look back through countless photos and sit by her grave. The other losses, disappointments, fears, and dreaded Dr. visits are far less easy to get ahold of, to put words and images and cleansing grief to. Bad news and bad days make me miss her quiet companionship even more. 

From my family to yours, from my sadness to yours, we'll all keep doing our best to show up to this brutal and beautiful life, yes? To hold the feelings and the tears, our own and one another's, honestly and gently, all the while keeping our eyes open for a glimpse of the wonder that is just as sure as the sorrow. 

In honor of Jazzy, the best fur friend a girl could ever have, here’s to softer, braver, kinder hearts.

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The Monday That Changed The World (as we knew it)

It was an ordinary Monday. They make the best memories.

I was wearing a faded Invisible Children shirt, doing paperwork from the couch on my old laptop, listening to Yanni. Sunlight was streaming in through the blinds making patterns on the wood floor from the layers of leaves. The house smelled like air-conditioned summer.

I finished paperwork and called Dave. He was harvesting wheat. “We’re going to run the rest of this field, so I won’t be home for a little while”, he said. In between my questions about his plans, my phone beeped an incoming call. I glanced at the screen to see who it was, and suddenly our entire lives changed.

The strange thing about this day, June 25th, 2012, (yeah I’m a day late, but it’s a Monday memory most of all) that I can go back and entirely relive 5 years later, is that it holds pain and sadness as well as excitement and joy.                                                    

I was aware of the paradox in those first moments. I’ve become far more in tune with it as I try to consider the world from my daughters’ angle, see the anniversaries and memories and holidays through their eyes, framed by their loss.

For a while, I felt the sorrowful side of these anniversaries so heavily I hardly mentioned them, almost ashamed of the joy that was also there.

As I anticipated this date and felt conflicted emotions with its memory, I realized I was doing it again. Trying to fit life into an either/or category, when the human existence is mostly always a both/and.

The story of June 25th is the girls’ birth story into this family, after all, and they should get to hear it.  What child doesn’t love to hear her parents fondly reminisce about the day they found out, the sheer joy of finally seeing the face of their precious child? This one is theirs, and there is no lack of sheer joy.

So this year, I tell them the story with enthusiasm, about the call that changed our whole world. They laugh when I demonstrate how I had to sit on the floor because my knees were shaking so hard. I tell how the dog raced around the house, not knowing why I was crying and gasping and laughing and laying on the floor. How their Daddy had to make Uncle Kendall drive the combine because he was shaking so much from the call. How he cut his harvesting short and I ran barefoot until my feet nearly bled to meet him down the street so we could come home and open the pictures for the first time together. How we stayed up late that night, reading everything we could about their story, practicing saying their names, dreaming of meeting them for the first time.

And they grin but their eyes glisten with emotion when I describe how we sat side-by-side, looking into photos of their tiny faces, and wept. Overcome at the unimaginable fear they’d experienced, at the privilege of becoming their parents, at the loss from which our family was being born.

Then it’s our turn to listen as they ask questions, stare at pictures of their own little faces and giggle at the sight of themselves, and then begin to reminisce. Quickly stories of their homecoming surface. Cy tries to remember the first time she saw a photo of us, but gets sidetracked with details of friends and caretakers. “Not to be disrespectful”, she prefaces, “but the blankets they gave us in Ethiopia were TERRIBLY itchy!”. Not to be left out, S chimes in with her own “memories” of eating applesauce and learning to crawl.

They’re full of animation tonight, and I’m stern with myself about not getting all up in my mommy-stalgic feelings as we look back at photos of this day over the past 5 years. After more reminiscing with Cy, S wants her turn at the mic again. I’ve watched her emotions building just below the chatty surface. She wants to tell something she remembers, but it’s from last night. It starts out as a dream about a monster, but quickly turns into a sincere telling of her awaking last night thinking Mommy and Daddy were lost. She tries to tell it nonchalant, but one big tear escapes on the final word. She climbs into my lap and wraps her body around mine, and I’m in full on comfort mode until she asks to hear “her song”. (Each girl has a special song I sing to them.) Midway through John Denver’s croon of I’ll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand, my emotions stage a revolt.

I manage to regain territory before she sees my tears. She relaxes in my arms, and when the next song is Thank God I’m a Country Boy, we all end up in a kitchen dance-off, seeing who can come up with the weirdest country moves. Laughing and crying, Laughing and crying. We’re learning the both/and dance too.

The human heart is capable of honoring both the joy and the heartache.  

Maybe some years they’ll be desperate to see and hear and revisit every single detail like they were tonight. Maybe some years they won’t want to go there at all, and we’ll let June 25th pass for an ordinary summer Monday.

But I’ll treasure it always in my heart, the day that held the biggest surprise. The highest anticipation. The fiercest love. The gravest responsibility. The scariest lack of qualification. The heaviest sadness. The sharpest juxtaposition.

The best both/and day of my life.  

 

I'll walk in the rain by your side

I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand

I'll do anything to help you understand

And I'll love you more than anybody can

~John Denver

 

 

What a Wonder

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

~Louis Armstrong

 

Blue skies from horizon to horizon. Lazy drone of a plane. Sunlight filtered through dancing leaves. Every color of green on exhibit (the corn around our house is wearing a shade so flamboyant with life right now it could grow legs a walk away). A kite tail of white butterflies lifting and diving over the purple thistles. Hummingbirds hovering over geraniums.

I present to you, Summer.

It’s Solstice, and in my humble opinion, the most wonderful time of the year. (Andy Williams, can we agree to disagree on this one?) As I’ve watched this summer’s birth, I’ve had one phrase run through my mind over and over: what a wonder. Watching baby wrens leave their nest in our basement? What a wonder! (Husband had a slightly different phrase about bird-watching from within the house. But he’s too much a softy to disrupt the nest or the hearts of three girls thrilled to be watching, so he let it go. Just this once, of course.) The kids playing sweaty, meeting new friends at the park? What a wonder. The smell of summer rain? What a wonder. The rainbow reaching high as the heavens from the setting sun, turning the whole sky aglow? WHAT A WONDER!

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My love letter to summer could go on for days. It’s a season of extravagance; copious in color, in warmth, in daylight hours, in opportunities, in life.

Yet I have unpleasant tendencies of either turning the lack of schedule into laziness, or turning it into a scarcity. I told Dave several days ago I felt like summer was already passing us by too quickly. He responded, “I don’t think it’s even started yet.”

This year I’ve had a vivid desire to live these lazy hazy crazy days of summer more purposefully. (Anybody else just take a 30 minute Gilmore Girls detour after that phrase? Good luck getting that song out of your head. Thanks, Taylor.) To be more intentional about how we play and rest and spend our energy and time.

I’ve identifying some priorities, some better time management practices, some ideas to make sure each week we learn and explore and connect and love with purpose.

Mostly, I’m intent on noticing the wonder. The word “wonderful” is perhaps overused and easily sounds like everything is rolling hunky-dory. That’s not my life, nor anyone’s that I know, and certainly is not the world around us. But considered as inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration, there are wonderful things everywhere!

Some days we just have to look a little harder.

Honestly? I’ve spent the last year noticing more keenly the brokenness, the injustice, the great human heartache, be it of refugees, victims of hate crimes and racism, or the teens living here in my tiny town. It’s often had me like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed and paralyzed. It’s made me hesitant to embrace laughter and joy, afraid that light-hearted fun would somehow disregard the suffering simultaneously present.

But it hit me again lately that it isn’t either/or. It’s both/and, especially when it comes to joy and sadness. They don’t negate one another. If anything, they validate the other.

I’m committed to empathy and justice, to holding up weary hands, to listening and grieving. But I’m also committed to better embracing the joy. To living wonder-full, inspired and delighted by the good, meaningful, beauty around.

Summer seems like a pretty great teacher.

I have a hunch that living more wonder-full makes for less wander-lust. There isn’t time for restless discontentment when we’re wowed by the beauty right before us.

Here’s to summer. I hope it is flowers and fresh fruit, laughter and play, adventure and rest, sunsets and fireflies, meaningful work and relationships. I hope your heart is flooded with all the goodness of God.

I hope your summer is wonder-full.

I’ll be posting a photo nearly (and I’m careful to phrase it that way) every day, of some wonder that catches my eye this summer. If you capture your summer moments on Instagram, stick the hashtag #summerofwonderful on as well, I’d love to see what all you're noticing. 

Here’s a reminder I’m giving myself, in case you need it too: not all the photos have to be incredible shots, and not all the sentiments behind them have to be giddy with happiness. Wonder can be found in the frustrating, grimy, disappointing, and down-right rotten days too. Look around. Look around!

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,

Made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

~Ps. 104, Message