About five months ago, feeling a little queasy and lightheaded, I took a pregnancy test. A very faint positive showed up.
My daughter was about 18 months old at the time, my husband and I knew we wanted more children, and the spacing seemed perfect. But my immediate reaction was a choking panic. My pregnancy with my daughter was absolutely debilitating. The first trimester was a blur of non stop nausea, constant vomiting, and a deep and perpetual fatigue. At one point I thought I was just going to die.
Surely – I thought – it can’t be possible to vomit this much and this continuously and feel this depleted and still keep living.
But, I did live, and in the second trimester the vomiting dropped down to only a few times a week, and only if I exerted myself too much. The fatigue was heavy, but it was altogether infinitely more bearable than what I had endured previously.
By the time the third trimester rolled around, I was done. The vomiting ramped up again, but only to once or twice a day; it was the deep and lasting weakness that seemed to permeate through my whole being which took my breath away.
And then my daughter was born. It was love at first sight, I no longer felt like I was dying, and it is testament to how horribly I felt through my pregnancy that even a baby nursing every 90 minutes around the clock for the first four months was in every way preferable to being pregnant.
It took a long time to recover from that. By the time that faint positive showed up, I was just barely beginning to feel like myself again, and the horrors of pregnancy had not faded away enough for me to not be scared of what was possibly to come.
But I had nothing to worry about. A few days later I started bleeding, and very quickly it was all over. I wasn’t pregnant anymore.
The emotions were and still are infinitely confusing. Any grief I felt was for what could have been. I was sad because I would not be snuggling a newborn within the next year. I was sad because my daughter had lost a future playmate, a possible best friend.
But it wasn’t the type of grief you feel for the loss of someone you know and have loved. I didn’t know this momentary flicker of life. I didn’t have time to come to love.
Time marches on and five months later, after almost passing out on my journey home, I was faced with another positive. This time the panic wasn’t as intense. Those extra five months had faded and blurred the memories of pregnancy enough so that they didn’t seem as threatening. My daughter was five months older, and that much more independent: trying to dress herself, asking to go to the potty, putting on her own shoes.
I could do this.
I started to imagine my daughter snuggling her new sibling – her love for and fascination with babies is intense. I saw them playing together in the woodland. I found the perfect double buggy that would allow them to see each other and chat. I imagined hearing whispers from their bedroom when we put them to bed.
Then, a few weeks later, I woke with an aching back, and a cramping pressure in my pelvis. I started bleeding, and as it grew heavier my dreams slowly dropped away until it was all over and, again, I was no longer pregnant.
This time the grief was harder, more intense. My dreams for the future had been big and vivid. Technicolor imaginings of our growing family. And I had had more time to come to love. I did not know that little life in the ways we think of “knowing”, but I had come to love his or her presence in my own life and the possibilities he or she ushered in for the future.
I had a brief period of time to begin a relationship: to tell him or her of my excitement, to say how much love we all felt.
And so it was harder than the first time.
But in the midst of it all was the knowledge that I was not sad for the little one I had lost. He – or she – was perfectly fine. I believe in heaven, and heaven is a good place to be. Heaven is perpetual and immense love. I was not sad for my baby.
I was sad for myself. But all of that was in some way reassuring: I did not have to grieve the suffering and pain of a small innocent. I only had to grieve the loss of my dreams for myself, my dreams for my family.
But more than that, it was also a stark reminder: we do not have a right to children. They are a tremendous gift bestowed on us, and like every human life they can be taken away at any time, back to the arms of the loving Creator.
Life, in its infinite complexity is strong – strong enough to withstand the grief of loss, of all types of seemingly unbearable suffering; but it is also fragile, with the possibility of blowing out from one moment to the next. We never know when our time will come.
And that vast space in the middle – that space between total fragility and extreme strength – is where we live our day to day lives.
How do you live in the middle of the tension between those two extremes? At times it feels impossible.
What about Gratitude? Gratitude for all the good we have right in front of us. All the precious moments and gorgeous people we are surrounded by. Pay attention to what you actually have. Take note of the beauty.
What about Hope? Hope that the good we have will continue, that new avenues will open up, that our suffering can wake us up, point us towards something different, something better. Hope that the deep and good longings of our heart will eventually come to fruition.
And so, in the middle of loss, in between the tension of fragility and strength, I am grateful for my beautiful, mischievous, gremlin of a daughter; my compassionate, kind, silly husband.
I am hopeful that, perhaps, some day, my body will be able to repeat the miracle it completed with the birth of my daughter. I am hopeful that in the vast expanses of heaven there are two of my own little ones waiting to tell me about who they are.
I am sad. But I am grateful, and I have hope.