October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This post is written in honor of those precious little ones we grieve, including two of my own.
“So, do you have any kids?”
It’s an innocent question, a social norm about as common as the handshake. Yet for over two years, this question was one I dreaded anytime I would meet a new acquaintance or strike up a conversation with a stranger. How in the world should I answer?
Well, I have two in heaven I never got to meet… and a longing so deep that just you asking about children almost knocks the breath out of me.
“No…no, I don’t have any kids.”
I became well versed in re-directing the small talk to the weather or some other subject I could carry on mindlessly, all the while feeling a myriad of emotions inside as the innocuous question would birth more questions from the deep places in my soul:
Guilt - Should I have acknowledged the two that HAD been in my womb? Did my denial mean their little lives didn’t matter? Was I disavowing them by trying to keep things from getting too awkward with a total stranger whom I may never see again? Was I being duplicitous by not remembering them publicly when they were all.I.could.think.about privately?
Shame – What was wrong with me? I’m a woman, for crying out loud. Isn’t bringing new life into the world what my body was designed to do? Was I less of a woman because I couldn’t seem to carry out this basic function?
Disappointment – Dreams dashed. Longings unfulfilled. Would I carry this pain with me the rest of my life? Would I always feel as though I let down my husband and family? I knew they loved me, but were they disappointed in me?
- Fear –Would I ever be able to bear children? Did we wait too long? Was God more into my “character development” than about my desire? Was my desire a good one or was it somehow selfish and entitled, a desire to ‘fit in’ to the expected norm of happy, suburban life complete with a house, dog, and mini-van rather than an opportunity to display His love to another human being and to the world?
It took me a while to put voice to the emotions and questions that were plaguing my soul. I was so confused about how God was operating in this whole journey I found it difficult to pray. But as I began to sort through my own mess of emotions, I was reminded of the character of God:
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
With my head, I knew these Scriptures were true and that God was trustworthy. That he had good plans for my husband and me. That my hope should be in Him, not in my present circumstances or my future dreams. That he should be enough.
My heart, however, reminded me of the disconnect between what I should believe and what I actually believed. When deep longings collide with uncertain, seemingly hopeless situations, those disconnects get real. Did I really believe God was good? That He heard my prayers? That I could trust His sovereign plan and care…even if that meant the two tiny babies I had lost were the only children I would ever have?
Thankfully, this sorting of emotions and questions happened in the context of community. God had paved the way for several ‘safe’ people to be in my life – those I could be honest and real with, those who prayed, cried, and walked with us through every dip and valley along the way. And through the cries, prayers, and presence of others, I began, slowly, to experience another emotion alongside the others: gratitude.
- Gratitude– for the people of God being the hands and feet of God. For showing me through their presence that he is ever-present. That I was not forgotten. Gratitude for a husband who exudes strength and compassion and a shoulder that’s always available for me to cry on. Gratitude for the two little lives I was blessed to carry, even if only for a few short weeks. Gratitude that God knew every cell in their bodies. Gratitude for the hope I will meet them one day. Gratitude that the emotions and questions in my soul, though not fully answered or resolved, took me to deeper places in my relationship with the Lord.
I can't say I'm finished processing the journey. I don't know that I ever will be. Grief isn't something you can walk through in a linear fashion...it's a confusing thing that pops up out of nowhere sometimes and takes you back to square one. But I do have hope the journey has fostered in me a trust in the Lord that isn't tied to circumstances and a greater compassion for the pain and longing of others.
For those of you reading this who have experienced infertility, miscarriage or infant loss: I am so sorry for the incredible pain you have endured. You are not alone.
For those of you seeking to minister to friends or family: Infertility, pregnancy, and infant loss are difficult things to process and grieve. Your prayers, presence, hugs, and thoughtful gestures often mean much more than your words. And they may be the very thing that gives your loved one glimmers of hope in the midst of their pain.