At first we used the phrase “no longer avoiding pregnancy” to describe the early stages of having children. It betrayed us because it showed we were too scared to even say we were “trying” to get pregnant on purpose. We had waited the obligatory Christian two-years to stop avoiding pregnancy and after telling our parents and praying for children, we started waiting.
This stage of waiting was easy. After the first three months went by of not being pregnant we laughed at how naïve we were to think that we would get pregnant that quickly. I felt a little relieved every month because I was only beginning to wrap my head around the idea of being a mother. We enjoyed being a married couple, we enjoyed our friends and our ministry and flirted with a little bit of hope that sometime soon we would see two lines on a pregnancy test.
Three months turned into six which quickly rolled into nine and then of course, twelve. At twelve months two things began to happen: we started using the phrase “trying to get pregnant”, and other people began to ask questions like “Do you think you need to see a doctor?” and casually throwing the “I” bomb.
My emotions slowly shifted from a timid hope to a persistent anxiety. I checked my calendar regularly to see how many times out of a year did we really “try” at the right time? Maybe this was all just a scheduling miscommunication. After seeing a good 8 out of 12 months that nagging anxiety returned. Like everyone in my generation, I went to the internet for answers and found out there is very little in the way of a 100% cure-all for infertility and I was honestly shocked, I had no idea. My searching landed me on several blog sites and published personal stories where I found infertility affected a huge population of young, successful and otherwise “healthy” people. Amazing[CR1] , I was starting to think I was the only one. Their stories helped curb my feeling of isolation but also foreshadowed the difficult road ahead. Somewhere at 12 months anxiety began to give way to an even greater feeling that would become wrecking ball for the next few years: powerlessness.
Internally I was a mix of anxiety, hope, confusion and desire. They seemed to dance together inside of me, one sometimes leading the charge for the others and sometimes all of them at around the same level. My consistent answer from God was “Wait” followed by a solid “No” with each period. These feelings were strong, they were sincere and they drew tears from me at times but something much more soul-shaking was coming.
After this year of “No’s” I became “that woman” (quite unwillingly, thank you). I started getting emails and text messages from distant friends saying things like “We prayed today for women who haven’t been able to have babies and I prayed for you!”. Once I got “For all my friends who haven’t been able to have babies on your own, I am donating my eggs for your sake so others can have the blessing of children!” (Note to anyone reading, that is not encouraging to the woman struggling to become pregnant). People in hushed tones asked me and my husband “How’s it going guys, you doing ok?” like there was some secret we were all talking about but I didn’t quite know the punchline. I felt as if a tide of highly-sympathetic people was carrying me to this destination that I didn’t want to be in and one I didn’t want to define me: barrenness. All of a sudden at twelve months I was “barren” and I honestly felt bewildered like, “How did I get here?”.
We decided to get some tests. It seemed like the most logical next step. We were hoping they would find something obvious. My blood work came back clear. My husband’s test came back great. Our genetics seemed to be right on. My uterus was tip-top. I ovulated every month. But our doctor and all of modern medical science had no explanation. Powerlessness again gave rise to frustration. I stopped charting my cycle out of exasperation and depression. I thought I would just pick it up in a couple of months but for now, I had to curb the obsession.
Luckily it was the holiday season and family was in town and for 36 days exactly I was distracted from pregnancy. When the tinsel and wrapping paper cleared and normal life resumed I returned to the calendar to see where I was because I thought some cramps should be headed my way soon. That day was day 36 and the day I thought “36?! I am NEVER late!”
I was actually about to head to a friend’s house when I realized I was on day 36 but in true barren fashion I tried to stuff all my feelings and left for her house. At her house I was noticeably distant, then finally spilled the news and she happened to have a pregnancy test handy. Still stuffing all my feelings I had my friend read the test and her response was a wide-eyed “Holy S#$*!”. I was pregnant after 14 months of trying. The tears started, then the hugging and the screaming and finally the phone call to my husband who was out with one of his friends. It wasn’t news I had wanted to share over a phone but I couldn’t wait. We cried together, he wanted to me to take more tests just in case, we praised God and we said good-bye. And I went and bought more pregnancy tests.
We immediately told our families who were overjoyed for us. I made an appointment with my doctor who confirmed the pregnancy and handed me a pink bag full of magazines and free goodies. I almost felt proud taking that bag out of the doctor’s office like my suffering in waiting earned my right to that pink bag. I felt increasingly tired. Scrambled eggs and pot roast made me nauseous. I was delighted; I was glowing. I remember feeling special all the time. I would walk through a grocery store, mildly nauseous, smiling and feeling like sunbeams shined just for me inside that store. We rejoiced at God in His grace and His ironic timing that just as we started getting our testing done, He did it all on His own! He had heard my prayer! He sent us a baby! 12 weeks of pregnant bliss and then there was the day it ended.
It was a Wednesday. I was 24 hours away from completing my first trimester and my first ultrasound was scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday. Like always at 5:30 in the evening I left our house to go to the High School Small Group I lead. I was reviewing the text, questions and things we would go over. I was praying that God would lead the evening and move in those girls hearts. At a quick bathroom break before we started I saw a tiny spot of blood. I felt worry rise like a rocket but didn’t want to be that overly-cautious-paranoid-first-pregnancy-lady so I waited. We finished our small group. I went to the bathroom again, more blood, and cramps started.
I rushed to my husband and burst into tears trying to explain what was happening. This was the first time I remember feeling no control over myself. He couldn’t even understand the words coming out of my mouth I was in such turmoil. He managed to hear I was going home and something was wrong. In the car ride home I talked to myself, out loud, saying “It could be nothing, some women just have bleeding and everything is fine.” But responding to myself with, “No, I’m supposed to trust my instincts when something is wrong and something definitely feels wrong here!” For 30 minutes, down the road, talking to myself like I was trying to get a grip on a wet slide that was about to be out of control.
I got home. More bleeding, more cramps. I called my doctor and told her every detail. She apologized and said it did seem like I was losing the pregnancy and my choices were to brave it out at an ER or stay home. After that news my husband walked in the door. I was a heaping mess of tears and pain on the floor. While I suspected I was about to have a miscarriage there was a part of me still praying, still hoping that this baby would survive. My husband remembers praying the same thing on his way home and believing that God would do it, after all, we already went through 14 months of waiting, right? And even after my doctor confirmed what I feared, I still hoped that maybe for me, a miracle would happen, and we could keep this life. Hope is bafflingly strong. We decided against spending all night in an ER waiting room and hunkered down for the night. We started watching A River Runs Through It. I don’t remember the plot. Somewhere around 2 am something finally “passed” and the pain subsided and it seemed like the worst of this was over. I fell asleep.
I woke up to a dense fog and light rain. My husband and I got dressed in silence and headed to my doctor. As I stared out the passenger window I remember feeling grateful for the gray, dreary weather as if nature itself was sympathizing. Somehow a sunny day would have felt like a betrayal. At the doctor’s office I barely articulated why we were there: “Yes, I do have an ultrasound appointment later today but last night I believe I miscarried and the doctor said to come in first thing this morning so we could do an ultrasound and see what’s going on.” The first of many exhausting explanations. In the darkened ultrasound room I saw my uterus on a screen, black and empty. Appropriate. Everything had passed in the night and no surgery was needed. We headed home and slept again. We took the day off.
We woke up from our nap and began the emotional task of calling our parents. We recounted the ultrasound room, the explanation of the doctor, and the marching orders for recovery. We received the tears and apologies and fielded the “How are you’s?” Twice. This was starting to get difficult. It’s as if each explanation was another tearing open of a wound you were desperately trying to cover to stop the bleeding.
I called my friend, Kelly; a friend with whom I rarely have to explain much to. She had just miscarried 3 months before me. She came to my house with white lilies and a sympathy card. She didn’t even say anything when I opened the door, she just hugged me and held on for a really long time. We sat on my couch and she didn’t even ask me “How are you?” I just started telling her. I remember telling her “I really do feel ok, I mean, I am sad but I don’t feel like my whole world is falling apart.” She smiled sweetly at me and just said “Ok, great.” (She would later tell me of this moment that she thought either I was lying or it just hadn’t hit me, the latter would prove to be true.) After another tiring recounting she had a few confusing things to say: “Well I love you, and I’m here for you. Just let me know and I can come bring you a meal, or even make a meal in your house and don’t feel like you have to entertain me. Let me know if you’re having trouble cleaning up and I can help with cleaning or laundry. I can even hang out with you and get work done in the house if you don’t feel like being alone but don’t really want to talk either. I’d be glad to go out with you and just go do things that are fun like go to the movies too.”
Up until this point I really hadn’t experienced grief; the grief that makes creating a meal feel like an Ironman Marathon and laundry like a mountain summit. Her offers felt random and weirdly specific. Because she had journeyed this road just ahead of me (and was still on it) I thought to myself Oh man, what does she know that I don’t know? She knew a lot and I was about to find out. I napped again, my husband and I went to a movie and I had a Margarita and went to sleep.
I got distracted the first 10 days with a friend’s wedding and a youth summer camp. I felt mostly covered in a fog that seemed to distract and distance me from the reality happening around me. A few times in those 10 days I did break down, thinking of the loss, wondering if we would ever have a baby, worried that was our only chance and sad that we were so close and now that hope was gone. And upon the return from youth camp – grieving settled in. Like a hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, my grief had been spinning and gaining strength and when it made landfall, everything in me was devastated.
I remember starting with feelings of dejection. Billows of sadness and hopelessness swirled in my head that did make it hard to get out of bed, make meals and do laundry. It colored everything I saw like I had sunglasses on all the time. Again, it felt like a fog or a daydream that distanced me from things happening around me. I felt a nagging, deep sadness everywhere I went, in everything I did with no break in it. Sadness itself grew to the point that it seemed as though it eclipsed the actual events of my life and I had split-second moments when I would stop and think why do I feel so deeply sad? And then would remember what happened and I was distressed again, as if it was a water glass being refreshed and filled to the brim. I felt like I was swimming in a sea of loss, moved at the whim of my feelings and at times overtaken by the waves.
To sadness, bitterness was added along with frustration and rage. Days passed and these feelings seemed to be gaining strength and building momentum within me. My emotions felt bigger than my own body. I was somehow overwhelmed with myself. I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming ambivalence – so many feelings like a tidal wave all at once. Each one was palpable and intense. I couldn’t put my finger on one feeling; I was sad, afraid, hopeful, bitter, enraged, peaceful and numb. All of these feelings, all at one time; it was exhausting. I learned to survive moment by moment.
One emotion I didn’t see coming was the purposelessness. Never being very career driven, I never found something that felt more worthwhile than being a mother. So, when I miscarried, the question “So what do I do now?” reverberated constantly and filled me with more sadness. I was only pregnant for 12 weeks but had the next 12 years planned out at least. The loss of a child isn’t just the loss of their present, it’s the loss of a fantasized future. The loss of seeing their little face, of tea parties or tee ball games, living room forts and kissing boo boo’s. It all dies with them, as does your title “Mommy.”
I felt as if I wasn’t safe around people and afraid of unsafe people. I was a raw nerve and genuinely didn’t know what my reaction would be if a well-intentioned person said something that was unhelpful (to put it nicely). I only spent time with people I knew wouldn’t give me “everything happens for a reason” speech. Such things are only helpful for the speaker and rarely encourage the listener. It felt better to just avoid the interaction; I was genuinely concerned I might physically hurt someone.
hated comfort. I hated comforting verses. I realized why in the Old Testament people wore sackcloth and covered themselves in ashes. To be grieving so completely, out of all your soul and then sleep in a comfortable bed at night felt like hypocrisy. Burlap clothes and caked in ash is a more faithful representation of the grieving soul.
I repeatedly told God to leave me alone. I told Him He could keep His character growing exercise. I refused comfort and peace. I wanted to suck the marrow out of this grief because for me, grief had swallowed me entirely. To me He seemed cruel to encourage me to have faith, pray and ask and then after giving what I asked, take it away again. God looked cold and calculating, unfeeling and distant.
Prayer time for me was shaking my fist time. I yelled at God and glared at him through tears countless times. I found some solace in the words of Psalm 77:
“My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble, I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed; I sigh, then my spirit grows faint.” (Psalm 77:1-3 NASB)
Ironically I told God I didn’t want his comfort or peace and was mad at Him for seeming absent. He did not seem near or present. I did not sense His voice. I did not feel supernatural arms holding me. I felt crushed and alone and God felt like the source of both. My soul could not be satisfied – I did want God to be near and I wanted Him to go away all at the same time.
Grief has no timeline or linear trajectory. Grief runs in circles, plummets suddenly, scales heights and crashes all over again. All my feelings seemed to begin to calm after a few months and I would think to myself “Am I healing, getting better?” And a song would come on or a commercial would air and I was in a hurricane of emotion all over again. So for the course of another few months I would have balanced days spotted with several not so great days – just surviving the moment. I even grew tired of the phrase “So, how are you doing?” I only spent time with people who required no explanations. I desperately tried to keep the tempest in me under control.
Baby announcements and showers felt like a field of landmines. One wrong move or comment and this inner storm would explode everywhere. I was terrified of answering phone calls from friends that weren’t expected because everyone in my life was expecting. In this year of my grief, 12 close friends became pregnant; 12 phone calls, 12 showers and shower gifts, 12 parties to remind me I was not pregnant. It’s sad to miss out on other’s joy because of your grief, I didn’t want to be this way, I just honestly didn’t know how not to be.
Luckily for me I did have incredible support in my friends. I had two very close friends who had already experienced infertility and miscarriage before me. They served to be a helpful barometer and medicine against the isolating effect of grief. We shared our anger, our sadness, our grief and even laughter.
I was also lucky enough to have a small group of women whose faith was tender, honest and humble. They allowed me to be where I was without trying to answer or fix it. When I came bitter and angry they answered me with genuine love and acceptance, right where I was and as I was. They never offered weak, passing advice. They lived with me, day in day out, serving me with food, help, a night out and a much needed[CR2] hug. Their presence became the healing presence of God to me. The “sense” of God’s spirit was absent but I had something much better, His spirit being incarnated through my friends. Their influence in my life slowly (very slowly) brought me out of the darkness.
As the support of my friends and husband brought me out of isolation, God began to heal me. I read a book that encouraged me to pursue some kind of physical memorial. I resonated with this. In miscarriage or stillbirth grieving is very real but we lack the closure and validation of a funeral. A physical memorial says “This life mattered but now it is gone and I am grieving.” I couldn’t get the image of a footprint tattoo out of my head. I got that tattoo just 2 months after my miscarriage and it honestly helped. I felt that life wouldn’t be lost to the tide of time and change and that comforted me.
My angry fist shaking at God turned into the quintessential question “WHY?” I ran in circles asking this question and thinking of His answers: maybe we’re going to adopt, maybe we are going to be terrible parents, maybe we need to accomplish a few things before we have kids, maybe I’ve made an idol out of this. Maybe I shouldn’t answer for Him. I distinctly remember asking God “Why?” one afternoon and having a startling answer. I sensed as though God responded with “What could I tell you Lindsay[CR3] that would be enough for you? The answer to ‘why’ won’t heal you. You’re asking the wrong question.” I thought if I could figure out the “why” I would feel better, and this wouldn’t hurt so much. I was wrong. Even with a great answer to “why” this would still hurt. Then I thought “If ‘why’ is the wrong question then what is the right question?” The response? WHO?
Traditionally, in the past, when I went through difficulty I asked God “What?” What do you want me to see? What am I supposed to learn? But God was less interested in the “why” and the “what” and fiercely concerned with the “who”. Who do you think that I am, Lindsay?
When my question changed, my focus changed. The question turned into “Who are you, right now, when all I have wanted has fallen to pieces and I am losing my grip on sanity?” He seemed cold, calculating and distant, but was He? I searched the scripture for answers to “Why” and found God rarely ever shared that answer but He did answer plenty of suffering with “Who.”
I slowly met the Savior of Isaiah 53 and the High Priest of Hebrews 4. I realized I serve a God who instead of avoiding pain, ran headlong right into it. No longer was He distant and calculating; He was warm and real. Jesus wasn’t distancing Himself from my grief, once I had ears to hear it, He was whispering “I know.” I thought the faithfulness of God was demonstrated in keeping me from pain but I was starting to see that He was revealing His faithfulness by being with me in the pain. All these truths slowly washed over me and began to smooth the rough and jagged things in me. They began to heal the isolation and anger. These truths allowed me to begin enduring with patience and hope.
As I began to pray prayers that weren’t accusatory and angry followed by genuine listening, I sensed the strangest phrase: “stay under this.” On days when the powerlessness, fear, hopelessness and anxiety got the best of me, I wanted to run or medicate. I didn’t know how to run or medicate but I wanted a way of escape. When I began to pray I would sense this phrase from God: “Stay under this.” I realized it was by being present, facing all those feelings and remaining there until God changed it was the beginning of transforming endurance. One Sunday our pastor taught on James 1. My ears were perked. He began to discuss the word “steadfastness” in verse 3 and 4 (“endurance” in other translations). He told us this was a compound word in Greek, a combining of the word “remain” and the word “under”. It literally is translated “remain under.” That was MY phrase. Hearing these words from James 1 confirmed for me that I was actually hearing the encouragement of the Spirit and He was transforming me. This phrase became my mantra when the ugly days came. Sometimes it was all I could do to breathe and repeat it over and over. I continued to remain under this difficulty, seek the friendship of Jesus and wait.
The waiting made me tougher in some ways and softer in others. I became tougher in my hope. My hope morphed into a belief that God would redeem this [CR4] sorrow in this life or the next or He was a liar. It was that cold and brief. My hope had little warmth or feeling, it was almost more like a dare to see if God was who He said He was. I became much softer towards others. For anyone grieving or struggling, I listened infinitely more. I spoke much less. I cooked more meals, cleaned more kitchens, sent more cards and offered more hugs for others. All of a sudden I found the treasure of sympathy. I offered more mercy, I gave more grace. I was being transformed into the image of that merciful and sympathetic Savior I was getting to know.
In a thousand little ways God led me out of the dark. It wasn’t overnight. Movies, songs, sermons and friends talking about things entirely unrelated all contributed to light breaking into my shadows.
After a year of fighting and grieving, beams of hope started breaking through and I found out I was pregnant, again. I was immediately filled with anxiety and dread. Pregnancy after miscarriage ironically is not a joy[CR5] , it’s a cocktail of worry, fear and confusion. I lived moment by moment trying not to obsess about if this pregnancy would finish full-term. Pregnancy symptoms flared then faded and depression moved in like a fog. At 11 weeks I had another black-screened ultrasound and found development had stopped 5 weeks ago. The doctor left and my husband and I cried in the bathroom. Immediately we left town and spent the weekend on a river. The sun beams, tree leaves and river sounds all soothed my soul. The grief this time was nowhere near as raw or eruptive. I was genuinely disappointed and sad for my loss but over the last year slowly God had been building up truth that was now supporting me. It was a miracle, God built character in me just like His Word said He would.
I continued to yearn for children and wrestle with barrenness. I faced powerlessness, anxiety and hopelessness day by day. But God faithfully drew near to me. He was moving in me and healing me. I remember being in darkness, I remember feeling moments of light and then I remember a miracle of my soul breaking forth that I struggle to explain. As I look back on these specific months they almost feel like a dream where you awake to a scene but don’t remember how you got there.
Out of darkness and loss came a revelation of the fiercely tender love of God that opened up my soul to receive the truth that Jesus is more than enough. I felt both a yearning for children and a satisfaction in Jesus that now feels paradoxical. All those feelings led us to apply for adoption. We attended a beautiful orientation that filled me with hope and 8 months after my second miscarriage and 1 week after turning in my application for adoption, I was pregnant again.
We had to put our adoption paperwork on hold. I had to live moment by moment, trusting God to be all that He said He would in the previous months. It was the longest 12 weeks of my life. Daily I fought to believe that whether this pregnancy turned into a baby to hold or a life to mourn, HE would always be worth it. Daily I told my soul that He is who I was created for and in Him I have fullness, fruitfulness and joy. Emotionally it really did feel like a war. It was exhausting. There were days where I was not victorious and overrun with fear or hopelessness. And finally, that 12 week ultrasound came.
My last two ultrasounds had been disappointing, to say the least. And there I was, another ultrasound and another verdict. My best friend went with me because my husband couldn’t leave work. I preached to my soul that morning: “Healthy baby or loss, Jesus is my joy, truly and He will see me through whatever happens today.” At the doctors I laid down on that cold bed, held my friend’s hand and turned to see the screen. And clear as can be was the figure of a baby, kicking, rolling, and punching and I cried and laughed. Never was a sight such a relief. She was mighty, strong and feisty. She was living in me and doing fine. She was beautiful. Her name would become Hannah Joy and she would inaugurate my journey into motherhood.
This journey has changed me, changed how I view God, changed how I treat others and has forever shown me the value of suffering. I’m fully aware that my story is being told retrospectively and for you, you are right in the middle of the pain. Please know my goal in sharing is not to scold you for your bad days or bully a fake “God’s good all the time!” attitude out of you. I want to give you permission to grieve and to falter under the weight of hopelessness. I want you to know I yelled, straight up at God, even with bad words, and He didn’t smite me and it helped, just a little. I want you to know I felt entirely swallowed by darkness and decimated by sadness and if I admit to it, then maybe you won’t feel alone. Because you are not alone. I’m praying what you read will come back to you at the right time, in a way that is helpful and healing and that you would forget anything that wouldn’t be.
Now, 7 years after that first loss, it is still teaching and shaping me. When my second-born was nearly 2 years old I found out I was pregnant again. We were pleasantly surprised. About 8 weeks into the pregnancy I felt familiar pain, then familiar blood and then that familiar dread that I was about to spend the rest of my day losing a pregnancy. Although it was my third loss, it still felt like some kind of violent overthrow. I felt the same desire to escape and the same unpredictable sadness. I felt a new confusion, though. We weren’t “trying” at this point but I got pregnant and I surrendered to God and His will. And then it seemed He just took it away as quickly as it came. The confusion snowballed into realizing I resented God for doing things in MY body without my permission. It sounds laughable saying something like that to the God who made you, who infinitely knows you, who purchased your soul at great cost to himself but it’s the truth. I was mad at Him for messing with my insides (as I so eloquently put it in prayer times). I had to acknowledge it, tell God about it, and wrestle with Him when I wanted to ignore it. I found again less solid answers and instead a Savior who seemed to just sit with me in grief.
I still don’t have any strong sense of why that miscarriage happened; it still feels confusing today. I’m more ok with confusion now than ever in my life and I hope that’s a good thing. I never claimed to have “suffered well” through any of this and yet, God hasn’t left and He’s used it to help me and others. I’m praying for your clouds to begin breaking and for light to come in right at the right time. I’m praying you would be able to grieve with sympathetic people and be healed by their “I know”. And I am most certainly praying you would no longer feel alone and that God would bring you women, women who are physically near you who can hug you and be your friend in this season.