Yesterday morning in church, I put my arms around a young mother who’d lost her first baby to miscarriage (yes she IS a mother none-the-less). My eyes filled with tears as I expressed my sadness for the life she’d lost. It’s never fair. It’s never easy. And even though I’ve had a similar loss, I never know the right words to say.
Later that day, I looked over at my sister holding her beautiful dark-eyed baby girl. My eyes filled with tears again as I gazed upon one of the most beautiful images in the world – mother and child. In this case, the picture is made more beautiful because it’s been preceded with more than a little pain along the way. After years of perfecting the auntie role, and quietly longing for her own child, my sister came to motherhood late and now wears the cloak with beauty and grace.
It struck me, as I sat there next to her and reached over to pluck Abigail out of her hands, that the “successful” birth of a child almost seems against the odds sometimes. In between hugging the mother-without-child and sitting next to the mother-with-child yesterday, we had 2 families in our home for lunch, both of whom have adopted at least some of their children. One family adopted all four of their children, and another adopted the two in between their biological children because it seemed they wouldn’t give birth again.
I just need to look at my own family to know that babies cannot be planned or even expected – they can only be hoped for. There are four siblings in my family (including me). None of us have had the family we “planned”. My oldest brother and his wife ached through years of infertility before they adopted their first child. The second child they adopted was only in their home for one night before the birth mother changed her mind. After their third adoption, their family is as complete as it can be while there’s still a hole in it from the one that didn’t stay.
My second brother and his wife had 2 sons in quick succession. They hoped for more, but cancer took that hope away. We are so grateful that my sister-in-law survived the cancer, but we know that there’s still a tiny hole in their life too.
We have our hole too. After 2 beautiful daughters, our son was born lifeless. This week, we remember his sixth birthday. About six months after we lost him, we miscarried another baby. The next year, Maddie brought us joy and comfort after our losses, but while I was pregnant with her (and for several years after) I had an irrational fear that we would lose her too. When you’ve lost one, you keep company with death, and you are forever reminded that life is temporary. It didn’t help that we lost my dad, my uncle, and my grandma just over a year after she was born. The grim reaper seemed too close at hand, and Maddie seemed almost too precious to stay. When she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, I thought my fears would be realized. She’s four now, and couldn’t be healthier, but that doesn’t stop the irrational fear from surfacing now and then.
As I mentioned earlier, the fourth in my family, my sister, waited for years to become a mom. In between, she nurtured her nieces and nephews, but always had to go home alone. The fact that she’s a mother now doesn’t make that pain any less relevant.
When I look around the blogosphere, I’m reminded of the same thing. Anvilcloud and Cuppa rejoice in their daughter’s pregnancy, but this is only after long months and years of living with the pain of infertility. Karla lives with the same fear I did while she goes through her third pregnancy. Her first baby, Ava, lived only a few short hours. Her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Gina longs to have a second child, but health concerns have made that difficult. Those are just a few of the examples I've come across. I’m sure there are others of you who have unspoken pain. Some of you, for example, may cringe a little when you look at pictures of my daughters because it may not seem fair that I got to have three when you had none. I don’t know your pain, but I validate it none-the-less. (And if I have shown insensitivity in any way, by talking too much about my children and not leaving space for your reality, please forgive me.)
My heart aches for each person whose life didn’t go quite according to plan – for those who lost babies, those who lost hope, those who cried alone in their rooms when other people brought babies home, and those who had to give theirs up because of circumstances outside of their control. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to birth and raise our babies, but sometimes we have to live with a different reality.
For all of you who have children, remember to be grateful. Hold them close and enjoy them. Be mindful of the moments you have with them. Don't take that for granted.
For those whose children didn’t get a chance to grow up in your home, if you feel comfortable doing so, please share their names or stories in the comments, and I will commemorate them the next time I visit my son’s grave. For those whose longed-for children remain only a dream, I’d like to remember them too.
On September 27, our son Matthew would be six years old. When I visit the menagerie at his grave this week, I’d like to take with me each of the names of your beloved missing children – whether they died, went away, or lived only in your dreams. You can simply send me a name, or you can send me a poem or some other memento. If you want to post something on your blog, let me know and I will print it and bring it with me. If you had an early miscarriage, and never got around to naming your child, you may want to consider doing so now. A name can be a powerful way to make the memory or dream of your child more real and your pain more valid.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing in the comments, send me an e-mail instead. If your pain is too raw or too personal, I will respect your privacy.
I will try to honour each of your children and your memory of them in a fitting way. I will post a picture of whatever mementos I place at the grave. If you do not have a sacred space for your memories or your sorrows, I hope this can serve as a virtual memorial for you.