"I’ve been through childbirth, I can handle this." I thought, as I lay on on the table in the gynecologist’s office, trying to relax and breathe and hold it together through the pain I was experiencing. And then I thought, "But then I was rewarded with a baby. This is like giving birth to nothing. To death."
I was taking the final step in physically moving on from my miscarriage. I was in on the doctor's table having a D&C to remove the ‘products of conception’ that had been stubbornly hanging on (even multiplying, as if there was still a life to support) even though it had been two weeks since I learned of my miscarriage and likely at least a month since it had happened. I say it was the final physical step because although I had been thinking about 1:00 Friday, March 1 being the end of it, of course it’s not the end at all. I had been mostly avoiding thinking about it, diverting questions about how I was feeling (I’m fine, let’s get on with the meeting) and focusing on work and the medical follow-ups. So I was a little caught off guard by my own powerful grief during the D&C. I knew it would hurt physically. I was unprepared for how much it would hurt emotionally.
I had met with a midwife once early on, and although I cancelled this month's appointment with her, I got in touch with her because it was important for me to hear her perspective and her thoughts on miscarriage. I thought, and I was right, that she might offer a somewhat more holistic sense of what might be happening in me. And when I talked to her on the day before the D&C and she said to me, "You’ll always remember the due date. You’ll always get a little pang." She reminded me that might keep feeling it in different ways.
A congregation member whose sister died this past summer asked for prayer this week as she and others encounter new levels of grief now, these many months after the death. I can’t really equate the loss of this pregnancy to the death of a beloved wife and sister. But in terms of the way grief lingers and presents itself in nuanced ways, perhaps there is a correlation. That pang will return and I will feel it in different ways when I remember the loss of this one-that-almost-was, this dream of someone to be.
The midwife also told me (it was almost the first thing she said), “It’s not your fault.” I think it was after I heard that that I began to realize that even though I knew intellectually that there was nothing that I had done or not done that had caused the miscarriage, that I was feeling shame and guilt at the loss. I have for so long conditioned myself to not be ashamed – not of who I am, not of what I feel, of my actions – that I am still somewhat incredulous that shame could be an emotion that I feel at all. I feel shame that my body failed me, I feel shame that what I announced with joy and excitement turned out to be a lie, shame that there was indeed nothing I could have done to prevent this loss.
It may have been these feelings of shame that fueled the internal voice that asked, ‘Does this mean maybe that more kids just aren’t in the books?’ I tell myself that I don’t believe in signs, but on the other hand I was thinking, 'Maybe what we’ve said all along – that we’re just a one-kid family – is what we need to keep saying.' I told myself, that maybe my body just doesn’t want to do this – can’t do it. And maybe God doesn’t want us to do it either.
In the midst of all of this, in preparation for writing a sermon, I have been dwelling with the Luke 13 parable of the barren fig tree, the owner who wants to root it out and the gardener who asks for one more year to dig around it, add fertilizer, tending in with the hope of fruitfulness in the future. The beauty of Jesus’ parables is how their meanings can have a depth that you never would have anticipated. I need this parable this week. I was hearing the voice of the fig tree’s owner in the shame of a failed and ended pregnancy and in all my questions and doubt. I needed the voice of the gardener. And I heard it, again from the mouth of my midwife, saying that perhaps I could understand this as a sign not of failure but of my body’s readiness. My body has told me of its ability to be fertile and that it was only the timing that was not right. The garden only needs to be further tended.
The pain is still pretty near the surface. The doubt has not gone away. Unearthing shame? Way easier said than done. However, having heard the gardener’s gentle challenge, I have an easier time understanding the grace that is offered by Jesus in this parable. There still room and time and means for the tree to bear fruit. I need to keep listening to that voice.