Let’s have some real talk for a moment. A few weeks ago marked three years since my miscarriage. Some people suffering miscarriage have asked if the pain gets better. In some ways it does ease over time. In other ways the pain just changes. In more ways, the pain changes who you are.
It seems like the pain of loss, once intense and acute like a sharp, stabbing pain, eventually shatters and the pieces of the pain change into different things to serve different purposes. One piece turns into anger, another to fear, another to joy, another to compassion. They all take a place in your life and make you aware of their presence from time to time.
Clearly the picture I just described is not rooted in any sort of actual science or psychology that I am aware of. Nothing bends my brain like philosophy. But stories are what I know. Stories can tear down walls. Pictures painted with words have the ability to allow the listener to understand a different perspective, second only to actual lived experience.
And so, this is my story…
SISTERHOOD OF LOSS
Miscarriage affects every person differently. A lot depends on that persons life in general as well as personality, support systems, and even the length of the pregnancy. Each person will have a different story to tell. I do find it strangely helpful to hear someone else share a part of their story that mirrors my own, even in a small way. It’s comforting to think, “wow, I’m not alone in this reaction.”
Sometimes I quietly listen to women who have never had a miscarriage talk about life and motherhood and I just smile. My heart is so soft towards them. They sound very sweet and innocent while I sometimes feel jagged and weathered. I no longer get to believe that A+B=C. I no longer am able to live in an imaginary world where good people don’t suffer and where things make sense. I don’t live in a place where healthy babies are born simply because we want them with all our heart. I’m a part of a sisterhood that none of us wants to belong to.
NO CROWDS, PLEASE
The first major symptom in my miscarriage aftermath was a strong aversion to being around people. Specifically, groups of people.
I attended a Christmas party a few weeks after my miscarriage. Very soon after arriving I knew I had made a mistake. The physical reactions were entirely involuntary. My heart was racing and my palms sweaty. I sat at a table and sipped hot chocolate hoping to avoid too much chit chat. As I sat there I felt like I was in a glass box looking out at everyone. The sound of voices was very distant, even though the conversations were happening right next to me. My vision blurred and went dark around the edges. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. No matter how much I willed it, I could not enjoy myself or feel anything close to normal.
Church was worse.
I tried to return to church a few weeks after my miscarriage. It ended badly. Within 15 minutes I was huddled in my husbands office working through a full on panic attack.
My husband was on staff at the church and it was Christmas month (you know, all of December), so not attending wasn’t really an option. I discovered that if I showed up just in time to be a little late, I could drop my daughter off to her class and then slip into the sanctuary to snag a seat in the back. If I avoided eye contact and kept my eyes fixed on my phone during the service I could make it through. I could not look up at any time. I could not catch a glimpse of the crowd. I could not make eye contact with any single person. If I did it was all over.
This plan worked for exactly one Sunday before one of the church board members (“church board” is a made up position of authority in many American Christian churches that is often available only to men, FYI) caught me at the back door as I tried to exit before anyone else. He “playfully” but pointedly criticized me for “playing games” on my phone during the whole service. #BadPastorsWife
I wanted to tell him that I played on my phone to fight through the nausea. I wanted to tell him that I forced myself to come to church even though I was hating God at that moment. I wanted to tell him that I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see the crowd as I sang Christmas carols with them and cried silently and alone for my dead baby. I wanted to tell him that I needed my phone as a crutch as I walked through the most excruciating pain my heart had ever felt. But I knew all of those words would tumble out of my mouth in hysterical screams, so as to avoid a scene in the church lobby I simply forced a smile, stared at my shoes, and ran to get my daughter and go home.
Sometimes church is the worst place to heal. Sometimes it’s the best. It depends on you. It depends on your church. Don’t force yourself to be in a place that is anything but healing to you.
Church people sometimes say crazy crap. I’ve said some crazy crap in the past, without a single doubt. When you know better, you do better.
PROTECTING MY HAPPY PLACE
The next thing I became aware of in my miscarriage aftermath was my desperate need for peace, calm, and for nothing to change. I cleaned my house obsessively for six weeks after I was physically recovered from the miscarriage. I baked hundreds of Christmas cookies for no reason. I bought presents for my daughter that our meager little budget could not afford.
My horrible little duplex house was my sanctuary. I protected it fiercely.
Unfortunately, it was all ripped away from me a few months later. My husband left his job and we needed to move away. Now, looking back we are so glad we left that place. We were incredibly unhealthy and it was obvious that we had no one to help us back onto our feet. We moved home. Our whole life is better now, but in May 2014 I thought I would die from the pain. I cried until I thought my heart would stop as I cleaned the bathroom where I had miscarried into the toilet a few months before. After scrubbing the carpet, I laid on the floor where my couch had been on which I had labored, and I tried to remember to breathe. I sat on the ugly brown stairs that I had just vacuumed and I wept as my two year old comforted me.
I left that two bedroom duplex and clean as I possibly could have.
My life is better because we moved. Our family is better because we moved. But it doesn’t mean that losing my rickety little house, friends, church, and all my security didn’t crush what was left of my heart to a million little bits. It fell to the ground like confetti at a going away party.
I’ve written in the past about things to not say to a person who has experienced a miscarriage. One of those things is to not suggest that some good will come out of the loss. Maybe it will, but believe me, none of those good things are worth the price tag of a lost baby.
Still, it’s been interesting for me to look back and realize how much my miscarriage has changed me for the better. I am so much less judgmental, self-righteous, critical, and petty. I say less crazy stuff (yes, I said less. I’m not perfect!). My mind and heart have been opened and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown up. I love more truly. I’ve found compassion I didn’t know I could have.
A few months ago I visited a church in my town because of their summer Vacation Bible School program that my daughter was attending. (Yes, church friends, VBS and others kids programs still make your church attractive to young families…) The church was very traditional compared to what I am used to. My husband was out of town, so I sat alone. During the worship I stood straight and tall and sang the songs with my best church lady voice. When the orchestra began playing a song I didn’t recognize, I stood still and rested my hands on the back of the pew in front of me as I stared up at the cathedral ceiling with its dark stained wood beams and modern American stained glass. That’s when it hit me… little gifts.
I imagined all of these beautiful changes in my life; each one a precious gift. As I walk my path in life, I find these little surprises waiting for me like little packages. I see them in my mind as presents wrapped in gold paper and tied up with a red bow… gifts from my lost baby. Gifts sent to help me through, to make me better, and to hopefully improve the world because I am in it.
I’m not a better person because my baby died, but because he lived.
No life is too short or too small to have an impact.
GOD IS GOOD… RIGHT?
Three years after my loss as I take inventory of my life, I find nothing has changed quite like my faith. At times this feels unique to my own experience, but my loss and subsequent heartbreaks put me in a place of willingness to ask the “dangerous” questions about what I believe about God and why. Let me tell you, this takes guts. I don’t find many people in my life with the courage to ask the questions I do.
As I began to ask tough questions about my faith (Christianity), I discovered that they really all boiled down to one: is God good?
Everyone has all sorts of brilliant (to them) ways of answering this question. Everyone thinks they’re right. Everyone is so self-assured that their interpretation of Scripture is the only right one. But I have to say, my question isn’t one that you can answer for me.
Asking “is God good” is about a journey to the very beginning of my 30 year old faith and rooting out everything that doesn’t belong. It’s about wrestling with Scripture and tossing out the cute little devotional books. It’s about shredding the myths that I’ve intertwined with Christianity. It’s about peeling away the American Christian Evangelical front for Republican politics and finding the truth underneath (and the truth is, it’s complicated). It’s about sifting away everything that doesn’t matter as much as we think it does and finding what is left. For me, what is left is so beautiful and true and revolutionary.
God isn’t afraid of your questions.
People are afraid of your questions, so proceed with extreme caution. Share your heart very judiciously. Most of what I wrestle with you will never know about because I am exceedingly cautious. I advise you to do the same. Seek out wise people who will listen, give you space, pray for you, mourn with you, celebrate with you, and then not try to “fix” you.
At no time in the past have I ever felt such peace with my faith, such reverence for Scripture, and such love for Jesus.
For most of my life I was lost to a cultural Christianity that I thought was the real deal. I loved church life and worked really hard to be a good Christian. As it all crumbled away I realized how much of it was based on a social construct designed to keep me happy, good, and quiet. I played my part well, until I didn’t want to act any longer.
Once I realized that I don’t need to be afraid of God and that He isn’t afraid of my questions, I have experienced a new depth of faith and peace that I didn’t know I could have. It’s a rough, unpolished, hard-fought faith that I treasure.
Every day I hold on to the faith that God is good. Some days that’s the best I can do and I have complete peace that nothing more is needed.
NEW ME, NEW YOU
Nothing changes a person like losing someone you love. When that someone lived only for a short time inside your body, the loss is different. It just is different, but it still exists. It will always exist. A stone was dropped into the lake and its ripples will go on forever.
You don’t have to be so crazy as to talk about how you’re different in a public way, such as a blog post 🙂 But I would encourage you to think about how your life has been impacted in the months, years, and decades following your miscarriage. You may be surprised by how many precious little gifts you’ve found along the way.