5 Things I Learned from Loss

The anniversary swooped in like a bat on Halloween night, and I found myself just a couple days away from the 27th of October- the day my husband and I were told our baby no longer had a heartbeat. We were just a few days shy of 20 weeks and finding out the sex of our baby, and even though something seemed amiss, we hoped that the precautionary ultrasound just meant finding out early if my belly contained pink or blue. The next day, I delivered our baby boy, and we left the hospital with empty arms. It was tragic to us as it was the first major loss we had both experienced. I know others have been through far worse which I can’t even begin to imagine.

This year marks year two since that life-altering event, and people say it all the time, but I think it’s true: time heals wounds. Also true is that time never fully takes them away. This year I was feeling especially strong and removed from that horrible October; I even have a ten-month old beautiful baby boy in my arms today. However, the last week has been rough and, well, I found myself sitting on the floor with my back against the couch bawling after a miniscule argument with my husband over the phone. Perhaps grief has a way of sneaking up on us like an unpredicted wave. Here’s five things I’ve learned from [my] loss:

1. Always be careful what you complain about.
A couple months after delivering my angel baby, I was out with some girlfriends. Some of the ladies there I didn’t see as often so I was updating them on what had happened. They asked some hard questions, and as I started to answer one of them I got choked up. I was still healing and the pain was raw. A few minutes later as the conversation had switched, I was standing next a to a friend that was still pregnant at the time. She began to go off about how miserable she is when she’s pregnant. She flippantly explained she was not one of those people that loved it and just couldn’t wait for it to be over. All I could think about was the fact that mine was over, and that I would have given anything to still be pregnant. If I’m being completely honest, this complaining hit a nerve in me and made me feel hurt and angry. I know I have accidentally done the same to others, but I think it’s important to remember that sometimes the very thing we’re complaining about is the same thing someone else so badly desires.
2. Understand that others may be invisibly hurting.
You can see the lady with her head wrapped in a pretty scarf, a child in a wheelchair, or someone with a broken leg, but what you can’t always see is a broken heart. Days after losing our baby, I had to return to normal life. I still felt like I was in some kind of twilight zone, and of course, I didn’t want it to be my new reality. No one checking my groceries at the store, pouring my morning coffee, or cutting me off in a line of traffic knew what I had just gone through. I clung to warm smiles, sweet voices, and kind eyes. Simple gestures of kindness were like medicine for my wound. I try to remember this now. I wonder what kind of day people are having, what rain cloud may be hovering over their life right now that no one knows anything about. I’ll just end it with this quote I’m sure you’ve heard before: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
3. Don’t be too easily offended.
On the flip side of the “I hate being pregnant” scenario, I have to add that sometimes we just need to quit being so dang offended. Yes, I took way too many things personally after our loss. It’s hard not to when your heart has been ripped open, but now that I can see from a different vantage point, I know it was a problem. People often offer suggestions, advice, or something meant to be comforting that comes across wrong or perhaps is just taken wrong. And don’t take other’s happiness personally. What do I mean by that? Realize when something is a “me” problem vs. a “them” problem. For example, shortly after my pregnancy loss it was hard for me to be on social media. I would see pictures of siblings together and I felt offended and hurt. Don’t they know what I just went through? How could they rub that in my face? You know what I realized? This was a me problem. I started to try to be genuinely happy about others blessings even if I was so jealous and hurt I wasn’t experiencing the same thing for myself. And on this same token, don’t take things people say so personally either. Many times people don’t mean what they say and maybe because of our own experiences, insecurities, or doubts we turn it into something it’s not.
4. God takes things away.
Now stay with me for a minute here. I’m thinking of the verse “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”, but I didn’t fully understand this until now. Shortly after the loss, I would have thought of it this way: God took my baby away for a reason I may never understand. I felt punished at times. I wondered what I’d done wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to be a mom of two. But the truth is clear to me now. I can see now what God gave me; he gave me peace and strength when I didn’t have it. He gave me hope when I had none. And if he took anything away it was hopelessness and depression. His ways are higher, and I know that, but I’ll never forget something my aunt wrote in a card to me after we lost our baby and that is “some things we’ll never understand on this side of Heaven”. I don’t know why God allows certain things to happen for unknown reasons, but I can choose to focus on what He gives.
5. Good people are everywhere.
The news is filled with horror stories of disgusting and filthy people, but you know what the truth is? Beautiful people with souls that match are everywhere. We encountered many on our journey. My doctor sat in the hospital bed with me and played with my pony tail while we waited for the medicine to induce my labor. Our nurse, Shannon, was an angel and even sent us a card a year later. The chaplain at the hospital sad beside my bed, and told me how he lost a baby girl that would have been about my age now. Complete strangers wrote us encouraging messages. We even found a large anonymous check in our mail one day. And one time a complete stranger prayed with me at the store before he even knew our story [for more on that visit this post]. Kind, thoughtful, generous people are everywhere, and I think they just glow that much more when we’re hurting.

Pregnancy After Loss

Pregnancy after loss. What a paradox it proves to be. On one hand, I’m elated to have new life in my belly, and on the other, I’m terrified at the thought of not ever being able to hold it in my arms. First trimester woes [aka throwing up like clock-work and constantly feeling uber nauseous] left me seriously blue having just gone through similar only months before yet each hover over the toilet served as a strange assurance that I was, in fact, still pregnant. I ate the same few foods I could keep down for weeks, lost weight, and all the while battled a feeling that I should be happier through the mess vs. a feeling of anger just imagining it all possibly being stripped away.

On the way to the first baby appointment, I found myself preparing and doubting which muffled my overwhelming excitement. I turned onto the familiar street indicating I had almost reached my destination when “You Make Me Brave” started playing on the radio. This same song became a theme for me weeks following our loss, and I instantly felt God in control of the situation just as He remained faithful before. The shakiness left my body, and I felt a peace wash over me. That is until my husband and I entered the very same ultrasound room that brought such despairing news a few months before. The minutes were hours as we waited for the little bean inside my belly to pop up on the monitor. At the first sight of baby, the breath I’d been nervously holding finally expelled, “Is there a heart beat?”
Yes. Yes was the answer. I could relax until walking on pins over to the doctors office to ask if everything looked good- the heart beat not reassuring enough.

“Should I have switched doctors this time for a fresh start?” I wondered. But this same doctor held my hand as she told us the bad news through watery eyes, arranged for her husband to watch the kids so she could be at the hospital to deliver my angel boy even though she had the night off, and stroaked my long ponytail as we waited in the hospital room for the medicine to induce my labor. Her familiar voice, young spirit, and kind soul helped me push past the familiarities from the last pregnancy and know she understands this journey almost to the point of it being her own.

Daily I experience excitement and hopefulness tainted with doubt and insecurities. Yet every wave of dizziness and flame of heartburn leaves me more at ease that another life still exists inside of mine. Before almost every appointment, I’ve seen a vivid miscarriage through my dreams the night before, gladly waking up to it being untrue. I’m not sure at what point I will feel complete joy and comfort, blissfully waiting to hold my baby. Perhaps it won’t happen until that first breath turns into a baby’s cry.

But I don’t have to look further than my wrist to remember that God is my hope, and only He can truly diminish my pregnancy fears. The anchor tattooed on my wrist reminds me that “hope is an anchor for the soul” [Hebrews 6:19]. In the middle of the anchor, I see the cross and know that even when God “calls us out beyond the shore into the waves” [You Make Me Brave] He is there, stronger than ever. So I’m “joyful in hope” [Romans 12:12] that this Rainbow Baby comes home with us, but secure in knowing God is in control regardless.

After all, His rays of hope have been shining down on this pregnancy since before it began…

Months ago, my daughter and I were wandering down an aisle at the grocery store on our routine Monday morning shopping trip. If I remember correctly, she had vibrantly dressed herself, and I was flaunting the usual yoga pants and t-shirt. I had started working out again, but remained slightly uncomfortable with the leftover bit of baby-flab I was boasting without a baby to show for it. At that point in my “miscarriage recovery”, I stayed eager for a new addition to our family but had finally found some joy in the waiting. The prior couple of months saddened me as I saw pregnancy announcements galore and enough new baby pictures to make anyone [baby] feverish. But I was feeling truly happy again.

Back to the canned soup aisle> As my daughter and I browsed the food, I leaned in towards her and laughed- our scrunched up noses touching while we played. I then noticed an elderly man slowly passing us in the opposite direction. His tubby, slightly waddling body, and greased back grey hair were enough to make anyone smile, so I did just that as we exchanged glances.

“She must be yours,” he joked, “she’s about 95% you.” First of all, I rarely hear this as I’m constantly told how much she looks like her dad [she does], and second of all, I appreciated the nice comment. He’s as sweet as he looks, I thought. What happened next blurs in my memory a bit, but I remember him saying a couple of things such as “you’re both very beautiful”, and an off-the-wall comment about me doing a good job of “losing the baby weight”. I remember being slightly weirded out by this for a few reasons. 1. If you weren’t a cute and quirky old man, I may be offended by this. 2. I was just struggling with this very thing you complimented me on. And 3. What baby weight are you referring to? You don’t know about the baby I just lost, and surely you’re not referring to my two-year-old.

His next question threw me off as well, “Is she your only?” I felt like this implied I should have another one or begged for a deeper explanation. This question tied me up the same as someone now asking of my pregnant belly, “Is this your second?” I struggle with wanting to tell my story, not forgetting about the baby boy I carried for 20 weeks, but also not wanting to reveal too much to a complete stranger who isn’t looking for an awkward and uncomfortable answer. So, I looked at Grocery Store Man and said, “Yes, she is.”

Maybe my eyes lead him to believe I left out the whole truth, the complete answer to that hard question. And then it happened, near the rows of spices in the grocery store aisle, he stuck out his wrinkly old hand and asked if he could say a prayer with us. What do you say to that as people maneuver around your now parked carts in the middle of the lane? [You may be thinking, “No Thank you…No thank you is what you say- This is getting weird.”] So in a split second of uncomfortableness seasoned with “this feels right”, I offered my hand and agreed.

There in the middle of grocery shopping, he prayed a beautiful prayer over my daughter and I [as she grabbed for the salt and pepper]. I can’t tell you exactly what his prayer contained, but I specifically remember him asking God to give us a blessing during that coming week that we would know could only be from Him.

After the prayer, I thanked him. And then he asked, “So do you plan to have other children as well?” [OK, getting weirder.] At this point I remember feeling as if he knew something I didn’t know he knew. This prying about my angel baby [so it felt like to me] was enough to open me up. Or perhaps it was the fact that we just shared a moment as complete strangers in between moving carts, macaroni and cheese boxes, and a squirming toddler.

I briefly told him we do want more children, but that we had lost one during our pregnancy a few months back. This lead to another prayer [can’t make this stuff up]. He grabbed my hand again, and this time prayed for healing and ultimately a new baby for our family. This prayer seemed longer and more passionate. Afterwards he told me that he knows Jesus heals because he healed his wife of cancer, who is now in Heaven. He told me about his five children, and God’s blessings. He described asking God for something in a way I can’t quite relay to you, but I took away thoughts of bible verses- ones about asking for things in hopefulness and confidence that your request has been answered. By this time, my toddler was clearly being two so we said our goodbyes.

I walked away wondering what just happened and what other shoppers thought as they passed by. But surprisingly, I didn’t care. I looked around, down, and up, “God?”

I figured as long as Grocery Store Man didn’t turn out to be crazy and follow us home, I could safely assume that may have been a divine intervention. We checked out at the counter several minutes later and there he was doing the same a couple rows down. We opened up the car door to throw the groceries inside, and there he was hopping into his car in the handicap spot- diagonally across from ours. He didn’t look over or wave. He just climbed in his car and drove off.

I sat in my car for a moment before leaving to record a little piece of what happened in my phone. As we drove away I wondered if God would bring a blessing that week I’d know was from Him. I don’t know, but it seemed a little fortune-cookie-ish. The prayer came to my mind at times that following week, but nothing strangely stood out. I do, however, remember beginning to pray more confidently- like “my prayer will be answered” confidently. I began asking God to bless us with a new baby, but this time assuming He was working on just that.

Fast forward a couple/few weeks [not to be technical or anything], and I was feeling a little sluggish. I finally decided I wanted to take a pregnancy test just to make sure that I hadn’t missed something from the last month as I was feeling very off [you do strange things when you’re trying to make a baby]. I knew a test wouldn’t show if I was pregnant for the current month because I was still days ahead of my expected you-know-what. I was just curious about the last one.

A few seconds after watching the empty space on the test saturate, two lines appeared. Two. One was very faint. I was shocked. Could I be pregnant? I think any trace of the hormone showing is still a trace. But if I was actually pregnant last month, the lines would be more clear. [Gosh, of course that was a period, you doofus]. Are we barely pregnant?! Naturally, I did the only thing you can do in a situation like this: Google it.

In those following moments, I knew I was pregnant…But wait, it’s SO soon. The box says there’s only a 50% chance of it showing a positive this soon. I wanted to tell the husband in a special and thought-out way, possibly waiting until I became more sure. So when he walked in from work a couple hours later, I waited three minutes, and then I spilled the beans! [Along with a disclaimer of my uncertainty- to which case he “studied” the test as only an excited man could do.] I figured I would wait a few days and then take another test to be sure, but the next morning the husband eagerly insisted I do it again. This time: clear and vibrant lines! We were pregnant! What an incomparable relief after wondering if it would ever happen again.

We realized it was not only my father-in-law’s birthday the day we found out, but that the baby would be due on my dad’s birthday: December 28th- three days after Christmas! A little Christmas miracle [with a slightly unfortunate birthday].

Why is that [ironically] funny? The last time we tried for a baby, we skipped the month that would result in a December birth date. You know, with the busy holidays and all. [Plus, I always felt bad my dad had to celebrate his birthday three days after Jesus. Talk about tough sandals to fill.] This time? This time we told God we wanted a healthy baby…any …time…of…the…year! And you know what else I realized? I didn’t get my Birthday Baby [I sheepishly prayed to find out we were pregnant before our angel boy’s due date and my birthday to ease the pain]. I also realized we didn’t find out we were pregnant during the week Grocery Store Man asked God to “give us a blessing we’d know could only be from Him.” That would have been a cool story.

“What was that blessing anyways?” I wondered…

I hope I always remember that God’s blessings come in His timing, which also means He is working on them long before we actually get to see or experience them. Something dawned on me. I got out my phone to see what Monday I ran into the Grocery Store Man. Then I switched over to my app that calculates, ya know, girl stuff.

Basically [scientifically] I realized this: The week Grocery Store Man asked God for a blessing that we would know could only be from God was the week we got pregnant.