The Gap in the Field: Starting a Dialogue and Sharing Stories on Pregnancy Loss

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
-James 1:2-4

Many zero dark thirty nights have seen open eyes. Often curled up on the pillow as the time zone sleeps are thoughts, memories, and questions that fight the calling of rest.  We might replay the reel of what ifs, plead with God, or try a sleep-inducing technique or two. Even the most spiritual, in-tune-with-God person may struggle with a deep sense of loneliness in those wee hours — especially in seasons of loss, grief, or general anxieties of life. If you’ve been there, you know. In these times, perhaps you find yourself searching for stories of others who have walked a similar path: a difficult diagnosis, chronic pain, or death of a loved one.

I have spent many a bleary-eyed night throughout my own journey with pregnancy loss and infertility looking for, scouring resources on these topics.  Some come in the way of books from the library, others medical articles online. There are some truly helpful books out there which I highly recommend (see this post for a list of go-to’s). I’ve been both saddened and comforted by the statistics of miscarriage. And yet, while there are a great deal of informative books and articles on the subject, scarce are personal accounts — other than anecdotes mentioned and a handful of women’s and couples’ experiences; those who dive deep into the thick of the sometimes ugly emotions following miscarriage and how they dealt or are dealing with it.

There’s a gap in the field.

Miscarriage is very personal and I deeply respect those who wish to keep their stories and experiences private.  Yet I’ve connected with so many women in real life and online, even through this blog — who have experienced pregnancy loss and/or miscarriage or know someone who has. I’ve heard the brave stories of those on all ends of the spectrum, women with three, five, SEVEN losses, women with empty arms, and women like me with a child sandwiched between years of trying and loss and people questioning our “only” children. Like any other experience, the shared tears, tilted life dreams, and stories are a healing balm.  It’s a sorrow to know so many have lost but a blessing to know we are not alone.  And that goes for any trial.

When I first started sharing on this subject, I hesitated. I did not want to offend or share too much. I compared my lost babies, medically-deemed “products of conception” with others’ late term losses, of stillborn children. But I could not shake the prompting to write. I knew a gap was out there.

I do not want to fly over the beach in my airplane and banner flapping in the wind saying, “Look at me!” but simply offer up my journey so others can feel free to knowingly say, “me too.”

I continue to hope that my story, the story God’s writing for my life, can bring a voice to the often silent sorrow of pregnancy loss and miscarriage.  I also hope this is the beginning of dialogue — of listening to and sharing stories from the rough and rocky seas of miscarriage and loss, and on a larger scale, navigating life’s storms in general.

To those all too familiar with the midnight hours, may you experience peace, and comfort, and joy in your darkest nights.

Hold the Day

 

image painted in Waterlogue

At the end of the day, I put my boxing gloves on and battle the alarming sense of urgency that arrives with the dinnertime rush, the washing of dishes and babe, and the last books and snippets of conversation before sleep beckons.  Once the bang of the gun of early evening sounds we are off with a whoosh…

I haven’t discovered a way to slow the evening hours but some days in the mellow of the late afternoon and early evening when the sun casts its first goodbyes, I try to do one very important thing:

(As a reflective introvert I need — crave — this time like the extrovert needs the people.)

Just as one holds up a conch shell to the ear, I try to hold up the day and listen.  If I just pause over the stew, so to speak, I’m more in tune than either my-not-yet-awake-mama-needs-her coffee or hit-the-pillow-dreaming-of-coffee state.  And I do love my mornings; it’s just that this time is perhaps when my soul has tasted enough of the day but not enough to close it.

I listen, watch, breathe in the salty and the sweet moments from the day. 

I hold the day.

This is the time, in this season, when I often do my writing or at least jotting down ideas.  

Sometimes the search brings up happy thoughts from the day, a funny story about the resident 5 year old, a photograph snapped…

It doesn’t happen every day but the times I do are so very sweet.  

Beauty shows up in the edges of the day; our highs and lows, passing thoughts, and reflections become subtle hues — soft strokes of grace amidst the ho-hum gray of the mundane and hard knocks of life.

How have you experienced grace today?  Do you have a particular time you like to “hold the day”?

This Business of Calling Oneself a Writer

 

All grown up with a flour sack cape

Tied all around his dream

He’s full of [spit] and vinegar

He’s bustin’ at the seams

He licked his finger and checked the wind

It’s gonna be do or die

He wasn’t scared of nothin’, boys

He was pretty sure he could fly

He’s one of those who knows that life

Is just a leap of faith

Spread your arms and hold your breath

Always trust your cape

-The Cape by Guy Clark

Mrs. MacLean’s room is the place where my chorus began.  The colors on the wall escape memory as does knowing if our little six- and seven-year old bodies sat in rows or at tables.  Yet I do recall the sheer freedom of my left hand learning to form letters, gracefully moving across a smooth sea of dotted lines.  Singular t’s and p’s, along with other friends of the 26 Club, became words which strung together into full thoughts.  Then, at my favorite place in all the world, the creative writing center, these sentences became my first ever official stories.  Stories of cottonball clouds and Clifford the Big Red Dog, of recycling and summer popsicles– sweet innocent tales which always seemed to require more paper and the occasional shaking of the hand.  My happy little southpaw lived and loved to write.  Finally, a home for all of the words in my young mind.

Words continued — and continue — to run through my veins like salmon in a stream.  Running, running, nestled next to hundreds, even thousands, of others.  Sometimes so many that the words jumble up and articulation is lost like a granny without her bifocals. So-called writer’s block has not plagued me as much as has excess and verbosity.

Words filled childhood tree-climbing days, teenage journals, and letters to loved ones while living abroad.  They’ve woven through an English major, manuscripts, even this writing space online.

(cover of Guy Clark’s song performed by Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carraba; this version by Eric Bibb is probably my favorite but I couldn’t find a video)

Yet somehow I pause at the refrain.

Grains of coffee, when brewed correctly, work their wonder along with hot water for a delicious cup of joe.  But when there are too many or the filter is off, the process goes awry and you get a clog of a brown mess.  I struggle with the brown messes where the words can’t get their act together.  It’s in these moments where doubts and insecurities waltz in like unwelcomed tides on a child’s sandcastle and say, how dare you sing this chorus, how can you call yourself a writer…  

So what does one do when one’s mind operates in metaphor and savors words both spoken and written by others, stores up these linguistic treasures for just the right moment?  What do you do when something such as writing is like breathing?

You can continue to to feed the naysayers including the loudest of all, the conscience, or you can welcome the chorus that returns like a familar friend outstretching a hand.

You love to sing or play music, call yourself singer or musician.  You enjoy words and crafting stories, refer to yourself as writer.  You live to make or teach art, you are an artist.

After decades of avoidance, I’m standing up for the refrain that began in with the glorious moments of watching the crooked smile of Mrs. MacLean as she stapled together my words in a first grade classroom; I can finally sing: I was, I am, will be, a writer.

What about you?  Do enjoy singing, creating art, or writing but struggle to call yourself a singer, a writer, an artist?

Okay With the Gray: The Song of Suffering + Resources on Pregnancy Loss

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The absence of suffering in my life is not my good.  The nearness of God is my great, great good.”  -Kara Tippetts

{This is the fifth post in a series covering my walk with pregnancy loss.  To read the rest of the story: Read Part I: First News: Sweet PeaPart II: Kite-Flying, Part III: Yellow Light, Part IV: Warm Blankets and Forehead Kisses: Evidences of Grace.}

In previous posts I shared the elation and surprise of conceiving paired with worry and uncertainty that accompanies — even masks — the joy of pregnancy after miscarriage.  I realize there are those out there who know deep, deep loss and pain and heartbreak unimaginable and my experience may be a blip on the radar of suffering.  But it’s a story nonetheless: a narrative marching among a sea of others.  And what good is a story if it’s never told?

Lately, I’ve been treading water in books and articles — stories — of suffering.  My mind knows peace and grace as my heart plays catch up.  I enjoy reading how others “do” their suffering and sorrow.  I wanted to share some thoughts and resources that have been especially sweet in this time and if anything, serve as a bookmark to return to when another season of loss comes.  I hope you can find something that nourishes your heart whatever the season you’re in.

 

Our wedding day came with gray skies and rain.  A downpour. We’d watched the weather forecast like children eyeing unreachable candy clouds in the sky.  Every day leading up to the outdoor wedding in that tiny dot of a town outside Toledo, we wished, hoped, and prayed for a change in the course of the looming wet.

Yet gray would remain.  We’d need a Plan B which we didn’t plan or practice for: a ceremony in the reception hall.  In the end, the evening was magically twinkly and beautiful in every way.  But it was wet and…gray.

Gray often gets a bad rap; we don’t like the muddled, murky area in the middle of black and white.  Yet gray is a photographer’s friend, eating up harsh shadows that accompany a sunny afternoon; light is soft, the subjects and their colors illuminated.  Rain and overcast skies calmed this bride’s nerves, washed away the jitters, poured grace on every part of that wedding day.  Gray brought calm and comfort.

Gray was okay.

Each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows / Strike heaven on the face”  -Macbeth

Leave it to a playwright like Shakespeare to give us some tragedy. Perhaps at first, this quote seems too melancholy.  Perhaps you are thinking, shouldn’t we awaken each day with profound gratitude for the gift of a new day?  Enough with the gray already!

Yes, we can be grateful and happy and bright-eyed and optimistic but we all know that some days we swallow gray with our morning cereal or eggs, or tomatoes (for my British friends).  But even our Positive Petunia attitudes cannot negate the reality of difficult circumstances or trials. When we recognize that trials and suffering are not merely interruptions to our happy-go-lucky lives, but a crucial, expected part of life, then we can learn how to suffer and how to suffer well.

Pain insists on being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.  It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  -C.S. Lewis

Currently, I’m camped out in a place of physical, spiritual, and emotional healing as I reflect on pain, suffering, and God’s sovereignty.  I read books and blogs, take time to grieve, and rest in the comfy gray.  I wait for my body to return to its non-pregnant state, confront the daily stomach-punching reminders of what was lost, and gingerly mix together subdued hues of emotion.  I continue to field the questions like “You only have the one?”

One here and two in heaven, I want to say, but many times I just swallow hard and smile yes, not giving words to the story that merely bubbles to the surface.

So how do we suffer well?

Truth is, this is not a 10-step-how-to-I-have-all-the-answers-type-of-post.  What I can say is that my feet are on the blocks, butt raised, ready to walk the slow race of suffering.  I’m acknowledging the gray days that pepper the sunny and learning to not avoid but embrace the messy, murky emotions of grief.  Tim Keller paints this picture of suffering:

“Here is how it works.  The grief and sorrow drive you more into God.  It is just as when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat.  Similarly, the sorrow and the grief drive you into God and show you the resources you never had.  Yes, feel the grief.  There is a tendency for us to say, ‘I am afraid of the grief, I am afraid of the sorrow.  I don’t want to feel that way.  I want to rejoice in the Lord.’  But look at Jesus He was perfect, right?  And yet he goes around crying all the time.  He is always weeping, a man of sorrows.  Do you know why?  Because he is perfect.  Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world.  And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside of sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the sorrow.  It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping.  The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you” (Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, 253).

I’m okay with and in the gray.  How about you?  What is your song of suffering?

(For the record, the sky opened up on our wedding day, enough to allow for a few pictures.)

Now for the spots of color in my current season of murky gray: resources that have been helpful from specific books and articles on miscarriage but also suffering in general and how to be a help and light to those in a season of suffering.

SUFFERING IN GENERAL
RESOURCES TO HELP OTHERS IN DIFFICULT TIMES
PREGNANCY LOSS/MISCARRIAGE
Glimpses of Grace
  • Meals prepared by friends following our loss
  • Favorite flowers including tulips and sunflowers from loved ones
  • Care packages from family and friends
  • Connecting with other women who have gone through miscarriage and pregnancy loss
  • A deepening sense of God — who He is and His love and mercy; that suffering is not an absence of his goodness
  • Loosening of the tight grip of my will vs. God’s will for my life and the release of bitterness toward others
  • Discovering a beloved author has a book of daily reflections entitled Glimpses of Grace

Felt Board Easter Story Activity for Little Ones

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*Updated with the corresponding Jesus Storybook Bible pages based on Luke 22-24 & Mark 14-16.  See also the original post.*

A couple of years ago, I remember the difficulty in trying to explain Easter to my son and a group of preschoolers.  I struggled with how to portray Jesus’ death in a simple yet meaningful way.  The concept of Jesus dying (let alone any death) and his Ascension can be some BIG bites of theology for little minds, not to mention grown minds.

We started with this bite-sized version of Resurrection Eggs and it was fabulous.  Basically, you use 6 eggs to explain the events surrounding the Cross.  I highly recommend this activity for the preschool–2nd grade age:

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image courtesy of Motherhood on a Dime

I wanted to take it a step further.  Knowing the simple, tangible power of the felt board, I pulled out our scraps and crafted a simple reenactment starting with Jesus in the Garden through the Ascension based on Luke 22-24 & Mark 14-16.resurrection_materials

Have your child place the felt pieces (using the template below) as you read the Bible such as the Jesus Storybook Bible beginning in Luke 22 or Mark 14.  Alternately, you could simplify the story for younger children using the condensed summary (also below, ideal for younger preschoolers).  This seemed to be the ideal amount of scenes for little eyes.

If you would like to try this with your kiddos, click on the files to download the templates, print, and trace onto felt: Felt Resurrection Template

 

Resurrection_download_spread

Note: Felt is ideal but you could also use construction paper or card stock. I tried to make the templates as simple as possible and interchangeable for future Bible stories.  For example, the Mary template could be used for other women in the Bible and the Jesus template could be used for other male figures in the Bible.  Some glue may be needed to assemble pieces.