BY: kathleen E. Frey
I woke up feeling off. My body ached more than usual. Even after a rare night of the baby sleeping until morning, I felt lethargic. Fatigued. Restless. I irritably willed a day that had just begun to be done. I was sad.
I’ve mentioned before, the challenges I face with depression. Today felt different—a pointed melancholy, a very real response rather than the typical undercurrent of who I am. I lay in bed, forcing a smile at the cherubim face of my chubby baby staring at me. I knew something inside wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I couldn’t uncover why I not only woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but on the wrong side of a battle—a fight I fully engaged and resisted.
I got up. Kissed the baby’s head. Went downstairs. Made breakfast for three boys avoiding the floor. (It has a habit of spontaneously transforming into invisible lava.) I pretty much went through the motions, and I know you’ve done it, too. We want to be all-in, present, mindful, inspired. I homeschool my kids, which means every waking second of the day, I feel pressure to facilitate a living education. Going through the motions isn’t a real option. It’s not practical even when it’s necessary. It only loads brick after heavy, scratchy, cold brick upon my shoulders. But, some days, it’s all one can do. Somedays, we know why. It doesn’t help, but it kind of does. Because when we don’t know why, the guilt is ten-fold and teased with annoyance. It’s a bloated kind of ugly where we really are our meanest bully.
After breakfast, the boys and I go to our haven—our porch. It’s a balcony seat to the show put on by our own little plot of earth. We can see the acres of green hugging our yellow house. The ancient trees brushing across the sky—paint brushes against canvas. We’re high above the ground, where the birds play. Gravity can hardly contain my sons. They run, ride, jump, climb, fall, and get up again. They’re accompanists to the lively music of nature all around—the wind, the butterflies and grasshoppers, the frogs, and our lone duck named “Duck”. The willowy grass and weeds mimic the rolling waves of a sea so far away. The silver ripples of our pond move to nowhere again and again. My boys aren’t just dancers to the music. No, they are enveloped in it’s rhythms. And, I…I feel on the outside of the outside. I feel nowhere.
The baby is hungry, so I sit on the porch step to nurse him. Our bodies are safe in the shade. I stretch my legs to dip my toes in a pool of sun. Just want to feel something. I close my eyes and whisper: Hi God…I’m not right today. I’m not right. I don’t know why, but I know You do. I really need Your help. Please, send the Holy Spirit for some help. The breeze lifts my tangled hair away from my neck. It fills my being with something pure and alive. Like coming up for air almost too late, only without the struggle and fear.
For a long while, I sit in the gentle breath of nature. My infant naps in my lap, breathing gently as well. His brothers adventure in their pajamas, carrying umbrellas, broken binoculars, and a backpack full of candy (of which they think I’m unawares). Their chatter makes me smile, and I feel more human than before. I slowly move through my mental list for the day, choosing what will wait for another, and then I know. I know what today is. It took my mind all morning to catch up to what my body knew upon waking. Today is the day we lost a baby.
Hands can play a song on the piano without thinking of the notes. An athlete knows exactly how to dive, jump, catch, throw, or swim without thinking of the motions. A mother knows how to rock, pat, and caress her particular baby without knowing she knows. She could do it in her sleep. In fact, she often does. Yes, I believe in the precision of muscle memory even if I don’t understand it. I believe our body remembers even when our conscious mind does not. I believe our heart is a muscle, indeed. Not just of the anatomical sort, but of a spiritual sense. And today, my heart hurt before my mind realized why.
Four years ago, we lost a baby. She wasn’t a planned pregnancy. Her existence didn’t come at a “convenient” time in our life. We had a two-year-old and a one-year-old and a lot going on. But, I wanted this baby. I wanted to hold her. To smell her hair. I wanted to sing her songs about stars and hummingbirds and sunshine. I wanted to see her brothers love her. I wanted to meet her. But then, one morning in the midst of usual toddler chaos, I started to bleed.
As we waited in the hospital, I read my app on baby development and told my husband what baby was doing this week. I really believed the ultrasound would prove all was well. I’ll never forget that moment. The kind ultrasound tech tried to measure the fetal heartbeat, and there was nothing. No swishy sounds. No little wavy lines. Just empty space. She tried again. Nothing. More bleeding. It became one of those out-of-body experiences I feel in moments of panic. Defense mechanism, I suppose, but it never lets me linger as long as I’d like. The tech asked if I was okay, and I responded with a faint “no”. Then, she left the room to get the doctor. When he came in, I was already sobbing from what I knew but couldn’t believe. We had lost the baby.
Healing felt only like hurting for a long time, for both my husband and myself. My mother and grandmother helped care for our sons so he could go to work. He provides for our family financially, and that responsibility doesn’t just go away when things are tough. I was incapacitated from the morning sickness that lingered and the post-partum that attacked my body in so many cruel ways. Moving hurt. Eating disgusted me. I was angry and every word in my mouth tasted like poison.
My husband, my children, my mother and grandmother, my doctor, my siblings, my friends, my God. Amazing grace. Months would pass before I would become physically and mentally healthy again. Before I’d gain back the weight I’d lost. Before I’d leave my home. But, those months did pass. My children kept growing, laughing, playing, and lifting me up without trying. My husband was patient and kind, selfless and present. My loved ones listened when I needed to talk, hugged me when I needed not to. Prayer strengthened me.
I didn’t climb up from the ruthless pit that had swallowed me down. That would be too simple to say and not entirely true. I’d made a home in that grave and you never leave home completely. But, I did reach into the sunlight from down below. I began grabbing and clawing and pulling love over top. Like covering decay with the good smell of clean dirt. When burying is all one can do, love is always the better choice of stuff. I’m blessed to have it aplenty. Eventually, new life grew in the fertile ground—our third son, Eli. My love for him is a world without end. I love him, and he is not a replacement. I still grieve for another I love without measure and without meeting.
Every night I pray for my children—all of my children. Something in me breaks when I think about being the only person on Earth who prays for the one we lost. I know she doesn’t need my prayers. She’s already in heaven. So, I guess it’s the part of being not needed that hurts. I was born to be a mother, to be needed, to care for these tiny people so inextricably connected to my soul. I get to do that each and every day for four of my children. And one, I do not. She doesn’t need me. Where she is, there is no need. It’s a joyous thought. And, I’m oh so broken by it.
I pray with my whole self that I am survived by my sons. This is the natural order of things. For anyone reading this who has experienced otherwise, I am praying for you. Women who have suffered a miscarriage or multiple miscarriages, at any stage in pregnancy, I am praying for you. Couples walking through the pain of infertility, I am praying for you. You are all still parents, because you grieve. Love is the deep, deep root of grief.
Mourning grows from unabashed love amidst a battered world. No one wants to grieve. But, if God said, “I can take away your grief, but your ability to love will come with it…” we would hang on to it, wouldn’t we? We would, and we do. God grieves by choice as well, because He loves us and we suffer. Blessed are those who mourn, because to grieve is to love—the greatest of all. I’m sorry and thankful for a truth so beautiful and brutal.
Someone reading this feels the same heartbreaking, happy anticipation of meeting a child they love irrevocably. Meeting a stranger who they know with their entire being. It reminds me of the love I have for Jesus—someone I know without having met. He lived, died, and lived again before me and for me—an innocent who loved me before I was wonderfully, fearfully, imperfectly made so strong and frail.
I needed a name to pray with. She deserved at least a name, an acknowledgement of her existence. Her name is April, if you’d like to know. In the spring, we planted a tree in her memory. She would have been born in April, so it seemed fitting. Spring had always been my favorite season—a time of birth and new beginnings. In my anger and grief, this seemed like too cruel an irony at first. I dreaded spring for a season of my life. Now, it feels perfect.
You see, when the skeleton trees grow full with life and the birds come home through the heavens, I think of April’s birth—not the one she didn’t have, but of the one she did. I think of her new beginning, a soul born into heaven, made whole in Christ’s loving embrace. And God willing, when the winter of my earthly life comes, I will wake to spring. She’ll be waiting for me there, and I will once again be born to be a mother.