**On Monday, I was honored to have an essay I wrote last spring published on Coffee + Crumbs, my very favorite site for reading beautifully vulnerable stories about motherhood. This is a follow up to that essay, so if you didn’t read it you can do so here.
Can I tell you a secret? I’m kind of scared to have a son. I always thought I would have two daughters. Obviously, there is no reason for this. It wasn’t even a longing, a hope, or a wish; although there is some comfort in being a “girl mom” that would bring a bit of familiarity to having two children of the same gender. Mostly though, it was just a thought that cemented itself more and more firmly in my mind over the past four years raising a daughter until I started to envision a future with two little girls in tow. I didn’t really believe that first ultrasound picture that clearly (at least to Brett – I still think all ultrasound pictures look like creepy aliens) showed that a boy was growing in my womb, not a girl as I had thought.
Now that we’re living in a two bedroom apartment, there are logistics that might make having two girls seem easier than having a boy and a girl. Our kids will share a room for the foreseeable future. Decorating a room for two girls seems easier than decorating a room for a boy and a girl. I clung to that silly reasoning for a while, but really that’s just not a big deal. I don’t even like decorating that much. So where is this fear and apprehension coming from?
A couple months ago in church I couldn’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes. I don’t even remember what initially prompted them, but they were present throughout the entire service. It could have been a poignant lyric or a mention of something in the sermon – I don’t remember. I do know that over the course of the service it became clear where this fear I have been carrying is coming from. And it’s not because we’re having a boy instead of a girl. Gender has nothing to do with this.
The tears welled and didn’t go away because I’m not done grieving the life I thought I would be holding already right now. Those “First Christmas” onesies I held up with joy on our trip to Norway last March are still stitched in my mind. I didn’t know then that the baby I carried in my womb as we explored Oslo had a heart that would only be beating for another week or so. Or maybe it had already stopped. Either way, that baby was with me then, and that baby’s life was already being joyfully anticipated. I was, and still am, madly in love with that life. A mother’s love doesn’t stop when her baby’s heart stops beating, even if she never got to meet that child this side of Heaven.
Our son growing in my womb now is a new life. He is not a replacement for the soul we lost. His life doesn’t even really take away the pain of the life lost. He deserves his own joyful anticipation and celebration – simply because he is being knit together in my womb as I type, not because he’s thriving in the space that the child we lost once occupied. So I am trying to be joyful in anticipating my son – really, I am. Most days I’m succeeding. But there are still just moments that I am surprised at how round my belly is since I thought I would be four months post-partum right now.
Somewhere along my walk with grief over the past 10 months, I listened to an interview with a woman who was getting to know grief for an entirely different reason than I am, but she trusted Jesus with the same hope I do. She said one thing that has stuck with me – Sad things will always be sad. I can’t imagine ever thinking about losing a baby and not feeling the pangs of sadness. She gave me permission to be okay with that.
There are a lot of things people tell you when you’re open about loss – some helpful and some I have had to learn to just let go of. I don’t regret being open for a second. I also don’t expect others to be open about loss. It is an immensely personal thing and navigating grief is difficult – no matter what. For me, having people know what I was going through was comforting. Even now, just weeks from giving birth to our baby boy, friends still check in about our miscarriage. That is such a blessing. It has allowed me to acknowledge the life I carried, even if it was for such a short time.
Hearing people say to look for the good that will come out of loss is not helpful for me. I don’t believe God needed to use this miscarriage to teach me about his goodness. I don’t doubt His goodness and truly haven’t over the past year. What He has taught me in the past 10 months is to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to recognize the incredibly personal way He loves His children.
I learned about my baby’s still heart on March 15th. It was a beautiful spring day and I was getting ready to fly to California for a dear friend’s wedding that weekend. I was given the choice of a D&C or waiting for my body to miscarry naturally. I chose to have a D&C on March 17th so I could still stand next to my friend as she married the love of her life that weekend. March 17th was an awful day, a day that I have been dreading coming up again this year. Throughout the day, though, there were kind, gentle people. The nurse who checked me in took the time to acknowledge how hard this was. My last memory before falling asleep in the operating room was the doctor who would perform the procedure standing next to me with her hand on my shoulder as silent tears ran down my cheeks. “This is so hard. I know. I’m so sorry.” She didn’t have to do that, but it softened a difficult day.
We didn’t say anything to Norah about becoming a big sister. She had no idea I was pregnant. We hadn’t told anyone before the miscarriage, actually. Two weeks after the D&C, my mother-in-law was visiting and we were all in the car. Norah’s sweet voice came from the back seat, “Grammy, I’m a big sister.”
Her words took my breath away.
I didn’t say anything at first, then after a minute I said, “You are a great big sister to all of your baby dolls at home, Norah.”
“No Mom, I’m a real big sister. I have a little sister.”
I tried to compartmentalize my grief into times when Norah was at school or after she had gone to bed. Of course, this wasn’t completely possible, but I didn’t want Norah to have to carry any unnecessary worry. One day she did notice that I had been crying. We were putting our shoes on to head out the door to the park and she quietly asked me, “Mommy, why are you sad?”
My response was not something I rehearsed, but the words came easily, “There was someone I really wanted to meet and I’m not going to get to meet them.” I was careful not to say baby, but keep it general. She accepted that answer and we continued on with our day playing in the park.
A few days later at breakfast, Norah asked, quietly again, “Mommy, are you still sad about that baby you don’t get to meet?” Again, this statement nearly took my breath away. I paused for a minute, told her I was still sad, and I thanked her for checking in. She never acknowledged that this baby was her sibling, but she adamantly continued on that she was already a big sister – that she has a little sister. This little sister started making her way in to Norah’s drawings, her conversations, and her imaginary play. It was never a sad thing for her, and we never told her about the sibling she lost, but her joyfulness about being a big sister has brought me so much comfort through my grief.
In early May, my prayers started turning to pleas for God to give me a glimpse of my baby. I didn’t know exactly what I meant by this – in a dream, maybe? But I kept asking. A couple weeks into this prayer I traveled to Washington for a long weekend with some of my closest girlfriends. One of these friends was pregnant and I knew she was due in October. During one walk, I stole her away for a moment and asked her when her specific due date was. It was October 15th – the same day I would have been due. For some reason, I found so much joy in her answer. It felt like an answer to the prayers I had been saying for the past couple weeks. I now had a baby I could pray for and watch grow in this world.
Sometime in early summer, Norah and I were playing in her room. I think the idea of being a big sister was starting to feel empty in some ways for her. As we colored, Norah stated, “Mommy, I really want to have a little brother or sister.”
“I know, honey. I really want you to have a little brother or sister, too”, I responded.
Then, with all her three-year-old wisdom mixed with the Holy Spirit, she replied, “Well, sometimes mommies just have to be patient when they’re waiting for babies.”
In July we traveled back to Montana to spend a couple weeks with family. We spent the Fourth of July at the lake house. Brett and I decided to take Norah down to the boat and watch the fireworks from the water. The still black lake reflected the sparkling colors and Norah climbed up on Brett’s lap to watch. I felt a pang of jealousy that she chose him to curl up with and even said a (selfish) silent prayer asking God to have her change her mind. His response was almost immediate – not audible but I was sure it was Him. He told me we both had a child with us that night.
The next morning we were back in Bozeman, packing up to fly to New York before dawn the next day. Norah was playing with my mother-in-law while Brett and I went through the house gathering everything we needed to stuff back in to our two large suit cases. At one point we passed each other as Norah was walking downstairs, “Hey Grammy, I have two little sisters.” Brett and I stole a glance at each other, but just kept packing. Still, I couldn’t get her words out of my mind.
The next day we were in New York and I immediately took a pregnancy test. I saw that pink plus sign develop, and this time didn’t quite know what to think. I should have been six months pregnant at that point. It felt in a way that I was pregnant with two babies, and I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I showed Brett as soon as he got home from work. He hugged me, smiled, and said, “Did you hear what Norah said yesterday?”
“Yeah, I did”, was all I could muster.
I expected to be fearful or nervous for my first prenatal appointment. Instead, I think I was just numb. Brett and I walked there together and I held his hand tightly the entire way. When we finally heard that beautiful, quick, swooshing heartbeat the numbness was gone and we both smiled through tears of relief and joy. I had calculated my due date to be the first week of March, which I thought was a beautiful gift from God seeing as the middle of March the previous year was met with a silent heart and a sterile hospital room. My doctor measured the tiny bean on the ultrasound and said the baby was measuring smaller than the calculation I had would suggest, and that my actual due date was March 17th. March 17th. Exactly one year from the day my other baby was taken from my body. The date I had been dreading coming again. And now I get to anticipate it with joy. God is so intentional in the way He loves us.
We still had not told Norah anything by the time my second appointment came. About five minutes after we left the apartment, I got a text from our babysitter that read: “She is randomly telling me how excited she is for St. Patrick’s Day…” I had to stop walking and make sure I read that right. I didn’t even know our three-year-old knew what St. Patrick’s Day was, let alone why she would be thinking of it in August.
To be fair, when we finally did tell Norah she was going to have a baby brother or sister, she was certain we were joking. She told me the ultrasound picture we showed her for proof was just an x-ray and looked at us with so much skepticism we just let it go for a while. It took her a couple weeks to come around to fully believing us, and now she is absolutely elated to welcome her baby brother to the family. This response from her just confirms my belief that God worked through her to give her those statements of comfort in the midst of our grief.
I know people will have different explanations for all of this. I believe all of these things – Norah’s statements, the timing of my friend’s due date matching mine, the timing of my new due date being the same day I had a D&C last year – I believe these are all ways the Holy Spirit has been reminding me that God is with me in my grief and in my joy. I am a detail oriented person. Words stick with me. Dates are important to me. God created me this way and He knows me better than anyone, so I believe He used these things to hold me this last year. He never allowed me to doubt His goodness, and He didn’t tell me not to be sad. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. I can be sad and He can be good at the same time.
October 15th was a Saturday. We spent the day in Burlington, Vermont instead of a recovery room at the hospital. The leaves on the drive up the day before were bursting with color. I don’t know if the tears in my eyes were from the overwhelming beauty of fall or the anticipation of the date I thought would be celebrated for years to come with presents and cake and round after round of “Happy Birthday!” Looking back now, I can see the beauty in the dying leaves. Fall is a funny time of year. The colors we celebrate are really the leaves taking their last breath. Their life is short, but it’s captured in photos and minds and hopes year after year.
About an hour into the drive, Norah was sleeping in the back seat. I was nodding off in the front when I felt Brett’s hand on top of mine.
“There’s something for you in my bag. Why don’t you get it now?”
I reached into his black leather bag and pulled out a small blue gift bag with white tissue paper spilling out the top and a card with my name is his handwriting printed on front. I opened the card and got a peek in to my husband’s heart through his words of love, grief, and encouragement for me. Then I tentatively opened the small box inside the blue bag. Laying inside was a heart locket. I clicked it open and found a small, grainy picture of our baby that would have been born the next day.
“How did you get this?” I asked through tears.
“I printed it off from the ultrasound we did on my machine the night before your appointment. I know it’s not something you’ll want to wear often, but I still thought you should have it.”
“It’s perfect.” I clasped the locket around my neck and carried a tangible image of my baby throughout the weekend.
The next morning, the due date morning, we found a cozy coffee shop for a family date. I sipped my smoked maple latte and every so often my hand found its way to the locket around my neck. Across from me, Brett and Norah were snuggled up on a couch, sipping a cortado and hot chocolate, respectively, and reading a book. That was certainly not the way I had expected to spend the weekend several months earlier, and I’m not going to say it was how I wanted to spend it at the time. But we were all together and there was more laughter than tears over the course of the day. I did get a text from my friend in Washington that day. She had a beautiful baby girl on October 15th, and I get the privilege of praying for her and watching her grow up. A gift to be sure.
The main emotion in anticipating our son’s arrival now is most certainly joy. When I was pregnant with Norah it was almost all joy, and I’m learning to be okay in feeling a range of emotions this time around. One of the fears I, and many other mothers, had when thinking of having a second child was whether or not I would have enough love to give. The love I have for Norah feels all-consuming most of the time. My heart has felt like it was at maximum capacity for four years. But through this loss and grief, I know now that God has poured enough love into me to pour out to not just two, but three children. I love Norah. I love our baby in Heaven. And I love our baby in my womb now, who I can hardly wait to hold sometime around March 17th.