Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day of First Awakening (aka, Loss of Naivete)

I want to honor this day - July 11 - somehow. Not because I am experiencing any sense of deep emotion or nostalgia. And not because I am grieving. I would recognize grief. Grief has not been part of my day. Yet each year on July 11, I wonder if I should be grieving.

This wonderment is an intellectual exercise that begins the first time I see or hear "July 11." It causes me to remember that this date is supposed to be significant to me somehow. And eventually I remember why. I always do.

July 11 is the anniversary of our miscarriage. Well, it is the anniversary of the day our miscarriage began. July 12 is the day a doctor performed a d/c to wipe from my uterus a pregnancy that was medically noted as "a blighted ovum" and "an incomplete spontaneous abortion." That was in 1990, 21 years ago; and for more than two decades, I have always taken note of this date without grieving what might have been. I can't explain why I don't grieve. I simply know that is what occurs.

I certainly grieved on that day. Mark and I both did, and we were deeply grateful for a way to manage our grief together. It came as a gift of an overnight trip to the beautiful city of Pella, courtesy of a friend and coworker named Becky who had given birth to her first child a few months earlier. In Pella only days after our miscarriage, Mark and I had a wonderful dinner together, and then saw the movie "Pretty Woman." We sat side-by-side in the dark theater, crying over storybook story lines that only seemed possible if shaped by a director in Hollywood.

We grieved the loss of a dream, more than the loss of a child. We grieved the loss of our innocence. Holding each other in the hotel room that night - crying in the dark with no words shared - we simply wanted things to go back to the way they had been before. A romantic do-over. A rescue. Our own "Pretty Woman" fairytale ending.

Prior to July 11, 1990, Mark and I had lived without fully comprehending that bad things that can happen to good people. As good people, we had lived with simplicity, appreciating the good things of life and offering thanks for the fact that we enjoyed many such things. But then something bad happened to us, and we learned that any plans we made were subject to change based on what happened in and to our lives.

We also knew that what had happened had not been ordained by divine decree.

God had not caused our miscarriage. God had not zapped our lives with a dose of reality in the form of an aborted pregnancy. The comments people had shared that attributed circumstantial providence to God rang false to us then, and such comments continue to ring false to us today.

Bad things can happen to anybody, and they are likely to happen unexpectedly. We became keenly aware of that on July 11, 1990, and became even more aware of it on May 5, 1991, when our firstborn child arrived with multiple, severe birth defects.

And so my personal Day of First Awakening - July 11 - should be honored somehow, I think. That must be why it always resonates with remembrance.

I am choosing to honor it this year by writing this blog, and by posting my recounting of our miscarriage as it appears in Chapter 2 of Involuntary Joy. I offer it to you with gratitude for the lessons life has so beautifully taught me. Lessons about resolve, resilience, courage, trust, joy, shared humanity, grief, anger, faith, hope, and yes ... love. Of course, love! The very stuff of life.

I also feel it's important to affirm this: I plan to keep moving along on my journey, while maintaining faith that there is much in store - and far more good things than bad. I not only believe that about my life, but about yours as well, whomever might be reading this.

As I heard on that day 21 years ago, "let's be on with it."

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Hold on. A new day is soon here.

Excerpt from Involuntary Joy
Chapter 2: Becoming a Mom

Stross would forever be my first child but not my first pregnancy.
I’d come of maternal age nearly one year earlier. Something had
not felt right then either. No matter how hard I’d tried, I could not
imagine having that child. I had wanted to believe a baby—that
baby—would be, but I had been apprehensive then too—mostly that
I would never have a baby—especially that baby.

The opening sentence of a journal I kept while pregnant the first
time reads: “I have a difficult time believing I’m pregnant.” And the
last journal entry foreshadowed that pregnancy’s outcome: “I can’t
help but be anxious about the health of this little ‘critter.’”

I’d attributed those feelings to watching a coworker and his wife
experience a miscarriage. Their loss had justified my fears. But when
I’d mentioned my fears to other women—especially women who
were mothers—they had brushed my feelings aside as the jitters of a
first-time mom. I had never mentioned those fears to Mark, deciding
it was in his best interest to sit out my private dance of fear.

It was bad enough he’d had to endure my hormonally induced
mood swings. One day I’d be thrilled about becoming a mother
and nearly ready to believe I had a life growing inside. The next
day I was an anxious, emotional mess. Nothing was as I dreamed
it would be. There had been no inner glow, no thoughts of nursery
patterns and baby names and no sense of oneness with my child. I
had wanted to believe in the promise of life, but believing I’d be a
mother someday seemed the most difficult thing of all.

A few weeks after my coworker’s miscarriage, I walked down
the street with a friend from work, a new mother herself. We talked
about the other couple’s loss, and I cautiously confessed my feeling
of emptiness, of my inability to believe that life—that anything
really—was growing inside.

“That’s normal,” she assured me with the authority of a veteran.
“You’ll know it’s real soon enough when that baby is keeping you
awake at night kicking.”

It won’t be long now, she assured me.

Eleven weeks into my first pregnancy things did start to feel
almost normal. I was resigned to the fact that pregnancy wasn’t
going to be the same as I’d vicariously lived it before. So I wore
my uneasiness proudly and comfortably since “that must be how
pregnant women feel.”

My body had acted pregnant. Mornings were spent near the
toilet, my breasts ached, my pants were snug, and I had cravings—
mainly for Wisconsin cheese curds. For a brief time parenthood
looked promising. I had believed if anything were to happen, it
would have happened before I’d attained this level of comfort. I
could see the second trimester on my desk calendar, yet one nagging
fact remained. The doctor had not heard a heartbeat.

Then on July 11, 1990, I became a woman who’d had a

That day I’d left work in a hurry in order to get to church
early. Typically a Wednesday night meant directing the youth choir
in rehearsal and leading a Bible study on a topic like dating or
friendship or God’s grace. Mark and I worked as a team in this parttime
job that helped us afford our urban professional lifestyle.

This Wednesday, no youth activities were scheduled, only the
church’s monthly business meeting, which meant I had a report to
type. So I slid my tiny, but growing tummy under the secretary’s
desk feeling, for the first time, like I might have a glow.

I wore no maternity clothes yet—just an outfit that was loose
enough for strangers to wonder. Only one pair of summer slacks fit
comfortably, white ones that always showed any speck of food or dirt
accumulated during the day. Mark was working late shooting video
on location somewhere, so I indulged in baby conversations with
anyone who asked how I was feeling. I welcomed every diversion.

“Yes. My clothes are getting tighter.”

“Well, the morning sickness disappeared last week.”

“Yeah, it’s beginning to sink in. I guess. I’ve never been
pregnant before.”

“Yes, Mark will be an incredible dad.”

Ten minutes into my typing-talking phase, I felt a warm gush.
My first thoughts were of embarrassment about stained white pants,
not of loss of life. I had not worried like a protective mother-to-be.

Instead I tingled with raw anticipation. Something had gone wrong
just as I’d known it would.


It was real. I could believe it, and as it began to happen, I felt
myself relax into it even as my heart began to beat faster. I felt
my breaths coming slow and deep as parts of my body began to
contradict themselves.

A quick trip to the bathroom confirmed my diagnosis, and I
shook uncontrollably, feeling very alone as I sat in the dark bathroom
stall. Questions raced in my mind, but only questions about me, not
about any baby who may or may not be fighting for life.

How was I to act now that my body had betrayed me? Should I
just wipe everything away and walk into the hall as if nothing life changing
was happening?

One, maybe two full minutes went by as I held my forehead on
my knees thinking. I had felt fine moments before, but I wasn’t fine.
I’d thought I wanted someone to come find me, the right someone—
a woman who would notice what was wrong just by looking at my
face. She could then assure me that I had overreacted. I needed a
woman who had been where I was headed and knew what to say.
But as busy as our church was that evening, no one came in. So I
breathed a prayer for guidance, lifted my forehead, straightened my
clothes, took a deep breath and stepped beyond the bathroom door.

This, without a doubt, had been the beginning of some end.
Only years later would I reinterpret that day as the preface to a
greater beginning, for I’d faintly acknowledged a voice I recognized
as God—not as coherently as I would in years to come—but clearly
and directly: “Get down the road. There is much in store for you, so
let’s be on with it.”

My crying waited for rushed good-byes to the church staff and
reassurances to them that: Yes, I could drive home. Yes, I could
locate Mark. Yes, I would keep them posted. Yes, I knew spotting
could be a normal part of pregnancy. Then I’d headed out the door
and toward the reality I’d unconsciously expected.

What I’d neglected to tell them was something I felt deep within, deeper than I’d ever felt before. I didn’t tell them what I, in fact, knew: I was a woman having a miscarriage.

The next day I stared at an ultrasound screen realizing what the
technician couldn’t—wouldn’t—tell me. My amniotic sac contained
nothing of importance. No embryo, no fetus, no baby—just a tiny
spot, a speck really, where I’d assumed a baby should have been.

I glanced at Mark to make a quick assessment of his emotional
state and realized that he, too, had made a similar diagnosis.

“What is that?” I asked the technician pointing to a dark watery
sac the size of a quarter. I’d wanted to hear her say “an empty
amniotic sac.”

“That is your amniotic sac,” she dutifully replied, offering no
information about its contents, lacking or otherwise.

I didn’t ask the next obvious question: Where was the baby? Instead
I let my inquiry float, unspoken. I needed no official verification.

As the technician finished, she swiped her gooey wand across
my abdomen, wiped up her trail with a handful of tissues and then
left Mark and me to our private thoughts.

I looked to Mark.

“There’s nothing in there,” I said.

I’d spoken about my body as if it belonged to somebody else. In
a sense, it had. The only problem was, the person who’d inhabited
it was no longer there. She, or he, had stopped growing a few days
after conception. A blighted ovum, we’d been told, a condition that
sounded more like a plague than a pregnancy gone wrong.

“Mark. I’m having a miscarriage.”

My spoken thoughts broke the silence. My words acknowledged
that what had begun remained incomplete. The end of that pregnancy
would fully come hours later—only after a doctor surgically scraped
away something that had hardly been there in the first place.

“I know,” Mark said and touched my hand. His smile conveyed
love mixed with pain, and his eyes betrayed his heart. I felt stunned
by his ability to look at me and express empathy without speaking.
He managed to say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” through softened
eyelids and the down-turned corners of his mouth.

“I’m a woman who has had a miscarriage,” I blurted in a matter-of-
fact tone. “That’s who I am now.”

My announcement sounded almost like a warning. It was as if I
felt the need to reintroduce myself to Mark. Sort of, “Hey, I’m your
wife, but there is something you really need to know about me. I
have had a miscarriage, and I’m not sure what that means about me
or our future.”

In that instance I’d redefined who I was. I was human, which
meant I was susceptible to human afflictions, human pain. I had
a body that could betray me. Until then I had not realized how
superhuman I believed myself to be.

That was the first day Mark’s and my future became different
than what I had imagined it to be. The miscarriage made all coming
moments unpredictable. In the darkened ultrasound room, there was
only Mark and me and my empty womb.

“We are a long way from Carvers,” I told him.

He offered a half smile and squeezed my hand.

“A long way,” he agreed.
Carvers Restaurant had been our Camelot, the magical location
of our first meeting and subsequent courtship. Every Friday and
Saturday night during our junior year of college, we donned tuxedo
aprons and sang our way into each others’ hearts as singing waiters.
No matter how many dined in the restaurant’s Chalet Room those
glorious evenings, I could always count on one pair of eyes to lock on
mine across a finely laden sea of glassware and candlelight. Mark and
I had not cared that our infatuation was obvious. We were intrigued
with each other and excited about our newfound friendship.

At Carvers I’d never seen pain in Mark’s eyes. But sitting in
the exam room where we learned of our miscarriage, I could see
his pain—feel it even. Had it been possible, I’d have transported us
back to the place where our dreams had essentially begun—back
to a time when he was the tenor with a huge smile, and I was the
flirtatious alto who always managed to be near him when a song
required a male partner.

Had we been able to go back then, perhaps we could have navigated away from the place we found ourselves on the day of Stross’ birth. For if a miscarriage could turn Carvers into a faraway land of distant memories, perhaps Stross’ birth would cloak all our happy times in a fog dense enough to obscure a lifetime of happiness.

But our earliest connections couldn’t be so easily dismissed. As
friends and then as a dating couple, we had wrestled with big topics,
drawing energy from impassioned conversations that bordered on
debates. Day after day we’d offered important topics to each other
for full examination: our families—his spiritually conservative,
mine politically active; our manner of addressing conflict—his
silent avoidance, mine loud confrontation; and our concept of
spirituality—his an exclusive relationship that defined a means to
an end, mine an open relationship that invited definition.

When our dating turned into an engagement, we also discussed
career aspirations—his connected to the music and audio industries,
mine on a path to a corporate vice presidency; our desire for
children—his a family of four, mine a family of two; and our regard
for marriage—for us both, a partnership.

Our courtship had laid the groundwork for our relationship,
just as our miscarriage had prepared us for the extraordinary
circumstances of Stross’ birth. I could tell we remained partners and
that Mark’s pain and fear were catching up to mine.

I’d written off my earlier fears as oddities of pregnancy—like
a baby who rarely kicked in utero. In fact, our baby—Stross—had
been unresponsive even when Mark or I attempted to jostle him into
a reaction. His unresponsiveness while in my womb had haunted
me—and now I knew why.

Now I knew why my baby—Stross—had laid quietly in my
womb for hours at a time, never moving or shifting positions. A
paralyzed baby cannot kick against its mother’s womb.

I’d learned one more important thing: I could carry a baby to
term. I had given birth to a living, breathing son.

• • •

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