It is before dawn on a Monday, chilly and damp, a common San Francisco morning. My husband, Richard, and I are alone, except for various hospital staff. The closest family is several time zones away, but our dear friend/professional photographer, Joanne Lee, is on the way to capture the occasion. She does not arrive in time for the birth, but thank God she gets here shortly after. We could not have anticipated the importance of her role.
It’s been a long, slow labor and the moment is finally here. Our baby girl emerges at 5:04 am with that final push, and her silence fills the room. As she is rushed to the warming table, Richard turns off the video camera. The joyous birth of our first child is turning into something we will not want to watch again and again, perhaps ever again. What is going on? We didn’t learn about this scenario in birthing class. I had envisioned having her handed directly to me for immediate skin on skin contact. Richard would cut the cord, and I’d offer her my breast right away. I wanted the bonding to begin from the first seconds of her life. I wanted to gaze into her little eyes and feel that indescribable connection. I had become fixated on a picture in my birthing book of a tiny newborn held in dad’s strong hands. There was something so dreamy about those eyes, and I’ve really been looking forward to getting lost in her gaze. Would they be blue like mine? Or brown like daddy? I would have to wait to find out. I put my disappointment on hold as the goal of healthy baby trumps the methods it may take to achieve that goal.
Several people are tending to her, cleaning off her fresh baby skin and cleaning out her airways. I hear, “Come on baby!” as they pat her little feet, the way a coach would encourage an athlete. It’s taking too long. When will I get to hold her? At the same time people are tending to me and scurrying around the room. Exhaustion, relief, concern, disappointment, and medication cloud my senses.
Finally, someone hands me my warm little bundle. I have waited so long for this moment, too long, and it is not what I’ve imagined. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is shallow. I know she needs more help. What I do not know, is that this is my only moment to hold her while she is alive, so I hand her back to a nurse to take her to the NICU to get the additional care she needs. I think she will be fine, but she isn’t fine yet. It’s an unsettling feeling. Richard accompanies her, and I stay in bed, immobilized from the residual effects of the epidural. I learn about my second degree tear, which is about to be repaired. The room is now empty except for me, the doctor, and the heavy, awkward quiet. Time continues to drag.
Richard cycles between the NICU and my room. Each time he comes back, he is more hysterical. As her condition worsens and more staff joins the effort to help her, he is asked to leave. At this point, his hysteria is full blown. He’s a very passionate, emotional man, and I think he is overreacting. My coping methods leave me stoic. I hold it all together until the facts are in, and then fall apart in private. Besides, she will be fine right? God is faithful. Richard, Joanne, and I hold hands and I pray out loud. ”Where two or more are gathered…” We wait. Richard would later tell me how before he was asked to leave the NICU, she opened her eyes and looked at him. He was at her feet. She gave him a knowing look.
A small medical team walks slowly across the room and eventually reaches my bedside. The head of the NICU takes my hand with both of hers and speaks.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
I think she is going to tell me how my baby girl is doing. Instead she tells me they have done all they could. I can’t remember how she phrased it, but it felt cold and insensitive. I suppose there’s no good way to deliver such news, and she probably has to do it more than we care to know. Perhaps she was just trying her best to keep it together and be professional. I can’t remember what else she said, but this must be when she explained that there wasn’t an explanation. She was severely anemic, and they couldn’t account for the blood loss. The little blood she did have was clotting massively, which is highly unusual. They kept trying to get an IV in her, but couldn’t find a vein that would accept fluid. All of them were too clotted. As a last resort, they tried to get an IV into her belly button, which they do not like to do, but the situation was dire. That also failed. Too many clots. Time of death, 7-something a.m. I am too stunned to feel anything at first. But the pain won't stay away for long.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
SPREADING THE NEWS:
Richard and Joanne now have to call family and friends who are waiting to hear the happy news. I am desperately grateful to be spared that task. Listening to my husband tell our moms is agony. “She didn’t make it.” My mom, on the other end, is obviously unable to process what she just heard. And then he must repeat those unthinkable words, a little louder, voice broken, barely able to say it again. My mom would be on the next flight. The conversation repeats with his mom. She would arrive the next day along with his grandmother and sister. Joanne is out in the hall calling friends.
The pale hospital light has been gradually replaced with sunlight. It doesn’t fit, and I am angry at the sun for shining, and the cars going by on the street below. How dare the world continue about its business. The news spreads quickly and a dozen or so friends rush to comfort us. They actually miss work to take part in the worst day of our lives. This is just one of many acts, for which we will be forever thankful. When everyone arrives, I ask our friend Dean to pray. It’s sort of like an impromptu funeral. Would we have a funeral? How does all this work? All our thoughts have been focused on how to prepare for the arrival our baby, not her death.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
We have her brought back in so our friends can see her. I know this must be hard for them, but she is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and I want them to see her too. By now, she’s been gone a little longer. Her small mouth gapes open as I cradle her limp little body in my arms, haunting as Lisa describes it. Justine encourages me to inspect her fingers and toes. She actually has long fingernails, perfectly manicured somehow.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
I treasure her while I can, knowing our time is short. I study her sweet face and button nose and try to commit them to memory. Joanne at some point asked permission to take pictures. I barely remember her asking, but thankfully I agreed. She captures these priceless moments. She captures Trinity. I am glad I will not have to rely on my devastated mind to remember what she looks like.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
I hate goodbyes. I find “until next time” much easier to accept. But Richard & I know that it’s now or never. She’s starting to look worse, and we can’t bear it. We know she’s not really in that little body anymore anyway. With heaviest hearts, we send her back for the last time.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
They’ve taken blood from Richard and me to test us for a common blood clotting disorder, we’ve consented, with sadness, to an autopsy so that they can try to provide answers, we’ve visited with Trinity and friends; it’s time to leave the labor and delivery room. We are transferred to a tiny post partum room, and most friends depart due to lack of space. A few stay and walk to a nearby grocery store to pick up a pint of my favorite ice cream and a pink and white variegated azalea to brighten the room. Little did I know that I would manage to keep that azalea alive for several years, and that it would bloom for her birthday every year.
A hospital social worker arrives with some bland words and a packet of papers. I am offended that there are pamphlets for this. You mean this happens often enough for there to be literature? I’m disgusted. But stepping outside my emotion for a moment, of course I am not the first person this has happened to. That’s exactly why there is a packet of papers full of resources. I am not interested in any of it now. I’m not sure I can even read right now. And we have paperwork to fill out. How can we possibly be expected to do paperwork right now? But they need to know her name, and we need to decide. We had it narrowed down to a few favorites and wanted to see which one fit her best. Naming your child is supposed to be fun. Again, this is not how I imagined it. We decide on Trinity Layne Wons. Trinity had been our front runner all through the pregnancy, and Layne was my middle name that I gave up when I got married. She shares our last name.
We then learn that we will unfortunately receive her death certificate before we get her birth certificate, another irritating detail. This would become more upsetting several weeks later when we take her death certificate to a government building, have them issue her birth certificate and watch them pound the red stamp “DECEASED” on it. Another crushing moment.
The hospital provided us with a small keepsake box with handprints, footprints, and a lock of hair. She had dark curly hair like daddy. These I will cherish, but they are not enough. I want all of her! It feels like a lame consolation prize. You can’t have the new car, but here are some tire tracks, and a sample of the leather interior.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
MOVING ROOMS AGAIN:
The sound of all the crying newborns is unbearable, when your newborn never made a sound. The hospital staff is compassionate enough to make arrangements for us to move to a different floor. Someone suggests that we should consider staying there to help us accept our new reality. Absolutely not. We are acutely aware of our situation, and do not need to be reminded. Everyone grieves differently and perhaps that would be the right choice for others, but not us.
A KEY MOMENT WITH GOD:
Now that we are settled for the night in a bigger, quieter room, I am looking forward to a long, hot shower. At last I am alone, alone with God. I don’t seem to know what I am truly thinking or feeling unless I am totally alone. Tears come again, and I want to ask God why. Why me? Why did He take her? It feels surreal like a scene out of a soap opera. People always cry and ask why. I feel stupid asking why though. What good is it asking that? It happened. There is nothing that can be done to reverse it. So “why” doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t appear to be anyone’s fault. There is no one to blame. I suppose a lot of people, my husband included, would be angry with God if no fingers could be pointed at people. I can’t explain it, but I am not angry. Maybe I don’t have enough energy to be angry. I just tell God that He has to do something good. We’ve all heard inspirational stories where good things come out of tragedy. That is my desperate plea and my prayer. Something good must come from this or else I won’t be able to take it. I can’t accept that she died for nothing. My mind cannot rationalize senselessness.
I would later run across a very reassuring Bible verse that would become my mantra. “And we know that all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28.
THE END OF THAT DAY:
After work hours, more friends arrive. The room is dim and quiet, full of comfort. We have a really nice visit. I am feeling a little more at peace, still exhausted and heavy with grief, but the initial shock has passed. I am starting to realize I also have the physical recovery to get through. It’s good to be out of bed, but I am moving slowly. What about post partum depression? Is that a given for me now? This is going to be really hard for a really long time.
Just before midnight my mom arrives. Julia picked her up from the airport and brought her to the hospital. She also went as far as to fill our fridge and freezer with food. We are dumbfounded at our incredible friends. How do they know what to do? We don’t feel worthy. I don’t think I would know how to be as supportive. Perhaps I will after all this.
My mom is also a very emotional person, and I knew she would feel all this deeply. I am glad she is there. We haven’t seen each other in months since we live on opposite coasts, and this is not how we expected our next visit to be. She gives me a big hug, some sympathetic words and tears. She falls into bed, and Mom, Richard, and I escape into sleep. We have survived the longest and worst day.
“CONGRATULATIONS!”: Leaving the hospital, I am holding sympathy flowers in my lap as I am being wheeled to the exit. An innocent person, smiley but ignorant of our situation, congratulated me. Ouch. I am not angry. They didn’t know, but ouch. There is just no running from this pain. I’m going to encounter it everywhere.
MASTITIS: Distracted by the magnitude of everything, I have completely forgotten about my milk coming in. The physical pain of overfilled breasts adds insult to injury. The implications multiply the emotional pain. I am headed toward mastitis because my baby girl isn’t here for me to nourish and nurture. I will just have to suffer through this, too.
THE LOGISITCS OF DEATH: Should we have a funeral? How do we plan one? How are we supposed to make important decisions right now anyway? We meet with Dean and Justine from our church, and they help us figure it out. It won’t really be a funeral because Trinity won’t be there. It will be a memorial service. And Dean and Justine will take care of it. It’s a big relief.
What do we do with her body? Do we bury her? We know we are not settled, and we have no idea where we will end up later, so burying her somewhere alone is unthinkable. We decide on cremation, so we can keep her ashes with us until we settle someday. Cianna steps up to hold our hands through this process. She unfortunately has experience with death, so she finds a funeral home for us. We make an appointment, pick out her tiny urn, and specify the engraving. This was terribly draining, but also a relief. After we make it through each difficult step, we can stop to rest. We are making some progress with these awful, unavoidable details.One less thing to dread.
FAMILY: The simplest arrangements are nearly insurmountable. All nine family members are from out of town and will not fit in our small condo. Feelings are hurt about who gets to stay with us and who has to get a hotel. One night, those staying at our condo cannot decide where to sleep, and I am called in to help. I’m still embarrassed about the string of expletives that spew from my mouth. I can’t believe a bunch of grownups can’t figure where to sleep. Richard and I feel like we somehow need to take care of everyone who is supposed to be taking care of us. Every meal is a chore. I don’t feel like I can stay in bed, where I want to be. Richard needs backup. But grace prevails, and we realize that everyone else is grieving and incapacitated, too.
THE MEMORIAL SERVICE: It’s a drippy Saturday evening about dusk. We arrive early to the roomy, but cozy Axis Café. The living room type furniture is arrayed around the fireplace. More chairs are aligned in rows behind. The room fills with people while soft music plays. As guests arrive, we receive the first of countless embraces.
Family and friends sign the guest book that Joanne has made, complete with photos.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
The last photo is of Richard, Trinity, and me, and catches my mom off guard. She points it out to my Dad, Sisters, and Grandma.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
Joanne has also assembled a shadow box from the contents of the hospital keepsake box and added photos to that, too. It is on display with pregnancy photos she’d taken of me, a picture of Trinity, and a mosaic tile goody box my sister, Jamie, had made during my pregnancy. It is all carefully arranged with flowers and one white votive candle.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
The program is poignant, well thought out and well executed, led by Dean and Justine. Lisa sings a solo, accompanied by Mike on the keyboard.
Friends share sweet words.
Somehow Richard manages to speak, and it’s beautiful. There is no way I could have done that, and I am amazed at him.
Dean closes with prayer and light refreshments are served. We thoroughly enjoy everyone for the whole evening. It is a lovely culmination to a hideous week.
It means everything to be surrounded by family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and friends of friends. Family dropped everything and flew in from the East Coast and Midwest. Friends changed plane tickets and plans. Friends’ significant others who barely know us are here. People we don’t know are here from church volunteering. We are overwhelmed by love in action, and are forever grateful for each and every person that has reached out to help us survive this time.
HEALING MILESTONE 1
The frenzy is over. All the difficult decisions are made. The last of family is safely home. Richard is working again. I am at the dining room table, stupefied. Alone, but surrounded by enough flowers, plants, and cards to fill a gift shop, I am again overwhelmed by what everyone has done for us. One thing I never would have thought about prior to this is how much work flowers can be. I love them all, and wouldn’t want to be without any of them, but it’s taken me two full days to take out the ones that are wilting and replace the murky water. Although a fully functional person could probably have done it in half the time it took me. Perhaps I’ll offer to help some grieving person with that in the future.
Maybe I’ll read those pamphlets now. Maybe they’ll tell me what I’m supposed to do. A handful of books have also come my way, with sad but appropriate titles. I’m grateful for those that sent them because it would never have occurred to me to go look for a book. Getting out of bed, showering, and making coffee are like a triathlon; leaving the house to find a book would be about as likely as going to the moon. I am somewhat content at my table drinking too much coffee and staring out the window anyway. Being a morning person, I've enjoyed countless sunrises here. We are situated on the Southeast side of San Francisco, hood adjacent according Richard. But we are in a top corner unit with breathtaking views of the Bay and the East Bay hills beyond. I also love how the setting sun lights up the windows in the distance and makes them flicker like tiny flames. It’s magical. As I stare out the window today though, the beauty is going in one eye and right out the other. I am unable to take it in.
The pamphlets list a number of support groups. We should probably go to one. This is a really big deal, and maybe there’s a right way to go about all this. We’re probably supposed to go to counseling, too, right? But the thought of making phone calls and appointments is too much. I just want to sit here with my coffee and read.
I run across a few very helpful practical tips on grieving. First, grieving is as individualized as we are. Not only do men and women grieve differently, but so does each and every person. This opens my eyes and my heart to allow Richard to work as much as wants. I’ve been thinking that he’s not taking appropriate amounts of time to process. But now I am going to give him more space. Conversely, he recognizes that I am more stoic, and even though I’m not crying all the time, that doesn't mean I'm holding in my emotions. We talk openly, respectfully, and lovingly about what we each need. Why isn’t marriage always this easy?
The second tip is to let all emotions flow through you as they come. Do not judge them, and don’t be afraid of the ugly ones. There’s no going around the grieving process, you must go straight through. If you avoid the scary and ugly thoughts and feelings, they are just going to be scarier and uglier later, after they begin to fester, wherever you’ve tucked them away. They also become difficult to find, like a particular piece of mail buried in an inbox. Emotions fill up your inbox fast, and you have to be diligent about dealing with everything as it comes in. Face it all head on. Though difficult, this is the easiest route through grief. And though I normally need to know what the plan is, I am unusually unconcerned with the stages of grief or tracking my progress. That’s too much to remember right now. My plan is simple, face it all head on.
This tip is huge for me, since I do not understand emotions. Richard and I are somewhat reversed in this way as far as male/female stereotypes go. He’s far better with feelings than I am. Emotions are not logical at all, but here’s a logical plan for dealing with them that I think I understand. They do not have to make sense. They are not right or wrong. (How we choose to react to them is what can be right or wrong.) But I just need to acknowledge them.That’s pretty straight forward. I think that's why I've been so confused emotionally much of my life. I would never admit ugly feelings. I would skip over them and go right to acting the way I thought I should act. But now I know that the ugliest ones are not so ugly when you bring them out of your mouth and into the light, or out of your head and onto paper. When they are swirling around in your head, they seem much more intimidating. Acknowledging them disarms them.
Third tip, there is no correct time frame for grieving. Do not be afraid that you are taking too long, or not long enough. Processing time is unique to each person.
The tips are simple, and I’m feeling reassured that we are doing all the things there are to do, which thankfully doesn’t seem like much. I’m starting to feel like I know what’s going on, and I'm glad I don’t have to come to terms with our situation all over again every time I wake up. I’m also glad I have the six weeks of disability that California offers after childbirth, but it’s hurtful that I don’t qualify for the additional six weeks that are offered for newborn bonding time. Don’t I need that additional six weeks to get over the fact that I can’t bond with my newborn?
As I’m sitting and letting my mind wander, my thoughts return to God. Where was He in all this? Though we were surrounded by family and friends, I feel abandoned by Him. I am disappointed and confused. As I ponder this, the negative thoughts start to drown by the swelling realization that we have not been abandoned by God at all, but insulated – thickly. Every aspect of our lives is being protected while we’re in the most vulnerable stages of grief. Our jobs, our finances, our marriage, our health, everything! I know there are a lot of people praying for us, and I'm thankful, because I can't. I haven't the slightest idea what to say to God right now. But apparently He's listening to all those speaking to Him on our behalf. Some marriages crumble because of situations like this, but somehow, ours seems fortified. Suddenly there is no energy to fight about stupid stuff, so stupid stuff is overlooked. I’ve heard people talk about how tragedy provides perspective about what’s really important in life. Suddenly pretty much everything seems unimportant, except family and friends. It’s like my white board got totally erased. Everything fell away, and the only things that will get put back are things that have a real purpose or add quantifiable value to my life. I simply do not have the energy for lesser things anymore. But my white board will remain blank for quite a while. I am in my boat in the Doldrums, drifting in the windless waters. My sails are sad. I am not even thinking about my course. I am just sitting and staring. And I am really taken with how safe I am feeling in this uncharted place. I feel taken care of, beyond what friends and family can do. It’s like God has been with me all along, and I didn’t even know. One day it would be even clearer that God does not abandon us when things go wrong, it is too often we who abandon God when we don’t like the way things turn out. But all I know right now is that I feel insulated, and it feels divine.
HEALING MILESTONE 2
I’m moving almost as fast as cold honey now, and I think I’m ready to go back to my women’s group that meets faithfully every Tuesday night. This will be my first public appearance since coming home from the hospital, and I can’t think of a safer place to be. Driving is out of the question for me, so thankfully Lisa or Justine will pick me up. We take driving for granted every day, and to be mentally incapable of driving indicates to me how messed up I really am right now. And my mental state keeps overshadowing the fact that I have a physical recovery to make, too. This just may take forever. I’m not even sure if full recovery is possible.
I joined this women’s group a little over a year ago, and we’ve been there for each other through job losses and gains, scary test results, relationship issues, health problems – life. It’s a close group where we can share anything and pray about everything. One thing we prayed for last summer was pregnancy. Two of us were ready for children (so we thought), and we prayed every week until unbelievably, Adrienne and I got pregnant at the same time. She was ahead of me by about a week. Then our discussions became dominated by all the nuances of pregnancy. We were both first timers, and every little change was fascinating. She had a terrible time with nausea and could barely eat or gain weight. It still makes me giggle when I envision her gagging up and down every aisle at the grocery store, bless her heart. Meanwhile, my pregnancy was a breeze, for the most part.
Early in my pregnancy, when my doctor was listening to the baby’s heartbeat, I saw her gulp as we heard it slow way down, and then speed back up. She reassured me it was no big deal, but would have me go to a non-stress test towards the end of the pregnancy, just to make sure. This scared me for a while, but I prayed about it, and shelved it. I’m just not one to panic. Everything went perfectly well in the following months, and the time finally arrived for the non-stress test. I had to go by myself because Richard was travelling for work, but I have been guilty of fierce independence, so I did what needed to be done. The nurse showed me to one of about six beds all surrounded by curtains. They hooked me up to various monitors so they could listen to the baby’s heartbeat, and do a thorough ultrasound to check everything out. It was a strange room, dim and quiet except for the whispers of all the people trying not to be heard through their curtains, and the loud swooshing sounds of all those little hearts. My tests all looked great except for one thing. There was some sort of bubble-like membrane which they didn’t recognize. They sent me to a different floor with a more sensitive machine to take a more detailed look. I called Richard from the elevator, and explained what was happening. My independence waned and I really wished he was with me. He absolutely hated being far away and helpless, but he would be back soon. They eventually determined it to be a cyst on the umbilical cord. These are apparently very rare and have no history of causing any problems during a birth, but we had to meet with a neonatal specialist because it was the biggest one they have ever seen, and it was located close to the insertion point in the baby’s belly. I felt reassured that everything would be fine.
Even though these cysts have never caused a problem, they deemed it best to induce me early to avoid natural labor, so they could monitor me and the baby carefully, and control the birth. So when I got to thirty-six weeks, they did an amnio to see if her lungs were developed enough for delivery. Thirty-seven weeks is considered full term, so she wouldn’t be considered premature. Nothing to worry about. Her lungs looked great according to the amnio, so it was time to go to the hospital. We were not ready. All this happened too quickly and we thought we had at least another month since first babies are usually late. But we are not doctors, and their reasoning sounded logical, so we scampered to the hospital nervously excited. Richard was not as excited as I was about the early induction, but I thought that was easy for him to say since he was not the pregnant one. I was at that stage I had heard of when you are more than ready to get that baby out of there.
The induction was done very slowly to mimic natural labor, and we know how this part of the story ends. Neither the cyst nor the early induction appear to have anything to do with the massive internal clotting, but we won’t have our official conference with the medical team for quite a while. It takes about three months to get all the test results back from the autopsy. I don’t understand why it would take so long, and I don’t at all want to understand anything about the autopsy, but it’s an awfully long time to wait for an answer.
Of course in the meantime, we review every detail of the birth in our heads over and over and over. Richard really wishes he’d insisted on waiting. He was never comfortable with the early induction, and wondered if he could have prevented this or if he was partially to blame. But what if he’d insisted on waiting and things still turned out the same? Then he’d really feel like it was his fault. We were at one of the best hospitals in the Bay Area. If we had been anywhere else, and things started to go awry, we were already at the place where we would’ve been flown by helicopter.
The what-if game is dangerous. And it’s pointless. Things happened the way they did, and they cannot be undone. The babies who are supposed to be here are here. I’ve heard a lot of crazy stories about babies who come into the world just fine under extreme circumstances. A woman gave birth in a tree in Africa during a flood, a homeless woman gave birth to a baby on a street corner, an unwanted newborn was tossed out a window in South America, babies have even survived attempted abortions. All those babies are here despite the odds. Trinity had everything going for her, but she isn’t here. It doesn’t make sense, but there must be a reason. If she was supposed to be here, she would be.
My Grandma Lois, who lost an 18 month old to pneumonia, gently said to me, “You know Stacy. No matter how long or short somebody’s life is, it’s exactly as long as it’s supposed to be.” That’s simple, but profound. I think I agree.
So here we are at women’s group, where we’ve been journeying together through our pregnancies, and now only one of us is pregnant. More unavoidable pain. This is a good chance for me to practice what I’ve just learned about facing it all head on. I will not hide from my friend, and she doesn’t hide from me. We will walk through this together, and share an indescribable bond forever.
We all talk for a while, mostly about my loss. But it is not just my loss. These women were with me every week of my pregnancy, and they feel it, too. I don't know it yet, but they'll be with me every week for years to come. Some of the group members will come and go, but the strength and support will endure. I won't realize until I'm able to look back on these days how vital this group will be to me.
I bring up that I am struggling with prayer and faith. What about asking anything in Jesus’ name and it will be given to you, as the Bible says in John 14:14. How am I supposed to believe that now? Older, plain-spoken Dorothy states, “Sometimes the answer is ‘No’”. She may as well have punched me in the stomach. It’s not like I was asking for something trivial or frivolous. I was asking for the life of my child! How could the answer to that be “No”? Wow. That’s harsh. But I’m not mad at her. Straightforwardness is one of things I love about her, and I know she doesn't intend to be insensitive.
I don’t like what Dorothy said, but it’s sticking with me. As hard as it was to hear, I think she’s right. I try to reconcile this for days, and eventually come to the conclusion that when the answer is “No”, God must have a VERY good reason. Even though it may be totally incomprehensible to me, if I believe that He’s in charge, and that there is a reason for everything, He must have very good reasons for letting very bad things happen. I don't think God causes bad things to happen, but He obviously doesn't prevent them, even though He could. I may never know why, and I have to get used to that idea. But as long as I believe that there IS a good reason, then I think I can live without knowing what that reason is.
I would find out much later that when Richard was in the NICU and saw Trinity’s condition worsening, he had actually prayed for God to go ahead and take her if she was going to be in such a state that she would have no quality of life. I admire his bravery and unselfishness. So when God says “No” to us, perhaps He’s saying “Yes” to someone else, who might be thinking more clearly. It hadn’t occurred to me at all that she might be in for some real difficulties if she’d made it. But ultimately, Father knows best. My core beliefs are challenged greatly, but I am comforted by the thought that when God allows terrible things to happen, He must have terribly good reasons. And even though He might say “No”, I will pray again one day.
HEALING MILESTONE 3
I’ve been tracking the days like I’m shipwrecked. I guess I am pretty wrecked. Mentally carving a mark into imaginary driftwood helps me keep track of each day my survival. I’m not sure why I’m doing this except that time feels so different now, and I might be totally lost otherwise. It’s also an acknowledgement of my survival. Each day is an accomplishment. That first day was the longest, but I made it. Breathe. The next day was a little faster, but now I’ve made it through two days. Breathe. The day after that a little bit more. Breathe. Eventually it was an entire week. Stop and catch my breath. Then another seven days makes 2 weeks. Now I’m counting in weeks, and it doesn’t take quite as long to catch my breath. Pretty soon, it’ll be a whole month. That feels big. It’s not like marking off days on a calendar, where I can locate what day it is, and look ahead. I can’t see past today. I’m marking unnamed days in this timeless void, where I’m stranded.
Part of me is sad that time is advancing. I feel like I’m being pulled away from her and leaving her behind. I absolutely loathe the idea of “moving on”. It’s a sort of separation anxiety, even though we are already separated. The farther away in time I get from her, the farther away she feels. But then I decide that moving on doesn’t mean that I leave her behind at all. The emptiness that has her name on it will go with me everywhere. So in a sense, I will take her with me as I go forward. I think I can do that, and it makes me feel a little better. When it is time to go back to work, though, I will need something more tangible. I’m not a very frilly girl, but I want a locket. I wonder if there are any modern lockets. I am thrilled to find a square one at Red Envelope, that I can have engraved with a “T”. This will bring me great comfort, and we will reenter the world together.
I remember sadly the women I’ve read about who have lost babies and do not have pictures, and I hope they have a mother’s necklace or a bracelet or ring, with a birth stone or an initial – something special that helps them feel close.
But my locket will also be a new kind of scarlet letter, a striking symbol of my brokenness that people will comment on. “Wow, I love your necklace! What’s the “T” for?” I will expose my vulnerability as I answer honestly and show them her sweet face. I will have to take a deep breath of courage before I answer, but I cannot deny her, or hide her like a secret. In doing so, I will find many who have suffered, or who have suffered alongside a loved one, and we will find comfort in sharing the pain. Misery does love company, and misery morphs into something else in the midst of company, something kind of lovely.
So, I’ve ordered the locket and phoned Joanne, who will print some tiny photos for me to choose from. We will meet for breakfast when the photos are ready. It’s a good excuse to get together and drink way too much coffee. I am beyond grateful for my friend and her priceless gifts.
I’m actually feeling excited about something for the first time in a while, but I still don't feel capable of much. It’s probably a good time to pick up that Bible I bought last summer, the one divided into 365 readings that are dated so that you can read the whole thing in a year. It’s also organized so that you read a little bit of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs each day. This avoids getting bogged down in the all the seemingly irrelevant stuff in the Old Testament. It also appeals to me because you read it like any other book, front to back. I would never make it through a regular Bible reading front to back.
Having grown up Christian, I’ve heard a lot of Bible stories and various verses, but I really want to know how it all fits together. Have all those sermons I’ve heard been right on, or were the pastors taking the Scripture out of context in order to make their point? I want to know and decide for myself. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but I’m optimistic because each day is only a page or two. It seems very doable.
I started it last summer, but didn’t get very far. Not reading the correct day really bugged me. But now it’s early in the year, so I have a chance to get caught up. I go sit in my deck chair that I’ve brought in for the winter, put my coffee on the window sill and start reading. It is a grey drippy Tuesday, but it feels cozy for some reason, and I am relieved to be relieved of sadness, for now anyway. I make it through the Old and New Testament readings for today, but as I’m reading in the book of Psalms, the words sort of come alive and stop me in my tracks. “Trust Me”. I read it again, and again I feel in my bones, “Trust Me”. I didn’t hear anything with my ears, but the message is loud and clear. I sit frozen and wonder if this is what people are talking about when they say that God speaks through His word. It’s powerful and humbling. I sheepishly say to myself, and to God I guess, “Uhhh OK”, without much understanding of what just happened. I finish the day's reading without incident, and keep this little mystery to myself.
I carry on about my uneventful week, and go to church on Sunday morning. It is a small church where everyone knows about Trinity, and it is a place where I can cry my eyes out every week without caring who sees. It is a very healing place to be. People always cry during the music anyway, so I fit right in. It feels so good to be there, I go back for the evening service. Lighting really affects me for some reason, and the warm glow of the dim lights is severely cozy. The music is powerful, tears are flowing, my wounds are being cleansed. I go up for prayer at the end, and Javier, an amazing passionate elder in the church prays for me. He takes my hands, and has me lift them up toward Heaven. It is sort of like raising a white flag to God, and saying, “I give up! I surrender! You are in charge. Show me how to me to make it through this pain-filled life.” I don’t like having my hands raised at first, but then I begin to feel a little freer, as I let go of what? Control I guess. It is really evident in this moment how closely the physical and the spiritual are intertwined. The physical act of raising my hands has released something deep inside. I don’t understand it, but I recognize that there’s more going on here than I get. As Javier is praying, he says, “God is saying to you, ‘Trust Me’”. At that moment, all doubt was obliterated. That was God on Tuesday. I hadn’t told a soul about my Psalms experience. I am filled with awe, and it is easy to say, “OK” this time. It is also seems to confirm that when God says, ”No”, He has not only a reason, but also a plan. If He wants me to trust Him, He must have some good things up His big white sleeves. So, if life is like a roller coaster, am I going to hang onto the bar white-knuckled, or am I going to throw up my hands in a gesture of trust and enjoy the ride?
HEALING MILESTONE 4
Time continues to speed up, building momentum and inertia, which help me get through the days with less effort. My little boat has drifted into a gentle current and a soft breeze presses against my sails, nudging the sadness aside. I’m here with my clean white board, marker in hand, ready for a brainstorming session to get my mind around my new life. I guess my main goal is simple: to become functional again, so I can resume my responsibilities and get back to work. In order to do that, I need to take exceptional care of myself. I need to be wholly healthy: physically, maritally, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I categorize my life and then consider what I need to do to maintain each area.
PHYSICAL HEALTH: Exercise, eat well, plenty of sleep.
The most obvious component of health is the body. What’s left of it after childbirth is discouraging. I do not have the reward of childbirth to distract me or help me. Since I cannot nurse, it will take even longer to get the weight off. They say nine months up, nine months down. I guess that sounds realistic, but I’m not happy about it. And it’s not just the weight. My hips have widened, my butt has fallen, my boobs have deflated, my feet are bigger. I don’t recognize myself at all. Even when I get back to my ideal weight, I will not be in the same configuration as before. I’ve always been petite and somewhat athletic, and I’m having a very hard time with this. I’ve never been one to ask if an outfit makes me look fat. If I feel fat, it does not matter what anybody else says.
So I drag myself to the gym. That’s me crying on the stair master, like I’m trying to climb to Heaven without making progress. I still think about Trinity all the time. I wear out not only my body, but also my frustrations. Adding sweat to my tears increases my cleansing I suppose, but I have serious doubts about getting all of my umph back. This seems insurmountable. But I won’t give up. I know this is good for me, and I do feel a little bit better.
Eating well will take some effort. I still don’t feel like cooking and making a salad sounds impossible.
Regarding sleep and rest, I have a new appreciation for the Sabbath. God knew what He was doing when He told us to rest one day each week. We really do need that that time to recharge. I still need a lot more than that right now though.
MARITAL HEALTH: Communicate, sex, date.
Addressing my physical health carries over into my marriage. It’s time to attempt to look nice again, not just for myself, but also my husband. It is one way of expressing love, and he appreciates the effort. I should make sure I don’t take him for granted.
Sex is undeniably different after childbirth in many ways. He’s just as frightened as I am by the changes, probably more so. We just have to keep communicating openly about every little thing. We should prioritize our relationship, and make sure we stay connected by going on regular dates and making a point to spend time together. We are in a new phase now, of life and marriage. We are close to that seven year mark, and we want to avoid the itch. So we have to be deliberate about finding some new ways to have fun. We used to swing dance, rock climb, mountain bike, you name it. All I think I can handle now is a movie or game of Scrabble or Checkers. But we are in this together, so I know we’ll be okay.
I think what I’m realizing as I re-prioritize my entire life is that I want and need to live more purposefully. I used to just do what was on my calendar, going from one thing to the next without much thought. But now I will be much more selective about what goes on my calendar. The buzz phrases, “intentional living” and “living on purpose” make much sense. I have to intentionally ration my pitiful amount of energy now, but I hope I am able to remember this when life reaches full speed again. Be deliberate about everything.
EMOTIONAL/MENTAL HEALTH: Support groups, counseling.
We did our homework and went to a support group and to counseling, one time each. For whatever reason, we just didn’t get much from it. We seem to get all the support we need from each other and our friends. I think again about what I read about facing it all head on. Open communication in a safe environment about your thoughts and feelings is key.
SPIRITUAL HEALTH: Church, women’s group, continue my trek through the Bible.
I read or heard somewhere years ago that if we spent as much time taking care of our spirits as we do our bodies, that the world would be a much different place. It's an interesting thought. We spend hours each day showering, primping, eating, exercising, sleeping, etc. But how much time do we spend grooming, feeding, and strengthening our spirits? I think I will have to spend some extra time on my inner self, because umph comes from within. It doesn't matter if your body is in perfect condition if your engine is broken.
One place to strengthen the inner self is church, and there is a reason why it is called a sanctuary. Even though our church meets in a café, it is still a sanctuary. I am filled with peace. I get lots of hugs. I cry freely. How liberating it is to not even try to hold it in. Tears are strong like moving water. Fighting them is so tiring. Going wherever they take me is easier, and I’m learning that after the rapids, I’m always deposited in a tranquil spot.
Music is an almost instant trigger for my tears, and as we sing a song called “I Surrender” by Lincoln Brewster, I raise my hands and my voice, “And I surrender all to You, all to You.” My eyes are closed, but that doesn’t slow the tears at all. I realize with dread that I haven’t surrendered everything. I haven’t fully surrendered Trinity, and it crushes what's left of my heart, but I say to Him, “Okay, You can have her.” Of course He already has her, but I opened my hands and my heart to let her go. It didn’t free her, it freed me. It was like I let go in my tug of war, and sat down weeping, not in defeat, but in exhausted relief. She couldn’t be in better hands. I didn’t even know that I was struggling in this way, and again I am mystified, but keenly aware of how the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual are intimately connected. This moment between me and God and Trinity will definitely leave a mark.
HEALING MILESTONE 5
Adrienne isn’t pregnant anymore. I should have probably mentioned that last week, but I just didn’t feel like going there. She gave birth to her son, Caden… on Trinity’s due date, March 10. Ouch. Really? Why couldn’t he have arrived any other day? Another blow to deal with. I’m just not catching any breaks. Everything is in my face. More practice for me to hold the line, no matter what’s coming at me, like a soldier on the field of battle. I know the timing of Caden’s arrival was out of everyone’s hands, except God’s, so I was not angry, just hurt. I was so glad to be out of town. Trent and Shelly were headed to Tahoe for the weekend, and invited us along for a change of scenery. Another example of friends stepping up to fill a need we didn’t even know we had. This kind of action has been most appreciated because when people ask what they can do to help, we simply don’t know how to answer. But when people just do something, it is always appreciated.
I stayed in the ski house while everyone enjoyed the slopes for the day. Even though I’m not a bad snowboarder, walking is enough effort these days. I know Richard was more than ready to blow off his surplus of steam, so I was glad for him. I was at the kitchen table when Lisa called to let me know that Caden had arrived safe and sound, but that it was scary because the cord was around his neck. I was unable to feel happy. The pain was too potent. Guilt swirled around too, adding more unsavory flavor to the bitter concoction I was being steeped in. Feeling guilty for not feeling happy while trying to deal with all the other feelings I already had was dizzying. I shut down and took a nap.
Back in the Bay Area, I feel a little refreshed. Many thanks to Trent and Shelly. We really needed that. I am also relieved at Caden’s birth, even though his birthday will always be a reminder. But we shouldn’t hold on to due dates anyway. It’s the actual birthday that’s important. It’s just so sad that Trinity’s birthday is also the day she left this world.
And so I’m faced with another reckoning. Between what I was taught when I was growing up, and what I choose to believe, now that I’m grown up – in some ways. I think maybe we grow up our whole lives. We grow up, grow old, grow wise, grow weary, etc. There are lots of ways to grow. Nothing is static; that is for sure.
So now that I’ve surrendered Trinity to God, and I feel that peace physically, my mind has a little catching up to do. I grew up an average Protestant Christian mutt. A little Baptist, a little Methodist, a little Presbyterian. I think that’s good because I got the gist without getting distracted by the details. I went to church pretty regularly as a kid, but my attendance was sparse in high school, and mostly nonexistent in my unmentionable college days. I finally made it back to regular attendance in my early thirties. Nevertheless, having grown up Christian, the idea of Heaven was something I took for granted. A perfect place without pain or tears. It’s the place we go when we die if we believe that Jesus died to save us. That’ll be great, but it’s so far into the future, and I’m very busy with Earth stuff. I’m not old enough to be concerned with my mortality. But it’s not my mortality that gets my attention, it’s Trinity’s. Now this too-good-to-be-true place needs to materialize.
How can I truly believe that my little Trinity is in a place that I can't truly grasp? I consider it, ponder it, meditate on it, wonder about it, wrestle with it, and pray about it. What’s left after this thorough sifting is an unshakeable, unexplainable knowing. I just know it’s real and that she’s there. It goes beyond my upbringing. It goes beyond Biblical explanation because I haven’t read the whole Bible yet. Although there are a few verses that resonate with me.
“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before You. Each man’s life is but a breath.” Psalm 39:5
“Humans are like a breath of air. Their life span is like a fleeting shadow.” Psalm 144:4
Life is short. People say that all the time, but the Bible says it more poetically. I have certainly experienced the brevity of life. Though the first days and weeks of intense sorrow seemed anything but brief, when I back up to behold the bigger picture, I see that my life will also be relatively short, even if I live to be a hundred. I cannot wrap my mind around the tangibility of Heaven or the actuality of eternity. It makes my head hurt and my ears smoke. I don’t need to think that I can know everything. That sounds pretty boring to me. Accepting our ignorance of things we cannot possibly comprehend is bliss.
The few moments I had with Trinity were each a gift, including the pregnancy. I now see every moment of my life as a gift. Every breath is a gift. Each and every beat of my heart is a gift. And because I don’t know how many moments I have left, I must treasure as many of them as possible. I can now gaze at my favorite photo of her the way a middle schooler gazes at a picture of his or her latest crush, with sighs and smiles and longing. It’s like the unrequited love we learned about in high school literature class. I hope that those who had their loved ones around longer than I had Trinity are able to cherish their memories, and to allow themselves to be filled with love and joy when they think of them.
As I get my mind around all this, I take increasing comfort in her whereabouts. From a mother’s perspective, she is safe! She has been spared all the pain, fear, suffering, and tears of this place. I don’t have to worry about her. She’s better off than I am! And since I’ve been reminded how short life on Earth is, I also take comfort in the fact that I will be with her relatively soon. I may not get to be with her right now, but I do get to be with her FOREVER. I can wait “a breath” of time if I know we have eternity to catch up.
Perhaps one reason why God lets bad things happen is so we can be reminded, and thankful, that Earth is not the end of our story. We work our fingers to the bone trying to create Heaven on Earth, and we never achieve it. Nothing we do with our hands ever fully satisfies. And even if we do manage to create something heavenly, it can be destroyed in seconds by “an act of God”. So as bad things continue to happen every day, maybe I can take comfort that the Earth chapter of my story is but “a breath”.
HEALING MILESTONE 6
I’m getting really tired of crying. It’s not much of an issue during the week anymore, but it’s guaranteed on Sunday mornings. For the first time, I’d like to avoid it. Church has been a haven, but I don’t want to go this week. Crying my eyes out is not how I want to spend my tiny ration of energy. Should I go? Should I not go? This waffling is wasting energy and time, which is zipping around the clock. It’ll be time to leave soon, if I decide to go. Let me just go out on the deck for a minute. The weather is bland. I don’t really want to be here either. I don’t want to be anywhere. I whine to God, “Do I have to go?” I sense Him saying, “Yeeess” as if He were peering at me over His reading glasses, with a gentle smile. So I lug myself out the door.
When I arrive at church, the music is playing, loud as always, drowning out the world and helping me focus my thoughts. My thoughts, however, are not something I want to focus on today. I want to run from them. It’s kind of amazing how I can sing one set of words out loud and speak another set of words in my mind at the same time. I’m not sure I knew I could do that, and I do not like to multi-task. Nevertheless, while I sing out loud, I repeat in my head, “Less of me, more of You, less of me, more of You, less of me, more of You” in a desperate effort to avoid the tears and flee from myself.
As I’m doing this, it really happens. I am whisked away on the sound waves to a new place. All my attention belongs to God. No more me, all Him. I have found the happiest place there is. My career involves billable time, so I begrudgingly always know what time it is, but in this lovely new place, there is no time. It’s a luxury unfamiliar to me. I got here by singing to God with all my heart (I love to sing), and all my mind (I was running from myself), and all my strength (I had very little to begin with). Wow. Is this what God meant when He said in the Bible to love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? I’ve heard variations of this all my life but I think I just obeyed it for the first time ever. I gave Him every bit of the little I had, but He gave me back even more than I could have asked or imagined. I can’t recall the songs or the words, but the connection to pure joy is unforgettable.
I dragged my pitiful self to church that day withered and depleted, and left plump with indescribable joy. I feel better than I have in a very long time. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite like this. I didn’t know there was a healthy way to escape. But there is! I have been there. I’ve gotten pretty good at running to God for help, but running away to God is a whole new idea. I will still face everything head on, but I’ve got a new trick in my bag when I need to recharge.
Worship is a word I grew up with at church, but I never really considered what it meant. It was just another word for singing I thought. But what I experienced was much, much more than singing. I only got the tiniest taste, but it was so sweet and pure and real that I will never forget it. My whole idea of worship has been forever changed and so have I.
HEALING MILESTONE 7
The medical conference, an event I’ve been anxious for and dreading at the same time, is finally here. Will we get answers? I suppose there will be answers, but what kind? Definitive ones, vague ones, upsetting ones? Regardless, I guess there will be some kind of closure, but will it sit well? This meeting is set for early evening in some conference room in some medical building. There will be a lot of medical professionals there, those who cared for Trinity and me, before and after her arrival.
Riding up the elevator, I feel nervous relief. I don’t know what I am going to hear, but I am glad that it will be over soon. We join everyone in a small room with a large rectangular table. I wonder how often they have meetings like this one. We sit on one side with all sorts of doctors arrayed around the other three sides. To me, the room feels is a little awkward, slightly heavy, and a little tense. They tell me how good I look. Some didn’t even recognize me. The last time they saw me, I was in the hospital in pretty bad shape. I can’t relate to all those pictures I’ve seen of moms holding their newborns. They are sitting up in the hospital bed looking oh so happy, and maybe a little tired. Jealousy is oh so bitter, and I beg God to take it away every time it strikes. I find real relief simply by admitting these nasty feelings to myself and confiding in God.
As we settle down at the table, there is very little small talk, and the doctors begin their explanation. However, we quickly learn that we are not going to get an actual explanation, only a best guess. Trinity was severely anemic, and the little blood she had was clotting massively. They have no idea why she was so anemic, but she probably had a clotting disorder, and the field of medicine knows very little about clotting disorders at this time. We were told that they may or may not know in another twenty years. They guessed that the unusual clotting was triggered by the cord being around her neck, but did not classify her death as a cord accident because they think that any other baby would have survived. Cords are wrapped around babies’ necks in a large percentage of births, and most of the time the outcome is fine. Had she survived, something else may have triggered it, like a long flight or birth control pills. The likelihood of this happening again with our next baby would be like lightening striking twice. They had tested us for one known clotting problem, but there was no indication of trouble. Statistics no longer comfort me, though. Something not only rare, but unknown happened to us. When people use odds to talk about the negligible chance of something happening to a person, it’s almost like they are forgetting that the one in a one in a million chance is actually a person, with a name, and a face, and feelings. But I’m probably a little sensitive these days. When we do get pregnant again, they’d like to see me right away. I will probably be put on low dose aspirin during the pregnancy as a precaution. And that was pretty much it. The whole thing took maybe forty-five minutes to an hour.
Riding home in the car, I feel relieved that it’s over and that there were no curve ball surprises. I think I’d gotten used to the idea that it was just a medical mystery. It also feels a little anticlimactic for some reason, a bit of a letdown, probably because we had to wait so long. But there are still miles to walk to get through this, with zero visibility ahead, no point on the calendar to reach. At least the most treacherous parts are behind us. On second thought, I am dreading Mother's Day and Father's Day and whatever else may pop up until we've cycled through a whole year. Just keep breathing. Keep going.
As I'm going one day, Richard stops me in the kitchen. He has really struggled with anger at God over our medical mystery, and tells me how he’s wrestled with “why?” Why did God let this happen to us? And then he shares how it occurred to him that God let it happen to his own Son. I am sort of stunned. I hadn't thought of it that way. The why question is still unanswered, but this realization somehow brings a small measure of relief.
Since it's almost Easter, this adds new meaning to a story I’ve grown up with and am somewhat desensitized to. I hate to admit that, and I try to recapture the wonder and amazement each year, but honestly I’m often a little disappointed. When I think of Easter, I think of Good Friday first, and the hideous way Jesus was beaten, made fun of, spit on, nailed to a wooden cross, and then left to suffer until His last bit of human life waned away. I never want to stay too long gawking at this gory scene. Even worse, this year I find myself thinking about Jesus’ death from God-the-Father’s perspective, as a fellow parent. This is a whole new way of thinking about God, of relating to Him, certainly not as an equal, but relating to Him nonetheless. Thinking of God in this way changes my perception of Him, expanding my view, but also narrowing it to a much more personal focus.
Someone told me when I was grieving heavily that God understands and mourns with us, but that just didn’t bring much, if any comfort. Maybe I just couldn’t get my mind around it. But I’m reconsidering that now. It’s like God and I have something in common. A funny thought.
I am also incredibly grateful that my baby girl didn’t suffer the way Jesus did. How did Mary get through that? No doubt with divine help. I, too, have had plenty of divine help on this less than pleasant journey.
And we know how this story ends, not with death. Jesus came back to life. Not an earthly life, but a Heavenly life not to be touched by death again. My little Trinity did not come back to life as I know it, but because He is risen, she is risen! My wonder and amazement are back and better than ever.
HEALING MILESTONE 8
The fight goes on, me versus pain, emotional pain. One very sore spot I haven’t mentioned yet is my youngest sister’s pregnancy. Hers is most painful to me for reasons I don’t quite understand. For some reason, friends’ pregnancies don’t bother me as much. Adrienne’s was a little difficult of course because we were pregnant together. But there is something about Jamie’s that strikes a raw nerve. She actually suspected she might be pregnant when she was in town for Trinity’s memorial service. She was supposed to call me and tell me the results. Weeks went by with no word. I was speaking with my mom one weekend, “I assume Jamie’s not pregnant. I haven’t heard from her.”
My mom, upbeat and nonchalantly says, “No, she is.”
I am caught off guard. “Oh.” I can’t remember the rest of the conversation. I probably cut it short. From that moment her pregnancy became bitter for me. I felt like a fool, and it made me really mad. Why couldn’t she just be straight with me? I was annoyed that she didn’t have the guts to tell me herself. I remind myself, though that she has several extra helpings of softiness, and I’m sure she just couldn’t take hurting me. In fact, she might not have even been able to speak through her tears. But what she didn’t know was that delaying the truth, and finding it out from someone other than her, hurt a lot more.
Sorting through all these feelings is overwhelming, like mountains of paperwork. Just grab something you recognize and decide what to do with it. Does it require any action? Do I file it or shred it? Or does it go into the i-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-this-but-i-can’t-throw-it-away-or-file-it pile? Feelings are similar. I am feeling all these different things about one circumstance. I’m sad, hurt, jealous, angry, embarrassed. And guilty because I’m feeling everything except happy for my sister - the one thing I should be feeling. But feelings are pretty unreliable that way.
So I am angry at her for not telling me herself. But why is it so hard otherwise? Is it that she’s the youngest, and I was supposed to have the first grandchild? Am I that ridiculous? Actually I did have the first grandchild, but I just didn’t have her for long. Maybe I’m just jealous. I’m not sure, but feeling this way makes me want to jump out of my skin. She isn’t due until October, so I’ve got some time to continue sorting through this mountain of feelings.
Maybe it has to do with proximity – relationally or physically. Pregnant friends I’m not super close with, and don’t see or talk to every week don’t bother me in the least. But I experience a sort of mini panic attack at the site of strollers and pregnant women I don’t even know. When I am walking down the sidewalk and see one of these happy horrors approaching, my heart races with dread. When they get really close, I actually hold my breath and pray desperately in my mind, “Help! Help! Help!” until they pass. And then I deflate, hoping there are no more until I get wherever I am going. This happens pretty frequently, working in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco. It is a lovely little European style park surrounded by restaurants, businesses, and residences. It is always bustling midday, but even when it’s quiet, residents can be strolling their little ones to the small playground.
One beautiful evening after work, I begin walking several blocks to where I’d parked that morning. I encounter a stroller and have one of these episodes. As I’m recovering and turn the corner, my head is hanging low. I am so weary of these secret seizures and lament with a heavy sigh, “How long will it be like this?” To my surprise, I sense a response. “Keep your eyes on your own path, and on Me.” My gaze begins to go slowly from my feet, down the length of sidewalk to its end, and then up to the spot of sky between the buildings - soft blue with feathery white clouds. It was like God gave me mental blinders to reestablish my focus. He has a plan for me - that may or may not include children. Very deep breath. But He is in charge, He knows what He is doing, and I have to trust Him and believe that He has good things in store for me on my path.
I continue walking the rest of the way to my car, feeling a bit lighter, a bit stronger, and maybe even a little optimistic. About what? My future - a thing I had totally forgotten about in my efforts to make it through each moment. It was like seeing a road sign on this unmarked journey, reassuring me that I’m going the right way and that there are good things up ahead. I have no idea how far up ahead, so I’ll just have to stay focused - on my path and the One who lights it.