When you become an English teacher, you’re quickly thrown into a genre specialty. You either primarily teach and therefore become an expert in British literature, or World literature, or even courses such as AP Language. For the first part of my career, I was the Ninth Grade Literature gal. A survey of literature course, pretty liberating to pick among literally anything from the canon of literary works. But after five years of teaching The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, and Tuesdays with Morrie, I needed a reprieve. I was given American Literature as my new niche and as most English teachers will tell you, you either love it or hate it. American Lit pretty much has to be taught chronologically. It’s just doesn’t work any other way. That means you start from the very beginning with some less than gripping works such as Native American Myths and Legends, to colonial literature such as John Smith's The General History of Virginia(a real page turner). Most English teachers plow right through 17thcentury colonial literature and even the Calvinistic doctrines that pave the road to the American Revolution of the 18thcentury. We all want to get to the really gripping content of the 19thcentury; the American Renaissance, the Transcendentalists, works by Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman. Something even the students can really sink their teeth into. Or, at least, pretend to.
But out of all the men who literally set the voice and narrative of the early years of our country, one woman stands out. Anne Bradstreet is considered the first published American female voice. A poet, a Puritan, a mother of eight. Need I say more? Her vulnerability about domestic life was truly the first voice to the hashtag, #thestruggleisreal.
Two years ago today, I was teaching high school English, working on the final deadline for the yearbook, preparing for girls golf season, and packing my bags for the inaugural senior trip to New York City, all while hiding my twelve week pregnancy. I had cancelled golf practice saying I needed to pack for NYC which was leaving the following morning at 4AM. And I did need to pack. But I also needed to make my second ultrasound appointment too eager to hear a heartbeat, already planning to snap a pick at the top of the Empire State Building announcing this surprise pregnancy. Two years off the pill, and over a year on “crazy pills” for infertility. It was finally happening. We had told our families a few weeks before but so far there was no heartbeat. “Nothing to worry about,” my doctor had urged me. “Sometimes, it’s just too soon to hear.” But let’s face it, even as I showed my parents that first ultrasound, God was already preparing my heart for the loss. Maybe that is why I never packed for New York. I just knew I would not be going.
After the appointment, Jason I got the news I already knew in my heart. “No heartbeat.” The “fetus” stopped growing. The doctor never used the word “baby.” Unfortunately, “common” for first pregnancy the unknown doctor had told us. I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. Instead, I handled it. We were given two options; a “natural” miscarriage encouraged by implanted medication. I could go home, and nature would take its course. Option two; a DNC, quick, medical, sterile, and 100% reliable. There was no option three, go to NYC, enjoy the much-deserved trip with your beloved seniors, keep on living in a state of hope and grace. We chose option one; cheaper, easier, “natural.”
While checking out the receptionist gave me a new parent folder and asked if we wanted to meet with a financial counselor to set up payments for the birth. I wanted to scream, “It’s dead, your idiot. Read my chart.” But the numbness was still in place (luckily for her) so all that managed to come out was “Not today.” We left. In silence.
My mom, like a perfectly timed alarm clock, called as we were leaving the office, still in shock. Jason and I still not speaking what needed to be said. “Well how did it go?” she asked eagerly on the other end of the line. “Fine,” I lied. Silence quickly fell between us and she knew. “Was there a heartbeat?” she instinctually asked. “No,” I responded. I didn’t hear what she said next. I was still in handling mode. I think I told her I was okay and that I would call back. My mind was racing. Not about the baby. But about the trip. I had the New York folder in my car. I needed to give it to someone. I needed to make sure someone went in my stead. I had all the forms, the itinerary. I wasn’t going to let my loss be a loss for my students. After all, they are my firstborns, as I have always called them. This mama was not going to let them down.
Jason drove me over to my bestie’s house. We taught together. Did life and now loss together. I had already called her on my way giving her a heads up. When I arrived, Jason stayed in the car and I made my visit quick. “No baby. Procedure tomorrow. You’re in the charge”, was the gist of the conversation. Not sure what else we exchanged other than the notebook and blank looks. Neither of us knew what to say. I can still picture her daughter at the dining room table and her husband in the kitchen. I don’t think I acknowledged either of them. How rude. I just knew I wanted to get in and out while I was still numb, still handling what needed to be handled.
Jason drove me home. I don’t remember where we left my car. What we ate for dinner. If I even ate. Or when I crawled into bed. I just remember the next morning. The black sweatpants I wore. The sound of the highway as we drove to the doctor’s office that morning without the radio on. That damn cat poster someone hung on the ceiling of the procedure room that read “Hang in there.” Yeah, not joking. We’ve all seen that poster. I love cats. I hate that poster.
My doctor came in. Said something meaningless. Implanted the drugs. Gave Jason a pat on the shoulder and scheduled me back in two weeks for a follow up. I am now a firm believer that these offices need a back door. Why add insult to injury, as they say, and have me leave through the waiting room. That room filled with glowing pregnant woman with round bulging bellies of life growing within. I walked right by that same receptionist, held my head as I walked out the front door in my black sweatpants, and left speechless Jason to handle the bill, the reactions, and the idiot receptionist.
I think the car ride home was filled with silence too. I’m not sure. There was too much noise going on inside my own head. It was almost 8AM. My seniors had shown up at school to find their leader absent, another one present. Thank you, Delta Airlines, for allowing me to switch my seat for another within just hours of our flight boarding. The customer service representative asked for a reason for cancelation and without flinching I told her, “I just loss my pregnancy.” She responded with such kindness and sincerity. No charge was given. Her condolences were accepted.
I’m not sure what my friend told my seniors. It was never really discussed. So much was never discussed. By so many. Not my loss. Not that procedure. Or the DNC that ultimately followed two weeks later on Saint Patrick’s Day because what my doctor failed to tell us was the that “natural” way wasn’t always 100% effective.
A year after my loss. A year from today, God did give me something in return for my heartache. Courage. Courage and a voice. I was finally fed up with the silence. Fed up with the dancing around my broken heart in fear of making others feel awkward. Fed up with others feeling just like I was and not having the courage to speak into them what I wished others had spoken into me during that time.
Yes, it’s two years from the date of that loss and my belly is full, literally full of two healthy, growing, miracles from God, whom according to my app, are the length of two bananas. Right now they are kicking and I know that I serve a God of answered prayers, perfect timing, and restoration. But I also know that the two sons I now grow will never overshadow the two losses I have endured the past two years. I will always be a mother of loss and at the same time, a mother of miracles.
I have been living in a state of silent fear these past few months. Yes, fear of loss. That palpable fear of adding two more white hearts tattooed on my wrist. But selfishly enough, also the fear of losing my voice. For the past year God has given me a message of hope and healing in the midst of waiting. God has spoken to me, held my heart, and mended my pain in a way that only He could do. And in return for my obedience and vulnerability, God has opened the door for the most remarkable and life-changing conversations with those who are also in the trenches of waiting, loss, teetering on treads of hope.
Dear friends in the trenches, I am not leaving you. God has never left you, or I. My pain is still real and raw two years later and I know that our pain is His pain. These two precious little boys will never replace or overshadow what God has whispered in my heart during these years of waiting. I know this joy is all vanity. At any point, the tides may turn. Life may once again get hard and loss is always waiting around the corner. We live in world of sin and injustice. But we serve a Father of grace and mercy.
Father God, I pray that we never forgot. I pray you answer the prayers of others in the same manner you graciously chose to answer mine; with perfect timing, and restoration. I pray for peace during the waiting.
No more silence.
No more dancing around the pain with niceties.
No more fear.
I pray for courage and a voice.
Things are starting to get real around the White House. (And no, I’m not talking POTUS).
The reality is not just in my every three-hour eating schedule that keeps me and my nausea in check. It’s not just my ever-expanding waist line which seems to be high topic of conversation. Or the fact that I’m visited Victoria’s Secret twice in two months trying to lift and cover my other expanding needs. Or the relentless baby talk about the future. What to buy. What to do. What do we not know . . . everything!
The reality is that God has chosen this time, this season, and this pregnancy for His purpose. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one year ago today I opened my mouth, posted a blog, and confessed my heartbreak to the cyber universe but ultimately to God, my Father.
“God has a sense of humor,” I wrote. “He knew that our hearts were set on family and home. As with Noah, God brought a flood that washed away all expectations and ability to plan, control, and He restored our home to something far greater than we could have ever imagined or truly deserved” (Adventure).
Looking back on my own words, God has once again done it. This past year of vulnerability, frustration, and weakness has brought down the walls guarding my heart, just like the unexpected flood of 2015 brought down the sheetrock and flooring of our home. God knows I’m a kinesthetic learner. I must do to fully understand. We spent eleven months in 2016 rebuilding our home preluding the eleven months in 2017 that God would take to rebuild my heart. As with our home, He brought me down to my foundation, stripped away my ability to control and slowly, in His time, with His plan, restored my reliance on Him and His word.
Two weeks into the New Year and I can already tell people are back into their humming life routines. For example, I’m still saying “Happy New Year,” to those out and about and you can see people almost flinch and look at the date on their watch before responding, “Oh yeah, Happy New Year.” Yeah, that’s right people, it’s only fourteen days into 2018, you can slow down, breathe, enjoy.
What is it about January that feels more “hustle and bustle” than the Holiday expectations of November and December?
Well, if you are even an ounce like me, it’s because you begin the year with goals and expectations, dreams and to-do lists, tasks and their “accomplish by dates.” I’m exhausted by the time I make my list, much less begin it (maybe that’s just the pregnancy talking). But regardless, too many expectations are wearying, life-draining. Believe me. Been there, bought the t-shirt.
So, what if you simplified the whole goal setting rat-race and instead chose a simple way to focus in on your year? What if you picked just one word, a theme word of the year to guide you? Now, if you’ve been following along friends, you know the last few years, God has chosen to really speak to me through my theme word.
2015, the year of Adventure.
2016, the year of Restoration.
2017, the year of Whimsy.
So, I’m feeling it this year. Big shoes to fill. How will I ever compete with my God-ordained Year of Whimsy? The good news, I don’t have to. And, even better news, God will show up regardless.
Since November 8th and that miraculously ultrasound, those two unforgettable heartbeats, I’ve pretty much been in hiding, simply waiting out my first trimester.
I’ve cancelled lunch dates. Missed two supper clubs. Worked from home when schools have allowed. Stopped working out. Stopped going out.
It’s not that my faith became small. It’s that my fear became large.
“Required hospitalized bed rest at 25 weeks.”
All the things a bright and shiny new mom doesn’t want to hear.
Shouldn’t have to hear.
I wasn’t mad at God. How can I be? I’m a miracle! They are miracles!
But like all the things we have endured before, God was preparing us. Jason and I are equipped to handle this. I just didn’t want to.
But my Wonder Woman doctor gave us hope. There are two types of Mono twins, there are “Mono Mono” twins and there are “Mono Di.” Twins.
“We’re praying for the ‘Mono Di’ kind,” she explained, just thirty minutes after our life altering ultrasound.
With a blank sheet of paper, she is scribbling two scenarios. One, where the amniotic sack is wide open and the twins have free range to float and swim about bumping elbows and throwing imaginary high fives (seriously, that’s what I was thinking).
I naively assumed that the waiting would be over as soon as God allowed me to conceive. But even after the Wonder Woman, October 31st shock of my life, I have still been holding my breath and waiting.
But this time the waiting doesn’t feel so alone. It’s now a collective holding of the breaths that Jason and I share. Since Halloween, together we’ve held hands, our breaths, and our plans until the following appointment on November 8th. “All we want is a heartbeat,” we repeat to ourselves and each other.
And so the agony of waiting once again crept alongside us, like an old friend. You know the kind. The ones who are close-talkers, who arrive way to early, start digging through your frig and begin eating the perfectly round cheese ball long before any of the other guests arrive.
That’s how waiting feels; the uninvited guest. The annoying close-talker. The one who gets close enough to whisper all the doubts you are trying so hard to push out with a lot of work and filler noise.
It seems fitting that it’s snowing today. That the ground is covered in white, fluffy flakes of a fresh start. In just twenty-two days, that’s what we’ll all get. A New Year. A fresh start. A white slate.
But we can’t move forward without reflecting back. I think this entire “Year of Whimsy” in some way has been a reflection. Like the Children’s Book “Zoom” I received at my AP Seminar training in July of 2014, the first image that you see, the one you begin to focus in on, is not the entire picture. In fact, it’s just a detail of a detail, and by zooming out, slowly, with intention, you begin to see what is truly there. What began as finally verbalizing the brokenness behind my failed attempts at motherhood and belonging, that detail of a detail, has merged into a year-long reflection upon my inability to let go and Let God.
Now, I’m not cured. Far from it! I think I will always be a struggling perfectionist. A struggling control freak (I know, you don’t say!). But that’s what whimsy was all about for me. Whimsy was about the attempt to let go. Slowing uncurling my fingers from the life I was so desperately trying to force, and learning to open that hand to the life God has so desperately been trying to give.
I’m sure there is some theological debate among Christians as to which is the “better” holiday; Christmas, the birth of our long-awaited Savior, or Easter, the most selfless act (death and resurrection) to a self-serving humanity.
But for me, those holidays are too short. The anticipation builds. Stores are stocked months in advance with all the pomp and circumstance of the season (way before I’m ready to commit). Then it’s over. All the eggs have been found, the presents have been unwrapped. Just as quickly as the Holiday morning arrives, it’s over and the days that follow seem somber and misplaced. You see, I’m just not that kind of girl. A lunch date with me is not thirty minutes. You better block off two hours because I want to savor it all. The conversation, the atmosphere, the meal. And just like my lunch date with friends, I want to savor my holidays with Christ.
So, for me, the season to savor is Advent. Twenty-five days in the midst of the most aggressive holiday hustle and bustle to read verse by verse, word by word, the details of those final months before the miraculous and holy birth. Advent is the ultimate savor season.
Now I know I’m ahead of myself. Advent typically begins December 1st and takes us all the way through Christmas day. But let’s be real. My tree is up. I’m already listening to the Holly station on Satellite radio (much to Jason and my brother’s dismay), and I’ve already watched Jim Carry’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, twice! I’m ready for Advent. I’m ready to dive into God’s word and discover all over again the whimsy of Christ’s impoverished and unlikely birth.
Now if you want to follow along, there are hundreds of devotionals and books on Advent on Amazon alone so hit Prime and you’ll be ready to begin in two days. But for the second year in a row, I’m sticking to Jane Johnson’s “25 Days of Advent: The Daily Re-Telling of the Greatest Story of All Time.” Jane is a kindred spirit. She’s a writer and blogger, and fellow woman of waiting. After ten years of marriage, Jane and her husband finally conceived their long-awaited birth, a son born on the one-year anniversary of losing her best friend to cancer. Jane’s story of waiting and redemption combined with the tenderness of Advent is what my soul longs for. As Jane writes, “Because He makes all things new. And bitter waters sweet. Because He redeems heartbreak.”
On October 25th, 1988, when I was just four years and five months old, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of October, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
He so eloquently stated;
"When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan.
When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower.
When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”
For those of us who have lost a child, a pregnancy, a hope, we don’t need a designated month on the calendar to remember what we’ve lost. We remember daily. I will always mourn March 17th, 2016 and May 25th, 2017.
Just as a widower catches a glimpse of a memory and recalls their spouse, I have similar flashes of moments that take my breath away. Now, I don’t know the round faces of my children, or the softness of their pudgy hands, or the way they smell when you pull them tightly to snuggle. But I remember holding an ultrasound picture in my hand. I remember the hug my mother-in-law gave me when I handed her a wrapped onesie. And I remember the bitter taste of that peach cobbler she delivered when she had no words to comfort our loss.
I can’t escape pregnancy and joyous new life. My social media feed is compounded with pregnancy announcements and growing baby bumps. Sweet text messages from friends bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Even my favorite network shows are filled with glowing pregnant woman. Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory is ridiculously fertile with a growing baby boy just 9 months after the birth of her daughter. And even though her first pregnancy was announced on the show in May while I was battling my second loss, I stuck with them. And crazed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and Proctor of the Realm, Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones is pregnant by her twin brother Jamie! Come on HBO, at least give me a Daenerys Targaryen, John Snow baby!
I really love that phrase “season of life.” It says “hey, don’t worry. This too shall pass, will fade away, will one day end.” And at the same time is juxtaposed with the idea of new life, new growth, and my favorite, new adventure.
Just like the weather in Georgia in the month of October, right now I’m in several seasons all at one.
I’m in a new season with a career that I’m loving, learning, and growing.
I’m in a season of marriage where Jason and I have this balance of independence and partnership.
I’m in a season of waiting (the utter worst!) praying through my reactionary “I-need-to-be-doing” reflexes versus God’s perfect will and timing.
But unfortunately, I’m also in a season of avoidance.
Not only am I avoiding action (as much as I feel called to do). I’m avoiding community.
I’m avoiding more fertility treatments because I’m terrified of the same outcome. (I think one miscarriage a year is my emotional limit.)
I’m avoiding close community because I feel so incredibly out of touch with everyone else’s “season of life” that I have nothing to contribute.
For an extravert, this is so incredibly hard. I want to see people. Have conversation. Laugh. Tell stories. Share hearts. But the insecurity within urges me to hold my tongue, avoid these encounters, keep to myself. Better to be safely tucked away than vulnerable and heartbroken. Better to be at home than with those who don’t and can’t relate.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation