Limbo

Sorry if I’ve been a little enigmatic lately. Sometimes poetic is easier than blunt frankness. Blunt frankness is just so dang ugly sometimes.

 

Blunt, frank words are just dang ugly. Why does the medical profession insist on ugly words?

 

Words like “blighted ovum”.

 

And “missed miscarriage.”

 

Nothing rhymes with those words. They don’t flow easily into conversation. They make me feel incompetent, faulty, and apologetic.

 

They make me question who I am becoming.

 

I sat in the OB’s sonogram room last Wednesday and awaited the verdict that would soon be doled out by the large, phallic transponder designed to detect life in the quiet recesses of the womb. My Beloved’s eyebrows lifted every-so-slightly when he was confronted by the obscene thing, sitting quietly it its holster. I, in an attempt at levity, warned him gravely:

 

Don’t show any fear. It can sense fear. Don’t look directly at it.

 

 

Don’t bare your teeth at it. He countered. It will perceive that as a threat.

 

 

I laughed. Harder than I needed to, probably. It was a welcome release from the mounting tension that was causing my heart to race and my stomach to turn. I was supposed to be 8 weeks pregnant. I was trying to think positively, but the spotting had already begun and I felt only a growing sense of doom.

 

My OB broke the news gently. He pointed out the empty sac, the absence of the baby that should by now be the size of a blueberry with a merrily beating heart. He called it an anembryonic pregnancy. AKA blighted ovum. There had been an implanted egg, he explained, but the baby had stopped developing for reasons unknown, and was now gone.

 

I was braced for the screen to show a still baby, as it has in the past…a baby quietly floating like a tiny astronaut frozen in space…but I was not prepared for this nothingness. I was not prepared for my body to be so reluctant to let go of the idea of pregnancy.

 

I might expect to stay in this limbo for weeks, the good doctor explained. Even months. If I got tired of the waiting, and the endless spotting, I could have a D & C.

 

I am tired of waiting already.

 

I do not want a D & C.

 

I am sad, and afraid. And a little lost. I do not know how to be this woman, this 7-time miscarrier, this habitual aborter (yet another lovely medical term; they do come up with such tender monikers, don’t they?). I don’t know how to be the older woman with fading progesterone and halting fertility. I have for so long been defined by my prolification that I must admit, though I have resented the label in the past, I don’t know who to be without it.

 

I knew, theoretically, that there would be an end to my fertility. I knew there would come a day when no tiny baby arrived in the characteristic pattern, and slowly the diapers and sippy cups and pacifiers would be relegated to a drawer for the grandkids. A day when bras without flaps would fill my lingerie drawer and I could tuck my shirts in, for good. I may have even looked forward to it once or twice, in fatigue and aggravation.

 

I thought I knew who Jenni was, but I’m afraid of these uncharted waters that I’ve been thrust upon. I don’t know how to read the charts, and the stars are unfamiliar. I’m want to sail with confidence and trust, knowing that He won’t let me shatter upon the rocks, but I’m curled up here in the bottom of the boat with my head under a pillow.

 

Can I be just Jenni? When it’s all stripped away, can I be happy with that?

 

Just Jenni. Just the girl who loves the Lord with all her heart and wants to trust Him to the bitter end. Just the girl who struggles with her past and longs for a future Home. Just the girl who grieves the babies who never were. Just the girl who is learning that she’s still got so much to learn.

Valleys

Everybody knows Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd, and all that. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restores my soul. Ahhhhhh…nice. Paths of righteousness, yeah, bring it on! Read some more!

 

Hmph.

 

Funny how there’s that verse about the Valley of the Shadow of Death stuck in there. It’s almost as if (surely not!) God is saying it won’t be all sunshine and roses, this following after the Good Shepherd. Almost as if (perish the thought!) He doesn’t want us to expect to always dance on the mountaintops.

 

It’s downright disturbing, is what it is. Doesn’t at all fit in with my personal preferences.

 

I focus on the warm, bright meadow. The plentiful nourishment. The burbling springs. When I have those things, I feel God’s love shining down on me in all His Kingly benevolence. And then, when I am standing, shivering in the shadow so dark that it seems to permeate my very being…I decide He’s abandoned me.

 

It is not so.

 

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU ARE WITH ME. 

 

THOUGH, not “if.” THOUGH, not “hopefully not.” THOUGH, not “if you’re especially good you can avoid it.”

 

The valley is arrived at in an instant. An illness. An accident. Bad news dropping–no matter how gently–from the lips of a doctor, falling like a blanket of ash upon your soul. The valley is entered. The volcano has blown. There is no water, no sustenance, no warmth. We cannot see the way out. We can only stumble along, trusting in the grip of the One who never lacks sight.

 

This Christian walk…it’s not about His gifts. It’s not about His blessings. It’s not about His plan to get you out of your current sucky situation. It’s not even about the way He performed that miracle for you back whenever it was. These are reasons to love Him, to be sure…but they are pale and puny things in light of that which we must never lose sight of: HE IS WITH US. His name is Emmanuel. God…WITH US.

 

No longer in a temple. No longer in an ark. No longer resting upon one chosen person only. No longer hiding His face. No longer estranged. No longer bridging the gap between heaven and earth with fire and smoke and shaking mountains. No longer unreachable. No longer untouchable.

 

No longer waiting. No longer longing.

 

Just WITH US. Always. Through the green meadow. Beside the still water. And through the valley of the shadow of death. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

 

Never.

 

Infinity.

 

 

It is enough, and more than enough, to know He is there. Holding me. In the darkness. In the cold. In the sorrow. In the shame. In the anger. In the struggle. In the Valley.

 

He promises never to leave nor forsake. There is no blessing greater than that. The Creator of seen and unseen plants His feet beside me and does not depart. 

 

There is evil here; I can feel it. Why would He exhort us to fear no if there were none to fear? But the Shepherd in the green meadow is the same Shepherd in the Valley of the Shadow. He is still shepherding. I am still His sheep. He whispers courage…courage, my beloved

 

And if I bleat, and bolt? Still with me. Can’t lose Him. He’s the hound of heaven, and He pursues His own. And so I take courage, all that I can gather, and choose to press closer to Him. Lord, help me stay there, even when the valley is far behind!

What’s in a line?

It’s such a bit of nothing, really. Just a bare smear of pink on a piece of $8 plastic. A nod to the mysterious bits of hormonal flotsam released via a series of silent messages relayed within my faithful, corporeal machinery. It stuns me to realize what goes on without my knowledge, even when it occurs within my own frame, under my own nose, in the most literal sense. Hard as it is to believe, it always takes me off guard.

 

I’ve viewed a lot of these pink lines in my time. Most often, they signify the shortest distance between two points: pregnant–infant. I’m not sure I want to make the journey again. I’m feeling my age and the awkward social implications of being both grandmother and mother to babies. My body does not bounce back like it used to, rather, it descends heavily with a thud and settles, like a deflated beach ball, wherever it lands. 

 

Sometimes, however…the line marks an even shorter journey. The journey from pregnant–nonpregnant. Such are the lines I have been seeing more frequently than not lately. These lines whisper promises of fuzzy heads and wrinkled fists but gradually decrease in strength until I have to squint and tilt my head funny, sunlight shining at just the right angle, to make them out.

 

Once again the lines point me down the shorter, second journey. And, as conflicted as I was to begin the former, I know most emphatically that I do not want to take the latter. I am grossly unprepared. My emotional baggage contains very little of comfort along the way.

 

I’m shaking my head, and digging in my heels. I’m refusing to walk down that road for the sixth time. I’m clinging to the little plastic stick like a signpost, willing it to hold me in place and point me in another direction. Instead, it’s slowly giving way…uprooting itself from the fragile soil and pulling me along without my consent. A trail of crimson follows in my wake, dots and dashes in a silent SOS that I am helpless to answer.

 

Again, I face the accusatory words: old, broken, dried-up, faulty, spent. Is it a punishment for my own lack of enthusiasm for the first journey, I wonder? Punishment for my lack of ability with the ones to whom I’ve already been entrusted? Is it just a natural part of life, this thing that reeks of death? Can I not face it with philosophical objectivity?

 

I think I can,

 

for a moment.

 

The moment passes and I am instead letting the tears fall into my pillow, unable to process all the reasons behind the tumult in my heart. It is enough to just let them go, to count the soul that is leaving as worthy of the grief being spent.

Noted

You were a whisper
on the wind
into my ear today

 

 

 


November brown
hung all around
and muted shades of gray
      

 

Your life a bud
upon the branch
the bloom I longed to see

 

But you were lost
to early frost
most unexpectedly

 

You flickered
like a tiny flame
a ripple and a sigh

 

 

 

 

I gave you just
a tiny name
but greatly did I cry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear one-year-old
who never was
my heart regards the time

 

A candle glows
a few take note
and I will pen my rhyme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A flower now
in heaven’s fields
you blossom ceaselessly

 

 

 


no earthly vase
your resting place
yet someday I will see

And when we meet
the bittersweet
will all just fade away

 

 

 

 


I’ll smile at you
and hold you too
on that great greeting day.

 

 

 

 

On fathers, and forgiveness

Every Father’s Day it is the same. I go with trepidation into Hallmark. I stand for an hour, reading every single card they have to offer for the 3rd Sunday in June. After exhausting their supply of sunny images (and my mental and emotional reserves), I usually leave empty-handed, marvelling that I could have failed to find a single appropriate sentiment amidst the thousands.

 

Yet it happens, year after year. I simply cannot bring myself to spend money on a fabrication of this magnitude:

 

Thanks for your constant love and encouragement

or:

 

I could always count on your loving and gentle counsel

or, worse, those that have three panels covered in verses along these lines:

 

Dad, my whole childhood
could not have possibly been any better
because you were always there for me
to help me, to wipe away my tears,
and to teach me how to be the best person possible.
Because of you, I never doubted for a moment
that I could achieve any dream I put my mind to
blahdy blahdy bladiddly blah

 

(I also refuse to buy any card having to do with farting, drinking beer, money, the remote control, or those that feature any sort of primate on the front.)

 

(This narrows my choices quite severely, as you might have guessed.)  

 

Could someone explain to me why it is so difficult for the card companies to come up with something more realistic for those of us whose fathers were NOT ever-wise, ever-kind, ever-supportive demi-gods whose sole purpose in life was to fix broken toys and broken hearts, dispensing sage advice and just enough monetary help?

 

Maybe something along the lines of:

 

Being your child, I learned the valuable skill of walking on eggshells. Happy Father’s Day!

 

or:

 

Because of you, I’m never satisfied with anything unless I do it myself! Thanks, Dad!

 

or:

 

Life was always exciting with you as my Dad! Sort of like living in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius! 

 

It’s all in the spin, isn’t it?

 

My family and I watched one of my favorite films not long ago. Smoke Signals is a humor-filled and heart-aching story of a young man as he struggles to resolve his conflicting feelings towards his father. The perspective is through his eyes as an American Indian, but the theme is universal.

 

We all long for forgiveness, both to give and to be given.

 

Watching young Victor Joseph both love and loathe his father in equal measure–and even simultaneously–was as familiar to me as my own skin. I desperately wanted him to be free from the hurt and find a way to hold onto the good, letting God heal the past so he could be whole. 

 

I found myself wondering if I wanted the same for myself just as badly. How much do I really want freedom, and how much do I enjoy the security of the status quo?

 

The final scene of the movie is that of Victor Joseph shaking his father’s ashes out over a river as his travelling buddy, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, speaks the words from a poem by Dick Laurie. I’ve included the video clip here, but I urge you to watch the whole movie to really understand the power of this final scene:

 

 

So often we let unforgiveness rule until we think it defines us. We are afraid of who we will be without it. We believe that it is a part of us, and therefore will lessen us if it is carved away.

 

But it is not a part of us. It is not what we were made for.

 

It belongs to satan, as sure as a malignancy in the body belongs to him. Yet we claim it as our own rather than let the Great Physician remove it and heal it. 

 

If we forgive our fathers…
what is left?

 

Peace. Blessed stillness of heart. But even peace may be difficult to desire when it is something we’ve never felt before. We choose instead the twisted comfort of a common ache instead.

 

Today I say a prayer for all those struggling to forgive their fathers. And I start with myself.

 

Lord, help me to desire Your strange peace more than my familiar pain!

Peeking

The room is darkened, the screen is off. I lay down and hold my breath, my heart fluttery and anxious. My Beloved sits beside me, making smalltalk with the tech as he readies his equipment. The goo, which is promised to be warm but never is, is slathered on my belly and the screen flickers to life.

 

To life. Life being the key word here. There is life within, floating and bobbing and wiggling and squirming. It is grey and white and black and more beautiful than I can say. I don’t bother to ask too many questions since I know the tech will not be permitted to give me anything but cursory answers, but he politely points out spine and ribs, heart and stomach, arms and legs and face.

 

Measurements are taken and compared. My eyes never leave the screen. The baby’s mouth is opening and shutting, and we can even see the tongue moving in nursing motions, practicing for that day still 20 long weeks away. The tech enjoys his job; he is jovial and interested in our reactions to his limited information, but he cannot know the depth of gratitude that I am feeling for every second that the screen shows this little bit of humanity waving at me.

 

The room is the same from many months previous. The screen is the same, the womb is the same. But this time there is not silence and stillness and sorrow. This time there is joy. I’m sure the tech has delivered sorrowful news before. He may have even been on the receiving end of such news himself, once upon a time. But we do not discuss such things. He has good news today for us; a heart beating strongly, growth appropriate to the dates, and organs all present and accounted for.

 

 

Loss affects everyone differently, and no one can compare their own to another. But in one way it is always the same…it always changes you. It changes everything. Close by in my crowded heart are friends whose own losses outweigh my own. And I am keenly aware that it may even still be in my future. Loss never leaves; once you experience it, it becomes a part of you.

 

The sonogram is over too soon. There are others waiting and I mustn’t be selfish. I wipe the goo and collect my things: pictures, dvd. Tokens of this moment of peeking. I treasure the glimpse and I anticipate April, but for now it is enough. More than enough. More than I ever expected to see again. I gaze at the fuzzy image and thank God for my tiny son.

 

 

Hope

The other night after it was particularly blowsy, my children discovered a dove nest on the ground under the tree right outside our dining room window. One of the babies was dead, apparently having fallen from the full height, but the other baby coasted down whilst tucked inside its frisbee of sticks and was none the worse for wear. My children and their father jumped into rescue mode. A cardboard box was procured and, with the help of yards of packing tape, was secured to the trunk of the tree. The nest and pin-feathered sprite was transferred therein. And then we waited. And we prayed.

 

I could veer into a lengthy explanation of how I have, in the past, fully believed that I am the harbinger of a curse when it comes to small feathered things. I could tell tales of just how many baby birds I brought home in my pockets and carefully cupped hands, my head full of dreams of hand-raising them and then setting them free once they were strong enough. Every spring, thereafter, naturally, I would be visited anew by them as they would fly about my head with chirps of thankfulness and showers of flower petals.

 

They all died. But we will not veer.

 

Almost 24 hours passed as we anxiously waited for any sign of the parents’ return. For 24 hours we imagined the little dove languishing from thirst and hunger, lonely and cold. We wondered just how long it could survive without intervention. My daughter googled “hand raising doves”. I prayed with my children…but I confess…I had no faith. I had laid eyes upon it. It was doomed.

 

We felt compelled to do all we could, however, so when My Beloved got home we set out on a quest for bird formula. I never knew there was such a thing but lo and behold the pet store had some in stock (when I was a kid we tried mushed-up cat food and actual bugs). Doves eat directly from their parents’ crops, however, so there was the issue of figuring out if we could somehow replicate a “crop” for the wee babe to eat from.

 

Praise God, we never had to.

 

The parents came back. We got the call from my daughter even as we were about to head home. They had heard the unmistakeable whistle of dove wings and glanced up to see the wary couple scoping out the strange new digs in which their child was ensconced. Moments later the family was reunited.

 

Today is a day of rare beauty in Oklahoma. It is breathtakingly clear, with skies a shade of blue that the blistering summer never knew. The temperature hangs near 80. The breeze is gentle and smells like the sigh of God. My garden plants seem to be lifting their heat-weary heads and stretching in the fall-laden air. Outside my window I can hear the contented coos and whistles of the little family.

 

Today would have been a perfect day to give birth. On my calendar there is a small mark to tell me that this is the day I should have been joyously confined to a hospital bed, holding my newest arrival (more than likely I would have been scowling at the date and grousing about being late AGAIN…but I digress). It would have been a splendid day for a birthday–and I cannot help but feel that the little family in the tree outside is a surprise gift from God Himself to say that He also is mindful of the times and seasons that we mark on our calendars and in our hearts. He is not a God of curses.

 

Whether the little mother in the tree remembers the baby that she lost only nights ago is unlikely, my rational mind tells me. Whether she takes joy in the one she has remaining is a matter of debate for those less emotional than I. For myself, I like to believe that we have something in common…and as she sits contentedly with what remains, so shall I.

 

 

Logic

Reasons Why It Is Good Not To Be Pregnant:

 

1. More time to exercise consistently and lost those last 10 lbs
2. No morning sickness to derail homeschooling
3. Freedom from pain brought on by bulging varicosities
4. Hemorrhoids: in remission
5. Less baby-obsessed plans to make, more writing and thinking about things other than babies
6. No “You’re pregnant AGAIN!!!???” comments
7. Margaritas
8. Self-painted toenails
9. The absence of 9 months of worry, pain, hormonal erraticisms, fears and insecurities
 

Reasons Why It Would Be Good To Be Pregnant:

 

1. Because I was. And I was thrilled.