Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I've been keeping a secret.

And now, at nearly 5 a.m., sleepless as usual, four days before Christmas, I sit in our dark living room with the Christmas tree lights on and wonder... do I tell?

I feel as if Christmas has driven me into hiding. It hasn't, really– at least, not the real Christmas. Perhaps the general expectations we have of Christmas have done so, just a little. I've been too tired, and too sick, and too overwhelmed to handle much more than helping Nate decorate the tree, and arranging the nativity scene on top of the bookshelf. This Christmas will come without parties, without feasting, without baking, without decorations, with only a few small gifts– a post-Grinch-larceny, Whoville sort of Christmas indeed.

Yet just as in Whoville, where Christmas came without any of the external trappings, it will come here as well. Christ has come, and will come again, and nothing I do or don't do in the way of cookies or decorations or presents will change that. The tidings of comfort and joy are not dependent on what's in the refrigerator or underneath the tree.

So here's the secret Nate and I've been keeping: we need comfort and we have joy this Christmas. We are grieving this first Christmas without Livia and Lucy even as Advent, this season of waiting, intensifies our own period of waiting– the anticipation of our third little one, growing quietly inside me. A little brother or sister for our sweet girls– due right around their birthday next June (and this mama dreams of all three of her babies sharing the same birthday.)

The secrecy? I could just as easily not explain, and you'd probably think you knew why. After what happened with the girls, why not play it safe? Why broadcast the potential for more sorrow? At least get out of the precarious first trimester.

As in Prufrock, that is not it, at all.

We kept the secret because we wondered if people would really understand the coexistence of joy and grief. We kept the secret because I was afraid– almost sick– at the idea that someone might say, or even just think, "Oh, she's pregnant again! I'm glad they're moving on," the underlying idea being that the death of one's twin daughters is something one ought to get over, to leave behind in the past. We kept the secret because I didn't know how– still don't know how– to respond to congratulations that appear to forget the existence of Livia and Lucy. We kept the secret because it is an emotionally exhausting thing to mourn and rejoice at the same time, and few people seem to understand the necessity, the rightness and goodness, of both.


Christmas will come, though, and Lord willing, so will Baby Three, and I am tired of keeping a secret mostly out of fear. I would rather try to teach people about this space where joy and grief live side-by-side than keep silent because of what they might say. I am tired of Christmas being perceived as existing only for the rejoicing, when it is just as much for the broken-hearted, and also for those who are straddling both spaces. I am tired of pretending to be either a mourning mama or a pregnant mama, when the reality is that I am both. I am Rachel, weeping for her children, and I am Mary, in awe of the life God has placed inside me. Christmas is the story of both– the birth of our Savior must be read in light of those heartbroken mothers of Bethlehem, wailing for their murdered babies. Oh, how we still need those tidings of comfort!

It ought to go without saying, but I say it anyway: our sweet Baby Three in no way makes his/her big sisters less precious to us. This is not a replacement child, but another child– our third child. Nate and I are thankful for all three of our babies, and we love all three of them whether they are here with us or not. Whether God gives Baby Three to us for a long or a short time, we celebrate him/her as we celebrate his/her sisters.

We meet this Christmas in the messiness of grief and the hope of joy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Giving thanks for a hard year

Thanksgiving is less than a week away– happily, we got all the non-perishable and freeze-able food shopping finished weeks and weeks ago (and let's face it, how much of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is actually made with fresh food?) My parents arrive tomorrow and I will get to spend this holiday with them for the first time in four years (and it will be Nate's first time ever!) We will give thanks together... for...

For a hard, hard year.

For a year of struggling through my difficult, physically-debilitating pregnancy with our girls, mourning their deaths, and adjusting to the new reality of being parents whose babies are in Heaven.

Giving thanks. Perhaps we might just skip that part and try again next year?

Yet when I lay wakeful in bed, this blog post starting to form itself in my mind, I startled myself realizing that I really am thankful for this year. Even with all the pain, the tears, the suffering of this year, I'm not wishing for a do-over, or wanting to forget. I'm not trying to silver-line the hurt of this year– it is simply that the mercies in the midst of pain stand out  surprisingly vividly to me now. I can see some of the ways that God has met us in the darkness. For that, yes, I am thankful. And I give thanks.

Here are some of the things I see:

I see the physical hardship of my pregnancy teaching me about sanctification. Through the weeks and months of being so ill I couldn't leave the house, sick and exhausted and lonely and bored, my body was literally laying itself down to nurture the tiny lives of my daughters growing inside of me. Physically, it was awful. I hated the miserable side-effects of pregnancy– but I loved the life inside me. I loved that my body was doing exactly what it needed to nourish and grow our girls. Usually, Twin-to-Twin-Transfusion babies have significant weight disparity, a result of the faulty placenta giving far too much blood and nutrients to one and not enough to the other. But when the girls were born, Livia only weighed three ounces more than Lucy, and both girls were very close to what normal weight would have been at that period of gestation. It amazes me to think how hard my body was working to grow the girls in spite of the placenta problem. All I knew at the time was the physical hardship it was causing me– but later, holding my daughters, marveling at their perfectly-formed bodies, their similar sizes and weights, I got to see the beauty that came out of that hardship. Isn't this the story of the Christian life? The Holy Spirit refines us and in the moment all we can feel is the searing flame, the pain, the fear. Only later do we see the beauty He is creating out of those moments.

I see incredible beauty in the way this grief has drawn Nate and me together. I remember shortly after being married reading Tim Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage. Early in the book Tim says that while holding his wife Kathy's hand now after decades of marriage doesn't give him the same nervous thrill as it did back when they were first dating, it is far more meaningful because of the years spent living, working, rejoicing, and suffering together. Nate and I have only been married for almost three years, but after this year I think I understand much more of what Tim is talking about. I think suffering is the crucible of a relationship: it can either shatter it or make it stronger. Walking through this valley of the shadow together has only strengthened our marriage– we cling closer, cuddle longer, are more intentional about communicating, remind each other of our love for one another more often. One of the first things I found out in my reading about loss was the grim statistics about couples divorcing after the death of a child. While theoretically I can understand that, with my own experience divorce seems a thousand times more unthinkable now than before Livia and Lucy died. Nate and I are the only two people in the whole world who are the girls' parents– we are the two blessed to be their mommy and daddy, blessed to have them as daughters and mourn their loss as daughters. We have held each other and cried out our anguish, our broken hearts, our longing for our girls, bearing the burden of grief together. We grieve in different ways, it's true, but we grieve differently together. Neither of us holds the other's grief at arm's length, and sharing grief honestly in all its rawness, ugliness, and messiness, breeds an intimacy, a knowing, that I'm not sure can be achieved any other way.

A third patch of light which I see in the darkness of this year– and for which I give thanks– is for an enlarged experience of God himself– for a truer view of God. This one is the hardest to explain, the most difficult to see, and it might seem the least likely to give comfort, but I'll try to show what I mean.

My two favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia is that Aslan is "not a tame Lion" and that he is "not safe, but good." Of course the books are allegorical, and we can draw Lewis's conclusions about God– that God is not tame, and not safe, but He is good. This year has been my deepest experience I've ever had of the wildness and danger of God. Lots of people want a tame God, especially when it comes to grief. They want a safe God– one whom they like to think will never allow anything really terrible to happen. And then, when terrible things inevitable do happen, they try to let God off the hook and say that it wasn't really His fault. He didn't do this thing– it was fate, or chance, or evil forces, or randomness. "I could never love a God who would allow x." And I know that most of these people are well meaning and well intentioned towards God. But what they don't realize is that what they're asking for is a tame, safe God– a God who would never do anything that might be painful, a God whom they can always understand– the kind of God, in short, whom they think God really ought to be.

I have had to grapple with this. I have had my own images of a tame God hacked down and been forced to see a more of who God really is– a God who is mysterious, a God whom I don't always understand, a God who is sovereign and does things that make no sense to me. I have come face-to-face with the majestic, decidedly not tame God who declares in Isaiah,
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

I can sit with Job and painfully affirm that it is God who gives and God who takes away. God wounds and binds up; He shatters and He heals. I like the giving part, the binding up and healing part. Am I willing to submit to the taking away? To the wounding and the shattering?

But if He does that, why should I trust Him? If He is not tame and not safe, what hope do we have?

I trust because of the third way C.S. Lewis describes Aslan– not tame, not safe, but good– a goodness seen in staggering clarity on the Cross. If God is really God then it makes sense that not everything He does will make sense to me. He is Infinite and I am finite. He is my Father, I am His child, and even here on earth fathers must do things for their children which, in the mind of the child, make no sense– things that hurt, even. But He is also the God who endured suffering– who took on the penalty for sin in Christ on the Cross– who rescued me from eternal death. He is a Father who shares in the pain He allows. I don't know why God shattered us this way; I don't know why He took away our girls. But I can trust Him because He did not hesitate to Himself be shattered, for my sake. I am willing to trust (and it's been a hard journey to get to this trusting) that the healing will follow the shattering, because I believe in His goodness and what's more, His love for me, and I taste that goodness and love even in the midst of pain. Even as God declares how much higher his thoughts are than the thoughts of man, He is also inviting us:

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price... You shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." 

I give thanks because our sorrow is not without hope; because of God's goodness there is meaning and purpose in our heart-break. Outside of my narrow, finite field of vision where all I can see is the wounding and the shattering, God is crafting a work of unfathomable beauty– beauty which perhaps I will never see in this life. But whenever and however I do see it, I will break forth into singing and clap my hands for the wonder and joy of it.

And this, more than anything else, is why I give thanks this year.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Wasteland

This is how I've come to see it: part of grief is the Wasteland. It's a place of varying landscapes– sometimes it's dry and desolate, scoured. Sometimes it's foggy and grey. Sometimes it's turbulent, lashing with storms, flogged with lightning and hurricanes. Sometimes it's just lonely and quiet– like a dark moor surrounded by forests in the midst of distant mountains. And you sit in the center of that moor feeling the darkness all around you, straining your eyes for a light, just a glimmer to let you know that you're not the only person in this vast emptiness.



What I've realized about the Wasteland: people who have never been in it often don't understand that living there is a necessary, even good, part of grief. Why are you there? they seem to call from tropical paradises, cool sylvan settings, or refreshing oases. It looks terrible over there– come here with us. They don't seem to realize that this desolate, foggy, turbulent Wasteland is now your home. That you belong here much more than you belong in the beautiful peaceful places. That not only can you not just pack up and go, a lot of the time you don't even want to– because it's in the turbulent Wasteland that grief makes sense. Grief doesn't seem to fit into the pristine calmness of the other places. But here in the wild Wasteland it does. In the Wasteland you're free to feel and experience the thousands of things you need to feel and experience to process grief. To try to pack up and leave is to try to hold back the labor pains of grief trying to birth peace into your Wasteland.

What those in the Wasteland need is not for others to try to pull them, comfort them, or coax them out– rather we need people willing to venture into the Wasteland to sit and weep and be silent with us. This is hard. It's scary. It means those people have to be willing to be taught the ways of the Wasteland, and it means we, the inhabitants, must be willing to teach. For those going in voluntarily, it seems crazy. Why come to such a terrible place if not forced to? For those already there, there is risk– what if I teach them the ways of this place and they just run back to the old country as fast as they can?

I honestly think once you've entered the Wasteland, you're never going to go back. The country which at first was so dangerous and frightening becomes familiar, and the carefree quality of the old country begins to look shallow. You start to think that, difficult as it is to be here, and though sometimes you want nothing better than to run screaming as far and as fast as you can, you yet don't truly wish to go back. Then you realize that you'll never fit back in the country from which your grief first evicted you. It is a harsh sentence at first, except for this: there is hope that much of what is ugly in the Wasteland will eventually be transformed. The ruggedness and danger, the jagged rocks and thistles, will gradually, over time, be refined into beauty that was not possible in the old country. I have seen hints of it in my own life. I have the testimony of other inhabitants who entered this wilderness long before I did. The pristine, calm landscape of the old life is gone forever, just as the gates of Eden were barred after the first sin. But there is redemption to be found in the Wasteland beyond Eden, redemption and transformation and above all– hope, hope found on the far side of pain and grief and suffering and loss. Heaven will be greater than Eden.

“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it" not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”         ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Moments

Today I started on the girls' scrapbook.

It was something I intended to do much sooner... almost the first thing I'd planned on, after we got back. But I got caught up making butterflies, and somehow that was what I needed to be doing the most.


Yesterday I went to Michael's and I finally bought the scrapbook. I bought pretty pink and blue and purple scrapbook papers. I bought butterfly stickers and embellishments. Today I went back and bought a paper-cutter. And then this afternoon I finally started– and I managed to work for a few hours, and complete two pages, without thinking too closely about what I was doing.

Because the reality is, I'm making the only scrapbook of my girls I will ever make, with the only photos of them I will ever have.

I have lovely and dear friends who have very lovely babies, and more lovely and dear friends who are expecting babies. Almost every time I get on Facebook I see pictures of adorable, giggling, crying, pouting, eminently kissable babies. They are beautiful pictures. I smile when I see them. But today, starting Livia and Lucy's scrapbook, makes those pictures on Facebook break my heart just a little. All the pink papers and butterfly stickers can't disguise the fact that in those beautiful black-and-white photos I'm putting in the scrapbook, my babies are dead. I will never get to post photos of them in matching outfits and hairbows on Facebook. I will never get to make scrapbooks of them sitting up for the first time, and then walking. There won't be photos of them playing dress-up or finger-painting or eating ice-cream cones with ice-cream dribbling down their fronts. In the only pictures I have, love will always be mingled with grief.

So please, dear friends– everyone blessed with those sweet cuddly babies– don't take it for granted, every time you reach for your camera. I know you already treasure those smiles and pouts and giggles, those new milestones. As you capture a moment that is, remember the hundreds of thousands of women who mourn for all those moments that never-will-be.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ramblings

Did I need a break from writing? I have meant to write multiple times, but either the words got stuck or I got distracted... or I deliberately distracted myself because that's what I do, lately, to give my mind a break. Five months ago the internet was the only activity that could take my mind off how nauseated with pregnancy sickness I was; now I'm using Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 to take breaks from being aware of bereaved motherhood. I don't know if it's silly or heartbreaking or unhealthy... or all three. I haven't played computer games in years; it's like a regression back to childhood or something. An ironic way of mourning the childhood of my girls, maybe? (Except in the many, many memories- that-never-happened with the girls, none involve computer games. Storybooks, yes. Tea parties, yes. Dollhouses, yes. Not computer games) Or perhaps I'm drawn to the roller coasters in the game because it's such an apt metaphor for grief. I keep finding out, over and over, that just as I think I'm finding a rhythm to life in grief, I will be thrown into a barrel-roll and come out dizzy and bewildered and not knowing which way is up.

I went back to Colorado for ten days at the end of August– I went not knowing what to expect and trying not to have any expectations, since grief never is quite what you expect. Multiple friends asked me what it was like to be back: the undercurrent of meaning being, what is it like to be back in the place where your daughters are buried? I didn't know quite what to say. Yes, Livia and Lucy are buried in Colorado Springs, but they didn't die there. (We don't know where we were when they died– something I'm glad of.) They were born there, and their daddy and I got to see them and hold them and cry over them. (But those were beautiful things– privileges which haven't always been given to mothers of stillborn babies, privileges I don't take for granted.) Colorado Springs is the home of my heart– where I grew up, where I met Nate, where we were married. There are thousands and thousands of happy memories and the love for my hometown isn't lessened by experiencing pain there– in fact it is increased. I was listening to Persuasion when I went to Colorado and I think Anne's feelings about Lyme are the same as mine about Colorado Springs: "The last hours were certainly very painful...but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, and nothing but suffering, which was by no means the case..."

Nate had a four-day-weekend even though he was on a TDY so he got to fly down from Vegas and be with me at my parents' house. That Saturday we went to get a headstone in the making for the girls. We had been too exhausted and overwhelmed to do it right after the girls were buried, and I had thought, initially, that perhaps we could order something online. But when I did some research I found out that there's no such thing as an online template for a single headstone for twins, and that it's better to find someone in the same town as the gravesite since local makers usually know all the regulations and permits. (The things I never thought I would have to learn at age twenty-five.) So we went to the one headstone maker's place that was open that Saturday. The husband and wife who own the business were not what I expected– not like the funeral director who had been a young woman who was nice but in a professional, "This is my job and I will do it well," kind of way. The wife was wrinkled and had a quiet reedy voice and she explained the different types of granite and stones very simply and unobtrusively. She also was very helpful in calling the cemetery to find out how big the girls' grave is since we hadn't remembered to bring any paperwork with us. The husband, who makes all the headstones, was kind of other-worldly– I've never met anyone quite like him. He seemed like he belonged in a fairy-tale: he was very short, much shorter than me, with a white shock of hair, and a gentle voice and a way of speaking very unlike the common modern parlance. I suppose being a headstone maker and spending so much time in cemeteries, surrounded by death, might change a person somewhat– but he wasn't gloomy. He was restful. I feel glad to know his hands will be crafting my girls' stone.

I don't know when the headstone will be done– since the husband makes all the stones I'm sure there's quite a line in front of us, but I'm glad we've at least got something commissioned. Besides their names and birthdate the girls' stone is going to have the chorus from Mumford and Sons "After the Storm." I have known that song for years now, but when I listened to it after we came home after the girls were born, I started bawling and later I realized that was what I wanted for their headstone, and when Nate listened to it he agreed. To me it's a picture of the promise of Revelation 21.

There will come a time, you'll see
with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see
what you find there,
with grace in your heart,
and flowers in your hair.


In searching for a picture to put on this post I found a beautiful photo on a professional photographer's website. I just emailed her to ask her if I could use it for a future post if I link back to her website– here's hoping! It's a picture of two little girls in a field of flowers– very close to what I imagine Livia and Lucy to look like, wandering through fields of wildflowers in Heaven, hand-in-hand. I don't generally picture them as babies in Heaven–I'm not sure why. When I remember the few hours I had with them I remember what they looked like, of course, but when I think of them in Heaven I picture two small curly-headed girls. I finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia to Nate very soon after they were born, and I like to think that maybe C.S. Lewis himself will read the books to the girls, since I can't.

It hurts that I have to ask photographers if I can use their photos of little girls. I am so thankful that I do have the photos of after the girls were born– I'm not ungrateful for those. But I wish I got to post growing-up photos along the way like my friends get to with their babies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sometimes

I haven't been sleeping well lately.

Nights are hard, even when the days aren't. Life has limped forward and there are things to think about and do during the day, but after my husband falls asleep at night I am wakeful in a heavy sort of loneliness.

Sometimes I simply can't sleep– no hope, no chance. And generally that's when the sick feeling has moved into my tummy, that physical feeling that is the herald of mental numbness when nothing seems real and nothing seems to matter except the memories of my daughters.

Sometimes I simply have to turn the car around and drive home and go straight to our bedroom and climb in bed to cuddle my girls' bears. My friend was gracious when I texted her today, five minutes before I was supposed to arrive at her house, to tell her I wasn't coming. When you don't make time and space for grief, it will force its way in one way or another. I came home and I lay with the bears and cried, and then I went and looked at all the pictures on my laptop and cried some more.

Oh my girls. My girls. 

Sometimes I am light-hearted. That's different from joy, I know– joy is something I'm still looking for. But light-heartedness is still a small mercy; I am reminded that so very rarely are awful things 100% awful 100% of the time. I read today something about darkness being a backdrop on which God spatters bits of light.

Sometimes nothing seems real except my grief. Nothing feels as if it has meaning except the times I sit down and mourn my daughters through writing or crying or making beauty. It feels as if the most important part of my life is already over.

Sometimes my grief is elusive– it goes into hiding and after a few days I start feeling worried. Where has it gone? Is this it? Is it over? Am I such a heartless mother, then? Why haven't I cried? How can I be acting so normal? Am I forgetting my girls? And then, when grief returns, I greet it almost with relief. It feels like it is my link to my daughters.

Sometimes I am angry with God. Sometimes I am not. I picture the spiritual dimension of my grieving as a snowball rolling down a mountainside. I keep cycling through the same emotions and struggles– anger, depression, hope, fear, raw sadness, waiting. But as I come back to each one, my experience grows a little deeper; wrestling through each one over and over adds more and more layers, just as the snowball grows bigger and bigger rolling down the mountain.

Life is limping, but I guess that's better than when it was crawling. When I was at my worst (so far!), the closest to outright despair I have ever gotten, my dearest Blythe strengthened my sickening soul when she said that all I had to do was to put one miserable foot in front of the other. Limp, stagger, crawl– it is miserable, but it is possible, even when I would rather it was impossible. It is hard work and it is excruciatingly messy– I have never experienced anything so messy as grief– but it is better than the alternative. And so I crawl, stagger, and limp. And sometimes...

Sometimes I can believe that someday my miserable feet will dance again.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Uncensored

It is the rawness of grief that forces us into hiding, I think. My sister said that there is something especially terrible about a child's death that strikes too close to the fears that most people don't want to acknowledge. Losing a child is so far outside how we instinctively feel life should be: it is proof that the worst can happen, and I live in a time and place where no one wants to hear, or see, or witness that the worst can happen. Americans are allergic to evidence of suffering. We are all supposed to be "fine", or at the very least "okay". We don't want to hear that sometimes everything isn't okay. Those of us who aren't fine learn quickly to don the masks; we learn we may not disrupt other people's fine-ness.

I read C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed last night, straight through without stopping. It is the first book that has spoken to my soul since losing Livia and Lucy, and my heart breathed relief upon entering into the raw grief of someone else. Lewis's grief was uncensored– not sanitized, not "Christianized," but intimate– and as messy, I found, as my own. So much of my own heart stares back at me from the pages written by a man who lost his wife almost sixty years ago. Losing your spouse is different from losing your children, I know this, but the mushroom clouds afterwards might look similar.

Lewis knew what it was like to feel alien because of his grief. Perhaps he felt it worse than I do, just because he was a man, and a man living in a culture where men weren't supposed to cry or show deep emotion.
An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll "say something about it" or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don't... Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.
The online magazine Still Standing that I've been following, and some of the other resources for parents who have lost children, are just that– virtual leper colonies, for people like me desperate to hear someone else say, I know. I know. I know what you carry, every single day; I can see what is invisible to everyone else, or what embarrasses them when they do see it. You are welcome here– we won't be embarrassed. We are like you. Is it any surprise that the friend I've been talking to most lost both her parents in her twenties?

I have been avoiding social situations. I have never enjoyed small talk, but now it feels absolutely impossible. There are the people who care, I know, and yet still they teeter between their own embarrassment and mine– theirs at not knowing what to say, and mine at being the cause of their discomfort. And then there are those avoid it all together and say nothing, and that's worse. It feels like a slap in the face– as if the fact that the last time you saw me I was pregnant, and now my baby daughters are dead, is too disruptive to your own little comfort bubble, and you'd rather just not go there, so you'll pretend like they never existed, like none of it ever happened.

We need a manual, a guide– we need the old fashioned rituals of mourning, the rules about the wearing of black and staying out of society for certain periods of time. I thought all that Victorian stuff was silly until now; at least they tried to have some kind of acknowledgement of how grief goes on long after the funeral is over. We modern Americans just stuff it under the rug and say we're fine.

I've learned to absolutely hate the question, "How are you doing?" Unless it is asked by someone very close to me, someone who I know beyond a shadow of a doubt really wants to know– and asked in a quiet place, not in a social situation– it is a bad question to ask. Someone asks me that, and my brain panics. My train of thought is something like this:

How do you think I'm doing? 
My babies died.
How am I supposed to be doing?
What is this person going to expect/want me to say?
...cannot be rude...
Is this the obligatory question which they are uncomfortably getting out of the way and I'm supposed to answer "ok" or "fine" or some other completely nondescript word which will excuse them from further questions or from getting too close to my grief for their own comfort?
Do you mean how am I doing at this exact moment? Or today? Or every day? 
If this person really does want to know, do I want to share? Is this someone with whom I feel safe? 
...possible ways to escape– quickly...
My babies are dead. My heart is broken. Thank you for asking.
I want to avoid all social situations from now on.
... too much hurt... too raw...

And then I mumble, "I'm okay."

I know instead of just venting about the problem I ought to be part of the solution, like this blog post I found: offering grace and alternatives, trying to help educate, to help make aware. I hope someday I can write a gracious post. There's a reason I'm not putting all of these grief-processing posts on Facebook.

But here are some better things to say. Much better than "how are you doing?"

What does your grief feel like today? You know the person is grieving. This takes the burden of acknowledging it off her. It's also specific and much easier to answer than "how are you doing"– and it shows your willingness to enter into her emotions.

Is this a hard day today? Surprise! There are days that are harder than others.

I am praying for you/ I prayed for you this morning/ I will pray for you tonight. Simple, and all the bereaved person has to do is say "thank you."

Is there something specific I can pray for you? Kind, and more intentional than the previous statement.

Is there something special you do to remember Livia and Lucy? Don't be afraid of saying the name(s) of the person your friend lost, especially if she lost a child. As a mama, I love it when someone besides myself says my daughters' names and shows interest in them.

If you are up for it, I would like to get together sometime. I would love to hear about your daughters if you would like to tell me about them. I understand if you're not up for it, though. Don't be offended if the person isn't ready to share or get together. But even if she's not, this lets her know that you want to pursue her whenever she's ready.

I know I don't have the right words, and I know that there are no words that can make your grief less. I just want you to know how sorry I am and that I am mourning with you for Livia and Lucy. 

Any of these questions or statements can let us, the mourners, feel welcomed instead of alienated, invited in instead of kept at a distance. We long to be uncensored, to feel that our grief isn't a curse that people want to shun or a disease that they don't want to catch, but rather a heavy burden which others are willing to help us bear. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Month

The milestones do not go unnoticed, even though Livia and Lucy aren't here on earth to celebrate with.

Today it's been one month since I gave birth to my tiny, perfect twin daughters. For other mamas, one month is celebrated with pictures on Facebook, exclamations of "I can't believe it's been a month already!" or "Look at how big she's getting!"




Well, I can't believe it's been a month already either. But my sweet ones aren't here to measure. In my memories, Livia will always be one pound, and Lucy will be thirteen ounces. Their hands and feet will always be so tiny that my engagement and wedding rings could fit around their wrists and ankles. They will always be even smaller than the little stuffed bears which my dear friend brought to the hospital for them. For me, one month is celebrated by bouquets a sweet friend brought me– with roses in the bouquet for Livia Rose– and talking about their birth, and remembering.

What has surprised my friends to learn is that giving birth to my stillborn daughters was not a horrible or traumatic experience. Eyes have widened as I've tried to express just how much I love remembering my labor and their birth– how beautiful it was, not just in retrospect, but at the time– and how, if I could, I would go back and do it over again in a heartbeat. I can see the puzzled "why?" in peoples' expressions even though they don't give it voice, and I try to explain: giving birth to my girls was the only thing we were ever able to do together as a family. My husband was there, my rock of unrelenting, tender support and love. And together with my mom and sister, we spent the long hours laughing, weeping, breathing through contractions, and giving our girls the best gift we could– a gentle, patient, loving birth.

Because we are a family, and during those hours of labor and birth, we were a family in some way still whole, even though the souls of our sweet girls were already in Heaven. We still got to see our girls, to hold them and cherish them and cry over them. For me, the trauma didn't begin until I had to say goodbye to Livia and Lucy's bodies, the bodies I had carried for twenty-three weeks, the bodies my own body had grown and nurtured.

So yes, I remember, and honor, and celebrate the birth of my daughters. I cherish the remembrance of every detail: the compassionate care of our doctor and nurses; how we all giggled about Nate and my sister Emily and my mother all taking turns napping on the hospital bed (since bed was the last place I wanted to be); how I read the last chapter of The Horse and His Boy out loud at a lickety-split pace because the contractions were intensifying and I wanted to finish the book before they got any worse; how we joked about sabotaging the contraction monitor just to freak the paranoid doctor out; how our wonderful, kind doctor (not the paranoid doctor) called Livia and Lucy by name as I was pushing; how our last nurse had tears in her eyes as she hugged us goodbye; how lightly and easily the girls both rested in my arms after they'd been tenderly wrapped in tiny blankets. How I sobbed over their stillness and quietness. How our photographer smiled at them and called them, "Ladies," as she gently arranged them to take their pictures.

There's something about their birth date, June 24. It's three days before their daddy's June birthday. And I was born on the 24th of September. It is a good birth date for our girls: a little gift from God to bring them even closer, to remind us that they will always be ours.

Nate and I say it often to each other: Livia and Lucy are still our sweet, precious daughters. We are still a family of four.




We are simply separated for a time, and while we wait for reunion, we will remember.






Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Not To Say

She has picture-perfect makeup: magazine cover quality
Her atmosphere is self-assurance and confidence
I don’t know her very well.
Moving briskly to me, saying my name
I am awkward, stiff in her hug
I am that roly-poly beetle, wanting to curl
into a ball, protect myself.
My life is an exposed nerve
silently pleading for the gentlest touch.


She looks at me and matter-of-factly
tramples the wreckage of an already splintered heart
like a hammer coming down on a fractured bone:
"It will be fine. Everything will be fine."

I forget to breathe

bewildered by the well-meaning shattering of it all.

What will be fine?
That my little ones I carried
who nestled and danced beneath my heart
are gone?
That I am a mother who held her babies once, twice–
and never again?
Is fine the Mecca for the grief-stricken?
The Nirvana for the heart-broken?
Is fine what we are to aspire to?

I back away from this lady
who thought she was reassuring
thought to make me feel better
and raked the salt of her confidence into my wounds.

I mumble something I can’t remember later.

My heart wails, snarls–
I am a grizzly mama
with nothing but the memory of my cubs
to protect
to guard
to cherish.

I will never be fine.
I will mourn.
I will cry again and again and 
again.
I will feel empty.
I will learn how to live with the pain
with missing my babies
the hurting and the missing woven into daily life
side by side with joy and peace.
But fine does not exist in this life after their death
I will never be fine.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Borrowed Prayers

I am borrowing prayers.

Right now, prayer is hard. I have had lots of times in my life when prayer has been hard but not like now. When we found out we were having twins, my often-breathed prayers for the health and safety of my babies doubled. Lord, let them be healthy. Keep them safe. When we learned that the babies were our Livia and Lucy, and that their lives were in danger, I learned for the first time in my life what it means to "pray without ceasing." All throughout those three long, difficult days my heart was praying even when my lips were silent. When the doctor in Texas gently told me that our girls had died, the first thing out of my mouth was an involuntary, "Oh, God, no!" It wasn't profanity. It was the anguished cry of my heart before the Lord, pleading for a different outcome than what we'd just been given. That night Nate and I held each other close and listened on the speaker phone as our pastor and his wife prayed with us. My body was already contracting, and at that point all I wanted was to get to Colorado so I could deliver our girls someplace familiar, and with my older sister there. Let me get to Colorado, please, God, was my silent cry through that long night as I moved about the hotel room, exhausted but unable to sleep because of the contractions that came every hour. And then, in Colorado, in a hospital room three days later, with those contractions now coming so strong and on-top of each other that I had only seconds to rally between each one, I clenched Nate's hand and breathed into the pillows, please Jesus, let my water break! Let this be almost over! 

It was almost over. My water did break. Our beautiful daughters were born soon after, and I held them as we all cried.

And my prayers stopped.

Because I had begged God to keep my girls safe, but His definition of safe– safe in His arms, not mine– was not what I wanted. Is still not what I want. And I didn't know what to say. Three and a half weeks later, and most of the time I still don't. For days after returning home to Sumter, I was angry. I knew if I tried to pray, it would turn into lashing out. Accusations. Bitter questions that would get no answer. Why, God?!

I think the anger is over now... perhaps it will return periodically. Perhaps it won't. I'm new to this wilderness land of grief, a country where it feels as if anything is possible, where days start out in sunshine and end in hurricanes, and where peaceful sunsets follow tornadoes. There seems to be only one certainty– Jesus is Lord of this land, too.

And with that certainty, there is comfort, even when it comes to not being able to pray. Somehow, He knows– He understands this stumbling path, and He is patient. I found it strange that even in those moments when I have doubted His goodness, I never doubted His patience with me in my doubt. That's why I've been borrowing prayers. I believe He understands my lack, my inability to use my own words, and He's sending me the words of others to fill my need.

I won't put them all up at once– I'll post them over time. If you are reading this because you are grieving for Livia and Lucy too, or if you are grieving for any other reason, I hope that they speak to you as they have to me, and that in turn you can speak them back to God.

This one came today, unexpectedly. Our pastor asked me if I can play piano for church Sunday after next, so I started looking through my music to pick out an offertory. I played through a few pieces and then, because it was in the same book, through an arrangement of "Be Still My Soul." I wasn't planning on choosing that piece, but when I was done it occurred to me that I didn't know any of the words, so I got online to look them up. When I read them, it was clear to me that this is my offertory, and even clearer that this is a prayer for me and for my heart.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below. 

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away. 

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last. 

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.


Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay/From His own fullness all He takes away

I don't know why He chose to take away. And I don't know how even His fullness, His goodness, can repay what we've lost. But I don't have to know how or why to pray it, again and again, until I learn how to trust it, and believe it, and cling to it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Evening

When evening draws in
So does the ache for what might have been
The day's busyness dwindles
And the ghosts of passed hopes are vivid
realer than reality
What is missing is what I see.

Where are the curly heads
Where are the tiny dresses
Where is the stillness of sleeping babes against my breasts
Barren breasts now whose milk I had to stifle,
to strangle out of existence.

The day fades and I ache
For what should have been
For a world where little ones aren't lost
and a new mama isn't left to spend each night
cuddling close two little teddies
which bear the memory of her daughters' hands.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Invisible Mama

This is what it's like to be a first-time mother of stillborn twin girls–

You carry your motherhood invisibly. It is the secret you wish everybody knew, but don't have the strength to tell. Strangers on the street won't recognize your identity. People you meet will never know you are a mother unless you tell them.


At night you will cuddle the two little bears that are the only objects you have that your daughters ever touched– you will clutch them close to your breasts and ache for the feel of warm soft baby skin nestling there.


You will think constantly about their birth. It is the only gift you were able to give them.

You will weep for every minute you didn't hold them during those short hours with them. You will remember your fear of how fragile they were, the fear of hurting them– and you will yearn for the chance to hold them again anyway, to touch them again, to be with them again. To marvel at their tiny perfection.



Being a mama but not being able to mother your babies is a kind of daily dying– you will wake up every morning with a longing that will go unfulfilled.

You will feel dismay at how quickly your body seems to forget, and you will stroke the soft place in your tummy where your skin stretched to hold your little girls close, remembering the feeling of being so taut and bursting with life. You will never be able to hear the phrase "get your body back after pregnancy" without cringing inside: you long for more scars to carry– more lasting signs of the lives that grew within you.

You will notice when people speak of your babies by their names, and you are grateful. Your girls are not your "Loss". They are your daughters.

The idea of somehow returning to "normal" will be utterly foreign– there is no return, no going back.
The sharpness will soften with time, perhaps, but you know the pain will never disappear this side of Heaven.

The love you have for your girls only grows stronger.


The rest of forever has been changed by the two little girls you carried in your body– and you will carry them the rest of forever in your heart.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Weeping

I have learned a different kind of weeping these last two weeks.




I have learned the broken cry of empty, longing arms, of a shattered heart
The moan of aching, leaking breasts
The keening wail of motherhood deprived.




My husband tells me he will never forget the way I cried when I lay on the ultrasound bed, sixteen short days ago, and I know I will never forget the quiet voice of the Iranian doctor who answered my frightened query with a gentle no– the no that broke us and left us sobbing. And we wept with every parent in the world who has ever lost a child, and we wept our own unique tears for our two unique little girls, Lucy and Livia.




The crying goes on long after the sobs subside and the tears cease, long after the breasts dry up and the belly shrinks, long after all that there is to be done is done and you are left with... nothing left to do. The weeping continues, your heart bleeding out your love and hurt. My girls are safe in the arms of God but I am walking the valley of the shadow of dead dreams.




I wonder if you get used to feeling empty.

And I weep.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Double!

My heart has been thumping loud the past couple months. The increase of blood volume that comes with pregnancy has turned my body into a giant pulse– I can feel my heartbeat in my temples, my feet, my belly, in just about any part of me where I apply pressure. It is my heart working overtime to nourish the Life nestled inside of me.

But what about when that Life doubles?

My heart thumped hard at the ultrasound on Tuesday as the screen flickered with different images– blobs indecipherable to the untrained eye. The ultrasound technician was silent, gazing intently at the screen, her hand moving the probe in a magic incantation over my belly. The Pilot and I were silent, waiting for her to say something– like neophytes waiting for the oracle, or apprentices waiting for the magician to decipher the runes that flickered gray on the screen.

She stirred at last. "Well, Miss Meredith," she said, slowly (and I thought irrelevantly how long it's been since someone called me "Miss"), "There... are..."

–and absurd as it sounds, with the utterance of those two words, in that quarter of a second before she completed the sentence, I knew– because I'm a grammar nut, and in that nano-second my brain said, Wait. If she was going to tell us the sex, she would say "It is". "There are" is plural, it can only be followed by a plural predicate– and so when her sentence ended it was as if my throbbing heart thumped out "two of them" right along with her. 

Two babies!

I think the first words were, "Oh my goodness!" followed by "Really?" or "Are you sure?" or something like that. My legs started shaking from the shock and the adrenaline. Incredulity, followed by amazed, terrified joy– we looked at each other and laughed.  (Everyone we have told has laughed. There is something so beautiful and joyful and ridiculous about two babies, the human response is jubilant laughter.) The ultrasound tech then began explain the indecipherable blobs, and magically they weren't blobs any more– they were our babies, wiggling and stretching and bouncing away. There was our daughter down by my cervix, only too happy to twist and turn and display herself for the probe (will I have trouble, someday, with teaching the two-year-old version of her to keep her dress skirt down?) There was the other baby, content to hang out at the top left of my belly curve, willing to give us an excellent profile, but keeping its gender stubbornly secret. Is that stubbornness a little boy's refusal to cooperate, or merely feminine modest shyness? Time will tell!

Two babies!

Dreams, fears, excitement, worries, joy, anxiety, all of it doubles, even as my blood has doubled and my swollen belly will double to keep these little ones nestled safely under my thumping heart. 


Our mystery baby's profile. If you tilt your head to the right and remember that the little peak on top is the nose, you can sort of get a sense that it's a baby and not just a blob! Baby Girl looked right at the camera for us, but the photo came out too blurry to be copied. Better luck next time!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dry Spell



No, I didn't give up on this blog. Nor, I find, can I give up on writing. Sometimes I wish I could– life would be so much easier, my mind so much more peaceful, without that nibbling, nagging, quietly persistent and infuriating little ghost that haunts the dry spells whispering but what about writing? Yet I must be reluctantly grateful for those whispers, because they're honestly the only thing that give me some kind of surety, after these long silences, that I really am supposed to pursue this craft, however clumsily, however unfaithfully. Because that little ghost just never gives up– it is meant to be there, perhaps. I'm beginning to believe more fully that it was put there by the Hand that crafted me, and thus I shouldn't ignore it.



I've had lots of dry spells in my writing life. (Ha! what a phrase! What a mixture of pomposity and wishful thinking! I type the two words and I'm immediately confronted by the shades of those writers I most admire saying, "You, have a writing life? Don't claim that until you've earned it, young lady!") But I've never had a dry spell quite like these past few months– because I've never been pregnant before. And now I am– four months, actually, and still blinking over this belly which has expanded rapidly in the past few weeks. So, being pregnant and all, I'm armed with an absolutely perfect excuse for this particular dry spell– pregnancy sickness! (I refuse to call it "morning sickness" since it was in no way limited to mornings. If only!) What better reason for not writing than being sick for weeks and weeks– constantly nauseated, sweaty, unwashed, unable to get out of bed– unable, indeed, to do most of the things which we are accustomed to considering "normal." I didn't even read very much, and when I did it was the simplest of fare– children's books which I knew so well already that reading them was like sipping broth, nourishing but easy to digest. Anything more complex, any books that might have challenged me to look philosophically or spiritually at my unpleasant circumstances– well, my mind responded to those with the same revulsion as my stomach responded to certain foods. It wasn't philosophy or theology that solaced me– rather, the internet was my brain's best friend. The internet served me easy, entertaining information dispensed in highly digestible bytes, lowering my intellect, but distracting me from how miserable I was feeling.

Still. Now that I've been on the mend for about a month, and feeling nearly back to my old self for a couple of weeks, I start to question and regret. Was it really pardonable for me to fall silent? When will I learn to persist through difficulty? When will writing no longer be the first thing I jettison when the chaos of life inevitably disrupts the calm? I like to imagine that someday, not too many years from now, I will somehow arrive at that point when writing is a companion in distress, a solace in difficulty, instead of feeling like just another one of the difficulties. That writing, like prayer, it will be something I instinctively move towards rather than away from when the waves rock the boat.

And then I remember that sometime in October a little someone is going to arrive and turn upside down this life of the Pilot and mine, and then, I ask myself, how realistic is it to expect to keep at it? Can motherhood and writing really mix? I read some of Madeleine L'Engle's journals and according to her it can. But how do I know if I've got whatever Madeleine L'Engle had? Or is that the wrong question to be asking?

Well. I hope it's not a negative indication of the kind of mother I'm going to be that my first public blog post while pregnant is not about pregnancy but writing. And I have a feeling that I shall be wrestling with writing and motherhood for many years down the road. Perhaps that's as it should be. Perhaps there's never a point when you stop wrestling– or if you do, if you wrestle your way through to some sort of peace, you walk with a limp ever after.

P.S. If you are wondering why I write so much about writing, and why I've not written much about pregnancy: here's a picture just for you! :-) I promise there will be some pregnancy posts along the way! 




Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter!

The Pilot and I spent the first eighteen months of our marriage living in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then in Phoenix, Arizona. That eighteen months commenced in January of 2012, and aside from one day in Wichita Falls when I remember a slushy rain falling, we didn't get much in the way of winter. 

Seven months ago, we moved to South Carolina. I didn't expect much winter– after all, it is The South, the place where people go to get away from winter– but I confess I did hope for a little bit. The changeless season of summer in Phoenix got on my nerves, especially when we had to turn the air conditioning on on the day we bought our Christmas tree. I mourned the donning of shorts in March and flip-flops even earlier. I didn't mind the sun– I grew up in Colorado Springs, which is notoriously sunny– but I longed for cold. Just a little bit of winter, please?

As our first Sumter autumn drew to a close, the Pilot warned me not to expect too much. Winter in The South meant lots of dreary, rainy days, he said. It would be colder than Phoenix had been, of course, but don't get your hopes up about snow. It doesn't snow in South Carolina, he said.

I don't believe him any longer. Because this is what it looks like outside our front window today:


And this is what our house looked like exactly two weeks ago:



Needless to say, I am delighted. Not only does that make two snows for our first Sumter winter, last week the Pilot and I went to Colorado to visit my family, and Colorado Springs obligingly met us with three days of snow (not to mention a couple days following with temperatures well below zero!)

So I got to bask in this:

















I am not an Eskimo, nor do I have any desire to live in Siberia or even Michigan, but honestly, I love a nice snowy day in the winter. Particularly when, like today, the roads are so bad that the base is closed and the Pilot gets to stay home from work, and going anywhere is out of the question. Everything is cozy, and we're reading The Silver Chair to each other, and we'll have the Olympics on in the evening. I have crockpot applesauce cooking and I'm going to make soup for supper, and I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Granted, our house is not a log cabin and I'm very thankful for electricity and running water and insulation– but it's fun to have a snow day.