As I get older, I realize that life is much messier than I once anticipated.
Over twenty years ago, my husband and I felt ready to start a family. The experiences of friends as well as the narratives told through television and movies created my expectations of that season of life. How often does media tell a story involving miscarriage, infertility, stillborn, or SIDS? How many stories are shared by older women to their younger female relatives regarding their own painful moments of losing a baby?
When painful realities are hushed, we are all affected.
Although it took longer than expected, I conceived my first child in less than a year. I suppose in some ways, my naivety lessened my anxiety. I didn’t realize the likelihood that a full term, smooth pregnancy was not guaranteed. Fortunately, I gave birth to a small but healthy son six days early.
Of course those early days presented much differently than what I imagined. Sleepless nights, limited free time, juggling work and time at home created an exhausting rhythm to my days. But we cherished the life we had been given; marveling at his developmental milestones. We loved our expanded family.
When my son was eighteen months old, we began conversations of adding another child. Since conception took several months previously, we assumed that pregnancy this time would not happen quickly. However, to our surprise, I discovered baby number two was on its way after only three months.
I shared the exciting news with close friends and family. Although, I was only a few weeks pregnant, I had no reason to believe anything could could go wrong. I made an appointment to confirm it with my doctor. I went alone since I assumed the visit would proceed as planned. There was no need for my husband to take time off of work.
But, my assumptions were quickly shattered.
As my doctor spoke, I struggled to absorb his words. “I don’t see anything here.”
This is not what I expected. He mentioned the slight possibility that the embryo may not have developed enough to see. My mind attempted to cling to this thread of hope.
In these days before cell phones, I picked up the pay phone in the lobby and called my husband. The tears began falling. Hard. My voice, barely audible, attempted to explain what I had just been told. “They can’t see it,” I muttered through my cries.
I don’t remember my husband’s response. But I do know that neither of us were prepared for this moment or what was to come.
Initially, thinking that it was a blighted ovum, I was scheduled for a D&C. Thankfully, the procedure appeared uneventful physically. Emotionally, I was still trying to reconcile my hopes with reality. At least my husband and I could return home to confront our grief and seek refuge in God’s healing arms.
A few days later, as I began moving about to the familiar rhythms of my days, the phone rang. My doctor spoke on the other end; my pregnancy was not yet over. The results of the D & C indicated that my body was holding an ectopic pregnancy.
Shock. Confusion. Fear.
I had read about ectopic pregnancies. I knew their implications: in addition to the loss of a baby there was a very real threat of life to the mother. Fortunately, my life did not appear in Jeopardy yet. Therefore, Methotrexate was chosen as the treatment.
A few days later, I found myself receiving the injection on my hip via a large needle. The physical pain was secondary to the pain my hurt felt as I realized i was choosing to officially end the life of this child. It’s quite possible that the embryo had stopped developing already. But, the guilt hung on my shoulders.
That summer became a blur of twice weekly blood draws, grief, death, physical side-effects, and stress between my husband and I. Yet, I continued to try to speak life into my toddler.
Fortunately, I became pregnant again. Despite my fears surrounding the first few months, I had no difficulties while waiting for the arrival of this baby. Again, six days early, I delivered a healthy baby girl.
We enjoyed the changing dynamics of our family. We had a son and a daughter. The days were filled with finding moments of joy amidst the chaos. But I felt our family was not complete. My husband and I bantered for several months over the size of our family.
Eventually, we decided to try one more time. In what appeared to be a cruel twist of irony, we discovered that once again an ectopic pregnancy was confirmed. How could this happen again?
Despite the familiarity with the routine involved in the treatment, our hearts broke again. Dreams and hopes dashed in an instant. Guilt resurfaced. Would a third child ever become a reality?
In response to this situation, my doctor suggested that I be tested in order to discover what may be causing the ectopic pregnancy. Dye would be inserted into my fallopian tubes while he watched it on a monitor. Any blockages would be apparent.
No one could have prepared me for the results.
Despite carrying two full-term pregnancies, I was born with a condition called Unicornuate Uterus. In common terms: half of a reproductive system. Truthfully, most women with this condition, cannot carry a baby full term. Furthermore, pregnancy itself is a long shot. Not to mention that being deaf and possessing only one kidney are often associated with it as well. Finding out your body’s idiosyncrasies as an adult when you have had no symptoms creates a bit of a surreal feeling.
The grief of losing two children is real. The memory doesn’t disappear. In fact, sometimes, I think that my body’s memory is all too aware that there should be two other children in my sphere. Often, when I’m rounding up my children as we prepare to leave, I feel an inner sense that two are missing.
Flicks of pain surface once in a while. Yet, mixed in to the sadness, gratitude finds itself. My husband and I recognize that the three (yes, we tried again after much prayer and conversation) children we have are a gift. We don’t deserve Seth, Lena, and Eli more than any other people longing for their own. We have no answers explaining the mystery of God’s ways.
But we are thankful for what we have been given. And that is how we find gratitude in the midst of grief.