When I read those eight bright blue letters after peeing on a stick, PREGNANT, I was expecting fear. Everything about my first child has been easy (that’s not true – I loathe potty training), but for some reason I have harbored a growing apprehension about having another baby. I was heavy with caution as I read that word, but what I actually felt in the moment was overwhelming thanksgiving for this opportunity to carry a soul. Hope replaced my fear. Tears did come. And through them, a smile I couldn’t wipe away and praises I couldn’t keep in.
Thank you for this life, Lord. Thank you for this baby, Lord. Thank you for this opportunity to hold a soul. You are good, Lord.
They say you should be cautious in those first twelve weeks. That a lot can happen and you should keep your happy little secret to yourself. But God made my cup overflow with joy and hope when he was knitting me together 32 years ago. I cannot let caution steal that joy or fear crowd out that hope. We did keep this baby a secret, mostly just because it was fun to have something only we knew about. I did not keep quiet out of caution or fear. There was abundant joy in the keeping of this secret.
Because this life, this soul, it deserves to be met with joy. It deserves to be anchored in hope.
As I sat in the waiting room after my slow walk to the office that day, I could feel myself clutching my hope for this baby too tightly. I wasn’t resting in it anymore. Fear started to creep back in.
There are very few times when nausea is welcome. In the first trimester of carrying a soul, it’s sickening if the nausea goes away.
I had been anxiously waiting for the day when my jeans would feel too tight, but they continued to zip up easily. I spent a few weeks exhausted the moment after I put my three-year-old down for her nap, but as my nausea went away my energy returned. I wanted to hurl that energy away from me, screaming “I don’t want this! I want this energy to be going towards growing this baby!” I wanted the mention of a particular food – any food – to suddenly sound repulsive, but my appetite remained normal. I didn’t want normal.
I craved the discomfort that told me my baby was comfortable.
Anxiety welled as I tried to find a relaxed position on that stiff tissue papered table, waiting for the ultrasound screen to light up. I knew my body was now only carrying a body. That the soul had gone to be with our Father who I was desperately asking to hold me while that grainy image appeared on the screen.
“Do you see that flicker?”
“There’s a heartbeat?” I heard more skepticism in my response than joy.
“That’s the heartbeat.”
Something in her tone wasn’t confident and while I wanted to believe her, I didn’t. I wanted to see that bright flicker confirming my baby’s heartbeat. I lied and told her I did. Maybe if I said it out loud, I would see it.
The silence was too long. I knew.
“I thought I saw a flicker. I’m sorry, but I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
I nodded silently as the tears finally came, confirming what I already knew. There’s only one heart beating on this table right now.
I started asking questions and I could tell they didn’t make any sense.
“Would you like to get dressed and I can give you some time to collect your thoughts?”
Yes, that is what I wanted. She left and I robotically pulled my still perfectly fitting jeans over my hips and tried my best to collect my thoughts, as if these racing thoughts could be picked up and tidily put back in place.
When she opened the door I was met with compassion, gentleness, sensitivity, and the list of “I have to say this” statements.
This is actually quite common.
There’s nothing you could have done differently.
I’m so sorry.
I know. I know. I know.
My legs carried me outside and I was met with signs of life — of hope — everywhere. The sun shone boldly — both in the bright blue sky and on the faces of everyone walking around. The tree branches that just last week were bare were now starting to grow heavy with springtime buds. The pregnant bellies bumped past mine. This doesn’t make sense. Why isn’t the sky sullen? Why isn’t everyone walking around with their eyes cast toward the ground? Were there this many pregnant women on my walk here?
I stood frozen for a moment outside the door. I walked half a block towards Central Park, then turned around and paced back towards the doctor’s office. I picked up the phone and left a quick message for my husband to call me as soon as his patients left. On the sixth or seventh pace, he called back. He already knew what to expect from my shaky voice on the message.
“The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat.” I tried to hide my wet face and red eyes behind the phone, but that screen isn’t quite big enough. In this city, we do life together. We can’t run to the parking lot and cozy up within the four walls of our car to cry. We process this life with 8 million other people.
I couldn’t imagine walking home and greeting my joy-filled daughter in that moment. I needed to wait until my husband was home to soften that greeting for me, but I didn’t know where to go. I remembered that I had a pen and paper in my bag, so I found a quiet coffee shop and sat down to write. My New York City version of four walls to hold me in as grief replaced my joy.
I naively thought I was immune. Somehow protected or hidden. I thought I could keep my role as the shoulder to cry on. The listening ear. The sender of “thinking of you” texts and maker of “just checking in” calls. I am still angry that I was forced to switch roles. That now I’m the crier – the sad story teller. The receiver of “thinking of you” texts and “just checking in” calls.
“I’m so sorry, Jodie.”
“This isn’t fair.”
“God has a plan for you and your family.”
I’ve been there too. I’ve uttered those statements. But this is what I really wanted to hear. No advice. No counseling.
Just this. “I love you friend. And even though I just found out about this baby, I love the little one and am so sad we won’t get to meet him/her.”
We. I’m not grieving by myself. With that short, loving text, my friend met me in my grief. She entered in to this raw place with me, even if just for a moment.
I know my friends and family love my three-year-old. I know they delight in her and enjoy her kind heart and witty personality. So I know that if this baby’s heart were still beating, they would be giddy at the thought of meeting this little one. All I want now is to know that I’m not the only one who loves this baby. We’re so sad we won’t get to meet him/her. Yes, they’re sad for me, but I’m sad for all of the people who love this baby too. I want to know I’m not alone in my grief. I want to know I’m not alone in loving this soul.
I believe that the life I held was to be met with joy at the sight of those eight letters standing proudly on a stick — PREGNANT. So I have to be willing to meet it with sorrow at those eight softly spoken words — “I’m sorry, but I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
I know that the God who knit me together with a soul always brimming with joy is with me while I grieve, for as long as it takes. So I’m walking in this grief. I’m not sitting in it and I’m not rushing ahead of it. In a way, I’m welcoming this grief to stay as long as it needs to stay.
In this grief, I’m choosing not to look forward for a minute. I’m choosing not to look at the good that might come quite yet. I’m choosing not to try to see the bright side of this pain right now. I’m choosing to let this grief be felt fully. Because the God I love, the God who I believe is holding my baby’s perfectly healed and whole body as I type this, He knows grief. And He doesn’t tell me to push it away in order to heal.
Grief does not negate hope. It doesn’t change the fact that I was created with joy. Grief and hope can walk side by side, like good friends. Sometimes one friend is in the season of sharing while the other just listens. Right now, it’s Grief’s turn to talk. To be known, to be listened to and held and sat with.
Hope does not get up from the table.
Hope is what allows grief to be raw and vulnerable.
Hope is what my grief is held in.
So through grief and in hope, I still say: Thank you for this life, Lord. Thank you for this baby, Lord. Thank you for this opportunity to hold a soul. You are good, Lord.
Guest post written by Jodie Toresdahl. Jodie is a Montana girl at heart living her dream life in New York City with her husband and daughter, who both love adventure has much as she does. Most days she can be found out exploring the city, iced coffee in hand, chocolate on her mind, and her daughter either racing ahead or walking ever so slowly behind. She writes about raising a child in the city, learning from the thousands of encounters with people she gets there, growing through the discomfort of transition, and seeing what God teaches her through it all at www.bigskytobigapple.com