Sticks and Stones

It was the second miscarriage that got me most. Not the first, and arguably most surprising loss. Not the fourth and little known loss. No, it was the one in the middle, the anniversary miscarriage. That’s the one that nearly undid me.

My first pregnancy met me in a state of total naiveté. I believed I would have a healthy baby as much as I believed I wouldn’t get hit by a bus that day or diagnosed with Ebola. Things could go a different route, sure, but it was highly, highly unlikely. So nine weeks in, when I dashed off the patio at a summertime birthday party and headed to urgent care, I was completely caught off guard. Everything about bleeding and cramping and emergency room ultrasound machines—“These aren’t as good as the one upstairs. Hang on a minute ma’am; we’re so sorry; we are going to get you taken care of; you know this happens all the time—everything about it was shocking.

But I wasn’t devastated yet.

My fourth pregnancy came upon us suddenly, unexpectedly but welcome, like a friend who calls to say, “Hey I’m in town can we meet up?” But what they actually mean is they are getting off on your exit while they talk. My baby daughter was only eleven months old, her first birthday party still weeks away. We weren’t even trying. We had planned to wait at least six more months. But a pink line is a pink line and seven of them are really not kidding, so there I was, pregnant in the final days of winter. Little life number four.

I was pregnant only eight days. Long enough to have two names picked out, but quick enough the news only needed to make a short trip. We sent the sad text to two people. “It wasn’t meant to be” felt true for maybe the first time ever. “Next time” felt right too.

But that second pregnancy. I am still recovering.

Maybe it was the uncanny timing of it all that broke me so thoroughly; I learned I was pregnant on July 15 two years in a row. And August 21, two years in a row, I found out with graphic clarity, I was pregnant no longer. That could be it. Whatever the reason, I can be minding my own business, painting my nails or stirring dinner, and the memories will pounce. I’ll hear the sound of the doctor’s voice and see the way her pursed lips twisted when she leaned in to inspect the ultrasound.

“Hmm.” She said. “Maybe baby is just small.”

I’ll remember leaving the formal ultrasound days later, still startled by the coldness of the tech who’d examined me, and walking to my car wondering if my baby was floating dead inside me (again). On the way home I passed on a coffee stop as a tiny demonstration of hope for the maybe just small baby. I see myself driving to a meeting at work the Monday after that ultrasound. The doctor called with the results ten minutes into my drive. She said the words, “Hi there,” but with a tone like “Hang in there,” and then she said a bunch of sentences that began with the word sorry. And I just kept saying, with a steady unwavering voice, “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s okay Doctor Carter, it’s fine.” Like she was coming late to a dinner party. Like she’d forgotten the wine.

It was not fine. I made it to the meeting. I made it through the meeting. And then I cried so forcefully on my trip home that I had to pull over on the freeway to steady my own thundering body.

That’s when I started visiting a doctor named Google with alarming frequency. That’s when I started losing weight without trying. (It is only now, four years later, that I understand with a broken heart oft comes a loss of appetite; it being cliché makes no difference.) I had a strong marriage, a decent mortgage, and a body that until that point had always come through. I’d known feasting.

Now I’d know famine.

I survived on hempseed granola bars and black coffee. I didn’t really eat again until our son came. Our first adoption class took place at a hospital three weeks after that second miscarriage.  Ridley was finally in our arms a year later. He made me a mom. He made me very hungry.

That first Easter with Ridley I had a sixteen-month distance between me and miscarriage. And for each one of those sixteen months, we’d tried not to get pregnant so as not to jeopardize our adoption. Our son was home, though. And it was time for an ancient meal: Passover.

Our Bible study hosted a Seder in my friend Frankie’s backyard. There were a bunch of us, maybe thirty adults, and because of some last-minute guest-list changes and some poor calculations done inside a wine store, we ended up celebrating Jesus, the true Passover, with about three bottles of wine per person.

If you follow the traditional Seder practice with fidelity you will end up pouring four glasses to the brim (the brim!) with red wine. And in a span of an hour at most, before the meal is served, you will be instructed to drink two of them. Quickly. Every drop. Then you’ll eat. If you’re paying attention you’ll hydrate over dinner. (I can think of four people who paid attention at our Seder.) Then you’ll drink two more. Hebrew style. To the brim. Quickly. Every drop.

Four glasses of wine, less than three hours, no food at the start . . . When I walked into the house to grab more candles someone was dancing by herself in the middle of Frankie’s office. More than a few people dropped trough and peed into in his backyard (and we are ever thankful for large trees and an old shed that gave them the privacy they failed to seek). There was lots of giggling and accidentally loud whispering, and at one point I leaned into my husband and said, “Whoopise daisy, I think I’m a little drunk.”

It will forever be one of my favorite dinners ever. Not just because I’d never seen my friend Jenny tipsy before or because two people brought extra dessert, leaving us with so much cheesecake we had to sneak some into people’s cars to get rid of it.

 It will forever be one of my favorite dinners because it was where I learned to laugh at death. That’s what we were really doing, after all. Underneath the wine surplus, the cake surplus, and the lamb Erica cooked to perfection, we were raising glasses filled to the brim with deep red wine to remember this: we were once slaves in Egypt, our babies were drowned, our babies were slaughtered, frogs and fire rained from the sky, we thought we’d perish in the promised land and all we asked for was a King.

I read once that Peter, the apostle of Christ-denying infamy and a regular Passover attendee, would have grown up hearing the story of the warrior King to come. His stick of choice was a sword and he would have been waiting for his chance to use it.

Peter knew a little something of the hopeful anticipation I felt holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand. He would have understood why I clutched the vanishing certainty of those fifteen-dollar sticks. For unto us a child is (will be!) born. A dream is (must be!) realized. A heart’s desire (has to be!) made flesh.

For all the control sticks and swords promise us, it’s remarkable how much of it they take. Peter wanted the type of king he’d spent his youth imagining. Someone to overthrow the Roman Empire. I wanted the baby I was sure my body could sustain. Someone who couldn’t be taken from me. It’s frightening how much these dreams begin to control us.

We’d learn this, Peter and me. The hard way.

Despite all the warnings from Jesus Himself, Peter wasn’t expecting Him to die. And when Jesus was sacrificed, Peter had far more than the proverbial rug pulled from under his feet. He had the very narrative upon which he’d built his life destroyed, ripped from him, removed farther than any stick, no matter how sharp, could reach and remedy.

The wine and celebration and laughter of meals gone by, it was in vain. Passover wasn’t reality. I’m sure Peter believed this for a time. Because despite all the time spent shoulder to shoulder with God, when Jesus was killed, Peter wasn’t expecting death to die.

So my favorite story about Peter is not the one where he walked on water. It’s the one where he ran toward death. He had enough shards of hope left to believe that maybe death was doomed: A man of sticks and swords and certainty became a man running toward a rock.

And while another disciple may have outrun him, it was Peter who was first willing to enter the tomb where Jesus’ body should have been.

I want to learn to run like Peter.

I want to run toward the call that death has passed away. Even now. Even after three vanishing pregnancies and one D&C and the indisputable knowledge that sticks can break my heart; I don’t think it’s too late for me to become a woman who answers the call of the rolled away stone.

At a Seder in a backyard in springtime, among candles and crabgrass and people peeing and friends, I laughed at death and hopelessness and the notion that “this is it.”

Four months later I found myself praying that God would make my heart reckless so that the fear that threatened to swallow me might be kept at bay. God did me one better. He gave me a reckless heart and starving legs hungry to run.

Four pregnancies, two beautiful babies, and all the heartache and blood. Would you believe that I am ready to remember the rolled-away stone when I hold the next pink stick? No matter how I feel or what sense I have or what my untrustworthy gut tells me might be wrong, I am going to spend every second of every next time charging toward the God of empty graves.

Watch me run.

Run with me.