Note to the reader: I wanted to publish this on Mother's Day, but I couldn't. Perhaps it is even more fitting to come a few days after. Because, as you will soon read, my introduction to motherhood really was a day late and a dollar short. I don't pretend for one second that I am alone in this journey, or that my experience is the way it turns out for someone else. I am painfully aware of many dear ones who have a completely different ending. All I know is that this is my story; I own it completely.
Two pink lines on a stick. That’s typically how the journey to becoming a mom starts. Actually it starts before that, but it’s safer to just move forward from the stick.
Most women dream of how they will feel when, after what can only be described as eternity, the results of the test grow positive, and life changes in all the ways we talk about and all the ways we don’t. I was certainly no exception to this.
I felt every early pregnancy symptom from the get-go with great gusto, so two pink lines weren’t all that surreptitious for me. I might even be the only woman alive who was actually excited about feeling dizzy, nauseous, and basically horrible for weeks on end. With every hundred yard dash to the bathroom, I truly celebrated the miracle inside. My baby. My very first baby.
Like utter shameless fools, Mel and I brought recording devices to our standard eight week ultrasound. We had rung the bells from coast to coast, telling anyone and everyone who would listen about our precious little one. We just knew that Tuesday morning that our happiness could only grow and grow, much like my already busted-out blue jeans. And then it happened. One phrase, one sentence, one final word that changed everything for me about being a mother. Our baby had died the week before. There would be no June full-term delivery.
While I was still puking, my baby was dying. While I was still feeling dizzy from the hormones and dizzy from the sheer delight of knowing I was pregnant, my baby was dying. While I cried tears of joy, my baby breathed his last. A million questions rapid fired through my mind as I tried to take hold of what Dr. Jordan had said. The only thing I knew was that I was doing nothing else. There would be no D & C; there would be no help from the hospital; there would be nothing else. Mel and I left in separate cars to return to a house that was already getting ready for a baby, now a baby we could never bring home. The irony was taller than the silhouette of Pikes Peak from our bedroom window.
The days and weeks after the terrible news moved along in slow motion. Worship songs blasted on repeat from every corner of the house. Wonderful friends brought food, cleaned my bathroom, and washed my dishes…all without saying a word yet saying everything I needed to hear. I spent hours curled up in a fetal position on my bed, talking to my Mom across the country, wishing and praying for my baby to still be curled up alive and kicking within me.
Every few weeks I returned to the doctor. Another blood draw. Another test. It was the same every time. My baby was no longer living, but my body was slow in realizing that it could shut down the pregnancy show. For four solid weeks after the ultrasound that said too much, I still felt very pregnant. The waiting was long and lonely. I believed that I would go into labor when I was ready, and no one else was going to take my baby from me.
On a snowy night in December, I put on my party dress and my make up. My company was hosting our annual Christmas Banquet, and I needed to feel normal, like I wasn’t a still pregnant wife with a still dead baby inside. And so, Mel and I trudged along, plastering on our smiles, determined to enjoy the evening.
While beautiful Christmas carols resounded in the distance, one in particular jumped out of the speakers and plunged straight into my soul. The beautiful voice crooned of Mary’s imminent agony, of how we must remember the trauma wrought in bringing our Savior into the world. And then it happened. With every ear fixated on the sounds of Emmanuel, my own labor pains erupted. Through my tears and silent screams, I endured the rest of the show. And when, finally, we walked through our front door, I took off my mask and fully leaned in to the pain.
All night long, I stretched and I cried. I broke and I wailed. Surely the neighbors must have thought someone was dying inside. And I was. And he did. Alone with my husband, in the stillness of the night, our baby was born. Not in a hospital to smiling nurses and doctors and an exhausted Momma. In a bathroom, in grief, in finality, our baby emerged.
In a closet tucked away from prying eyes and hearts that can’t bear the pain, the box sits and keeps me company. Books on death and dying, pictures of children running free in Heaven, and a couple of fuzzy ultrasound photos. That’s my memory box of my first child. There are no hopes and dreams inside; those floated away on a sterile examining table. And yet, they do live on.
Praise be to the One Who never leaves us on any spot on our journey. Surely He walks even closer when the crevices deepen, and the pebbles begin to slide off the mountain as we gingerly take a few steps forward. The One Who gives and takes away continues to give back more. Always more.
My first child, whose real name is known only to His Heavenly Father and to Mel and me, entered Heaven a bit before we were ready. One day Christian G. will lead his Momma to the throne of Jesus, the very place his Momma is desperately seeking to bring his brother and sister to, as well. Someday, I will tell Gary and Joelle of their brother, the one who came first but didn’t come home. And we will laugh. Oh, how we will laugh at all the joy Jesus left in his place, the place that is filling up around our family table.
This essay was inspired by Lisa-Jo Baker's book, Surprised By Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom.