Nine months empty

I am nine months not-pregnant.

Nine months ago, I found out I was incubating life, expecting what my husband and I hoped would be our third child. Six months ago, that ended. Life is now a (guilt-free) glass of wine with dinner, nights of mostly uninterrupted sleep, making plans for the get-away we are taking next week to Joshua Tree. When I see friends with burgeoning bellies, I’m sad, but not despondent.

It hasn’t always been this way.

They say one in four women will experience miscarriage. For me, the numbers sink in most when I’m filling forms at the doctor’s office. Number of known pregnancies? Five. Living children? Two.

….

The first was six years ago. My husband and I decided it was time to start our family and, after four months of trying, I was slightly apprehensive—friends had struggled with infertility and we lived, at the time, in an East Asian city without the full resources of modern Western medicine. The non-profit for which we worked did not cover infertility treatment and our non-profit paychecks provided no margin for extra expenses.

It was with relief that I saw a faint second line appear on the pregnancy test I took after my period was about a week late. Then, two days later, I took another pregnancy test, this one negative. I was confused. Shortly after that, my period started, longer and heavier than usual. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but internet searches showed I had most likely experienced what is known as a chemical pregnancy: a very early miscarriage that takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound. I wasn’t deterred, feeling a bit melancholy but mostly grateful to know my body could conceive. I shared the experience with a few friends (who hadn’t even known we were trying), but assured them my main feeling was excitement for the pregnancy I felt was in my future.

A few months later, I dropped my sister, who had come to visit, at the airport. I also had a flight to catch, and while I was there, took another pregnancy test in a crowded public restroom. It was positive. So was the next one. That night I would tell my husband. I was joyful, but overwhelmed by the changes parenthood would bring. After a few weeks we told our families, but no one else. I began to feel nauseous, and complained about the indignities pregnancy visits on the bodies of women. I exercised, ate carefully, and then one day, while I was FaceTiming a friend in the States, started to cramp. I hadn’t told her I was pregnant, but made excuses and quickly got off the phone. The blood was bright and there was lots of it. My husband, the eternal optimist, told me (and himself) that it would be fine. It wasn’t.

My heart broke. Was there something wrong with me? Two in a row can’t be normal. (Surprise: it’s not abnormal, doctors refer to it as “bad luck.”) Still, I was hopeful. But my body had other plans, and what followed was nearly a year and a half of fertility struggles.

I’ll skip that part. Suffice to say: it sucked, and I cried (a lot) when friends told me they were pregnant, when I looked at FaceBook, when I attended baby showers. I was happy for them, but my heart ached. I wasn’t at all sure things would work out the way I hoped, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the deep sadness and dissonance of my uncertainty. I also felt guilt over my previous ambivalence to the experience of pregnancy: I’d take all that, every bit, with joy–if only it ended in a child.

When I did finally become pregnant again, my main emotion was terror. What if it happened again? Why bother to hope when the simple fact of pregnancy in no way meant the thing ended with a live baby in your arms? I held my breath through the first trimester, and finally dared to breathe after I passed the magical 13th week mark. Still,  my wonder was tinged with surprise when, in June of 2013, I clutched my tiny daughter to my chest. After another two years, her brother was born. While my pregnancy with him was not as full of overt fear, it was filled with grateful tears: I’ll never again take the prosaic phrase the “miracle of life” for granted.

….

This time, it was at my nine-week appointment that they couldn’t find a heartbeat. My husband had stayed home to watch our kids, and I called him, crying, to let him know. The doctor wasn’t sure it was over—she thought maybe my dates were wrong, and the baby was there, just not as big as we expected. Three nausea-filled weeks later, at what should have been my 12-week appointment, the OB confirmed: this little one was gone.

The nurse in the office squeezed my arm compassionately. “Sometimes it’s worse when you already have one,” she said, “then you really know what you’re missing.” That wasn’t how I felt, though. I was sad, disappointed, but the tears came just the once, back at that very first visit. Mostly I felt oddly numb and un-surprised: “Well, this is how it goes. And I’ve already been granted more than I would ever have dreamed.”

In the months since, my emotions have continued to be mostly stoic. Sometimes I feel bad about this. Does it mean I didn’t care about that tiny one? Where is the heartbreak that ruled me last time? But the truth is I do care, and I’m trying to grant myself grace for the sways of my emotions. I am a finite human with limited capacity, and this time, my grieving hands are full with two very busy little people. While I’d rather be planning post-partum meals than vacations, my now is still very, very good.

Another thing that’s different, besides my miscarriage emotions, is the way we handled the pregnancy. This time, we told our community—even friends we didn’t know as well—almost as soon as the test was positive. We did so, not because we were certain there would be no problems, but because isolation didn’t help the sadness. We didn’t announce it online or anything, but I told most people I saw regularly, and all the distant friends with whom I chatted in that season. After the miscarriage, more than one friend asked if I regretted this choice. I didn’t and I don’t. It’s not for everyone, but the assurance that friends were praying and folks knew there was sadness under the surface brought me great peace. My only hesitation was one I didn’t consider ahead of time: could other people handle the knowledge that things don’t always work out? Did my openness make them uncomfortable?

Perhaps it did. Perhaps it does! But I ultimately decided that is fine with me. These things happen—a lot!—and for me, sharing the burden helps.

I still hope to have another child. While the specific grief of miscarriage has not been as debilitating as in the past, my arms yearn for a tiny life. There are others longing too, I know: those who face the barrenness of singleness, and those who face the loneliness of infertility together with a spouse. I’ve no easy assurances, but share the sadness of what was not to be.

For now? I’m sad for what is not, but grateful for all that is.

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On racism

Seventeen years ago, a classmate at my small, private Christian high school climbed atop the local Super Wal-Mart one night and planted a Confederate flag atop the squatty structure. He came to school and bragged about his derring-do.

When I was in college, I saw the movie Sweet Home Alabama at the theater the night it came out. In a humorous scene set in a Civil War reenactment, a main character uttered the line, “The South’s gonna rise again!” The entire movie theater stood up and cheered.

One of my grandfathers—actually the only family member who was a northern native and not a Southerner—warned me repeatedly to never date a black boy. At an elementary school sleepover, a friend explained that it was against God’s plan as revealed in the Old Testament for people to marry across racial lines.

Within the last five years, I had an extended conversation with someone close to me about whether or not it is okay to use the n-word.

Just a few months ago, a friend (who is not white) came to dinner and told us his co-worker (also not white) had been chased through the Los Angeles neighborhood where he was doing sales surveys by a car of neo-Nazis/skinheads.

I am not a white supremacist.

But I am American. An Alabamian, actually, although I don’t live there right now.

I don’t want anything to do with racism, but I don’t think the above incidents are all that isolated. Each was shocking to me, but probably they are not that surprising: I just don’t want to see it.

As I’ve watched current events (I wrote this after Charlottesville but the list goes on and on), I’ve swayed from horrified, to too tired to engage, and back to horrified. I’ve felt self-justifying thoughts (I’m nothing like those people) and guilt (my skin is white so I’m associated with this, like it or not). I lived overseas most of the past decade, and it’s times like this I wish I could run back across the ocean and disengage. I don’t want to own this. Yet it refuses to go away.

You are probably tired, too. Tired of all the fighting, tired of animosity, tired of the mountains of hurt. I don’t know what to do but, as a believer in Christ, I’m thankful the Bible addresses every issue known to humanity, including this. Discrimination against people of a different race was actually a huge issue in the development of the early church. In God’s good timing (and due to the fact I’m quite behind in my Bible-reading plan), I saw Scripture showing just this last week.

In Acts 10, Peter has just received a vision showing him that unclean foods are now clean, and has been called to share the Good News with an unclean Gentile named Cornelius. After all this revelation upended his understanding of how God relates to different peoples, “Peter opened his mouth and said, ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.’” (Acts 10: 34) God makes clear he is not the God of one people, but that all are equal in Christ.

I like the story of Peter because Peter, you see, was not the kind of person you would describe as never having had a racist bone in his body. No, Peter actually waffled back and forth. Depending on who he was hanging out with, Peter sometimes upheld the gospel truth that there is no division in Christ, and sometimes got scared and decided he couldn’t eat with Gentiles any longer (Gal. 2:11-14). I like the story of Peter, because truth be told, I have racist bones in my body, too.

I wouldn’t admit that, even to myself, for a long time. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. Often those sins are visited on the children by becoming the sins of the children. The truth is, as an American and an Alabamian, I probably am the descendent of people who actually owned other humans. Even if I’m not, it’s certain that my family, even the poor parts of it, benefited from being white in a place that looked down on blackness. When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, my mom was growing up right down the street and my grandparents were literally the “people of goodwill” with “shallow understanding” of whom he wrote. My history doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. While I don’t want to claim it, that legacy seeps down and dirties the water.

In the book Homegoing, Ghanan-American (and native of Huntsville, Ala.) author Yaa Gyasi wrote, “Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”

My family did not teach me to be racist; no, they taught me “all men are created equal.” And yet, just like millions of people who have believed that line, I haven’t lived up to that creed. I fall short of it the way I fall short of the glory of God.

In the summer of 2016, the denomination of which I’m a member confessed of how it had, as an institution, supported racism, including as recently as the Civil Rights movement. I was deeply encouraged by this resolution. But truth be told…I wasn’t alive during that era, and it’s easy for me to point the finger and condemn sins which I’m 100 percent sure I didn’t personally promote. I’m glad to say other people’s sins are wrong, but find it difficult to deeply engage my own. I sometimes feel resentment because I don’t consider myself a part of the problem, but an innocent bystander. What I’m trying to say is my lack of personal ownership is a problem.

It’s hard to see racism in ourselves, in our families, in the simple, everyday ways we operate. But—please help, God!—I’m trying.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know.” What in heaven’s name can I—can we—do for the good of these years in which we are placed? Perhaps we can start by reflecting, deeply, on how we have allowed evil to grow in our own fields. We can cry. We can ask God for his mercy on us, and we can ask friends for their mercy to us.

I don’t have any answers. But I’m going to pray. Not just for the stuff out there, but for the stuff inside me. I’m going to pray for what’s happening out there, too. And I’m going to believe that, although painful, God is using this season of sorrow and suffering to purify and pursue his beloved, wayward Bride.