Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bottle of Grief

     You may not personally relate to the experience of a miscarriage. Even if you don't, I hope this glimpse into the experience of mine will resonate with you on some level. We know loss, pain, and the sorrows we share are part of the human condition. CS Lewis said, "We read to know we are not alone." I have lately become convinced that we often write for the very same reason.

“I’m not seeing a heartbeat.”
She scans across my belly, but my eyes are fixed on this little mass on the screen, not moving, not pulsing, just not. She swipes her wand one more time quickly, and then takes it off and begins wiping gel off it. Matter-of-factly. Not looking at me. I sit up and stare at the black ultrasound screen, and start to cry, but it’s a shaky, stuttery cry, because I’m trying to ask her if there could be some kind of mistake. Even as I croak this out, choking back these weird silent cries that I’m working hard to keep from escalating, I know that there is no mistake. I saw the screen. She doesn’t have to say anything, but she looks over at me with a moment of “you poor thing”. I feel her unease almost palpably, like she’s dreading a scene, but knows she cannot ask me not to make one if that’s where this is going. “You’re at 12 weeks, right?” she asks, as if responding to this question requiring me to engage my brain will help me get a grip. “um, yeah, 12 weeks,” What does this have to do with anything? “Well, the fetus is measuring about ten.” The fetus?? When did my baby get downgraded to “fetus”? I don’t say anything because I’m still trying to suppress my own wish to curl up like a little fetus on that stupid tissue paper liner on the table and really cry. “I’ll go get the doctor.” and she whisks out. Not without handing me a single tissue, which at first I thought was because I was crying, but then realized she was gesturing to my gel-covered stomach.

     And I look over at Landon. Landon who did NOT want to have to spend another moment strapped into his stroller. Landon who I indulged and let sit up on this high swivel chair next to the table near me. Landon watching me and not making a peep, and I take a couple of little gasps to pull myself together and give him my best representation of a smile and talk to him and hold his hand and steady him from trying to climb into my lap.

     Minutes tick by, stretching longer as they do whenever you are left in any state of undress in a doctor’s office. The doctor comes in and she is composed and kind, and maybe she’s a mom, and maybe she’s someone’s sister, but most definitely she has been in this exact situation before, because her lines have a well-rehearsed quality about them. It doesn’t really matter what she is saying, exactly, because I’m only getting a fraction of it, as the rest of my brain doesn’t work at all. I catch that she’s presenting options and quickly follows it up with, “Call me Monday,” and I just want to get home. Because that lying down option and really crying still seems like the one I most want to take.

But there’s a diaper to change in another office. And Landon still doesn’t want to be strapped into that stroller. There’s an elevator to ride in the parking garage. A toddler to strap into a carseat who is developing new back-arching techniques to avoid being buckled in. And then I can’t get the stroller to fold up to put away. I don’t remember it being so difficult before. I end up cramming it in whole into the back of my little trunk, with odd gratitude that it is just the cheapo little umbrella one instead of our nice big Graco one that Bill calls the Cadillac. Would I have pitched the Cadillac over the side of the parking garage wall in misplaced frustration? I didn’t have to find out.

     Dearest Landon goes down for a nap without a fuss. I get into my own bed and hope I don’t have to stir from it for hours and hours.

    How do you say goodbye to the baby you never met? The anticipation of a Polaroid developing before my eyes of a picture of our little family of four changes to such keen disappointment as the picture comes clear and there is an empty space where I thought a new person would be. These months I have been pregnant, it has been like I was holding onto that picture. Telling people “the news” was like waving it around to hasten its development: “Come huddle over this picture with us. It’s going to be a beauty when we see it. Ok, it will take awhile, but it’s going to be a beauty.” As a child, I always loved that moment, that tiny of slice of time when the picture finally came into focus. But this time I found myself looking at a picture of a little mass that was not moving, not pulsing, just not.

     Six days later, upon news of our friend’s abrupt and unexpected death, my focus would turn elsewhere. A tsunami of sadness for his wife and the two little boys he left behind would wash over us, leaving us dazed, changing our perspective. And before I think I had said a proper goodbye, I would realize that the little picture had washed out to sea with the riptide of a larger sorrow.

     God can carry our grief. He understands loss larger than any ocean. I like to think he carries my own little drop in the ocean of human suffering. He knows it’s there. A little bottle floating along, with a picture that didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped, and the promise of a future where why is not the relevant question. I can stand at this ocean’s edge and turn away in peace. For all of time, people have suffered—just as the tide rolls endlessly in. And yet, at times there is something quite soothing about the sound of the waves. It’s like the steady comfort of knowing that He can hold every grief, every broken dream, every tear, every last single drop I’ve ever cried or ever will. Not just mine, but the ocean’s worth that will pound our shores til we get in the boat and sail away Home.

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