Sharing Elsewhere: Risen Motherhood

RisenMotherhood Text Pics (15)

I’m really excited to be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my miscarriages on the Risen Motherhood podcast this week! Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler discuss the way the gospel transforms a mom’s everyday life on this quick weekly show. Since neither of them have suffered miscarriage themselves, they asked if I would be willing to share a little bit from my journey as part of a back-to-back interview episode about miscarriage and the gospel. Most of what I shared won’t be completely new to friends or readers here, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing the complementary stories of God’s grace during the episode. This is a fabulous resource for women seeking hope and healing after losing a baby, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of this beautiful ministry!

[ If you’re not already a faithful Risen Motherhood listener, you can always listen in on their website (www.RisenMotherhood.com). I also suggest connecting with them on Facebook and subscribing with your favorite podcast streaming site (maybe iTunes?) or app so you don’t miss an episode! ]

Strengthen Me According To Your Word

STRENGTHEN ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD: Scriptures to Read After Miscarriage. 

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” – Psalm 119:28

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I’ve been very humbled to walk in grief next to many friends after they have miscarried a baby, and I think the most common question they bring up has been, “Did you have any particular scriptures I should read? What does the Bible say to me about this?” (And others want to know how to help someone else, what they can say after their friend loses a baby, too.) While I’ve already written about the journey I took discovering [how the topic of miscarriage fits into the “big picture” of scripture] after my losses, the Bible does provide some additional encouragement here as well. Scripture is words of life for those in the midst of death. We don’t have to fumble for random and theologically troubling explanations outside of this!

On Grief & Broken Hearts

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
Psalm 31: 9 “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted with grief.” 

It is okay to be honest in prayer about the difficulty of grief; God never asks us to get our emotions under control or pretend like everything is fine before coming to him.

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It’s a gift that this doesn’t say:“Blessed are those who have bad things happen to them, for they shall be stronger than everyone else.” Everyone has difficulty in life, but not everyone actually mourns or allows themselves to grieve. God’s comfort comes to us while we’re working through difficulty, not by avoiding it or pretending something wasn’t a big deal.

On Hurtful Words & Difficult Relationships 

Psalm 31: 20 “You store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” 

The Lord offers refuge and healing in himself when other people’s words cut deeply.  When facing difficult conversation and remembering painful comments from others, rest in the shelter that God offers in himself. We can always keep running to him instead of reopening the wounds made by others’ thoughtless words.

Isaiah 53:3-4 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 

[One of the most common responses to news of a miscarriage is “At least you weren’t further along, like my friend’s stillbirth,” or “At least you hadn’t been trying long,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” The message this sends: ‘Grief is a competition and lots of other people have it worse than you. You don’t deserve to grieve.’ That is a lie.] There is a time to empathize with others and get some perspective, of course. I wouldn’t approach someone whose children were killed by terrorists and say “You know, I had miscarriages so I know just what this is like.” No way! But when you are stricken with a personal tragedy, that grief is real and it matters.  Being dismissed by people who should have known better doesn’t make this less true: For a Christian, the only real “competition” for grief is Jesus. While bearing the weight of all sin and sorrow, he also felt the pain of messed up relationships. He was abandoned and misunderstood. He was hurt by people he trusted. His suffering was the worst because he took all our grief and sorrow to the cross, and in the resurrection he is victorious over all of it, too. Sin and suffering (which sometimes correlate, and sometimes do not) are not ultimate for us because of this.

On Weariness & Strength 

Psalm 31:7 “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.”
Psalm 119:50 “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” 

For a Christian, the remedy for sorrow and weariness is found in the Lord. Not in a future earthly good (for example, having another baby after a miscarriage) or “moving past” the difficulty in question. When other people aren’t walking alongside you in ways you need, and those relationships feel very disappointing? You can rejoice in the steadfast love of God, who has known the distress of your soul. When you are afflicted and sorrowful? You can trust that God’s promise of salvation preserves your life.

On Sin & Shame 

Psalm 103:10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

A miscarriage is not punishment for sin, and a living baby is not a reward for righteousness. No one “deserves” a miscarriage for any reason, just like no one “deserves” a child. 

The Baby’s Life & Purpose 

Psalm 139:13-14 “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

When you really consider all that’s involved with conception and fetal development, it’s a wonder the human race has sustained this long. A 1st-trimester baby, even one with profound genetic deformities, is a pure miracle. Whether we have a “reason” for a miscarriage like that (which is supposed to be about 50% of losses) or not, we can praise God for his marvelous creation in the baby’s life. I’m still surprised by how many people told me, “There was probably something wrong with the baby,” as if that was supposed to lessen my grief or explain God’s purpose. My specific medical history indicates this was probably not the case anyway, but no matter what: God’s image was placed in the baby just as much as it was with any of us. Even the shortest of lives is a praiseworthy and mysterious marvel. 

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought these verses were kind of unfair – why would God create a baby with a life only in the womb, even life measured by days more than weeks? What is the point of that? Why even create the baby in the first place?  Yet we can be comforted that God is not limited by time or human frailty; we are all like helpless children before God. That God can use my 30-year-old life and reasonably well-trained mind to fulfill his purpose is not less astounding than that he could do the same in the MUCH shorter life of a baby who died in the womb.

On God’s Love

Psalm 103:13-14 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  

God’s love and desire for his children is even more powerful than the difficulty of a miscarriage or other loss. He isn’t surprised by weakness or failure, and he doesn’t expect us to summon supernatural strength apart from himself.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NOT: “For God so loved the miscarrying woman that he gave her a new baby of her own, that whoever believes in him will no longer miscarry, but have a pro-creative life.” We know God loves us because he gave us his son; we do not measure or prove God’s love for us by anything else.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That “…nor anything else in all creation” includes your baby. Their life or death does not separate us from God’s love.

On Hope & The Resurrection 

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 27 “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. …The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The true message of hope and encouragement in grief is in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and return. (And if this feels weird, it is. Y’all, Christianity definitely requires a little weirdness. There’s no Jesus Lite version to opt out of this stuff.)  Grief is one of the many places where the rubber of Christianity hits the road of real life. In many ways this is where you actually need the weirdness of Christianity most!

The poet John Donne, who grieved many profound losses (father, siblings, children, wife) reflected on these verses and wrote the sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud,” with an ending that says this better than anyone else: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!” The pain and loss of a miscarriage find their final remedy in the Resurrection, which destroys destruction and kills death.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ” But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 

This scripture is a particular treasure after a miscarriage because it doesn’t tell us not to grieve, it says we grieve differently than other people.
It doesn’t tell us that hope replaces grief, it shows that hope transforms our grief.
It doesn’t tell us we’ll be happy when we can “get over” the difficulty we face, it points to Jesus overcoming the difficulty in our place.
And it doesn’t tell us we will stop grieving at some arbitrary point in life, or even when we see our loved ones in heaven. It offers a better promise: that we will always be with the Lord.

Present Joy & Past Sorrow

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Though I’ve shared before that [having kids isn’t “the key to healing” from the grief of a miscarriage], the present joys of raising my children do offer some perspective on those past sorrows. While it doesn’t erase previous hardship, mothering my living children has helped me understand even more about the miscarriages I had before they were born.

  • Motherhood (of any sort) is emotionally intense. My love for my children is overwhelmingly fierce and surprising. Every so often I’m overcome by the burst of affection for the kids I have, which is saying a lot for me because I generally just have lots of feelings all the time anyway. Compared to the way I felt after the miscarriages, it’s a little like Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion in my heart: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  My grief and sadness about the miscarriages was equally intense, surprising, and often unpredictable  – and it makes more sense to me now. It would be extremely concerning if I didn’t experience such joy with the kids now, and these “highs” helps me reconcile the emotional lows from the miscarriages.
  • The unknown potential of what “could have been” from the other babies is still a little haunting sometimes. Due to gracious doctors who knew how comforting this would be, I have very early ultrasound pictures from both of my kids. I occasionally marvel that the little 6-week-old pulsing sweetpea (the baby is basically all beating heart at that point) we saw in December 2013 is now exploring and babbling and making herself known throughout my home every day. I witnessed a miracle then, just as I do now: all the potential in the world, wrapped up as a bundle of flesh and blood and water. I also have ultrasound pictures of little babies before this, whose potential will remain unknown. The possible beauty and joy of the other babies’ lives before that was just as significant. What sorts of delights and needs would those babies have brought? Who would they have grown up to be? We’ll never know here what would have been. It doesn’t steal the happiness we have now, but I’ll probably always wonder about this.
  • … Equally haunting is the frailty of the ones who made it. What if I hadn’t take that exact cocktail of medicines to keep hormones doing their jobs at the beginning? Would my daughter be here if that paranoid doctor hadn’t ordered the extra “unnecessary” ultrasound that diagnosed a treatable-but-concerning problem? Would I have survived my son’s birth if he had been born in the car instead of right after we got to the hospital? The number of things that have to work just right to bring a child from conception to birth is staggering, and I marvel at how it all worked for these kids. I know a child is not something to take for granted.
  • Miscarriage really is a mini-birth in so many ways. I’m the opposite of a birth-junkie. Other people get really excited and enjoy talking or writing about private body parts with all the sensations and whatnot that brought their child into the world, and it’s legitimately meaningful for them. I am not like that. I thought maybe I was grossed out by this because the topic of having a living baby was so tender for me; I usually felt like people around me got way too personally invested in the details of their birth plans, or were overly spiritualizing and competitive about their natural deliveries. I would have cut off my right leg to have had a c-section and a formula-fed baby myself. Then I actually had a baby and … I still don’t think it’s that exciting to talk about the nitty-gritty details of birth most of the time! But, on this topic, I did find that all but 5 minutes of my son’s (unmedicated and nonsurgical) labor and delivery was actually the same or easier than one of my miscarriages, which validated my shock at how painful and difficult the physical experiences were. My post-partum hormonal fluctuations and heightened awareness/anxiety after birth and miscarriage were nearly identical, as well. 
  • Sometimes it is still better not to know. It’s amazing how many people have said, “It’s too bad you didn’t know you’d have these two kids back when you were having all those struggles!” In some ways, this is true. It was painful to wonder if I would ever get to have a baby and experience all this joy, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard if I had just known that it was really coming. But [sometimes not-knowing is a gift,] and the all-knowing God met me in my unknowns in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We hope and pray for more good to come, with these kids and maybe with more in the future. Yet plenty of bad things (including, but absolutely not limited to, more miscarriages) could be ahead for our life. We can rest in the truth that God is in control and works everything for his purposes, but it really is a measure of mercy that we don’t know what’s coming before that. 
  • Every baby is part of me forever. There’s no way to make me “stop” being a mom to any of my kids. My home now is bursting with laughter and diapers and coffee; the particular love and delight of each child changes me in new ways every day. Their blue eyes and belly laughs are etched into me; no matter what happens to any of us, we’re bound to each other for life. But there is still a bit of frustrated maternal instinct from before. I’m not “just” the mom of these two, because my miscarriages gave me a little baggage and a lot of perspective that spill into life now, too.
  • Being a child of God is more important than being a mom. The mother-identity that comes from my children is overwhelmingly huge. Going too far in one direction, this identity quickly becomes an idol for many women. On the other side, we rightly assess a woman who does not connect with her baby as suffering post-partum depression or anxiety. The identity balance can be tricky, but it’s necessary. Wrestling with motherhood (am I a mom? am I not? why is this so hard?) was a big part of recovering from the miscarriages, too. Situations or relationships where my lost babies were not acknowledged or where mentioning anything was awkward became an overly-personal rejection to me… but I also worked hard to make my life about other things, too: teaching piano, reading, writing, DIY projects, and other things like that. I’m not sure anyone ever strikes the identity balance perfectly. I certainly didn’t (and still don’t!), but God graciously provides all that we really need, by creating us in his own image and saving us by his own son. 

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[You can check out more posts & my recommended resources about miscarriage here!]

On Miscarriages & Reading the Bible

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Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29

My miscarriages revealed that I didn’t understand how the Bible really works. Even after 12 years of earnestly studying it, leading numerous devotional groups, writing Bible Study leaders’ training curriculum, and earning a college degree in Christian Studies! Me, of all people, not knowing how to read my Bible! The first thing that clued me in? You don’t get many responses from a Bible word search for verses about miscarriage. There’s a few small references, but on their own they were kind of confusing. For being the book that’s supposed to be the source of all life and sufficient for guiding you through any situation, I found this extremely disconcerting. Women were having miscarriages in Bible times, too, so if the Bible doesn’t talk about them… is it even relevant right now? Was it EVER relevant?

My Scripture-Reading Pedigree is reasonably impressive. I already knew you couldn’t just use one phrase of the Bible to “claim as a promise” without considering the context (knowing the culture or life story of the author and original audience). And I knew my feelings were not an interpretive tool, but I still felt lost to figure out how the Bible spoke to me after a miscarriage. 

Since I couldn’t find chapter-and-verse to give me a solid explanation, I sought out what other people were saying about miscarriages and the Bible. Maybe I was just missing it and someone else had already figured it out? I looked at all the blogs written and ordered whatever books I could find. Pickings were slim and unhelpful. (Thankfully, much has been said since about miscarriage from a Christian perspective and I do have a list of my favorite articles and books I recommend on the menu of this website.) Blogs and books are useful, but they are only a tool; they do not replace the living and active word of scripture. What I needed was not just “a book about miscarriage from a Christian perspective,” but a more cohesive understanding of how the Bible fit together to speak a better word to my sorrow than any online concordance could supply.

You don’t have to geek out on complicated words or reading dead theologians to figure this out. I liked those things long before I had any miscarriages, and they hadn’t brought this to light for me. Plenty of my college classes and personal reading had circled around this topic. For some reason, reading scripture as part of a “meta-narrative” (where all the parts serve to ultimately fit into an “ultimate story” of the gospel) had seemed dry and unwelcoming to me. This sounds crazy now, because nothing seems relevant or approachable about flipping back and forth between random passages of the Bible when you’re looking for help or hope. Reading the Bible with the full lens of the gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) proves it is rich with encouragement and sufficient for difficulty, even the hardships of our lives that it barely mentions by name.

CREATION
From the beginning of the Creation narrative we read that God created all people in perfection and gave the first command: “Be fruitful and multiply.” It doesn’t say “Be fruitful and miscarry!” We were originally created to have bodies and relationships that worked the right way, which would mean a baby wouldn’t die before it was even born. Other passages celebrate God’s special work in forming and developing every child in the womb of a woman.
See: Genesis 1-2, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1, Ecclesiastes 11:5

FALL
The earth and the animal kingdom experience the curse of sin right away, in broken fellowship with God and woman’s increased pain in childbearing. This is not limited just to labor and delivery, but encompasses trouble in all facets of maternity: debilitating cycles or hormone shifts, infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, post-partum depression, birth injuries, and the ongoing difficulties of motherhood. Every woman, even one who is happily childless, battles some bit of this in some way.

This same curse later meets mankind in the worst possible way: the death of an innocent son. It strikes me that when humans experience death, it’s Abel who gets killed, not Adam or Eve (who have no earthly parents). Knowing that we have to read the Bible in terms of the “big picture,” this points us clearly to the death of Jesus, the innocent Son of God. Knowing that the Bible speaks to all sadness, this also validates the particular grief of parents. Now, I know people who have held full-term babies that never drew breath, or who trace their child’s name in the cold, hard etchings on a gravestone. I certainly imagine (in brief, horrible moments) that losing one of my living children would be a new, more awful devastation than the miscarriages I had before, but miscarriage is still the death of a child in it’s very earliest stages. At the core of the gospel, the Fall shows us that death is, indeed, a really big deal. 
See: Genesis 3-4, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 12:18-24.

REDEMPTION
At the crucifixion, Jesus faces death, carrying the full weight of everything that is wrong and broken upon himself. Beyond our individual sin and the sin of the world, our sorrows and grief were laid upon Jesus as well. This is where some of the overly-simple talk about “Jesus dying for our sins” in childhood altar calls becomes less helpful for understanding the gospel in real life. At the resurrection, Jesus physically rises from the dead AND makes the pathway for the resurrection of all the dead, which is why Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of all who sleep.” As Christians, we know this means we will be restored to eternal life. It also promises us that all who “sleep” (are dead) will rise, including babies lost in miscarriage.
See: Isaiah 53, Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 13-21, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RESTORATION
Do you know where you actually find the word “miscarry” in the Bible? The Old Testament. Moses’ writings about how miscarriages and barrenness will not exist in the Promised Land are actually the most explicit places the Bible talks about it, and these passages are pointing beyond Israel to an ultimate fulfillment in heaven. Unfortunately most of the discussion about miscarriages and heaven twists this a little bit, focusing on finding hope in “seeing your babies in heaven someday.” A faith that is held up primarily by the desire to see your baby (which is, of course, entirely appropriate) does not follow the pattern revealed in scripture. Whether those babies we lost are in heaven or not, focusing on that point alone is small comfort compared the profound hope in the gospel: Christ promises that in the Resurrection, everything will be made new. It’s eternal life, perfection, without sorrow or tears or death. It’s a life where God fully satisfies every question, longing, and emptiness with his love. Christian hope in the wake of a miscarriage or other loss is not about having another child on earth or reuniting with a child in heaven. It’s about experiencing full, unending communion with God himself.
See: Exodus 23:26, Isaiah 25, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 61, Isaiah 65:20, Matthew 22:29-33, Revelation 21:4-8

 

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
…All flesh is like grass…
The grass withers,
the flowers fade,
but the word of our God will stand forever.”
– Isaiah 40:5,7,8

reading round-up (5.15.15)

Both of our Minnesota springs to date have negated the adage “April Showers bring May Flowers” for different reasons. Last year, it was because there was too much snow for too long. This year winter ended at a reasonable time, but we just haven’t had much rain. Now in May, it is finally coming down and our grass is finally coming up. (Aaron far prefers working outside, so he is glad to be done with the new floor and seeing progress in our lawn and garden!) This year we’re just doing tomatoes and green beans.

Both of our Minnesota springs have included excitement about other kinds of growth, too. We’re ecstatic and humbled by another healthy pregnancy! This one means welcoming a baby boy to our family this fall, and by some sweet mercy, the first half of pregnancy has been significantly easier (physically and mentally) than the first half of my pregnancy with Annie. I’m especially grateful for an easier pregnancy while managing an adventurous nine-month-old, and I’m still blown away to think we’ll have two children. I spent a long time wondering if I would ever have any kids, and this
really feels like winning the lottery twice.

Parenting
I thought there were some great thoughts in 8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder, especially the encouragement to “Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. ” It’s easy to get bogged down with the idea that we could possibly be really ruining some aspect of our kids’ lives, and I’m grateful for the reminder that we’re also in the position to be the greatest instrument of goodness and blessing for them, too.

I also really appreciated 9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Mothers to Know. It resonated with me as a daughter and inspired me as a mother.

On the flipside, Raising Gentle Boys was good encouragement for thinking about the new baby. He’ll be himself in so many ways that are more about just being his own person and not necessarily about his gender, but since I don’t know anything about those other things yet… this is what I’ve got to think about: ultrasound technology reassures us that the baby seems to be developing normally and is, in fact, male.

Personality
This post on the benefits of knowing yourself was great. I’ve followed Kristin’s blog for a while and really appreciate so many of her reflections on frugality and family life. I remember the sense of relief that came when I decided I was done with “couponing” and then again in the last few months when I decided borrowing baby clothes was more stressful for me than it was worth, and her advice here resonated deeply for me:

“We don’t all have to be good at the same things, and we don’t all have to love the same things.
(No one can possibly be good at everything and love everything!)
The important thing is to live within your means and manage your money responsibly, and there are a zillion ways to do that well.”

If knowing yourself means identifying with a Myers-Briggs personality type, this Definition of Hell for Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type might extremely accurate. I am an ENFP, but just barely on to the extroverted side; I’m pretty sure Aaron is exactly the opposite, an ISTJ. Hell for an ENFP is essentially the description of the job I held for 3 years when Aaron and I first got married, and it was just nice to (again) be affirmed that I wasn’t being dramatic when I told people it was like a living hell.
For the ENFP:  Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks.
For the ISTJ: You are expected to complete a highly esteemed project with absolutely no guidance as to what’s expected of you.
In some ways, this describes both of our current occupations as well, which is particularly laughable. (I will say, the monotonous aspects of life as a stay-home mom are much more tolerable after living through some of the truly horrendous -for me- tasks in my old job. and both of these descriptions apply to quite a bit of parenting.)

Productivity 
Aaron has been reviewing different management and productivity materials for companies he is interested in working for… There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there! This Tedx Talk from David Allen (who wrote “Getting Things Done”) is an oldie-but-a-goodie. We were just talking about some of the stuff he says here, and I think it’s very much worth 22 minutes of your time. (Grab a notebook to take some notes and jot down some thoughts afterwards!) We were just saying we might need to review this together every few months… It’s not a bad idea.

Science
Another Ted presentation from Pamela Ronald talks about the intersection of “Organic” farming and GMO crops hits on some good points for lay discussions on agriculture and biotechnology.

Miscarriage 
This blog from Mandi covers a lot of great topics about recurring loss and pregnancy after miscarriages. In some ways she seems like my Catholic twin in reflecting on those topics and I think this blog is a great resource for interested parties.

Reading 
I recently rediscovered LibriVox, full of free audio books in the public domain, and I’m enjoying working through the Anne of Green Gables series again. I find that YA literature is just right for listening while I’m working around the house — it’s engaging but not so dense that I can’t get something else done, too.

Music
Annie recently discovered the joys of hitting things with a plastic spoon, so I gave her some tupperware to beat and turned on Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man. So much fun. So much proletariat ire. (Copeland was a phenomenal American composer with strong ties to progressive/socialist  politics. I’m linking to it’s performance at a 9/11 memorial to compensate on the other side, maybe?)
Musician mama side note: I really like showing her videos of musical performances where she can see the instruments!


We’re looking forward to a low-key weekend with a few little house projects, playing outside with Annie and Max, and lots of much-needed relaxing. Have a happy weekend, friends!

under the shadow (mother’s day 2015)

This year’s avoidance of any Mother’s Day greeting card displays has been due mostly to having a little more to juggle while I’m at the store these days, and less to do with feeling like everything inside me was shriveling up every time I thought about children or the idea of being a mom. I definitely like it better this way.

annie at store

 

The past nine months of real-life mothering have been so dear. I wouldn’t wish the journey I had before this on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t trade the lessons coming from that and my sweet girl for anything, either. It’s also a little pointless to think about what I would trade because I can’t go back and change anything, anyway. My initiation to motherhood was not at all what I expected, and this means so many of my attitudes and perspectives about life as a parent are different than they would have been otherwise. Sometimes that is still hard, and today I still come in to relationships with the shadow of past grief, carrying a lot more baggage on the topic of children and pregnancy than I would have liked. I have been profoundly blessed by the example of Mary, who was also decidedly shocked by the way she became a mom, too. I take comfort to know that she saw clearly how the purpose of her role as a mother was not primarily that she would have a baby, but that she would encounter the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise, even when it happened in ways that confused her and seemed so different from how she might have planned it.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” – Luke 1:35.

While I was pregnant with Annie, I wondered how mothering a child would differ from the sort of “mothering” that came out of my miscarriages. There is everyday stuff to sort through, yes, and more to juggle than before, but at the core I think these things have been mostly the same. The everyday acts of raising my daughter are hard work. They require sacrifice: of my time, my pride, my selfishness. I am diligent to read and pray and make decisions we deem best on every topic imaginable, like medical care during pregnancy and delivery, how to feed the baby, where she sleeps, what kind of structure we have to our days and nights, consoling her or letting her cry, vaccinations, education, spiritual formation, etc., and then continue carrying on relationships where other people have also thought long and hard in making those same choices for their kids and somehow come to the wrong conclusions. I know. But the demands I experienced before: sacrificing so much without a choice in the matter, battling so much insecurity and uncertainty about the future, and navigating awkwardness in some relationships because I was so tender? That was also incredibly difficult, and it happened without the obvious joy of a child to bring such delight! Parenting now is difficult because I feel the weight of responsibility so heavily. A child is a real person; the stakes are high. But I take great comfort to know that parenting Annie — and the new baby coming this fall! — is supposed to be overwhelming, and the strength needed for this task comes under the protective shadow of the Holy Spirit. The difficulties of life before and after the arrival of a baby are both satisfied by the same faithful promises of help and joy. Even with the reality of parenthood, the true satisfaction of life is not found in relation to a human child but a heavenly father.

Several people have asked me if motherhood has provided any “healing” from the losses and heartache of the last few years, and it has been interesting to think about. There is so much joy and delight in the very places I was so sorrowful, yes. Maybe even more happiness than I might have experienced otherwise? Who knows. It is not difficult in any way to look at my beautiful girl or my again-expanding midsection and wonder how this could be a blessing, like I had to do with the babies I lost before this. But “healing”? I don’t want to think of it in those terms. The answer to the true problems posed by those miscarriages, the wrestling with death and grief and what it meant to be a mother? Those questions are met with the same gifts I find for the troubles of today: The presence of the Holy Spirit now, and the coming full understanding in the resurrection, when the shadow of death is removed completely.

Many people are burdened with desire for many things — having a baby was not the lone thing I longed for — and the beauty of any wait is that it is not a waste when it clarifies the source of true fulfillment. I look back and say the grief-shadowed wait was beautiful not because it led to children, but because it led me closer to the everlasting shadow of God’s love and protection.

There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. – Isaiah 25:7

My soul will be satisfied… for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:4-7

reading round-up (5.16.14)

red tulip

[One] It’s hard to shake off the joy that creeps up along with the new blades of grass each spring. Did you know one of the oldest notated English songs celebrates this very fact? It’s true. Sumer is Icumen In!



[Two] Earlier this week, my younger sister (also a homeowner and expectant mama) and I chatted about our yards, which feels incredibly grown up. We’re both trying to cultivate beauty and order in houses that were poorly neglected by previous owners with the intention of turning a profit by selling in a few years. I’m not even sure what we used to talk about, but now it’s the merits (and resale value) of investing in grass seed, pavers, mulch, walkways, and firepits. So with that in mind, I really appreciated this article about how the primary work of man — that is, tilling the soil — makes nature more beautiful, and how much benefit there is to subduing the wilderness. My favorite quote? “If farming is the Martha of man’s relationship with nature, gardening is the Mary.” [Get Out of the Wilderness and Into the Garden.]

[Three] Ever wonder what you should really know about American History? Here’s a five-minute clip from David McCullough to assist in your quest for greater knowledge (or just a higher level of cultural literacy.)
[Four] If you’re looking for an hour-long podcast, we thought this interview in defense of genetic modification of plants was extremely interesting. Even if you are skeptical (or disagree) with the practices, this discusses the history of plant breeding AND some other common methods of modern plant breeding that are, in my opinion, infinitely  more concerning than mainstream cis- and trans-genic modifications. (Seriously. Should we be eating plants that came from parent plants blasted by radiation in order to produce the desired mutation? Or should we use precise technology to get the exact mutation we want and avoid the unknown effects of radiation or other changes? If you are lost in this part of the discussion, you need to study further before “taking a stand” on the GMO debate.) Furthermore, I thought his points about how your worldview shapes everything you believe were very insightful, especially in regards to the lack of “inherent virtue” in nature. (Maybe this relates a little bit to the necessity of man tilling the soil after the fall? Nature alone isn’t going to fully sustain anymore and scientific progress is going to have to improve things? Much to think on here.)
[Six] Poor Max has his first ear infection. Dogs have deep, crooked ear canals and those things can get nasty. I won’t link to this, but a cursory glance of Google search offerings about caring for a dog’s ear infection before you can get in to the vet uncovered another world of crazy. Not only are there major “mommy wars” about food, medical care, and vaccinations, but also “doggy wars” about those things, too. I mean, if some tincture of coconut oil, raw unfiltered with-the-mother apple cider vinegar, leftover organic red quinoa water and a splash of sriracha (I don’t know what that is, but I’ve seen it on pinterest too many times for it to not be the next big item in your naturopathic remedies) makes your dog feel better, great… but I kept finding people saying things like, “I tried this natural remedy for four months and his eardrum finally ruptured – now he feels great!” It disturbed me. I hope they aren’t doing that to their kids, too. I’m pretty confident this is the result of some trapped water leftover from his weekend swim and some combination of anti-fungal and antibiotics should solve the problem.
SAD EYES
[Seven] I could (and probably will) just write a whole post about how much we have loved (and learned) in having a dog for almost six months. In the meantime, several of the points from this list are really hitting home for me. (Also, there are whole lists of videos on YouTube where military service-members reunite with their dogs. I accidentally watched one of them right before Bible study a few weeks ago and was late because I had to go downstairs and redo all my makeup afterwards. Then I cried when I put Max in the kennel and he looked at me with the sad eyes. It was rough.)
happy max
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! We are hoping to enjoy some time in the sunshine with Max, evening bonfires, and have hopes of getting LOTS of painting done inside and outside the house. (It’s about time!)

reading round-up (4.25.14)

This week feels a bit like recovery of an excitement overdose. After months of life in the doldrums, we had lots of company and a fun Easter trip to Wisconsin (because moving to Minnesota means we are closer to one little branch of our family and we want to take advantage of that!). Now we’re getting ourselves straightened out again. It’s been a classic rainy April, at least this week (better than snow!!), and it is hard to motivate myself to walk the pup with all the puddles and raindrops. He’d probably love it, but then I’d end up needing to bathe him every day… so complicated. I play lots of running games in the house, but I can tell it’s not working as well as a good, exhausting, hour-long romp through the neighborhood.


[One] Stuff From People I Actually Know In Real Life: There are some practical and thoughtful tips on clothing and freedom here from Mary, which I’m finding encouraging while trying to tackle looking fabulous with a changing body, small budget, and small wardrobe. I nosily asked her to share some thoughts on the topic and I am very glad she did! I also appreciated her guest post “We Sleep Well with Tired Bodies,” from our friend Hannah’s blog.

[Two] I thought these articles on miscarriage from Verily Magazine were excellent. (Be sure to check out Part 1, too.) Though this speaks mostly of women without referencing the fathers, the points about depression, and anxiety statistics for women/couples who are recovering from a pregnancy loss are particularly important. (I know I often get blank looks when I tell others that the rates of divorce, suicide, and all sorts of anxious/depressive/compulsive behaviors skyrocket for several years after a miscarriage, and the numbers are even higher with a stillbirth or infant death… This is uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s true. I think more people will get the help they need if everyone knows how much this impacts parents!)

[Three] Perhaps this past week’s birthday of The Bard may encourage you to Brush Up Your Shakespeare?

[Four] Our new house (yes, yes, yes, more pictures coming soon!) is overrun by… I can’t even say it… spiders. Icky ones. Crawly ones. BIG ONES. Aaron said he was more scared of Iraqi camel spiders than the possible loss of life or limb during his deployment, so we are a sorry match in this department. If we still had chickens they would eat the spiders, but Max is no help. I may resort to other extreme but still rational measures.

spider


[Five] In case you are interested in
boosting church attendance… Stephen Colbert has some friendly commentary about those not interested in sharing the regular messages of unconditional love and eternal salvation and turn to Mixed Martial Arts. (This is a joke, of course!)

[Six] This is a helpful radio interview on infertility and God’s will from He Remembers the Barren. And while I don’t necessarily ascribe to everything  in this article about fertility and God’s will by Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter, I think she has written a very thoughtful and worthy read on the topic of family planning. Maybe the best encouragement for people thinking about expanding their family is when she says, “I just would rather not have the kind of suffering that comes from trying to avoid suffering by refusing a treasure.”


[Seven] Aaron and I have found versions of Lady Gaga’s song Bad Romance that speak to each of our nerdy, specialized fields of study.
For research scientists, rated Pg-13: “Bad Project.”
For classical musicians, no objectionable content: “Fugue on Bad Romance.”


[Easter Bonus — 8] This is your reward for getting to the end of this week’s reading round-up: my favorite Easter meme! One of my BFFs knows the person who runs this blog, so I feel sort of famous when I read it. I’m not Catholic so half the posts totally blow over my head, but the ones with universal Christian jokes are usually hilarious.

Have a wonderful weekend! We’re looking forward to enjoying some downtime and dinner with friends… And May!? Is it going to be May by next weekend? What? Maybe by then we can figure out what our bulb flower situation is here at the Coon Ranch. There are leaves poking up, so I am hopeful! 

[As always, more Friday links and quick reading over at Conversion Diary!] 

{formed & fallen} a brave vocation

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With every day a  mad rush to get the entire house “nested” (for free, of course), get the dog exercised and trained as well as possible, get my fledgling business off the ground, and maybe eventually get over my deep loathing of infant car seat research so we can start amassing baby gear… I find myself tired, even though it doesn’t seem like I’m accomplishing much. In these days of unseen (and generally unrewarded) labors, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve been called to, and how this little girl’s presence will require new and beautiful things from me. These will be mostly unseen and generally unrewarded, as well.

I’ve thought, prayed, and cried much over the topic of motherhood in the past few years of miscarriages and waiting, and I think what came out of that only strengthens and supports whatever new adventures come with mothering a living child. Those years of difficulty and wrestling revealed that childless mothering is still a legitimate vocation, even when I resented it. Sometimes I still do. What is it, really, to be a mother? Isn’t it essentially to love, to give yourself away, to be brave? And isn’t that required even more of a woman who grieves a child than a woman who raises one? I think so. There are little babies I will never really see, hold on my lap, pack lunches for, or read Bible stories with, but I am still their mom. The loving and giving that happens because I’m their mom is expressed in different ways, usually in connecting with other women who are distraught about their own losses and teaching others how to be caretakers and truth-tellers. Even though I wish everything had been so different, these works are just as significant as the work I will do in bringing up the daughter I’m pregnant with now.

It seems weird to talk about miscarriages, being pregnant again. It’s probably weird for other people to hear about. I realize this. It probably makes these months a little more anxiety-ridden for me — I dreamed last night that this girl had died, and I woke up crying inconsolably. I didn’t know it was just a nightmare until she started moving around ten minutes later. Maybe it’s like that for every pregnancy? I will never know. Despite what hardships this brings, the grief and wrestling that accompany this pregnancy impress on me that the world needs brave women all the more.

Case in point? I met someone recently who heard my history from a mutual friend, and felt the need to tell me, “I’ve never lost a baby or had problems, but there is no way your first-trimester miscarriages were as hard as my friend’s stillbirth. I mean, she had already felt the baby move and had to deliver it. And now you’re having this baby, so it worked out.” Though I wouldn’t judge someone who responded to those comments with violence, and would probably be willing to lie defending them in a court of law… I managed to graciously reply that grief isn’t a competition, every life matters, there is no reason to dismiss my experiences, and babies aren’t replaceable. (And really — every day she grows is a gift; pregnancy doesn’t guarantee survival.) Was it a little awkward? Well, yes. I told her she was out of line. It would have been even more awkward to let that slide, knowing those comments could be repeated to someone who was still very traumatized. I needed to respond with bravery, since that lady might need to be someone else’s caretaker someday. It’s always the right time to speak the truth in love.

There will be new, hard, and beautiful expressions of motherhood that come with this baby girl, but just as she doesn’t erase or solve the problems of the miscarriages we had before her, my calling to mother her doesn’t eradicate the callings that grew out of those experiences, either. I’m confident the loving courage needed for each kind of motherhood can only support and uphold the other one. Since the world needs more brave women in every generation, this is the best example I can set for my daughter, too.

(Before we get into serious discussions about bravery, I will warn her about stranger danger and eating yellow snow. We need to take these lessons one day at a time.)

 

{formed & fallen} overlap

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It is a very, very strange thing to be carrying a child who is exactly half-way gestated on the same day doctors would have said a different, older child should be completely at term. In the shocked, overwhelming beginning of this pregnancy, I felt like loving the baby we have was a way of betraying the one we had just lost. Sometimes now loving the other one seems like a betrayal of the one who -by some miracle I cannot yet wrap my mind around- grows right on schedule and has all the right body parts, frequently jabbing them into the walls of the home my own body provides. The other miscarriages were spaced far enough apart that the pregnancies would not have overlapped in any way, so this is a new sort of grieving. (I am not complaining – I think the bittersweet path that leads to a baby in your arms is far preferable to the one that just seems bitter, but it’s a little more intense.)

There was a day in July when I took three naps and developed a blister under my ring, and while I was sick of hoping for news of a baby coming… I knew it was happening. After the Wal-Mart test confirmed this, my college room-mate squealed on the phone with me even though she was in a library in Indiana, and I put a sign on the big blue chicken coop to tell Aaron he had someone even more important to take care of. We hugged and he hoped for a cute little girl like the one he had seen at lunchtime with little braids over her shoulders. I slept a lot – A LOT. I shared the anxious joy of close due-dates with someone dear who had a similar history to me and we prayed for two healthy babies to come this spring.

Just a few weeks later, I bossed my midwife’s new nurse around when the dread crept over me, demanding blood tests that proved I was right to be concerned. Arriving  home from the decisive ultrasound that showed a way-too-small baby who never even had a heartbeat, my computer was playing a song called, “God will take care of you.” To this day I have no idea how it ever got into my music library in the first place. I sat on the couch and sobbed while the friend who had squealed earlier read me Psalms over the phone.

Then I was relieved and guilty about how great it felt to not be sick anymore, and I thought making the announcement sign for the chicken coop -still folded on Aaron’s dresser as if to taunt me- was the dumbest thing I’d ever done. I sat around and it took hours to get anything accomplished. I painted my toenails. I begged Aaron for a puppy. I told him I hated our house, I didn’t want to have kids anymore, and I wanted to pretend like none of this even happened in the first place.

Summer trips were not cancelled, so I drove to Michigan alone and listened to the last Harry Potter audiobook, where Harry prepares for battle by internalizing the inscription on his parents’ graves: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It had to be my rallying cry, too. My belly was swollen with death, and I made sure to sip wine conspicuously while giving a too-morbid toast at my sister’s wedding, praying that no one would make awkward baby comments to me because I just wasn’t ready to go there. (It felt very strange to hope I just looked chubby.) I hate that negativity seems so much stronger than truth, because the only thing I remember about finally breaking the news to friends and family was hearing that, “God just wants you to get settled after Aaron gets a job and THEN have a baby. You have too much going on to think about that right now!” That still hurts. I’m sure many people told us they loved us and they were sorry.

And while I spent the weeks after in a haze of confusing blood tests, there was so much love all around. I remember the beautiful postcard from the squealing psalm-reader, old friends who visited from afar with gourmet cheeses and Cabernet Sauvignons, and friends nearby who cleaned my closets and made me leave the house with them and brought us meals for weeks. Meals! For weeks! They made my life infinitely easier and cut our household spending that month by almost the exact amount of all the co-pays and lab fees associated with the whole debacle. I heard that song about God’s care ringing in my head every time I heated a meal, paid a bill, and wrote a thank-you note. Was I “over” it? No. Was I cared for? Yes.

Sometimes I still get really angry thinking it would have been better if I hadn’t even been pregnant, or wondering why we couldn’t have just had this baby then. Why mess with the heartache if we were going to get a healthy baby a few months later anyway? I marvel at the ironic mystery that God still said yes to some of the early prayers of anxious summer joy — two babies (healthy twins!) arrived last week for the people we shared our due date with. (I also got the puppy I asked for! hooray, hooray!) None of this makes any sense yet. It might always be like that. Sometimes not knowing is a gift, even when it doesn’t seem that way.

Today I know beyond any doubt that I was created for eternity, proved like C.S. Lewis says, by desires and love that cannot be satisfied by anything on earth. I dearly love two babies, each formed in the image of God, and the strange timing of these pregnancies does not diminish either of them. Both of their lives are worth celebrating, even if I’m not sure how to do it. And my current pregnancy with Li’l Kicker here does not remedy the real problem of any of my miscarriages. Any death happens because of the fall, and while it is very normal to especially long for a miraculous pregnancy, there is no promise that anyone will definitely have a baby, or that having a baby takes away the sting of death. A child always a gift, never a guarantee. I can’t expect this coming baby to answer these questions when I know I have never lacked the only promised child I have ever needed. The remedy for the consequences of the fall is the gospel, not having a baby.

“Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead… for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – I Corinthians 15

“God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

{Mary consoles Eve} by  Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO

{Mary consoles Eve} by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO … (yes, I know it is Jesus who crushes the serpent)

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul. – Psalm 31:7