As Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but feel for those ladies who hate the day because it throws a spotlight on their emptiness.
Here’s a painful chapter from my life, excerpted from my book How to Live in the Moment.
I LEANED CLOSER to the black-and-white image on the television monitor, but I could see no sign of life. The hazy sonogram of our eight-week-old fetus showed no throbbing that would suggest a heartbeat.
“Is this a still picture?” I asked my wife, who is a nurse.
“No,” Linda replied, as she continued to study the tiny figure.
The X-ray technician silently moved the scanner over Linda’s abdomen to bounce the sound waves off the fetus and capture the shadows on film. Within a few minutes, she produced several photographs for the emergency room doctor. Hours before, I had brushed fear aside. Light bleeding early in pregnancy is common, I had reminded myself. Linda encountered the same problem with Rebecca, our one-year-old.
After the doctor reviewed the photos and the results of several tests, he came into the treatment room where Linda and I had spent nearly the first half of this Sunday–my 34th birthday.
“Linda,” he said. “I’m going to order a couple hormone shots.”
Hope surged within me, for surely he wouldn’t have done this had the new life already died.
By 2:30 in the afternoon, we were back home. But two hours later Linda began to complain of abdominal cramps. And before long she was gripping her stomach as the pain began to roll in on powerful waves. Thirty seconds of intense inner squeezing would rise to a peak and fall, followed by 30 seconds of relief.
Neither of us admitted it aloud, but we both knew that was labor–the final stages of a miscarriage that would deliver a fetus that could not possibly survive.
Linda’s doctor said he would meet us at Emergency, and that he would admit my wife into the hospital.
Our reflex response was to scurry around for some overnight things and to ask our neighbors to watch little Rebecca. But when our minds caught up with our reflexes, Linda fell into my arms and sobbed. “I didn’t want this to happen.”
In those moments, I held her and wondered what I could possibly say. Rebecca was sitting at our feet, looking up and smiling curiously as if Mommy and Daddy were teaching her a new game.
“It’s OK,” I finally whispered.
But it wasn’t. For the season of grieving was upon us.
At the hospital, I stood with the doctor in the busy lobby just outside the waiting room doorway. He spoke in a voice that seemed to carry naturally. People all around watched and listened.
“Your wife is in the process of miscarrying. We’re getting her ready for a D and C. We’ll do it as soon as the surgical team arrives.”
I said nothing. From my sad, stone face I looked into his searching eyes.
“You can go into the room with your wife. It will be a few minutes before the others get here.”
Linda was lying on an examination bed, waiting for me. “Did he tell you?” she asked.
I nodded. I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry. I love you.” But I was engulfed in grief, and knew that the words would only begin before they would dissolve into a sea of emotion. I didn’t want Linda leaving for surgery after that. The mourning would wait.
So I sat on a stool at the foot of the bed, and when I did talk, it was about sedate things like blood tests and pain medication. For most of that time, though, I sat quietly as my eyes recorded the images around me.
Patches of veiled red on the sheets that covered my wife.
A three-foot swath of bright crimson, streaking the floor between the bed and a trash container that was overflowing with bloody tissues and opened packages that once held sterile medical supplies.
And on the shelf, beside the sink, a quarter-inch ball of flesh entombed in a clear plastic cup with a snap-on lid.
“The doctor thinks it’s part of the gestational sac,” Linda said, “He’s sending it to pathology.”
I looked silently at the cup. And from the raw instincts of life there arose in me an almost overpowering desire to touch the cup and draw it close to me. But I sat motionless. In that instant there was a quiet explosion within, for I knew this was as near as I would ever get to our child. There would be no small, soft body to hold in my arms and mourn over. No baby to bury. No granite stone on which to engrave a name.
When a pair of nurses took Linda to surgery, they directed me to a large and lonely waiting room. There were 8 couches, 18 chairs, 13 end tables, and me. No one but me. A mute television played its scenes, while easy music fell from the ceiling like a gentle evening shower.
These distractions occupied my mind for only a few minutes. Suddenly I was thinking about life in miniature. Little arms and legs, hands and feet, eyes and nose and mouth. Even at eight weeks, the life had all of these.
Maybe I wouldn’t have found myself swirling in this torrent of emotion had it not been for my little daughter. Without her, I would not have known all that an eight-week-old life could become. The creation that was dying on a day I should have been celebrating life was just a fetus, an untouchable something I couldn’t see or hold, a future event that wasn’t yet real or alive.
But as I paced the waiting room and listened to the imagined sounds of a tiny life being drawn into a high-powered vacuum tube the width of a large straw, I thought of a little girl’s two-toothed smile. I remembered her hand patting me on the back as I rocked her in the early evening hours. And I remembered her cooing, as she sang herself to sleep.
In the solitude of that room my sad, stone face melted. The life that could have been was gone. All gone. I mourned not only for myself but for a life that would never breathe.
Late that night I picked up my sleepy daughter. The neighbors stood on their porch and watched as I began the dark walk home. Once I reached the row of cottonwoods that shielded me from their view, I stopped and buried my head into a tiny shoulder.
The next morning began the condolences. “God knows what he’s doing,” said some of my Christian friends. I accepted their genuine effort to console me, but in silence I wondered why they thought God was responsible.
Should we blame him if the egg implanted itself on scar tissue from my wife’s previous caesarean section and was unable to draw the nutrients it needed? Would it have been his fault if a carrier of German measles came in contact with Linda and caused fetal damage that induced the miscarriage?
No doubt God could have been directly involved in ending this life. After all, he is God. And no one better than he knows how the pieces of life and death fit together to create the eternal portrait.
But, to me, the heartache of it all seems so out of character for the God I have come to know.
It is in His character to mercifully allow the body to release a life that would have endured but a few painful surgery-plagued months or years.
And it is in his character to transform those who are hurting emotionally into healed helpers. Three days after Linda returned to the medical-surgical floor on which she works she came face-to-face with the family of a 50-year-old woman who had died two weeks after she was diagnosed as having cancer.
“I appreciate your empathy,” the son-in-law told Linda. “It has really helped.” Never before had my wife been told that, even though she had worked 11 years in a hospital. She had grown accustomed to death, but now she had a new awareness of the grief of those left behind.
And it is in God’s character to bring about something that happened the night of the miscarriage.
That evening Linda slept the sleep of a medication more powerful than the deadliest grief. But in the early morning hours of a new day, she had a dream. Through a rippling haze, the texture of a reflection in a pond, Linda saw the image of a baby boy. For a moment, the two looked at one another, and then Linda whispered the name we would have given our first son. “Jason.” And the baby smiled. When Linda reached out to gather him into her arms, he disappeared.
It was as though the dream was God’s way of saying the baby is safe and happy.
I believe in an afterlife, not only because of what the Bible says about it, or what science reports about near-death experiences of people who were brought back to life, but because of an innate sense of immortality within me. I’ve never been certain, however, about the immortality of the unborn. The Bible isn’t clear about this, and modern science has yet to provide the evidence I would like to see. But could there not be, this hour, in the most beautiful garden of heaven, an angel rocking a little boy named Jason? It would be just like God to arrange this.
Perhaps the answer is one we have to trust to creation’s First Father.
But there is one thing I know for certain. When Linda told me she could never name another child of ours Jason, I understood why. And in that instant there arose in me, from the center of life where instincts are born, a soothing and healing peace.
Copyright 1989 Stephen M. Miller