Closing a Chapter

JD and I moved away recently from our people in Austin, away from our church, away from the place that we twirled around in joy over babies that we subsequently lost. I struggled with how I was supposed to leave a place that felt connected to the short lives I had held, how I was supposed to “move on”, whatever that means.

As a culture, we are not very good with ritual. We don’t mourn well. We are often uncomfortable with grief, shifting from side to side, waiting for tears to stop and sniffles to cease. Because of this, there’s not really a way to mourn the loss of a baby in utero. Part of this is because there’s debate over when life begins. Part of it is because women experience the loss differently. Part of it is because we are a culture that is shiny and perfect, and things like miscarriage mess with that image. It doesn’t fit into the cultural narrative that dictates much of our life.

But that doesn’t stop us from desiring meaning in our losses, for needing a way to mark a loss. It just means we’re not good at it.

I wanted to share what I’ve done to mark the losses because I know (personally and based on statistics) that many women experience miscarriages. As I’ve shared about mine on the blog, I’ve been astounded by the amount of people who have said, “Me, too.” For some reason, I feel compelled to write about my miscarriages on a public blog, but not everyone shares it with their Facebook world, so to get this response is humbling, heartbreaking, and unifying. These little lives have changed our lives, whether we talk about them or not. I have chosen to talk about them, and I wanted to share the ways I’ve marked their presence in my life.

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The first memorializing thing I did was a write a letter to my babies. I did it one Saturday morning before JD woke up, and it took me ten minutes to write the word goodbye. I sobbed about as hard as that first night that I lost them. In the letter, I shared memories of telling JD I was pregnant. I told them that we had planned to raise them American-Hungarian, so they would have been weirdos in both countries. I told them how much I missed them, how much I loved them.

For a few days after I finished, I didn’t feel much better. I thought it was going to be some magical spell that made me feel ready to move on with my life, but that’s not what happened. I just felt like I had a hangover.

But it was an important marker because I had acknowledged in writing, in something I could hold onto, that they existed and mattered to me. That they still matter. That they are a part of our family story, and I will not forget them.

This opened the door for further exploration of marking these losses, so I eventually decided to get a tattoo. I struggled with whether this was impulsive, but after discussing at length with JD and my therapist, I felt like it was what I wanted to do to carry them with me. I realize not everyone is up for ink, but I had already had a tattoo, so this was not much of a stretch for me. I bounced around a couple of ideas, but I finally settled on a wild poppy flower.

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When JD and I were in Greece, we visited a place of ancient magic, Delphi. It was a sports arena, a temple to the gods, a place of freedom for slaves, and a stop for the wanderers with questions People went there to ask oracles their most important questions, and instead of getting an answer or advice or a fortune, they received a riddle. Their answer was open for interpretation and ambiguity, just like poetry. This response to deep, dark questions was what I was seeking, too, more than a pat answer or Bible verse.

We ran our fingers over the stone walls that held contracts assigning slaves over to be slaves to the gods. The idea was that if you freed a slave, people could just enslave them again. But if you gave a slave over to the gods, they could not be enslaved by someone else, and lucky for the slaves, the gods were not known for calling up their slaves for duty. Essentially, these slaves were free women and men.

On our trek up Delphi’s hill, the lush green surrounded us and we gazed up at the fog-obscured mountaintops, trying to envision the gods looking down on us. As we walked, we found a lone, red poppy flower. I snapped pictures of it, I wrote a poem about it, I stared at its black eye, begging for a riddle. It was thin, papery, delicate. This little wildflower was juxtaposed with the mighty ruins of Greece, and with these images, this place burrowed itself into our hearts.

Thus, the poppy tattoo. I put it on my arm, so that when I do finally carry a baby of my own, I will be carrying my other babies, too.

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This was the second marker.

Finally, I knew that a few days before we moved, I had to pass through my first due date. With my first pregnancy, my due date was June 26. With my second, October 11. JD and I brainstormed one evening a few days before the first date what we should do to remember them. What was “us”? What was something that we could find meaningful and intimate in our remembrance of these lost would-be lives?

We settled on lighting a single candle (wild poppy scent) and playing the few songs I had listened to over and over right after the miscarriage. We cried together in the darkness, and mourned what would have been on that day.

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After these three things, I don’t feel like I am suddenly ready to move on with my life. I don’t feel much stronger when I see pregnancy announcements, or big baby bellies, or little, wiggly bodies with their little toes and little fingers.

But I feel like I have marked my babies’ presence in my life. I have said, “You were here. You changed me. I am different because you existed. I will not forget you.” It was important for me to be able to say those things in some form or another.

This is probably the last post I will dedicate to talking about my miscarriages, but I felt like it was an important one on which to end.  Not everyone grieves a miscarriage or a loss like I have, and not everyone will mark theirs in the same way, but this is what I’ve found to be comforting and meaningful. Just like a memorial service marks the passing of a great life, so these small things have marked the passing of these small, yet significant would-be lives.

If you have a lost a baby, what have you done to mark their passing? How have you remembered them?

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