Letters for Lily


At Lily's burial service, CJ and I both read letters we'd written her. I am posting them here in the order we read them that day.


I have no idea where to start this letter. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a letter to someone who will never hold it and read it. My hope and prayer is that God will allow you to know my heart and love for you, even though we have yet to meet.

I want to first think about joy. Though you were born still, your gift to us was learning that you existed and getting to tell your sisters that you were “in Mommy’s belly.” Ellie was exuberant. Celia tried to see you by lifting up Mommy’s shirt. Though sadness was to follow several weeks later, you brought us joy and memories we will never forget; just by being. Thank you.

When we were at the doc’s for your 20-week ultrasound, you were still. You were measuring about a month behind. You didn’t have a heartbeat. You were being, yet you were gone. I’ll never forget driving home, sitting in a parking lot down the street with Mommy. Crying. Praying. Calling your grandparents. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell Ellie, as she sat in my lap. Her attention immediately snapped from a distracted, “what now, Daddy?” to utter sadness.

We could have kept your existence as quiet as possible, managed risk, theoretically minimized the damage if the worst were to happen. We didn’t do that because we wanted to celebrate your life. All of it. Jesus said in John that He “…came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” With all friendships there are risks. With all marriages there are risks. With all children there are risks. Risks of giving and not receiving. Risks of being hurt and risks of losing someone. Having life abundantly means taking those risks.

You gave your sisters the opportunity to live life abundantly. To experience immeasurable joy and to grieve. We would rather have had the experience of them smothering you with love and telling you what to do, but make no mistake that you have been a blessing to us.

Our family is now and will forever be incomplete. Nobody could ever replace you. When we see newborns this spring and summer, toddlers next year and 10-year-olds in a decade we will wonder what you would have been like. It will make us sad, sometimes cry, but we will know that you are with Jesus, having life eternal. We will long for the day when we meet you, and Him and also your sister Avaleen.

I want to honor your memory by living life abundantly. By loving those around me, appreciating the gifts God has given me in your mom, your sisters and you; not fearing the pain of loss. While the pain of losing you is indeed severe, living a life with fear of loss is a burden too difficult for me to bear. I love you, Lily.




* * * * * * *


Dearest Lily,

There are so many words I wish I could say to you on this day, this day that we gather to celebrate your life and also to grieve its end.

I want to tell you about the day when your Daddy and I first learned that you existed. I knew then that your presence inside me would lead to long months of fatigue and sickness, but still, I felt joy and excitement at the gift of your life.

I want to tell you about the moment when we first told your sisters about you, about how Ellie squealed with delight and how Celia lifted up my shirt, wanting to look and see if she could find this “baby in Mommy’s belly” that Daddy kept talking about. They were both so excited to meet you. We all were.

I want to tell you about the people standing in front of me today, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, the friends and neighbors who celebrated with us when we first told them about you. They loved you too, and they’ve shown their love for you and for us these past two weeks, in flowers and meals and prayers and tears, in their willingness to simply be with us in the darkness.

I want to tell you about the day you were born, about the difficult beauty of those precious hours we had to hold you in our arms. I want to tell you about the wonder of your tiny body, the marvelous intricacy of your mouth and nose and toes. I want to tell you about the doctor and the friends who cried with us that day, about the sisters who loved you just as you were, about the way we felt God’s presence with us even as we said goodbye.

I wish I had a lifetime to tell you these stories, to wrap you in my arms and hold you close, and recount for you the memories stored up in my heart. You were loved my sweet girl, and you are loved still.

This morning, your sister Ellie placed a card inside your coffin. It read, “I am sorry that you died.” And in the end, I don’t have much to add to her words. I am sorry that you died, my Lily girl. So very, very sorry.



On the Joy and Sorrow of Mother's Day

Mother's Day I am weary this Mother's Day. Last night, I burst into tears at the prospect of making dinner in a kitchen littered with unwashed dishes, unopened mail, and the food from my daughters' play kitchen.

My husband took one look at me and sent me to bed. "I've got this," he said.

All I really want for Mother's Day is a nice long nap.

As my own amazing mother has always told me, being a mother is hard, hard work. It is beautiful, fulfilling work, but it calls for all of me everyday. Or as it often seems, it calls for more of me than there is to go around.

For this reason, I am thankful for Mother's Day, for a day that honors and celebrates the many women who have sacrificed to give and to nurture life. I think of my own rich legacy of motherhood: my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law, my friends' mothers, and the many, many older women who took note of me over the years, who in their own unique ways encouraged and invested and loved.

These women, some of them mothers themselves, some of them childless or single, taught me to cook and to sew, to see Jesus in the everyday, to value myself and my gifts, to count the nurturing of little souls as sacred, significant work. My own mothering is in so many ways an overflow of what they poured into me.

It is right and good to celebrate these women and others like them. I'm glad for the existence of a holiday like Mother's Day, for the way its regular appearance on my calendar reminds me to stop, take a break from my own busyness, and remember with gratitude.

But I also know it's not quite as simple as that. I remember the pain of my own childless Mother's Day, when CJ and I had been trying for nearly a year to get pregnant. I remember how alone I felt when all the mothers in our church stood to be recognized, how I left the service sobbing.

This Mother's Day, I ache for the daughter who is missing, and I ache too for many of my friends. I think of my pregnant friend caring for her two young daughters, wishing her own mother could have met her sweet babies. I think of my single mom friends, with no one coming home to relieve them of dinner preparations after a hard day. I think of my friends who long for children of their own, of the many brave ways they love and invest and nurture.

I'm sad that Mother's Day can be a hard day for these friends and others like them, even as I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the many amazing mothers I know. It is hard to hold onto both of these emotions. I understand the impulse to ignore the hurting on a day of celebration or to rail against Mother's Day because it can be a source of pain.

And yet, I hope there is another way, a way we can somehow embrace both the beautiful and the broken, a way to sit in both the joy and the sorrow with one another. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I hope, this Mother's Day, that I can do both.

Almost Four

Almost Four You've been talking a lot lately about your upcoming birthday, about the fact that you are "almost four."

The other night at dinner, you asked, "How old will Celia be when I turn four?"

"Still one," I replied.

You stopped to consider that for a moment, then asked:  "Is it because Avaleen died that there is a number between Celia and I?"

I understood immediately what you meant.  You are three.  Celia is one.  Avaleen would be two.

"Yes," I said, a soft smile on my lips.  "That's right sweetie."

"If Avaleen were here," you continued, "we could play the three bears.  I would be Papa Bear and Avaleen would be Momma Bear and Celia would be Baby Bear."

"Yes," I said simply.  "That is true."

I did not cry as I might have if we'd had this conversation a year or two ago, when my grief was still more raw.  But I could have.

I felt sad in that moment, wishing that both of your sisters were here, wishing that you could play the three bears together and enjoy decades of adventures as a trio.  But mostly, Ellie girl, I felt proud.

I love how you love your sister, even though you never met her, even though we didn't tell you about her until two years after she died, when we thought you were finally old enough to understand.  Your eyes filled with tears then as you looked at your Daddy and I.  "I want to go to Heaven to see her," you said as we wrapped you in our arms and all cried together.  "I want my sister."

You still talk about her almost every day, and while I struggle to answer the question of how many kids we have, you don't hesitate.  "There are three kids in our family," you say, to me and to strangers alike.

You may never understand what a gift those words are to me, Ellie girl.  They are natural when you say them, absent of the awkwardness I feel when I try to articulate the same thing.  I worry about what people will think, about whether or not Avaleen really "counts" since she died before she was even born, but you have understood from the beginning. She is one of us, and her death leaves a gap.  A missing number between you and Celia.  No Momma Bear for your imaginary play.

You are right, Ellie girl.  There are three kids in our family.  And I'm so glad you are one of them.

When Your Friends Prayers Aren't Answered And Yours Are

20140902-Waldron-LaughwithFriends I'm honored to have a guest post running on the (in)courage site today.  It's about being a mom of two living daughters and also being a woman who's experienced infertility and miscarriage.  It's about holding both life and loss in balance as I relate to women currently struggling with reproductive loss.  I hope you'll visit, read, and join in the conversation.

My Three Girls

A few weeks ago, two dear friends of mine gave me a necklace as a baby gift of sorts.  It's a simple silver chain with four circles, a large one to represent me and three small ones to represent my three girls:  the two year old I care for every day, the baby I never got to hold, and this little one we get to meet next week.

It was a beautiful, thoughtful gift, and I cried putting it on for the first time, so grateful that my friends chose to acknowledge the lives of all three of my precious girls.  I love wearing it, love running my fingers over the three tiny circles and thinking about each of my three children, about how I know and love each of them in such different ways.

As the birth of this baby draws near, I find myself reflecting often on what it means to be a mother of three, to hold my love and care for three different little ones in balance.  I think of Ellie and all the changes coming her way, of the attention she will lose and the joy she will gain.  I try to pour as much love as I can into her now, to let her know just how cherished and valued she is and always will be, even as the way I relate to her must change.  I think of Avaleen, who would likely have been celebrating her first birthday this week and of how different our lives would be if she were here, if we had the privilege of knowing her.

And I think of this new baby, of what feels like an incredibly long road to her birth.  I think of loss and doctor's visits and tests and waiting and nine months of fear and anticipation and anxiety.  I think of the moment I will hear her first cry, and I pray it will be a sweet, redemptive moment, that in meeting her some of the pain of losing her sister will be healed.  But I know too that she is her own person, and I pray also that we will be able to see her that way, that her life will be defined by the unique person she was made to be, not by the sister who was lost before her.

My brain is full of all these thoughts, jumbled together, unclear.  I'm not sure how to hold things in balance, how to be a good mother to each of my three girls at the same time.  I feel very aware of my limitations, my humanness.  My emotions simmer just below the surface of my smiles, sometimes breaking into unexplainable overflows of tears.

I do not know what I am supposed to feel at a moment like this.  I'm not even sure exactly what I am feeling in this moment.  But I do know that God has given me three girls, that each of their lives has been a gift, that I am blessed to be their mother and to carry them as I do right now:  in my arms, in my womb, and in my heart.

Pregnancy After Loss: Embracing Joy

"When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad." 

- Psalm 14:7b

I read this verse the other day, and then I stopped and read it again.  I'm sure I've seen the words of this exact sentence many times before, glossing over what seems to be an obvious point of instruction:  when God blesses you, be thankful.  Or to put it another way, when things are going better than they were, be happy.  It should be a no-brainer, an easy command to follow, and yet I realized for me, it is not.
God has restored my fortunes.  He's answered our prayers and given us a third daughter, one we will meet, Lord-willing, in just a few weeks.  It is a sweet, beautiful, healing thing to be pregnant again after a miscarriage, but I'll be honest.  That's not where my heart's been living most of the past eight months.  While I've certainly felt joy and gladness many times, I haven't camped out there.  
Instead, I've been living with fear of more loss and grief to come, sometimes a deep, crippling terror, but more often a subtle, gripping sense that something could go wrong at any moment.  I wake up every morning wondering, Is she still with us?  Soon, a kick or punch reassures me, but it doesn't take long until things are still, and I wonder again.  It happens so often I don't even notice it most of the time, but the fear is there, constant.  
When joy does bubble up, when sweet friends surprise me with a day of pre-baby pampering, when Ellie talks about how she can't wait to hold her baby sister, the fearful thoughts are not far behind.  How would you return these baby gifts if she dies?  What it would be like to explain to Ellie that Baby Sister is gone forever? 

I think of dear friends who'd give anything to just be pregnant right now, who struggle daily with the burden of unanswered prayers, and I feel guilty that I can't simply rejoice in what I've been given.  It seems like it should be so easy.  But the truth is, it's not.  I struggle to embrace joy, knowing full well that sometimes joy dies, that the greatest gifts can also become the greatest losses.
I know God is patient with my fearful soul, but I also know He doesn't desire me to live in fear.  So I am praying for help with the most basic of commands, that I might see that God has restored my fortunes, that I might, quite simply, be glad.

His Story

Last Saturday evening, I sat in the living room of a couple I'd just met and listened while they shared the story of their past four years, a story marked by five miscarriages, the unexpected death of a best friend, and a baby they were told by doctor after doctor would certainly not survive birth.  They bounced this sweet, so very alive baby on their laps as they talked, a tangible reminder of answered prayers in the midst of so much unexplainable loss.

On my way back to Virginia the next morning, as I rounded the Capital Beltway near the lofty peaks of the Mormon Temple, Pandora began playing a song I didn't recognize and can't remember really, a song about God and the way He builds His kingdom, the sort of song that is supposed to inspire believers to march forth and do great things for God.   I generally like this sort of song, like to feel inspired by grand visions and lofty missions.

But today, I thought of the family I'd been visiting and of all the families I've been talking to the past year.  I thought of the collective pain of their stories:  decades of waiting for babies who didn't come, dozens of babies lost, lifetimes of pain and struggle and lingering questions and doubts.  I thought of all the things these people might have done for God if they hadn't had to spend all this time suffering, and I tried to reconcile the reality of their lives with the advance of God's kingdom, with His call to reach more people with the good news of salvation.

It didn't make much sense to me.  Why would God allow His children, the very people He's appointed to spread His message, to languish for years in pain and suffering, to wrestle with questions, to doubt the very truths He wants them to share with others?  To me, it would seem the gospel would advance best and most efficiently through the strong and healthy, not the broken and the suffering, the grieving and the doubting.

But in that moment, God reminded me of another story, the story of Ruth.  I thought about Naomi losing her husband and both of her sons, coming back to Bethlehem far from an exemplary spokeswoman for God's kingdom.  "Don't call me Naomi," she says.  "Call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter" (Ruth 1:20).

And yet, in spite of her pain and the resulting bitterness, God worked - both in her lifetime, to bring her joy again in the form of a grandson, and after her death, to bring the Savior through the bloodline of that grandson and to include her story in the greatest book of all time.  Her life, messy and broken as it was, became part of the advance of God's kingdom in ways she couldn't have ever imagined, even on her death bed.

I realized in that moment that my vision of kingdom advancement to this point has been very people-centered, based on strategy and vision and human initiative.  And while I do believe God calls us to think strategically about carrying the gospel forward, I am learning this is not the only, or even the primary way.

I am learning this:  the gospel is His story.  He writes it. And He's very comfortable with not only our sin, but also with our suffering selves, with the wounds we carry with us.  He advances His kingdom not by leading a parade of the triumphant and mighty, but by carrying in His capable arms the injured and limping, those of us who sometimes can manage nothing more than to whisper His name.

Pregnancy After Loss: Flashbacks

On Wednesday morning, I learn that an acquaintance's sister has just experienced a stillbirth at 39 weeks - sudden, unexpected, and unexplained.  I read the e-mail over and over, and I keep thinking of this baby's nursery, neat and ready, its emptiness no longer one of sweet anticipation, now a painful reminder of bitter loss.  I think of our own nursery, of the newborn clothes folded into tidy rows in the drawers.

Later, I meet some friends at the playground.  The other moms all have two children, a baby and a toddler each, and then there are Ellie and I and my very pregnant stomach.  It's a clear fall day, sun filtered through falling leaves, and the mom chatter flows freely, addressing toddler tantrums, infant sleep, and how to fill the long days.

I have things to say about all of these topics, but today I do not want to talk.  Ellie wanders to a remote corner of the park, and I follow her, happy for some distance from the others.  She climbs up an aging piece of playground apparatus, and I spot her, making sure she does not slip or fall.

Tears spill down my cheeks, and I do not know why exactly.  I wipe them with my sweatshirt sleeve while Ellie happily spins a steering wheel and slides her way across a swinging bridge.

I know I am sad for this woman I do not know, for her loss that is deeper than any I have experienced.  At first, I think I must be afraid for the baby inside me, and it is true.  I am.  The seven weeks I have left suddenly feel very long.

But I know somehow, that there is more, that these tears are for Avaleen too.  I am reminded today of the horror of death and of the little girl that might be here with us, toddling her way through the leaves and eating mulch.

I drive Ellie home and let the tears flow.  Sometimes, there is nothing else to do.


Pregnancy After Loss: Letting Go of Grief

The air here in Northern Virginia has suddenly turned cool, the mornings and evenings just crisp enough to require a sweatshirt.  It's pleasant to be outside again, and Ellie and I have started taking walks several times a day.  Sometimes she pushes a baby doll in her doll stroller.  Sometimes I push her in the real stroller. Sometimes we both walk.

Monday afternoon was one of the latter kind.  We meandered our way out of our little court, down the sidewalk toward the adjacent elementary school.  The air was cool and comfortable, absent of summer humidity, and Ellie ran along beside me happily, chattering about the playground where we were headed.

When we arrived, she took off toward the equipment, eager to climb and jump and slide, and I stood for a moment watching her, enjoying the pleasure of the weather and Ellie's delightful energy and the kicks of her baby sister inside me.  I reflected on the independence Ellie has now acquired, independence that allows for us to leave the house with nothing but our keys and for me to stand and watch her at the playground instead of running around to ensure that she safely maneuvers her way through each piece of equipment.

Suddenly, I thought of Avaleen and how different my life would be if she were here.  I'd have pushed her here in a stroller, with a bag full of diapers and wipes and burp cloths.  She'd be almost ten months now, likely crawling, possibly working on her first steps.  She'd need to be held, prevented from eating mulch, guided up steps and down slides.  There would be no time for peaceful standing and reflecting.

I felt guilty in that moment for enjoying life as it is now.  Of course, I'd take Avaleen back in a heartbeat if I could, would gladly embrace the challenges of being a busy mother of an infant and a toddler, but I know that's not possible.  I know our lives will forever move on without Avaleen in them.

Recently, I've found increasing joy in those moments, even without her there, a joy that shortly after her death was impossible for me to imagine.  I struggle though with guilt about that joy.  I fear that experiencing joy somehow means I am forgetting her or losing sight of how important she was and is.  I worry that our third daughter is somehow functioning as a replacement baby, even though I've never thought of her that way.

A friend who's also experienced a miscarriage told me recently that one day, suddenly, in the midst of a poolside conversation, she felt released to let go of her grief, to remember her baby but to no longer need to dwell on her loss.  I haven't had a moment like that yet, but I've started to pray for one, to ask God to show me how to both keep on loving Avaleen and to enjoy the life we've been given without her.

Pregnancy After Loss: Control

I distinctly remember what I was wearing to the doctor's office on the day we learned Avaleen's heart had stopped beating:  a white, flowing sleeveless shirt just loose enough to camouflage the slight swell of my 15 week belly. It wasn't a maternity shirt as I hadn't yet felt the need to dig into that musty Rubbermaid bin stored in our tiny attic crawlspace, just a regular shirt that happened to work well in the early stages of pregnancy.  My doctor complimented me on it when she walked into the room that fateful day, all smiles and hugs, just moments before the Doppler came up silent.

I haven't been able to wear it since.  I've pulled it out of my drawer numerous times during this pregnancy, thinking it would look nice, reminding myself there is no rational reason why putting it on could cause a miscarriage or bring any sort of bad luck.  I know that sort of thinking is complete and utter illogical foolishness.  And yet, every time, I've put it back on its pile unworn.  The memories now woven into its very fabric are just too painful to carry so close to my skin.

I've struggled a lot with the little things this pregnancy:  forgetting to take a supplement on a day or two, worrying about the traces of dairy I might have accidentally consumed, awaking in the middle of the night to find myself sleeping in the forbidden back position.  It feels as if we're always just one little misstep away from losing this baby too, that any little mistake might be enough to end her fragile life.

In my head, I know that these worries are really about my desire to control, to believe that if I do everything right, things will be okay, life will move along smoothly.  I know too that things don't work this way.  Babies die in spite of our best efforts.  Babies live against all odds.  Life eludes our control.

But it is so hard to live this way, to put on the metaphorical white shirt, to relinquish the threads of perceived control we hold so dear.

Pregnancy After Loss: Daring to Hope

When I first found out I was pregnant with this baby, I was grateful and excited, but mostly, I felt disengaged.  It was almost exactly a year since we had learned I was pregnant with Avaleen, and it had been a hard year:  months of pregnancy-induced nausea, a terrible death, endless doctor's visits and insurance phone calls, and grief that had only recently begun to ebb.  I feared we were headed down the same road again, and everything seemed to remind me that this pregnancy was just like the last:  finding out the news just before Ellie's birthday, telling our families over Easter, filling out the pool registration form and thinking about maternity swimwear.  It all felt eerily familiar.

I was terrified to hope, couldn't imagine that we'd actually be holding a baby in our arms this December.  My first doctor's appointment was early due to my history.  The day of my appointment, six weeks pregnant, I convinced myself the baby had already died.  I had started to feel nauseous, and then it had stopped, just as it had a day or two before we found out Avaleen was gone.  I frantically smelled the spices in my pantry, searching for an odor that would turn my stomach, but I felt fine.  I knew we'd lost this baby too.  I just knew.

And then, at my doctor's office, in the very same room where Avaleen's death had been confirmed, we saw life.  On the ultrasound screen, there was the faintest of flickers, a heart beating in a tiny form barely recognizable as a body.  Still, I struggled to engage.  My heart didn't want to dream or plan or love because I was so scared of feeling the pain of loss again.

The nausea hit full-force shortly thereafter, and I was quickly reduced to survival mode.  My goals were simple:  make it through the day until CJ got home from work and somehow keep the three of us fed even though the very thought of a menu plan or grocery store could send me running to the toilet.  I didn't have time or energy to worry much about the pregnancy, which was perhaps a strange sort of mercy.  I was simply getting by.

Because my nausea continued until 17 weeks and to a lesser degree beyond, it's only been recently that I've even been able to consider my heart again.  When I look at the facts, there is much to be encouraged about. We've made it past the 14.5 week point in the pregnancy where we lost Avaleen, past the 20 week ultrasound where any number of problems might have surfaced, and past the 24 week mark when there is hope of a baby surviving apart from its mother.  My doctor says this is a textbook perfect pregnancy.

But she still has me come in for more frequent appointments, still does regular ultrasounds just to make sure everything looks okay.  And I'm still very much aware that loss can happen anytime for all kinds of reasons, that whatever took Avaleen's life could still affect this baby, that something new could surface.  There are no guarantees.  

I'm trying to engage my heart all the same, allowing myself the pleasure of planning for baby girl's arrival, allowing myself to dream of Ellie's new bedroom, of the simple nursery updates I'd like to make.  I've booked a newborn photography session.  I've started thinking about a birth plan.

But, still, just this morning, I woke up turning around a thought in my brain that felt both foreign and surprising:  You have a baby inside of you.  You are going to have a baby.

Pregnancy After Loss: Not a Replacement

Prior to Avaleen's death, I didn't think all that much about what it would be like have a miscarriage.  I had a vague sense that it would be hard and disappointing, but I focused my thoughts on the bigger picture:  as long as the couple involved could eventually have a child, I rationalized, it was kind of okay.  The real grief in my mind was not the miscarriage so much as the possibility of not being able to have children at all.

When I found out Avaleen had died, I immediately realized the foolishness of this way of thinking.  I already had a child.  There was no indication I wouldn't be able to have another.  And yet the emotions I was feeling were anything but vague; from the beginning, I had a very clear sense that we had lost a particular, unique child with distinctive physical features and personality.  She had lived inside me for 14.5 weeks, and I had felt her move.  The miscarriage meant that, no matter how many children we might go on to have, we would never get to meet, hold, or welcome her into our family.  She was irreplaceable.

And yet, here I sit, pregnant with another daughter who is due to be born almost exactly a year after Avaleen should have been.  In all likelihood, the baby I carry wouldn't have been conceived if Avaleen had been born.

I don't think of her as a replacement for Avaleen, but I understand that others will.  I know she will be referred to as Baby #2, and in one sense, she will be.  Lord willing, she will be the second child we bring home from the hospital, the second child we strap into our family vehicle, the second child we tuck into bed each night.  But to me, Avaleen is Baby #2.  She is the second child I carried, the second child I loved.  

I'm not sure yet how to incorporate that reality into my speech.  When the lady in front of me at Starbuck's asks if I'm pregnant with Baby #2, what will I say?  When the grocery store employee comments on my two daughters, will I mention that there are really three?

I don't know.  I'm still trying to figure it out.  I realize that as much as I want Avaleen's existence to be shared and remembered, there will be times when it will just be simpler and less awkward not to mention her.  Our culture doesn't really allow space in casual conversation for references to the children we've lost.

I hope though that can figure out ways to communicate what I feel, that Avaleen is every bit as much my child as the toddler with whom I spend my days, as this baby about to be born.

Pregnancy After Loss: Grief

Yesterday, in Starbucks, I spotted a mother and her three young daughters, lined up in a row of window seats, sipping cool drinks and reading library books and filling out pages in what I assumed to be some sort of summer enrichment workbooks.  Knowing another baby girl is on her way to our family, I watched them, watched the sisters in their sundresses squirm and occasionally squabble, watched the mother in her cute sandals manage them all calmly.  I smiled, imagining my future as a mother of daughters, beginning to dream of our own similarly organized and educational adventures. 

And then, when the mother turned to help the oldest with her workbook, I watched the youngest two girls talking, and it hit me suddenly that there were three.  Three daughters:  living, laughing, and interacting in a way that my three girls never will.

I watched the middle daughter, noted her dark bob and white sandals, and thought of Avaleen, wondered what she would have been like, if she would have made her sisters laugh or perhaps been the one to calm them with her steadiness.  

This pregnancy has eased some of my griefs, but it hasn't changed these facts:  there will always be one daughter missing, and there will always be one daughter missed.

Pregnancy After Loss: Friendship

Today, I begin a series of posts entitled Pregnancy After Loss to explore some of the things I've been thinking about the first half of this pregnancy, as I deal with the reality I mentioned in my last post:  pregnancy does not always result in the birth of a living child.  The first post in the series follows below.

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A friend from high school wrote recently to tell me about some of her own struggles with fertility issues.  In her e-mail, she mentioned that she often feels like her world is divided into two groups:  friends who can have babies and friends who cannot.

I can relate.  When we struggled to get pregnant with Ellie, I was the only woman in my small group who didn't have children, and I felt terribly alone in that context.  It was much easier to relate to my friends from other places, friends who didn't or couldn't have children.  After losing Avaleen, I struggled too, even though I had one living child of my own.  On playdates and at mom's group, I often felt surrounded by women who seemed to pop out babies effortlessly, who to my knowledge hadn't experienced a pregnancy loss, and I felt not only envious, but also unable to participate in casual conversations about pregnancy aches and pains and newborn care, even though I could on one level relate.

One of the difficulties for me about this pregnancy is that I feel like I've shifted from one club to another without fully belonging in either.  I'm pregnant with my third child in three years.  I can no longer really claim that we've had significant struggles getting pregnant.  This pregnancy seems to be progressing well.  I am a woman who can have babies.

And yet my year of infertility and especially the loss of Avaleen have forever shaped the way I think of conception and pregnancy.  I know what it is like to watch month after month pass by with no plus sign on the pregnancy test, to struggle with the news that yet another friend is pregnant when you are not.  I know what it is like to lose a child, to be forever shaped by the absence of a life you once carried inside you and by the fearful knowledge that it could happen again.  The truth is I don't really feel like a woman who can have babies, but rather a woman whose family is growing through struggle and tears.  And even though my first child plays with her Daddy and my third is growing inside me while I write, I still very much identify with the woman who can't have babies.  I've lived some parts of her story, and while my pain has been lessened in ways that her's has not, I feel a kinship to her.

That's part of why it's hard for me to announce this pregnancy so publically, even though I want to write honestly about all of my life.  I've spent the past 7 months talking to women (and men) who've expeienced disappointment and loss related to having children.  I've interviewed them for my book, and many of them have reached out to me because of my book - aquaintances from high school and church, friends from college I'd lost touch with, even friends of friends I'd never met previously.  I carry their stories with me, and my joy in my own pregnancy is tempered by my awareness that I've been given a gift many of them have not.

I pray for them often, and I grieve with them.  I don't have any easy answers for the pain they must sit in.  Part of me feels like I am betraying them with this pregnancy, like I'm losing my ability to identify with and to speak to them.   I don't know.  Perhaps that is true.  I can only be faithful to share from the experiences I've been given.  But today, I just want to say to all of my sweet friends who are struggling to have babies, you are on my heart and in my mind.  I may be pregnant, but you are not forgotten.

Family News

I am pregnant.

It's such a simple sentence, but writing it feels to me both exhilerating and scary, much like my hesitant jumps off the high dive when I was ten.

You see, the link between pregnancy and having a baby has been severed in my experience, and I am still finding it difficult to reestablish the connection.  Telling the world is one way to choose to celebrate this life, to rejoice in this child who is right now very much alive, making her presence known with gentle flips and kicks while I write.  I battle fear of losing this baby every day, probably will until she is safely in my arms, but I don't want to be consumed by that fear.

So I'm telling you all:  I am pregnant, twenty weeks.  It's another little girl.  We are delighted and terrified, grateful and hopeful.

A Book Summary...And A Request for Feedback

Since I haven't written much about my book lately, I thought I'd post a little update.  The past few months, I've continued working on my book, doing interviews, drafting, and revising, but I've also been focused on getting a book proposal together, one I can send out to prospective agents and publishers.  What follows below is a short summary of my vision for the book that I plan to include as part of my proposal.  I'd love to hear some feedback from you all:  What resonates with you?  What doesn't?  What am I missing?  What is unclear?  How could it be better?

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In the long months of waiting to conceive my first child and in the dark season following the miscarriage of my second, I felt many things:  fear, sadness, despair, and confusion among them.  But above all, I felt alone.  Everywhere I looked, I saw swelling bellies and smiling newborns, and I felt the ache of my own emptiness more deeply in my perceived isolation.

If I’d taken the time to push past the surface images of childbearing ease around me, I would have known I was far from alone.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 10 percent of American women ages 15-44, about 6.1 million people, have difficulty conceiving and/or carrying pregnancies to term.  The trouble is that unlike pregnant stomachs and cuddly infants, the experiences of infertility and miscarriage are often silent and hidden, leading people like me to feel alone even when our stories are not at all uncommon.

In the absence of a close friend who’d experienced either infertility or miscarriage, I often wished I could read a book that would help me feel less alone, a book that would validate my fears and grief, a book that would also offer some measure of comfort and hope.  As a student and writer of creative nonfiction, I wanted a book that told rich and beautiful stories.  I found plenty of books where the authors used interviews or personal experience to back up their larger points about grief or healing, but I wanted the stories themselves to be the focus, any sort of epiphany being conveyed through the climaxes and resolutions of real lives.  As a Christian, I also wanted to read a book that wrestled with the kinds of deep, probing questions about God that reproductive loss stirs in the soul.  I found plenty of books on the theology of grief, suffering, and loss, but none that walked those questions out in the experiences of real people who’d experienced infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

In short, I couldn’t find the kind of book I wanted to read, so I decided to write it.  My book is part-memoir; it chronicles a year in my life, beginning nine months after my miscarriage as my husband and I simultaneously continue to grieve the loss of our daughter and begin trying to get pregnant again.  The book is also part-interview; each chapter focuses on the story of one family who has experienced infertility, miscarriage, and/or stillbirth and describes both their loss and their experience of God in it.  Most of all, the book is about the interplay between my own story and the stories of others, about the God who is writing both the ultimate Story and the smaller narratives of each of our lives, and about realizing I was never as alone as I thought I was.