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.

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.

* * *

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.

The Difference a Year Makes

Eaactly one year ago today, I ran to the toilet at my grandparents' beach house, losing the contents of my stomach for the first time in twenty some years. I did the same later that day at my in-laws' house, shortly after we told them that I was pregnant. And I repeated the feat a third time back at home when I took my prenatal vitamin before bed.

A year ago today, Ellie was the size of a lima bean, turning my life (and stomach) upside down, but so very unknown to me.

Today, she is sixteen pounds of laughing, grabbing, rolling, smiling, bouncing life. She's a striver, my Ellie, wanting to sit, stand, move further than her little body will carry her. She loves being around people, being talked to, being outside. Her smile fills her whole face, makes even her dark eyes sparkle.

It's hard to believe how far we've come this past year, that we've survived four months of nausea, the cough that wouldn't die, back pain, a third trimester shingles outbreak, labor and delivery, those early sleepless nights, breastfeeding difficulties, reflux, and dairy/soy intolerance.

My mother always told me that having kids was the hardest thing she ever did - and also the best thing. The past year has proven her so very right on both counts.

On Being Full Term

As of last Thursday, I am full term in this pregnancy, which means that baby girl could make her arrival on any day, at any time.

Strangely enough though, I find it hard to believe that she actually will come. I mean I know this baby has to come out one way or another and that she will do so sometime in the next month, perhaps much sooner. But since I haven't noticed any contractions, Braxton-Hicks or otherwise, and still feel relatively mobile and energetic, it sometimes seems like I'll just be pregnant forever.

And, to be honest, while I am really excited to meet this baby and to be a mom, part of me is okay with the idea of being pregnant a little while longer. For one, I'm enjoying all the things that won't be possible soon - sleeping in, spontaneous date nights with CJ, baskets of toys that stay clean and put away, uninterrupted time to read, write, and just be. And of course, there are always more things we can do to get ready - meals to freeze, books to read, projects to complete.

But more than that, I'm enjoying a stage of life that I feel like I can understand and manage. I've been pregnant for almost nine months now, and while it was terrifying at first to watch my body changing in ways I couldn't control or predict, I now feel comfortable being pregnant. I've experienced the nausea, the fatigue, the weakened immune system, the round ligament pains, the back pain, the heartburn, and the aches of a stretching body, and I know generally what to expect on a day-to-day basis and how to deal with the various symptoms.

But the moment labor starts, a whole series of unknowns will be set in motion, things I've talked to friends about and read about but ultimately have no personal knowledge of and little control over: labor, delivery, breastfeeding, infant sleep patterns, the temperament of our daughter, my own post-pregnancy hormonal state, how CJ and I will respond to our whole lives being turned upside down.

When I try to imagine any of these upcoming realities, I quickly get stuck. There are just so many things I can't predict or know. Will my labor be long or short? Will I be able to have the natural birth we're planning for or will interventions be necessary? Will our daughter be fussy or calm? Will I be one of the lucky few for whom breastfeeding comes naturally or will it be painful, difficult, perhaps even impossible? How will I handle the lack of sleep? Physically? Spiritually? Emotionally? I could go on and on.

I have enough friends with children to know that there are many possible answers to each of these questions and that the way one area goes will affect many of the others, like a choose-your-own-adventure book, except that in many cases, I won't really have a choice.

CJ tells me that it will be an adventure, that we'll be in it together, that God will help us, that it will be good. I tell him that while I like the idea of adventures, I'm not really all that keen on them when it really comes down to it. I prefer predictability, routine, and the illusion of certainty. I don't like learning how to do things because in doing so, there is the strong possibility of failure. I'd rather be skilled and competent at everything I do. Prideful? Yes. Reality of my heart? Yes again.

So here I sit, these next few months feeling like one big, gaping unknown, part of me enjoying the comforts of my current lived-in, well-known reality, part of me recognizing that God is calling me to trust Him and that it is only in facing the risks of the unknown that the many great joys of motherhood and parenting and family will come.

My prayer is that in the remaining days of this pregnancy, God will help me to let go of my desire for control and safety and give me increased faith for this adventure of many unknowns, that I might experience rest, joy, and hope in the "knowns" of His goodness, faithfulness, and sovereignty.

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 3

The changes in my soul did not happen, as I often wished they would, in one fell, dramatic swoop, like the sudden, relieving cool that follows a thunderstorm on a humid, summer day. Instead, they came in fits and starts, like the first signs of spring in Northern Virginia where I live, thawing one day followed by icy winds the next, any sense of progress toward warmth and new life passing, for a long time, largely unnoticed.

But somehow, gradually, as the months passed, I began to soften inside, to trust God a little more, to believe with a tiny part of my heart that He was still real and good, to see small glimpses of His presence in spite of the still unanswered prayers.

God showed up in the friends who walked with me during these months, the friends I called on the bad, desperate days when despair threatened to overwhelm me. In particular, He showed up in Randi and in Becca, two friends who were willing to drop what they were doing on multiple days and come sit with me in my sadness. They cried with me. They prayed with me. They watched while I balled up tissue after sodden tissue and listened while I processed emotion after endless emotion. They empathized where they could and were honest enough to admit when they couldn't. They gently spoke truth to my soul.

God showed up in His word, in the stories of the man born blind (John 9) and of Lazarus (John 11), stories that pointed not only to God's ability to heal what is broken, but also to His redemptive purposes in physical pain and sickness and of His tender heart toward His children in the midst of their suffering.

God showed up in the writing of Paula Rinehart (Better than My Dreams), whose words resonated with my writer's heart and reminded me that I am not the author of my own story, but a character in a greater story, a story that is messy and confusing and scary in the middle, but does have an ending where things will evenutally resolve for good.

God showed up in my times with Him, speaking to my heart with a directness that I only rarely experience. He reminded me that this time of waiting was for my good and spoke to me clearly that at least part of the reason He was asking me to wait was because He wanted me to write and knew that if I didn't prioritize that now, before kids, I certainly wouldn't after.

God showed up in my husband, who often did not understand the depth of my disappointment and who often bore the brunt of my frustration and despair, but who continued to patiently and faithfully love me.

I wish I could say that God showing up in all these ways gave me perfect joy and peace as I continued to wait on Him, but the reality is that it didn't. My trust in Him still often faltered and failed, and there were many days where I failed to trace His goodness in any of my circumstances. And yet, I really do believe that though I am far from arriving at a place of trusting God fully, the process of waiting on Him brought a deepening sense of trust in some previously hardened places in my soul, that in some small but significant ways, springtime finally did come.

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 2

The word barren describes an absence of life due to an inability to reproduce. It is not death exactly, but it is akin to death. Death describes a life that has ended; barrenness describes a life that, for whatever reason, cannot be.

Barren was one of the vocabulary words I taught my eighth graders when we read a short story called “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes. Hughes used the word to describe a city stoop, and in my head, I picture the word barrenness like I picture Hughes’ stoop – dark, shadowy, cracked, and dirty, absent of flowers, light, and beauty.

That’s how barrenness often felt to me too, in the year that CJ and I waited for a child. Each month, I would allow myself to hope, believing that maybe, just maybe, this time would be the time. And month and after month, when I saw the tell-tale signs of an empty womb, I found myself bowled over by a deep and profound sadness, aware that I was, in spite of my deep desire to give life, still barren.

At church, I watched the women with their small children, envying their full arms and busy, bustling pews. In my own row, it was just CJ and I. No diaper bags, no strollers, no children to fill our arms or our laps. Empty.

At small group, where I was the only woman who didn't have kids, I tried my best to participate in conversations even when they veered, as conversations of young moms often (and understandably) do, to topics like cloth diapers and bedtime routines. I'd done enough babysitting to hold my own most of the time, but inside, I felt excluded. Alone.

In my times with God, I sobbed, wondering out loud why He would not answer my prayers, certain that He was holding out on me, perhaps punishing me in some way. Sometimes, I was angry. Sometimes, I felt so sad that I didn't want to get out of bed. Sometimes, I just felt a crushing sense of despair.

One day, I bitterly told CJ how much I hated the word barren. He listened and then looked at me with a gentle and compassionate twinkle in his eye. “There is another word, Abby," he said. "It's a good word. It’s God.”

Paula Reinhart writes in her book Better Than My Dreams about the phrase, “But God…” She describes it as a phrase we must remember when our lives don’t turn out the way we always thought they should. In those moments, we see disappointment, failure, and the absence of God. But, she says, in every story, there is always a "But God...." God is always at work, even in what feels like His absence, bringing good to His children.

In my barrenness, I would come to discover, He was breathing new life into deep places in my soul.

To Be Continued...

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 1

"It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." - Lamentations 3:26

If you ask my mom, she will tell you that even when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. If you ask my two younger brothers, they will tell you that even when I was a little girl, I acted like I was already a mom (they wouldn't mean that as a complement, by the way).

Motherhood is always how I have imagined spending the bulk of my adult life. Though I did quite well in high school and planned to attend college, I always assumed that I would grow up to be like my own mother, a stay-at-home mom to multiple children. In fact, even my dreams of marriage were primarily dreams of family. I did not imagine leisurely dinners with my husband after work or the freedom to stay out late and travel. I thought of babies, of little lives that we would work together to care for and nurture, of partnership in creating and maintaining a family. And I assumed all of this would begin as it did for my mother, with marriage shortly after graduation from college and kids in short order.

But, as the story so often goes for so many of us, God had other plans. I've already written about how God used seven years of post-college singleness in my life. But this is a story of another season of waiting for me, a season of trying for and waiting for a pregnancy for almost exactly a year, a season that was thankfully much shorter than my wait for marriage but one that was for me, much more painful.

I've already spilled the beans. You and I both know that this story of waiting will end in pregnancy. But for a whole year, I didn't know the end of the story. I'm not gonna lie. It was a hard year, a year in which my faith wavered so many times, but also a year in which God was faithful so many more times.

I know that it could have been much harder; I know that many, many people have waited much, much longer, are in fact, still waiting. I'm very aware that my good news might make someone else wonder why God hasn't yet answered their own prayers, whether they be for a child or some other unfulfilled desire. The last thing I want to do is make anyone struggle.

But I do want to take the next few posts to tell the story of my year of waiting, for it is ultimately the story of a tender and gracious Father who met me in my distress and who was kind in both unanswered and answered prayers. I tell the story not because I want you to know all about me and my life, but because I want you to know this God, for whom, I have found, it is good to wait.

Waldron Family Update

Well, as you may have noticed, if you still happen to check or subscribe to this blog, it's been over 3 months since I've posted anything! Yikes.

I promise that I do plan to finish my Thirty Pieces series and that I do intend to faithfully post on this blog. However thanks to some wonderful news....

the past few months have required my attention to be devoted to other places, namely my bed and my toilet :)

In all seriousness though, CJ and I are so, so excited about this blessing in our lives and can't wait to meet our baby sometime around March 31. I'll write more about that soon, but for now I just wanted to share our exciting news and let you know that I am very grateful to be feeling more like myself again and plan to work writing back into my schedule starting this week. Check back soon for more posts!