Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Part 2

Ed: I understand that you had three more miscarriages and now have three living children. What an emotional whirlwind. What did your grief look like for the subsequent losses?

Pastor Elise: Each loss was a little different -- the first one, in my own experience at least, was by far the most intense. We had not intended to become pregnant at that time (I still had almost two years of my master's program left, and I was commuting over three hours one way) and so there was a long space after the loss when I was longing for a baby but we couldn't "try again" for at least a couple of years.

So that time ended up providing space for the grief, both in good and bad ways (i.e., I had the opportunity to process the loss thoroughly and deeply; I also brooded on it and had nothing sufficiently interesting to distract me for quite some time). After that first loss, then, we started being actively open to other pregnancies maybe three years later. And it took longer to become pregnant than I'd expected, and when I did, like many women who become pregnant after experiencing a miscarriage, I reserved most of my potential emotional attachment out of fear. The subsequent early losses (we had one more before our first daughter, then two between our first and second daughter) were extremely early, and I was tired of "processing," I think. It was more of a dull, disappointed grief, and I wanted to close the door on those losses more quickly.

I felt great relief reading the part of your book where you said you didn’t feel close to God for months after your loss. I’m in that space right now. I prayed daily for my second baby and still lost her. When did you begin to trust God again?

I remember when I thought that it would probably be possible to trust God again someday. I remember that I was trying to pray using hymns during that first week after the loss, and I was playing and praying through a hymn text written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "By Gracious Powers." The last two stanzas go this way:

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter sorrow, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

I mean, the guy wrote this from a Nazi concentration camp. So he understood suffering in a profound and legitimate way, and still wrote these words. And I sang this and thought to myself, "Is God's hand good and beloved still? Well... Bonhoeffer believed it was. And he expected new joy, the brightness of God's presence. And he believed that the memory of the real, deep suffering of the concentration camps would someday lead him to offer everything to God, good and beloved. And so...  maybe I will emerge from this suffering as well, and maybe I will call God good and beloved again, and maybe I will remember this and offer myself again to the God I have loved so long."  I did not feel trust or love or anything at that point, you understand -- I simply saw and believed, for a moment, that it could be restored.

The trust grew back over time... long, dry time. In the book, I compare the way I felt about God after the miscarriage to the way I'd imagine feeling about my husband if he'd had an affair. I don't make the two equivalent -- whatever happened in the miscarriage, it was certainly not God cheating on me -- but my feelings toward God had that same kind of unbelieving sense of betrayal. And I think that much like the aftermath of marital betrayals, for couples who try to rebuild what was broken, it's hard to point to one moment that restored things.

Instead, restoration is accomplished through a cumulative weight in a particular direction. It's months of "yes, he went to counseling with me again," and "yes, she bit her tongue instead of lashing out again," and "yes, he's been home after work every day this week." And then you wake up one day and realize that things will never be the "same" as they were before the event, but you've found something new, new trust, new assurance - and sometimes, the old thing that was broken has made way for a sturdier thing to grow. Not always. But that's how it's been for me with God. That's my primary hope and prayer for women who read the book - that they're encouraged to just keep plugging along with God. It's so easy to shut down; you're just so hurt. But I believe that God wants us to turn toward God, with our anger, our sorrow, our sense of betrayal -- with all of it.  God has taken the absolute brokenness of this world into God's own body on the cross -- God has chosen to suffer our death. It matters to God. You matter to God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Part 1

Dearest Readers,
It's time to curl up with your laptop, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues because here is the first installment of my Q & A with Pastor Elise Erikson Barrett, author of the fabulous book What Was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage.

Ed: First of all, thank you for writing such a real and sensitive book. What compelled you to write it?

Pastor Elise: I experienced my first miscarriage in 2004 and was blown away both by how devastating the loss was and by how few resources were available, particularly resources written from a faith perspective. After I began serving a church, I realized that there were lots of women looking for the same kinds of support I had longed for. I wanted a complete resource to hand to a church member -- something that would answer the physical/psychological questions most people ask, but would also deal with questions like, "Where was God?" "Did that little life matter to anyone but me?" "How do I pray when I'm so deeply angry?" I also wanted to share stories from others who had experienced miscarriages -- stories that would be true and raw enough to convey the pain of pregnancy loss -- so that if nothing else, the reader might find in the book validation of her own story.

You write about your miscarriage as a young student in seminary and the devastating grief that followed. What was the best thing someone said to you in the days or weeks following?

The things that were comforting in a general sort of way were the sincere, "I'm so sorry" kinds of comments. I remember one particular instance, though. I was telling a friend the short version of what had happened right before a class, and I remember being horribly embarrassed that I said something about how wild with grief I was that this little body of the child I'd loved was in a sewer system somewhere.

She just looked at me, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she just whispered, "Oh, God." And it was a prayer and lament all at once, and I remember feeling suddenly sure that God was walking with us on that path, even though my feelings and emotions were too bruised to "feel" or "sense" God in those days. I would bet that she has no idea what that meant to me -- possibly even no recollection of that event -- but it was her willingness to go to that place of raw, bitter pain with me and lament alongside me that was so profoundly healing, that created a moment that was transparent to God's suffering love and grace.

You write about telling people, “I was only 7 weeks along,” and how that word “only” set up the other person up to say something like, “Oh, well that’s good you weren’t farther along.” This was revolutionary for me. I’ve spent much time being shocked and appalled at people’s comments, but I never thought that I could have some measure of control over the situation. Are there other things we can do to help dissuade negative comments?

Unfortunately for everyone, there's no 100% preventative to keep people from saying hurtful or insensitive or downright appalling things. People are just idiots sometimes -- all of us are to one extent or another. That said, it is possible sometimes to set up your conversation partner for a better or worse response -- especially with those people who truly are well-meaning and just don't know exactly what to say, or who are ignorant about the real pain and grief caused by miscarriage. Be clear with yourself ahead of time about what you want from the person you're telling. Do you want them to talk to you? To listen? To do something concrete like take you out for coffee? Do you want them to get the info and leave you alone? Do you want them to check in with you, or do you hope they never mention it again?  When you know what would be healing or feel loving and supportive for you, lead in with that. So, an example might look like this:


You: I wanted to let you know that we had a miscarriage. I...

Them: Oh, well, I guess it's good that you're young. Were you guys even trying to get pregnant?


You: Hey, I have something I wanted to let you know about... before I start, I just wanted to say that it's pretty hard for me to talk about this, because it hit me hard, and if you can just listen and not offer any advice or anything, I would be so grateful. You know we were pregnant; well, we lost the baby this week. It's so much harder than I thought it would be, and the things people are saying are making it even harder. I just want people to tell me they're sorry and to let me be sad instead of trying to fix it.

Them: (hopefully thinking, I'd better not try to fix it.) I'm so sorry.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

As the oldest in the family, I think it's only fair

"I guess it's one of those situations where you're not expecting anything and then, totally out of the blue, you don't get it."

This little mini-blurb from The Onion cracked me up. Everyone looooooooves the story of the couple who stopped "trying" and then got pregnant (and of course carries to term). For many of us, these stories are more annoying than Mariah Carey in the movie Glitter.

In other news, say a prayer for me this weekend. Holidays suck, and I think it's starting to sink in that other people are in our families are actually having babies.

I wish I could ask my nine siblings and siblings-in-law to not get pregnant for the next two years. Maybe I can get this in writing... Pretty reasonable, right? In turn, I will actually visit their houses.

Just kidding about asking them... I would have the document notarized as well.

love to you all,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top 5 Best Things to Do Post Miscarriage

5. Watch Seinfeld. It's funny and there are no babies. There is one episode where they make fun of an ugly baby, and another where they talk about the obligation of having to "see the baby!!" And I think they make fun of that baby too. That's out of like 7,000 episodes. Watch it.
4. Take spinning. These are the crazy classes where you work your booty off. It's great for the workout and the endorphins. Bonus: they play great music really loudly and you can sing along and cry your eyes out. No one notices because everyone is red and sweaty and thinking they will die from this workout. Seriously, I cried to Jai Ho the other day.
3. Drink wine with friends. Repeat as needed. 
2. Say no to things and don't feel guilty. Make sure people know that you are going through a hard time. If you don't want to go to someone's birthday party or baby shower, say no. Stick by it.
1. Take a vacation. Even if it's a day trip. Do it. You deserve it.

What was the best thing you did?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Btw this movie will not be distributed, as you are not Jim Carrey

This one is from Jen.

On the day she miscarried she called her boss to let her know that she would not be coming in. Her boss says, "It's crazy here, but I guess your health is the most important thing."


Dear Jen's Boss,

I've heard things are pretty crazy in the office. Maybe it's because you're driving everyone crazy? I'm guessing you're a total nut job. I hope you wake up one morning, and all of a sudden you're in a really stupid movie, like "Yes Man." The next thing you know, you're running around saying YES to yoga on the roof and eating fish heads straight from the barrel (confession: I watched 10 minutes of "Yes Man.")

Uh oh, here comes the climax of the movie, where you alienate everyone you love! You tried to say yes but everything backfired and people realize you're still a jerk! Then you have to run around making amends with everyone. You give Jen 10 weeks of paid time off! "I promise, I've changed," you say tearfully to your employees. They forgive you. Only after a friendly roast of everyone in the room being like, "you know who's the worst boss? YOU!!!"

Hahahaha. Everyone laughs.

This song plays. The End.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yes, I would like some wine with this cheese

After my first miscarriage, I felt terrible guilt for not telling my baby that I loved him each and every day. I shared this with a coworker. She had had children later in life and was remarkably sensitive about the situation.

She said, "Your baby knew you loved him. Every time he heard your heartbeat he felt your love."

This is a total cheesy, cheese ball statement, yet it was so comforting to me. Losing a baby is so psychologically disturbing. I never held my baby. I never kissed his cheek and said I love you sweetheart.

I tell my parents I love them every day. I tell my husband. I even tell my dog (probably more times per day than is normal).

Knowing my baby felt my love is of critical importance to me. I loved you baby, and I still love you, to the blue, blue sky.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I will now invent a preggo ad blocker

And I will make literally dozens of dollars.

I made the mistake of clicking on the Mariah Carey ALL ABOUT THE BABIESSS!!! issue and now I feel sick. And also angry. I'm sangry! Why does there have to be any pregnant women ... anywhere... ever?

I wish I had a preggo ad blocker. It would block all mention of pregnancy on the web. It would also block all happiness and smiling people.

The only stories left would be sad and shriveled and wonderful, like my soul.

P.S. Can you tell I have my period?

Over and out,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Babe, you're no Bette Midler

Here's another one from Lady E:

After her mother's choice response, she told a friend/coworker about her miscarriage... (we all know the coworker/friend relationship is fraught with landmines...)

And this person says, "Ugh. I can't imagine another little one."

What I wish E could have said in return: "That's soooo funny. No one actually asked you your opinion. You're like Bette Midler in Beaches, 'Enough about me, what do you think of me?!' Except you're not nearly as cool. Instead of funny, it's annoying. Was it your little one you lost? No? Interesting. Shut it."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not crazy, just practicing

From an elder at church (a woman btw):

"That was just a practice run."

My lost baby was a practice run. Like I'm some sort of "practicing" home-ec major from the year 1943? No.

A practice run is when you babysit a friend's kids, and after coming home smelling of baby puke and poo and play dough, you say to your husband, "Let's never, ever, ever have two kids under the age of 2."

A practice run is when you get a puppy, think it will never be house trained, and clean up endless piles of pee and poo. Puppy chews through all the carefully hidden cords under the TV cabinet. And the leather chair. And the coffee table. You think, hmmm this is preparing me for kids.

A pregnancy isn't practice; it's called REAL LIFE.

Also, why would you need to have a pregnancy in order to prepare for pregnancy? Gee, I'm so glad I ran through the roller coaster of emotions when I lost my baby! Now I will be so much more paranoid when the next baby comes! Seeeee practice!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Aren't you a little young to be making senile comments?

From sender-inner Lady E.

Upon telling her own mother about her miscarriage, her mother says:

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. But aren't you reaching the age limit for that anyway?"


The silence you hear is me lifting my chin up off the floor. Lady E is only 39. Also, how rude! Maybe it's time to start looking at "residential facilities" for mom...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Morning Kick in the Teeth

This gem of a facebook message was sent to my husband from his longtime friend and former roommate:

(loose paraphrase)

Hey. I have some big news. My girlfriend of five minutes and I are pregnant. It's quite unexpected, but we're really happy and feel like this is the right time. Did I mention we're really happy?! I know I live life like a college student and can barely remember to cut my toenails, but we're having a baby. Ha! Ha! We're so excited.

Your friend who's avoided you for the past four months