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.