a complicated season

Last Thursday I had an ultrasound scheduled to check on the progress of my pregnancy with our fourth child. Simply looking at the faces of my ultrasound tech and doctor confirmed my fears: there was no heartbeat.

It was not entirely surprising that this baby had stopped progressing. There were warning signs along the way – signs that indicated a less-than robust progression for this sweet little baby. Still, we didn’t lose hope for a miracle and we didn’t stop cheering this little one on.

Before the appointment, I ran through the possible scenarios in my head, trying not to think too much about the worst-case scenario.

And yet, despite my hopes and prayers and pleadings, there we were: the worst case scenario.

I was surprised by how much it hurt to hear that the baby stopped growing in the days prior to the ultrasound and that there wasn’t a heartbeat. Somehow I had thought that because we had other children and we’ve had other losses, it would soften the pain. And it didn’t. A loss is a loss is a loss.

It felt like an out-of-body experience. Here I was, in this situation I had hoped to never experience again. I was profoundly sad about the loss of this baby.

“I’m so sorry,” my doctor said.

My doctor carefully outlined our options and we decided to have a D&C the following day, if possible.

I was escorted into a large room with a round table and four chairs. I sat with my back to the window and the door closed in front of me, alone. I was glad to be alone and I cried for this little baby we would never know and never hold and never snuggle. I was grateful for the 7 1/2 weeks that we had with this sweet one. I was grateful that I remembered during this pregnancy to have little chats with the baby and let them know that they were loved. I felt myself letting go of the vision I had for next summer: a June filled with fresh baby snuggles, a July spent teaching Annie about being a big sister and an August watching a new little one exploring this world with wide eyes.

At some point, trying not to cry in front of the staff, I told them that I was grateful for the three daughters that we have at home. My nurse nodded, “but it’s OK to be sad about this one, too.”

Telling Frank was the hardest part. We were both surprised by how utterly sad we were about this pregnancy loss. It is our fourth and last pregnancy loss. We knew we did not want to try again.  We knew that we would continue to be happy and content with our “party of five.” And still, we both felt the heavy weight of the finality of this loss.

The weekend that followed felt like the fullness of the human experience all in a 72 hour period. Loss, grief, hope, gratitude, peace, sadness, joy and anger – all fluttered in and out of our hearts in no particular order. And often, we felt all of these things all at the same time.

Over the weeks that I was pregnant, I felt a whisper of gratitude weaving through my days. I found myself reflecting on the difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. I wondered about what it would look like to live a life OF gratitude: a life where every moment is appreciated and enjoyed and adorned with gratitude. But… what does it look like to practice gratitude in the face of sadness and loss and grief?

We are beginning the holiday season. Christmas decorations are unapologetically filling the aisles of our favorite big-box retailers. There is a hyper-sense of GRATITUDE and JOY and HAPPINESS as the must-have items this holiday season, available for purchase in the form of wreaths and toys and stuff.

We are not the only people who are experiencing loss and sadness and disappointment and grief as we enter the holidays. So many people will sit down to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with a freshly empty chair. So many people are living a “new normal” with out someone that they dearly loved. So many people are saying, “this is my {first, third, tenth} Christmas without…”

The message seems that in order to be truly happy and fulfilled, gratitude and joy must occupy all of the available space in our hearts. That if we could only have more gratitude and more joy, we would not have space to be sad.

Life is just not that simple: I cannot manufacture enough gratitude to drown out everything else. BUT. Gratitude and grief can exist together.

On Friday night, I crawled into bed with Ellie for our usual tuck-in ritual.

“Which songs would you like tonight, Ellie?” I whispered.

“The usual,” she said with a small, content smile.  She closed her eyes and curled up under her covers, waiting for me to sing her the same two songs I sing to her every single night.

My heart filled up with gratitude for that moment and gratitude for my daughters, but it also swelled with sadness for the baby that we will never get to hold.

Gratitude and grief in a single, complicated moment.

I’ve been learning through this experience, and really this year, that very few moments are “good” or “bad” – that so many experiences and situations can evoke a range of emotions. When I had the twins I was scared and happy and nervous and elated at the same time. When I left my job to stay home with our kids I was apprehensive and hopeful and afraid and free and sad. There are so many moments like that – moments that defy singular categorization.

And for all of these complicated and beautiful and broad moments, I am grateful.

8 thoughts on “a complicated season

  1. I am so very sorry for your tremendous loss. My heart breaks for you and your family. May God grant you the peace to move forward with this hole in your heart.

  2. Em, you are wonderful and amazing. Your entire family is beautiful and strong and a great example of kindness in this world. Sending you many good thoughts and prayers. Hugs my friend!

  3. Lovely girl,

    I have only just read this, as I rarely read blogs anymore (the job takes over!) Bless you my love, I have been through this too, and it’s heartbreaking. T and I were hit like a sledgehammer by it, and just like you, it hurt is far more than we’d anticipated. Be kind to yourself and focus on the good stuff. Big hugs xxx

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