Tuesday was the release day for a new anthology from Kalos Press and edited by Jessica Snell: NOT ALONE: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. I am grateful to have an essay in this beautiful collection, not only because it's a way to have a part in something that will help so many other women and men, but also because this collection is evidence that good can come from grief.
I lost a baby girl exactly midway through a pregnancy 24 years ago. Depending on which definition you use, it could be called a miscarriage or it could be called intrauterine fetal death. The later is the term they used when it happened to me. One of the things I learned in the weeks and months following that loss is that this particular grief is a lonely one. People around me had never met the one who was missing. Yet I knew her, body to body, body in body. My husband and I had a hole in our family, whereas to other people our family looked the same as it ever did. That's not to say that people around me didn't show compassion and sympathy. They did. I was surrounded by wonderful and caring family and friends. A wonderful and caring church. But there is a unique aloneness about this grief that is hard to explain.
About 12 years later, I gave a talk at my church on the text of Isaiah 49 in which the question is posed: Does a mother forget her nursing baby or the child she has borne? Even if that were remotely possible, said the Lord through Isaiah, "I will not forget you." Here's a little from my talk:
I loved my daughter from the minute I knew of her. I love her still. Yet that love has never been reciprocated by the coos or hugs of a loving growing little girl. My consciousness of her is not a vision of her adorableness or memories of the things she said or did. She existed—that was all. But that brief encounter with her existence was sufficient to make me remember her forever. I think of her more often that I can say. Thoughts of a baby I never held or knew still bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.
After we lost her, we were gifted with a large number of cards of condolences. Quite a few contained mention of a baby the sender had lost and still remembered with grief. Or women, some from this church, came up to me and recalled a baby they had lost or hadn’t had for long—sometimes stories 40 or more years old--yet the stories were usually told with a catch in the voice.
My experience is that mothers don’t forget their babies—those they can see grow up and those they can’t. Mothers don’t forget. This is a concrete reminder of the fact that God doesn’t forget us either. Whether or not we feel as if we’re adorable to God, whether or not we think we’ve put in adequate “face time” with God, whether or not we’ve returned his love adequately, we exist and he made us and that is sufficient for his eternal remembrance of us.
Note the part about the women who told me stories 40 or more years old about their pregnancy losses. After that talk, more women – young and old – came up to me and told me stories of pregnancy loss in choked, hushed voices as if they shouldn't still be thinking about it. It's a lonely grief.
Having two sons, I can only imagine infertility, the other topic of the anthology, to be an enormous, lonely grief of additional and complex dimensions.
My short essay in this anthology, "Ontology," was first published in the journal Harpur Palate about 5 years ago and later reprinted in the anthology Becoming: What Makes a Woman (University of Nebraska Gender Studies). For years I had known I would eventually write about this and had made a few failed attempts. Then one evening, late after watching a movie, I came into my office to turn out the light, and as I did, this essay started pouring out. I took a piece of paper from my desk and wrote it all out in one stream. The next day I made a few edits and there it was. My tribute to my daughter, to the lonely and abiding grief, to the hope of someday knowing her face to face, to the mystery of God's grace in dark places.
Kalos Press is offering a gift of companionship in this anthology to those who are feeling alone in grief. From the publisher:
"No experience of miscarriage, infant loss, or infertility is like any other, yet by reading these painful and hope-filled stories, you’ll be comforted by knowing there are others who understand the journey you’re on, the loss you’ve suffered, and you will find that even though your loss is uniquely yours, you are not alone."