Category Archives: Marriage

Through a Glass Darkly. A Love Letter On A Strange Anniversary

November eighteenth.  On this day nine years ago I married my husband.  On this day one year ago, separated by half the globe, we lost our fifth child at 21 weeks.  Mike was on a long flight when I called from the car outside the doctor’s office.  So I told an officer at the flight desk.  It was 3am before he called me back.  I sat on the floor in a corner of the dining room in a hushed house full of visitors and we talked for hours.  We cried.  We planned.  We even managed to laugh a few times because that’s how we are.  I don’t recall much about the conversation but I do remember saying “why did it have to be our anniversary? This is what we will remember every year.”

Here we are a year later.  We could not foresee that night what pains lay ahead, that we would lose another child within the same year.  Yet I feel differently about it now than I had expected, in some ways the opposite.  Now it seems apt, even right, to remember these two anniversaries together.  This last year has been a terrible one I would never choose to live.  But it has been an utterly remarkable and amazing year of marriage.  I don’t know that it can be put into words, but here is my attempt:

For the first eight years our marriage was pretty much ideal.  We two walked through lovely grassland.  The air was a little hazy, so you couldn’t see that far ahead; but the grass smelled sweet, the breeze was pleasant, and there were wild flowers everywhere.  We walked on, hand in hand, chatting desultorily, no particular direction in mind, no hurry to be anywhere.  Certainly there were trials.  Sometimes we would grow thirsty long before a stream.  Sometimes our legs would ache or blisters would spring up on our feet and we would have to sit and rest.  There were sharp stones and little gopher holes to watch out for.  Sometimes the sun would beat down too strongly, and sometimes the scenery seemed too monotonous.  Still it was a lovely journey with the pleasantest companion.

And then one day we awoke and inexplicably there was a mountain before us.  Somehow we never saw it coming.  Yet there it was, the top shrouded from view.  The only way was up.  There wasn’t a choice.  So we started to climb.  How disorienting it was at first to find ourselves in this new landscape!  The wind blew icy, cutting to the skin.  We sank up to our waists in snow, slipped and slid backwards.  Rocks bit into our hands as we struggled to pull ourselves from one precarious hold to the next.  We barely spoke; every bit of oxygen in the thin air was needed for the climb.  Our breath billowed out in clouds. Over time it became second nature to communicate instead through gestures and eye contact, anticipating each other’s needs.  Sometimes I became so tired I wanted to sit and rest but this wasn’t like back in the meadow.  You couldn’t stop to rest.  You would freeze where you fell.  You would never get up again.  So Michael would carry me.  When I saw that he couldn’t bear the weight any longer I would climb again, and rearrange the packs to take a heavier share of the load.  Occasionally a plateau would open up and we could breathe more slowly, let our heart rates fall, relax our vigilance a little.  Still the summit was nowhere in sight.  We had to reach it.  We had to.

Then, so slowly it took a long time to notice, the weather began to clear.  Through the thinning cloud we made out what might just be the summit. Best not to mention it at first.  But yes, there it was, definitely a peak.  Our footsteps quickened.  Until one day we clambered up on to the top and looked out at the world beyond.

What a view! For the first time in nine years you can see far, far off to the horizon.  Ahead of us stands a world rich with diversity.  I see deserts, canyons, mountains that dwarf our little peak, cascading rivers, sparkling lakes, beautiful fields and cool forests.  And away in the distance, shimmering faintly, the sea.

Suffering has changed us.  Our legs and lungs are stronger.  We work together with new ease.  Not only that but from our position up here we can see the possibilities, the richness of marriage as never before.  We are more genuinely aware of the potential tribulations of the journey.  It doesn’t look nearly so easy from here.  We don’t even know exactly how hard the way down from this perch will be!  It looks rather precarious I think.  But oh! It is all so breathtakingly, terrifyingly, awesomely, beautiful.  We know the pride of bravery in the face of trouble.  We know the sweet humiliation of being aided through weakness, of being carried.  We know the heart swelling fulfillment of love in bearing the other.  Trial and respite, success and failure, suffering and delight, all of it, all of it is glorious.  All of it lies ahead.  It’s almost time to start moving again.  We just have to remember where the ocean lies, and keep going until we reach the shore, hand in hand.

St. Paul writes:

Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.

I am still very much a child.  I still see only darkly.  But my marriage to this wonderful man has allowed me to catch glimpses I never saw before.   I feel the immeasurable comfort of being really known so that I cannot even imagine the way God knows me, the way He knows my boys and holds them in His mind.  I see love’s breathtaking power  to overcome all else so that I cannot even imagine the love that is to come, a love my two sweet boys already know better than their parents.

And now there remain faith, hope, and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

I love you Michael.college

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Filed under Marriage, Our Family, Religious Ramblings, Stillbirth and Miscarriage

Another Grief Observed

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I hope C.S. Lewis doesn’t mind my reference.  His grief was very big and mine is, not small exactly, but different.  I must warn that if you have lost a child or are pregnant this might be a painful post and you should consider if it’s a good one for you to read right now.  If you find very personal writing to be uncomfortable you may also want to give it a pass.  My way of processing things is to share them, either in conversation or in writing.  So I think maybe if I put these impressions down in words I’ll clear them out of the way so other things can be formulated more easily.  I have a bunch of topics I’d like to write about but my brain seems to cluttered with these thoughts I’ve kept to myself.  These are not written in any particular order or edited to be more interesting.  They’re just the things that occur to me most often when I’m thinking about our loss.  And yes, I still think about it.  Somebody wrote me yesterday and said “well I’m sure everything is back to normal and fine with the Marchand family now”.  And there’s a way that’s true.  We’re back to the routine.  We’re happy and functional, but really that was true even in November and December.  Our family is completely fine through anything because whatever other problems we have, our marriage is never one of them but rather always a source of comfort and strength.  But no, we’re not back to normal in every way.

I’m observing my own experience of loss.  I guess that’s what writers, or introspective people generally, do.  It’s like I can step outside my brain and think “oh that’s interesting how she’s reacting to this moment” or “well I didn’t expect that to be part of this at all.” I wouldn’t be writing this down if today wasn’t a very good day.  And most days are very good.  Really even the bad days are really just one bad hour here and there. So know that sad things can be true, and sad things can be written, and one can still be happy.  I think that’s part of my faith.  It sounds very cliche, and it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes curl up in a ball and cry, but if you believe in the story of Christianity sadness can’t ever reach the very center of your soul.  Sometimes it can cloud your sight of the warm bright center but it’s always there.

1)When you are being seen at a high risk pregnancy office and you lose your baby everybody is very kind and patient.  You can stay as long as you like in the room to process.  All I wanted to do was to get out of that horrible quiet dim ultrasound room where everything had gone so wrong so quickly.  But when you leave, you are ushered out a back door.  I don’t blame them.  Every woman in the waiting room is worrying about their high risk pregnancy and it makes sense not to upset them with a sight of what might happen.  Still, it felt like I had somehow done something shameful.  I had failed as a mother and had to sneak out the back.

2)When you have to deliver a baby that is already dead it is hard to believe he really is.  I had seen his body on the ultrasound with no heartbeat or flicker of movement anywhere.  It looked incredibly different from a live child.  I knew before the doctor told me that he was gone.  Still, I kept imagining I felt him move.  And when they began inducing labor I had to have my friend tell me that yes, he was definitely dead and I wasn’t going to kill him by doing this.  Still I had to fight the urge to yell “Stop! Check again!” several times.   Even after the birth I still felt flutters for a week or two.

3)I don’t like the word miscarriage.  Technically I didn’t suffer a miscarriage because of how far along the pregnancy was but it is the word most other people are familiar with and use.  And I don’t think I would like it even if it was the scientific term for it.  I am more comfortable with still birth.  Miscarriage seems to imply some fault to me, like if my body had done its job Charlie would be fine.  But my body was perfectly happy to carry him to term.  It had to be forced not to.  My son died and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I’m not saying there really is anything wrong with the word miscarriage.  And if my body HAD lost him it still wouldn’t be my fault.  It’s just that these are the things that my brain fixates on for whatever reason.

4)I’ve never spent a lot of time in the pain of heavy labor.  I’m an epidural gal myself.  But after some mixups at the hospital it ended up taking a very long time to get pain medication.  Somehow that was completely fine.  I was happy to suffer this last thing for Charlie.  So I think I finally get the whole natural childbirth thing.  Not saying I’m ready to give up my lovely meds, but I see how you can manage it and even prefer it.

5)When the doctor said I’m sorry the baby is dead I howled out a cry like I’ve never done before and hopefully never will again.  I didn’t actually cry for a particularly long time at a stretch even in those first hours.  I’m good at being tough when it’s time to be.  But now when I am missing him, I feel like there’s another one of those screams stuck in my chest that I can’t ever get out.  It hurts and feels like if I could just get it out I’d feel much better.  You can’t make yourself create that sound but I guess that’s the idea behind the silliness that is primal scream therapy.  Hopefully I’m letting it out in little spurts like the outlet on the top of a pressure cooker.

6)I have a strong physical and emotional reaction to ultrasound rooms now.  I hadn’t thought about it until I had to go in for a check up and I walked in quite nonchalantly but suddenly started shivering and crying because of the lighting and the monitors.  My friends tell me it will get better next time I see a little baby moving again but right now I doubt it.  I SAW him moving and growing normally for months and months.  I can’t ever trust that that means anything again except that for now things are ok.  The tech at my doctor’s office is kind though and now leaves all the lights on for me until I’m ready.

7)I don’t begrudge other women their pregnancies.  As my Aunt put it having lost a child, I don’t miss those children, I miss mine.  So I still love holding little newborns or talking baby names or pregnancy and baby tips.  I’m genuinely happy for new mommies.  But I do find an evening out with lots of happy pregnant ladies or ultrasound pictures on facebook or birth announcements leave me feeling a bit exhausted at the end of the day.  It’s like having a bruise that gets gently poked.  Or sore muscles you have to exercise through.  It’s never enough to really hurt, just a twinge, but after a while it feels like I went through a work out.

8)It’s amazing and sad and beautiful that you can be married to someone for eight years and still learn new things about them that make you love them more.  I now know what it looks like to see my husband cry, I didn’t really think he knew how.  I also learned a lot about myself.  I learned that I can rise to an occasion if need be.  It’s a strange thing to be “proud” about but I am.  We were apart for this loss because of his deployment, something that still hurts us both, but probably most especially him.  There’s no going back and getting the comfort of each other’s arms in those terrible days.  But our marriage is richer and deeper now.  We prize each other more highly and care for each other more tenderly.

9)I think I’ve finally learned a little bit about prayer.  I’ve always had trouble concentrating.  Was that a good prayer?  My mind wandered but is that all bad?  Did I reeeeeally think about my request while I was making it or about the mystery I was contemplating.  But now I find prayer is simply a drawing close to God.  We just spend time together.  I’m not really meditating any better.  But I’ve made great strides towards just being with God in prayer.  Probably it’s partially because I don’t know what to say to Him right now, what to ask for, what to do.  So I just pray, and we sit together, and at the end I know we were close.

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Filed under Depression, Marriage, Motherhood, Stillbirth and Miscarriage