Most everyone is familiar with the concept of being in Limbo–that space where you hang suspended between one fate or another, unmoving, waiting or not even waiting, just existing.
If we’re alive, none of us are truly in that place that Dante described as the border of Hell, but being in-between a decision or waiting for a resolution can really be tormenting. Limbo is a place where no choices are made because there are no choices to make. There is hindsight, there is foresight, but there is nothing that can be done in the meantime. It’s a complete and utter lack of control. What’s been done is done, what must be done has yet to be done; all you can do is wait.
I had my own experience with this torment in February of this year. Near my eighth week of pregnancy, I called my doctor and asked to be checked out because of some bleeding I was having. She scheduled me an ultrasound for the next day.
I don’t remember being that worried. I was concerned because of the bleeding, or I wouldn’t have called in–but I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I was believing for the best. In my heart of hearts, I was hoping for extremely good news: that the ultrasound would show multiples, and that would explain the spotting I was having. I didn’t allow much else to enter my mind. I was determined to assume the best possible outcome. I wasn’t sure I could cope with anything else.
The next day’s ultrasound only showed one baby, however, and the tech hmmm-ed quietly to herself as we all watched the painfully slow heartbeat on the screen. Fetal heartbeats aren’t supposed to be that slow–I knew that before she turned to us with an expression of sympathy barely visible in the dimness of the room.
“I’m sorry, but this doesn’t look good,” she said to us, if not in those exact words then in that exact meaning. We were escorted to another room to wait for my doctor to come in to address the situation, and we huddled together on the examination bed until she arrived.
There were two possibilities, we were told. The first was that our dates were wrong and I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was. That would possibly explain the very slow heartbeat and the smaller-than-expected size of the baby. The alternative was that the baby–while alive–was, for some reason or another, dying. Time would tell. After some words of comfort and sympathy, we were scheduled an appointment for the following week for another ultrasound.
I didn’t know what to do with the information I had. I searched the internet for stories of pregnancies that had been given this prognosis but had turned out well anyway. I found a few, but most had ended in miscarriage. I desperately wanted to be able to google “Will I lose this pregnancy?” and have a definite answer pop up, but it simply wasn’t possible. I didn’t know how to act. Should I assume that I was inevitably going to miscarry? Should I assume a miracle would happen? I was praying for one. Was I supposed to act like it had already happened? I felt like a walking example of Schrödinger’s Cat–was my baby alive? Was it dead? Was it both?
I walked through the next six days in something of a fog. I decided to hope daringly. I would not act as if the inevitable result was death. I hoped for the best. I hoped for a miracle. I hoped for beyond a miracle. I hoped for a different womb, for a different baby. I hoped for life. I hoped for the coming ultrasound to show something completely different than it had shown before. I would not dwell on death–I knew it was possible, but I would not accept it until it was well and truly the only obvious answer left to face.
And I did not accept it until the following Tuesday morning at about 10:30, when I started passing clots as large as my hand.
I won’t describe the process any more than to say that my bathroom looked like I had killed someone and I was so panicked over finding the body of our baby in the clots that I completely forgot to take anything for the physical pain of the miscarriage. I was eight weeks and a handful of days pregnant, and it took two days for my womb to expel everything it had been storing up for the past two months.
On the second day, I finally passed the tissue that had to be our eight-week-old baby. We wrapping it in a small piece of fabric and buried it in the front flower beds while snow flurries fell around us.
After that, I was numb.
When I wasn’t agonizing over the loss, I agonized over the amount of hope I had poured out over that week of limbo. I felt foolish and idiotic. If I had been confused by how to handle that week in limbo, I was even more baffled by how to interpret what I deemed the complete and utter failure of my determination to hope. How could I have deluded myself? Why had I clung to the best possible outcome, rather than the worst? You tell yourself that if you prepare for the worst, you can’t be surprised by it, and this insidious lie is difficult to shake in the intense throes of sorrow. Every scrap of good news I was faced with over the next few months I met with extreme skepticism. Every shred of bad news I clung to with every available tenacity of worst-first thought. I wasn’t trying to do it–it was something of a default. A coping mechanism, as it were, though an excessively bad one.
At the same time I was writhing in this agony, in a series of what I believe unequivocally to be divine appointments, my friends bombarded me with symbols of hope. Some were obvious and some were more subtle, but they were all unmistakable. The most potent was when a friend released her newest album with a song that she (I’m just guessing here) had no idea I that I desperately needed to hear. It’s a song about loss, and about hope, but not the same kind of hope that I had devoted myself to over my week of limbo.
One of the lyrics absolutely reached out through the speakers and slapped me in the face–and made me shift my expectations from a circumstance that may or may not happen to a constant that can always be counted on.
all my hope is who you are
not how you answer
Can you see the difference? It’s like if you’re freaking out over Groundhog Day and whether or not the animal will see his shadow and what that means for the following six weeks, because you’re really, really tired of winter and you want it to be spring. And if you suddenly stopped agonizing over what the prognosis would be on February 2nd in favor of remembering that no matter what happens, spring is coming. And after that is summer, and fall, and winter, and then spring again. That’s something you can depend on; something you can truly hope in.
If I profess to be a Christian, then I believe in a God who is Good, and who makes all things work for an ultimate good–even the bad things. Even the very bad things. Some good is more obvious and some will only be revealed in the next life, but that Goodness remains. I can hope in the character of God and never be disappointed. It was, for me, a major shift of focus and practice.
I had a friend write out those lyrics and I framed them and put them on my mantel where I can always see them–because I have to be reminded constantly of the paradigm shift and actively choose to engage it.
And this is how it plays out.
In the summer, I had a dream where I went to the flower beds in front of our house (the ones next to where we buried our baby in the snow) and found a little bird’s egg. I picked it up and it hatched in my hands.
Some two to three weeks later, I was crying on the front porch of my parents’ house because my grandmother was dying and I wanted her to know before she passed that we planned on naming a child after her. And I knew that if we hadn’t lost our baby in February, we would already know if it was a boy or girl and if it was a girl I could have told Grandma with confidence what her name would be. But the baby had died, and I couldn’t.
The next day we found out we were pregnant again. And we did tell my grandmother the news and the possibility of the baby’s name. It brought a lot of joy in those last days we had with her. Six days after that announcement, Grandma died, and my aunt included an extra pink carnation in the coffin to symbolize the new baby which we resolved to believe would be a girl.
And she is a girl. We found that out about eight weeks ago.
All this I can share, but I can also tell you that I am terrified. Every day I am terrified. Every story I share, every movement I feel, every time I type her her hashtag into Instagram, I am so afraid that we will lose her. I am afraid to talk about her because the more I do, the more real she is, and the more it will hurt if she dies. You never shake the fear that pregnancy loss brings; it’s a shadow that follows you forever. I want someone to tell me that everything will be fine. I want to know for certain that the best will come to pass, but I will never get that privilege.
Even typing up this post has brought a fresh wave of anxiety. Why do I feel compelled to write this now? I have our major mid-pregnancy ultrasound coming up in four days. What will they find? Will it be good or bad? What if it’s bad? How will I survive it?
all my hope is who you are
It is hard to think about, but if we hadn’t lost our baby on that awful, grey, frigid February day, then this baby I carry currently could not exist. Completely impossible. Now, that baby could also have been a girl, and we could have named her Elvie Kathryn, too, but they would not have been the same person. The chances of Elvie Kate being who she is are, as far as Google has gotten me, one in 102,685,000 , and that is entirely dependent on the timing of her conception, which would not have happened if I were already pregnant. Both children could not exist simultaneously. It breaks my heart, but it is the truth.
How could I choose between two children? (I could not). Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, because how could I possibly see all ends of my choice? (I cannot.) But a choice was made for me. And even an evil thing like the loss of a child made way for another person who could never have existed otherwise.
all my hope is who you are
I hope for the best for Elvie Kate, but I’m terrified of the worst. Every day is the opportunity for bad news. Even her perfect birth and health isn’t a guarantee of a long life–the fear won’t end when the pregnancy is over–but I have something I can hope in. If I will remember it.
This pregnancy is not the only languishing in limbo that I’m experiencing currently, but it’s the easiest to type up and share. How many times has Jeremy had to point to our mantel and remind me of where I should place my hope…? Many. And many more times, I’m sure.
I would really love to wrap this post up neatly with a perfect bow of encouragement, but my hands are too messy from my own failures to remember everything I’ve written here in my day-to-day. I offer this for what it is. I’m in the trenches of learning to hope–most of you are, too. Remember me in prayer.