Hope in the midst of loss

I have been thinking about loss

Again.

Earlier this week, reminded of my own devastating losses by the flood of images of late-term fetuses appearing on the internet, in response to the current escalation in attention to abortion laws, I found myself revisiting those pregnancy loss experiences. (I have carefully chosen the word ‘reminded’ over the word ‘triggered’ here, because ‘triggered’ can indicate an irrational, uncontrollable emotionally laden response, and my attention to these images was more mindful- an intentional gaze). I wanted to see if my memory of those one-pound, 20 1/2 week babies – whom my body had failed, and for whom I had labored and delivered into birth and death, then reburied in the womb of the earth – was accurate (it was)—because, from stories I have been told, I seem to have lost a few weeks of my memory around those periods of time.

In my explorations, I learned that, while I have always referred to these losses as miscarriages, it is more accurate to call them stillbirths (although even that distinction feels inaccurate to me, as one of those girls lived outside the womb for an hour, or so I was told).  It was also satisfying to find that some of the stigma and shame has been lifted, that the understanding of and compassion for that particular grief has improved, and that supportive environments for that bereavement have evolved. There are women out there who are allowed to hold their dead 21 week babies for as long as they need. (there are youtube videos out there of this) No more propping of hips upon bedpans while the doctor swears under his breath because the placenta (not realizing its job has prematurely ended) won’t come loose, or sending a naïve candystriper, who has experienced a miscarriage, into the hospital room the next day because no one on staff knows how to talk to you when they come to administer the drugs to dry up your engorged breasts. No more having the room filled with medical students, gazing at the anomaly between your stirrupped legs, where the amniotic sac descended to blow up like a water balloon before it ruptured.

No more is the loss diminished as irrelevant.

I have digressed. (Regressed? Progressed?) There is a relevant point I wanted to make here, some connection made in my brain between these visitations I made earlier in the week and the expressions of sadness I saw flooding the internet last evening.

Yesterday, I watched women I love try to come to terms with, accept the new reality, and begin to openly grieve their own losses in the ending of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.  Unlike the last loss, at the end of the election of 2016, which felt so traumatic and unexpected (like a full term pregnancy, so full of expectation and hope, showing no signs of distress one day and the next was suddenly over, leaving the emptiness and shock of stillbirth in its wake), this one was indeed showing signs of trouble. This time, there was (at least?) some time to prepare, emotionally, to accept that the hope for which you longed was dying.  Still, there comes that moment when the final blow comes -one minute there is clinging hope and the next it is stripped away- when the miscarriage is complete. Still, there is shock, at least disbelief. (It feels unreal for a moment). Then there is blame, anger, self-hatred… or, sometimes, even numbness.

There is always aftermath.

Watching them, I noticed the similarities, of course. The way we invest our hearts in a dream of a future. The way we fall in love with Hope. The way that it feels like a blessing. The way it fills us with promise and joy. The way we imagine a fresh reality. The way that we Love. The way that we feel connected, valued, important…. Beloved even.

It is right to grieve after a loss such as this. It is also good to hold onto that vision for as long as you need. … to drink it in, to count its fingers and toes…and then to let go.

I noticed in myself a deep disappointment, a sigh of sadness, but nowhere near the devastation I had experienced the last time. Perhaps the pregnancy hadn’t gotten to the point of viability for me? Wasn’t yet something ‘real’? Or perhaps I had withheld some part of my heart from investing, kept myself numb?

It is true, I have disconnected ( I don’t think the proper word here is ‘dissociated’ for, like the word ‘trigger’, it connotes a lack of conscious choice). In my own healing from the grief of the last election, I realized how swept into the narrative of devastation (and demonization) I had become. I needed to look for goodness in a worldview, which was clouded everywhere by the pain of that seeming volcanic eruption, in order to find healing and hope and clearer vision of humanity.   In my personal healing from the grief of pregnancy loss I had also needed to learn to rename and reclaim, to choose language that was healing and redemptive, to tell a different story. Hatred (of self or other or life itself), cynicism, the overarching sense of unfairness, and/or hyperbolic fear keep us stuck in the narrative of ugliness and despair.

We are meaning-making beings.  It is important to take care with our storytelling.

I don’t think it was exactly that I didn’t want to invest myself again in hope; rather that my hope- my sense of life’s goodness and possibility-  was not based upon a specific outcome. Perhaps I am blind to myself though (we all are, aren’t we?) . Perhaps I chose not to care. Perhaps I was numb. Perhaps I was burying my head in the sand. Perhaps I was afraid to feel the pain of loss again. But I don’t think so. This felt more like a choice to see beneath the ugliness and beyond the chaos, to stay centered within the storm. To know that Hope is always here.

The trauma of loss affects us all. Sometimes it makes us so fearful we won’t take a chance again, knowing firsthand the devastating consequences of the last time we hoped, the last time we felt safe. All fear, after all,  is not irrational or unconscious. Fear can also make us wiser (don’t touch the hot stove). It can also make us – to follow its consequence down through the spectrum of human response—more thoughtful, deliberate, cautious, timid, apprehensive, anxious, or even paralyzed.  If we let it make us wiser, we learn resilience (buzz word or not). We grow stronger with it. We grow bigger than it.  We know the story is not over, nor is it the totality of the story contained in that one experience. Our losses, failures and suffering teach us about our strength and reveal to us our beauty.

And, miraculous beings that we are, we try again beyond all ‘reasonableness’. To conceive again the image of a new life, trusting in our innate goodness and our ability to love (despite what the misplaced shame in our history/herstory wants us to believe about ourselves – our worthiness, potential, possibility or our ability) . We nurture the seed. We pump our breasts to keep the next preterm neonate alive. We even let the machines do their job.

We know that life goes on.

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