I know people are waiting. Wondering when we will say it. I can feel them waiting. Sometimes, I feel them breathing down my neck. Some have even asked when? Because it’s time. Like clockwork, the tiny people came every two years. Steady, consistent. But his two-year birthday came, and it was the first time I was neither pregnant nor held a newborn on a child’s second birthday.
I remember that girl. Barely a woman. She sat on his couch on their third date. The living room was dark, barely lit. They sat talking freely. So young, so carefree. And he asked that normally scared, non-confrontational girl. “How many children do you want to have?” And she looked at him and boldly answered.
“Six. Maybe upwards of ten. I want a big family.”
It startled him. “Huh?!”
“What about you? How many children would you want to have?”
“Well, thanks for dinner. It was a lovely evening.” She prepared to go.
He sat in silence, thinking hard.
“You know,” he said, “this house could hold four children. Two in that room. Two in that room. Four is a good start. Then you could reassess from there.”
It was like he knew. Four. A good start. A beautiful start. And maybe that’s all. Because we can carefully and dreamily make our plans, but they are not ours to fashion in the first place. That girl eventually did turn into a mother. A mother who had felt both joy and grief. And, years after that night in the living room, in a cold clinical room, the doctor looked at me. He knew. He knew how I longed for more babies. But the tragic look in his eye gave it away before he could even find the words. And suddenly my husband and I were having to say the words I vowed I’d never say, barring my fertility naturally ending on its own.
We are done.
Deep shame and deep grief consumed me. It was months before I could even speak the words to our families. For the babies I lost, there were names to console me. For two, there are places to visit, to sit beside and weep. When a woman who loses her fertility quickly and unexpectedly, there are no names or small plots of closure. There was only blistering pain and a deep hole. It seemed cruel that God would give me such a strong, enduring longing for children, knowing I would lose the ability to fill that longing so very young. So unexpectedly. But that same God gave me healing from a horrible disease and four beautiful children.
It seems ironic that the single aspect of my personhood that cast the deepest shadows of suffering across my life would be something I would grieve so hard. Right after having had our sweet honeymoon baby, we buried our first son, lost at 13 weeks into the pregnancy. We lost at least two more sweet babies. I delivered my second son halfway through the pregnancy, born sleeping, in a labor and delivery room while a woman screamed in labor next door. Hours later, just before I held my son, I heard her child’s first cries come through the walls. I know what it feels like to be a human coffin. I know to treasure each hiccup, each kick because you don’t know when it may be the last. I felt those kicks of his grow weaker each day until he was silent. Fertility has been my greatest blessing and my biggest grief.
When I walked into the fellowship room in the military chapel, I was only four months out of the abrupt loss of fertility. I was trying to make friends at our new military post. I thought I was ok. I thought I had a hold on it. But I walked into a room full of newborns and beautifully pregnant women. I sat down, and suddenly felt like I was drowning. The room swirled around me. I needed to escape, but I couldn’t get out of there without attracting every eye in the room. During the morning, the women around me discussed due dates and impending arrivals. Some of the women talked about being ready to try for another baby. Then they turned to me. “What about you? When do you guys think you’ll have another? Will you be adding to your family?”
I felt like someone was choking me.
“Um…I….we aren’t sure.”
I was too deeply ashamed to speak the words.
I didn’t go back. I couldn’t go back. I let the sobs and tears escape on the way home, as I played the radio loudly so my children couldn’t–wouldn’t–hear me.
Slowly, I’ve overcome obstacles in the grief. Given away bottles, watched as the weight came off, instead of creeped up. Watch my baby turn three, still calling him a baby even though in my head I hear, he’s not really a baby anymore. Being able to finally tell my dear friends, “We can’t have anymore…” and being able to say it without crying. I culled through the baby clothes, and gave some away. I’ve started doing more for myself.
But the larger bins of clothes still sat there. Giant, looming reminders in tubs stacked in the corner of my closet. I would never use them again. I knew that. But I couldn’t let them go. They were packed up and loaded onto a truck, counting into our weight limit. But still I couldn’t let go. One day last summer, I went upstairs. I pulled out the two enormous bins into our bathroom. I opened the giant empty box. And I started a rosary. I took out each shirt, skirt, pair of shorts, pants. I folded each one and put it in that big empty cardboard box. As I pulled up each piece of clothing, a memory flashed into my head taking me back in time.
The shirt I wore to the baby shower given by his work, expecting our first.
The skirt I wore through each pregnancy, that was the last I pulled out to fit into, but fit me to the end. I wore it in labor to the hospital with my sweet daughter.
The wine-colored shirt I wore the morning I found out our sweet son had passed into Jesus’s arms at 18 weeks.
The dress I wore for the first time when I was expecting our son during what would be our final pregnancy. How I would tie the tiny sash over my ever-growing bump for church only to have it come undone multiple times.
The green linen dress my mother bought for me, that I wore through each pregnancy, and how beautiful it made me feel.
Each shirt I bought with my mother’s helpful advice that first pregnancy.
Each shirt, each skirt, each pair of shorts and pants had a memory. I wore them so many times, yet each one had a single visceral memory intertwined into it. I held each on my knees in the bathroom, weeping into them and praying for the one who would wear them next. That sweet, beautiful woman full of life. Unexpectedly cast onto a journey she was not prepared for. Maybe not supported in. I prayed with each piece that she would feel my prayer and love soak into her each time she wore it. That she would be wrapped in His love and strength each day she grew that sweet baby within her. I boxed them up, those clothes I wore when I felt the most feminine I’ve felt. And, for the last time, I closed them up. To move onto the next love story.
Dear sweet mother,
May these clothes I gently set down in this maternity home, with the deepest grief in my heart, warm your beautiful body so full of life. May it comfort your heart on the scary days, fill you with joy on the beautiful days, and remind you every day how truly beautiful you are. May they help you realize how truly radiant you are. May they soak up more memories of joy, trepidation, and birth of new life. Know that each piece that you wear, I am praying for you each time. That I prayed over these for you. Beautiful you. Brave you. All I ask is that, even in the fear, you live gratefully for each day of this beautiful chapter in your life. Because we never know how quickly that chapter can close. Know that you are loved, prayed for, and cherished by me and by a God who loves you with a love beyond all understanding and sustains you in a plan that sometimes is not what we pictured. May your life and this beautiful life within you be blessed by love forever.