“There’s a problem with the baby,” said the doctor, pressing the ultrasound probe to my belly. It was 2002, and I was 16 weeks pregnant, at the hospital for a normal prenatal checkup. I looked over at Steve. I could tell from his face that he understood that “problem” was a euphemism. The baby was dead.
The next piece of news was almost as bad. I was too far along for a D&C. I had to go home and wait for labor to start. A midwife told me to try not to think about it. Right.
Not only did I fail to distract myself effectively, I obsessed about this dead baby I was carrying. I felt like I couldn’t grieve, couldn’t say good bye, couldn’t move on. I was sad, but what I felt most was out of control. I so badly wanted this ordeal to be over.
I didn’t put this into words, but looking back, I can see that somewhere deep down I believed that if I prayed hard enough and often enough, if I wanted it enough, if I used enough mental and emotional energy, that somehow I could end the torture of waiting.
For two weeks I agonized over continuing to carry my lifeless child. Then the doctor decided to try to induce labor. I spent the weekend in the hospital hooked up to an IV, waiting for labor to start. At one point I was weeping under the weight of it all, and a nurse told me, “Don’t cry. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
The induction didn’t work. I went home again, still praying and straining with all my emotional might, as if I could do something.
About a week later, something clicked. I realized that ending this ordeal was truly not in my hands. Instead of praying that I would go into labor NOW, I started affirming that I released the timing into God’s hands. I made myself a mix tape (yeah, this was a while ago) of songs about release, surrender, and God being into control, and I listened to it over and over. When the ache of not being able to do anything hit, I came back again and again to opening my hands in a gesture of letting go.
The last week of waiting was actually peaceful. One month after finding out the baby was dead, I finally went into labor. I had previously wondered how women handled labor when they knew there would be no live child to hold on the other side. That wasn’t an issue. My experience is that labor pains fill our vision and we can’t think of the future, whether beautiful or tragic.
We saw our baby. I remember how each tiny rib stood out under the purple-grey skin, how the eyes were closed and the head a little misshapen from too long in a temporary grave.
The waiting was over. We could say good bye to our baby, and life could go on.
In another post, I talked about how during depression, something beautiful is growing, hidden in the darkness. But this gestating beauty often has a twin—death that is waiting to be released. The birth of newness and the letting go of death both create labor pains that eclipse the view of what’s ahead.
Though unseen during depression (as in labor), a future still exists. That future holds the relief of final good byes to parts of our lives we have been needlessly carrying, and the future holds the emergence of new life that would have been unimaginable before going through the depths.
To me, these thoughts are gifts from a painful experience. The hope of both release and beauty occasionally peeks through the darkness of depression and encourages me. May these thoughts encourage you as well.
Photo by Jon Ovington, CC License