Two little birds and two mini stockings hang on our Christmas tree. My two little girls decorated the tree with me this year. Their quick hands clasp around my two glass bird ornaments and before I knew it, the birds were headed for low branches. “No, Girls,” I said. “These birds go up high. They are special. These birds remind us of the babies daddy and I lost before we were given you.”
My 7-year-old daughter is not immune to these types of comments as we learn to be open with each other about hard things. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at the now elevated ornaments outside of her reach.
The rate of miscarriage is high, yet I feel our culture still wants us to be quiet about them. I don’t believe we grieve well as a society about any loss. I also don’t believe we acknowledge loss in ways which foster openness and promotes healing. We fumble for words to say to anyone in the midst of their loss, no matter the age. We worry how our own sadness will come out, so we just look at the person with sad eyes and a pouty face. Okay, maybe I’m just describing myself. We send flowers and bring a meal, which are all good, but then we often just stop talking about it.
Our miscarriages were back to back. They were early on in both pregnancies. Friends and family showed up to love on us which was wonderful, but Matt and I didn’t really say anything to each other. We didn’t grieve together as long as we needed to. We didn’t process together in a way which could have been helpful for both of us. We experienced elation and devastation, twice, and just went back to life. I talked about it with my girlfriends and grieved over my physical bleeding. Matt found hope in his own things and we moved on..
Years later we spent the time in marriage counseling working through our losses. We worked through other missed opportunities to work through life’s hard stuff. It was a game changer for us. What if we hadn’t waited for years? What if we had talked about it openly and made it okay to feel and to hurt and to be sad together?
If you know me, I am not shy when it comes to talking about life with anyone once I’ve processed it myself. Bringing to light, I believe, the things which seem better hidden can take the hold it so often has on us and release us from it. Of course we may not all be this comfortable talking about the hardest things we experience, and I do encourage discretion, but in our marriages and in our deep friendships, let’s speak.
The greatest stories we listen to are the ones we tell ourselves. I told myself Matt wouldn’t be able to handle my sadness a second time.. I told myself it was my fault. I told myself Matt wouldn’t want me if I kept loosing babies. I told myself…but, none of these stories were true. None of the stories I made up played out. It did, however, affect our marriage. Matt had his own stories too.
In the past few years when my friends or acquaintances, even in my job as a pediatric nurse, have had a chronically-ill child, miscarriage(s) and not been able to conceive, I ask “how is your marriage”. I know in my own experience the loss of connection in my marriage became my hardest loss of all. I long for others to learn from my experience. I tell them to process together, to be together, to grieve together and to cling to each other even when words don’t make sense.
This year, as we hung our birds and stockings for our babies, I wasn’t as overcome with emotion as I have in years past. Matt and my marriage has grown to a place where we can talk about loss and talk about hard things without giving into the stories we tell ourselves. I don’t feel alone anymore in the loss. And God redeems. Ours looks like two girls who create joy and chaos, sometimes all at once.
I have no idea where you might be at in this season: anticipating starting a family, not having the option, having had a miscarriage(s), sleepless nights with an ill-child or endless months of trying. I do not know what your marriage looks like, but would you allow me to tell you this: God sees you. God hears you. God knows your heart. God wants to hold you together. He is not afraid of your grieve. You are never too much for him. He will never give up on you even when you don’t want to keep trying. And, this is good news, too. He loves your spouse as much as he loves you.
And please hear me in this: do not let the stories we tell ourselves get in the way of talking about your grief, your loss, and your sadness with your spouse and the people closest to you. Give light to your experience so what is hidden cannot hold you. Find a way to share your story, whether it’s by hanging a bird on your Christmas tree or by clinging to the one who loves you. Don’t let it stay hidden, don’t let yourself stay hidden.
A reminder to us all: when someone has the courage to speak, listen with the intention to hear. We all experience loss and very few of us want someone to fix it. Just listen; just be present. let’s be less nervous about what we will say and more eager be with the one who is grieving.
Psalm 139: 5 (Message) “I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too–your reassuring presence, coming and going.