Processing miscarriage

Thank you so much for your advice and wisdom on my last post. I wrote what follows before I read your stories, but I could be quoting you. You also said some things I’d never thought of before. Thanks for being so brave in sharing your words.

Here are the suggestions good women gave to me, which I will share in turn. I will not tell their stories, but they were right. Thank you, Jean, Renee, Becca, Rachel, Marlene, Stephanie, Renita, Chastin, Hope Anne, and Cynthia. In the interest of being concise I’m afraid of sounding terse and superior… Please know that I’m talking out of pain I will not describe here.

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Confession: I don’t have a philosophy of miscarriage. It’s unfortunate that when a Trouble comes, my ideas and theories about it fly away. Or maybe that’s a good thing? I have found nothing to stave off the pain or to match the needs of varied situations, and a numbered list has a ridiculousness all its own.

But in the weeks following my miscarriage, Jesus began the work healing me. (He’s not done yet.) Here are some of the things His daughters taught me.

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1. Talk to other women who’ve experienced this loss.

One strange thing about pain (any pain, whether cancer or abuse or the death of a loved one) is that you enter unwittingly, even unwillingly, a sisterhood of those who have known this pain. After you come to accept that you are here, gathered with others around a life event you’d never have chosen, you may find much comfort in this place. These other stories are not yours, and do not need to define yours, but are there in a circle of strength around you. Your grief is not isolated. Your sorrow does not stand alone.

Miscarriage can be part of a healthy family story. It has touched countless women without destroying them; it is not the end of the path.

As Rosina pointed out yesterday (and several of you demonstrated), anyone softened by sorrow can offer meaningful care. Let’s not demand that someone must have walked in OUR SHOES before receiving the love they have to give…

2. Find a few physical things by which to remember your baby.

Early miscarriages especially give little closure, little to say goodbye to. You might fill a box with the notes and cards you receive over that time, plant a special tree or flower, stand a Willow Tree figurine on your mantel, write a letter, sew a little blanket, or put a remembrance stone in your garden. Somehow, touch the things that will remind you of him.

3. Give yourself time and grace.

Though many experience it, miscarriage is also a private pain—no one but you held this child. It is okay to feel a lot, to cry. You have been touched by love and human life, and cannot be unchanged. Journal, talk to a friend, listen to music late at night when you can’t sleep. Give your emotions and your hormones time to settle. Don’t be hard on yourself or blame the body that betrayed you.

4. Spend time with your spouse.

Let him comfort you and sorrow with you. He’s part of this story, and it’s his loss too, though he’ll process it differently. Even after the tears are done and the words are silenced, be together. Treasure his presence and his feelings.

5. Name your baby.

…Even if you do not share his name with others. He is real, and your loss is somehow validated by naming him.

6. Re-read Psalm 139.

I couldn’t find God’s heart in the weeks after losing my baby. Most of the time I thought He probably didn’t care. He drew near and opened my eyes each time I read David’s words about an unborn child, depicting the loving and intimate involvement of the Father.

7. Steep yourself in love.

There will be a few very painful reminders along the way: the first pregnancy news from a friend, the baby who is born when yours would have been, the next Mother’s Day. You will survive this thing by loving, not by hating. Open your arms and heart to the little people around you, and to the women whose bellies are rounded with unborn life.

8. Hold onto faith.

(This one was hardest for me.)

God may seem different than you ever thought him to be. Heaven may seem more real than ever, or an uncertain castle in the air. When you have no assurance of your own, lean on the faith of others and trust their words. Feel, more than figure out. You can experience the pain without finding answers for all the hard questions right now.

He is good. And the story is not done yet…

When talking with women

No, I haven’t forgotten. And yes, I offered the opportunity of writing this post to my husband, who laughed out loud.

“No, really,” I said, “would you?”

“I know better than that!” he said.

So I waited.

Two days later I asked him again. He looked startled and said “Goodness, when?” Which being interpreted is, “I would be so delighted to do this thing for you, my dear, truly I would. But as you know, I am much occupied in the winning of bread and the performing of other manly offices. You go right ahead: I believe in you.”

At least, I’m sure it went something like that…

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coffee

When talking with women

1. Say a lot

If the rule for women is 49%, the rule for men must be 210%. Which means, you say what you’re thinking—like open your mouth and let it all out—and then look deeply into her eyes and lower your voice and say it all again in slightly different words, gently. Adding a little extra that you thought of during the second go.

You see, when you don’t say what you’re thinking she thinks about what you’re thinking, and 99% of the time she ramps it too high, too dark, too horrible. What you say is less viral than what you don’t say. But please. For your own sake as well as hers, say it

2. Carefully.

I don’t mean to be rude, and I’m making a point of saying that you men are good at many things—if the world depended on me to pound nails and build websites and grow beards and stuff we’d all be dead by now—but really? the subtle cue thing is a little lost on you.

Kronk described it well: “the Cold Shoulder, the Frenzied Eyebrow, the Grimace of Doom, the Sneer of Despair, the Crippling Wince of Guilt, the Scowl of Impending Wrath, and worst of all, the Nostril Flare of Total Rejection.”

Little things like that. It’s important to stay tuned, men, or honestly? You’ll never know what hit you. Even though she gave you fair warning.

3. Ask questions.

I am probably betraying my half of the species by admitting it, but women love questions. Not “Where’d you get this cut of meat and how much did you pay for it and did you remember to fill the car with gas?” but “How was your day? Are things going better with that friendship you talked about last week? What do you think about…?”

When the words “Talk to me, hon. What are you feeling?” come out of your mouth, you achieve instant hero status. Her whole world lights up.

And in the end, if this is all too tall an order and too hot a minefield, do this little thing:

4. Listen well.

Look into her eyes, lay down the paper or the laptop or the smartphone at least for a time, and make sympathetic noises. Grunts are good. Chuckles. Sighs. {Just no farts or hiccups, por favor.}

This will please her. She will go away thinking what a great conversationalist you are.

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So then… after my husband said No, he produced this brilliance:

  • Listen much. Talk little.*
  • Your wife can’t read your mind. Surprise, surprise.
  • “I’m sorry” is not an admission of guilt. Unless you are. Then it is.
  • You both lose arguments unless you’re on the same team.
  • Listen when she talks. Then listen when you talk.
  • If you’re in deep doodoo, stop digging.

* No, this is not the same viewpoint as the one his wife expressed above. I’m leaving it in, with a disclaimer—unlike his last point, which I struck from the record entirely: something about “if you have something difficult to say and you don’t know how to say it—don’t.” Utter poppycock. Well, well. You see we are still under construction.

In short, good luck to you boys: you will need it. May your race increase.

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I am not sure if any of this is true. Persons of either gender should feel free to amend and correct. I should, however, like to state for the sake of anyone who is in doubt that I am madly in love with my husband.

And as always… But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions. You may be one: in which case you may x this window and say “That woman does not have a clue what she’s talking about.” You would be quite right. Although I would prefer that you’d say it to my face. Twice over. Gently.

The fifth suggestion

I forgot one crucial piece I was going to mention about communicating with men.

5. Round up.

Not like a cowboy, like a mathematician. He means well, it just sounds different in manspeak. Round it up to the closest equivalent.

 Hm. = I’m listening, keep talking.
 Aw. = You poor dear girl, I can only imagine how awful that must have been!
 Wow. = You’re a crazy gorgeous lady and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. You stun me.
 Um. = I feel uncertain of what to say at the moment, but rest assured I care, and will be thinking over my answer. {For the next ten years.}
 Hiccup. = Enough said. Go make me a sandwich.

 

When talking with men

Let me be clear on this: when I am most mocking and piquant about my husband, it’s a sign we’re having fun. When I start writing serious blog posts entitled Thirty Days of Honor, you can bet we’re not doing so well. Ultimate low point of our marriage, right there. Take my word for it; you won’t get any details. Now–where was I? Ah yes. Mocking.

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We’ve all been in this conversation, haven’t we?

whistling

The day you bring him a concern and he sits there and looks at you. The day you realize that the thing you asked him for a year ago has been sitting in the basement all this time. The day you ask him a question and he walks out of the room. The day you complain of shooting pains in your wrist and he says calmly, “It’s probably repetitive stress injury” and goes on typing.

(You think I’m making this up? My imagination’s not that good… true stuff, ya’ll.)

It’s a great story. It’s a pressing issue. It’s an urgent question, for Pete’s sake. And yet he is unmoved.

Are all men like this?

Sometimes I say to him, “Talk to me!” This occurs when I have been immersed in juvenile conversations all day and am desperate for words longer than one syllable; or when I have been talking too long and I know I won’t shut up unless someone else starts vocalizing; or when he is making enigmatic faces and it’s stressing me out.

whistling

Early in marriage, my husband taught me a few rules of basic marital English.

  1. Be as direct as possible already! Don’t make me guess where you’re going.
  2. Use words that start with w, not c. “Would you/ Will you?” not “Could you/ Can you?” that seem to challenge my ability.
  3. Don’t give me a task list when I’m rushed with other things.
  4. Don’t pepper me with questions!

Let me be clear on this: I was raised by a marriage counselor. When I hound this boy, I do it with style.

But sometimes, just to show off, I humor him. He comes home from the fire call or the pastoral meeting or the boy expedition and I think of the fifty-nine things I want to ask him. I think of them all, individually, and then carefully I compact them into one well-worded, all-encompassing, leading, invitational question. “How was it, honey?”

“Good,” he says.*

And exits.

{Shari rushes out of doors to slay something inanimate before she starts hurling china at living organisms.}

* {And perhaps this is unfair. If he’s had a Coke or two to loosen his tongue he may say “Really good.”}

yelling

Here are my (brief) suggestions for communicating (briefly) with men. Some of them may be my father’s, who has forgotten more on this topic than anyone else ever knew.

1. Say less.

A wise friend of mine advises speaking 49% of what you really want to say.

2. Wait.

Men’s ears are like gardens: you put in the seed and then you wait for a while. A long while. He may have every intention of coming around, but he won’t be rushed. The idea has to take root.

3. Say it one more time.

Occasionally, he actually forgets. If so, he will have only hazy memories of your initial conversation, and will not realize you are repeating yourself. Just don’t do it a third time. (He’ll think it’s the second.) That’s so beyond the pale, way out into the nagging camp.

4. Let it go his way.

I’m not advocating being a doormat. Believe me. In the Wifely Olympics I won the prize for Least Like a Doormat so many years running they won’t even let me participate anymore. But—

It’s a good day to remember that eleven years ago, or however many it was, you made a promise that it was going to be all about this man until the day you die. And he’s not the only one with faults.

And some days, magically, you’ll get it just right.

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All photos in this post were captured, not staged–and taken by my talented friend Shaunda Stoltzfus. Featuring her son and my daughter.

Coming up sometime, probably: “When Talking with Women.”

Portraits and single ladies

Dear Single Ladies,

To be fair, I must needs direct a few words your way as well. And truly, I have somewhat to say unto thee.

[And they said unto her, Say on.]

There is an enemy to romance lurking in the heart of every woman, single or married, as far as I can tell: the Ideal Man. I just want to say this about him: he doesn’t exist. Now don’t even think about getting all prickly on me and saying you’ve found one; hang on a few years and you’ll know what I mean.

So if you’re looking for tall, dark, and handsome, keep in mind that he will probably be tall and dark but not at all handsome—or dark and handsome though not particularly tall—or tall and handsome and… blonde. And if by great good fortune you find someone who is all three, he is sure to have a caveat somewhere, such as an especially unpleasant family, for example, or a collection of ancient, mushroom-scented footwear he refuses to part with. The earlier you can start laying down the Ideal to take hold of the Real (and it starts with your father, your brother, your friends), the better off you will be. He’s not going to come in a frame.

Back in our grandma’s day, a woman knew she was blessed just to get a good steady man who could hold down a job and support the family.

Nowadays that’s only scratching the surface. Nowadays we want it all: a man who stands boldly for truth and leads the pack in righteousness and expresses himself with passion but also a man who comforts the fallen, bathes the wounds of the outcasts, and wipes his boots before he comes indoors. He should sing well. And dress well. And use good table manners. And make pretty much money but not care too much about it. He should be a man’s man with a deep voice and an easy laugh. He should be good with kids. And animals. And difficult people. And if he plays a mean game of baseball and has arms like a sailor’s we’re not going to complain about it…

Girls, we don’t make it easy for him either. He says “Will you please?” and we say “Hmm. Twelve out of twenty criteria? Ummm, no thanks.”

(By now you may be wondering if I have a secret plot to marry off the whole world. You’re getting close. I have found no better institution than marriage for ending aloneness and enforcing selflessness.)

Did you know that many men show their best colors in close relationship? Don’t judge him from a distance, by “what you know of him so far” when you’ve only met up with him in herds and crowds. Give the guy a chance to do his wooing! You will soon know if it’s not working—there are people who simply do not gel—but you may be very, very surprised by the man you discover.

A man in love is a crazily compelling thing. And a man who stays in love and finds persistent, foolish, wild ways to show it—triply so.

He doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Thanks for giving him a chance.

Love,

Shari