My friend Kim once said that running naked around the Internet saved her.
I’ll never forget the day she ran past my window naked, and I was all ME TOO, and then stripped down and ran out after her.
With words, I mean. On the blog—about serious things like infertility and pregnancy loss, and all the ways in which those experiences leave us vulnerable and stripped down and theologically confused. She used the word “suck” a lot, and I started using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg” on what had been a previously silly and mindlessly entertaining blog space.
But this very public form of therapy connected us to each other, plus an entire world of others, and it was nourishing to be honest, to offer and accept support, to renegotiate perspective and narrate the experience on our own terms.
Also, sometimes it just felt real nice to stand there naked like, SO? THIS THING CAN’T SHAME ME.
I’M VERY, VERY SAD. PLEASE SOMEBODY GO GET ME SOME CLOTHES.
It’s been nine months since I wrote anything. In fact, the last words typed onto this page were in the spring after we lost our first and only pregnancy a month before Mother’s Day, following our first round of IVF.
I’ve spent the last six months looking for the right words to replace those other (guttural) words hanging there naked on the page.
Somehow they needed to just breathe.
They needed to breathe even through a happy and grace-filled summer full of visitors. They needed to breathe through two more rounds of IVF.
And they’ve hung there still, breathing, through six months of pregnancy during which I had real trouble making coherent sense of anything or producing a vocabulary that included pregnancy words.
I just can’t believe it.
Right now a foot-long, pound-and-a-half baby is inside me. She is hearing sounds and trying to open her eyes and sucking her thumb and kicking my bladder.
Last weekend Jeff and I retreated to the north woods in Wisconsin to gather our thoughts and go outside. I willed myself to reflect and write, but the words wouldn’t come.
And then I read this:
Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light…
What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence…
2015 © David Whyte
This was the sentiment that explained three-fourths of a year of Internet silence, the blog vacuum, half a year growing a baby. My mind could not make sense of what was happening, and words would only diminish its presence.
And by “it” I don’t mean the baby. By “it” I mean the pool of mercy I find myself swimming in every day.
The baby was never the thing. The thing was God’s presence revealed to me in a bottom-of-the-barrel moment that still has me asking, Why would He do this for me?”
After the miscarriage in April, we did two more rounds of IVF treatment through the summer and into the fall.
(We were only able to do IVF, by the way, because we moved for Jeff’s job to a state that miraculously mandates fertility coverage by insurance companies- our heads are still spinning over that unplanned provision.)
Without slipping into all the medical jargon, round two produced dismal results—low egg quantity, maturity, fertilization rates and poor embryo quality, which we brushed off as a fluke.
But then round 3 produced the same results.
On the day of our last embryo transfer, we had 4 embryos that were supposed to have reached the 8 or 10-cell stage, but were all stuck at 4 and 5 cells—just like the round before. The doc suggested we go ahead and transfer three instead of one or two since the odds of success were below 1%. The 4th embryo arrested, as all the others had in rounds before. He patted us on the back with a “better luck next time” sentiment. It was a punch in the gut.
I made a list that night and every night of things that I knew would still be true and good when this test inevitably came back negative two weeks later:
Tacos are still tacos
Fall is still fall
Coffee is still coffee
These are the things that would save my life.
But the morning of the blood test, it seemed impossibly cruel to go through the motions of a blood draw knowing there was zero chance of a positive test, then waiting several hours for a nurse to call and tell me no, and then starting the whole process all over again with little hope of a different outcome.
Meanwhile people in my life were signing over rights to four-year-olds I adored and would give anything to care for, and people all over Facebook were like, WHOOPSIE! WE’RE HAVING OUR THIRD OR FOURTH OR FIFTH BABY ON ACCIDENT! or LOOK AT OUR MIRACLE BABY WE CONCEIVED NATURALLY ON THE FIRST TRY AND ALSO WE ALREADY HAVE ONE.
In fertility world, 85% of people get “miracles” and 15% never do. Is God selective? Or is the norm that our bodies are supposed to produce babies and the world is depraved in such a way that some people’s bodies are defective in the same way crime happens and cancer comes and earthquakes hit?
The word “miracle” feels like Christian magic sprinkled sparingly—you get one, he doesn’t. I became acutely aware of my use of the word when a college friend and I were exchanging stories about our families. My dad had cancer when I was young, was given 60 days to live, everyone prayed. He was healed and lived. A miracle! Her dad got cancer when she was young. Everyone prayed. He died.
All of life is a miracle, I guess. Flowers are miracles—they grow out of the ground, you know. Snow is a miracle— I mean, tiny ice crystals fall from the sky and don’t hurt us. It’s a miracle we don’t all kill ourselves every day on the interstate driving around in three-ton machines. It’s a miracle God gave us brains that have evolved to being able to harvest eggs and sperm and put them into the bodies of women who desperately want to carry what their bodies were designed to do in the first place. The presence of the baby is science. That a soul was breathed into that body is a miracle.
It’s just hard that in the context of fertility, for every eight people declaring their miracle, two people are left confused and unseen.
I cried on the bus to the clinic that morning, cried as they drew my blood, cried all the way home, cried as I got ready for work, cried all the way to work.
I stood on this precipice (or on the bedroom floor in my towel) of believing definitively: God doesn’t see me, and God doesn’t care about me. But I didn’t want to believe that, and I thought I should probably run that by my support counsel first.
So I called and texted Jeff and a few close friends and family to ask for help—something I had never done before, acutely. I prayed for two things: peace, and a sign that God saw me. I needed something clear and supernatural. This, I thought, could potentially mitigate the No that would be coming from the nurse around noon.
No thunder boomed.
No lights flickered.
But I was reminded of this poem by Denise Levertov:
I had grasped God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
The ‘everlasting arms’ my sister loved to remember
must have upheld my leaden weight
from falling, even so,
for though I claw at empty air and feel
nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummeted
At 10am, I sat in my office trying to figure out how to move forward, waiting for the peace to come. At 10:30 the nurse called.
The test was positive.
The next several days, and then several weeks were all Isaiah 55-
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
You guys, ALL THE TREES OF THE FIELD WERE CLAPPING THEIR HANDS.
Not only had God seen and heard me, but also a baby was in there.
Even at the appointment that confirmed the heartbeat, when the doc said this was just the first step and there were a million hoops to jump through between now and the next one—I didn’t even care. Every waking conscious thought was gratitude and peace.
“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” my friend Kim had said, “Eat up!” So I gobbled that joy right up in the first few weeks without reservation.
Jeff and I celebrated with each other and we told our families, which we had not done the first time out of fear, and then regretted it when the baby was gone.
In the strangest way, I equally never feared the loss of this baby and always thought it might die—because the baby was simply the thing God used to show me he had seen and heard me. I thought the baby might just be the symbol, and that even if the baby miscarried, I would always know God saw and heard me that day in my towel on the bedroom floor.
In fact, I recalled a blog Kim had written about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the “even if” part of faith-
They are Jews in exile in Babylon and when the king declares that everyone must worship an image of gold, they refuse, despite the king’s threats to burn them alive in a furnace. They respond like this to the king:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).
It’s the but even if he does not that haunts me. It’s one thing to believe that God can save us; it’s quite another kind of faith entirely to believe even if he does not. That’s the kind of belief that I knew that morning. It wasn’t intellectual assent. It wasn’t something I felt. I just knew in that moment, in my gut, in my bones, that I believed. That this was the Really Real.
Even if we lost the baby… I still believed.
(Though in full disclosure, I’m still terrified to type that. We pray incessantly for her protection, and I won’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Labor and Delivery because I thought something was wrong. Fine. Just the one time.)
At about the 8-week mark I started getting a little zonky.
I would come home bracing to lose the baby because I did something wrong that day. I lied, or I said SHIT two times, or did something I knew was selfish, or I ate blue cheese, and it would only be right for God to take the baby back.
I knew it was shaky theology, but the fear was creeping in.
Then I read this poem by Hafiz (sent by Kim, per usual. Please find yourself a Kim and add her to your support counsel):
The sandalwood tree shares its lovely scent with any who come near. God is like that.
Does the tree ever think to itself, I am not going to offer my fragrance to that man over there because of what he did last night,
or to that woman who neglected her child, or because of what we, we might have ever done?
It is not the way of God to hoard. He is simply just there, emanating freely what He is, if we wish to grab a handful or fill the basket in the eye.
Don’t hold back, have no reservations, take full advantage of His attributes, exploit His nature and that tender part of His soul.
And this one by Denise Levertov:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so I would learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace
Nothing I did earned God’s presence. Nothing I did earned the baby. Nothing I do can take those things away.
Since that time, both hope and fear, each protective, have settled themselves into their right places in my heart (Kim again, and Elizabeth Gilbert ;)
So. Like I said above, I have basically been swimming around a giant pool of what feels like mercy. That God saw me the morning of my test in the most despairing place and gave me comfort was the miracle; the I see you message in the middle of pain and confusion was the miracle. The baby that followed is simply a merciful gift.
God owed us nothing, yet six months later, we’re still carrying this gift.
Tiny clothes are hanging in a closet on polka-dot baby hangers, and all these words are finally finding a way out of hiding…