Precious Specks Of Dust

Our first child had not yet turned 1, and we had planned to wait a little while longer to start “trying” again—but apparently we had already been “trying” enough because my wife informed me one morning that she was walking to the pharmacy to get a pregnancy test.

I got her call in my office, just a few hours later, saying, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”

I was delighted, but she was still a bit shocked. I was working on my PhD full-time, the last baby had set us back money-wise … the next one might do more than that. My wife had been paying our bills by modeling—a fickle business—and where the first baby had put a dent in her career, the next one might put a nail in the coffin. She was happy about the baby but unprepared for the results. She forbade me from telling anyone. To this I (grudgingly) agreed.

Two days later my wife, Emily, said that we could call our family and tell them the news. I started calling almost immediately. Four days later Emily had a miscarriage.

The bad news prompted a phone call from my wife’s mother, with her confiding in me about her own loss of a child—stillborn. “I lost a child, you know. Between Elliot and Emily. We named her Charlotte. She was stillborn. But when I think about it now, I think that if Charlotte had lived, I wouldn’t have had Emily. So you never know what God is going to do.”

My wife called a friend of hers to tell her the news. And her friend said much the same thing. She had lost a baby too, a miscarriage in the first trimester (when most miscarriages happen), but a year later she had a son, a healthy boy she and her husband, Stephen, named Stephen the Second. This friend reiterated much of what my wife’s mother had said: that if that first baby hadn’t been lost, the second one most likely wouldn’t have come into the world. Now, seeing Stephen the Second, she is reconciled to the loss of her first pregnancy.

Yet, at this stage, Emily and I seem to feel no need to find larger meaning in the loss of the pregnancy. True, there is an empty spot left by vacated expectation and sadness, but no grief. There have been no tears thus far. This is the sort of thing that happens often. They say a third of pregnancies end in a miscarriage. There is the comfort that many miscarriages happen because something goes wrong in the development process. The fetus doesn’t develop quite right, so the pregnancy ends itself. But even this comfort is unnecessary.

We always knew that this was a possibility. It’s part of the odds if you play the game. A stillborn baby would be much more painful. So much buildup, the hours of delivery and then nothing but a little grave. For that, I think, one would need more assurances. But one always needs a bigger picture, right? Some framework to understand the hard moments in life. Even the atheists’ cold comfort—“sh–—happens”—is still a comfort of sorts. No one questions happiness. No scope of understanding is needed for that. But sadness, suffering, yes.

This leads me to think about the problem of evil. One could go any number of ways with things like miscarriages. There is the Augustinian route: fallen man chose sin, and sin means hardship. Or there is the Irenaean route: God chose man for growth and maturity, and that means hardship. Or there is the unknown providence explanation: “God did it for some reason.” Or the known providence explanation: “God did it for this reason.” I wonder if all of these are open to us, and discerning Christians may, at various times, see different reasons for suffering. Perhaps my suffering and your suffering really are for different reasons. Perhaps instead of one answer to the question, we need a bevy of possible options, and from that we recognize the reasons God has allowed (or ordained) our suffering. For now, I know a few important things. I know that God is good. And I know that I would have liked to have met that little baby. But I don’t know the specific reason why he or she was lost, and perhaps I may never know.

Before now, I’ve spoken of the “the miscarriage” as if it was something that was over. Technically, I suppose it’s been going on for a week—and is still happening. Like any menstrual cycle, the body has to slough off the uterine lining. This takes time, as any woman knows, and takes even longer if the lining has been built up by a pregnancy. The baby would have been too small to notice—a speck about as big as a grain of rice—and I wonder if he or she has passed out of the body yet. The thought of miscarrying a later-term child horrifies me.

A week ago I was looking at my 1-year-old and thinking about this little toddler becoming a big sister. There was a budding excitement that our three would soon be four. Now the numbers have dropped back down. It doesn’t feel like a loss of a person so much as a loss of hope. One thing that has come out of this is a change of my thoughts on the pill. My wife and I were lying in bed talking about how the pill works. It prevents the egg from releasing and thereby becoming fertilized. But if the egg does release and get fertilized, the pill keeps the egg from implanting in the uterine lining. This has always bothered me at the back of my mind, that a fertilized egg might be lost, but I’ve suppressed that worry on account of the convenience of the pill. Other contraceptives are a nuisance. The pre-coital act interrupted by fumbling in the dark with a stubborn condom wrapper. After this, though, we may have to rethink our birth control. Little what’s-his-name was barely more than a fertilized egg, certainly nothing like a fully formed baby, yet we feel sad at loosing him (or her). If we can feel sad about that little thing, then we must also concern ourselves about fertilized eggs.

It was a good thing, I think, that my wife told me to wait a few days to tell other people. We called our family to tell them the good news, and then almost immediately had to call them back to tell them the bad news. I’m glad we only had to make a few such calls. They are, if nothing else, uncomfortable.

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I happened to let one of the other guys in my office know. Just after we found out the good news, I had called this guy because his wife had just had a baby and I wanted to bring some food over—and in the conversation I let him know that Emily was pregnant. The day after the miscarriage I saw him in the office and congratulated him on the new baby. He cheerily said, “Congrats to you too!”

And, of course, I had to tell him that Emily had lost the baby. When I started to tell this guy about it, I felt hot emotion running up my spine and toward my tear ducts. But it never reached critical limit. Like the weakling taking a turn at that fairground mallet- game, the emotion lacked the strength to ring the bell. By the time I finished telling him, I was fully recovered. The guy’s face was a perfect expression of sympathy. It’s funny how much information can be read off a face. First shock, then sadness, then concern: all in the space of two seconds. He consoled me, and I thanked him for his kind words. Really, I felt worse for him at that moment. How badly he must have felt, a new baby at home and me standing there by the stairs talking about a miscarriage. In some ways, those outside of sadness have it rougher than those inside it. At the funeral of someone dear, you feel free to both laugh and cry. At the funeral of a distant relative, you don’t feel either the comfort of tears or the freedom to laugh.

More than anything, this experience—the pregnancy and the loss of it—makes me feel like my life is gaining momentum. The gloves are off now. This is not a test. All the embraces Emily and I have shared lately feel different. Once they were straightforward physical affection. A solid “I love you” in physical form. Now, sometimes, they feel more desperate, like holding on lest something slip away. It’s like being on vacation in Paris, stopping on a bridge, taking a breath and soaking it in; these tight hugs are a way of resting in a moment of time—all the while knowing how fragile everything is.

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