When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
– My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less
With anxiety as my lifelong companion, I have felt at times that I am the worst person to be pregnant. Each pregnancy has been emotionally tumultuous, even the three that were smooth by all other measures. So recently, when I saw that second solid line fade into view, I dropped to my knees on the tiles of my bathroom floor, less so out of joyful gratitude than desperation.
Pregnancy tends to put to the forefront one of my greatest fears: death of someone I love. As a child, I was often afraid if my parents were out of the house for long. It wasn’t so much because I missed them, but because I imagined them never returning because of an airplane or car crash. As an adult, I’ve needed to consciously silence unfounded worst-case scenarios when Jeff’s taken longer than expected to come home. As a mom, I’ve gone to bed praying my perfectly healthy children would wake up the next day. My fear supposedly dates back to before my memory, when I would interrupt my mom’s naps to make sure she was alive.
A well-meaning phlebotomist who, drawing blood to test for hormone levels during my miscarriage a few years ago said, “You’re still young, you can have another.” But he misunderstood. The pain of miscarriage was never about my hopes for a child per se. It was about losing one I already loved. You don’t have to have known your baby for long, or even ever held him or her in your arms, to have loved fiercely and deeply.
The pain of childbirth– not just in labor, but in broken bodies and miscarried babies– reminds us this world continues to groan under the curse of sin. We are warned against public announcements of pregnancy during the first trimester because of the sheer statistics on miscarriage, a staggering 20% of all pregnancies. We fear rejoicing over the tiny lives forming in our wombs, because, what if we’re that one out of five? Pregnancy after miscarriage can be especially harrowing. During a time that ought to be joyful, we are woken up in the middle of the night by bloody nightmares and lie awake wondering if they will become reality. Our hearts drop at each sensation that resembles symptoms of pregnancy loss.
Christians are not spared from miscarriage, stillborn babies, and sick children. We know we have a Father who hears, but for reasons that are good and kind, allows things to happen to us that don’t feel good and kind. We know the answer to, “Your will be done” may sometimes mean our wills aren’t. So in the end, what difference does it make? What difference does it make to be a child of God in a fallen world, full of legitimately scary outcomes, as we await the renewal of all things?
Against convention, Jeff and I shared with our church about those double solid lines as soon as we saw them. I understand not everyone chooses to do this. But these brothers and sisters have walked with us through one miscarriage and I couldn’t imagine walking through 12 more weeks of uncertainty and anxiety on my own. I needed to let them know not in spite of, but because of the possibility of miscarriage.
These dear ones have been sharing in our family’s joy in ways that, because of fear, I have not yet been able to feel. They have reminded me to rejoice at the news of the tiny one being fashioned within me, and they are praying for us both. Whether they will celebrate with us when God answers their prayers for a healthy baby or mourn with us through the grief of loss, I am unspeakably grateful for the gift of God’s people.
The present trial of the unknown, of being in the waiting, has at times made me feel like I am going crazy. It isn’t so much the irrationality of my thoughts, but the sheer volume of them and the breakneck speed with which they overtake me. It has been a blessing to be able to share this struggle with others who are praying with us. This privilege is only surpassed by the divine invitation to pour out my own heart to he who hears and helps.
Ours is a God who does not sleep nor slumber (Psalm 121). Who receives our cries at one, two-thirty, and four o’ clock in the morning. Ours is a God who harkens to pitiful, groaning prayers from bathroom, closet, and living room floors. He is merciful. He is with us. He has carried us from our mother’s wombs and will carry us even as he fashions precious babies in ours (Psalm 139).
This may seem morbid, and maybe it is, but I have often leaned my ear on the chest of a loved one only to pull back in sadness. Something about the physicality of a thumping heart reminds me of the inherent weakness of human life. Each ba-bum speaks to me of our frailty– our utter dependence on one aging, fleshy pump in the earthy, mechanical processes of our circulatory systems.
In a broken world, our hearts threaten to fail. They threaten to stop beating so that our spirits are given up. They threaten to break into a thousand pieces under the weight of grief. Regarding our weak flesh and breakable hearts, the psalmist cries out,
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73).
My flesh and my heart may fail. This is not what I want to hear. I want assurance of a healthy baby and smooth pregnancy. I want to know the baby’s heart will beat and that my heart will not break. But the truth is my baby’s heart may continue to beat for years and years to come, and it may not. My heart may be filled with joy or it may be overcome with sorrow. The truth is, it feels as if my heart may already be failing under the weight of the unknown. But in the uncertainty, God is. God is the strength of our hearts. He sustains each beat. He will lead us, whether through the shadow of the valley of death or by green pastures with quiet waters. He carries us even in our anxiety as we await being led to valley or pasture, which one, we don’t know.
A story attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson takes place on a ship out at sea. During a terrible storm, the passengers are understandably terrified. One of them, against orders, sneaks out onto the deck. There he sees the pilot, calmly and steadily steering the ship. The pilot turns to the trembling man and smiles, at which point the man returns to the other passengers. To them he announces, “I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled at me. All is well.”
All does not always feel well. I am still being tossed about, it seems. Still the knowledge that God is not dictated by statistics, superstition, or formulas in dealing with my life has been a steadying anchor as I’ve been tossed about by fear. As the fog of fearful outcomes obscure my thoughts, he speaks clearly, “Lean not on your own thoughts. Trust in me.” (Proverbs 3:5). I have been reminded it is not only the tiniest member of our family whose every day is granted by God, but mine as well. And while this truth has not quelled the storm, it serves as a ballast when I fear my sails are about to go under and feel I will be swallowed up by the deep. All does not feel well, but in the deepest sense, it is.
I know I am not the only one in the waiting. These past weeks have felt like months, and the stretch ahead of me, endless. I write for me, but also for you, dear ones, who face uncertain futures with trepidation. To remind us we are led by a kind and wise Captain. He is steadfast at the helm. Though we venture into the unknown, he turns his face to us. We may still be afraid– I am. Very, very, very much so– but we, the people of God, trust not in the strength of our own hearts to carry us through.
This week, we received the gift of seeing a tiny heartbeat on an ultrasound screen. We are still very early in the first trimester, so early in fact that the doctor had trouble finding signs of anything going on in my womb. Yet there it was, the answer to one prayer, uttered hundreds of times, for a heartbeat.
We are still not “in the clear” (though, when are we ever, really?) and still, convention would dictate not sharing this news of burgeoning life within me. Yet, I am in wonder of this tiny heart. It has only just started to pump, and whether for days or decades more only God knows. Whatever the case, each beat will be sustained by our good God until this precious one sees Jesus face-to-face.
Whatever the case, he must be the strength of my heart as well.