You will arrive one minute after your wife is told there is no fluid and no heartbeat. You will not listen to the rest of the nurse’s explanation before you walk through the door.
They will tell you your options and that you need to wait four days to enact any of them. You will walk your wife out past a picture board full of smiling happy babies.
In private, your wife will say she cannot carry around the corpse of the baby she believes she killed. Over the next set of hours, her abdominal pain will increase, and your emergency will become the kind the hospital will see next.
They will put your wife in a corner room too small for all the doctors and nurses flooding in. You will hate every motionless ultrasound. You will hate every other door that opens onto another family welcoming their child into the world. At some point you will realize that your family has paid every cost (insurance, morning sickness, contractions, and pain) to walk away with nothing.
Medical staff will recommend your wife receive anesthesia so that she doesn’t hemorrhage. (She doesn’t want to be awake for it anyway.) They say you will not be able to see your child because she might not be “intact.” Instead your wife will pass the child without the epidural they couldn’t get in quick enough.
You will remember that, at seventeen weeks, your daughter would have just been able to hear music, and oh the songs you would’ve sung for her.
You will sing her one song for her only day in your arms. You will sing it alone because your wife cannot bring herself to see her. Later, you will tell your wife that this one song was Jimmy Buffett's “Margaritaville.” If nothing else, it will be good to see her laugh in that hospital bed.
You will cup your baby in your hands and will pray what you intended to pray five months in the future: “To the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, we say thank you for this life.” That prayer will still be true today, five months too early.
Your baby will be soft and small, red, and cold. She will be too little for eyelashes. You will think she is beautiful.
Nurses will put a picture of a leaf on your hospital room door. That green leaf is set against some black backdrop with just the teeniest bit of light in the upper corner. You do not need to ask what it means. You’ve always known what it means. You just never thought it would mean it for you.
You will still get a birth certificate. It will list the date, her length and weight, her name. The nurses will put your daughter’s footprints on the bottom. It will occur to you that those feet will never get any bigger.
All you will want to do is leave the hospital, but then you won’t know how to be home. You’re killing time, but until when exactly?
You will ask for distance during this time. People will reach out anyway. You will not hold their empathy against them.
People will tell you to ask if you need anything. You will need the one thing they cannot give.
With God, at first, you will hear nothing. Your whole life will feel muted like right after an explosion. In the days to follow, it will sound like ringing. Like everything thrown far away slowly coming back. Your prayers will be short. “Thank you for this food.” Nothing else. It will seem foolish to pray for anything else, because the obvious got missed, and how do you lose a miracle baby anyway?
People will ask, “What happened?” and you will want to say, “How will you knowing those details help me?” But instead you will comfort them for your grief.
Your wife will tell you that she expects her grief to grow as her belly does not. You will tell her that you will love her on her worst days, that you will love her on your worst days, and that today those days are one and the same.
She will think about that worship song which says, “What can take away my hallelujah?” and she will reply, “This can.”
You will sneak things downstairs when your wife is not looking, packing away cute shoes and tiny socks, all those ultrasound poses now sealed shut in an envelope. Your nursery will become a storage room once again.
Your wife will whisper, “Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.”
You will take your wife away to the beach. You can’t afford it, but it’ll cost you more to stick around and haunt your own home.
So, just one flight and no one knows who you are, what you’re going through. But airports are full of families, and it’s one more reminder that no matter what you watch, no matter where you avoid clicking, no matter where you go, you will be met with the joy of someone else’s child.
You will watch the waves, count the shades of blue. On the trip, you will take no photos, you will bring home no souvenirs. It’s not a trip to remember; it’s a trip to forget. Whatever can be left here, let it sink into the sea.
Your wife will say, “I should still be pregnant, but I’m not. Then I should have a baby, but I won’t.” Later, you will catch her looking at walls, staring off to nowhere. “Nothing in life is safe,” she will say. “But I needed it to be.”
You will come home to flowers left at the neighbors’, packages left by the door. People will make you dinner. It’s all so very nice, it’s all so very temporary, and the idea that your life will go back to normal will be met with grit teeth.
But it will go back to normal. Just a normal without her.
Life does carry on. And it drags you along with it.
You and your wife will vow to be a whole lot more secretive with your next pregnancy. If. If is a better word. If you two can bring yourselves to try again. Eight, nine months in, still no chances. Even when she’s about to pop. Just tell people she’s antisocial and likes donuts.
When people first see you, their greeting will not be “Hello.” It will be, “Are you okay?”
You will wonder if you can still be a pastor. A man paid to hope. But later you will think, How many years have you known how the world is? Over seven-and-a-half billion people on the earth, each with their own heartache, pain, and loss, yet when tragedy comes to your doorstep again, that somehow counts for more?
You will speak to friends who lost children of their own. They will tell you to not reject the love people give. They will tell you this is not just something that happened. This was a life.
You will recall a section from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The strongman, Okwonko, now in exile, meets a man who speaks of all that was taken from him over the years—about the wives buried, the children lost. This man tells Okwonko that he has lost far more than him. This man tells Okwonko to get up and get on with his life.
Ten years on and that’s the part of the book you remember. That part that meant little to the overall plot. This part that now means everything to you.
One night, you will be alone at church. You will want to sing a worship song. So, you will:
Christ alone, cornerstone
Weak made strong in the savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of all
Later, you will be glad that the first word you sang again was “Christ.” Because everything good begins with him.
One night, your wife will find the picture of your daughter on your phone. The one the doctor told you to take in case she ever wanted to see. She intentionally went looking for it; she’s glad it’s there, but it still wounds her heart.
Your wife will ask, “Do you think I’ll ever be happy again?” and you will tell her, “Not that you want to hear it, but yes.”
Your prayers will come back. Your worship will return. Not all at once, not completely, certainly not the same, but return nonetheless. You will still tell people that, “If the church isn’t good for even the toughest things in life, let it burn to the ground.” You will just mean it more now.
You will still want to tell people about Jesus who raises the dead.
And sometimes, not in every prayer, but sometimes you will ask God to say hello to Theodora.
You will think of that silly thing you thought when you were still at the hospital holding her: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, father to father.
You will always think: The time between those points should’ve been so much more.
Cover image by Ashley Walker.
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