A Dream Deferred
Langston Hughes is my favorite poet.
It’s a fact that reeks with cliché, yet it rings true nonetheless. I remember when I first found his complete works in my family’s library. I pulled the book from the shelf, buried myself in a nook in the corner of the room, and read to my heart’s content, soaking up hope, grit, and jazz. His poetry comes to my mind in fits and snatches during various moments of my life.
Yet oddly, I turn to him most in grief. His poem “Harlem” has been my companion during one of my biggest struggles to see myself as woman enough.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
For me, the dream is a house full of children, one that has been deferred by miscarriage. But my dream does not explode. It sags, like a heavy load.
It sags like a heavy load of shame.
I have always wanted a house full of children.
Even during my years in private school, the oldest of two, and very disconnected from the homeschool world of “Hi, I’m Jerusha and these are my seventeen siblings,” my brother and I would converse about how I wanted eight children, and he wanted nine.
My dream only intensified when I turned fourteen and my parents began to adopt. Seven siblings later, I was twenty-four, living at home, and loving my place in the circus that is a house full of children. I looked forward to getting married and having my own children in adorable step-ladder formation. Every two years, a brand new baby.
“Four babies from me,” I’d say, “and then we’ll adopt four more.”
I married a man who wanted ten children, so it all worked out perfectly. The number might change, we reasoned, but the principle remained the same: we wanted a big family.
Three months after our wedding, I had my first miscarriage.
A year after the birth of our son, I had my second.
And through the miscarriages, the healthy birth, and my fear of miscarrying again, I’ve learned something about myself. Along with my full-hearted baby dreams, I had an unhealthy dose of my identity wrapped up in my ability to carry children.
Baby Dreams Deferred
In addition to the incredible sadness over losing my two children, I also felt an overwhelming sense of shame.
“I should be able to do this,” I told my husband, tears streaming down my face. “You want so many children and I should be able to give them to you.”
“You want a house full of children too,” he reminded me. “You are not failing me. You are not failing either of us.”
But it feels that way. It felt that way sitting in the ultrasound room and staring at the quiet screen, trying to find a heartbeat that would never come. And it felt that way sitting in the bathroom and willing myself to stop bleeding. It feels that way when I think about the fact that I told my husband I only wanted to be pregnant four times and that if I have another miscarriage in the future, I will have only one baby in my arms out of four pregnancies.
It is crippling. I don’t want to keep count like that, but I can’t help it. It feels like I’m failing. Like my dreams are festering.
Like my heart will explode.
Miscarriage is such a tricky thing.
I’ve tried my hardest to be as transparent as I can, so that other mamas know they aren’t alone in that deferred-dream feeling, in that shame spiral of should that says, “I should be able to carry a healthy baby. This should not be happening to me. This should be easier.”
The other day, I stood in front of a room full of women and shared my experience with the shame and isolation that miscarriage often brings. Although one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, no one walked up to me after to share their story. No one offered any signal that I wasn’t alone. I felt utterly humiliated, like I’d bored mixed company with details of period cramps. No one in that room was obligated to share their pain, and no one forced me to share mine, but I made my choice and regretted it immediately.
The day after Thanksgiving, I went for one last blood draw to confirm my miscarriage. The hospital was empty because of the holidays, and the lone nurse who pricked me stared awkwardly while I cried. “It’s okay,” I told him when he apologized. “It’s just . . . my second holiday miscarriage.” He stared at me with that same blank look as the tech who couldn’t find the heartbeat. And I felt ashamed.
Ever since my first miscarriage, I have felt shame every single time I’ve taken a pregnancy test. If it’s negative, I’m ashamed both because I want to be pregnant and because I’m relieved that I’m not since non-pregnant people can’t miscarry. I even feel shame at the thought of a positive test because I assume it will only be a matter of time before the bleeding starts.
I feel it when I decide to tell people. If I break the news too early, I feel like I am imposing unless I’m far enough along to be outside of the danger zone, like a guy just asked me out for a date and I’m already making wedding invitations. But I also feel shame if I tell too late, as though babies should only be celebrated when I know they’re not lost.
The spiral goes on . . . and on . . . and on.
My womanhood is not measured by my ability to bear children, just like Sarah’s, Hannah’s, and Rachel’s wasn’t measured by their ability to conceive.
At times, this truth feels nearer than others, but it is one I’m trying to rehearse often. “Should” does not belong anywhere near this conversation unless it’s in its proper context. This world should be sinless and free of pain and death, because Adam should have obeyed God. But because sin entered the world and makes what should be simple so much more difficult than should allows, God sacrificed his son. That son should not have had to die for me, but he did. That son does not have to make all things new, but he is doing just that.
Even though that is true, it does not Jesus-juke away the grief. Jesus wept and grieved when Lazarus died, knowing that he would raise up Lazarus both on earth and in eternity. He cares for our sufferings, no matter how momentary they are.
He cares about my babies. The babies who should be in my arms. The babies I hope to see someday when Jesus has finished making all things new.
And my hope remains in eternity where my dreams will no longer be deferred, where my heart will explode with the reality of God’s good providence, where he will dry my every tear and remind me that even broken mamas are woman enough in him.