Last night we had the pleasure of hosting our small group from church. One of my friends in the group is pregnant with her second sweet baby, and someone asked her how far along she is. “30 weeks,” she replied.
My mind began reeling a bit. 30 weeks. I delivered Elliot when I was 30 weeks pregnant.
I was bustling around grabbing snacks and helping the kids get situated with a show so us grown-ups could have some uninterrupted time, so I was not really in on the conversation, but bits and pieces of it reached my ears.
“How many weeks of a pregnancy is it when a baby is considered viable? What’s full term?”
The group chatted about pregnancy, and a new friend shared that her niece had been born premature and had a 75-day stay in the NICU. Images of my own short acquaintance with a different NICU flashed in my mind.
I was trying to decide whether to jump in and share about Elliot, perhaps add some vulnerability by admitting this was a hard topic for me to be a part of, and yet I wanted to share, BUT…at that moment Val needed a snack and I was diverted elsewhere. Probably for the best.
Not everyone in this new group was with me in the journey of Elliot’s pregnancy which led to my hospital bedrest, his birth and 5-day stay in the NICU, then his death.
We’re still getting to know each other, so there’s no way they could know the topics of pregnancy, premature birth, NICU stays, etc. are triggers for me and require me to either have space to share or freedom to change the subject. It’s getting much better than it was. A year or two ago, that same conversation likely would have triggered a wave of trauma flashbacks that might have kept me from attending the small group again. I don’t feel that way now. Now I can talk with friends who are pregnant about their pregnancies without my heartrate increasing, my teeth clenching, and tears pricking my eyes. But everything about the death of my son is intertwined with pregnancy, so the topic will never be simple again.
And it is a long, slow mourning journey for me to grieve the fact I’ve been pregnant five times but have only two living children. Additionally, the decision Dustin and I made to close the door on becoming pregnant again, due to the inability my body seems to have to safely carry a child, is a source of pain for me. It’s what we had to do and we felt we had no other choice. That makes me sad and kinda ticked off, actually. At the end of this year, I’ll turn 40, and the years of childbearing might have been behind me anyway. But I resent the fact it wasn’t a choice I really got to make; it was made for me.
So I work through the fact that I’ll never be pregnant again, that the pregnancies of others will likely trigger me for some time, all while appreciating the miracle that I got to carry three of my five babies to their births. It’s a whole world of emotion the topic of pregnancy brings. And I’ve been feeling like I have to force myself to accept that door is closed to me.
Or is it?
I woke in my bed today with flashbacks of lying in another bed playing like a movie in my mind. I was in a hospital bed at St. Joe’s, in labor with Elliot, the nurse checking my dilation and finding I was 9 cm. Likely last night’s conversation had something to do with my mind involuntarily waking with this memory. I got myself out of bed and shook it off, knowing if I went down that road I would have a hard time doing the tasks I need to do today. I thought I’d center myself on Christ to help clear my mind and began reading a daily reflection in Brian McLaren’s book, “Seeking Aliveness.” The day’s reflection was about Creation and contained this beautiful but slightly annoying statement:
“The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. In this story pregnancy abounds. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.”
I mentally smacked Brian McLaren. Sheesh, he just had to use the word PREGNANCY on a day when I am at odds with the word?
But then I read it again. He’s not talking about a woman’s pregnancy with a child. He’s using the word in a broader sense, in the way pregnancy really is a metaphor for so much of life. A season of waiting, of expectation for newness, of an uncertain outcome teetering between hope and worry. Pregnancy is the time of something started but not quite finished.
An epiphany (as much as one is possible at 7:00 a.m.) slapped me in the face. In that sense of the word, I guess I am pregnant right now. I am pregnant with the dream I ache to see come to fruition: the expanding of my family through adoption. My womb is not growing, but my heart is growing with every beat that brings me closer to my next child. I don’t know who he is, much like a mother never really knows who the child in her womb will be. But I love him. Even now, even without seeing a picture or knowing a name, I would do anything for him, to protect him, to bring him safely into our home. And if something goes terribly wrong, I will grieve and mourn and swear and be broken again.
This waiting time, this gestation leading to adoption, is less tangible than kicks in my belly yet hits me just as hard. Every time I turn in another form or write another check, I feel our child growing nearer, more real, slipping steadily into our family. It doesn’t happen all at once; it happens in this growing and waiting time I could call pregnancy.
And just like with pregnancy, a real child will burst into our lives all of a sudden and absolutely wreck and beautify us. I can imagine all day long what it will be like, but just like a new mom expecting her first baby cannot really understand what’s coming until that baby is born, I cannot really comprehend how this new little person will change our lives.
I think maybe I can start to be friends with the word pregnancy again. A little.
In this meaning of pregnancy, we all go through pregnant seasons. A dream settles deep inside us and we work through slow growth to see our dream burst to life. Sometimes the reality is more succulent than the dream ever was. And sometimes dreams fizzle or explode to a painful ending. And we are left breathless, wondering, “Was it all for nothing?”
I realize that long after all my living children have grown and left my home, I will still be birthing hopes and dreams that sometimes will grow into wildly wonderful reality. And sometimes I’ll only be left with the hollow knocking in my chest that remains when dreams are dashed. All of us, children and adults, men and women, parents or not, know what it’s like to sit in the ache of waiting for a dream to come true.
And yet, I would be missing the meaning I am sitting in if I did not realize I, myself, am the biggest dream that has ever been conceived. And so are you. Every person and atom and songbird and orchid are in this waiting between something begun but not yet realized. I hesitate to over-spiritualize this metaphor, and yet what is more spiritual and sacred than childbirth? I don’t think the following passage has ever meant more to me than it does right now:
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23
The two images side by side that Paul uses mean everything to me: creation groaning in the pains of childbirth (I get that) while I groan for a redemption akin to adoption.
All creation is in a constant state of conception, pregnancy, and birth, over and over again. We are in the womb of this world, groaning for the day when we finally, FINALLY will be free to simply be alive. No more wondering if the good things will last and the bad things will ruin. We’ll be adopted to freedom to live and love and wait only for more beauty to come. This life must be where we’re headed, or ultimately death means all our dreams really do come to nothing.
Christ says our dreams which are part of Him will last. They will endure forever. He says the most revolutionary birth of all is being born into His Kingdom, a beautiful reality which is already among us and somewhere beyond us.
I guess more than ever, I see with new eyes how my children in heaven, my children alive in my home, and my children alive yet to come to my home are whispers of the ache and dreams and longings my Father has for me, and for you.
I’m pregnant again. Not with a sweet baby growing in my womb, but with the dream of my adopted child growing in my heart. In this gestation period, I’m going to imagine, nest, worry, fear, freak out, and ponder, just as I’ve done with the pregnancies of my other children.
Other dreams are growing, too, if I have the courage to let them. They won’t all come to fruition in this short stay in the womb of the world. But when I’m born for good into the eternal arms of Christ, you better believe I’ll embrace every one of His beautiful dreams for me.