Dreams deferred…

If you can imagine it, the most painful part of losing our children wasn’t holding breathless bodies in our arms. As indescribably excruciating as that was, there is a facet of loss that is even tougher to swallow because it has nothing to do with tangibility and everything to do with what never happened.

I talk about it at length in the chapter that will be published sometime this year, but to summarize the idea, much of the scholarship surrounding loss as it relates to stillbirth deals with story-telling. From the moment a woman finds out that she is pregnant with a wanted child, she begins to tell herself stories about the life she will live with that child. Everything from breastfeeding to birthday parties, from slumber parties to play dates, from the first days of school to graduation from college — every imagined event floods the mother’s narrative as she begins to dream about the life that she will live with her child. But when that child dies, mothers (and fathers) don’t just deal with the pain of losing the child that was living; they also suffer the loss of every moment that will never be lived. The story ends before it even began; the narrative dies with the baby.

I always imagined that our boys would play football. I don’t know why, but being married to a man who is proficient at every sport he tackles, I imagined broad-shouldered, tall, blonde boys who would team up to mow people over on the football field.

Ok. So maybe that’s a bit morbid, but it’s what I imagined. I imagined sweaty feet. I imagined yelling at them not to drop football gear in the doorway. I imagined going broke trying to keep up with their hunger pains. I imagined making them kiss me goodbye, even if their friends were watching. I imagined the hilarity of them realizing that girls didn’t have cooties. I imagined tenacious, mischievous, sweaty boys who loved their mom. Picture the Weasley twins, but with blonde hair.

That was my narrative. That was the story that I told myself about the sons I carried.

But dreaming changed for me when we lost Isaac and John. It became tentative and “iffy.” The storyline turned grey. And though Sophia’s life renews a sense of hope and light, losing Malcolm made thinking toward the future nearly impossible. Dreaming became far too painful because every loss was like a dangled carrot, snatched away at the last moment. I found myself hearing good news, only to hold my breath and wait for the floor to crash out from under me. Planning further than a month or so down the road? That just doesn’t happen in my world because, as the writer of Proverbs so aptly explains, “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and hope is everywhere.

And hope is dangerous. It makes you want what you might never get.

And so, being pregnant again has presented a new challenge as it comes to dreaming — as it relates to the stories that I tell myself. I admit (painfully) that we hoped for the chance to bring a living son home with us someday, so there was a split second at our 20-week ultrasound where both Joseph and I wondered what life would be with two girls. Of course, it only took one more second to look over at our little blonde wonder-girl to remind us of one simple fact: girls are awesome. And having two is going to be awesome. But as much as I can’t wait to meet this one, to hold her and to live with her beyond the walls of a hospital, I fear writing her story in my mind.

I live with three dead narratives already; I’d rather not live with any more.

But I’m starting to wonder if, as a mom, part of my job requires dreaming — requires seeing beyond what is in order to imagine what could be. I wonder if trading hope for crossed fingers wasn’t one of the bigger mistakes I’ve made, both in pregnancy and beyond. You see, hope lives: it breathes and changes and grows. Hope is as living an organism as a beating heart, I think, because it does so much to fuel those who live with it. It touches every fiber of their being, bringing renewal and energy, keeping everything alive.

And if hope brings life, don’t I owe that to my kids — to live with life? to live with hope? to keep on dreaming? Don’t I owe it to who they are now and to who they will grow to be? As much as the Proverbs writer was correct in his assessment of dead hope, he may also be right in his argument that “…a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

I don’t want to be a mom who can’t see beyond the immediacy of every moment. I don’t want to be a mom who constantly fears what might happen next. And I don’t want to raise girls who follow those dark footsteps, because that path is lonely and burdensome.

I want my girls to hope. I want them to dream lavishly about the lives that they want to make for themselves. I want them to pursue those lives passionately and single-mindedly, not faltering in fear about what could happen. I want them to take risks. I want them to believe in something beyond themselves, and to trust that at some point, all things will work together for good. I want them to hope.

And if I want all of that for them, I can do no less than to want it for myself.

And so as I move into my third trimester, that is my goal: to hope. To write stories in my mind about the life I want to live. To hold those stories with open hands, understanding that nothing is guaranteed, but that life is still sweet. And that life — and dreams — are to be lived.

Stand tall, and look up.

Sophia loves everything “big girl.” More than that, though, she loves that she can do (almost) everything “big girl” on her own. Newest to that list is showering all by herself. She loves the water, the glee of spraying the walls and floors, and the simple joy of being able to take care of her own body with minimal assistance from me. Of course, some elements of the “showering” escapade come more easily than others: if there is one thing that Sophia still hates, it’s water in her face. So, we’ve devised a plan for washing her hair, and every time she gets ready, I hear her chant the mantra upon which we agreed: “Stand tall, and look up.”

Simple words, aren’t they? “Stand tall, and look up.” They are a simple reminder that if she does as those words suggest, everything will work out just fine. For her, this little saying brings comfort, peace, and direction: she knows exactly what to do, and no matter where the water squirts or what amount of soap runs down her face, she has a plan that brings her confidence and hope. Tonight, as I was washing my little one’s hair, her little chant resonated with me more than usual — especially as I’ve considered all that waits for me in the new year.

2014 offered challenge after challenge; it has been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. We began the year finishing the most intense semester of Joseph’s Masters program. We prayed for and delivered our third son who, like his brothers, didn’t survive his birth. We moved out of the home we’d known for our entire marriage, away from both of our families, and to a state we’d never even laid eyes on. We switched roles: Joseph moved from being the full-time parent/full-time student into being the sole provider. I transitioned from working 2-3 jobs to working from home with our little Sophia.

Thankfully, our struggles were interrupted by moments of joy and peace, but I’d lie if I said that I wasn’t looking to the new year with a certain amount of anxiety: surviving one hard year doesn’t mean I won’t be forced to survive another. I’ve no idea what waits for me as we turn the clock from one year to the next, but I do have a plan.

I’m going to stand tall, and look up.

When everything falls apart and when everything works out perfectly, I am going to stand tall and look up.
When life looks exactly as I feel it should and when my entire world feels strange and foreign, I’m going to stand tall and look up.
When I succeed and when I fail, when I do everything right and when I do everything wrong, I’m going to stand tall and look up.

Because in the end, my fear and anxiety gets me nothing more than more fear and more anxiety. Because I hope these words ring in Sophia’s ears long after “water in the face” is the least of her concerns. Because there is no better monument to this year than the lesson of standing strong when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball.

Maybe you’ll join me.

Instead of swimming and sweating and swearing and swerving, perhaps this year’s resolution could take a more peaceful turn. Perhaps you’ll take more time to stop, to stand, and to look. When life hits you hard in the face — and there will be a moment in 2015 when it will — when everything seems to melt around you and it becomes impossible to see the way, just stop. Stop and stand. Don’t spend your energy trying to squirm your way out of it.

Just stand.
Stand tall.
And look up.

Keep your mind and heart on the promise that, eventually, everything will come together in peace and in hope — because someday, in some small way, it will. Look up towards the light, knowing that “this” too shall pass, and remembering that no matter how good or bad it gets, God is here, in the middle of your pain and acquainted with your grief. He revels in your joy, and weeps in your sorrow.

So working and worrying aside, my plan for this year is simple: to stand tall, and to look up. Please join me.