Stillbirth makes me feel ugly sometimes. It makes me feel like I lacked the ultimate feminine ability to have children. In groups of women with babies on their hips, I feel like less of a woman. I feel un-pretty. I feel like a feminine failure. It’s a feeling many women who have experienced loss have in common. Whether by miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, or infertility, we are kicked when we are down when it comes to self-esteem.
I have a mama’s body now, soft like a pillow. Even my bones have shifted into different places. My hair turned darker since pregnancy. I am in this unfamiliar body with no baby in my arms to show for it. How do I process the woman in the mirror? How do I carry her with confidence? How will my femininity be repaired?
I always think of Hannah as deeply feminine. She was loved. Her desires were deep. She was sensitive. She was transparent and let tears flow before her husband, before her enemy, before God. She waited for God. She begged God to remember her. She needed protection and provision. These attributes are not the modern promotion of femininity, but there is something strong and self-assured about a willingness to be vulnerable and in need. Hannah was beautifully feminine in her pain.
Until I lost Samuel, I never realized that Hannah probably felt unfeminine, especially next to her fertile and catty counterpart, Peninnah, who rubbed it in her face to the point that Hannah burst into tears. But Hannah was not hardened. She enjoyed a double portion from her husband. She continued to pray before the Lord, bringing her deepest desires to the altar.
I see the same femininity in the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak. Her hormonal imbalance left her an outcast according to Jewish law, and according to femininity. She probably had a difficult time going out in public. She may have even experienced the sorrow of infertility. Maybe even loss. But even in such an emotionally painful existence, her softness, beauty, and vulnerability are intact. She reaches out to touch the edge of the cloak of Jesus, the ultimately trustworthy man. It’s bold. It’s honest. It’s hopeful. It’s feminine. We know there is something powerful in her faith, her beautifully feminine faith, because Jesus felt the power go out of Him. In the midst of a crowd, being touched by lots of different people, Jesus, God-incarnate, cannot help but respond to the woman’s gesture of faith and she is healed.
I love that God talks to me about what it is to be a woman through Scripture. I love that it was important enough to Him.
I look at the woman in the mirror. She is soft and changed, and her arms are empty. Tears fall easily down her cheeks. She is pressed but not crushed. Her beauty and confidence remain intact, despite what seems like a defeat–the death of her firstborn son. She carried him. She fought for him. She cried out for his healing. She cried when he was born still. She cries for the restoration of her joy. In all of this, she was not a failure. She was a mother. She was beautiful. So I must learn how to carry this new body with confidence, though my arms are empty. I must learn how to express the desires of this heart, though it has known such sorrow. This is not a failure in femininity. This is a deepening.
The mirror no longer reflects the image of a carefree little girl. I am sad she is gone, but her new reflection is that of a strong woman who is familiar with the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I am beginning to appreciate the new reflection. She fears no evil. Her God’s presence is her comfort. Her muscles are strengthened and callouses thickened from the climb down into the Valley, and are now being strengthened in the climb up. She has been given the ability to walk with others through the Valley and navigates its most dangerous turns with skill, not because she has conquered the Valley, but because the Valley is hers. I will mourn this loss for the rest of my life, but I have made myself familiar with the shadows, slept in the caves, drank deeply of the waters, and feasted on the sustenance of this Valley so that it will not be my end, but my joy.
Lest I be misunderstood, know that Christ has been my strength as I navigate this Valley. Where I was too angry at God to move, He was patient with me. Where foul words came out of my mouth when I learned my son would die, He spoke truth. Where I was unable to heal my son, He made a way for Samuel toward healing. Where I was weak, He was my strength. He was the firstborn of the dead, the first to navigate the deepest parts of this Valley and conquer, and with Him toward victory He takes us. It is because of His sacrifice for mankind on the shameful Cross, His ripping of the temple curtain from the top to the bottom from God to man, His declaration of victory over the depths, His gift of salvation given by grace through faith. Isaiah 61 foretells of Jesus Christ:
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Watch and see. All will be rebuilt and restored. Already I taste the beginnings, when I see the new woman in the mirror. It has happened. It is happening. It will happen.