Learning the Valley

Everyone is having babies around me, and most of them are alive. I had a baby, but he is not alive. Sometimes I feel contagious. I’ve had young expecting mommies ask about the symptoms of my pregnancy, as though they were trying to map out the road I took and make sure they never take it. They don’t mean anything by it, but it hurts to be treated as though loss were contagious… almost as though, in the deep recesses of their thoughts, they believe that if they had carried my son, he would not have died. But then, sometimes I wonder if I had done something differently… if I had had more control… maybe Sam would be in my arms today.

When I began to connect with other couples who had experienced stillbirth or infant loss, I found myself feeling more and more fearful. It was this sourceless fear, tinged with resentment toward everyone I came in contact who had experienced the backward and unnatural loss of a child. It made no sense–I love these people. I thought I was alone, then suddenly my eyes adjusted and I saw that there were others in this Valley, and I love these people. I began to unpack the fear and resentment and realized that, underneath it, I wanted to hide from the fact that all experience sorrow, that it wasn’t just a random and avoidable misstep into the Valley. I wanted to hide from the fact that the loss of Sam was not my first sorrow, and it will not be the last. The more I loss I encountered, the more I am confronted with my lack of control over these things. I couldn’t have saved Sam. The young pregnant mommies who are frantically scrawling out their maps to safety could not have saved Sam. And we cannot avoid brokenness.

And then, a beautiful thought… a realization that losing Sam was not a random leak of brokenness into an otherwise beautiful world. Conceiving Sam was a leak of beauty into an otherwise broken world. I cannot believe I was the one who was chosen to give birth to such a beautiful rupture in the darkness. He was such a valuable little person with such a potent existence, packed into seven months of life.

All of our babies die. We want to believe that if we do all the right things and prevent them from all the wrong things, they will survive, but they don’t. We hope that they have decades of life before they breathe their last, but they will inevitably die. It won’t matter if they ate organic babyfood. It won’t matter if they sleep in chemical-free bedding. It won’t matter if their pacifiers were sanitized. They die.

What a dark thought. But it is what lifts my heart today because it acknowledges what I had feared all along, and turns my fear into acceptance. None of my babies will survive, but somehow they will all mean something. And that is the miracle. Somehow, death is made alive again, even as we are dying. There is beauty. There are miracles. There is redemption. There are hearts made new.

I called my mother yesterday, dissolved into tears because I felt the weight of all of it, and it was too much. I wept into the phone, “I am so angry! I need God to show up. I have eyes and ears, and He gave me those and made me to take in life tangibly and He made me human and needy. I need Him to regard my weakness and show up so I can see it!” After I hung up the phone, I thought of all the ways God could show up for me. He could give me a healthy baby. He could give my husband a new job. He could make me successful in my dreams of writing. He could give me a house. I thought of a few more things, and ran out of ideas. I closed my eyes, thinking of what life might look like if they could happen, but they looked like a string of dots on a timeline, gapped and insignificant. And then I thought of Sam, of how alive he was, and how alive we will both be when I hold him again. I thought of Steven and how alive he is because he is a father. I thought of how whole it all will be, and realized that wholeness is better, and that is really what my heart needs.

Loss is not falling off a cliff, and grief is not a gradual uphill climb back to happiness. It doesn’t get better and better. It gets better, then worse, then better, then worse than the day of the loss, then worse, then better… Grief is the section of the journey through a broken world that descends into a low, shadowed Valley. We do not fall into it, although it feels like it. We are led into it. In its cold shadow, we are taught its dangers and refuges. We climb uphill and downhill, even in its lowest depths. We are taught to survive, to conserve energy for what is important, to put one foot in front of the other when we are sad, to look for beauty in it. And then we are led into a difficult ascent. It does not take us back to the path we began on. We will never go back that way. It takes us to a place where we can see. Sometimes I am called back into the low part of the Valley, and I go there in my tears to find another mother who is just beginning the journey, and I am honored with the task of walking with her. Whole. Alive. Equipped. Out of control. Unafraid.

I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom, goes on as fruit. -Dawna Markova

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One thought on “Learning the Valley

  1. I needed this today. I’m at a standstill in the Valley, unsure if my next step will be upward or downhill. Such is the journey right now, I guess…

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