Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Good News

We are 25 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby boy, due January 6!

People cheer, laugh delightedly, praise God.  They say that it’s wonderful we’re having a boy, instead of a girl, after…well, you know.  Thoughtful, routine questions ensue, about if we feel nervous about having a boy (answer: it takes a lot to make me feel nervous these days), about his name (it’s a secret that even we don’t know the answer to yet), about how Natalie feels (more on that later). 

Whenever I share with people this truly wonderful news, I feel quite a bit of trepidation. Something, or rather someone, is usually left out of the conversation, despite the fact that she never leaves my mind.  Rightfully or not, I often feel like people think this new baby is a solution to our grief.  This is why I’ve shied away from sharing a pregnancy announcement on social media: I’m not quite sure how to fully capture how I feel. 

A sticker that will always be on our refrigerator
At church a few weeks ago, we listened to a young pastor’s wife tell of her family’s journey with Huntingon’s disease.  She had lost three family members to the disease, including her mother, and she was about to lose her sister.  She told her own fear of the disease, and the resulting trepidation she had about having children or even marrying.  She then related that when she became brave enough to face genetic testing, she learned that she was not a carrier for the gene and will never have the disease.

The auditorium erupted into cheers and applause.  It actually made me viscerally angry.  Did they not just hear the rest of what she’d said?  Did they not see her tears?   Her sister is still about to die.  Her journey has been long and hard.  She does not know who else she might lose or when.  I looked at Taylor mournfully, with tears running down my face, while he nodded and said, “They just don’t understand.”

I do understand that there are definite limits to how people can interact in a setting like an auditorium.  I found myself wishing that we as the body of Christ had other ways to express feelings.  I thought of the applause of people with hearing loss, where they rotate their hands in the air: that seemed more respectful.  I thought of the word “Shalom,” and wished that churchgoers could instead express “Peace be with you,” instead of clapping.

People want a happy ending, so we clap when we hear what sounds like resolution.  But the only true and real happy ending is eternity with Jesus.  Some of us who have lived more privileged lives (myself included) have trouble with this idea.  It seems so fatalistic.  We [white Christians in the United States] have come to see God’s provision in our lives as normal.  But ask a Christian in Iraq, or a refugee in Africa, or a person who is African-American in Ferguson where their hope lies.  Things don’t seem to be getting too much better on earth.  When some of God’s blessings - of health or job or love or babies - are absent, we question Him.  In actuality, it was our expectations that were skewed: we forgot that God has given us everything we have, and each provision – of which we have so many – is a gift.

One of my favorite pictures of Julia in her first days of life
Julia, and Bryer and Mercy and Archer and Ethan and Hope and Cam and Ellis, are all BETTER off than any of us are.  But we miss them so very deeply, and that keeps our focus where it should be: on heaven and on Jesus, and not on the cares of this world.  Does it keep me perfectly heavenly-minded?  No.  But Julia is my constant reminder to turn my eyes to Him, even as I continue to figure out how to be in this world when all I really want is see her again.

So how does one respond to someone who is grieving?  (Grief, as far as I can tell, has no definite end.)  Natalie’s recent innocent responses to our pregnancy have been instructive.  It wasn’t until after baby boy’s anatomically perfect 18-week ultrasound that we felt we could talk with her about her new brother.  We knew that Natalie would have questions, so we wanted to wait until we could offer at least some hope.  Nevertheless, we live with the question of if we might lose him unexpectedly; it has happened to us before. 

Natalie, who is three years old, is now very aware that she is having a baby brother.  Though she seems to have in many ways forgotten about Julia (a fact for which I am grateful, as I did not want her to experience anxiety about loss at such a young age), she knows intellectually about her, because she sees her picture and hears us talk about Julia.  There have now been four instances where, when her “new baby brother” is brought up, Natalie has said, “I love babies!  I’m excited to have a baby brother!  And then we are going to get Julia back!” 

A few weeks before Julia died
The first time that she said this, I went into the bathroom and cried.  I’m not sure where she came up with this idea, but it is illustrative of how much toddlers’ minds work, even when they can't put it into words.  My guess is she deduced that, just as she can’t see baby brother, she also can’t see her sister, whom she knows is in heaven; so they must be in the same place and will both be part of our lives eventually.  We have talked each time about how Julia is in heaven and we won’t get to see her until we go to heaven (which triggered many painfully wonderful questions about how we get to heaven and where is heaven and when we will go there and will it be via airplane), and about how baby brother won’t replace Julia but will be a gift to us nonetheless.    

Natalie is so joyful about the idea that baby brother’s arrival accompanies getting Julia back.  She isn’t afraid to remember Julia in the same breath that she rejoices in the news that she is getting a brother.  She is innocently unaware that talking about Julia could be painful; she does not realize that the pain is something Taylor and I rejoice in because we know that Julia’s life is not forgotten.  And when Natalie doesn’t understand us, she isn’t afraid to ask (A LOT) of questions about where Julia is, and Jesus, and heaven.  Each of these sentiments from Natalie would be and are equally encouraging from friends and loved ones.

We are so grateful for the kindness and joy that people display when we inform them of our pregnancy.  However, though it rarely seems to come in the same conversation, we also can’t help but remember how very recently we were pregnant with our second precious child.  Be joyful with us, but know that as much as our pregnancy seems like a resolution to the desolation of grief, to us this good gift of a baby boy is simply part of our story, which God continues to write.