Today is Mother’s Day. I anticipated the typical Mother’s Day schedule- spending the day with my own mother and my children whom I adore. As we drove to church this morning I had completely forgotten about the boxes lined up in the backseat which we had recently taken from our storage unit. My seven-year-old son took advantage of the time in the car by quietly exploring the contents of each box. He found a few yearbooks, some old pictures he and his sister had drawn, and a small notebook.
Eli quietly thumbed through the pages of the notebook and would ask me occasionally what a particular word was. He found old Christmas lists that his father had written and pages of random notes and doodles. It wasn’t until he came across a particular page that my Mother’s Day quickly became anything but “typical”.
He handed me the notebook turned to a small, white piece of paper that had been written on by my long-time friend Jennifer. It contained just one sentence, “I love you ACE and I can’t wait until the baby gets here. Love, Jennifer” The letter was written to me. I am ACE- Amanda Clair Elder. I’d always appreciated that my initials automatically gave me a relatively cool and acceptable nickname. It’s used only by my nearest and dearest. I had no recollection of ever seeing this message before. I thought how sweet it was of Jen that she would be commenting about Ava, my eight year old, or Elijah. What a nice little treasure to find. It put a smile on my face remembering them both as tiny newborns. Then it hits me… I see the date. It’s like the wind has been knocked out of me and I’m waking up from a long sleep and finding myself in an unhappy reality. The date is June 10, 2002. Ava wasn’t born until September of the following year. I don’t know of anyone with a 15-month gestational period so I know this letter has to have been written in reference to my first baby. The baby I never got to meet. The baby I never got to hold. The irony of this paper being discovered on Mother’s Day is not lost on me. I’m sitting in the car with my two children. There is one more unspoken, secret life that hasn’t been mentioned in a very long time.
It’s interesting and unfortunate to me how many of my friends have also experienced miscarriage. Almost as interesting to me is the lack of discussion we all seem to have on the subject. Almost as if it’s a “taboo” or maybe people get nervous about it because they feel they simply don’t have the right words to say. Miscarriage is a loss, but I often think the world attempts to downplay its impact because they see it as the loss of someone we’ve not yet met. If I may be so bold, I would assert that this misconception must be generated by people who have never been parents because most of the women I know will tell you that the moment you have proof positive that there is a tiny life forming inside your body you instantly become “mother”.
I can’t speak for the rest of the female population, but once I realized in April of 2002 that I was expecting my life began to change. A flood of exuberance and fear and questions and planning immediately fills your mind. “Is it a boy or a girl?” “What will we name the baby?” “Will he/she be healthy?” Not to mention the female tends to go into overdrive planning nursery themes and color schemes. There’s the whole plan to work out of how to tell the family and when should it be done? So much to process and it quickly becomes all-consuming.
We do what we’re supposed to- we make our doctor’s appointments and take our prenatal vitamins. We watch every little bite we put into our mouthes knowing that everything our lips touch will have a direct effect on our baby. This little entity inside of us quickly becomes very real and very precious. Most of us have waited for this day throughout our lives. What an honor to be a mother. The honor has finally been passed on to us. Such thankfulness, such gratefulness.
Then, without warning even, in an instant everything can change. My change came during the morning of a regularly scheduled ultrasound. We were hoping to find out the sex of the baby. This day had been anticipated for weeks. As I laid on the table, belly covered in clear jelly, the ultrasound paddle was pressed over me, and over me, and over me. She would change the position and continue over, and over, and over. The lack of conversation from the technician immediately clued me in that something was not right. I couldn’t take the silence and with my mom standing by my side I quietly said, “What’s wrong?” “I can’t find a heartbeat but I’m gonna have the doctor come see.” Immediately I felt the warm tears spilling out the corners of my eyes and rolling down my cheeks as I laid on that table and waited to hear what I already feared was true. My baby was gone. Just like that. Twelve weeks.
The doctor spent the next few minutes talking. I’m sure it was something about “spontaneous miscarriage”, “very common”, and “blah, blah, blah”. Frankly I was just numb. My mind went somewhere far away and tried to absorb even just a fraction of what I’d just been told. How? WHY? I was left devastated and heartbroken. My mother and I both sobbed and then I wiped my stomach clean and wanted nothing more than to get out of that sterile room. That was an unbelievably difficult day. All of these dreams and all of these plans simply vanish like a puff of smoke. Just gone. It’s emotionally gruelling and even worse are the well-meaning people who upon hearing the news tell you “this was obviously God’s plan” and “oh, you’ll be able to have another baby”. I felt as if people were just dismissing what had really just happened. I don’t think it’s intentional, but unless you’ve personally experienced this quiet loss then one truly can’t relate. I never doubted that I’d be able to have other children, but what about this one? Doesn’t this baby deserve some form of acknowledgment? I loved this little one regardless of how brief a period of time I’d gotten to know him or her.
Because of how early into my pregnancy my miscarriage happened I wasn’t required to deliver. I had a D and C just two days after the news was delivered and that was it. It was over. When I arrived at the house I was renting I was moved to tears when I saw the sweet, delicate wreath that my parents had gotten for me in honor of this moment. It was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to me. It was so precious to me in the following year to be able to hang that same wreath above Ava’s crib when she was born. A secret reminder to me each time I saw it of the brother or sister she would never meet. It was a gentle acknowledgment, however, and exactly what I needed to help me on the road to closure.
The truth of the matter is that I’ve never forgotten about the first little miracle to occupy my womb, but it’s been easier to mentally pack it away in an imaginary box somewhere than to have to think about it too often. The white notebook paper today brought it all whirling back. I allowed myself to think for a bit about this baby. How blessed I was and the joy it had brought us- even briefly. It makes me smile to imagine that there will be a day I will get to meet this sweet baby I never got to hold.
For anyone who has experience this unfortunate moment in life, I am truly so sorry. I pray that you have each found peace and are moving forward. I want to encourage you to take the time to remember when you can, when you feel strong enough. Regardless of the amount of time you carried that child you were indeed a mother- mother still. We experienced a true loss. Loss is painful. It is not, however, a pain from which you can not recover. Family and friends were such a great source of strength for me. I hope you have found the same support. You have my prayers. In closing I’d like to offer hope. This happened to me 10 years ago. Today I have 2 healthy, happy, and loud children whom I simply worship. The Lord hears the desires of our hearts. I promise you this, my friends.