Keeper of Stories

*Editorial note: This essay includes a story of pregnancy and loss tied to violence.

The question of where I belong calls me first to my middle and high school days…such a wild time of life. I have three middle schoolers who tell me stories of belonging and stories of not belonging. However, sitting in the middle of pregnancy and infant loss month, I wonder if perhaps the babies themselves are asking, “Do I belong? Does my story belong?”

Women carry their stories in their bodies, including the story of wishing for a partner or a family (or maybe the story of not wishing for one); the stories of the babies they have carried; and the stories of the babies they were never able to have. Some of these stories are said out loud; and some stories remain silent. Yet, all of the stories belong.

In our culture we have space for marking graduation, marriage, birth, and death. In pregnancy, there are “gender reveals” with colored frosting on a cupcake, baby showers with silly games guessing belly size, and presents for baby (not mom) at the birth. Do these rituals honor well the significance of this narrative? A “blessingway,” encircling a woman before birth to give her courage and strength, might go a little farther.

But what about the stories of babies lost before movement is felt? Or babies born too soon to survive? What about babies whose bodies are made differently, who only can thrive inside the womb? And what about the stories of babies who never have the opportunity to be born, their life cut short? Or the babies whose mamas desperately want to be in a space to carry them, who have to choose no in this time and space?

As a midwife, I am a keeper of stories, and these stories matter. These stories belong.

Yet, our culture doesn’t know what to do with them. Words drip in the void, filling space with meaningless clichés. Christians are quick to wrap tragedy up and tie the box with a God-bow.

I hold their faces in my mind, these little ones gone too soon. Together, we mark their stories with fabric and hang them on the story rope at GracYa, my community house and practice. We collage boxes, and with color and form we show both what is seen on the outside and what lives unseen on the inside.

Today, I sat on the front porch reading the book of Isaiah. Bible college ruined Isaiah for me for a long time; we are just making friends again. In a crazy hard section, the reluctant prophet calls God back to the remembrance of his people with cries of anguish. Then, in Isaiah 65:19-20, I read this: “No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish; No more babies dying in the cradle…” Yes! May it be so!

This is my anniversary month, too, for a baby I never got to hold; a pregnancy that was never given voice. I recall this child who was begotten in violence and whose life was taken in like manner. This child marked me, and her story lived quietly in my being until it was time for the knowing to be birthed three years ago. Today I carry this child with me, the threads of her story woven into my narrative. Just as my birth children and foster/adoptive children weave into the fabric of my story, her story belongs too.

So I say “yes” to these babies: You belong. Your story belongs.

Through tears, I renew my commitment to hold space for these stories too: to ask about a baby’s name, to invite a mama to mark a baby’s life with art or ritual, to take herbs to a postpartum mama who suffered loss, to plant a miniature rose, to light a candle. Two candles will be lit tonight honoring two stories I hold from this week.

Being a midwife is hard; being a midwife is good. I am the keeper of story, and every story belongs.

Joanna Wilder is a midwife, a mama, and a keeper of her-story. She has a passion for community development, and walking with women. She is learning how much she doesn’t know. Read more of her writing here.