I started to lose you on Christmas Day. Never have I experienced such agony as my worst fear unfolded into reality. I didn’t understand what miscarriage could be—the intensity of the physical process; bodily desperation as my reaching arms tried to hold on, tried to save my child who is already gone; the depth of the grief that wouldn’t stop slamming into me; and the bargains that I made when out of my mind with shock and sorrow.
Rendered immobile under an anvil of grief, the gravity that holds me here is the same cruel force that took you away from me. I still reach out into the darkness at night as my tears pour down. I pick up your clothes and hold them to my face, breathing deeply, but you haven’t worn them. I’m searching to find you.
We had this conversation before deciding to have you: we have three healthy children. We have gotten off easy. Why would we open ourselves to the very real possibility of this kind of sorrow? We have given away all our baby things long ago and have moved into a different phase of life. But desire kept at us.
We longed for more. More joy, more love, more laughter, more meaning, more hope. And so you came to us out of our nonsensical hope that there was still more goodness to be found.
We got to hold this precious secret together, my husband and I. Sly smiles and coded words, we felt hope growing inside. After a few weeks, we told the kids. As a family, excitement grew and plans were made. Dinnertime around our table began to hold stories of you. You would make us all laugh, to be sure. You would make a huge mess and ruin our new rug while we watched you try new foods. The extra chair at the table became yours. Your presence filled our home and all our future stories. Now I have a visceral pull toward that spot as if I should set a place for someone who might come home. It’s an empty chair to me.
Hope is layered and messy. Losing you spanned the days between Christmas and my fortieth birthday. The beauty of hope is strong enough to contain this complexity as desire and despair are battling it out inside of me. I used to think that I was not a hopeful person because hope is so hard to hold on to. Now I know that it is because of the wrestling that I can call myself hopeful. Unyielding certainty and religiosity had confused the issue for me.
I can now bless the wrestling of my soul as I own the complexity of my choices.
Hope gives courage to open ourselves to the possibility of pain. It is not an antidote to sorrow, but a companion through the darkness. It requires an intimate knowing of our suffering, fear, and despair. While optimism will settle for platitudes and wishes for a better future, hope takes responsibility for life and risks everything to go in search of it. Far deeper than positive thinking, hope contends with death out of the defiant belief that there is a better story.
Hope longs for goodness, yes, but it also sets out down a dangerous pathway to find it. The decision to have a baby or to try to have one is precarious and rife with complexity if you are the type to see it. Many women find themselves wishing it would “just happen” so that the enormity of the choice can be abdicated. I found myself in that same place for months, even years, before owning that indeed, I must choose. I chose to follow my desire. Hope demands a buy-in to this achingly human journey.
And now, my arms hang limp at my sides, weakened by grief for the one I long to hold. I don’t know how this sorrow gets redeemed, but I hope that it does.
We named our baby Hope.
Annie Dewaal is a psychotherapist in Edmonds, Washington, where she lives with her husband and three sons. When not working, Annie finds joy and feels like herself when actively creating—planting flowers, singing and playing guitar, or working on remodel projects for her fixer-upper home. She’s considering adding writing to that list. You can connect with Annie at anniedewaal.com.