Saturday, December 26, 2009

Choosing Joy

17 years ago last month, my husband and I, just three months into a new marriage, set out on the intentional path of striving to expand our family. Our oldest living son turned ten this week, so obviously that dream was slow to be realized!

Through those first seven years we had just two positive pregnancy tests. One resulted in our oldest's birth. The other led to the miscarriage of our sweet Noel Alexis. It was 15 years ago tomorrow morning that the bleeding and pain began. Tears for a few hours, followed by five months of numbness.

In hindsight I now see that my total lack of ability to process any form of emotion after Noel's death was more than just "denial" or "normal grief," but rather grief compounded by post-partum depression. (A journey I would again face on a much grander scale after the birth of our second living child, our daughter who will be seven next month.) It took me nearly half a year to allow myself to say the words, "I was pregnant," or "I had a miscarriage."

When I finally did choke the words out, the flood of sobbing, body-wracking tears last for hours! The emotions that had been pent up for months, not allowing a smile, a laugh, a tear, stayed close to the surface for the next few years, never giving me a moment's notice of when they might spring forth. I had irriational thoughts, like wanting to walk up to total strangers and simply announce, "My baby died." Infertiltiy is brutal. Miscarriage is torture. To miscarry our only known child in the midst of a many-year battle through infertility threatened to drive me to insanity with the intensity of my grief.

While on the one hand Noel's death intensified the infertility experience to a more painful level than I could ever have imagined, on the other hand she brought a strange measure of healing as well. I found joy in knowing that after more than two years striving for motherhood, that I was now, and forever more would be, somebody's Mom! Once I could admit to myself that Noel's brief life had not been a dream, simply a "late period" as I tried desperately to convice myself, I found some measure of hope and comfort in the fact that she had actually touched my womb, even if all-too-briefly.

Naming Noel was a very helpful step for me. Rick and I, not knowing if I had carried our son or daughter, but both "feeling" she was a girl, prayed long and hard over the right choice of a name. We chose "unisex" manes with meanings that touched our hearts, spelling Noel with the male spelling but pronouncing it with the femine pronouncation. We figured if "she" actually was a son, then he would forgive us in Heaven, but giving "her" an identity that I could relate to was so very important to me. Her name means "Christmas Minister of Needs" for she came and went over the Christmas season and ministered deeply to the hearting heart of this infertile want-to-be mother. I read of how "Mary treasured all these things in her heart" and my heart treasured the knowledge of the daughter I would some day see face to face in Heaven.

I hated when well-intended friends would try to comfort me with, "Well, at least now you know you can get pregnant." From anyone else, those words seemed to invalidate my child's precious, unique life and the profound loss to have her missing from ours. But when not minimized by other's "at least" statements, to be honest with myself it also was a relief to realize that we were truly "only infertile" and not utterly sterile, that there was hope of future conception.

But it also terrified me that if it had taken two years to conceive in the first place, even with medical aid, that it might be a very long road to a second child. And now that I had a "history of miscarriage" my innocence was shattered. Getting pregnant was just the first step, but the expectation of a living, bring-home-baby at the end could no longer be taken for granted in my heart and mind.

If you have stuck with me through all this rambling, you are probably wondering what does any of this have to do with "choosing joy"? With the dawn of 2009 God impressed upon my heart that my "theme word" for this year was to be Joy. He's confirmed it over and over, and while my husband may wonder where that joy has been (because he's seen me in some pretty black places with my health this year - 10 weeks in a foot cast, followed almost immediately by 5 months of IVs - physically exhaused, grumpy and especially wrestling to process all the emotional anguish of news about this retrovirus), I have to say that God's joy has been more tangilbe to me this year than in any I can remember since we started the infertility journey 17 years ago. I may not always be "happy" but God's joy, bouied by hope, and sustained by peace that passes understanding, has been tangible in ways I cannot put into words.

Here, in this week where we mark the birth of Christ, the death of our first daughter, the birth of our first living son and the due date of the child who would have been turning 8 but is also awaiting us in Heaven with two siblings, God gave me a beautiful reminder of all He has taught me this year:
The Christmas stocking I've had since childhood had too many holes for my husband to use to put some goodies in on Christmas Eve. So we pulled out a couple of "extra" stockings we had picked up one year when we were out of town for Christmas and had forgotten our regular stockings at home. One bears the script "Noel" while the other says "Joy." In past years, without hesitation, I would have instantly grabbed "Noel," thinking much more of the daughter who was not there to share in our celebration than of the Christ-child who's birth I should have been focusing on. This year, with only the slightest moment's indecision, I eagerly reached for "Joy" instead.


Lori said...

"I had irriational thoughts, like wanting to walk up to total strangers and simply announce, "My baby died." Infertiltiy is brutal. Miscarriage is torture. To miscarry our only known child in the midst of a many-year battle through infertility threatened to drive me to insanity with the intensity of my grief."

This is EXACTLY how I feel right now. Infertility IS brutal...and 10 years of it nightmarish. To lose the baby it took so many years to be blessed with is torture. The intensity of my grief is so strong right now and I know that loss hurts--but it seems like it's so much worse right now because of how long it took just to conceive Matthew--how wanted and cherished he was! Now that I've had him and yet he's not with me...words hardly can find a match to the feeling.

But yours come pretty darned close...thank you for sharing them!

Holley Gerth said...

Praying for you right now, Lori.

And Jennifer, thank you for sharing your heart with us. You are a strong, resilient woman who has blessed so many others through your own suffering. I'm so grateful for you and honored to call you friend.

Mom of Many said...

Thank you so much for your sweet blog comment and I'm thanking God for it because that comment brought me to your wonderful blogs! Hugs...

Your sister in Christ,
Mom of Many