What I have learnt since our last miscarriage

This time last year our world was imploding for the third time in six months. We had already had two miscarriages at the beginning of the year and despite a positive pregnancy test after our IVF embryo transfer in May, by June the early scan showed that the pregnancy wasn’t viable and we would miscarry again. For three precious weeks we had held our breath and enjoyed the tentative daydreams of our miracle moment. But what followed instead have been some of the most painful, soul-searching times that my husband and I have ever had to walk out. We forced ourselves to confront what a life without children might look like. We felt betrayal and despair at God seemingly answering our prayers before breaking our hearts again. We found ourselves exhausted by the struggle to become parents, all for giving up whilst unable to fully let go of the desire and dreams that seem to run through our very DNA.

I look back on the last twelve months and wonder once again how it is that I can feel so whole as I sit here writing this, after such grief, anger, confusion and loss. I’ve talked in recent blogposts about many of the key moments since that scan where God has broken into the darkest places of our hearts, refusing to let us stay desperate and disappointed. I’ve shared the conclusions we have come to about the possibility of a life without children and our conviction that we can be as full and satisfied in life and in God without family as we can with the answer to this particular persevering prayer. In many ways there is no need to go over old ground in detail. Yet it seems to me that there is wisdom in reflecting on the lessons that I have learned, the treasures that have been bestowed upon us, and the nuggets of gold that I can take away from this last year. If nothing is a waste to God, then wouldn’t I be the biggest fool to ignore how He has used this time for His glory and to my benefit? So here is what I have learnt since our last miscarriage as I go forth once again with bold hope and courage.

My identity is not to be defined by failure: In the days between the scan and my actual miscarriage I lay in bed at night with my husband feeling strangely comforted by the familiarity of the loss and disappointment we were tasting once again. The dark thoughts, aching hearts and negative outlooks we were wrestling with had come rushing back in again so quickly, and somehow felt comfortable and commonplace compared to the tentative excitement the day the pee stick had turned positive and my period had stayed away. We knew how to do grief. We recognised ourselves in the barren landscapes of infertility. The sadness we were experiencing again felt part of who we were perpetually made to be, and so revisiting that space after a brief foray into impending parenthood felt like navigating our way around the norm. We simply knew how to be in this space and we settled back into the pain as though we were slipping on comfy clothes and bedding in for the long-haul.

But what I know now is that although grief needs to be acknowledged, given space and worked through, for us in this time it has not been right to allow it to become the definition of who we are. I would gladly have labelled myself “permanently infertile”, “hopeless”, “a lost cause” at this juncture, but I know now that even in the worst situations, I must choose to contend for an alternative view of myself. And sometimes contending – really fighting to see ourselves not as our circumstances define us – takes a huge amount of courage, resolve and practice. Father God has made it perfectly clear to us again and again that failure is not the way He sees us or our situation. Your circumstances might narrate to you a certain story, but the God of heaven has a different perspective and a plan that sits above the situations that play out for us day by day. Can I urge you, if you are wrestling with the grief and loss of infertility, give it the time it needs – burying the pain can do more harm than good – but when you are done, do not choose to set up camp in disappointment and failure as though this is your lot in life. These are not the trademarks of our faith, and if you are not living from hope and the belief that God is faithful to your heart (whatever that ends up looking like), then I believe that God will pursue you until He has changed your mind! I see now that I have been given the opportunity to fight for a God’s-eye-view of my circumstances and my very self. I have been given the right to establish who I, Helena, really am beyond the things that I can see or have experienced. It takes courage, persistence, intentional time studying God’s word, the desire to really absorb the truth of the Bible instead of the daily hum of the world we’re living in, but it matters. Who you are matters. How you choose to see yourself matters.

God is after our hearts: Being totally honest, for a while after the scan day I just didn’t want God, who could so spoil our joy as it seemed, to love me. I felt so betrayed, so let down, so disappointed by God. I read verses about him being near to the broken-hearted and keen to comfort us and felt it all to be a big, ugly joke. The idea that God might be crying with us felt like an insult. The God that overcame death on Easter Sunday had allowed the death of our children and our dreams and I felt justified in my rejection of him now. How and why would I let such a God near me if he couldn’t be consistent and always good? And yet I ached to be comforted. I longed to share my grief. I wanted so much to not feel wretched any longer. In this darkest of places I relied for a while on the love of those that I could see and touch – my husband, my friends, my family, my colleagues. It felt like a much safer bet. And yet one day I found myself feeling more alone than I had ever done before. I woke the next morning with a verse from Psalm 61 in my mind – God as refuge and strong tower – and I knew that I needed the steadfast comfort of the One who never gets it wrong.

Over time, alongside the restoration of my body, my dreams and my faith, I have sensed God’s love holding and pursuing me. What I am learning is how to let him love me. It sounds corny, but I wonder how much you allow him to do that for you too? For me, it’s been about learning how to hang out with Jesus just as I am when I pray; of getting a deeper revelation about what love really looks like; of knowing that I am cradled on the lap of my Daddy God and enjoyed simply in that most tender and steadfast of embraces. He loves it and I love it. We read in Zephaniah 3:17 that God delights in singing over us. We learn in Psalm 121 that the Lord himself watches over us all day and all night. He know from our salvation story that we are worth dying for. There are many times over the last year where I have felt my life to have had such little value or joy because I’m not busy being a mother as I would wish. And yet I now see that if I use each day to invest in an intimate relationship with God, it will have been the most precious, rewarding and enriching time of all the days I get to live. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere….”

Hope can be renewed: Truthfully, I never thought I would get back to a place of hope. For so very much of last year, hope had simply vanished and even when small moments reemerged, the disappointment and feelings that God had betrayed us and was in no way for us, quickly snuffed out those flickers of warmth. I was too weary to hope anymore. It felt like such a waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of prayer. Friends kindly gathered around us, promising to have faith and hope on our behalf, but I was indifferent to their efforts. It felt as though faith for the impossible wasn’t enough to make a difference. It hadn’t made a difference so far. We continued each month to try naturally for a baby and each month nothing happened. I felt totally abandoned by God.

So what changed? I think two things repositioned our perspective back towards hope. The first I can only assume was God’s determination to draw us back to himself as the source of all hope. He surrounded us with songs, prayers, people of faith and words of love. And the second was my awareness that I was living a half-life and I didn’t want it to stay that way. I couldn’t work out how to line up the loyal and compassionate Jesus I read about in New Testament stories with my unanswered prayers, and this made me deeply unhappy. I knew that as much as my skeptical heart told me he must love only those he blessed with children, I couldn’t be outside of that love and compassion. And I knew that if He’s “the same yesterday, today and forever” then I couldn’t believe him to be one thing for others and not the same person for all, including me. I needed to get back to a place of believing that he is who he says he is. I’ve explored this in detail in my blogpost The battleground of faith. At the heart of my rediscovery of hope is the simple decision to trust that God is who He says He is; to take what the Bible says as the benchmark of truth over my circumstances and experiences; and to choose to risk everything I’m hoping for by placing it inside of God’s character of faithfulness and goodness.

Blessings come from unexpected places: My scan appointment took place only days after I had just started at a new job. I had hoped that things would line up beautifully – settling into a new position for a number of months, a blooming pregnancy followed by maternity leave. Instead I found myself battling deep grief amongst strangers and I didn’t know how to push my pain to one side and be fully present at work. During the days and weeks that followed I yelled at God incessantly about the horrid ridiculousness of the timing of this new job (which I wanted and had prayed for!) and the craziness of trying to deal with two massive changes: a fresh start at work and a fresh loss at home. It took everything within me not to hand in my notice and crawl back to my bed. I would have jumped on the first plane out of the country if I had felt it possible! But God surprised me with what he had lined up in the colliding together of these two situations. I discovered to my deep surprise that my small team consisted of two hugely caring, supportive and sensitive women, not oblivious to the pain of life. I was offered counselling as part of my employment benefits, and encouraged (pretty much forced, if I’m honest) to take the time off work I needed to get well again. I was allowed to negotiate the terms that I needed to put healthy self-care practices in place and championed by my amazing boss to find my place when I returned to work a few weeks later. Even now as I look back, I cannot believe the kindness I was shown. It is not the norm (but it should be!).

Sometimes we cannot make sense of the way circumstances line up. I would never have chosen for life to play out as it did last year at work. And yet the opportunities I have been given to be vulnerable and loved for who I am in the middle of the mess, as work and home life blended, has been quite remarkable. I could never have imagined how God could bless me in it all and yet He has, and I am so glad that I didn’t run away because I would have missed out on so very, very much.

If He can do it once, He can do it again: In the last twelve months I have heard from more women than ever about their hopes and fears as they try to start a family. Infertility shows no signs of disappearing any time soon. I have received a steady stream of pregnancy announcements – the majority from women who have had no trouble conceiving; the occasional message triumphantly celebrating a long-awaited miracle. I’ve heard of the struggle and success of adoption. I’ve also mourned with women who have miscarried. The route to family meanders in many different directions. To move forwards from last year I have had to revisit stories of breakthrough to rebuild my faith. However much we struggle with another’s pregnancy, somehow we have to put our envy and fear to one side and celebrate, believing that what God can do for them, He can certainly do for us. As I have come to recognise that a bitter heart will never benefit me, I have tried to position myself more and more in a place of thanks for the miracles that have happened and an expectation that my own – even after all this time – will come. I have been encouraged over and over again by stories of God redeeming truly broken or impossible situations. I know that despite my propensity towards doubt and cynicism because of what life has thrown at us, I must not let this attitude cloud my perspective. What God can do once, He can do again – He does do again!

We are already mother and father: Even as I write this I can feel the effort that this shift in my perspective has required. It has been the hardest place to get to because in some ways it seems silly. But when God asks us to dream, imagine and believe from a place of hope and faith, it means allowing ourselves to think about who we are becoming, not who we were or who we are. I believe that God sees where I’m moving forward to – and that means I can’t be stuck in a place of where I’ve been. I’ve been amused and surprised by the number of children in recent months who have either asked me if I am a Mummy or told me that I’m like a Mummy. In the past I’ve shrugged these comments off because they have felt so painful compared to reality. And I’m surrounded by actual mothers all the time. I’m not delusional – I know I’m not the same as them. Or am I? Don’t I nurture with as much grace, wisdom and kindness as them? Don’t I look out for another’s needs with as much attention to detail as them? Don’t I welcome another’s child for embraces, play and teaching as if I would my own? Aren’t I in every way the essence of a mother, even though I don’t have my own brood yet? Don’t my miscarriages count as children now safely in heaven? How long am I going to tell myself that I’ll forever be stuck on this side of the fence? Don’t I believe that my place is on the other side with all the parents? Can’t I see with hope’s eyes that I will become a mother? These are the deep questions that I have had to give time to lately. I believe my God-given identity is one of ‘mother’. It is deeply part of who I am and who I was made to be. It’s a role I believe I will play on earth as in heaven. And so I will proudly go about my business now with the eyes of faith, living out the plans of heaven to be the mother I am called to be, because I refuse to deny that part of myself any longer.

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