For LBOC, The One We Lost
“Name … Birthdate … You’re here for your annual exam? … And you’ve had 3 pregnancies and 2 births.”
“Uh Yes,” I replied to the nurse, stunned.
“Looks like you’re set then,” she said, as she left. “The doctor will be in shortly.”
There it was. Just hanging out there. A truth that hardly ever gets spoken. A loss that rarely gets shared. She said it so matter of factly. I wasn’t hurt. In fact, I felt honored. I felt seen. Nowhere else is that little life who wasn’t acknowledged.
3 pregnancies. 2 births. In between my two living children, lived a little life, whom we lovingly call LBOC (short for Little Ball of Cells). LBOC came to live in my body for only 8 short weeks. LBOC had been a double line on a pregnancy test. A teeny heartbeat at the first ultrasound. 2 months of nausea and dizziness. A ray of hope for a second child. A sibling due to arrive on the exact date of our daughter’s 2nd birthday.
As the OB nurse left the room, I thought of that day nearly 3 years ago. August 13, 2018. I had been in a room across the hall from the one I was in now. I had come alone to that appointment also. My husband worked an hour away. This was supposed to be a routine check. It was our second child. We had done this before. I could handle the appointment on my own … or so I thought.
I realized pretty quickly, however, that I in fact had not done this before. I knew the moment I saw the ultrasound tech’s face. Something was wrong. I looked closer at the little blobby baby mass on the screen. It wasn’t moving. She looked down when she told me: “I’m sorry, but I can’t find a heartbeat.”
Everything else remains a blur. The call to my husband. The waiting as he drove as fast as he could. The time alone in the room. The caring OB. The options given. The lack of answers. These things happen. A scheduled procedure.
We went home, cried, and dusted ourselves off to pick up our then 17-month-old daughter from daycare. We were met at the door by her teacher, who told us she had not been herself that day. She had bitten a friend – something she had never done before and has not done since. Grief, it seems, manifests in many ways, even when we aren’t even aware of it.
We each experience grief differently – whether we bite someone, or cry a lot, or hold it all in. Our grief is our grief and we each experience loss in our own ways. Sometimes when I feel that old sadness – the loss of our LBOC – well up, I feel silly and guilty. My loss wasn’t as tragic as so many. My pregnancy wasn’t that far along – just 8 weeks. So many have experienced losses much later in pregnancy. My loss also wasn’t the end of my pregnancy journey – I was able to become pregnant a 3rd time, and give birth to our son, who lights up our lives with his uncontainable joy and cheerfulness. In these times, I try to tell myself what I’d tell others: your loss is an important loss. Your grief matters (no matter how big or small, no matter the circumstance of others).
Grief is palpable lately. This last year and a half has brought so much loss. Loss of life. Loss of jobs. Loss of celebrations. Loss of a future. Loss of hope. Loss of expectations. Loss of security. Loss of safety. Loss of connection. Loss of sanity. Loss of understanding. Loss of certainty. Loss of normalcy. Loss upon loss upon loss. Some have lost more than others. Yet, no matter the grief. It is yours. It matters.
What has made grieving so much harder in our current context is that our griefs often aren’t able to be acknowledged. The COVID-19 crisis has delayed grief. Celebrations of life have been delayed, canceled, or held in small gatherings. Isolated from our communities, we’ve isolated our feelings. We’ve limited the people with whom we see and share. We’ve worshipped apart from our communities of faith. We’re doing a lot of life alone or in small groups. When our losses aren’t properly celebrated or properly acknowledged, our grief hangs with nowhere to go. In my many years of walking with grieving families, I have learned this: Shared grief is grief made real. Unshared grief is unrecognized grief.
Pregnancy loss often lives within this realm of unshared, unrecognized grief. So many families have experienced pregnancy and fertility related loss. Yet so much of that grief is held in private, in secret, sometimes even in shame. When we lost LBOC, we chose the share it with only a close circle of people. Yet among that close circle, I was shocked to learn how many had experienced this same loss. I had never known, for they had never shared.
Yet I did know of one person who had experienced such a loss – my grandmother. Now, anyone who knows my grandma, knows that she loved to talk. In her talking, she tended to share the particular stories with the particular people. Which meant, I never heard the same stories that my dad or brother or cousins heard. One of the stories she regularly told me was about the miscarriage she had in the 1950s in between my uncles. I don’t know all the details, but she told me time and time again about being in the hospital after her loss. At the hospital, in her time of grief, the doctors referred to her loss of a wanted baby as an abortion. She never ever forgot that. With that word in her head, and shame in her heart, she never shared the loss again. That is until she shared it with me, once or twice a year for several decades.
As a teenager, I had no idea why my grandmother kept telling me this. At 37, I knew. why. I thought of my grandmother as I lay in the hospital awaiting my own procedure for a wanted child, which the medical form still – yes still – documented as an abortion. I thought of all the times she had kept silent about her loss. I thought of all the times she had bravely told her story to the one person she thought needed to hear it: her granddaughter. I picked up the phone to call her, but stopped, knowing I couldn’t reach her. In August 2018, Grandma wasn’t well. She couldn’t understand us on the phone anymore and was becoming more confused. She passed away that November. Somehow, I know that she knew (just as my toddler knew). Which is why I keep her story – her loss – close to my heart always, just as I keep mine, just as I keep yours.
Unshared grief is unrecognized grief. Shared grief is grief made real.
In our culture, we tend not to give grief its due. We expect people to “get over it.” Wipe away those tears. Buck up. Keep going. Yet the truth is that when we love and when we lose, grief becomes a part of us, an important part of us. We carry the memory of the loss, and we carry the memory of the one who was and is always loved. Our grief may change over the years. Maybe we don’t feel it in every moment or in every day as the years go on. It never goes away, instead it becomes a part of who we are. We can honor our loss by the way we live afterwards. Maybe we continue to share stories of the one we’ve lost, or live our life in a way that honors the person, or share the loss with a trusted friend, or allow ourselves to cry, or allow ourselves to live, or create a memorial space for memories.
My family and I chose to create a memorial for LBOC, which sits on the credenza in our dining room. It’s a rounded vase, which, I think, looks like a little ball of cells. It’s filled with sand from the beach where we had our wedding reception, broken seashells from that beach, and little tools for LBOC to tend the little garden. I don’t look at it every day. I dust around it. Sometimes stuff gets piled next to it. But it’s always there. Every so often, I pass it and place my hand on it, remembering LBOC and giving thanks to the God who walks beside me in both grief and in joy.
I love the words of Psalm 77, where the Psalmist is in deep grief and feels like even God isn’t listening. The Psalmist shouts grief and loss and doubt to God: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has God in anger shut up his compassion?” (v.9). After sharing his deep grief with God, the Psalmist takes a breath: “selah.” Then the Psalm shifts: “And I say, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed’” (v.10). Grief shared is grief made real, and we serve a God who shares our grief.
2 weeks after we lost LBOC, my OB cleared my body to “try again.” She told me that my body had healed from the ordeal, but then she paused and said something I will carry with me always:“I recommend not trying again until your heart is ready.”
3 years later, my heart now feels ready to share this grief with you. I share it not for sympathy. I share it in hopes that you might feel less alone in your own grief – whatever what your grief may be. I hope when your heart is ready that you might also share your grief so that it might be honored, remembered, carried, and shared.