carrying lost hearts

Tuesday will be two years since we lost our little girl. Selah was an unexpected Lenten mystery in our lives, one I will never understand. She launched us into giddy parenthood and bottomless grief in one swift week. When I began miscarrying on Easter Sunday, the last bits of my feeble faith crumbled. I will never forget the hours I spent in the shower that week, crumpled on the floor sobbing as I contracted and bled out what should have been my daughter, passing the clots that should have sustained and nourished her. When the water ran cold Drew would bundle me back into bed and we would shiver into each other, exhausted. I felt so dry when the tears stopped, parched for words and life and hope.

It is so hard to talk about a lost child. Although I’ve had to stop typing a dozen times already, overwhelmed with tears, I can’t remember the last time I cried for our Selah. Life with Evelyn and Rowan is so consuming, weeks will pass and I haven’t even thought about her. We’ll be out grocery shopping and as I’m bagging up some spinach a woman will walk up and coax a wave and a giggle from R&E and gush “oh twins! Are they your first? What a blessing! And look, one of each, now you’re done!” (Ladies in the grocery story don’t mean to make young moms cry about their never-to-be-born child. So we don’t cry. We just give uncomfortable smiles and wait it out. I don’t know if this is good or not.)

What can be said to those questions? I don’t know if we’re done having children. I don’t even know if we’re going to survive today, growing another human is the farthest thing from my mind. But so is swearing off them all together! And one of each? Why do people say that, as if the genders of children are limited edition collectibles that depreciate in value if you have duplicates?

I look at her kind eyes and stutter a reply and then she says they are beautiful and “God bless” and wheels her cart towards the deli. And there I am, plastic bag in hand, swept up momentarily in the impossibility of life and death and our ability to mourn and move on and mourn over and over again.

And then Evelyn is chewing on the index card that was my grocery list and ink is smudged around her lips and Rowan is howling because he wants paper too and so I’m digging in my purse for the Tupperware of snacks that will get us through to the checkout line and all thoughts of new life and motherhood and death are crowded out by the realities of this life and my fumbled mothering and the immediate needs of these kids in my cart and how long we have until nap-time meltdowns.

And it really isn’t fair. There’s no good time to ask about the child I lost at 8 weeks. Even if you and I were sitting in my living room and we were drinking tea while the children played quietly and peacefully at our feet, if you asked about what I’ve been thinking about my Selah I would be overcome by the guilt of being a woman who hasn’t thought about her dead daughter since the last time someone reminded me in a grocery store. I would stumble for words and feel the need to try and sound like I think devoted grieving mothers should, but I would come up empty.

Selah flung open the door to my motherhood and then she left me standing awkwardly on the stoop, waiting to be let in. When Rowan and Evelyn came along I was suddenly shoved through the door with such force that I spent the next many months stumbling for footing. Now, as we round the corner on their first year and the dust is settling I’m finally finding some brain-space to feel this year and all that we have become together. Because of Selah but also without her.

Since giving birth to the twins, I have developed uterine polyps. They have caused nearly labor-level cramps and absurd amounts of blood loss each month, making me pretty much useless to the world for the first two days of my period. We’ve been talking with my OB about a surgery to remove them and while the promise of relief from this intensity is hopeful, the risks and realities of the procedure have me holding back in fear. There’s the possibility that she might accidentally puncture my uterus during the polypectomy, adding risks and challenges to any future hopes of more children. And there’s the D&C done afterwards, which, even though I didn’t ultimately have one done after Selah passed, the idea is so tied to death and elimination of possibilities that it’s hard for me to even think of it as a helpful concept. (If we do it, a lab would analyze the tissue collected to test for any abnormalities.) Even the ultrasound I completed last month was an emotional roller coaster. After months and months of ultrasounds last year which always revealed two jumbo sized babies, this one looked just like the screen on that terrible day. Nothing to be found but a shadow, a dark hole where a tiny person should have been. No movement. No heartbeat.

Dear friends, there are more people in your life who have lost children than you would expect. There are brave women who have labored and birthed beautiful babies and had to say goodbye to them the same day. There are mothers and fathers and grandparents who carry the broken hearts of parents who have outlived their children, taken too soon. Always too soon. There are family members and friends, people who were in our life one day and gone the next, leaving us in the void. We all know grief in some way, the weight of the world cannot be shouldered alone.

When grief is fresh, carry it together. When it rushes in and out again unexpectedly, accept and acknowledge it without guilt or fear, as much as is possible. If grief abides, do not be alone for too long. Remind others that you are hurting and let them stumble along beside you. It’s the best we can do, to offer our open hands and beating hearts in love for another. We do it for the ones we’ve lost and the ones we still have. We do it because love was meant to be given, to flow freely in the way of grace. We do it because we are alive and this is hope. This is the way we push back against death and press into life.

My faith is still in shambles, scattered and splintered like a shipwreck on a rocky shore. But I am picking my way through the debris when the tide is low and the sun is warm and, somehow, I am finding hope in these smashed bits. I’m grateful that whatever can be resurrected from this mess will always bear the marks of my heartache, that Selah’s story is forever my story too.

I carry her in my heart.

The view from our little memorial site for Selah in Toronto.
The view from our little memorial site for Selah in Toronto.

3 thoughts on “carrying lost hearts

  1. Oh Julianne. Thank you for sharing your fierce love and grief with us. This sentence: “Selah flung open the door to my motherhood and then she left me standing awkwardly on the stoop, waiting to be let in.” THIS. So much this.
    We carry our daughters in our hearts, but that doesn’t ease the sometimes frantic longing to carry them in our arms, feel them at our breasts, stroke their skin, kiss their faces.
    Much love to you.

    1. I cried through the whole writing of this for you and I and our girls. I’m so grateful for your friendship, Meredith. And so looking forward to learning from your insights and wisdom about having children in two worlds when your little man arrives!

  2. Hi Julianne, I don’t know how to respond to you in reference to your miscarriage. I feel so ill prepared to respond or try in any feeble way to console as I have never experienced what you did. What I will say is you have an extraordinary gift of putting thoughts and feelings into words. Also you are a Very Caring Person. I feel so cold and unfeeling by comparison. Anyway, please know that we love you very much and pray daily for your little family. Be assured that God will answer our prayers. Looking forward to seeing you soon. We will pray especially for comfort on Tuesday Love GH

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