I think it’s time to tell you a story. The story about Mini. It is not an easy story to tell, but it gets easier with each telling.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to pee as I was on that cold, December morning. We had started ‘trying’ just two months before, and I was a day ‘late’. We bought a pregnancy test and waited until the next day, having heard that first-thing-in-the-morning was the best time to test. I woke up before 5am, and bolted for the bathroom. The test said to wait three minutes for the result, but 45 seconds later I could already see a faint, second line developing on the stick – and with tears and squealing and oh-so-much-joy ran into the still-dark room to tell my husband the happy news that our two was now three. We named our expected one Mini. We called our parents and siblings, we went out to dinner, we dreamed of the future: the future of us-with-Mini.
Two weeks later we were at a conference in Missouri and I came down with a cold, and we delightedly fretted about whether taking airborne and extra vitamin C would be safe for our new baby. The kind medic at the Urbana missions conference assured us that taking vitamins was totally safe, and we walked out holding hands, smiling our secret to ourselves as we huddled with throngs of students.
Two weeks after that, the bleeding began. At first just a spot, then a little more. We called the doctor, who said something about ‘implantation bleeding’, and advised us to rest, wait and see. I rested. I waited. I bled. I prayed.
The bleeding continued and so we did what young, anxious parents of our generation do: we searched the internet, trawling for numbers to give us hope. As if the statistics and probabilities of others would reveal the future of our own. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, I read. Which means three in four don’t, I reasoned. But which also means one in four do.
Two days later, still bleeding, we called the doctor. She agreed to see us and scheduled an ultrasound. With a compassionate but matter-of-fact face, she took a look at the blobs on the screen and interpreted them for us: “this is not what we should be seeing with a healthy 8 week old foetus,” she said, “I’m sorry.” We went home silent, stony and crushed.
The worst part was not the waiting-to-see-if-something-was-wrong, nor the hearing-that-something-was. The worst part was coming home, knowing that our baby was lost, and yet still having to endure a few more days of losing Mini. I sat at home: weeping and bleeding and waiting for it all to pass. My best friend, four months pregnant and grieving for me even as she carried joy of her own, brought me tea and books and let me cry.
Returning to work was hard. Cheerful students and co-workers who didn’t know brought welcome distraction but also somehow intensified the ache. We hadn’t asked them to celebrate Mini’s life when we first found out, and so it seemed unfair and unnatural to ask them to grieve our baby’s death. We were lonely. We felt very grown up.
I remember taking a counseling class where the teacher posed the question: “what is the worst type of grief?” I remember scouring my mind, weighing up the imagined relative trauma of losing a spouse, of suffering great violence, of burying a parent. The lecturer’s words cut into my thoughts: “Your own,” he said. “The worst grief is your own.” His words came flooding back in the wake of losing Mini: maybe it was worse to lose a child already born, or a still-born child, or one later in the pregnancy… but those great griefs were not our own. We had lost Mini early on, but that grief was our own, and it was the worst.
A few moments stand out from that first month after our loss. The moment when a co-worker asked about my absence from the staff party: “Are you pregnant?” they asked. Stunned, I blurted out “I was”, and left them floundering in the parking lot as I ran into the building. The wedding we attended a week later, where more-than-a-few people asked us if we were planning to have kids any time soon. I don’t know how we made it through that night. In the photos from that day, my mouth is smiling and my eyes are glassy. Then, on retreat with our young adults group a few weeks later, a come-to-Jesus moment when I sat all alone in a snow-silent world, and cried all the tears I had stuffed in silence in the weeks before.
And I recall how, one by one, I slowly started to hear others say that the same thing had happened to them. “That happened to me too,” said the smiling Mom-of-five after church one Sunday. “We lost three,” said another. “I’m so sorry,” whispered yet another, “I remember how that felt.” And all of a sudden that one-in-four statistic wasn’t just about our odds for our baby, it was the story of at least one-in-four women that I knew and loved and saw often… but we had just never shared that part of the story before.
More than anything, it was comforting to know I was not alone.
I think perhaps we make a mistake when we keep pregnancies a secret until we’ve had an ultrasound to say that “everything’s okay”. A baby is a baby and a life to be celebrated long before an ultrasound says it is so. A life is a life before anyone has measured its spine or assessed its chances. Mini was a baby, and it was right to celebrate. And then we lost our little one, and it was right to mourn.
We found out we were expecting again a few weeks later, and our mourning for Mini became less intense, and less frequent. From time to time I would feel the loss acutely: standing in the snow, or hearing another’s story, or reading “Heaven is for real” all brought fresh tears for old sadness. But the tears were less, and the sadness more distant – especially as I heard the stories of more and more friends experiencing similar loss and became one of those offering a hug and whispering “that happened to me too.”
A few weeks ago, I told our eldest that there had been another baby before her. I told her there was a little one who had first made us a Mommy and Daddy, but we hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. I told her we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, but that we would meet them one day and know for sure then. My daughter assured me it was a girl: the sister she had been longing for, but would one day meet. The next day she told a stranger at the park that she had an older sister in heaven. This is going to be awkward, I thought. But it wasn’t, and she didn’t mention it again.
Until this week. I was cleaning up after breakfast and came upon my daughter playing with her brothers in the living room. She was holding an arm full of stuffed animals, and introducing them to her admiring audience: “this is me, and you, and you”, she said as she gestured to three bears and to the three of them on the sofa. And then, holding up a tiny, fourth bear, she told her brothers “and this is Mini. She is our sister too, but she’s in heaven.”
There they are: my four children. Three in my arms, and one in Jesus’. Telling the story has made it easier. And now, hearing the story from the mouth-of-babes has brought a fresh wave of hope and joyful anticipation.
And so I’m telling you. Because maybe it’s a story you need to hear today. One-in-four, and all that, but for the one – it’s the worst grief of all.