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“Are you buying these for a special occasion?” the clerk asked as she rang up the three polka-dot sundresses I’d handed her.
Her friendly smile begged me to respond. I wanted to respond. Yet her large baby bump made me hesitate. You see, I was buying them for a special occasion – just not the kind of event one eagerly shares with an expectant mother.
Two months earlier, I too had been pregnant. The thing is, my “bump” never did appear. In that first trimester, something went wrong. Our fourth child’s heart stopped beating. We learned that the little one we’d expected to meet wouldn’t greet us this side of heaven. And so, here I was, buying dresses for my other daughters to wear to that baby’s memorial service.
I hoped a one-word answer would suffice. “Yes,” came my reply.
“I bought one as an Easter dress for next year,” she shared, eagerly continuing the conversation. With that, I decided to simply be honest. After all, this fellow mother had opened up her world to me.
“I’m buying them for a memorial service at the hospital,” I explained. “I had a miscarriage recently.”
“I’m sorry,” she offered.
Not wanting my sadness to mingle too closely with her joy, I quickly shifted the attention to her growing belly. “So you’re having a girl?”
“Yes, in nine days,” she answered, her smile returning.
I motioned to my three dresses and said, “Girls are fun.”
As I walked to my car, I held back tears. My baby wouldn’t need an Easter dress next year. Yet as sad as I felt, I found myself genuinely excited for this mom whose baby would. The truth was, though, in those initial weeks following my miscarriage, I hadn’t always been able to so easily rejoice with other pregnant moms.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. In that first week when I noticed a pregnant woman or new mom at the store, I’d pray, “Thank you, Lord, that she’s not experiencing what we are.” I even sent an email to a pregnant friend telling her not to feel awkward around me. I assured her I still wanted to hear her baby updates.
But then something happened. I discovered that good intentions, paired with gratefulness that others weren’t in our shoes, didn’t remove the pain that unexpectedly came at the sight of a pregnant woman.
As the reality of grief took root, I suddenly had a hard time dealing with anything maternity or newborn-related. I found myself breaking down in sobs over others’ pregnancy and birth announcements. I experienced irritation when a pregnant friend complained on Facebook about being a few days overdue or another that her baby screamed for three hours in a row. There were moments I would have loved to leave a snarky comment that said, “Well, at least your baby is alive.”
But I didn’t.
I realized these were feelings I couldn’t avoid. No matter how hard I tried. They were part of the grief process and I was going to have to deal with them. I also understood, though, that how I handled them mattered. Clearly allowing them to fester was bad, so I determined to do something to help myself process them in an appropriate and healthy manner.
I decided to be drastic: to face my grief head on. My tool of choice: my sewing machine. My course of action: to work on a baby quilt for a friend whose daughter was due two months before our baby’s anticipated birthdate.
The first day was rough. Really rough. Picking out fabric and carefully cutting squares were constant reminders that I wouldn’t be making one for my own baby. Everything in me wanted to scream, “This quilt should be for our little one!” With this came an intense low; a low that urged me to quit, to set aside this quilt.
But I didn’t. I pressed on.
On the second day, as I laid out the pattern and stitched the squares together, I still wrestled. I wrestled with the loss of control I felt; with the failure at not being able to carry my baby to term. Yet at the same time, I found myself emotionally stronger than I was the day before. My experiment of staring grief in the face seemed to bring with it some beauty amidst the ashes.
By day three, I’d turned a corner. I discovered my sorrow could coexist with others’ joy. That it didn’t need to be one or the other. It could be both/and. Sure, I could grieve. But I could also rejoice.
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The baby quilt I finished that week stands as the second most significant one I’ve made in my eight years of sewing. The most significant one is the quilt I made about a month later in faith for the baby I hoped would bless our future. Today that baby is a talkative, curly-headed two-year-old named Dorothy Jane who affectionately calls that quilt “my blankie.”
The last stitch on that third day didn’t instantly enable me to always respond to pregnant women such as that store clerk with joy. It was still a struggle at times. But what this gut-wrenching process did do was force me to wrestle with my pain in a positive, life-giving manner.
Ashleigh Slater (www.ashleighslater.com) is the founder and editor of Ungrind Webzine, and a regular contributor at Start Marriage Right. Her writing has appeared in print and online in publications including Focus on the Family's Thriving Family, Marriage Partnership, and MomSense. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Twitter @ashslater.