The Baby Tree
From time to time my family visits what we call “The Baby Tree.” This is a special tree to each of us because, at the base of it, where the enormous trunk meets the grassy earth, lies a tiny baby who once lived inside my belly. We call this baby a “he” even though there’s no way to know if it was a boy or girl – he was only 11 1/2 weeks gestation when he came out in a painful and bloody labor at my home. Thankfully, my husband was home and able to calm down my then four- and five-year-old daughters who were terrified at their mother’s horrified screams coming from the upstairs bathroom.
Needless to say, it was awful.
And it didn’t help that three of my four sisters-in-law all got pregnant within 3 months of my loss.
So then, not only was I in unspeakable grief over the loss of my own hoped-for-life, I now also had to cope with the mixed emotions I had surrounding my happiness for my brothers and their wives’ new babies but also my severe jealousy that they got to keep their babies whereas God took mine straight to heaven.
I know lots of people don’t tell other people — specifically their children — about their pregnancies until Mommy is past the “danger zone” of the first trimester… but we have never gone that route. Call me selfish or immature or whatever you like, I just can’t help myself whenever I’m pregnant — I’m just so darned excited and I can’t keep it in. Same with J. So, when I was only 7 weeks along with this little bundle, my hubby “surprised” me by blurting out to our daughters that we were going to have a new baby. And even though I had a fleeting thought of “Oooh, maybe we shouldn’t have told them that yet,” I quickly got scooped up in the excitement of a new little life joining our family — and my husband and daughters’ giddy-ness over it as well.
We were all so thrilled. Surprised, but thrilled. We spent the next month talking about it, dreaming about it, planning what to do about our vehicle situation (because we couldn’t fit all three kids and their carseats and boosters in the car we had at the time). Trying to figure out how we would all fit in our tiny condo. We were all overjoyed at the blessing that this new little life would bring. It honestly never even crossed my mind that anything would go wrong.
But something did. Of course, I’ll never know what was the cause of the miscarriage, but I do know that I suffered immense guilt about the following events:
- having an x-ray on my maybe-broken shoulder before I found out I was pregnant.
- chatting away in a hot tub in a friend’s backyard (never even thinking about the fact that at all public hot tubs there is a great big warning sign that says pregnant women shoudldn’t sit in hot tubs).
- going for a particularly strenuous run a few days before I started spotting.
- not taking prenatal pills because (first) I forgot that’s something you’re supposed to do and (then) I was waiting for an order of “this really good quality one” to arrive and I didn’t bother taking anything else in the meantime.
The soul-pain I felt after the loss of my baby was literally un-speakable. Literally indescribable. I am an avid journaler… As long as I can remember, writing out my thoughts and prayers has been the most efficient and effective way for me to connect with God and get my own thoughts sorted out. In the history of my journaling, there has never been a time where I went too terribly long without getting at least something on paper… I say that to help you understand this: I have searched through all my journals and tried to find any of my writings/written prayers during that dark season of my life and here is what I found:
Not even a single phrase about my loss or my feelings attached to that loss. For a year and a half… and then not again for almost another year.
Now let me be clear: I used to write all the time, then got married and it slowed down while I was excited and adjusting to the new life of wife-hood… then it really got sporadic after my daughters were born (which is unfortunate for so many reasons! Firstly, because I probably would have been a lot more sane had I seen my brain on paper and been able to process through all the stress and fear and the-world-doesn’t-revolve-around-me-anymore adjustment that I was going through during those tender years).
So there really wasn’t a plethora of my written words for a season. But there was at least something from time to time— usually when I was at my wit’s end in my marriage or parenting relationships.
So sporadic writing wasn’t uncommon for awhile…
But then there is a huge gaping hole in my journals. There is literally nothing from June 15, 2009 (the day before I found out I was pregnant — ahhh, that kind of explains all the drama and hormonally-charged whacky-ness that exists in that particular entry!) until July 22, 2010 (wherein I was at my wits’ end, begging God to help me stay married despite our current state of yucky-ness)… and then there there a couple more marriage-related cries for help in September and October 2010… and then, finally, in January 2011, when my baby should have been having his first birthday, I finally wrote about him.
Here is what I prayed:
“God. I really wish you had let me keep that baby. Why did you not want me to have it? Why can I not have a one-year-old right now? He/She would have been having a birthday this week. And 3 cousins born within a few months! And why can’t I have at least another pregnancy— a new baby? I know You have the big picture in mind and You only want what’s best for me… but all I can think of is that either J or I can’t handle another baby (marriage-wise) or the baby would have been born with special needs and You think I couldn’t handle that… But I’m still so sad about it. I don’t know how to get rid of this vacancy inside my heart and these empty arms that wanted that baby so much… I need help, God. I don’t even know what kind of help. Just…help. Please.”
And then silence on the baby front for several more months until I sunk into the lowest Depression I had ever before experienced and finally chose to go see a counselor to try to navigate the Darkness I was immersed in. I had been so numb for so long… It was like I lived in a perpetual land of fog. A fog that made it so I could neither experience the lows nor the highs of existence. I felt detached from my life. Like I was hovering over myself watching myself live. Unable to feel true sadness or true joy. I honestly don’t remember much about those few years of my life— I was in a preoccupied, detached daze that whole time.
But then I had shoulder surgery and had to take a pain med that screwed with my head and all the garbage and all the sadness and all the shame I had stuffed and avoided for so long rose up with a vengeance.
I could no longer ignore the fact that my heart was broken and decayed, with festering wounds all over it.
So I saw a counselor. And she was amazing. Her insight and compassion and wisdom and affirmation and ability to lead me to Jesus and let Him do the healing work He needed to do was of immeasurable value.
With her guidance, partnered with the Holy Spirit, I was able to finally face the hurt and disappointment and self-condemnation and deprivation I had felt for so long. As she helped me connect with Jesus in new and useful ways, I was able to find a measure of healing that I honestly never thought I would find.
So there was less of an ache for a long time. Not a forgetting of the loss; not a lessening of the disappointment; but there was some mysterious shift that happened inside during that season of my life.
And then, some months later, I felt like I needed to take a larger step toward freedom from my grief. So J, the girls, our dog and I all hiked up to The Baby Tree and I brought my art supplies, a pen and some paper. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I had a feeling I was going to somehow let my grip on my heartache loosen somehow.
It really is a mystery to me how this helped, but here is what I did:
While my husband took the girls and the dog down to the pond nearby, I sat down near The Tree, drew a picture, painted it with watercolor, and then I wrote a letter to the baby. In the letter, I told him how much I loved him and how much I missed him and how much wished I could have held him and loved on him and taught him about Jesus. I told him how much I wished God had done it all differently. I confessed to him that I was afraid it was my fault he went straight to heaven instead of first to my arms. I told him I was glad he at least never had to endure pain or heartache or sadness or evil of any sort. I told him I’m sorry if I keep calling him a “him” if he’s actually a girl. I told him I was glad he was with Jesus: forever safe, forever healthy, and forever in bliss. I told him I would see him one day. I asked him to say hi to both of my grandpas for me.
And then I did the worst, most horrible, best thing I could have done for my own sanity and for the health of my earth-dwelling family: I told him I was going to entrust him to Jesus now. He was already with Jesus anyway, so it’s not like anything changed. But in me— something shifted. I no longer felt like he was my responsibility. Like I was a bad mom for not thinking about him 24/7. Like I was betraying him by not feeling constantly sad and terrible. I told him that, for the sake of his big sisters, and for my own sake and the sake of my marriage to his dad… I needed to not cling to my heart-scar so tightly. I needed to let Jesus be Jesus: capable and Good and beautiful and amazing.
I trusted Jesus to care for my baby.
And I trusted Jesus to care for me, too.
And then I took that painting and that letter and buried it under a log under The Baby Tree.
I don’t really know how or why that did anything inside my soul, but there was a definite alteration that took place in me that day. I felt more free. More able to enjoy the life I was living. More like I wasn’t a horrible mother for laughing or taking joy in my living children when I had one who never got to experience this planet. More happy for him that he was safe and innocent and trouble-free with the Maker of the Universe.
That was over 3 years ago.
I’m not sure if a person can ever truly “get over” something like the loss of a child… I feel a very distinct and reminiscent pang in my chest when I hear of someone losing a child. I feel a kinship with them that, though our stories may be different, I know I never would have felt had I not gone through that journey. And I still often get the feeling when I’m out with my family that “someone is missing.” Sometimes I even look around and count heads and still feel flabbergasted that my counting is coming up one short.
And, to tell you the truth, I’m kind of glad about that. I don’t want to forget.
So, yes, there is still a sense of loss in certain ways.
But I will say this: I don’t cry every time I hike past that tree anymore.
My kids and I have come up to this tree so many times over the past 5 1/2 years— either to bring gifts or love notes for the heaven-dwelling baby, or to sit down and have a picnic near the tree, or to sit down and paint or to just goof off and sit on one of its dangling branches. Due to the plethora of family memories we’ve made over the years, The Baby Tree is now more like “just a fun tree we hang out at” rather than a forlorn and joyless place marking the loss of the baby I never got to hold. It is that, of course: a place marking one of the great losses of my life… but it has also become a place of joy and art and picnics and enjoyment.
Thank You, Lord, for the healing You have brought to me. Thank You for Your patience and Your Truth and Your Goodness to me through this journey. I bless You, Lord, for Your great power to comfort and to heal. Please give my love to my baby for me… I’m sure You guys are having a blast together.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” ~Psalm 34:18
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What about you?
Have you ever experienced God’s healing in a way that blew your mind and beyond-exceeded your expectations? How have you and your family dealt with great loss and/or grief in your lives?