When I announced to the church my pregnancy, I expected a variety of reactions. Almost everyone was excited and enthusiastic. I knew that for some, however, this joy was tempered. Some in this church have faced infertility. Some have chosen not to have children. Some have lost children, both in infancy and beyond.
I know the families who’ve lost children in this church. Some have lost them to suicide, to accidents, or to medical issues. Those stories have been shared with me tenderly and sorrowfully by the mothers and fathers. They have been shared with my by others in the church, who need for me to know why we can’t chop down that tree (it is a memorial tree).
I also know the stories of the couples who had tried for years to have children, only to make peace with their childlessness. Some of those wounds are decades old, but they still sting a little whenever a pregnancy is announced or a new baby brought to church. Their joy for others is often tempered with their own private sorrows.
And I know the stories of parents estranged from their children – and of children who’ve chosen estrangement from their parents. Sometimes I know the reasons behind these decisions, but sometimes the whole situation just seems like a sorrowful mystery to me, as it often is to the people involved. I am grateful for all these stories, even as my heart breaks for them.
But it wasn’t until I announced my pregnancy and began to talk freely about my fears of miscarriage that I began to hear those stories. Women told me about miscarriages they’d had, of the “successful” pregnancies they went on to have, and of how the latter did not cancel out the former, but did help provide a larger framework for their parenting. They spoke with a tinge of sadness for what they had lost, as well as thanksgiving for what they had. I quickly noticed that they only told these stories around other women who’d had children.
It has been a strange initiation into motherhood. These stories are seldom told outside of the church kitchen – if indeed, they make it into the doors of the church at all. Even though I’m an advocate for reproductive justice, and even though I’ve spoken of miscarriage, the loss of children, and childlessness in the past, and even though I’ve sat in these people’s homes for more than seven years, listening to their lives and praying with them, it has only been in the past few months that many people have chosen to share these stories with me.
It isn’t because they don’t feel the stories are important. And it isn’t because they are finally releasing a torrent of information now that I can relate. Somehow, in some mysterious way, my pregnancy has opened up a door to these conversations. Was it something I’ve said?
I don’t think so. If I could have planned it, it would not have turned out this way. If I had wanted to be strategic about all this, I can tell you absolutely that I would have failed miserably. This is a great mystery to me. But the stories are here, now, for us and for God to see, and my call is to touch those stories lovingly and with great grace, as if I were handling a small, delicate child who needs my love, my softness, and my attention.
It is the deepest privilege I know to have access to the hearts of others. May God grant us grace to hold those hearts and their contents tenderly, weeping and laughing and finding redemption and hope in every unfolding.