Shadow Children

Each year at about this time, for the past five years, a little shadow person sweeps through my house. Shadow might be too strong of a word. It’s almost like a shadow of a shadow, a fleeting presence of what could have been. Here, then gone. 

Miscarriages may be “common” but that doesn’t make them easy.

After having Elijah, after years of secondary infertility, after adopting the most precious, perfect little Chinese girl in the world, I found, to my delight and shock, that I was pregnant. The timing seemed perfect. “Really Lord?” I whispered in the bathroom as the second line materialized. “Now you’re giving me this gift?”

Yet in the days and weeks to follow, I felt like something was “wrong”. A few weeks after paying a visit to the ER for bleeding, I found myself there again, this time for hemorrhaging. Hours later, the doctor sent me and my husband home to “let nature take it’s course”, but I passed out in the corridor, steps away from the exit door. I came to, surrounded by a flurry of activity. My hemoglobin had dropped to a seven. They couldn’t send me home so they wheeled me up to the- you guessed it- maternity ward and gave me two bags of blood via transfusion. Every now and then I heard a baby cry while I waited for my baby’s heart to stop beating. I had five not-so-comfortable ultrasounds throughout the night, the heartbeat slower with each one.

Then the next morning, there was no heartbeat.

After a “standard procedure surgery” I came home. Home to my husband and precious children, then seven and two. I went to bed depleted but grateful. I had survived an ordeal that was, for me, more gory than labor and delivery.

The next morning, it hit.  Oh God, what have I lost?

I sobbed. I couldn’t fathom ever being happy again. Part of my brain, the left, logical side, told me Yes. You will. Be thankful for the two wonderful kids you already have. The right side of my brain told the left side to shut it. How, how, how could I push past this sadness?

I was thankful for my two children. I was thankful for life itself. But a loss is a loss and life isn’t one giant math equation; two blessings do not negate a loss. I wondered if I’d said anything dumb but well-intentioned to the several women I knew who had experienced miscarriages. Now, of course, I understood. I understood that it didn’t matter if it was just the first trimester, or if it was ‘for the best’  because there might have been something wrong with the baby. None of that helps. None of that erases the sadness, the throbbing emptiness. There is nothing tangible to which to cling – no tiny footprint. No hand-crocheted blanket. No picture. No funeral. Nothing.

The heart cry of women who miscarry is my baby existed.  My baby mattered. Maybe not to you, maybe you don’t fully understand it, but that baby, as tiny and hidden as he/she was, mattered to me. I was blessed to be surrounded by supportive family and friends and nurses and people who got it, who not only let me grieve but expected me to grieve. But I still wanted something. To nail a stake in the timeline of life. To declare here was a life.

I do not consider myself a poet. Yet the few I have written were born from grief, when constructing complete sentences just seemed too daunting. So a few days after we lost what would have been our third child, I sat propped up in bed and scratched out these lines. My husband printed it on pretty paper and framed it. It doesn’t hang anywhere in our house because I don’t want to see it every day. I don’t want to live in grief. But it helps to know it exists. Because my baby existed.

We all have shadows of some kind, hurts that haunt us from time to time.  Perhaps no one else ever knows. This particular shadow of mine now would be four. This shadow typically flashes before my mind as a boy with blonde, blonde hair. This shadow was and, I believe, is a real person who waits for me in a place where there are no shadows at all.

No Words
You left in the midst of a blizzard
slipped away silently as the snow fell. 
Small, white, intricate, beautiful 
So fragile
Too fragile to last
No words please
Words don’t mean enough
Just see him as I did- say that she was here
No answers
Don’t feed me answers- I already know
Just see what I did: a dream, a hope, a miracle
A life
Now lost, now gone
Too hidden to name, too fragile to keep.
And the snow keeps falling and buries the earth.
No words. No words. No words.

6 responses to “Shadow Children”

  1. Oh, sweet friend. My shadow child, too, creeps in this time of year. He would be five. I can imagine our sweet ones romping through Heaven together. THANK YOU for being vulnerable enough to write this. My heart is hurting with you. And aching with you for that place where there are no shadows. Your poem is beautiful. Like you.

  2. Rachel, thank you…for writing what has been the cry of my heart for 2 years now…that our baby existed, that he mattered, that his life was precious. Our little one would have been 2 on Groundhog's Day. We named him. We had to give him some weight in this world…too precious for us not to name. So our Baby Jack waits for us in Heaven. What a reunion that will be- for all of us! Thank you for writing this.

  3. I was moved by you sharing your heart and by the image of the little shadow person. I think you should try to get this published. What you wrote so beautifully will touch the hearts of those who have lost a child, and who are seeing their own shadow children. You give them permission to grieve and at the same time expressed the wonder of how awesome it is that God gave us the ability to procreate. I am sure glad that we have a God and Savior who loves children and died for them too. Dad

  4. Thank you for the encouragement, everyone. As I wrote this, I was very much aware of all the women who've suffered a miscarriage or similar loss.-Rachel

  5. […] a holiday for many people for many different reasons: Infertility. Death. Estrangement. Singleness. Miscarriage. Abortion. Prodigals. Physical distance. Emotional distance. Unmet expectations. Many may be […]

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