For three pregnancies in a row I’ve dealt with some serious heart-stuff in relation to being a mom. Each time I’ve immediately written about it and let it “all hang out there” for the whole world to see/read.
First, it was my pregnancy with Judah when we were told he likely had Down syndrome. We grappled with the implications of a potential diagnosis like that and then lived for another nineteen weeks with the reality of how our lives might change on his birthday.
Of course then, we lost Scarlett. Miscarrying was an even bigger shock, and definitely a far heavier sadness.
And this month, we lost another baby. This loss has been difficult in a different way. Grief has some commonalities, but it’s a strange beast – rearing its head at different times, wearing different masks. This time, we’ve experienced less sadness and more anger, but the waves are just as powerful—a mixture of predictable and unpredictable.
After each of these three life-shaking events, I’ve poured my heart out on this blog. It’s been a personal and holy experience for me—absolutely part of my process and acceptance of the reality of these events. But after each time posting, I’ve also had what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” I’m left feeling very exposed and weak and unsure how to move forward. What do I say “out loud” after sharing something deeply personal? Everything else seems trivial. How do I pick up the blog and start writing again? I know I need to. (Writing is part of what makes my heart beat strong, and Lord knows I need strength.) And yet my words feel thin and frail and silly compared to the weight of what bears on my heart.
Why share so openly when it’s all so fresh and messy?
A friend asked me if it’s helped to share my stories so frankly with friends, family, and readers who are often complete strangers. She asked if it’s hard to open myself up, knowing that it gives invitation for others to share about their own heartache and pain (and knowing they might need comforting too, even as I need comfort myself).
And here’s my answer to her question: I believe part of the way we heal is by helping to heal others. When I am open about my pain I invite God (and others) into those hard spaces to look at pain, too—my own, but also theirs. When I am free with my life and faith in the way I give myself to others, I also free myself to receive. You have to release your grip to give, but you also have to release it to receive. Open hands are hands that can’t hoard love and truth and comfort; they are positioned to both give and receive. And openness of heart and hands requires vulnerability—this, I strongly believe.
Vulnerability as a weapon against shame and an invitation to freedom
I love Brene Brown (you should read her stuff or at least watch her Ted Talk) and am grateful for her extensive research and work in the area of vulnerability and shame; she’s done so much to spark the conversation and educate the public about things that truly matter to our relationships and personal well-being. But long before she made the term vulnerability famous and introduced its power for combating the destructive grip of shame, Jesus invited us to live free of shame (and is still inviting us).
Shame was the first consequence of sin in the garden when Adam and Eve took what they shouldn’t have and then hid themselves from God’s presence. Shame always draws us into hiding; Jesus always draws us out of it.
(For those that need a simple explanation of the difference between guilt and shame, guilt is feeling bad for doing something wrong, whereas shame is the feeling that you are bad or wrong. Guilt points us to behavior that needs addressing, shame deals with being or identity or personhood. Guilt can be appeased by confession and restitution—admitting you’re wrong and making it right—but shame is the feeling or belief that you are wrong, and by implication, that you can’t be fixed.)
Shame and vulnerability in relation to miscarriage
Since first experiencing miscarriage, I’ve wondered why aren’t women talking about it more? If it’s so prevalent, why does it seem such a taboo topic? (And why aren’t men talking about it? What about the grieving fathers?) As I’ve turned this question over and over in my mind, I’ve realized that a lot of women keep quiet because of shame. For the most part they don’t fear that they’ve done something wrong to cause the death of their baby, but they often feel that they are wrong and they have no idea how to handle the onset of grief that follows. Something about what’s happened is so, so messed up that they’ve turned the pain inward, feeling ashamed for not only what’s happened, but how they are coping with what’s happened. Often this all happens without even realizing what’s going on. (These are generalizations, of course.)
The feeling of being ashamed can keep a woman absolutely paralyzed in fear as she tries to convince herself and the world that “everything is okay” when really she has no idea what to do with the storm raging in her bones. Shame draws us into ourselves, leads us into hiding, and keeps us separated from the very things that can bring healing: the light of Jesus and the love of others.
I’ve chosen to share my stories openly because I want other women to know they aren’t alone. I want them to know there’s no shame in losing a baby (only pain). I want them to know that Jesus can—and will—come rushing in when we allow the light of day to touch those dark places. (Yes, even when we are heartbroken with sadness, fuming with anger, or numb with shock.) Women tend to be so concerned with pulling ourselves together that we’re quick to answer with “I’m fine” remarks when really we’re not. But it’s not until we’re honest about ourselves (and with ourselves) that we really make room for Jesus to move in our hearts the way he longs to.
His grace is enough. (And that’s no cliché, my friends.)
The apostle Paul talks about the fact that “God’s grace is sufficient” in 2 Cor 12:9. I’ve written about this before, so forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but that word sufficient means “cut to measure.” You see, God gives us the exact grace we need—cut perfectly to measure—for the circumstances we find ourselves in. We don’t get grace for our past. We don’t get grace for our future—the problems and obstacles we inevitably will face. We get grace for today—for these circumstances, this situation, that problem, those relationships, this right now. And it’s enough; His grace is enough—no more or less than we need. He doesn’t give extra in case tomorrow is even harder. He gives grace for this moment in the exact way that we need it. (And tomorrow there will be more, hallelujah.)
“My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” –2 Cor 12:9 (MSG)
Friends, if we stay hidden, stay inside ourselves, stay comfortable in our own shame or hiding, we don’t open ourselves up to the light of Jesus to shine upon our face and penetrate into the dark areas of our hearts where his grace leads us into freedom.*
Our stories are powerful
I share my stories because I believe in doing so, I help give permission for you to share yours. Jesus said that, “by opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (see the full passage in the image above). I love Jesus’ words here because they’re true. I’ve seen it over and over again in my life: the more I’ve been willing to give voice to the work of God within me, the more others open up and give voice to the work of God in theirs. And as that happens, our stories—bathed in the sacrifice of Jesus—actually overcome the darkness (Rev 12:11). (Oh friends, this is amazing, powerful stuff.)
So beloved, I’m going to keep sharing stories. They won’t always be laced with sadness or pain or doubt, but even those ones I’ll continue to share. Let’s be done with sugar coating life; too much sugar will rot your teeth right out of your head.
We belong to each other and we need each others’ stories to birth hope and faith in the midst of our lives, whether we pant for water in dry desert places, look for light in dark valleys, surrender our fight in lush meadows, or shout for joy from mountain heights.
“Keep open house; be generous with your life” (Mt 5:16, MSG). This, friends, is what I purpose to do.
I hope you will too.
*I trust you understand that by sharing these thoughts I’m in no way meaning to imply that it’s wrong or unhealthy to not “go public” with telling the entire world about your miscarriage or pain. (Pregnancy and loss are highly personal and each woman and family deals with grief differently.) What I am saying is that it is good and healthy to open yourself up to sharing somehow, whether that’s to a small group of trusted friends and family or to a broader group like I have done. There is a freedom in vulnerability that is both scary and liberating all at once, so I encourage you—implore you—to step into that wide open space, as scary as it sometimes seems. I believe you’ll find healing there, and I wholeheartedly believe you’ll also find opportunity to be a part of someone else’s healing. (And this, friends, is a beautiful and life-giving thing all around!) If you’d like to read stories from other women about grief and loss, there are several stories linked here (check out the comments as well). I also have a Pregnancy Loss & Grief pinterest board with some resources that may be of help or comfort to you.