How could something so joyous be draped in such fear?
I didn’t believe the line in the home pregnancy test last week, but then again I never really believed I was pregnant last year, even when I saw my baby’s heartbeat on an ultrasound. Ten weeks later when another ultrasound showed that same heart utterly still, I remember thinking, It was too good to be true.
My baby -- the little miracle, the unexpected wonder making me throw up and sleep constantly only a few weeks into a brand-new marriage -- was gone.
It’s more than a year later and now, the doctors say, there’s another child inside me. Another baby, smaller than the head of a pin and already I love it more than I can imagine.
And I am completely and utterly terrified.
That first time around, I remember blithely skipping over the chapters on miscarriage (or the more tactful “pregnancy loss”) in the books I was reading -- that wasn’t going to happen to me. I was a gestating a miracle; I was flying beyond high.
Only months before, I’d written a piece about struggling through unwanted singlehood as Rosh Hashana dawned. I asked Aish.com readers to pray for me and by Yom Kippur, I’d met the man I would marry. A few months later, on the afternoon of my wedding, I poured out my gratitude and gladness in another article -- because I truly believed that the prayers of readers had helped me and others.
I felt catapulted into the next stage of my life, amazed and overwhelmed at how, in the blink of an eye, my salvation had come and my life had been utterly transformed.
My husband was everything I had ever dreamt of -- more loving, upright, adoring and accomplished than I had ever imagined. And he even came with a few things I’d wanted: kids, who live with us.
I wanted step-kids, in part because I got married at 'A Certain Age' when the biological clock is ticking more loudly than ever but moving far slower. Having step-kids would ensure that I had someone to give my love to, even if they weren’t my own. And, ever-practical-me concluded, if I was able to have a kid or two, I wanted to be able to give them brothers and sisters.
I figured we’d wait a while and then go to whatever clinics we needed and jump through whatever hoops we’d have to. So I was rather surprised when my new doctor explained that the exhaustion I couldn’t shake from the flu that I’d caught a week after the wedding was, in fact, a baby.
I was almost embarrassed by the Divine abundance. My husband, my step-kids… and now this. So fast! And now I was sleeping through half of it.
Our First Loss
At six weeks, the doctor was concerned by something and sent us for a hospital ultra-sound. That’s when we saw the heartbeat, assuring us that everything was okay. Plus, my symptoms were getting worse: Alongside the constant exhaustion, I needed energy to run to the bathroom to throw up. I found it oddly comforting and my mother-in-law was delighted since everyone knows that that sort of sickness is a good sign.
I had trust in God. But then there was that tiny heart, not moving.
I kept thinking, God is with us. I was filled with faith. So I wasn’t worried at all when, after a check-up, the doctor sent us to the hospital again. With my worsening symptoms (“You’re throwing up? Great!”), she wasn’t worried either -- she just figured her office’s ultrasound machine wasn’t working well. We drove the half hour to the hospital, chatting happily. I even turned to my husband and said, “You’re not worried, right? We both know God is in charge. He’s taking care of everything…” I had trust in God.
But then there was that tiny heart, not moving. God was in charge, and this was the decision He made.
I was married not even four months and already we lost a child. The next year was a blur: I had complications following the miscarriage that took nearly six months to resolve. My hormones went crazy, I gained weight, I had to have surgery to correct something that had gone wrong during the pregnancy. It took nearly a year until my body felt familiar to me. We were ready to try again.
After a few months of nothing, my doctor sent us to a fertility clinic. At my age, she explained, you can’t waste time. I sat in the waiting room the first time, surrounded by grim-faced women past A Certain Age -- none of us wanted to be there, of course -- thinking that this is just stupid. God decides who lives and who dies, and who gets to give life and who won’t. Not some doctor.
There was nothing wrong, the doctor told me. “We really don’t know why some people get pregnant and others don’t,” she explained.
I knew that already. I’m a rational person, but I also believe devoutly that God runs the world. So many times I’d cried and screamed at Him, Why did you get me pregnant only for me to lose the baby? Were you toying with me?
At least I knew that I could get pregnant.
But I knew -- the insane complications notwithstanding -- that it was a blessing. At least I knew that I could get pregnant. I know of too many women who try for years and years, treatment after treatment. It was a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. Something, ultimately, to be grateful for.
When I said that to a woman in my new community, who had been married five years and didn’t yet have children, she swallowed and looked down. “I am so glad you know that,” she said quietly. “I wasn’t going to point it out, but it’s so true.”
When I lost my baby, I was reassured by friend after friend who’d lost pregnancies – most early, but some at five, even six months. They all went on to have babies. It seemed like I had more friends who’d lost at least one pregnancy than ones who had never. Everyone assured me that I’d be pregnant again soon…
And now, more than a year later and a few cycles of hormones, it seems I am.
Round Two: Pregnant with Fear
And I am suffused with fear. I had bitachon, complete reliance on the Divine the last time around. I didn’t worry, I didn’t fret. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude. When the doctor back then said not to worry, I didn’t. I just felt the great blessing growing inside of me.
And yet that baby is gone. I needed to know if he had a soul (probably), I needed theological explanations for what happened (the best is that the soul was so pure and holy that its heart needed only to beat a few times in this world to accomplish a lifetime’s mission), I needed to understand why God put me through that (and, in truth, sometimes I have a glimmer of understanding as to why – but just a glimmer. That’s the way it works in this world.).
I felt somewhat betrayed, because I had been confident of one thing: That the same God who brought my husband and me together through what seemed like insurmountable odds would be with us in everything we did and in every struggle we had. He was, but not the way I wanted.
And now I'm carrying a baby inside me that is only a few weeks old. I don’t want to tell anyone. Something so joyous is covered over in fear. I want to want this baby, but I am so afraid of losing it. Please, I beg God, this year don’t let my heart break.
Today, the doctor’s office called with some test results – we’re watching to make sure that this is a “good” pregnancy. She was perfectly happy with them but based on the medical degree I’ve earned by reading everything on the web, they could have been better. And my mood plummeted.
This is not what genuine trust in God looks like. So I prayed. I started crying and telling God how much I want this baby and how I am doing the best I can and please please please, I’ll be sick, I’ll have this side effect or that, I’ll control myself even when the raging hormones turn me into a stranger, I’ll go to work when I am in pain and exhausted, I’ll do anything, I know this is all up to You anyway, so just please please please… After a few minutes of this, I asked for inner peace while I am going through this… And suddenly I stopped crying and felt calm.
I know that God is in charge, and I know I am not the only woman going through this.
Two years ago, I wrote about a pain I knew thousands of people shared and I asked you to pray for me and for everyone else. Today, I know I am on to the next step, and again I ask you to pray for me, for my family, and, this time, for my baby. I really want to meet him.
Four Months Later…
I wrote this piece, but didn’t submit it. I guess I was embarrassed; it seemed too personal, too close, too painful.
And then a month later, this baby’s heart stopped too. Even though I wasn’t as shocked as the first time (the nausea and fatigue that had been plaguing and delighting me for months had slipped away the week before), I was still bereft, lost in a sea of grief and disappointment.
A few days after the d&c, a friend told me “the most amazing thing:” The same day that I’d lost the baby, another friend of hers had been dismayed to find out that she was six months pregnant.
Um, yeah. Amazing irony.
But it gets better. Her friend, Jen, not only had her hands full with a house of pre-teens and teens, but she had been trying to end a horrible marriage, and -- to top off the pleasantries on her plate -- was undergoing cancer treatment.
Even though Jen had been in and out of doctors’ offices constantly during the entire six months of her pregnancy, neither she nor the doctors noticed anything -- probably because any nausea, weight gain, fatigue, or other symptoms were mistaken as simple side-effects of the radiation and chemo treatments she’d been undergoing.
“It’s just so incredible,” my friend enthused, “Here, you’re healthy and doing everything you can, your whole family wants this so badly… and the baby dies. And Jen doesn’t know if she’ll be around for her kids’ high school graduations… and now she has to deal with becoming a single mom to a probably sick baby on top of everything else.”
As tears welled, I told my well-intentioned friend that while I imagine I would appreciate the irony at some point, I was not yet there. I believe she got the point and dropped the subject.
For several weeks, I descended further into sadness and anger, resenting my body, resenting God, being horrible to my husband -- able to accept comfort only from my sweet step-son, who told me that he understood why the baby died -- because he hadn’t been praying for the right thing. He’d been praying, he told me, for me to get pregnant, and now he realizes he should have been praying for a healthy baby as well.
I assured him that that’s not how it works, and that he’s not responsible at all, that God collected each and every word of his prayers, and knows exactly what he meant. After all, I explained, God is the One -- the only One -- Who can control whether a baby emerges into the world.
A few months went by, and, thank God, my malaise lifted and Jen -- my friend’s friend -- gave birth to a healthy, thriving, happy, little baby boy.
Only God decides who conceives and who doesn’t, and which babies come into the world and which don’t.
Anticipating that my happiness for Jen might be mixed with sadness for my loss and my continued lack, my friend was more sensitive when she told me. I felt only happiness for her.
In fact, that baby’s birth crystallized for me what I’d told my step-son: God, and only God, decides who conceives and who doesn’t, and which babies come into the world, and which don’t.
A week or two before, we’d gotten back the results of genetic testing on my tiny baby. She was a girl, and she didn’t have enough chromosomes. She never could have survived. Even though everything in this world was lined up “right” for her, she was never going to be in it.
And Jen's baby boy? Conceived while his mother was on birth control that she continued taking until two thirds of the way through pregnancy, exposed in-utero to chemotherapy, radiation, and a mess of who knows what other medicines cancer patients take, his conception was unwanted and he grew in the womb of a woman under enormous pressure of every kind, who was scared for her own future, and terrified for that of her children
He had everything lined up against him, but he was born healthy and is a fat, happy, thriving baby. He is nothing short of a miracle
But aren’t all children? Children are born not merely because of a chance happening of biology, not because of medical technology, not even because of their parents’ fervent wishes, hopes, and prayers. Ultimately, all these things help, but there is only one thing that brings a child into the world: God’s Will.
We can -- and must -- do our work in this world (whether praying, taking vitamins, or subjecting your body to all manner of procedures and hormones), but ultimately the outcome is not under our control. It is up to the Almighty.
And I find that enormously comforting. Just as He sent me loving friends and community to ease my pain when I waited so long to find my husband, just as He sent me a man who exceeded every dream I could have had and made that long wait worth it, just as He has continually taken care of me in every way and sent me guides along my way, He will take care of me now.
And just as He miraculously brought Jen’s son into the world, against every possible scientific odd, He will expand our family and transform me into a joyful mother of children.
Frieidl Liba bas Chava would appreciate your prayers, for her and for other members of klal yisrael who need to get married or have children.