This post is part of Prodigal Magazine’s series on Travel stories.
And then we discovered we were pregnant.
Our church – where Brian was a pastor – was in a difficult time of crisis back in 2005, our friends were hurting, lives were breaking apart. In just a few short days, we were supposed to lead a team of 24 teenagers to Germany on a mission trip. Everything was upside down at the time, nothing was stable, not even our address as we put our plans for a cross-country move on hold, our hearts sorely bruised, I wore disillusionment like a cloak, and we were very, very tired.
And, then we found ourselves expecting a baby. It took a few days for it to sink in. And then we were so happy. We were suddenly dreaming of our baby, discussing names, imagining our back bedroom as a nursery, making and adjusting our plans for this small life. I told Brian that this baby was a gift from God, a special kiss from heaven for us, for such a time as this, new life and all that.
Typical to me at the time, we did not tell a soul except our parents. The plan was to keep it quiet for another week, until we were 12 weeks along. Two days before we were to leave for Germany, I went for my first ultrasound, a routine date confirmation. The technician looked at the screen. Then, she said, matter-of-factly, like we were discussing the weather: “Well, it doesn’t look to me like this baby will live. It will probably be dead in a week or two. Let’s book you for a D&C.”
That night, we laid on the floor in our bedroom, we couldn’t even manage to get into the bed or onto the couch. Brian was flat on his back, crying, tears pooling in his ears, while the ceiling fan hummed above us, I was curled up against him, soaking his shirt with my sorrow. We wanted to call our fellow pastors, we wanted to call the church, we wanted to cancel the Germany trip. Our half-packed suitcases lay beside us. We wanted someone to mourn with us, to be present with us, I unpacked and repacked, over and over, we felt so horribly, terribly alone in our grief, it was yet another loss in this season of loss, and I could not, could not, could not bear it.
But, in my fear, in my pride, and in my distrust of community, we never told anyone. I called the doctor’s office and cancelled the D&C, gently explaining that I could not be the one to say when the pregnancy was over. If it was going to end, it was going to be naturally for me, that felt right. They made it clear to me that I was very foolish.
The next morning, we were at the church, organising the team, reassuring parents, checking passports, calming dramatic teenagers, loading luggage, then flying to Chicago, to Heathrow, to Bonn. We were far from home, in the throes of a womb-deep sorrow.
I loved those kids like family. I still don’t know if they could possibly understand how deeply I loved them, how much comfort we drew from their normalcy, their weirdness, even their rebelliousness, during the days ahead. Every distraction, every mission-trip-disaster, was cause for relief, I wandered through the markets on cobblestone streets, I ate cherries outside of Beethoven’s childhood home, I withdrew, performed the minimums of supervision, I was waiting and waiting and waiting for the end, I didn’t know what to expect, I tried to pray, I tried to believe in miracles.
Maybe the doctors were wrong? Maybe we could keep this one, this one time? Maybe God would show up and change this for us? Please? pleasepleasepleaseplease I talked to the baby every moment, willing him (because by now I was sure it was a boy, you see) to hold on, praying that, somehow, I could keep him. But I knew we wouldn’t, somehow, I knew it was already over.
I stood in the streets of Bonn, and I asked God if he had forgotten me, if he had forgotten us.
There was no answer.
We slept in hostels and pensions for those two weeks. After busy days, running around, open air meetings, driving the autobahn at white-knuckle speeds, getting to know our German and American hosts, listening to my husband preach through interpreters, and hosting barbeques in the former east Germany, we would settle all the teens into their rooms, and retreat to our spartan quarters. We clung to each other in the darkness, not talking, so tired, so scared, just waiting. There were no words left now.
On the way home, somewhere over the Atlantic, I started to bleed. But it slowed, and we landed, we returned the kids to their parents and went home to our empty Texas rancher. Two days later, labour started. I rocked on my hands and knees in our living room, Brian rubbing my back, we were scared and alone. We had our baby, together, just us two, after three hours, our suitcases weren’t put away yet.
That Sunday, I was empty and invisible in every way, and the suitcases were still in the corner of our room. Church was crowded and loud, especially near the stage where we stood after the dismissal. I looked up, and I saw Pastor Karen looking at me, so intently. She had been the pastor at this church, years ago, and was back for visit. We didn’t know each other well, Brian came on staff after she had already left for a new work, but we were acquainted, we saw her every time she came through town, we liked her. I felt drawn to her, somehow, but we never really talked. But that Sunday, she had me in her sights, I could see, she crossed the auditorium, she crouched close to me, her face right close to mine. She held my hands in hers, and, without preamble, whispered that she felt that God had told her something about me, and she wanted to share it. I shrugged, hadn’t God forgotten me? I was unconvinced.
“I looked across the room at you and God showed me that your heart is broken, and you are weary. And,” she lifted my chin and looked me straight in the face, she meant it, I saw this belief, this white-hot knowing, in her, “he wants me to tell you that you are not forgotten.”
“You are not forgotten.”
She said,“Now you know, don’t you? can a mother forget her child? But even if mothers forget, God will never forget you – never. Look, he’s written your names on the backs of his hands.” She wrapped her arms around me, like a mother does, pulled me close to her, she whispered again, “You are loved.”
I rested my head on her shoulder, it was my benediction and release, that day I went home, I put away the suitcases, and stood in my quiet house, I am not forgotten, I am not forgotten, I am not forgotten, and I pulled out the moving boxes, we were going home to Canada.