My daughter Liza turned one year old in December. Her birthday party had all the classic traditions like streamers, balloons, doting relatives, and a smiling girl with her face covered in chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. My husband, Peter and I enjoyed the party even more than Liza did as it was a celebration of the new family member who we had wanted for so long.
At our wedding at Channing Memorial Church in 2004, we exchanged vows in front of the congregation that we had written ourselves. As our officiant had us repeat after him, Peter added a word that demonstrated his enthusiasm. Instead of saying, “I look forward to starting a family with you”, Peter blurted out “I SO look forward to starting a family with you!”
As much as we both longed to be parents, it turned out not to be as easy as we had imagined. After spending years trying not to become pregnant, I discovered that conceiving was not as simple as no longer using birth control and took much longer than we anticipated. Once I was pregnant, I fully expected to carry the baby full-term. However, after a very public announcement, I suffered a miscarriage.
I recognize that it may be shocking for a minister to be so candid about this subject. However, the reason for my disclosure is that after the miscarriage, I discovered how many people experience similar heartache. The journey to becoming a parent is often not as smooth as it is commonly portrayed. Despite all the beaming couples on television, quite simply, a positive pregnancy test result does not necessarily mean you will have a baby. Twenty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. For many couples who are having children later in life, the odds are even higher.
Nothing had prepared me for the bereavement associated with a miscarriage. Even though the Doctor assured us that this was an isolated event most likely due to some sort of chromosomal error, it was hard to shake the feeling that I was somehow to blame. I was gripped by fear and doubt about our ability to conceive a child.
As I grieved, numerous women and men came forward to share their stories with me. Even though I knew many of these families intimately, I had no idea that so many of them went through the trials of delayed conception, miscarriage, and infertility. One couple thought they would never have a child after recurring miscarriages. However, they have a beautiful daughter who is an active member of our church. Someone gave me a book explaining natural ways to enhance fertility. Others described how adoptions made their families complete.
There is a weight of silence around the subject of conception that must be lifted. It is important for anyone who would like to be a parent to understand that miscarriage and complications are a common occurrence. There is no need to feel shame or anxiety in isolation. Chances are many people you know have experienced similar struggles.
Even those who choose to have no children, or are far removed from that stage of life, can relate for we never know exactly how life will unfold. It is difficult living in a place of cautious optimism. Each one of us is expecting whether it is a new job, a search for a romantic partner, learning a new skill, trying a new routine, overcoming addiction, healing from a loss, opening ourselves to new people or places or ways of being. Let us break the silence about the reality of failure and miscarriage. In so doing, we can support one another in healing and open our hearts to the miracles of living.