for you, bean

Jesus didn’t let us know our child had died.

He didn’t tell us as we drove across Texas, giggling about names, wondering whether it was a boy or a girl.

He didn’t tell us as we hiked desert trails in Big Bend, photographing my wife’s belly against the backdrop of mountain vistas – or as we videotaped cute messages to our child each evening, explaining all the things we’d seen that day.

He didn’t tell us when we drove back to Maryland and announced joyously, over pizza with our best friends, that we were pregnant.

Jesus calls us His friends, for everything He knew from His Father, He made known to us.  Everything, apparently, except for the devastating news about our child.

That was why, after my wife had carried our baby’s remains inside her for two and a half weeks, we walked into the obstetrician’s office for our first ultrasound, expectant and giddy.

* * * * *

In Oklahoma, next to a highway gas station in a little souvenir shop painted in Native American patterns, I bought a buffalo.

We were just passing through but decided we’d find my brother a Christmas ornament. He was born in Oklahoma but had never been back.

“Look,” Karyn said, bending to lift up a stuffed buffalo. “Feel how soft.”

That wasn’t why we were there. Male task orientation: find ornament, buy ornament, get back on highway. “Humph,” I grunted.

“No, feel it.” She was right – it was soft, one of the softest stuffed animals I’d ever felt. Lifelike, too. I’d seen my first live buffalo only two years earlier and had been enthralled.

“Let’s get it.” Her eyes sparkled. “For our bean.”

I dropped it back in the bin, mumbling about the price. We resumed our ornament search. But after a minute or two I glanced back at the pile of little buffaloes, sidled over, picked one up.

Karyn had videotaped me in North Dakota, beholding my first buffalo: my brows raised, my eyes absorbing, my disbelieving smile as big as the plains. The doll in my hands was quite accurate – furry hump, lowered head, chin-to-chest goatee, tufted tail. I rubbed the soft hide against my cheek, testing. Then I rummaged through the bin for the most perfect one.

It was expensive, yes … and a fun warmth swelled in me with the realization that I had a baby I could spoil.

Other babies had stuffed bears, stuffed lions, stuffed dogs. Ours, still no bigger than a bean, would have a stuffed buffalo, and an unspoken promise of one day seeing his or her own live buffalo in the wild.

We’d shared the news of our pregnancy with almost no one – just our mothers and a few friends. But there at the register in that nowhere stop in Oklahoma, I couldn’t help bragging to the grandmotherly cashier: “I’m buying this for my baby.”

* * * * *

Dimness in the ultrasound room. A sharp, indrawn breath. Fingers squeezing my hand.

“Maybe it’s too soon to see the heartbeat,” Karyn said without exhaling.

In reply, a solemn grimace beneath downcast eyes.

“Okay,” she said, brave, gut tight. “What are my options?” And started bawling.

Unable to speak, unable to move, I watched her bawling. The doctor had to hug her because time was stuck, and I had no mind.

* * * * *

Thirty-six hours later, two days before her birthday, Karyn sat on a gurney, chatting with the nurses as they waited for the operating room. She’d had a “missed miscarriage”: our child had died, but her womb slogged on as if everything was normal. A procedure was needed to remove the remains.

“I just want it out of me,” she’d muttered earlier, upset by the thought of the “little skeleton” inside her. She’d been hollow and flat until we arrived at the hospital, but as they prepared her for the operating room she reanimated. Soon it would be over. We’d be back on the upswing, progressing away from death toward hope. We would always remember our child, of course; we just wanted to remember from a distance, as far away from the present as possible.

I’ll never forget the distracted look on her face as they rolled her, chatting with the nurses, toward the operating room, her mind intent on anything but what was happening.

An hour later I was informed that the procedure had gone smoothly, Karyn was in recovery, but she had come out of the anesthesia too quickly and was very emotional. They wanted me to come back on the condition that I would coax her back to sleep.

That was when I learned there was something else Jesus didn’t tell me.

Jesus didn’t tell me how it would be, finding my wife caught between alertness and anesthesia, eyes shut, subconscious bleeding. He didn’t tell me how I would feel holding her hands, wiping the hot tears washing her cheeks as she wept

where is my baby
I want my baby
I’m so cold
I feel so empty
my tummy feels flat already
could the doctor tell if it was a boy or a girl
I feel so lonely inside
so lonely inside

God had taken the life of our child. My wife was utterly crushed in her innermost spirit. And Jesus never told me that that hour was coming, that hour of sitting there, helpless, holding her hands, staring at death’s cold void, having nothing of comfort to say, trying to shake the faithless instinct to protect my wife from God.

* * * * *

Pain spliced us together like blood brothers at the heart. In a whole new way I understood that I would never, could never leave this woman. I had heard her deepest spirit, and it was selfless, protective, noble. The love in our marriage had always been strong; now it was a love that stood against death.

We worried how our mothers would fare. They needed this baby. Divorce, unemployment, housing problems, sibling conflicts had taken their toll. On Thanksgivings and Christmases we all seemed like a group of refugees barely holding things together. In the middle of their beaten lives, our pregnancy was a precious encouragement, a gift of life. Our family was growing. They would be grandmothers for the first time. Listening to them laughing as they picked out their “grandmother names” was better than invigorating – it was healthy.

Then God placed a knife in our hands, with no choice but to plunge it into our mothers’ hearts.

We felt like the death angel, dreading those phone calls. Stolid, I held Karyn as she informed her mom through steady tears. Then it was time to call my own mom, with Karyn holding me. “Are you sitting down?” I asked her.

“What is it?” she asked, a bit excited. She’d known about the ultrasound appointment and had joked about twins.

“No, Mom, are you sitting down? On the floor. I need you to tell me you’re sitting on the floor.”

“Okay.” Her tone quavered. “I’m on the floor.”

“Mom –” I said, and plunged in the blade, weeping.

* * * * *

Both teachers, my wife and I began the school year with our students three days later. How we managed that, we still don’t understand. Neither of us felt the usual first day jitters.

Other things were different. Karyn had to prepare herself to teach the entire school year, instead of stopping midway. Our plans for a summer vacation to Hawaii, which we’d gleefully canceled after the positive pregnancy test, were joylessly penciled back in. The small set of books and toys and onesies that had already accumulated in our house were shut away in a plastic bin. We pulled away from all but a handful of friends and family members. We had liked who we were becoming as parents. That gone, we no longer recognized our lives.

And we dreaded March 29.

A matter of statistics, the doctor said. One out of every five pregnancies. Things would go better next time. Despite those assurances, we were stunned by the possibility that we might not be able to have children, and by the prospect of the rest of our lives flavored by grief.

There were little blessings: at least we were together when we learned our bean was dead. Our mothers lived nearby and could grieve with us. We’d become pregnant on the first try, the first month, rather than having to wait. We had the hope of fertility. And Karyn, who had been reluctant to share the news of our pregnancy with a best friend who’d suffered two miscarriages, suddenly found herself able to commiserate.

And we still trusted the God who had crushed us. “When times are good, be happy,” the Book of Ecclesiastes counsels, “but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” We’d placed our hope in God for years; becoming embittered with Him in a time of grief seemed spineless. In a rock-hard way, we sought to affirm His place in our lives, even as we grieved His actions – to be like Job, who said after the death of his children, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

At least we’d celebrated that little life strongly while it was with us. Roadtrips always bring out the best in us, and in the Southwest we were conscious of our new traveling companion every mile of the way. (Rarely has a child so young seen so much.) Weeks after the miscarriage, Karyn told me that while she was pregnant, she’d often caught herself swaying her hips when alone. Singing to our bean.

* * * * *

Six and a half weeks of fetal growth, the sonographer had estimated – two weeks younger than the amniotic sac. That launched me into the calendar, counting back to the approximate day our bean had died: camping in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas.

Was it the heat? The strenuous hikes? The stench of guano at Carlsbad Caverns the day before? The cumulative unrest of a three-week roadtrip?

Or was it that night in Guadalupe after all, that harrowing storm that had raged through the darkness like a tornado, descending from the mountains like the hand of God, dashing our tent into the mud and sending us scurrying, rain-blasted, into our car until sleepless dawn?

Were those winds the wings of seraphim, escorting our child’s soul into heaven?

Sinking beneath unknowables, I fixated on the two weeks of ignorance. Our bean was already dead when we diverted our roadtrip through Atlanta, through Columbia, through Charlotte to share our happy news with family and friends. Already dead as we recorded silly video messages about our trip. Already dead as I prayed daily for our baby’s health and strength and intelligence, and for a safe delivery.

Couldn’t God have extended the courtesy of telling us?

The week after the miscarriage I wrote “Beheld,” a poem about our loving ignorance. I’m no poet, yet it seemed right to try to honor our child in words.

.
how dumb we must have sounded
then, with the sonographer.

“What a lot of room in there!”
and – “Will you print us a copy?”
and – “When is the revised due date?”
and – “It’s beautiful …”

not knowing
it wasn’t supposed to be hide-and-seek.

scanning the darkness we were told was fluid –
angle after angle,
gray shapes coalescing and dissolving
(“Where are you?” in a sing-song voice) –
seemed a part of the mystery
as we leaned forward, expectant,
awaiting a revelation.

“I think –” and “I think –”

finally we had to say,
“So that is our baby?”
a thoughtful nod
flooded us with recognition.

out of the whole black space –

a tiny, silent, perfect ring of light.
inside, like the color of a glass marble,
a twist of gray,
and along the circumference
little points of brilliance,
newborn stars on a nebula’s edge,
delicate and still.

we’d seen glacial mountains, caribbean reefs,
but nothing as perfect as you.

“It’s beautiful …”

those were the words that
prompted the sonographer
to direct our attention to certain consequential facts –
you were two weeks smaller than the placenta
no bloodflow was reaching you through the umbilical cord
in fact, you had no
heartbeat

you left us then
to take your place in darkness
words cannot fill.

at least –

I’m glad we got to see you.
some parents never do.

and as dumb as we must have sounded
then, with the sonographer,
I’m glad we said you were beautiful,
because you were.

* * * * *

Like the poem, this piece is written for you, bean.

Forgetting is impossible, of course. But time does pass, healing does occur, and even excruciating memories telescope into dreams. As I write these words, Karyn and I are just one week away from the due date of our second child – a little boy that, despite our fears, has stretched and rolled and kicked his way into our hearts.

No one child can replace another. That was apparent right from the beginning when, despite our relief at the positive pregnancy test so soon after the miscarriage, we found ourselves reticent, shut off, wholly unlike the utter innocent joy that welcomed our first child. “I don’t sing to the baby,” Karyn confessed to me, “and I know that’s wrong.”

At eight weeks, bracing ourselves in the terror of the ultrasound room, we heard words of life: “There’s a pulse!” How wonderful to see that minute rhythm for ourselves, to feel an unconscious “Why, hello there!” come to our lips. “Beat beat beat, you little squirt,” I breathed, moistened eyes fixed on that quick, determined pulse. “Just you keep on beating.”

And so we were able to give our mothers hope in time for Christmas. Yet it was bittersweet, bringing to mind what could have been.

* * * * *

Summer in Hawaii? Canceled again – this time nervously. Our second pregnancy has not been without its own fears. Bloody threats of another miscarriage. Preterm labor signs at seven months. And in the back of our minds, as delivery looms, a friend who labored twenty hours after finding out her child was already stillborn.

“It’ll never be over, will it?” Karyn asked when the preterm labor signs began. “We’ll always worry. Even after he’s born.”

I’d struggled with the fact that Jesus kept us ignorant about our child’s death for two weeks, but that was a mask for the real issue: pain had blindsided us. God didn’t keep us ignorant forever. We were together when we found out, and with a doctor, who could reassure us about what had happened. Would the alternative have been better – Karyn bleeding by herself in a campground restroom, and then the long drive home from Texas in grief?

Two weeks, two days, two minutes – what disturbed me wasn’t the delay. It was that God had structured life itself so that we couldn’t see tragedies coming. Jesus calls us His friends, yet keeps His silence as we stumble through time with blinders on, oblivious to pitfalls in the road ahead, pitfalls He can see clearly.

But time, though it steals upon us unsuspected, also works its healing.

We were able to meet March 29 with the hope of another pregnancy. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, though tinged with sadness, also were freighted with hope. And now we struggle with shame because months of listening to heart monitors, feeling the kicks of hidden legs, and reading children’s books into Karyn’s belly have succeeded in fading our pain and loss.

If last August we could have glimpsed ourselves now, we would have called it impossible. God, who took the life of our first child, is slowly, month by month, healing us in our innermost spirits.

There’s no guarantee that in a week our second child will be born healthy. He could have physical defects. He could be mentally handicapped. He could be stillborn. Or everything could go swimmingly, only for him to be run over by a truck at the age of five.

We can only appreciate each day’s blessings while they last, and trust God with a little perspective. Through the valleys and the hills, the raptures and the depressions, we have no guarantee except that God is good, and that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him.

* * * * *

Midway through the second trimester, Karyn and I finally cracked the seal of our bean’s plastic bin. It was a time capsule – those blue and green onesies, the red toy octopus, that board book about oceans. Seeing them again wasn’t easy, but our bean would want Little Brother to make good use of them, so we set them all up in the nursery.

All except for the stuffed buffalo, the small spark that had lit my heart with a father’s love. It was in there, too. The cushy hide was still soft on my cheek.

The buffalo didn’t last in the nursery ten minutes before I brought it back to our bedroom to keep for our own.

.

.

copyright © 2005, michael w. hobson

14 Responses to “for you, bean”

  1. Mike Says:

    I would like to feel the buffalo’s softness once again. Thanks for sharing the story and your heart. I look forward to meeting this little bean of yours, this little one who so captured the hearts of his mom and dad.

    I am in no way a seasoned literary critic. But I do read quite a bit. For me, a writer’s style and his “readability” strikes me early, and I determine, maybe unfairly, from his opening paragraphs if I am going to like what I am reading. Maybe enjoy is a better word than like … if what he has to say is good for me to hear, liking what he is saying kind of misses the point. For me, the way it is said makes all the difference. I liked what you said and the way you said it. I determined very early in your essay that it was readable, and I couldn’t scroll fast enough.

    By the way, your son’s little face will be even softer than that buffalo of yours.

  2. Desiree Says:

    Please consider copywriting this work (if you haven’t already) and sending it in to pregnancy magazines. I would also like to have your permission to share this with patients suffering the loss of a child as you have. Personally, I appreciate your most sincere and honest expression, through words, concerning your most precious little bean; and I find encouragement in the strength and weakness and then great faith you came to know through your “bean.” Thank you for sharing. Thank you for loving your “bean.” Thank you for loving your mothers. Thank you for sharing your “bean” with us in both your excitement and your grief. Thank you for loving one another more deeply than ever before … this is most evident even without having read this beautiful account of your hearts. I love you both dearly and look forward to the debut of your son. With all my love.

  3. Dan Says:

    Wow! That was very moving. I don’t really have much to say in response to that; but I guess I’ll say “thank you” for your transparency. I certainly don’t want to discourage you, but you are right about one thing – you won’t stop worrying once he is born. The first week of my son’s life, I don’t think I got an hour of uninterupted sleep. And still, I go into his room at random moments of the night, just to make sure he’s still breathing. I still worry when anyone but Julie or me is holding him – including my own parents. And now that we are letting him cry it out at night, I worry about how this will affect him emotionally. The one thing I find comfort in is that he is not mine. The Lord has placed him with Julie and I temporarily and he is merely on loan. We have the responsibility to keep him as safe as we can, but the fact is he doesn’t belong to me. So, I try to trust the Lord and continually let go. Sometimes I do a good job and sleep well, sometimes my flesh takes over and I toss and turn. So, you’re not alone.

    I don’t think men get the opportunity to talk about stuff like this. Thanks again for your honesty. We’ll see you when your little boy makes his debut. Until then, you will be in our prayers.

  4. Marta Says:

    What a heartfelt story. I love your poem (and I’m not a poem lover). I read it numerous times – it’s absolutely beautiful. Does it bring back memories of our loss? Most definitely – the sorrow, guilt, all of it. I was touched by your words about your marriage. So often the loss of a child devastates the marriage, but like yours, ours survived and was strengthened by an unbelievable bond of faith. As incredible as it may seem at the time, we have to remember that God never gives us anything we cannot handle. His time is not our time, and His methods may not always be easily understood, but His love is undying.

    Years ago, when one of my husband’s clients worked for one of the leading pediatricians in town, she was helping a young girl who was suffering from leukemia. The little girl often had nose bleeds and the nurse sat with her holding gauze to her nose until the bleeding stopped. As the nurse tried to calm down the little girl, the mother mentioned she had told her daughter that she needed to do what the doctor told her to do in order to get better. The little girl looked up at the nurse and replied, “Yes, and God told me He would come for me in two weeks and I would be all better.” The nurse smiled and both she and the mother reassured the little girl she would get better. However, she died in her sleep in her home two weeks later just as she had indicated God had told her. I can’t help but think that these children that are taken from us are closer to God than the angels in heaven. What a privilege it is to have been chosen as their parents! How joyfully and innocently she accepted his message. We have to do the same and understand that death is not the end, but the beginning.

    God has blessed you and your wife with another child. Don’t ever feel guilty if you momentarily forget about your little bean. It will happen, and that’s okay. Your child is waiting for you in heaven. God has blessed you with another wonderful gift of life, and knows you and Karyn will love, nurture, and treasure him. That’s all He asks.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

  5. Sandra Says:

    I would highly recommend this piece to those who have not experienced the heartbreak of losing a child. Your ability to put your grief into words is awe-inspiring.

    Even more awe-inspiring is the realization that we have the unconditional love of a God who freely allows us to hate and detest His plan for our lives – a God who loves us through the hate until we are back on our knees in gratitude for that incredible love of His. It’s higher/bigger than my brain can grasp oftimes. It takes me to the highest place where my spirit has to speak for me because words – just – fail!

  6. Kate Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing with us this extremely touching tribute to your first baby. I had previously read the poem “Beheld” on your website and found both of these to be truly moving and beautiful. As you said, it seems right to try to honor your child in words – not letting this little one be forgotten – and you accomplished that task in a way that brings dignity and import to your little one’s life and death. By sharing your writing with us and others, you acknowledge your child as a person who you loved, and you have let us see your vulnerability and a little bit of what you went through with this miscarriage. Thank you for letting us see your grief and your love for your child. I just finished reading a book on infertility and child loss, and the author comments on what sometimes seems to be a double standard among pro-life Christians – seeing every aborted child as a valuable life that was lost, but treating a miscarriage as something that “wasn’t even a baby yet.” Your piece saves your child from this sad fate, giving value to the too-few weeks that he/she had.

  7. Bryan Says:

    Very touching story. As I read it, I was reminded of my wife’s twin sister, who’s had two (three?) miscarriages, and two children. We’ve had three children – no miscarriages. Why? I have no earthly clue. Perhaps because God knew I’d never be able to handle such pain.

    As to honestly, I skimmed the last paragraphs about the second child. I think the story climaxed too early for all the details about the second child. But that’s just me.

  8. Bert Says:

    I was blessed when I read your story of despair and hope. My wife and I recently welcomed our first child, Noah, into the world this past October. Boonie, his nickname, arrived in a hospital room five thousand miles away from me. I’m a soldier in Iraq, and I volunteered to spend all but two weeks away from my expectant wife. I was tracking with you; the not knowing, the anxious moments. The entire pregnancy for me was that way – never knowing exactly how wife and child were doing. I’ll be home soon in January to spend some good quality time with my new family.

    You lost your son. But, in some small way, he didn’t miss out on anything. He became human just long enough to bring you and your wife closer together before he went home to be with Christ. And now Bean – I love that nickname – is making a way for you.

    I missed my son’s birth. In the Army, you miss so very much. But the anticipation of seeing him for the first time is more than I can bear. I can’t even fathom what the moment will be like. Just as I’m sure your anticipation for seeing Bean will grow as life, or basic training, comes to an end for you. Think about that – when you go home, you’ll get to see Christ and your son.

    Thanks for sharing your story! God bless.

  9. Jim Says:

    Amazing story. As I told you I have had a similar loss. You have inspired me to write about it. I never thought I would because I thought this was only for my wife and I. Even though our spirits were crushed, we now had this connection through trajedy. We were already in love but now something else made us one. I always felt that if I wrote it down for others to read that it would leave us somehow and everyone would get a piece. Enough time has passed now that I can see that is nonsense. One thing I know, and I’m sure you feel the same way – as much pain as this has caused us (the constant memory of watching Faith’s heart stop moving through her chest as she cradled in my arms; going through eight hours of labor knowing I’d only have minutes with my two daughters before they left us) – if you took it all away, I would go through it all again. Just to have their memory.

    Great job. You are very talented.

  10. Fran Says:

    We never forget the details … every last detail. I’m sorry for your loss.

  11. jboats Says:

    The emotions of parents amaze me. The closeness in which life brings us to our partners is what love is to me. The intimate moments that bond us together. Loyalty, commitment, shared experiences I believe bring us to a love that is a rougher, more conscious love. More visceral. Listening to you speak about your love is powerful. Listening to how you and your bride handled an absolutely devastating time in your life is also something to behold. You struggled and had the strength to move forward. My mom-in-law still recognizes the miscarriage she had some 40 years ago. My wife’s family does not deny there was a death. It is part of their family history. Now part of mine.

  12. Josh Says:

    I would definitely recommend this story to other readers. I think it may help other parents with the pain, suffering, and misunderstanding of the way God and life sometimes works. Though I have never been through this particular tragedy, I have lived through many in my life and I know that the understanding that I am not alone has been a constant light in my path. My spirituality has always been there to sustain me, even through my darkest hours. Though I have never met you, I can tell by your words above that you are a wonderful husband and caring person. God bless and thank you for sharing this piece of your heart. I know it will help many people.

  13. when ben was born « seedlings Says:

    […] ben was born Just before my son was born, I wrote a memoir to the child we lost to miscarriage.  It was a small way to capture thoughts, feelings and memories before they faded […]

  14. *Stina Says:

    This just brings up so many emotions for me and I’m not even a parent. In an indirect way, though, I’ve always dealt with the loss of children through miscarriage my entire life. My mom lost both a boy and a girl about 25 years ago, in between the births of my older sister and brother.

    The four of us always knew about our “siblings” growing up, that mom had two stillborn babies that she got to hold for the first/last time. Sometimes when my mom would talk about it (even now) she would cry a little at the loss of her children. My younger sister and I often wonder if we would have even been born had the other two not passed. We make reference to them and know we will meet them in Heaven some day and as I type this I cry at their absence and I’ve never even known them.

    It’s absolutely impossible to know the awesome wonder that is God and His plan for the grand scheme of things. My biggest questions often circle around the deaths of loved ones and how things may have been had they not gone to Him. I can’t imagine what you and your wife must have gone through to experience this and to share it with the world, but thank you for your openness and the honesty of your faith.

    May God bless and strengthen your growing family.

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