I recently ran into an acquaintance, someone I had been in a moms’ group with three years ago. Johanna was a leader in the group and had always been kind to me. I’d always admired the classy wool sweaters, capes, and scarves she wore, and I even considered asking her to help me shop for such items but ended up concluding she would think I was too weird if I did that. I decided that by the time you’re in your mid-thirties, you should be able to figure out what to wear yourself.
When I saw this woman last month, she asked what I had been up to recently. I could have said, “Getting ready for the holidays” or “Trying to stay on top of homeschooling,” both of which would have been true. But what I actually said was, “Having a miscarriage.” I specialize in casually bringing up conversation-stoppers. I kept talking, barging through the awkwardness with a torrent of words. “It was pretty late in the pregnancy, I was already eighteen weeks. I mean, it could have been later, I know people who have miscarried later, but the timing was weird because we had just told people, and I was showing, but not so much that anyone would have asked. Then it was hard to tell people we had just told that now the baby had died…” I trailed off, my throat dry and tight. Would I ever figure out how to talk about this easily?
Johanna looked at me kindly and smiled a little. “I’m so sorry,” she said, giving me a warm hug. “Did you know that I had six miscarriages?”
I was aghast. Now I was the one who didn’t know what to say. Six miscarriages?! The nightmare of one was almost more than I could handle: the anticipation and prayers for the baby, the relief after the first trimester was over because ninety percent of miscarriages happen in the first three months, the utter shock at my routine obstetrician appointment when the doctor first said, “Your little love is probably hiding because I don’t hear a heartbeat.” No big deal, I thought, changing positions so my doctor could find the baby. “Let’s just take a look on the ultrasound,” she said after still no heartbeat was heard. And then: “I’m so sorry, the baby is gone.”
Six miscarriages? Johanna was a woman who was so well put-together, who laughed easily, who always dressed beautifully and knew what to do with her hair. She didn’t seem worn down or hollowed out, the way I felt. I knew she had two sons, and I knew they were ten years apart. And honestly, I had judged her. “A decade apart,” I thought. “She’s probably the type who has to have everything in place in order to have a child. I bet her house is really clean. I bet she didn’t want to deal with baby spit again so soon and so she waited to have another one.”
In this fourth week of Advent, we read in the gospel of Luke about Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. Both pregnant, they rejoice in each other’s company, and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy because Jesus is present in Mary’s womb. Mary’s next words are called the Magnificat, a hymn of praise magnifying the Lord.
“…the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Luke 1:49-51 ESV
I stared at Johanna and finally said, “Six miscarriages? I am so sorry.”
She said, “Didn’t you ever wonder why my kids are so far apart?”
I stared blankly again, thinking, “Why yes I did, but I came to a different conclusion.”
In that short conversation, God scattered my proud, incorrect thoughts. He dissolved the judgments of my assuming heart. He reminded me to look beyond my comfortable conclusions and remember that “His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him” (Luke 1:50, The Message). Johanna and I spoke for a few more minutes about the difficulties of miscarriage, we embraced, and she left. I drove to my little son’s grave, more deeply aware than ever that everyone suffers, everyone judges, and everyone can receive grace.