In the summer of 2011 I watched the Adam Sandler movie Grown Ups a dozen or more times. I craved it almost as much as I crave chocolate. Why? Because watching the family dynamics was helping me name a longing I didn’t understand.
Throughout most of my twenties I was convinced I would never have children. I wanted my freedom. I didn’t want to inflict my psychiatric genetics on another being. I was nervous around infants. And anyway, I wasn’t physically healthy enough to bear a child even if I wanted to. But in my early thirties as my health got stronger, things began to change.
I remember waking up one morning and feeling a little pulse, a drum beat, in my womb. I started looking at children in the grocery store with a new awe. Over the following months the drum beat grew stronger, louder.
The biological clock is no joke.
After five years of taking a mood stabilizer my body felt toxic. I was doing well, and with the help of my psychiatrist I was able to get off the medication. During that month I joined two of my dearest friends – both of whom were pregnant with their second child – and their families for a reunion weekend. I cried myself to sleep one night because by then I wanted a child but wasn’t sure I could do it.
There are two kinds of emptiness: the emptiness of loss; and the emptiness of possibility and desire. Mine was the emptiness of possibility.
As the gravity of desire grew stronger, the emptiness in my body and soul grew wider, making room for a new kind of life.
It was at this same time that I began writing my first novel. The story filled my imagination and renewed my spiritual energy. One of the first scenes I wrote, which takes place in the later third of the novel, was the birth of Imogen—the ten-year old, fairy like child who attached herself to me everywhere I went. I felt her sitting on my shoulder and carrying an energy I could not name.
And that’s when my prayer started. God, if there is a being who wants to be born through me, let them come.
With this one prayer I moved from “no” to “yes.” Without knowing it I echoed Mary’s prayer in Luke, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.*”
We don’t know Mary’s backstory. We don’t know the interior worlds Mary traveled to bring her to the place where she chose to say, “yes.” Perhaps I will write a story about that one day.
When I finally said “yes,” when my body and soul were ready. When my husband said “yes,” I got pregnant in like a day. I was so sick for the first three months I actually lost weight. And then came Christmas 2012.
At 14 weeks I was feeling better. We had a steak dinner Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, the feast of the Incarnation, I came down with a terrible headache. The kind I get when a huge energy shift is about to happen. The next day I went to my doctor’s appointment where I was to hear my child’s heartbeat for the first time.
Only there was no heartbeat. My baby had died. The one I said “yes” to left me.
I woke briefly at the end of the surgery and saw the nurse holding the tiny, bloody fetus. She prayed with me and then I went back into the oblivion. I came out of anesthesia sobbing. I heard someone in the recovery room ask what was wrong. “Miscarriage,” said an unknown voice.
The following months were filled with the emptiness of loss.
And yet within that loss a great creativity surged through my meager body. I completed the first draft of the novel. By July I was pregnant again. Nine months later, Cole entered my life.
Mary could not have known that her “yes” would lead to every parent’s nightmare. But such is the way of things. Such is the mystery. Her “yes” led to joy and horrible grief. My “yes” has led to joy and grief. Because that is what is means to have a body.
*Luke 1:38 NSRV