Many moons ago I was given the chance to read a new book called Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. I said a trepidatious yes. I am not, as someone else once said, a great reader. I am a slow reader, covered with distractions and forgetfulness. Moreover, I try, as much as I can, to avoid all things sad and troublesome in my reading. One reason I will probably never be able to write a novel is because I cannot bear to think of anything upsetting that might drive a plot forward. And, in this world, it is hard to find something more heartbreaking than Miscarriage and Infertility.
The women and men who contributed to this book have looked into the face of all kinds of loss and been able to say, in the most extraordinary way, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ I found my heart in my throat, page after page, surprised, in turns, by grief and hope.
The book is comprised of brief vignettes by women, and some men, in different proximity to their various losses. Some are right in the grasp of raw pain. Others stand farther off, looking backwards. Some write from the consolation of having, finally, a living child. Others write with resignation that it will never be so. They are not describing what it is like for a person who loose a child, or to struggle to get pregnant, they are in the thick of it, unveiling loss and disappointment for anyone who pauses to look.
I found myself undone, having to stop often and look with fresh eyes at my own children. It’s easy to be swept up in the busyness of life and forget what you have right in front of you. One of the essential properties of femaleness is bearing children–bearing them with your own flesh, burdening them along into the world, finding consolation in their health and joy. Most of us expect that it will just happen and don’t think about it too much. When it doesn’t, the one for whom it doesn’t faces more than a loss of expectation. It is the loss of something essential to her nature and who she is.
And other people can only really stand there and watch. Or mouth foolishness. I know I certainly have done. The onlooker might worry and pray, and make things worse. And the one in grief goes on feeling isolated and alone.
That is the grief. But I was constantly surprised by hope as I turned over the pages. God cares for the child, we all know that. But we don’t give much thought for the gracious consolations of the mother by God, nor for the heartbroken father. For the Christian, suffering isn’t random, isn’t cruel, however sharp and unbearable. These writers lay bear the internal, private, outpouring of God’s mercy in their grief. What did he say? What didn’t he? How did they go on? What did they learn? It’s all there.
The bitterness of the Christian is her own consolation. I am always angry at God for bringing me low, but it is only in the suffering of grief that I can really see him, clearly, and understand his own suffering for me. It’s not just that he died for every one, he died for each one, each loss, for each baby.
If you are newly in grief, facing a loss just now, this might be too tough to read. Or, it might be exactly the right thing for where you are. You might read a chapter, as I did, and let it mellow before going on to the next one. I felt myself grieving for everything, as I read, in a good way. I have never lost a child. Nor struggled to conceive. But I found myself looking at my five year old, and suddenly realizing that there might not be any others. The Lord gave, wonderfully, and he doesn’t seem to be giving any more. And because mothering is an essential property of my nature, I felt desolate. Which I tried very hard to turn around to prayer, for the desolation of others who will not, in this life, be comforted.
I hope you will give this book a look, and read it in whatever situation you find yourself. And if you give one away, give it with cautions of the realness on each page. This is not an escape, nor instructions on how to grieve, nor some way to make everything alright. It is the articulation of God’s real goodness in the face of unbearable loss. Have you never seen the suffering one praise God? You will here.