A Healing at Agate Meadow
A true story from the daring adventure of life
This article appeared in our October 2003 issue.
Ever since I could remember, I had envisioned being a mother. It would simply happen. I imagined how many children I would have, their sexes, their names. As I matured, my desire to be a mother evolved into a deeper, spiritual force, without the specifics. Waiting patiently for years, I embraced the vision of a beloved life partner with whom I could fulfill my dream. This vision vas affirmed when I fell in love with my husband, James. From the beginning, our love flowed beautifully, as if originating from an infinite spring gurgling forth, blessing our lives. We both believed that conceiving a child was the opportunity to manifest more love.
The intensity of this vision hit me profoundly a year into our marriage on a spectacular evening high atop Mt. Shasta. I was at a concert with friends, cradling their precious infant, and as the music and beauty of the night sky made me dizzy with joy, I looked at this baby’s pure face and back at the stars. “If it’s God’s will,” my heart said to this little one, “send a little spirit friend to bless our lives.”
Two weeks later, two bars appeared on the little plastic stick that signaled our fate. Joy and disbelief were intermingled as I tiptoed to James’ side. “Hey, guess what?” I whispered, waving the stick. We held each other, believing that dreams do come true.
Being “older” potential parents, we cherished each moment. From the time we awoke each day, we honored the life we had created from our love. I talked to our tiny child of my awe, honor, and joy. I sang to the baby every day and followed its development with wonder. There was no greater gift than to feel life growing inside me, to hear the steady, determined whooshing heart of what would become our child.
Two and a half months into the pregnancy, our celebration halted in a dripping of blood. We relied on my midwife’s advice of bed rest and herbs to attempt to save the pregnancy. I swore that I would stand on my head for days on end if it would save our baby. One week and several ultrasounds later, the remnants of our child passed from my body.
I lived in a fog for the next several days. Nothing was real, and nothing mattered. The mystery had disappeared from our lives. I was less than ordinary. I had failed at creating life. I was not consoled by the knowledge that one of every five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I found out the hard way that the emotional and spiritual consequences of these losses are rarely discussed. Except for sharing with a few family members and our closest friends, we kept our grief private.
Yet we needed to honor this precious lost life. We chose a secret spot, a place we call Agate Meadow, to lay our child’s remains to rest. Two weeks after the miscarriage, when I was strong enough to hike, we plodded toward the meadow without speaking.
Arriving there, I felt the warmth of James’ hand pressed firmly into mine, my only security in this world of deep, horrid pain. The wind rustled in the needles of huge pines. Water trickled in the tiny creek. A chill rushed through me as we placed our would-be child at the base of the most majestic ponderosa pine, beside the creek laden with glistening agates. We put flowers, wilted from the cold, beside the tiny grave, and spoke softly of our love for the child whose soul had, perhaps, another calling. I stood beside the tiny makeshift grave, James’ arms wrapped around me from behind, my broken heart exposed to the wind, and wept.
Our midwife helped us heal the emotional wounds and bring my body back into hormonal balance. I tried not to blame or feel disappointed in myself, and my intense hope for another child allowed these feelings to dissipate. After five months of healing and strengthening my body, we conceived again. That day was filled with joy, and yet I felt a vague fear.
Because we had just lost one child, was it likely to happen again? What had I done to cause the loss? What could I do differently? I increased my intake of healthy foods and took my vitamins religiously. I rested and continued my routine of yoga, tai chi, and daily walking. During the first pregnancy, I had not experienced most of the common symptoms. This time, I cherished the tenderness of my breasts, the queasiness, even the fatigue. Yet the questions and doubts remained.
I was distancing myself from our baby, protecting myself. Fear, rather than love, controlled my behavior. I was confused. I recall one evening in bed, when James gently placed his hands on my already swollen belly and began to sweetly sing the song we had created for our first baby. I was touched, and yet I felt that his singing that song was somehow wrong, that this special song belonged to the baby we had lost.
Eight weeks into the pregnancy, I had pain in my lower right abdomen. On the advice of our obstetrician, we decided to have an ultrasound. As I lay on the table with cold goo coating my belly, the technician told me there was no evidence of a fetal pole, the technical term for the baby at that point in its development. She reassured me that the fetus cannot always be seen this early in a pregnancy, and I left the lab only slightly concerned.
A call from my obstetrician jolted me into the cold reality. She said it was unlikely that a baby had formed at all. She wanted to send me back for a second ultrasound to confirm what’s called a blighted ovum. While I fought for breath, she gently reminded me that roughly 20 percent of all pregnancies miscarry and that more than 50 percent of these are the result of a blighted ovum. Nevertheless, she hoped all would be well. I quietly hung up the phone.
James had to leave for Colorado the next day to coach a winter sports clinic for disabled veterans. We discussed whether to have another ultrasound or wait for what would be revealed one way or another. We decided to wait and see.
For the next few days, I prayed and wrote in my journal for answers: whether to trust my body or allow modern technology to tell me right away. One thing became clear. I had let my fear of loss limit my love and connection with this child that might or might not exist. I decided to love this little one as fully as I could.
I created a song just for this child, a song that captured the purest essence of joy. I sang it over and over and allowed the love I had withheld to flow from my heart. I made a small altar on the dresser in our bedroom to honor our child. 1 released my stifled tears. I would protect myself no longer. I let a river of feelings flow.
By the time James returned, I was in a new place. Hope existed where there had been none. I embraced the opportunity to celebrate life. Whatever came next we would handle together, and our love would see us through. News of other women having gone many weeks into their pregnancies before naturally aborting an unformed fetus persuaded us to have a second ultrasound. James held my hand tightly as we watched the screen displaying the contents of my uterus, revealing that there was no child within.
The next two weeks were the darkest of my life. My dreams were haunted, my days worse. Acupuncture and herbs failed to make my body abort, and we ended up at the obstetrician’s office for the dreaded procedure. Meanwhile our midwife remained optimistic, saying that because our losses were caused by two different conditions, there was no reason we could not conceive again and end up with a beautiful, healthy baby. I could not be persuaded. I withdrew from the world. I wanted no part of a life that contained so much suffering and loss.
By then it was April, and life was blossoming. Bright lilies, azaleas, and tulips seemed to celebrate life, yet I stayed indoors, attempting to protect myself from the deep pain that reigned everywhere. James and I processed our feelings daily and held each other often. He gently and lovingly nurtured me as my energy returned. Still the questions hounded me. Had a soul visited but been unable to stay? Could we have a child? If not, what would our lives be like? Should we adopt? Would James still love me the same way? Between the questions were only emptiness and pain.
Our first baby’s due date had been May 3, and as the day approached we planned to return to Agate Meadow to further honor that baby and to create a ritual for releasing the second baby that had existed only in our hearts. After breakfast that day, we silently gathered our things and drove to Agate Meadow. During the half-hour drive, death would have been welcome. I dreaded taking my grief to a deeper level, afraid that my heart would break and I would lose my mind.
I don’t recall the walk to the meadow or what happened when we arrived. I remember standing silently, my hand resting in the gentle, reassuring strength of my husband’s. I removed my shoes to feel the ground beneath me, and let the soft grasses caress my toes. Then I gently collapsed on the firm, supportive earth. Suddenly my heart burst wide open, shattering into pieces, and the pain of a million years and a million souls descended upon me. My agony merged with that of the universe. Just when I could bear it no more, I felt lifted higher and higher as if being moved directly toward God, until I became one with the sapphire sky. In this moment my suffering was transformed, and my spirit united with every tree, cloud, flower, and blade of grass in the meadow. My pain lifted. The questions disappeared. I became part of something larger and more important than the grief or the questions. I was a profound part of everyone and everything.
We lingered in the meadow for hours, as the sun’s warmth melted my pain and filled me with strength. The breeze played with the ends of my hair and danced over the many varieties of tiny pink, purple, and yellow wildflowers, making them dip and sway magically. There were no endings, only beginnings. Now I could plainly see.
Helen Keller once said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” For me, that little word “life” has gained new meaning. I like to believe that I will not look upon the face of a child again without appreciating the mystery of existence. I know there is no telling whether we will be blessed with a child, but that day in the meadow, I realized that ultimately it doesn’t matter. Life, like a stream full of glistening agates, continues to flow, carrying me onward toward God.