Although it has been nearly twenty-five years since our baby died in uterio I still dream about her. She often comes during uncertain dreams where I am alone against everyone else in the scene. She represents unconditional love and acceptance when others are rejecting me. A few nights ago she was there with her brunet curls bouncing on her shoulders and wearing a Martha Miniature style dress crawling up on my knee giving me a hug. She gave me a sense of well-being in the midst of chaos and confusion.
In July of 1991 I loaded a moving van and waved good bye to my wife and two children. They were on their way to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to settle into our new home because we did not want our girl and boy to have to change schools in the middle of the school year. I would leave Mississippi later in December to join them after finishing my final semester in seminary.
During that time of separation we tried to find ways to be together. I flew into the Lexington airport to be with my wife and children for a few days. About two months later my father purchased a plane ticket for my wife to visit me in Jackson. It was a few weeks after that last visit that my wife called to say we were expecting our third child. We had not planned on a third child, but she was loved and welcomed from the beginning.
About four months passed when my wife began to experience mild bleeding. Sensing something was not right with our baby we called the doctor. He scheduled an ultra-sound. During the procedure there was not the expected banter that goes on between the technician and the parents. No turning of the screen for us to see our baby in the womb, none of the normal hints as to the sex of the child, nothing. She was quiet and left without saying anything. There we were alone in a sterilized room with only the hum of machines to interrupt our thoughts. Then the doctor came in and told us our baby was dead.
The seventy mile trip home was silent as we tried to comprehend our loss. When we stopped to pick up our children from the sitter, my wife received a hug of sympathy and consolation and then we were off to grieve alone. When a child dies in uterio there is no gathering of family and friends to support the parents and siblings. No one brings in meals or has a dinner. There is no funeral to plan or attend. No remembrance of the significance of this child to the lives of those who loved her. No baby afghans to caress. No pictures to see. No crib to stare into blankly. No gravesite to visit. No tombstone inscribed and set. No balloons released or memorial tree planted. There is only aloneness. Nothing tangible is left behind to say she ever was. How do you grieve over someone who has no name and no gender? Over someone you will never know?
Between the days that passed and the time we went back to the doctor for the D&C (also known as a dilation and curettage to expel the baby, stop bleeding, and prevent infection) many people asked me how my wife was coping. I updated them on her condition, but not one person asked me how I was doing. “It was my baby, too!” I wanted to scream. It was as though this conservative Christian enclave in which we lived had completely adopted the pro-choice propaganda that it was all about the woman and the man was irrelevant. The message I heard in those days was that the man had to be strong, undisturbed, a carved statue without personal expression. I cried silently for what could have been and would never be.
After the D&C the doctor came out and told me my wife was doing well and the procedure was completed without complication. I asked him, “What was the sex of our baby?” “You don’t want to know,” he replied as he turned to walk away to his next waiting patient. “If I did not want to know I would not have asked,” I silently protested, but I let him go without pressing the issue.
I was having a hard time dealing with our loss, but I did not know who to talk to. My wife appeared to be coping so well. I tried to talk to her, but she did not seem to be grieving as deeply as I was. Through the intervening years I have asked her if she ever thinks about our never born child, but she rarely expressed much emotion or had much to say. I am left without much evidence about how she really felt or feels. I called my father, who was going through his own severe grief, to tell him our sad news, he said, “Son, I used to tell people that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God,’ but I’m not sure I know what that means anymore.” I understood his pain. I tried to read the book, I’ll Hold You in Heaven, by Pastor Jack Hayford, but my emotions were too raw to get past the introduction. Five years would pass before I could pick it up again.
As time went on our baby presented herself in my dreams. She always presented herself as a girl, which is why I refer to her in the female gender. I named her Acacia Joy, the name we had chosen for her if she had lived. Through the years she has appeared to me as a toddler, perhaps three or four years old, who always loves her daddy and thinks of him as her hero. I suppose it is the assurance I need sometimes to weather the storms of life.
Someone wrote, “Losing a baby before it even has a chance to draw breath seems completely unfair.” Plans are left unfulfilled, dreams suddenly stop, hopes are dashed, and expectations are violated. An unknown author said, “I don’t think most people truly understand how much is lost when a baby dies. You don’t just lose a baby, you also lose the one and two and ten and sixteen year old she would have become. You lose Christmas mornings, loose teeth, and first days of school. You just lose it all.”
A few months passed when I shared with my wife that I did not want to end our child bearing years with a miscarriage. She agreed. Our son, Austin Joel, was born the next February. He is married and works at a Christian college as a recruiter. I thank God for this very talented musician and gifted speaker. We are very proud of him.
Last spring I put a memorial rock next to the walk going to our house with the inscription, “Acacia: An Ideal Daughter.” And thus she will always be cherished in my heart.