“How many children do you have?”
That was the seemingly innocuous question that I asked my new acquaintance as we sat around the chips and salsa at our local Chili’s.
Like most parents, he answered with a number. Then he said the part that I had not expected:
“We had two miscarriages. And we always count those.”
While I responded with empathy, I recall thinking that most of us (myself included) do not publically number our children to include the little lives that never made it to delivery.
And on many levels, that is understandable.
We all deal with grief differently. And it would be wrong to force one way of processing a failed pregnancy on others.
About a year and a half ago Brianna and I walked through our own experience of miscarriage. And while it was sad for me, at the time, I was primarily concerned for her well-being.
After hearing a noise in our house, I came into our bedroom to find Brianna unconsciousness from blood loss. I panicked. Then I phoned my mom to watch our kids; I carried Brianna’s (now) semi-conscious body to the car, did my best to place her inside, and then drove us to the hospital.
Thankfully, she was soon okay.
But the baby had been deceased for several days.
Later, as some readers can relate, there was the awkward reality of having already told some folks that we were pregnant, and now having to explain. Partly because of this, Brianna chose to share publically that she had lost a pregnancy. And soon after, she was overwhelmed by the many friends and family who then confided their own stories–some far more traumatic than our own.
It happens often. But that doesn’t make it nothing.
In Christian circles, one hears much about the need to be “Pro-Life,” and rightly so.
While the issue of abortion is polarizing, my own view leans on both Scripture and science to conclude that an unborn child is indeed a sacred human life, however small.
Even so, the consistent application of my “Pro-Life” stance involves much more than just abortion. It is a virtue that spans from womb to tomb, and sweeps up everything from welfare to warfare within its complicated wake.
I aim to be consistently Pro-Life.
Yet this too raises questions as to how I “count” our miscarriage.
WORDSWORTH OVER CHIPS AND SALSA
In a slightly different vein, something like my Chili’s conversation also happens in a classic poem by William Wordsworth (“We Are Seven”; pub. 1798).
Its verses recount an exchange between a traveler and a simple peasant girl.
The traveler asks:
“Sisters and brothers, little Maid, / How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said, / And wondering looked at me.
“And where are they? I pray you tell.” / She answered, “Seven are we; / And two of us at Conway dwell, / And two are gone to sea.
“Two of us in the church-yard lie, / My sister and my brother; / And, in the church-yard cottage, I / Dwell near them with my mother.”
Yet this statement brings confusion to the traveler: “I thought that you said seven.”
“You say that two at Conway dwell, / And two are gone to sea, / Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell, / Sweet Maid, how this may be.”
The misunderstanding, of course, involves the girl’s counting of her two dead siblings (“who in the church-yard lie”) as present members of her family.
Unfortunately, the mathematical modern adult doesn’t get it:
“You run about, my little Maid, / Your limbs they are alive; / If two are in the church-yard laid, / Then ye are only five.”
WE ARE SEVEN
As I read the poem recently (outside, on a nice morning, as is legally required of Wordsworth), it struck me that perhaps the number “seven” reflects our family too.
For if I were to begin consciously “counting” the child that we lost to miscarriage, then we would indeed be Seven. –(1) Brianna, (2) Josh, (3) Lucy, (4) Penny, (5) Ewan, (6) Baby unnamed, (7) Teddy.
And while I have no plans to begin saying this whenever someone asks about my children, perhaps it is a more consistent conclusion for those of us who consider ourselves “Pro-Life.”
After all, the weight of Wordsworth’s poem lies in the child’s stubborn insistence that death does not erase a child from the family roll.
To live at all is to be woven forever into the fabric of “present personhood.” We are eternal.
For to use Donne’s metaphor, “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume.” And while death is powerful and grievous, it cannot tear out words and pages from this book. It can only translate them–if they be written in Christ’s blood–“into a better language.”
The trouble, however—as my two-year-old reminds me daily—is that children learn new “languages” far easier than grown-ups.
Thus even our ostensibly “Christian” thinking about miscarriage can often leave us thinking as only slightly more cordial versions of Wordsworth’s adult traveler, in need of child-like wisdom:
“How many are you, then,” said I, / “If they two are in heaven?” / Quick was the little Maid’s reply, / “O Master! we are seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead! / Their spirits are in heaven!” / ’Twas throwing words away; for still / The little Maid would have her will, / And said, “Nay, we are seven!”