We spent hours in the emergency room of our little hospital a few nights ago. My grown daughter’s new pregnancy was ending. My child lost her child.
There were signs before this. A pregnancy that should have been nine weeks along only showed five weeks of growth on the ultrasound. There was no heartbeat, just the sac. We had hoped for things to go well anyway. Hope pushes the fears out. It staves off despair until the blood comes too much and too fast. Then reality can’t be denied any longer. There will be no birth next spring.
The bleeding and cramping didn’t start until late. Before, we sat with her and entertained my 4-year-old grandson, waiting for blood test results. She talked about her biological mother, Cindy*–a woman I have only met twice. The story is familiar though. I lived it with my daughter through her teen years. A call or message. A promise that was inevitably broken. As a teen, what followed was anger, raging at her father and I, pushing the boundaries. As an adult, she is wrung out emotionally and physically from pregnancy and the heartbreaking end of it. She is tired of Cindy’s promises and accusations. I am the mother who is here.
When you get right down to the bones of parenting, most of it is about being there. I don’t mean in some sort of figurative way, like the Facebook friend who assures you that they’ve “got your back.” It means being right there. It’s walking the fussy baby through the night because only walking helps him calm. It’s sitting with the three-year-old when his little body can’t handle being three anymore. Sometimes, it means being at the game or the recital. Other times, it means being at the door when they’re out past curfew, or in the parent-teacher meeting because things are going poorly. That night, it meant being in the emergency room. The next day, it meant being on the phone, asking if she needed a ride to the hospital, getting medication for her. It meant offering to have her stay here that night, so she didn’t need to be alone while her boyfriend worked the night shift.
Parenting is about presence.
My relationship with my grown daughter is not the rosy one so many people have with their grown children. Her teen years were rebellious, and my husband and I did not always handle it well. When relationships have been shredded to crumbs by lies and disrespect, tramped on by pride and anger, sometimes we must start back at the beginning. The only chance to restart is to be there–especially when life is kicking its hardest. I am spare and selective with advice. She rarely asks for help. Over the years, though, she picks up the phone more and more and dials my number. She needs a recipe or an ingredient. They have too much month at the end of the money, could we help? We do, because they have no other reliable people in their life.
My husband and I learned to let go of our regrets and wishes for her life. The life she picked is far harder than we would have chosen for her. She knows how we feel about some things, and repeating it will do no good. We learned the value of silence and prayer. Our hearts have been dry for many years on this, parched and painful for something that is not there. The actions of love can be done without the warm, fuzzy affection our world values so highly. We stay faithful to our duties as parents, imperfect and fumbling. That means being here for her in real, needed ways. Last night and tonight it means delivering dinner. Maybe tomorrow night, too. Possibly for many nights in the future. I cannot assuage her grief or take away her physical pain and fatigue. If all I can do is make sure she and her little family have dinner, then that is what I will do.
More than anything, I hope something good can be born out of this grief. From here, perhaps we can rebuild relationships strained and ruined. I will walk this path with her as much as I may, not in her footsteps, but beside her. I will be there.
*Not her real name.