I have this thing about being near authors who I really like. It usually manifests as an inability to speak in complete sentences, accompanied by extreme awkwardness and anxiety. I had no reason to believe that I’d learned anything since the last time I went to an author’s event but I forced myself out of the house and drove 90 minutes to the church.
An hour early, the church was already filling up as I shuffled inside with the crowd. Through no conscious decision on my part, I ended up sitting in the very front of the church, albeit in what a baseball park might deem “obstructed view” seating. Soon enough, Nadia Bolz-Weber walked up to the lectern, just out of my line of vision and greeted everyone. She spoke for about a minute and then moved the lectern up two feet and directly into my line of vision.
It was a sign! I squelched my destined-to-be-friends fantasy delusion and became utterly transfixed by her words. I remained completely captivated as she shared stories and wisdom for the next 90 minutes. She ended her remarks with what she called Modern Beatitudes. Meaning, “Maybe Jesus is actually just blessing the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise.”
Blessed are… she continued, as she shared one beautifully messy and relevant idea after another. “Blessed are the kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables,” for example.
I listened as she spoke one blessing after another until she came to one that nearly split me in half.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
I tried to tell myself that I’d probably heard it wrong but the instantaneous tears that fell down my cheeks told me otherwise. She moved on to blessing the forgotten, the closeted and the unemployed, while I struggled with everything in me to stop crying. To no avail.
I kept my head down as she spoke, and I saw tears splat onto the floor near my shoes. Moments before, I had wished she’d speak all evening, and now I just wanted her to stop. I wanted the event to be over so that I could escape with my grief while I still had any semblance of control. I felt certain that I was just moments away from the all-out wracking sobs of the ugly cry. All while standing 15 feet away from the speaker, at the front of a packed church.
Finally, mercifully, it was over and people were instructed where to go in order to see Nadia for book signings. Even in my wigged-out state, I half-sobbed, half-laughed at the very idea. But now I needed to get to the back of the church, to the safety of the darkness outside and to the shelter of my car. Only first I had to literally walk against the crowd of the entire church that was moving forward for the signing.
I still couldn’t get myself together as I walked and was breathing in raspy gasps as I tried to stave off the all-out sobs that were struggling to surface. I shuffled upstream, occasionally meeting the eyes of someone around whom I was trying to navigate. I could see the look of surprise register on their face as they saw red eyes and the still-falling tears I was unable to hide. After a few such encounters, I kept my head down as I made my way through the crowd and it struck me how odd it was to be so completely overwhelmed with emotion – alone – and yet in the middle of hundreds of people. And in a church, no less.
I finally made it outside among a few others who had skipped the signing and was grateful for the cool cover of darkness, as well as the light rain that fell. I reached the safety of my car and was able to get a handle on the raw emotion that had overtaken me and focus on the words that had started it all.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
I’d never really allowed myself “permission” to count myself as a mother. Except for the 9 weeks, and then 6 weeks and then 11 weeks that preceded each miscarriage. But as soon as each pregnancy physically ended, so did my claim on the label of mother. On some level, since my body had failed at its job, I didn’t deserve to keep the name. I hadn’t earned it. (I didn’t say it was a particularly kind or rational level.)
The next day I still couldn’t get the words out of my mind so I did what any mildly neurotic-around-writers person would do. I tweeted Nadia Bolz-Weber:
“I wept at Modern Beatitudes. “Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.” I was never brave enough to call myself a mother.”
I melodramatically hesitated before posting the tweet but it felt like a way to acknowledge my experience and shed a small light of truth on my emotions.
And then she went and ruined everything by actually replying to my tweet.
Why?! Why would she do that?! Why would she (clearly unknowingly) Contribute to my Crazy when it comes to my whole author fangirling nonsense?
In response to “I was never brave enough to call myself a mother,” she simply said,
My heart pounded at the sight of those two little words. She also said, “You should listen to the audio book of Sheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things.”
And yeah, it took all of a minute and a half (and a fair amount of cursing that I’d disabled one-click shopping on amazon) before it was in my cart.
Regardless of what I find there – or don’t – I have reason to reconsider eliminating the “M” word to describe myself. In truth, the babies I lost are still just as real to me today as the first time I heard their heartbeat. The fact that I never gave birth does not take away the fact that for however short a time, I was their mother. And I always will be.