I’ll just say it: Motherhood and Heartbreak go hand in hand.
I started learning this when our first pregnancy turned into a miscarriage. When we found out we were pregnant, I had a very specific vision come to mind: being pregnant felt like discovering the house we lived in had a second floor we’d never even explored. I was excited in a way I’d never been before. There were whole new levels of happiness I’d never experienced.
A week later I called, sobbing, to my department chair because I knew I was miscarrying and I couldn’t go to work. I was devastated, embarrassed, hurting, shocked. It felt like discovering the house we lived in also had a basement, but only because I’d crashed right through the floors. I was heartbroken. All my life I’d lived on just the first story, but the minute I began my journey towards motherhood I suddenly discovered there were emotional levels I’d never experienced before.
Heartbreak has never been far from me since that day. I have had the privilege of bringing four healthy babies into the world, but at every point in my adult life I’ve been surrounded by friends who have struggled through infertility and miscarriage. They’ve longed for motherhood through adoption. They’ve come to terms with unexpected pregnancies. They’ve had to give up hope on the dream of motherhood or they’ve made complex decisions about what to do next. Sometimes we’ve found ourselves on different floors at the same time, one of us up on the second story, elated over a pregnancy or birth; the other down in the basement (again), grieving a lost hope, a failed plan, a wounded heart.
I have wondered almost continually how to be a mother who cares well for the mothers around me, especially those who walk through heartbreaking experiences I really don’t understand. I want to put into practice the straightforward advice that we ought to “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). But I fear I do this clumsily, perhaps doing more harm than good with my attempts to show sympathy. How do we find each other when we’re so far apart?
Most of what I’ve learned has been from our friends: people who have showed up to rejoice with us even while they were grieving. People who have endured patiently afflictions they cannot understand. People who’ve invited us into their grief, accepting our prayers and clumsy attempts at offering help. I’ve watched the women around me and learned what to do either way: show up, bring food, pray. Food works to both comfort and celebrate. Prayer does the same.
To be sure, motherhood and joy go hand-in-hand, too. Motherhood multiplies the opportunities for joy and for heartbreak. Life felt infinitely more fragile the moment I lost my first child. But the potential for joy increased exponentially, too, when I held my next child. It’s no wonder women agree to become mothers, even knowing the cost. It’s also no wonder women fear motherhood or avoid it. Somehow I knew I couldn’t live life on just the first floor anymore after our miscarriage experience. I knew I was either going to have kids or long for them from then on.
Today I’m watching several women I love endure specific kinds of motherhood heartbreak. These are some of the bravest women I know because they’ve experienced depths of heartbreak I can’t fathom by half and still, STILL, they open themselves up to the hope of motherhood. It’s the bravest thing a women can do to rearrange her life for a child. It takes strength and courage and tenacity and hope to prepare to love a child.
But the fact remains: here I am with an abundance of children while my friends struggle on. I worry that my abundance only emphasizes their lack. How do we pray for one another when my complaints look like their hopes? Suddenly that advice in Romans doesn’t seem so simple. How impossible is it to rejoice with someone who is rejoicing when you’re grieving? How difficult is it to truly share another’s grief in any meaningful way?
I’m not sure how. I don’t have a plan. I just love these women, so I’ll keep showing up and keep bringing food. I’m not sure why God knits us together in community with people whose stories are so different. I’m not sure why some moms get exactly what they pray for and others watch their prayers pile up to no effect. I only know that at any moment God can make our joy turn to grief and grief to joy, so I keep praying.