I was finally going to do the thing that I knew God had called me into: full time Ministry of Word and Sacrament! I first felt called to ministry when my younger son was 18 months old and now he was 10. This had been a long time coming! Before I started to train, I woke one morning with clarity: I am Elizabeth. That which is to be birthed in me is for the purposes of bringing people back to God.
And now I was right at the end of my 4 years of training, looking forward in anticipation of what God would do next. Our whole family – my husband and two boys with me – were looking forwards.
But wait. What was this? Two lines on a test?
Ridiculous! I was far too old, I thought. And in any case, we had made sure it wouldn’t happen. But against the odds, and completely against everything I understood to be God’s direction for us, there it was: pregnancy. The bottom dropped out of my expectations and our plans. I wouldn’t finish training and step into ministry. I’d finish training and step back into motherhood. At first I was devastated. I wept and prayed. Why?
How am I to understand my call in light of this news? How can this be? And what if something awful happens – I’m too old, I’ve had two c-sections already and lost so much blood. And what is God doing?
But, impossibly, my hope grew. I shared my news with a few others – statistically, this was impossible. But with God… This was prophecy-lived-out. I am Elizabeth.
In prayer, with the help of good friends and wise counsel I found my way to a leaping joy. What minuscule chances! How meant must this child be! And at my age! I laughed like Sarah. Our next steps would change. I held within me a secret – a deep joy. I was Elizabeth, and finishing training with pregnancy was incarnational – my little one’s due date was the date on which my final review was scheduled! The chances of this, we read, were 0.00 and then some change. This could only be God. A new hopefulness. I started to plan to share my news. I drafted an email that I planned to send when I returned home from my 12 week scan.
But then, in a blur, everything changed. I was approaching my 12th week, my scan week. The appointment, on the day I would have had my scan: what are your dates? It looks like what’s here is 8 weeks old. I’m sorry…there’s no heartbeat.
What? But there have been no indicators that anything has been wrong. Yes, they said, it’s something called a “missed miscarriage”. They’re quite common. You can either take medication to complete the process or you can wait: watchful waiting.
The medication was the medication normally used to induce abortion. It was unlicensed and came in a plain package. No company wanted to be associated with it. There was no instruction leaflet. It terrified me.
I couldn’t. So I waited, watchfully. I waited for weeks. I walked and walked, through the bleak late autumn. I wept. The trees were bare. I met people, including a midwife friend. I didn’t tell.
And what did this mean for hope? The hope that was growing within me – had hope died? And even as I asked the question I heard the answer come pushing from within: by no means! I wrote as I walked :
What, then, has wonder died?
Is hope extinguished
even as this faltering life quietly
Oh so quietly
Sighs and is still?
What sense can we make?
We who take hold of hope
Who claim and proclaim:
Prophetic perfect boldly before battle
Until He comes again
Take hold? The cleft is shallow!
For fingertips, and even
With the very best of equipment –
DTh., PhD – and all the ancient foundations
In this place
Grip is elusive
Something stirs in that empty space
In the void, ex nihilo
The womb bleeds
Surely nothing can live –
But look! Oh eyes grown dim
Do you perceive it?
Flickers and stirs
Those early movements, tentative
And yet unmistakable
And now I see:
Always held a truer Form.
Always was, and is, and never fails to be
And though I ache, and bleed, and cry,
I will proclaim
The Lord is here, He reigns, healing in His wings.
Hope had not died. Hope was in Christ. And somehow, completely beyond any sense of it, the hope that my little one had planted had not left.
Yet it felt like I walked through those weeks forever. Forever in the secret inbetween place. Incomplete. I binge watched Downton Abbey. I hid. I felt very alone. And then, I saw an online service pop up: Claremont Parish Church. For those who have experienced baby loss. Covid meant I could attend online and what a blessing! I was anonymous, but I was seen. I was still carrying within me the life that once was as I joined in the service and prayed. I could bring it all and pray it all and know that I was held. Afterwards, I sent a message to the organiser: we don’t know one another, but God has used you to bring comfort where no one else could go. Thank you.
After 3 weeks of carrying my precious dead little one, I had to do something. I walked with the dog. A verse given to my friend played and replayed in my head:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
You will be with me. That’s all I needed to know as I stepped in to train for ministry. That’s all I need to know now.
I asked for the medication, and the midwife didn’t seem to understand why I found it so hard to accept it and leave. Two stages: take the first and then wait for a day before you can take the second. This is what you would do if you wanted an abortion. I was breaking inside. I was terrified of haemorrhage. I had no counsel.
I prayed hard. I was terrified of the second stage – this was the medication I had read about, the one that ran a risk of haemorrhage.
And then came the pain. I watched Downton and tried to field questions from my children as, finally, I miscarried. I didn’t need to take the second medication. It was the smallest of mercies but I was so incredibly thankful. It was around 4 weeks from diagnosis of “missed miscarriage” to this date. Four weeks of having miscarried yet not having miscarried. The miscarriage took as many weeks as I had had a “viable pregnancy”. The emotions were all over the place. Had I been a fool for having held hope?
My miscarriage was confirmed as ‘complete’. And yet…somehow, hope remains. Somehow, completely inexplicably. Somehow, our little one adds and will always be part of my ministry and our family. I can’t explain it, but Hope blazes bright.
I was warned not to wear rose-tinted spectacles and not to rush to move on and I’m grateful for that counsel. But something still remains, nearly 2 years on: a defiant hope. A certainty. And a commitment to draw alongside those who feel alone. Nothing is wasted. Hope is in the Person of Jesus.