The Yellow Cloth

Weeks ago, I do not completely remember it.  Brooke awoke before me.  I heard her getting ready, in that lovely moment between sleep and wakefulness, dull sounds filling our room.  After fifteen minutes — though who can tell at such moments — I arose.  Brooke was giddy, jubilant.  She waited until I had my contacts in to tell me we were pregnant.  We kissed, and I looked at the test though it didn’t matter.  We had been trying, but pregnancy came easily.  After the pain and trauma of Ellis, born in the heat of an emergency ten weeks early, we thought pregnancy should come easily.

We told some friends, our family. We had two sets of friends also pregnant, and we laughed about it with them. It was a grace, to share pregnancies like that.

Later, Brooke got the flu.  She coughed and slept little.  On a Thursday night, her temperature began to rise.  I researched online, to see what a spike in temperature meant for a pregnant woman, because otherwise we thought we might let it run the course.  But, I found a fever was dangerous, very dangerous for a baby.  Brooke took Tylenol and I gave her cold cloths; we called the emergency hotline to speak to a nurse, to see what else we could do.  I called in sick for work the next day.  The fever peaked at one hundred and two.  It came down maybe an hour after she took Tylenol, after we pumped her body with fluids.  She lay on the couch and sweated.  I saw the dangers that a fever could bring for a baby, the birth defects, but did not want to worry myself or Brooke.  After the trauma we went through with Ellis, the baby would be fine.

Later, Brooke stopped feeling nauseous, as she had for the last few weeks.

Last Monday, March 14, we drove in to the doctor’s office.  All three of us went, and Ellis squirmed in my lap while Brooke undressed and lay down for the examination.  We had a midwife attending us, Evie.  She was calm and gentle, her voice soft and hushed.  She began the ultrasound and stayed quiet.  Brooke and I were a few inches apart, and Ellis moved on my lap.  I could tell the silence was too long, was unordinary.  Brooke could tell that her uterus was not round and smooth, but misshapen.  We watched the fuzzy images on the ultrasound until Evie said, I’m worried about what I see.

We drove home, after the doctor confirmed that Brooke had miscarried, that there was a baby seven or eight weeks old in her belly, a baby that was dead.  We were quiet.  Sad.  I suppose it was a grace that I was home on spring break, and a grace that Evie had also had a miscarriage, which she shared.  I suppose, but I did not look for grace in the moment.  I moved from sadness to nothing: I tried to pray but could not.  I could not for several days, and only then with great work, by poring through the Psalms, by letting them act as my prayers.  I complained; I shrugged with apathy toward God and the silent and barren sky; I cried with Brooke.

We discussed options.  We thought it best to get the baby out while I was off, so Brooke would not have to deliver a baby alone on some Monday, with Ellis downstairs.  She took medicine to induce labor on Friday, and had pain and bleeding.  Still, nothing came.  We prayed; she took more medicine.  My parents watched Ellis for the weekend.  That, surely, was a grace.  The two of us, alone in our house, sat and watched television, read, talked.  We hoped as best we could.  The house was silent without Ellis, and hope was fleeting, like shadows in a hazy light.

Sunday Ellis came back.  Nothing with Brooke.  She had not delivered during my break.

Yesterday I drove to school and cried on the drive.  I thought of the dead baby in Brooke’s body; I wondered about its soul, about the loss of life and expectation.  I cried alone in the darkness of the car, of the early morning.  At school, I taught with little passion.  I called Brooke a couple times.  Her friend Amy was there all day, with her two girls that Ellis loved.  Amy was a grace, her presence full of calm and quiet strength.

I drove home with emptiness, tired from the day, feeling abandoned by God, desperate for something of my Creator, unable to see grace.

I hugged Ellis and Brooke came upstairs as I changed.  In a plastic container, she had passed the placenta and I could see the spine of a child amid the tissue and blood.  She had done it alone, in the bathroom.  Amy came up a few minutes later and cried with her.  I changed clothes as she told me.  I did not have the strength, even, to cry.

We played with Ellis in the evening.  Hide and go seek.  She took a bath; she loves baths.  Amy made dinner.  We had chicken and vegetables, brownies for dessert.  Later, Ellis wanted to watch Shrek so we watched a few minutes, the three of us on the couch.

After Ellis went to bed, Brooke and I went out back.  I dug a hole and Brooke wrapped the baby and placenta in yellow cloth.  The shovel scraped against rough earth, digging through grass and thin roots.  Brooke laid the baby in the hole, the yellow fabric bright against the brown dirt, surrounded by the pale green grass, and the falling light.  I read Isaiah 65.  A passage about a new heaven, a new earth.  About infants who do not die, and men who live to old, old age.  I want this for that body in the ground, for that body in the yellow cloth.

We both cried, and I prayed for the life that was.

Then, after a handful of geese flew by and honked, I covered the yellow cloth with earth.  It is closure, of some sort.  But, in our backyard as I write, there is a scar in the earth.  Below that scar, there is a yellow cloth that holds a lifetime of hope.  Somewhere, amid the sadness and loss, amid the pain of this last week, grace has slipped in like dust through the cracks, barely noticeable.  Someday, I may see it in God’s shining light, grace floating on the wind.  But tonight, there is sadness.

Perhaps this too is grace: the grace to cry, to mourn and search for a God who mourns.  Tonight it is dark, and there is a scar in our backyard, and a scar in us, and a scar in the side of God himself.

Note: I know the internet can serve as a medium of oddly sharing intimate details to strangers, and I do not post this story as such.  I post it because the writing and sharing of it has provided relief to Brooke and to me, and to share our story with, especially, friends who read this blog but have not been privy to our lives these last few weeks.  Mostly, I share it because I believe in the power of story, to alleviate pain, to provide commonality and hope whether you have had the same experience or simply have met — as we all have — the haunting and suffocating specter of loss.

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9 Comments

  1. tears are flowing down my face. thank you for sharing your story. it touched me deeply as i personally experienced a miscarriage a year ago. grateful for your honesty and praying for more tidbits of grace to fill your home. ~Kristen (hartley) L.

  2. Kristen,

    Great to hear from you! It’s been a tough couple weeks for us, and I’m sure will continue to be for awhile, but we’ve been so, so grateful for the voices of encouragement and permission around us — thanks for writing.

    And, since I perused your blog — Congratulations! Katelyn is super cute, and I hope your days are filled with joy and wonder at seeing her (combined with just the slightest bit of sleep). Also, I laughed out loud when I saw the photo of Tim examining her — fantastic.

  3. You could have maybe warned me to get the Kleenex. WOW. What an account, and through my tears I am so honored you shared this story with us.

    There is something very powerful, and soothing, about shared grief.

    I loved this line…”hope was fleeting, like shadows in a hazy light.”

    1. Yes, grief is best handled with someone else; someone who doesn’t offer responses, but sits. Maybe, this someone will tell a story, but mostly sit.

      Thanks for the thoughts, and I’m glad (oddly) that our grief could meet yours.

  4. Gabe and Brooke. Thank you.
    What a difficult loss you are grieving. I really can’t imagine the pain.
    Thank you for this brave and beautiful post. I’m so sorry.
    Hurting for you. Praying for you.
    Kristian and Molly

  5. Hi Gabe,

    I had the luxury of a leisurely phone call with your mom this morning and we were talking about writing–your writing and mine. She gave me your blog address and suggested I read “The Yellow Cloth.”

    You and I have more than writing in common; Rex and I lost our first baby. We went full term and didn’t know there was anything wrong until after I was in labor. It is devastating to lose a child, whether you only recently found out you are pregnant or if you go full term. My prayers are with you during your current pregnancy. A pregnancy following the loss of a pregnancy and baby can be fraught with worry, but I can tell from your writing that you will find the threads of grace God weaves into difficult moments in the tapestry that is life.

    It’s been almost thirty-five years since our Jason David was born and died on January 26, 1977. Over the years I have written many pieces about our experience and am now working on a book that I hope will help other parents who grieve the death of a newborn. I’m in awe of your ability to write about your loss when it is still so fresh in your heart. Amazing!

    I am blessed by reading your poignant words and the sharing of your grace-filled heart.

    My best to you and your growing family.

    Blessings,
    Linda Teeple (http://natureofgrace.blogspot.com)

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