By: Jordan Tate
I honestly remember the day I became sick of hearing the word “endure.” I had been reading so many articles about motherhood and grief that the word itself became a frustrating concept that nagged me for days on end. Hearing it made me cringe and I could never pinpoint why. I finally figured it out, but let me rewind a little bit first.
My husband and I have the type of classic love story like the kind people write sitcoms about. We were next-door neighbors, and then we fell in love. We ran into each other in the hallways, shared flirty banter, and slowly but surely transitioned from a purely platonic friendship to spending every ounce of our free time together. Soon after that we got engaged, and then we got married. Our desires and dreams were like those of most of our peers; we hoped to fill our home with little feet and live to serve the people around us as we built our family.
I was on my way to motherhood a year and a half into marriage when we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. It was a girl and her name would be Ellie and she would have been our sassy one, I just know it. The problem is that she never got to live past her birth day because she was given a fatal diagnosis at our twenty week ultrasound. She would live until I delivered her and then she would take her first and last breaths within moments of each other.
This was not how it was supposed to be. The last half of my pregnancy was filled with a will to endure. I would endure and press on and try to nod and smile when strangers verbally noticed my belly in public, never knowing she was unwell. Never knowing I was unwell. If I could just endure through the pregnancy, if I could just make it to the next step… these were the thoughts that filled my mind those last four months. But the next step was just as challenging, as I knew deep down it would. Saying hello and goodbye to your first child all at the same time requires more than endurance. It requires mercy and grace and the steadfast love of the Lord to keep your mind from falling away. But we did survive. We survived and we endured and we cried gallons of tears. All of the sudden, the reality of my life was different than the one I grew up imagining. It was now tainted with death and a life’s worth of robbed memories with my little girl.
We are not promised a life void of pain, but what I do know from experience is that if we let it, every unexpected trial can be used to tell the story of a life made stronger.
My marriage now had a layer of grief and sorrow that was never present before all of this. But people continued to encourage us to endure and to hope and to seek joy. And we did. Slowly but surely we lived through each day without our Ellie. Always missing her but always looking to the good ahead. We took great solace in the fact that all of our doctors knew Ellie’s condition to be an anomaly, at least based on all of the evidence at hand. Nine months later, we got to the point where we could dream about another baby, a healthy baby, and we conceived during our first month of trying. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified after my first experience with pregnancy, but I pressed on and I dreamt of the blessing our second child would be after such great loss, knowing I would never take this little life for granted.
All of the sudden, we found ourselves at our twenty week appointment with baby number two, and we stared forward with blurred vision and shattered hearts as the doctors repeated the exact words we had heard the first time around, “Your baby cannot live outside of the womb. Her diagnosis is fatal.” I will spare you the details of the next four months and what it was like to say hello and goodbye to baby number two after thirty-six challenging hours of labor. What I will say about it, was that it was full of inexplicable pain.
So back to the word “endure.” Can you see why I was sick of reading it, hearing it, and thinking about it? What was life even like before I was enduring this kind of hardship? I honestly couldn’t remember. So one day, in my frustration, I looked up the definition of endure. It’s almost humorous. We think sometimes that to endure means to stay strong and to pray and to put our best face forward as we trudge through the mess. But the definition is actually much more simple:
(1) to suffer patiently
(2) to tolerate.
It may sound pitiful, but that definition brought me so much comfort. Because you could not have paid me enough money to muster up any amount of “strength” in this. People kept telling me I was strong, but I felt the opposite. What does it mean to be strong in the midst of loss and heartache? I mean, I didn’t opt out of living, so there’s that, but I wouldn’t consider that fact to be a marker of personal strength and great endurance. What I could do is just be. I could tolerate. People would tell me I was strong and courageous for walking through this, and that they could never be strong enough to face such loss, but that never made sense to me because there wasn’t a way I could snap my fingers and turn off the suffering or change the outcome. I was merely surrendering because I had no other choice. I didn’t ask for this. I had no way out. We don’t get to decide we aren’t strong enough to handle something and then have that situation not happen to us. The pre-infant-loss version of myself could never have fathomed I would watch my children die, but what that really means is that I didn’t ever want to imagine a life where that would or could be my reality. But now that I have experienced it, I know that we, as human beings, are capable of staring fear and loss and heartache and devastation in the face and not having it wreck us. Nobody welcomes hardship or pain to take over their lives. We live in a broken world where all is not as it should be. But what if we were more aware of how capable we are of walking through the valley and still being alive on the other side to talk of our battle? I don’t mean that we should invite danger and reckless behavior into our lives to test our ability to survive, but rather that we live bravely and boldly, unafraid of what lies ahead, and unafraid that our reality may look different than the one we grew up imagining. We are not promised a life void of pain, but what I do know from experience is that if we let it, every unexpected trial can be used to tell the story of a life made stronger.