Today I write on Demeter. Sometimes I too feel like I am the queen of loss. My gorgeous crown is made from garlands of melancholy, its flowers have thorns and may draw blood. This has always been my work: to see loss as a boon, to feel the nearness of the wound to the gift, to know beyond doubt that the cure for pain is in the pain.
We had to include a card like Demeter in the deck for it to be whole, for it to encompass the whole range of the feminine experience, which can hold both life—and death—in her womb.
And even if you have never experienced the stinging grief of a miscarriage, embedded in motherhood is loss—if nothing else—of one’s own previous identity.
I went through four miscarriages on my journey to be a mother of two. But even with those miscarriages, I could not imagine the women (and men) who endured must worse, such as stillbirth.
And then finally, after the desolation of my final miscarriage, my radiant Oriah was born. I thought I had earned being able to relax in the sweet postpartum glow of having survived natural childbirth, but there was more loss in store. Albeit, it was a blip on the scale of loss’ totality. In retrospect, it was more a blow to my perception of how things should be than actual cause for grief. But when my daughter was born with hearing loss, I am chagrined to admit I was stricken with self pity. Why did this happen to us? Am I cursed? Why don’t I deserve the perfect baby? Haven’t I suffered enough loss? Am I unworthy?
Silly questions, but ones that made tears drip down onto my gorgeous babies face when she was nursing in those huge greedy gulps of the newborn.
The miscarriages made me stronger. It showed me I could survive death— they all felt like a part of me was dying—sit with death, even birth death. It made surrender choiceless. It made me go the depths of the depths in the cavern of my heart and see what still remained after the carnage of loss.
I was amazed to see that love had not abandoned me, even when I felt motherless and forsaken.
Love embraced me even at my broken and jealous and and raw. She sat me on her lap and said “I play no favorites.” She says, “Trust in the medicine of loss.”
There is a quickening to in loss, a sense of being fully alive when facing the stark reality of life’s aching imperfection. I like how Emily Dickenson puts it,
After great pain, a formal feeling comes —
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
And, because mothering, when it finally came, was such a gift and a challenge for me, at those times when I felt like I could not continue with the domestic drudge, could not put away any more toys or clean any more high chairs, I would remember “I chose this. Before me is the answer to my prayers.”
Within months of finding out the extent of Oriah’s hearing “loss,” we went through the door that her partial deafness opened. We are learning so many more ways to communicate than simply voice. American sign language is the most incredible language. I am so glad of the opportunity to study it’s nuanced poetry and spend some time in the deaf community. In my heart of hearts, I would have Oriah be just the way she is—I wouldn’t change a thing.
All of my losses have shown me this incredible gleaning underside, if I am willing to be curious, to to see the vibrant underworld, hidden from sight. In the height of grief, there can be no digression from its unrelenting presence, but when the grief settles, one can explore, with new urgency, what matters most.
If someone had told me when I first got pregnant that I might have to abort because of severe abnormalities, that I might have recurring miscarriages, that my child might be partially deaf, I would have thought why are you trying to scare me? Those are statistics, not me.
But I wish I had also been told that these terrible things that can happen aren’t punishment. That they make the hues of our live’s fabric brighter—the sweet even sweeter, the pain more concentrated. They break our hearts in the places that have been shut, yes, but they also break us open to the mysteries of grace.
I learned to trust that one day all the miscarriages, the stillbirths, the”defects,” will be the ring we wear around our finger, a talisman of how catastrophe and celebration are forever intertwined.
Don’t know if anything I’ve said makes sense, but this quote from the poet Louise Glück is crystal clear.
“Why love what you will lose?” she asks. She answers her own question: “There is nothing else to love.”