Exploring the Dance of Joy and Grief
I remember staring at the St. Joseph’s hospital ceiling, while a doctor gave me statistics and survival rates for the baby inside me. I had been in and out of labor and delivery three times that week. On each visit, I changed into the unflattering gown and patiently waited for a nurse, praying the contractions I thought I was having were in my head.
I hoped the pills and paper cups of water would work, but an ultrasound revealed low amniotic fluid in the end, and I was admitted to the hospital at just 29 weeks pregnant. Medical staff upped their game, administering a magnesium drip to stop labor and a steroid shot for our son’s lungs if efforts failed. Bed rest would be difficult for anyone, but doing it without my husband, while he was across the country because of military duties, stretched me far beyond the marks on my growing belly.
The First Cry – Hope and Fear
Unfortunately, I delivered a couple of days later. I laid in the OR as they prepared me for an emergency C-section, afraid our son would look like a baby bird, bone-like and translucent. But with his first cry, I gave birth to the hope he would be okay. A fever prevented me from visiting him in the NICU for over 24 hours, but kind nurses took a picture for me, and I stared at that Polaroid for hours.
I can’t remember when I first noticed the cross on the wall. Through jumbled prayers, I pleaded with God for the baby I hadn’t yet met. It made me feel less alone. Despite the long road ahead, celebration lingered in the air for this new life. There was joy, but I was also grieving.
I was grieving my baby had come so early, but I was grateful he was doing so well despite it. I was devastated that my husband missed the birth, but I was thankful he would be home in a few months. I never stopped entirely to process how I felt, because I wanted to focus on all I had to be thankful for.
- My son was okay.
- At least my husband wasn’t in another country.
- It could be worse.
We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t make space for joy and grief.
So, how do we reconcile this tension?
- We allow ourselves to feel the weight of our emotions instead of dialing them down.
- We take time to mourn the ideals we lost.
- We practice gratitude but not at the expense of missing out on lamenting.
Joy and Grief in the Same Breath
It was 16 years ago when our oldest spent almost two months in the NICU, and I think about that season of our lives from time to time. I was in a labor and delivery room again on a morning I’ll never forget two years ago. We had just met our youngest son, though I wasn’t the one who gave birth.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV)
My mind raced as I wrestled with the situation’s complexity and the joy that couldn’t be present without the pain. As I clung to prayer, I noticed a cross on the wall: a simple wooden decoration, a beautiful reminder of what I needed to do.
Our adoption journey had been long, and it was a moment we had waited years for. The circumstances of the grief and joy were different, but they hung in the room just like the cross. I grieved for his birth mom but rejoiced that we were finally meeting this precious boy. I grieved his loss but felt honored to be his mom.
There was no Polaroid this time, just a reminder to brave the tension. The cross reminds us of this. What a gift; God makes way for joy amidst grief, for beauty even after the fall.
Sarah Nichols is a writer who loves encouraging women by sharing hope-filled stories that point others to Jesus. She lives in Tucson, AZ, with her husband and four kids. You can find more from Sarah at http://sarahnicholswrites.com