I can still hear the fresh crackle involved in freeing it from its plastic clamshell—a new ornament, a gift from my mother-in-law to mark the moment that would cast every Christmas future in a new light.
I looped the ribbon over my index and middle fingers to dangle it before me and the tree-lit backdrop. I tilted my head to gaze upon this bib-wearing, bottle-toting fuzzy bear and allowed my whole self to swirl with joyful anticipation—because we were indeed “Parents-to-Be.”
I mean . . . there was the matter of a birth-defect diagnosis dangling before us, too. Our baby had gastroschisis and would be born with a hole in his abdomen. But from my present vantage point, it would be a speed bump—because we’d situated ourselves with a pediatric surgeon who was very practiced at treating this condition—and because doctors fix people and babies and help fulfill holiday hopes, right?
But maybe I should have fixed a grip on that ribbon. Maybe I let it slip. Because in the month that followed, we got the news that the life inside of me was slipping away from us.
Our maternal-fetal medicine team said we were “struck by lightning”—that the original diagnosis, in retrospect, was the unforeseeable start of several abnormalities, that despite all the miracles of modern medicine, our baby could not be fixed.
I can still hear the crackle involved in lifting myself from the exam paper on the ultrasound table. It brings a pulse of dualities to the fringes of my senses. It’s dull and sharp, a blur in focus, a snap in the silky pink tether of how things were supposed to be—blunt, frayed, and gray.
In late February 2005, our first and only son was born still. We named him Job, after the story of innocent suffering.
I didn’t really know how to sit with myself for a long while after he arrived and departed, all at once . I was eating without tasting, crying while eating, full of empty, colors were muted, and I was generally outside my own body.
And in retrospect, I can hear God whispering, “Learn to hold loosely.”
And nearly 16 years later, that parent-to-be is a mother of two daughters down here, and I am still learning how to do just that: hold loosely.
Every Christmas, I pause with the ornament before I bring it to its bough. I don’t dangle it as I did before. Instead, I prefer to feel the heft of it in my palm with my eyes closed. It returns me to the soft warmth of being swept up in the possibilities of having a baby—of being somebody’s mother. I even remember swaying a bit with one hand on my belly. I’m sure the little bear danced right along with me, too.
And just before I open my eyes, I see it in retrospect and release it to its rightful place in my story. I set it down in my timeline.
And when I do that, it’s Christmas in a new light.
Because I prayed.
Because I am praying.
Because in my heart, the “to be” of “how things were supposed to be” consulted Heaven and Earth, God and man, creche and cross, and the now and forever of it all.
And while I’m still learning how to hold on while letting go, I do think I’m getting the hang of it. And friends, I can tell you this: I’m finding Christmas in the dissonance.