A Heavy Joy

The time had come. She could feel her heart throb with the excitement—the expectancy. The white-clad doctor and nurses were wheeling her down a long, tiled hallway. She was thrilled with expectation, and yet a vague fear overshadowed her joy. She couldn’t put her finger on the cause, but she sensed that all was not well. The faces behind the surgical masks seemed dark and cold, as she heard the cheerful, familiar words: “The vagina will be gently dilated...” They didn’t seem to belong—not here. Where had she heard those words before? She had reached the room now and the nurses were making her comfortable, just as she’d always imagined. Then she saw the long, snakelike tube and she knew. She knew what they had brought her here for.

“No! No!” She screamed in horror, sitting up in bed as the doctor came toward her, waving a spike. “No! Don’t take my baby! I want it—I really do. I want this one. Please don’t take it!”

The doctor grabbed both of her shoulders, pinning her down against the crisp sheets. He was going to kill her baby—she knew it now. She had wanted him to take it before, along with all her weight of guilt. He had taken the baby, but the guilt remained. And now? Not this one. She wanted this baby.

“Shhh. It’s okay, Baby. It’s gonna be okay,” he was whispering close by her ear, but the voice sounded distant as if it came from another world. That’s what he’d said before—“It’ll only take a minute and then everything will be okay. You won’t be pregnant any more and all of your worries will be over.”

“No, no,” she whimpered, struggling against the strong hands that held her down. “I want him—I really want him. Please don’t take him—don’t take him from me.”

“Val, Valerie, it’ll be okay. I’m right here. The baby’s okay—he’ll be okay. Shhh.” The doctor’s face faded into a grey mist, but his voice lingered soothingly.

“I want him.... I want him...” she was crying now, softly but brokenly. Her heart pounded heavily, pulling her down, down into a dark abyss. But also deep inside her, another heart was still beating.

Valerie opened her eyes to the early morning sunlight streaming through her bedroom window and shivered. Snuggling the covers up around her bare shoulders, she glanced over at her husband tying his tie in front of the full-length mirror.

He glanced up and smiled. “You awake? Don’t get up,” as she started to drag herself out of bed. “I already ate breakfast. You had a rough night last night.” He picked up his suit coat from the floor and slid into it.

“I did?” Valerie’s body ached as if she had been hit by a semi, and her hair was still damp with sweat, but she didn’t like to admit it. She hated having bad nights, and she hated it worse when Stan knew she was miserable. Somehow his sympathy made her guilt overwhelming.

“You had another bad dream, Babe,” he answered, picking up his briefcase and crossing the room to kiss her. “I thought you were going to tear me up.” His eyes twinkled as he bent his face near hers.

“I’m sorry,” Valerie murmured, awkwardly. “Maybe I should sleep in the guest room.”

“Absolutely not! Then who’d keep you from ripping yourself to pieces? I don’t mind it, really. And Val, ‘Children are a gift from the Lord.’ He can protect our baby. Don’t worry so much about losing it. You’re young and healthy, and even if something does happen, I still love you.”

Valerie looked up into his earnest eyes. “Do you?”

“I made my vows,” Stan teased. “ ‘For better or for worse’. I love you, Baby. See you tonight.” He straightened up and Valerie reached up to run her fingers across his clean-shaven cheek.

“I love you, too.”

He smiled back at her as he walked through the bedroom doorway. She heard the garage door open, then an engine started and the door rumbled closed. She was alone--alone again with her miserable thoughts.

She sat up in bed and hugged her knees to her, feeling abandoned. Somehow, Stan was the only thing that could keep her spirits up—she knew he loved her. And yet it was Stan whom she feared. It was Stan who brought on the guilt and feelings of dirtiness. Should she tell him? He said he would love her ‘for better or for worse’. But would he really? She wanted desperately to believe him; he was such a good man, and he had been so kind, so honest and open with her. She wished she’d told him before—before this. But she was scared.

She swung her legs out of bed and reached for her clothes. For the hundredth time she examined herself in the mirror. She was showing—barely, but it sent the blood rushing to her head. “I am pregnant!” She whispered the words with joyful reverence, then paused, remembering. Once she had fearfully tried to disguise the same fact. Once the words “I’m pregnant” had been uttered in cold terror. Now she wished the whole world knew that she was carrying life. Once she had only wanted to destroy it.

How could the same miracle be a curse at one time and a blessing later? How was it that her womb had only contained a fetus, when the gift of reproduction was unwanted, but now that she was happily married the same cells had become a baby? She hadn’t known—hadn’t understood until the doctor showed her pictures of the developmental stages from conception to birth. The womb in the models at the clinic had been empty. Now she was seeing them full—full of a precious baby!

But would she ever hold hers?

“Dear God, I want him. I want this one so badly,” she covered her face with her hands and rocked back and forth, trembling with suppressed emotion. “I know. I know I don’t deserve a baby. I don’t deserve another chance to be a mother. But Stan...for Stan. I want him to have a son, so bad. And he wants is God, even though he says he won’t be upset it something happens. And it’s taken so long. And God, he doesn’t know....” Her shoulders shook and she said no more. She only swayed miserably, hugging herself as the tears chased each other down her face.

Hi Honey. I’m home!”

Valerie hardly looked up from chopping onions, as her husband entered the kitchen. “Hi,” she mumbled, shifting her body away from him.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Stir-fry,” Valerie kept her head down, viciously whacking the onions into bits as her eyes streamed burning tears in protest.

“What’s wrong, Val?” Stan thumped his briefcase on the floor and came up behind her, gently laying his hands on her shoulders.

“What do you mean?” Valerie knew she was being evasive. Did she really think that, after eight years of marriage, Stan couldn’t tell when she was upset?

Her husband reached to pull her face around toward him and looked intently into her eyes. “You’ve been crying,” he stated.

“It’s the onions...” she dropped her gaze and felt her cheeks grew hot as Stan shook his head.

“You’ve been crying,” he repeated. “What’s wrong?”

A sizzle came from the stove and Valerie jerked quickly away. “The meat!” she exclaimed, frustration in her voice, but Stan reached quickly past her and turned off the burner.

“It can wait,” he said. Then he took both of Valerie’s hands in his and led her into the living room. “Thy throne awaits, my Lady.” He announced, seating her on the couch and taking his place beside her.

Valerie attempted a smile, her eyes on her worn woolen socks.

“Now Val, tell ol’ Stanny Boy what’s troublin’ de purty head, eh?” He waited, but Valerie only sighed and continued to stare at the floor. “Is it the baby?” He asked more slowly, his tone serious. Valerie looked up quickly and nodded half-reluctantly.

“Oh, Baby,” he whispered, “God’s got our baby in His hands. It’s His baby, you know, and He will take good care of it. He loves that baby. And He doesn’t want us to worry about it. You know that.”

“But...” Valerie hesitated. Should she tell Stan? “But maybe God doesn’t want me to be a mother. Stan, what if He knows that I’m not a good mother—not like I should be. What if I’ve done something to make Him angry and so He won’t let me keep this baby. I’m just so scared, Stan. I’m scared that He won’t let me be a mother.”

Stan soberly pondered her words. “Valerie, whether or not that baby lives until birth, you already are a mother.” Valerie’s heart smote her as the words echoed vindictively through her head—“you already are a mother”. A lump rose in her dry throat. “And Valerie, we have not received a spirit of slavery leading us to fear again. God forgives sin. We’ve all sinned, but He doesn’t hold that to our account. You’ve got no reason to fear—you are young and healthy with a good family history. We both love the Lord. We just need to trust Him.”

Of course Stan thought there was nothing to fear. He didn’t know what she knew. He didn’t know why God wouldn’t want her to be a mother. He didn’t know why guilt mixed with joy every time she felt her swelling stomach.

“Stan,” she swallowed hard, avoiding his eyes, then burst out, “I’ve already lost three babies!”

She knew he was taken by surprise because he didn’t answer her. He just looked at her, his mouth partly open as he tried to formulate the words. “You mean—you mean you’ve already had three miscarriages? And I didn’t know?”

Once again the guilt washed over her. Was it right to keep these things from her husband? Why hadn’t she told him before? Because she was scared of what he would think? Because she was afraid he might be hurt or upset? “Yes,” she said slowly, but only two had been miscarriages. The other had been—had been so long ago--before she met Stan, back in highschool so many years ago.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Stan did sound a bit hurt, and Valerie started from her thoughts. Yes, why didn’t she? She could just tell him now and have it over and done. Then it would be out in the open instead of lurking in the past waiting to devour her.

“Because they were so early in the term and I hadn’t even told you I was pregnant yet,” she heard herself explaining. “I couldn’t bear to tell you after—after I’d lost them.” She was sniffling again, and trying to hold it inside. She was like a scared little child, unsure and vulnerable. Oh Stan, she pleaded inwardly. Just take me in your arms and love me! If he knew...Stan, just say you love me!

“Hey, Baby, look at me.” She forced her eyes to focus on his face. She wanted to touch it to be sure it was really there, that he hadn’t gotten up and left her alone. But she kept her hands folded tightly in her lap. “When we got married,” Stan was speaking again, so she tried to listen. “We promised we’d go halves on everything—the joy and the sorrow. How can I comfort you, when I don’t know what’s eating you up? How could I understand why you were so afraid of losing the baby, if I didn’t know we’d lost several before? I wish you would have told me before now.” His tone was not angry, but grieved.

“Stan, I—I’m so sorry." The dam broke and the tears came in great waves that she could no longer control. She was sorry for so much—for not saving herself for this wonderful man, for not telling him that she hadn’t saved herself. Why had God given her such a good husband? Would Stan ever know that it was her fault they kept losing babies? All because of a baby she thought she didn’t want. Would he still love her if he knew?

“Valerie, I love you.” His arms were around her, holding her, sheltering her, promising comfort. “I’ll always love you—and so will God. He will take care of our baby.”

Stan!” The sound was only a hoarse whisper, escaping her lips. She’d gotten up quietly to avoid waking him. She felt terrible about keeping him awake so much lately with her frenzied dreams and frightened pleading. They hadn’t come tonight only because she hadn’t slept. She had laid on her back, staring out the window at the stars. “As the number of the stars is, so shall your descendants be.” She replayed it over and over again. But that promise could not be for her. That promise had been made to an old man who always trusted God and did things God’s way, not shortcutting when the way got hard. Or did he?

It was past midnight now, and she had gotten up to use the bathroom. She had done her best to be quiet to avoid waking Stan, but now she was calling for him.

“Stan, please, please wake up. Stan!”

“Val, you okay?” She could hear his voice, muffled and sleepy as he reached across the empty bed for his wife. “Valerie? Where are you?” He sounded puzzled, not fully awake yet.

“I’m in the bathroom and—and I’m bleeding.”

Stan bounded out of bed in an instant and Valerie heard his hurried footsteps as he came toward the bathroom door. Throwing it open, he squinted in the yellow light. “You’re bleeding? Are you sure?”

“Yes, Stan, I--” Valerie hunched her shoulders as a spasm shook her. “I’m going to lose it--I know I am. I’m going to lose our baby!” She was weeping hysterically now, her face buried in her hands, blonde hair spilling over them.

“Valerie, stand up. Here, we’ll get you in to the emergency room.”

“Stan, I’m afraid to move. I don’t want to hurt it, and I--”

“Valerie, it’s God’s baby! It’s His and He will take care of it. If He decides to take this baby home now, so be it. We’ll do what we can, which isn’t sitting on the toilet crying!” His tone softened, as he looked down at her humped shoulders. “Valerie, He loves the baby as much as you do. And it’s not your fault if you lose it. God decides when each person will face eternity. Give it up to God, Val. Release the baby into God’s keeping. It’s His!”

“I-I can’t!” Valerie shook her head miserably and buried it deeper into her arms.

Stan knelt beside her and pressed her head against his chest. “You’ve got to, Baby. You’ve just got to. You can’t hold on to that baby. You can’t decide whether it lives or dies. The baby is God’s to do with as He pleases.”

“Dear God,” Valerie whispered, her fingers digging into Stan’s back as she wrapped her arms around him, gripping him tightly. “Dear God, take care of Your baby. You know I want to be a mother and...”

“He knows,” Stan hurriedly comforted as she trailed off. “Come on, we’ll get you to the hospital.”

Valerie gazed absently at the smiling, white-coated nurse. “Everything will be just fine, Mrs. Kraus. The baby has a healthy heartbeat, and everything looks real good now.”

“I didn’t lost the baby? Are you sure?” Valerie asked wearily, leaning her head back against the white hospital pillows.

“A lot of women lose a little blood during the first trimester. It was definitely wise for you to come in, though, and you will want to make sure you are seeing your doctor regularly. Probably a little more often than usual with your history.” She glanced down at her clipboard and made a note.

“Thank you so much,” Stan looked up gratefully. “You folks have been wonderful.”

“How do you know?” Valerie insisted eagerly. “How do you know for sure I didn’t lose the baby? Couldn’t it still be dead--inside?”

The nurse nodded patiently and pointed toward a small screen next to the bed. “That computer is monitoring your baby’s heartbeat. The beats and the pauses are all healthy and consistent. You can see them as peaks and valleys on the green line. Like I said, everything looks very good.”

“I was so scared, “ Valerie whispered softly, her eyes riveted on the screen. “But You took care of Your baby.”

“Pardon?” The nurse leaned forward, raising her eyebrows.

“You mentioned her history,” Stan changed the topic casually. “I assume her other miscarriages put her at a higher risk. Are there some specific symptoms we should watch for? And are there some preventative measures we can take?”

“Well, actually, yes the miscarriages mark her as a higher risk, but the biggest risk factor was her abortion...”

Neither Stan nor Valerie heard the rest of what the nurse said. She noticed the strained looks on both faces and considerately withdrew. Stan could only stare at his wife, shaking his head in disbelief, as the truth dawned on him.

Valerie dared not raise her eyes. Of course the doctors had her medical records. She had written it down for them once, but she never expected it to come out in front of Stan. At least not this way. Not now. She had been going to tell him herself someday. But when? She knew Stan must feel betrayed. She would understand if he hated her. Would he ever forgive her?

“When was this?” His voice was hollow, with a hoarse catch in it like a man completely broken.

“I was sixteen,” Valerie pleaded. “Sixteen and scared. My boyfriend dumped me, and I knew my parents would kill me. I was so scared. Stan, I didn’t know. They told me all my worries would be over, but they were so wrong!”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” It was that same even, measured tone that smote Valerie’s heart with remorse. He had given her so much: protection, stability, leadership, loves. Could he ever love her again?

“I was afraid you—you wouldn’t love me,” it was a humbling confession to make and Valerie bowed her head in silent shame.

“Valerie,” his voice was right by her ear, and his arms were around her again. “Valerie, I love you ‘for better of for worse’.”

She began to cry. She had to cry, but it was not the same heavy, choking sobs that had shaken her before. It was not filled with the misery of wanting to tell him, but not daring to do so. The pain of wondering if he would forgive her—if he would still love her--no longer tore at her heart. Her tears bubbled over with relief. Like the spring rain, years of heartache welled from her eyes, running down her cheeks and cleansing her parched soul.

“Valerie, I forgive you.”

What sweetness! What a beautiful thing to say! How wonderful could life get? She had Stan, and the baby was alive, and God would take care of them all.

“And God does, too.”

“I’m so glad! I’m so glad! I was so afraid,” Valerie sobbed. “I was so afraid He wouldn’t ever let me be a mother after—“

Stan put his hand over her trembling lips, cutting her off. “As far as the east is from the west, Valerie. He’s taken your sin. And, Baby,” he took his hand away and pointed toward the monitor, still steadily reading out the baby’s heartbeat. “You already are a mother.”

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