Seven and a half years ago, I lost my second child to miscarriage. I share this post as we approach October, which is honored at Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you or someone you love has lost a child or children, I pray this reflection, offered with some distance from the initial experience of loss, will bring you comfort and hope.
I was walking in Prospect Park on a late fall afternoon, pushing my older child in a stroller, my only other child at the time a deeply loved bean within my womb. It was quiet in the park. I was on a path that veered off from the main loop. I was twenty-five and gratefully at peace with what I’d been gifted: a husband, whom I’d been dating since high school; a super cute toddler who delighted us, as well as his grandparents, aunts, and uncles; and now, another life, another step toward the big family we’d always hoped to have.
“Ethan.” The name wasn’t one we’d considered before. I’d never known an Ethan (apart from the protagonist in my favorite Christmas movie, All I Want for Christmas, who was played by an actor whose real name is Ethan, too). I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not sure whether I was even thinking of baby names. Either way, it appeared in my mind in a way that made me take notice.
I made a mental note to share the name with my husband later. We’d known our first boy would be Jacob before he existed, even before we were married. But despite wanting a large family, we didn’t have more boy names picked out.
A short time later, it was time to choose a name. At my twelve-week ultrasound, our baby didn’t have a heartbeat. We wouldn’t see his face. We wouldn’t hold him in our arms. We wouldn’t watch him grow up. We didn’t even know if he was a he. I thought there was testing done, but later my doctor told me he didn’t know the gender. As we’ve been blessed with three more healthy children and I’ve been wrong in guessing each of their genders, I’ve wondered if I was wrong about Ethan too.
But the way his name came into my mind makes me think I wasn’t. I looked up the meaning of the name: “solid, enduring, firm.” Another day I looked to see if there was a Saint Ethan: his feast is our wedding anniversary (I don’t know where I found that information; I’ve yet to find it again to confirm).
At times, I have wanted certainty. I have feared that I was wrong — and was even more wrong when we named our rainbow baby Henry Ethan. But those fears have come from viewing the situation through worldly eyes, eyes that felt lost and afraid.
I have second-guessed our decision when I’ve heard parents calling to their Ethans across a playground or in a store. Why did we have to pick the second-most popular name that year? Why not pick something less common, something I’d only have to think about if I wanted to? In a light-hearted moment, my husband asked if I was just going down the list (Jacob was the #1 name his birth year).
This summer, as someone dear to me went through her own loss, I realized that those moments I hear my baby’s name might not be a reminder to grieve. Maybe they’re a reason to hope.
My family and I pray for our Ethan’s intercession every night. So why should I be surprised if the Holy Spirit reaches out to me in his name?
I wear a ring with Ethan’s name on my finger; at this point, it’s bent to the shape of my hand and near impossible to take off. We ask for his help when we lose things, and he always, always comes through (for the story of how he helped us find my husband’s wedding ring in the Atlantic Ocean, check out chapter four of my book, Don’t Forget to Say Thank You).
When I hear a parent call to a son named Ethan, especially if he’s about seven years old, my breath still catches sometimes. I wonder what mine would have looked like at that age. I always thought he’d be brunette with brown eyes, like my Jacob and Henry, but my youngest son is blonde with blues, so who knows? What would his voice have sounded like?
The questions can go on and on. For the most part, I am at peace with the reality that that’s not the path my child lived. He’s already reached the goal and he continues to intercede for us, to reach out to us, to let us know we’re not alone.
Last year, my mom told me she expects two things to happen when, God willing, she gets to Heaven. One of them is that a handsome young man will smile at her and say, “Hi, Grandma.” And then she’ll know that she is home.
That’s hard to write, and maybe it’s hard to read. Are you crying? I’m crying! But there is such beautiful, strong, determined hope in that statement. It acknowledges the dignity of my child and the reality of our loss. It also assures me that there is something to hope for, that this life is not the end. His name, when I see it on my ring, when I pray for his intercession, or when I hear a stranger use it for her living child, reminds me of that.
Saying it’s hard to lose a child is a gross understatement. There’s no “but” there. It is. It’s super hard.
Yet I had the honor of giving this child a name. And I have started to choose joy when I hear it spoken. It’s a reminder that he’s where he needs to be, and so am I. And God willing, someday that place will be one and the same.
Copyright 2019 Lindsay Schlegel
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