Friday, October 10, 2008

Hello, goodbye, hello...

Yesterday didn't feel like October.

The sun was shining on the Miura peninsula and the roses are still blooming in Verny Park. I walked into the warm air around noon and took a train to Kamakura, to visit the Daibutsu again and to pray at Hasedera.

I wasn't going to write about this. I like to keep this space honest, but light and not too personal, especially since it's public and permanent. Today, this morning, honesty is winning the tug-of-war. I went to Hasedera to pray for the pregnancies Josh and I have lost.

Hasedera is a big temple in Kamakura which dates back to the eighth century CE. Its main building contains a 9m (30 ft) gilded statue of Kannon, the eight-headed deity of compassion known as Guanyin in the Chinese tradition. She is beautiful and impressive, and imposing. Next to the main hall is a series of caves which feature ancient carvings of Benzaiten, the goddess of music and wisdom. There are countless outdoor carvings and beautiful gardens, a fish pond, and a view of the ocean.

The temple also features Sentai Jizo, or 1,000 Jizo. Jizo is the guardian deity of all children, particularly those who die before their parents. I won't pretend to know much about Japanese reproductive politics, but their attitude about abortion differs from the U.S. point of view greatly - the Jizo statuettes are said to look after the souls of fetuses who are aborted (either by miscarriage or medical abortion) and parents can visit the Jizo to pray, offer gifts, and ask protection for the children they have lost.

I read about this yesterday and knew I had to go, and alone. I can't describe why I didn't want Josh there with me at Hasedera. He has felt these losses with me, has held me and taken care of me during the pain, sat for hours at the doctor's office and stayed in the room for blood tests, ultrasounds, and difficult conversations. I want to go back to the temple with him, but I didn't feel capable of sharing that experience for the first time.

Really, I didn't know what I was going to do. Cry? Fall to my knees? Pray to gods I had never heard of before that day, gods whose language I do not speak? I don't even pray in English. Thankfully, the Buddhist tradition offers some options.

I climbed the stairs from the garden and saw the Sentai Jizo right away. There were flowers, candles, and incense everywhere. A brook runs in front of the statues, some of which have baby clothes on them, brought by parents to encourage special care for the children they have lost. I bought three candles and two sticks of incense and lit the incense first - one stick for each miscarriage. Our first child would have been born in August if the pregnancy had been healthy. Our second was conceived around the same time the first was due - I would be two months pregnant if, well, if I had stayed pregnant. I lit the incense, put the sticks in the sand in front of the Jizo, and cried.

Having a miscarriage at three weeks is a strange thing. It's so physically painful, and so shocking to learn that you are pregnant and miscarrying in the same breath. There is no baby at this stage, not even a fetus - just an embryonic sac smaller than a kidney bean. This is a blessing in many ways, and completely different than suffering a miscarriage later in pregnancy. I didn't have time to get bigger, buy special clothes, or talk to the baby in my belly. I hadn't seen a positive result on a home test, hadn't made joyful announcements or started knitting impossibly tiny clothes.

But it was still so real. We want a baby - I want a baby in my arms. That was the plan: the decision to move here, where I can't work in my field, was so that we could grow our family in a safe place, with me able to stay home when the babies are little. We had both been so vigilant, all our lives, to avoid pregnancy with every method necessary. We had bought the insurance policy of careful planning and were ready to cash it in for a tiny reflection of one another. Here we are, months later, still waiting.

Making offerings to the Thousand Jizo gave me comfort yesterday. I did light the candles - candles of love and hope, shining their light for the three (count 'em!) friends of mine who are expecting babies next year. (Two of those three conceived around the time when Josh and I did. Interesting...) I don't know if that was the proper Buddhist thing to do, but the gesture felt right and I don't think the gods will hold my ignorance against me.

So yesterday was a good day. There was a butterfly on the flower offerings to the Great Buddha, and I met some new friends (sorry this post is so heavy, Carol & Tony & Andrea) who bought me sweet potato ice cream on our way to see the Buddha together.

Many of the people who read this blog have sent us the love and support that allowed us to get through the darkness, and we are both grateful. Josh and I will be parents some day, and we'll be honorary aunt and uncle even sooner than that. In the meantime, we can draw comfort in knowing that Kannon and the Jizo are standing guard, not far away.


jatwood4 said...

Dear Emily and Josh,

I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your pregnancies and potential babies -- But I am so grateful that you found a place to go and remember, mourn, and celebrate. Your mom and I were just talking -- I wish we had the same kind of temple in our traditions!

I lit a candle for you on my altar, and said a prayer, that when the time is right you will be parents of wonderful children. I love you both!

Love, Judith

Casey said...

Emily, I'm so sorry about your miscarriages.

I'd never heard of the Buddhist traditions you describe, and I can't help but wish I'd had something similar to help me grieve my losses.

My heart aches for you, but it also hopes.