*Warning: This week’s chapter deals with the topic of miscarriage.
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The bundle in Maddie’s arms, swaddled in a blue and white hospital blanket, had been so tiny, motionless. Liam wanted to run out of the room and never look back, but he knew he couldn’t. That was his baby in there, in his wife’s arms; his baby who hadn’t lived. His legs felt like lead weights as he stepped across the room, nodding at the nurse who looked at him with concern and compassion, tears in her eyes.
The nurse’s hand on his shoulder was warm as he moved to stand next to the bed, looking down at Maddie. Eyes still on the small, lifeless face peeking out from the blanket, Liam sat next to his wife, sliding his arm around her as she cried. Maddie’s hair was soft against his face as he buried it there to try to hold the tears in.
“I thought it would be different this time,” she said through the tears. “I thought this time we’d make it.”
The three other miscarriages had been early in the pregnancies and one of them had been what the doctor’s called a blighted ovum – an empty sac, or a baby that never grew enough to be picked up by the ultrasound.
Liam kissed the top of Maddie’s head and closed his eyes. “I know, Maddie. I know. Me too.”
And he had thought they’d be bringing a baby home. The nursery had been ready, the baby clothes purchased, the crib set up. When the doctor told them that the placenta had ruptured and the baby wasn’t going to survive Liam’s ears had started ringing. When he learned Maddie might be lost too, colorful lights mixed with blackness faded across his vision.
A deep breath and a head shake had kept him from hitting the ground, but the doctor still took three long steps toward him and grabbed his arm to steady him.
“Please, Mr. Grant. Sit. We’re going to do everything we can to save your wife.”
In the midst of grief was joy that Maddie had survived; that even if he couldn’t carry a baby home with him, he still had Maddie. Sitting in the dimly lit den in the back of the house, he chewed at the nail on his thumb as he remembered that horrible day and the days that followed.
There was no denying those first few months had been beyond difficult. Maddie was stoic most days, angry others. Then there were the days she spent sobbing almost uncontrollably behind the closed bedroom door, unable to get out of bed and face life, or even face him. He comforted Maddie as best as he could, tried to be gentle, tried to understand her grief and most of all he tried not to burden her with his own grief.
He had to be strong for her. She wasn’t capable of helping him heal when she couldn’t heal herself; he knew that. He also knew he should have relied more on God to heal them both, but he was angry at God; furious that God had not only let him down, but most of all that he had let Maddie down.
All Maddie had ever wanted was to be a mother. Blow after crushing blow eviscerated that dream.
Liam blamed God.
He had been raised to believe God wanted his people to prosper not suffer, that he loved them. If that was true, then why had this so-called compassionate God let Maddie suffer so much and so often?
After the loss of the baby, who he and Maddie named Abrielle, Liam buried himself in work at the public relations firm he’d been employed by during that time. When he wasn’t working, he did his best to make Maddie happy — making her dinners, making sure she had quiet time, and not pressuring her to go back to work at the small magazine she’d been working at.
She was never happy, though. She didn’t want to take the medicine the therapist had suggested. She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t answer phone calls from her parents or come out of her room for visits by Cassie or her friends. She didn’t want him to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay.
Many days it seemed like it was him she wasn’t happy with. He finally gave up trying to make her happy. Maybe he should haven’t have given up. Maybe if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have wanted the divorce.
He stood from the loveseat in the den and paused at the window, looking out at the side yard, barely lit by the half moon. He rubbed his chin, biting the inside of his lip.
“I want a divorce.”
Those had been her exact words and she’d said it without even flinching, other than a small muscle jumping in her right eye, right above the small scar she’d gotten when she fell off her bike at 8-years old. Liam had used to kiss that scar, then her cheek, on his way to her mouth.
He hadn’t really wanted a divorce, but he had known in that moment it was what Maddie wanted.
She felt he’d never been there for her, that he had abandoned her.
If she felt that way, there was no changing her mind, no matter how many times he reminded her of how often he had been there.
He shook his head and drank the last of his soda down.
Maybe after the divorce, they would find the healing and peace neither of them could find when they were together.
Maddie poured herself a glass of milk and squeezed in a large helping of chocolate syrup. She knew it wasn’t right, but during stressful times she reached for comfort food and that comfort food was usually full of fat and sugar.
Walking to the back deck she flopped in a lawn chair and guzzled the milk, looking out at an empty backyard, a backyard she had once thought would house a swing set, a tiny kiddie pool, and a sandbox.
She could still remember the conversation she’d had with Cassie after the loss of Abrielle.
“What is wrong with my body? Women’s bodies are supposed to grow babies! It’s natural! That’s what all the books say! I guess I’m just not natural.”
Cassie — beautiful, sweet and fertile Cassie, pregnant with baby number three — shook her head and reached out to take her hand.
“Maddie, that isn’t true. There isn’t anything wrong with you. If there is a medical reason you can’t carry a baby to term the doctors will find it. Having a medical reason for the miscarriages doesn’t mean you’re not a real woman.”
Maddie had known Cassie was right, but she still struggled with toxic thoughts, thoughts that told her that her body had failed her, but more importantly, Liam. She’d seen Liam with his nieces and nephews. She knew he’d be a wonderful father and she’d wanted to make him that father. It had never happened, though, and no matter how many times someone told her it wasn’t her fault, she knew it was.
She leaned back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes against hot tears.
It was her fault Liam wasn’t a dad.
It was her fault their marriage had fallen apart.
What had happened to her? When had she become so miserable? When had she become someone that even she wouldn’t want to be around? No wonder Liam had jumped at the opportunity to divorce her.
He needed someone who had as much passion for life as he did, who wasn’t miserable and depressed and cold.
“God,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “How did I get here, at this miserable, lonely place? Why did you abandon me here?”
A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly with the back of her hand, choking out a small laugh. Maybe you’re asking why I abandoned you, huh? She shook her head. I don’t know anymore, Lord. I don’t know where I’ve been or even who I am.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, bowing her head against them, letting the tears flow.
Father, help me let Liam go, so he can be happy again.
Tiny fingers and toes, pudgy arms and pudgy legs. Cassie kissed Tyler’s newborn nose, tears streaming down her face part from exhaustion but also joy.
“I can’t believe he’s here,” Matt whispered near her ear and when she turned her head, she saw that her husband’s face was streaked with tears too.
There were days it felt like Tyler had been born yesterday, not the 13-years it actually was. Thirteen years. So much had happened during that time. Two more pregnancies and two more children, her retirement from social work, Matt’s campaign. . . . How had it all gone by so fast?
There were times Cassie thought she should have done more with her life by now, but there were other times she was happy with where she was. She’d decided to send the children to a small, private Christian school the year before last when Matt’s national profile had increased. She began volunteering there regularly, helping the children at the school sign out library books or teaching them art. Best of all, she was able to see her own children throughout the day, keep an ey on them and make sure they weren’t approached by anyone from Matt’s political world. So far, the media had left the children alone, even when they hadn’t left her alone.
The story on the opinion page of the Post last year had questioned her involvement with the school. If Senator Matt Grant’s children attended a Christian school where his wife also volunteered, could he be trusted to treat all of his constituents fairly? What about the Muslim children? Or the Buddhists? Or even the Jewish?
“How will Grant’s faith influence his oath of office to represent all of his constituents?” the columnist asked.
“It won’t,” Matt told a reporter who posed the same question at a press conference a few days later. “My faith is what inspires me to care about all of my constituents. I believe God created them and called for me to love them as he has loved me and them.” He told her later he had smiled easily, winking at the reporter good-naturedly, even though inside he had felt unsettled by the question. “And you, Jim. He has called for me to love even you.”
The critics continued to squawk, though, and after that Cassie decided to no longer read or listen to the news. She tried instead to focus all her attention on her children and family. She had buried herself in volunteering, in reading, in her Bible study, in anything to try to drown the critical voices of the world out.
She was beginning to realize now, though, that she’d also drowned out Matt and her marriage, subconsciously pushing aside anything she thought might threaten her family’s safety. Pouring herself a glass of milk she leaned back against the counter and winced. Did she really think being close to Matt was a risk to their safety? If anything, being closer to him should have been a comfort in a sea of chaos.
If she had been feeling like she had been in a sea of chaos, alone on a storm-tossed ship in the middle it, then how had Matt been feeling? He’d been the one at the brunt of it, the one taking the hits and, in almost every way, the one shielding the rest of the family from the blows.
Walking into the living room, sipping the milk, she watched Matt in the backyard with the children, tossing a rubber ball between each of them. He tipped his head back and laughed when it bounced off Gracie’s forehead and she tumbled backwards, giggling. Tyler picked it up and tossed it to Lauren, who quickly dropped it, giggling too much to hold on to it.
Lauren bent to pick it up and Matt lunged for it at the same time, snatching it from her then gently bouncing it off her forehead, sending her into another fit of giggles. Cassie couldn’t hear what they all were saying, but she knew the children were finding whatever Matt was saying funny by their laughter and wide grins.
Cassie hadn’t seen Matt this relaxed and joyful in at least two years, probably longer. She watched him as he tossed the ball, his muscles still well defined and toned after all these years, visible underneath the t-shirt pulling against his stomach as he lifted his arms to catch the ball, stop it from sailing over the fence into the neighbor’s pool.
An ache filled her chest, moved up her throat, threatened to spill tears down her face. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the emotion but it didn’t work. Tears pooled in her eyes, streaked her cheeks and she let them roll, knowing they were as full of joy as they were sadness. She was so grateful for this time with her family, with Matt, but she was also sad that she hadn’t tried to have more of it in the last couple of years.
Matt deserved so much more from her. More of her attention, more of her comfort; simply more of her. She needed to stop holding back and lower her walls. She needed to be sure she was supporting him in every facet of life.
Running for re-election may not have been something she wanted, but it was something he wanted. He was running because he felt it was not right for the people who had voted for him, but his family.
“Lord, help me to be what Matt needs me to be for him,” she whispered, wiping another tear away. “Help us to both lay down what we want for what you want. For what you need us to do in this time.”
On the tenth night of quarantine, still with no sign of illness, Liam headed to bed early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. He slid under the covers, emotionally and physically drained. He was glad, though, that he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.
His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.
She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.
Matt was right.
Liam still loved Maddie.
Sadly, it was growing more obvious that Maddie didn’t feel the same way about him. The anger she had for him radiated off her each time they passed each other in the house. He didn’t even try talking to her. She’d spoke her piece. Her mind was made up about their marriage.
To her it was over, and he needed to accept that.
Sleep had finally begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter, ignoring it. Ignoring her. Another knock. He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.
The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor.
What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.
Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her again.
She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”
She sighed in the darkness and he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.
He rolled his eyes. “What?”
Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in sharply and slowly let out again.
“Will you hold me?”
He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.
“Just hold me. Nothing else.”
Was this some kind of trick to lull him into a false-sense of security? He squinted again, trying to see if she was holding a weapon of some kind.
She seemed serious.
He heard a vulnerability in her tone he hadn’t heard in a long time.
“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”
She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold, and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. There was a time he’d asked if she needed the rest of her body warmed up too and there was a time she’d say ‘yes’ and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.
He wasn’t going to ask if she needed warming up this time.
Surprise opened his eyes wide as she laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes.
They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”
His voice as soft. “I know.”
“People are scared.”
“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”
“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”
Silence settled over them again.
She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”
Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” He shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”
Silence stretched between them again.
He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”
“If this kills one of us —”
“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”
“But if it does . . . ” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast as she exhaled. “I want you to know . . . I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”
Liam laughed softly.
“Thanks. I guess.”
“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix me.”
Crickets chirped outside. A dog barked somewhere down the street. Liam closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Yeah. I know.”
He laid his hand over hers, the one laying on his chest.
“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I did care. I’ve always cared.”
He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm as he trailed his fingertips down it, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase.
But he was aware of it.
All of it.
Much more than he wanted to be.
He slid his other arm under her and she slumped into him as he moved his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder. He squeezed it gently then lightly touched his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”
He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.
“I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.
“Sleep. We can talk more in the morning.” He looked at the ceiling, barely visible in the darkness from the orange glow of the streetlight outside. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”
She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if that closeness was only physically.
Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him?
Maybe it had been the stress and worry talking. The exhaustion even.
The only thing he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off, knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.