A heartbeat, a hymn, and an epiphany


I was lying in on an exam table in a doctor’s office waiting for a breast exam when I had an epiphany.

It started with the opposite of an epiphany: a moment of crushing disappointment, envy, and self-pity. I was lying there in my gynecologist’s office waiting for him to examine a lump in my right breast, which appeared shortly after I miscarried my first child in July.

After a mammogram, a biopsy, and a horrible four-day wait, I found out I do not have breast cancer. But while I was lying there, waiting for the exam, I didn’t know yet, and I was scared.

Having just waded through a waiting room and a hallway full of very pregnant young women, I was remembering my last visit to this office, to confirm that I was indeed miscarrying. I shivered in my thin little gown and thought to myself that I had nothing to show for my ovarian surgery and months of fertility treatment but a suspicious breast lump.

It was a pity party for one.

And then, as I was lying there, I heard – very clearly – through the wall to my left, the sound of a baby’s heartbeat.

The walls must be awfully thin. I could hear my doctor’s voice – it’s very familiar to me by now – and the responding voices of a woman and a man. I heard laughter. And I heard that whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, as loud as if it were in the room with me.

I felt tears sliding down my cheeks. I felt horrible envy and sadness and loss.

And then suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, the words to a hymn from my Southern Baptist childhood popped into my head: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

I can’t remember the last time I thought about that song. Maybe Vacation Bible School? But suddenly it was right there, and I had no idea where it came from.

I lay there thinking about those words as the whoosh-whoosh sound went away and was replaced by happy conversation next door. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” What in the world did that mean, anyway? When you grow up in church you learn dozens of hymns, and rarely do you think about the words. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The joy of the Lord is my strength, I thought. That doesn’t make any sense.

And then, all of a sudden, it did make sense. I felt a rushing feeling in my head and my heart as the meaning of those words came to me: the joy of the Lord is my strength. It means: whatever makes God happy should make me happy.

I didn’t know then – and I still don’t – if that’s what the words are supposed to mean. But in that moment, it was completely clear. I lay there on my back in my open-front gown feeling tears start to tickle my ears, and I realized this baby next door, whose little heart was going whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, made God happy. Who in the world was I to not be happy, too?

It’s not always as easy as it sounds. For example, when I called my uncle to tell him I was pregnant back in June, he told me his new wife was pregnant, too. Her due date fell two weeks before mine.

I am so happy for my uncle. He is in his late 40s and this is his first baby, and will be my first cousin on my mom’s side. I found out the other day they are having a little boy, and the first emotion in my heart was sadness. All I could think about was how I would be learning my baby’s gender, too, if my baby had lived.

I’m not proud of the fact that wonderful news like that – or seeing pregnancy and sonogram photos on Facebook – instantly turns me into Bitter Miscarriage Lady.

But I keep reminding myself, in the words of writer Randy England: “Through the devil’s envy, death entered the world.” There’s a reason why envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Nothing good comes of it.

When you’re thinking about having an abortion, what you’re doing is not much different than what I’m doing: seeing something that makes God happy, and failing to share in it. Seeing only the dark side. Not surrendering to the joy that is always there, if you look hard enough.

I loved my baby, and my baby died. That life is over. But there are so many more surrounding me. That joy is my strength.

Whether you’re suffering from a loss or facing an unplanned pregnancy, let what makes God happy make you happy, too. The strong, beautiful heartbeat of life is always near you. Let it be your strength.

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