Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo, Free for CAPC Members
Dr. Cutillo seeks to engage readers in rethinking, and re-engaging, health and care from a redemptive approach.
Six months ago I took a pregnancy test on a whim. I knew it would be negative: they all had been, one almost every month for the last two and a half years. But I did it anyway. When the first pink line appeared, my stomach didn’t drop the way it used to. But it did five minutes later when I checked again and the test was positive.
This is the sort of hope we should offer up to mothers who have lost their babies. It is not a tidy or immediately gratifying one, but it is steadfast and realistic.I was horrified. It was the moment I had coveted for years, but the expected elation didn’t come. I sat alone in the bathroom for ten minutes before making the zombie-like trek outside to tell my husband. I’d imagined this moment over and over—the Pinterest-approved ways I could tell him the news, the excitement on my son’s face when he found out. All of those things seemed laughable at that moment, and instead I delivered the news with the somber directness of someone announcing a death. What I said was, “So, it may not mean anything good yet, but I just took a positive pregnancy test.” What I meant was this: “We’re going to have another miscarriage soon.”
A little more than a year before, I had stood in the same spot and delivered the same news. I did miscarry that child, as I suspected I would, as I’d miscarried before that. Still, despite being overwhelmed with fear, I had a feeling this pregnancy would go differently. And, by the grace of God, so far it has. I recently entered my third trimester of a fairly low incident pregnancy, and we are expecting a baby girl on January 1.
Two and a half years of miscarriages and infertility has shaped this pregnancy—sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. I have spent a lot of time panicking. The first trimester felt like one extended fit of anxiety. Even now, at 28 weeks, I close my eyes as I pass my daughter’s nursery. Letting myself envision her there feels like a bad idea.
But my miscarriages and infertility have also granted me both a sensitivity toward others I did not feel during my first, successful pregnancy and a level of realism through which to view the blessing of a successful pregnancy. Namely, I have been acutely aware that this pregnancy is not something that was owed to me. Healthy babies are not the inevitable outcome for mothers who have struggled through pregnancy and infant loss.
I say this not because I am still fearful (though I am, many days), but because I vividly remember what it was like to walk through infertility. I remember the moment “it will happen for you soon” turned from encouraging refrain to empty promise—one that highlighted the desperation with which I longed for another baby. And for this same reason I have avoided the term rainbow baby, the popular designation for babies that come after the loss of a pregnancy or infant. The term, which has gained popularity in recent years, is an allusion to sunshine after a storm—redemption after destruction. And, for Christians, the imagery unmistakably nods toward God’s covenant promise delivered after He flooded the earth.
On its surface, the term seems hopeful. Somewhere in this world is a group of children borne by women who walked through the destruction of miscarriage, children who bear the symbolism of a covenant promise. It becomes more problematic, though, when you consider the exclusivity of this sort of hope. Not all women who walk through miscarriage will hold a rainbow baby. For some women, “it will happen for you soon” will always be an unfulfilled, hollow promise. This type of exclusivity contradicts the universalism inherent in biblical rainbow imagery. And, further, it implies that miscarriages and infant losses are the result of God’s judgment, an incredibly unhealthy conclusion to arrive at, considering the amount of guilt many women already feel regarding their own miscarriages.
Still, I take issue with the term rainbow baby, not because I feel there is no hope for women who have suffered pregnancy and infant loss, but rather because I feel there is a greater hope—one that transcends the goodness of a successful subsequent pregnancy.
A few days after I took that positive pregnancy test six months ago, my son, who is five, asked me what the colors of the rainbow were. He’d recently taken an interest in coloring rainbows, and because I am apparently the only person on the planet who never learned the ROYGBIV acronym, I had to google the answer on my phone. I kept the tab open—accidentally at first—and then eventually on purpose.
Glancing at my browser filled me with hope. Not just hope that this pregnancy would be successful, but a hope in God’s goodness even if it isn’t. Six months later, I still keep the tab open. It is a daily reminder of God’s covenant promise, one that He made between Himself and all living creatures. I remember both the universalism in this promise and the restrictiveness in what it means—universal in that the covenant applies to all earth’s living creatures, restrictive in that it does not promise deliverance from suffering, but rather the preservation of humanity from total destruction.
This is the sort of hope we should offer up to mothers who have lost their babies. It is not a tidy or immediately gratifying one, but it is steadfast and realistic. I am grateful that God has granted me another baby. I still have to work through the bitterness multiple miscarriages have left me with too, though, and I cannot subscribe to a hope that excludes another version of my story—that excludes many of my other sisters in Christ. And I cannot subscribe to a narrative that makes such a broad hope as God’s covenant so narrow.
For a long time, the idea of a rainbow baby was a numbing salve. It appeased my longing by teasing the inevitability of a happy ending. The covenant God signals with rainbows, on the other hand, is not immediately pleasing. It is, though, a more profound, universally lasting hope—a holistic redemption that has endured for generations and which exists outside of human circumstances.
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