I am a first born.
I tell you this because it was what my mother used to say to justify why I was such a perfectionist as a child, so anxious to “get it right.” I was the child always labelled “teacher’s pet,” even as a superlative in my high school yearbook. And I was the child proud of that label.
I am obedient to a fault. Jaywalking, even when the street is totally empty, makes me uncomfortable. I come to full stops at stop signs. When I have to swing my bike onto the sidewalk in places where it’s unsafe to ride in the street, I get off and walk so as not to inconvenience pedestrians, who have the right of way there. I follow rules. All. The. Time. And I’m proud of it; I call it integrity.
What this means, however, is that I also believe that I am entitled to certain things. I follow rules. Therefore, I am intelligently minimizing my risk of bad things happening to me. Therefore, good things are more likely to happen to me, and since I’ve been such a “good girl,” I deserve them. For the vast, vast majority of my life, this “rule” held true. I was a good girl. I did well in school, attended and graduated from a good college, got a good job… you get the picture. I went to church every week and said my prayers every night.
I followed the rules for getting pregnant: I got married. We both got full-time, well-paying jobs. We got a nice place to live with a room for a nursery. I started taking prenatal vitamins three months prior to conceiving. I cut out all caffeine and alcohol. I follow rules, so I never smoked or did drugs of any kind (I’ve never even been on any prescription drugs. I’ve never even touched a cigarette.). I read all the baby books and followed the rules on what to eat, what not to eat, how not to lie on your back after your first trimester, how to exercise, why to see the dentist (I did, of course).
I did not get my reward.
The feeling of bitterness, the vast expanse of unfairness, is not altogether different from that you felt as a child when you didn’t get something you wanted, even though you behaved. But then, perhaps you could blame your parents, a teacher. When you lose a baby, who can you blame? You could blame yourself, but when you know you did nothing wrong (a fact confirmed by several doctors), it feels hollow. You are left, then, blaming intangibles. Life. Often, God.
Society encourages you to blame God, at least, that’s the way it seemed to me. “It’s part of God’s plan.” “God needed another angel.” “God never gives you more than you can handle.” And for awhile, I did blame God, but not because of that. Rather, because I followed the rules.
I go to church every week. I enjoy it. I am an active member of my lovely faith community. I have read the entire Bible, more than once (I have also read excerpts from the Qur’an, the Tanach, and several books on theology). I pray, and so did hundreds of people who found out that Ander was in the NICU. I sat in that rocking chair next to his isolette and prayed harder than I ever had before. I felt God. I felt a “miracle light.” And I thought, like so many other well-meaning but entitled women before me thought, that God would listen to me. After all, I had done everything right. I deserved to have my baby live. Plus, so many people were praying, and God listens to the prayers of the faithful who ask him for things in earnest. Especially when those things are so worthy of being saved.
Ander, of course, did not live. And with him, the structural support upon which I had built my perfectly constructed life came crashing down. I had followed all the rules, and they had failed me. The only thing I could think of to blame was God. I kept going to church because I felt God’s presence there, and to just sit in his presence and be angry was what I needed at the time.
I’m still angry, but not at God. Fortunately, I have moved out of the simplistic phase of black/white that death throws one into, and the world is full of the nuances of the gray again. I have learned to think: if Mary, a woman without sin, a woman much more perfect than I, experienced the loss of her son, then the goodness of the person, the power of the prayer, the worthiness of the life, doesn’t “matter” at all. No mother was more perfect than Mary. No mother had a more direct line to God’s ears. No mother had a son more worthy of life. Yet he died. So, thesis one: as Jesus’s death was part of God’s plan, so must Ander’s be. Mary gets only compassion for and sorrow in her loss; she doesn’t get to keep her son.
Thesis two: there is no point in faith or prayer, because God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care or is powerless to stop the bad from happening. People keep referencing the “Call the Midwife” quote in relation to this, “God is not in the event, but in the response to the event. He is in the love that is shown and the care that is given.” Perhaps – God is in the person, because the person is modeling their life on Godly values and thus shows compassion and care.
What I think I believe now: There is no way to prove that Mary was a sinless woman who gave birth to a divine child. Mary is a lovely symbol that helps me feel better, but that is all. There is no way to prove that God exists, and even if he does, he clearly does not prevent bad things from happening to good people. I am certainly not the first, nor will be the last, to experience this. And yet, I still believe in the power of faith, hope and prayer. There is value in thinking positively, choosing life over death, good over evil, sending waves of goodness and light into your being and out into the world. Nothing good has ever come from negativity, from hate.
So, I’ll keep following rules, because they protect me from guilt and are a subtle but present barrier to some of my anxieties. I’ll keep going to church, because my community there supported me in my loss, and will rejoice with me in the future. I’ll keep praying, because even if it doesn’t help, it won’t hurt.