By age thirty, Julia had experienced her third miscarriage. When she informed me of her most recent pregnancy, it was in stark contrast to her enthusiasm at age twenty-four, newly-wed and eager. The fear was so evident, like a shadow that hovered over her wherever she went. Julie’s courage visibly trembled in fear’s dark presence. I held her hand and tried desperately to be a harbinger of hope. I smiled and said, “This time …” This time she would be able to hold that beautiful baby in her arms, to hear his first cries, to draw his tiny mouth to her breast and nourish him. This time she wouldn’t awake in the night to blood dripping down her inner thighs. This time the baby wouldn’t lie motionless inside of her, and she wouldn’t see the obstetrician shake his head in confirmation that there was no longer a heartbeat. I assured her that this time she would know only the pain of labor, not of loss. But, I saw the doubt on her face and I felt it in my heart. It took less than three weeks for the proof I was wrong. She had given up on the trying, she said, because she couldn’t take the pain anymore. She and I both knew, though, that sharp sting would linger for all her life.
Since age twenty, Trina lived with a secret deep inside of her–a secret that stirred and scratched about yearning for release. After being reminded of her loss as we jointly consoled Julie, Trina told me what she had not even told her own mother then. She had left him years ago because she was pregnant. She should have left him before that, but we often make decisions that are not truly in our own best interest. He was the father by fact, but she couldn’t possibly imagine the life her own flesh would have should that child be exposed to the same physical abuse she had endured, always further numbing herself and foolishly excusing him. There were moments of panic and indecision, and then there was the morning, which haunts her still, when she stepped into that clinic. The child that had been growing within her was removed and replaced with a chilling hollowness that would torment her for all her life. Guilt, like Julie’s companion fear, is the dark shadow that now slinks behind Trina and hides in corners of her heart.
I slipped on Julie’s shoes once, and quickly kicked them off. I hated how they felt. Those shoes would never grow worn on me, for fear only briefly taunted me as opposed to becoming a constant companion. I never tried on Trina’s shoes, as those high heels terrified me. Yet, I somehow understand the way each now treads for simply knowing their stories. In this knowing, there remains a confusion regarding why many individuals would be quick to comfort one woman and condemn the other.
I know the pain is real for both women; my sympathies are not in competition. Who am I to say one can hold on to hurt while the other doesn’t deserve ownership of her emotions? Who is any one of us to deny a woman her sorrow and suffering? Perhaps you have also paced in Julie’s ragged, tattered sneakers; perhaps you too have staggered in Trina’s strapped platform heels. Maybe you have only known one pair of comfortable loafers your whole life. Regardless, both women deserve understanding. It wasn’t easy for either of them and empathy is a preferred companion to guilt and fear.