Friday, September 23, 2016


Words don’t relay
They catch in your throat besides

You pray
And you say
Make me thine

Grace is something like falling rain
For after the years of changing pain


He says

You are mine.

(You can listen to this song too, if you'd like to.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Irene and the Miscarriage

This post is the eleventh in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

A still from Women of Faith, 2013.

"And then shall that which is written come to pass: Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord."*

I've recently reached a tipping point of sorts. I think the scriptural turn of phrase is "a mighty change has been wrought" in me. It doesn't look the way I thought it would, and it didn't happen through any predicted mechanisms. In fact, the weight that tipped the scales was something unbearably sad. Two somethings actually. A baby boy and a baby girl. Each belonging to someone dear to me. The boy didn't have a name. But the girlher name was Sequoia.

Five years ago, in August of 2011, Anna and I started developing a project we dubbed "Women of Faith."  2011 had been a harrowing year for me, and it was poised to get quite a bit worse. The depth of pain that I would become acquainted with in the following months would have been entirely incomprehensible to me in August, but by the end of the season it would become as close to me as an old friend. Closer than Anna probably.

But there we were. Sitting in my basement living room I had painted grey and robin's egg blue. Camlyn was there. And Caitlin. And Alex. And Daughters in My Kingdom. And we prayed and we asked to be led to the stories that we were supposed to tell. The women that we needed. We asked to be led to stories of women of faith.

If I were to paint a picture of myself at the time... well she's not too unlike me as I am now. Same unruly hair and unusually skinny arms and the same kindness in her eyes. But she carried more pain than I do now and more doubt too. And I think that's the important part. The mighty change.

In February of 2016 I felt expectantfiguratively speakingbecause these two dear ones, one Anna and one not, were expecting. The second mother-to-be had waited for her baby for a long time. For Anna though, the growing daughter was... more of a surprise, at least relatively speaking.

Both were due near the end of the summer.

"God will you please send me a woman to help me through this? Someone who knows what this is like? I can't relate to the men I read about in the scriptures anymoreand I need a woman. Please, I need a woman."

We'd made it to October of 2011. And it was General Conference. I'd written down my list of questions in my journal prior to conference. Standard procedure. And then Sunday afternoon as I was putting together my things to watch the session at a friend's apartment, a question popped into my mind with uncharacteristic spontaneity.

"I wonder if anybody Mormon was connected to the Titanic?"

The thought passed. I laughed. "Not likely that question is getting answered in General Conference," I responded.

You can imagine my surprise when near the end of the session, not quite four minutes into his remarks, Quentin Cook segued his teachings on tragedy into a history lesson on the unsinkable ocean liner. And then, at 5:42 he said, "There were at least two Latter-day Saint connections to the Titanic."

"For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God."

The baby boy went first. His heart stopped beating before he would have been ready to leave the womb. I read a post about it on Facebook. Inhaled sharply. That breath was suspended for what might have been months or years. Don't know how long it was really. 

You don't know what to do in those moments. I don't at least. Do you string together a few vowels and a few consonants in a white digital box when someone's world has been shattered? Aim for somewhere between pithy and pathetic and pray that what comes out is some shade of comforting? Probably. That's what I did. At least I think I did. Can't remember now. 

By the time the vertigo of the coincidence had passed Elder Cook had reached the really important part. Important for me anyways.

Her name was Irene. Irene Corbett. What I knew after listening to him relate what happened to her that April night was this:

She died when that ship sank.

And she was my answer twice over. Irene would be my she-mentor and my story. The story I was supposed to tell. The woman of faith I had asked for.

Knowing these things, of course, didn't change her story. And I was about to discover that there was quite a bit lurking under the surface there. Her story was a kind of sea-buried wreck in it of itself.

Anna's miscarriage was less sudden. Drawn out over an entire night and day. We had texted that evening about meeting up with some friends to attend a poetry slam. She was going to bring her sister and her sister's friend. Thirty minutes into the slam she still hadn't turned up.

"Are you here?"

"No. Something weird just happened. Like pregnancy weird. And my on-call nurse thinks I should go to the ER. So I think I'm going to go :-("

Later text messages revealed that her gestational sac was hanging out of her cervix and that she'd been moved from the ER to Labor and Delivery. She was only 18 weeks along, so I knew almost immediately that there wasn't a whole lot that could happen in Labor and Delivery at the hands of its human workers that could save this little one. It would take a miracle, definitely.

Why did Irene go to London? 

That's a question I've asked God many times.  The knot at the heart of Irene's story was wound more tightly in controversy than most knots I'd seen. And I didn't want to risk it. How could she be a woman of faith when she acted against the council of the prophet?

We, Katie and I, went to see Anna in the hospital that night. I was worried about her. Her husband, Paul, was out of town. You could see it in her eyesthe apprehension, the fear. If you know Anna, really even at all, you too would probably react with intensity to seeing those emotions in her demeanor. They're so completely antithetical to who Anna is, at her core. I can't think of a person who's taught me more about gratitude and sunbeams and trusting than Anna.

So I held her hand in the rigid way that I usually do and something fumbled it's way through my teeth and I cried a little and so did she and I prayed prayed prayed for God not to pain Anna like this. "She's already suffered so much in this last year," I reminded Him (and Her). Katie and I drove home and I cried some more. Didn't really sleep.

I can't quite put into words how much it hurt me to see her on the prow of a sinking ship.

Nobody really knows why Irene went to London. Her parents and siblings were so grief-stricken by the tragedy that they burned all her letters and personal effects. Irene's three children were too young to remember anything. And so what we have now is a handful of puzzle pieces passed down through hearsay over the hundred years that have elapsed since that fateful night.

What is clear is that Irene wanted to go to London to study anti-septic midwifery. The infant mortality rate was high in Utah at the time, and the school Irene had been accepted to, The Lying-In Hospital, was the first in the world to merge germ theory with birthing practices.

Irene did have three children at home. And she had a husband, Walter, who understandably didn't want her to go. But for some reason she persisted in her desire. She had the support of her parents, Levi and Mary Colvin, who mortgaged their farm to pay for her schooling. Her mother-in-law, Mary Harris, decidedly did not feel the same way. She was a favored niece of the prophet, Joseph F. Smith.

The way Irene's grandson tells the story, Irene had made up her mind to go. She and her father went to see the prophet, because Irene figured that since she was going to be in England for six months anyways she'd like to be set apart as a missionary. The prophet did not give his blessing. He'd already spoken with Irene's mother-in-law and so he duly informed Irene that she had a duty to her husband and to her family.

This didn't change Irene's mind. 

Next morning I was up early. Put on a dress. It was a Sunday. I fretted around for an hour or two before driving to the hospital. I arrived mid doctor's visit, so I waited in the lobby. The thickness that hung in Anna's room quickly relayed to me that things hadn't improved. Anna still thought that they might. And I wondered if perhaps they could.

The rest of the morning was a blur. There was a sacrament meeting we attended. There were more tears, lots of them, that landed on that vinyl hospital floor. 

Anna asked me to read the scriptures to her. And here: a tender mercy. Just that morning a piece I'd written about Eve had been published on another blog. Anna and Eve are very close. If you can say such a thing.  And so a bit of gratitude found me in the midst of those grieving tears. Because I'd been prepared with a bit of Eve for Anna.

"In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but in everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer."

I knew. The answer was in my heart already. Irene went to London because God called her to go. But who would believe such a thing? Would God call a woman to leave her family and travel to the other side of the world to pursue advanced training? By itself it's far enough outside cultural expectations surrounding who God is and what He (and She) will ask of a woman. But when you add on top of it that she died... that she didn't make it off the Titanic alive. That her breath and heartbeat ceased in what has to be the greatest maritime miscarriage there ever was. Well it seems like the moral of the story speaks for itself.

And yet God told me. He (and She) told me that Irene was a woman of great faith. And in his own way, Quentin Cook said the same thing. "She was careful, thoughtful, prayerful, and valiant."

And besides all that in her I saw myself. It made sense to me that her path of revelation could be misunderstood by those she loved, it even made sense to me that it could take her, lifeless, to the bottom of the icy sea. Because in a very real and figurative way that was where my path of revelation took me.

I don't know as much about Heavenly Mother as I want to. But among the many gifts Anna's miscarriage gave me was this: from now until forever when I think on Her my mind is filled with an image of Anna on that hospital bed, and the choice that she made.

Anna chose to move forward with the birth knowing that it would and only could be a death. Choosing it despite the promise of life and health she'd carried in her womb for the previous 18 weeks. It was a very visceral moment of agency. The Eve kind. 

I wasn't present when she decided. I had gone home to eat after Anna's mother had arrived. After I finished my meal the Spirit said to me in an unmistakable voice, "Leave your house at 6:00." So I did. And I returned to her hospital room a few minutes after the pitocin had been administered. 

What neither Anna nor I realized was that miscarriage is still, for all intents and purposes, a birth. Shorter in its duration, sure. But all the other trappings, the water, the blood, the contractions, the pain that produces the screams you've never heard and surely never wanted to, they would all be present and accounted for.

I've often thought that if I could pick my death I'd choose to drown. I nearly drowned once, when I was twelve. And it was pleasant, almost. Of course I've always been comfortable, probably too comfortable, in the water.

I was river rafting with my grandfather and aunt and cousins. After a long day on the water we came to a portion of the river the guide called—I still remember it—Cherry Rapids. He told us that the swells in this part of the river were caused by the current rather than any submerged rocks, so we'd be safe to ride them outside the raft. No undertow.

One by one the four of us bailed out. I was last. I didn't jump quite far enough away from the boat. So rather than getting guided around the raft by the current I was sucked under it. The life vest I had on posed a significant problem, as it was pulling me towards the surface as the inflated raft above me pushed me down. 

A brief sensation of terror swept through me that fueled a lot of futile kicking. I have no idea how long I was under the water. But I do know that enough time passed for the terror to subside. A kind of oxygen-deprived trance took over. 

But somehow, I felt peace too.

I thought that if this was the end of my life, I should probably pray. "Dear Heavenly Father," I said, "If this is the end please help my father and my mother and Diana, and Eli, and Emily. If not, please help me now. In Jesus' name amen." It was a total and genuine submission. 

I opened my eyes after the prayer. Not something I often do underwater. Sensitive eyes. And at precisely this moment a thin orange rope floated into my view. I grabbed it and was yanked out from under the raft. 

So sometimes, you are saved.

I've been trying to write this passage for some time. And I've decided that I cannot adequately express the horror that is a miscarriage. 

I remember Anna, bloodied and crippled with pain. The anesthesiologist arrived with his needle, but a bit too late for it to really take effect before too-small Sequoia left her. He grabbed Anna and flipped her body over in the midst of the kind of screams that tear through your ears and the rest of you.

But somehow, I felt peace too. 

He was there. He always is. 

I've wondered why Irene didn't make it off the ship. She was 1 of 22 second class female passengers who didn't. Quentin Cook put forward something I heard from Don Corbett, Irene's grandson. "It is believed that she didn't get into one of the lifeboats because, with her special training, she was attending to the needs of the numerous passengers who were injured in the iceberg collision."

But my research has indicated that nobody was injured. At least not in the collision.

If you've seen James Cameron's Titanic you probably have a frame of reference for the third class passengers. The historian I've talked to said that they weren't truly locked in the bottom of the ship. Even still though, many of them would have died down there, as the iceberg tore its way through the hull, and those lower compartments were the first to take on water.

52 third class children died. 52 out of 79.

Irene had been working with mothers and children of the lower caste during her time in London. Prostitutes. The uneducated. The homeless. One of the postcards she sent home that wasn't destroyed describes how she would pick fleas off of the babies who came to The General Lying-in Hospital. So I like to think that she was down there. With them.

Of course she was.

And suddenly there she was. Sequoia. So, so tiny. So unready for the world. She had a fragile little body colored like a grape. But so beautiful. The way her tiny toes and fingers rounded. Her cheekbones visible and her eyelids too.

I cried for what could have been. And I cried for what was. And I cried for Anna and Paul. And for the things I didn't understand. There were so many. I cried for Anna's grace, for her courage, grateful for her strength to let go and to clutch.

I went home a few hours later and sat parked in my car outside my darkened house. I wailed into the steering wheel. Some sad song coming out of the speakers. To help me finish. Because, sometimes, you have to feel it through to the end. All the way.

And I also cried in a different way. Cried to the Lord for my own strength to let it go. Like Anna.

"O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

Sapphires come in bluemost people know thatbut my aunt who was a jeweler taught me that sapphires also come in yellow, pink, and green. Agates are multicolored. Orange and purple, often. Carbuncles are a red stone.

They call babies that come after a miscarriage rainbow babies. And a few weeks ago Anna announced that she is having two. Twins! An exquisite and intimate fulfillment of Isaiah 54:11-12. But it took time. For my other friend, no such relief is in sight. And for Irene... her tragedy might take even more time to be righted.

And for me?

I don't understand it. But somehow, I too have been healed. It didn't go backwards though. My questions haven't dissipated. My awareness of the wrongs I've been dealt, the wrongs womankind, and more largely humankind, have sufferedthey haven't disappeared. But they have moved from centerstage. The love that found me is so big that it's swallowed up the grief. It happened because finally my capacity to trust has deepened. I believe. Something.

I believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is. For now he's given me a crown and, given time, he has true recompense for every injustice, every pain, every malady that I've suffered here. He has this balm of mercy and justice for all of us. I don't know how to describe it. Except for this way:

And somehow, I feel peace too. 

Me as Irene Corbett on set for Women of Faith, June 2013.

*The italicized verses of scripture are all pulled from the 54th chapter of Isaiah, which I think has to be among my top five favorite chapters ever. Such exquisite female imagery.