It looked like an egg dissected down the middle. But instead of a slimy and shapeless center, the yolk was beating.
Hump. Hump. Hump.
“Fast and healthy!” said Katie as she moved the ultrasound baton over Lucy’s belly.
My baby had a male appendage, and Lucy’s had a heartbeat. All was well at the doctor’s office that winter afternoon.
Until later that night when Lucy called me crying,
She bled all that night, and for weeks after. That lively, beating yolk disseminated into tissue and left her body via labor-like cramping.
Her baby was gone and her was heart broken.
For weeks I wondered why I felt so strongly that Lucy should come with me to find out the gender of my baby. My husband was out-of-town and our cousin Katie had an opening in her schedule. It didn’t seem right to find out the news all alone, there in a dark basement room, and the thought of inviting my little sister reoccurred in my mind. She was eight weeks pregnant, sick and worried. Normal.
“Call Lucy.” I heard all morning.
I called. She came. Katie had time to check both of us. Our babies were alert and strong. We celebrated at dinner that night. Japanese food with our father. Her miscarriage started a short time later.
This experience shocked not only Lucy and me, but Katie as well. For some time after we traded theories, all viable, all plausible. Miscarriage is common, we understood, but the timing perplexed us. Finally, I knew of no other way to satisfy Lucy’s grief and my confusion then to ask my Heavenly Father why?
Why were we supposed to see her baby alive only hours before she lost it?
I wasn’t given an answer, but another question. The same question every mother has ever asked since the beginning of this earth.
When does life begin?
Peace would come in the answering, I was assured. Not only peace for the given situation, but requisite for my own baby whose secure entry into this world was not guaranteed either.
One night, in a state of insomnia induced by pregnancy, I searched the doctrines of the Church for an answer. They ranged from Brigham Young’s insistence that life begins when the mother feels the baby move, to ideas that–just like Adam–life is not received into the body until there is a breath. From the Church’s Public Issue’s website it is declared that, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on the moment that human life begins.”
In answering this question I was left with my own resource, the promise that prayer and study would resolve my concerns. So I began to ask that I might receive.
My answer came in three parts as I meditated on this unpublished doctrine:
The remembrance of my Nana who died years ago of Alzheimer’s.
At first Nana was just confused. I’d sit in the living room with her and listen as she told the same story three, sometimes four times in a row. Then she’d ask,
“Did I already tell you that story?”
As my mother had already rehearsed me for this moment, I’d reply,
“No! What a funny story!”
To which she’d reply,
“Well, it reminds me of another story . . .”
And the tale would start again.
As the disease conquered more of her brain, she became less amiable. Part of her soul was missing. She’d have panic attacks and ask us,
“Where am I?”
And I’d wonder too, where was she?
Later, she was moved to a home where she could get twenty-four hour care. We’d visit and surround Nana’s beside. The nurse would enter the room telling my mother,
“She was talking to Angus last night. She was laughing.”
“Ah yes.” Mother would explain,
“Angus is her father. He’s already gone. She’s starting to go.”
On Thanksgiving night we received the phone call. Nana was gone.
I also recalled another memory.
One of walking on the frozen Utah lake with my mother last year. I was almost thirty. Almost five years invested into wanting a baby. Almost five years of no return.
“I feel that I should tell you about when you were born,” my mother said as the dogs chased out on the white lake before us.
“I wanted another daughter. Poor Page, stuck in the middle of four brothers. You can’t imagine how excited I was to find out that I was pregnant again!”
Really? I thought. Even after five babies? Is it never just routine?
“One night, when I was about twelve weeks along, I started to cramp and bleed. I knew I was miscarrying. Your dad took me to the hospital where I stayed for awhile. I sat in the hospital bed, overwhelmed by sadness. I prayed and prayed for hope, and it came. I was visited by you. You didn’t say anything, but I knew it was you, and I knew that you had decided to leave, but you promised to come back.”
Then she added,
“When you came, a year later, I saw that you had such a fickle personality. I was assured that we had met before.”
I awoke one morning with a vision.
It was an hourglass. The top sand was slipping through the skinny waist into the bottom.
And I knew my answer.
Perhaps life doesn’t begin or end at a single moment. Maybe, if given normal, natural causes, our souls slip from one side to the other until we are all here, or we are all there. My Nana spent time dwelling on both sides until heaven pulled stronger. Similarly, I started out in my mother’s womb partially there, but cognizant enough to pull the plug when I wasn’t thrilled about the body being created for my spirit.
I thought about a heaven full of spirits yearning for bodies, and an earth full of bodies longing to be spirits.
This was peace for me. I liked the residual emotion of transition, better than the harshness of finality. It made enough sense to ease my confusion and offered hope into my heart. Lucy’s baby would come again.
But perhaps most importantly, I learned that the Church’s absence of an official position regarding this doctrine has a purpose. Each mother is allowed to search for herself the enlightenment that is promised to those who seek. And for each mother there is an interpretation. An answer that transcends official positions and public discourse to reside only in a quiet, maternal heart.