By WENDY HODGE
Occasionally there are days when I sit in front of a blank screen with only a blinking cursor and the silence of my thoughts to keep me company, struggling to find words to say that will be important, insightful, worth reading and remembering. Sometimes I get lucky and words tumble out all by themselves. But sometimes they get stuck somewhere deep inside and I have no way how to nudge them loose.
Today is one of those times. Deadlines loom and work schedules interfere, and all week I have been trying to think of something insightful to write. But then a friend reached out to tell me she had lost a baby. She’d been trying for so long and had so many disappointments. This time she was so sure things were going to be okay. But once again, nature had a different plan. When I told her I had no idea how to comfort her, that words were eluding me, she said, “It’s okay. Some griefs there are just are no words for. No words at all.”
And I was taken back to a summer day in 1992. Thirty years ago — how on earth has the time flown so fast? That summer I was young and happy, returning to Europe for the second time, and carrying a delicious secret that I had only just recently shared with my family … After having had a miscarriage the year before, I was pregnant again. This time was different, I just knew it. The morning sickness was over, and I’d entered my fourth month full of hope and more energy than I thought possible.
I’d started my trip in Paris, staying in a luxurious hotel with a view of the National Opera House and not far from my favorite Parisian museum. Paris is a city of bridges, and I walked across every one that I could find, taking pictures and writing in my journal. Seeing Paris for the first time is one of those life-changing treasures, and I’m so grateful to have had that.
On the third day of the trip, I took a train from the heart of Paris to the outlying countryside where I was to meet a bus that would take me to the village of St. Gervais in the French Alps. I would be staying there for two nights before making my way back to Paris and across the channel to London.
Stepping off the train, with the Alps in the distance, I spotted the bus I needed to catch just as it was pulling away from the bus stop. I sprinted, with my bags in my hand, and managed to flag down the driver who was kind enough to stop and let me on board. A few minutes later, a small French woman led me into the hotel I’d booked and showed me my room. It was small but lovely, and right outside the window the Alps spread out before me. There was snow on the peaks. In July. And wildflowers bloomed from my window straight up the summit, an ocean of lavender. Beauty beyond words.
That night, after strolling down the hillside to a local restaurant where I was served creations I wish I could duplicate and will most certainly never forget, I made my way back up the hill to my room and to sleep.
It was around midnight when the pain woke me up — a low, nagging grumble of pain. Within minutes the grumble turned into a storm of hurt that could not be ignored. Pulling myself out of the bed and stumbling toward the bathroom, I saw the trail of red I’d left behind on the stark white sheets. Curling myself into a ball on the bathroom tile, I watched as life flowed out of me. It was silent there, in that room, except for my own whispered “I’m so sorry.” I don’t know if I was talking to the child I’d never know or to myself. Either way, there was no answer. No words.
I spent the night on that floor, blaming myself for running to catch the bus, for traveling such a long distance, for being so hopeful in the first place.
When morning light spilled into the window, I heard a tap on the hallway door. Opening it a crack, with the chain keeping me safe, I saw the same small woman who’d led me to my room the day before. She stood with a stack of fresh towels and a bottled water.
“I thought you might need these,” she said in her broken English.
I undid the chain and her eyes took in the sight of me, in my towel with dark eyes and pale skin.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. There just weren’t any words.
Her arms opened, and I found myself sinking into exactly what I needed — motherly arms holding me.
I tried to explain that I’d lost a baby during the night. A couple of words slipped out in a whisper, sounding like they came from someone else. The woman pulled back from our embrace and put her fingers over my lips.
“Sans voix,” she said.
I had no idea what the words meant, but they were said with such tenderness that I broke apart. And we stood like that, her hugging me while I sobbed like a child in the hallway of a tiny hotel in the village of St. Gervaix in eastern France, until I could breathe again. She gave me the fresh towels and wiped my face and took care of me until it was time for me to travel again.
I came home with a wounded heart and her words ringing in my ears — “Sans voix.” Without words.
Thirty years later, I am not that same girl. I’m a mother, two times over. I’ve given hugs like I received that day, and I’ve been lucky enough to be hugged like that when I needed it myself. I’m also a different kind of writer now. I have been taught that sometimes there just are no words for what the heart is saying. And that silence is okay. And then sometimes the words bubble up from deep within, dislodged by a memory, and still just as heartfelt.
For all the women in all the world who have loved a child and lost them in a dark and silent room before you ever got to know them, I wish I could spread my arms open and hug you and heal you. These words will have to be a poor substitute … the morning will come, and light will cover the darkness once again.