Penance Purls

In the years since my failed IVF attempt and the end of pursuing further infertility treatment, I learned to knit. A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a co-worker, taught me the basics of knitting during our lunch hours. And as I learned to knit, I found that it was a great way to distract me from the emptiness of infertility. Knitting gave me a purpose; it gave me something to work towards. Each knit and purl stitch I made got me closer to completing a project. And once finished, I felt as if I’ve put every effort I could into crafting something unique. I felt as if I’ve given birth, so to speak, to the sweater or hat or purse that I’ve made.

In the knit / crochet world, there is such a thing called a prayer shawl. The idea behind crafting this type of shawl is to give it to someone in need of prayer. Someone perhaps, who is going through a difficult time in life in which prayers are needed. That is because with every stitch that is knitted or purled (or crocheted), the person creating this artwork is literally saying a prayer for the receiver of such a gift.

The best way I can describe it (in my Catholic-school upbringing) is that it’s much like saying the rosary, but at the end of the prayers, you actually have something to show for all that you’ve done. And the best part of it is that you have the opportunity to give such a gift to the person you’ve made it for, knowing that you’ve sent good vibes / well-wishes (or whatever word you’d like to replace “prayer” with) to a person who is in most need of such sentiments.

I, myself, have never made such a shawl. Instead, I’ve made other thing like chemo caps for kids or premie hats for the babies in the NICU. What started out as a hobby for many of us at work, soon turned into a project last Christmas to make as many knitted or crocheted caps and hats for the children at a local hospital. For me, it was a way of honoring my nephew, Liam, who spent his whole 4 months of life in that particular hospital’s NICU.

When my SIL announced she was pregnant with Liam, the bottom dropped out beneath me. By then, I had spent ten years trying to get pregnant and had one (and only one) failed IVF attempt behind me. It had been two and a half years, at that time, since Hubby & I stopped actively trying. And as a first (or second, I can never get it right) generation Catholic Filipino-American girl, I worked very hard at stifling the sadness, hurt and anger so that I could save face. But the thought that my SIL (who, by the way, is the same age as I am) was able to get pregnant within five months of getting married completely and utterly devastated me. And when my SIL found out at 24 weeks that Liam would most likely be born with some congenital imperfections, well … I guess you could say that I felt guilty (darn Catholic in me!), as if my jealousy and thoughts of ill-will were the reason behind such a difficult pregnancy.

So what does all this have to do with knitting and the “prayer shawl” (besides the obvious reason for making caps and hats for the babies and kids in the hospital)? Well, during my SIL’s 2nd trimester with Liam, I knew that I had to come to terms with this pregnancy. While I knew my feelings of longing for my own pregnancy would never be fully resolved before Liam’s birth, I still felt as if I needed to do something to make sure that Liam (and subsequently, my SIL) knew that I would love him with every fiber of my being … despite the sadness I felt for myself.

And thus, the “Therapeutic Baby Blanket” project began. Much like the prayer shawl concept, I crafted this blanket with an image of Liam in my mind. With every knit stitch I made, I wished love and happiness for every single day of his life. And with every purl stitch I made, I wished for forgiveness from both Liam and his mom for any ill-will I ever thought. I put my heart and soul into this blanket and its matching hat and booties. And because Liam came much earlier (by 9 weeks) than expected, I can remember rushing to finish this massive blanket in time for the baby shower (the sucker measured 4 ft x 4 ft!) , which subsequently turned into a “Welcome Liam” party instead. What makes me a little heartbroken is that Liam was never able to come home from the hospital and actually use the blanket. Regardless though … I have to say that doing that blanket was simultaneously the hardest and simplest knit project I have ever done.

Now … in a little more than one week’s time, my SIL is scheduled to deliver (by c-section) a baby girl. For reasons that are hers and her husband’s alone, the two of them decided to start trying immediately after Liam passed away last September. By end of December, she was once again pregnant. And while their new still devastated me (I mean, really … how can she get to be pregnant twice in one year and I can’t even get a frackin’ positive pregnancy test?!), this time my feet managed to stay firmly planted on solid ground.

I can’t say that I handled this pregnancy any better or worse that I did with my SIL’s pregnancy with Liam. There are days where I still feel incredibly weary and downtrodden. And yes, there are days where I frankly don’t think things are fair. However, I do know that I’m not as heartbroken and devastated as I was the first time around. I’d like to think that knitting Liam’s baby blanket had a part in reeling back some of those emotions.

It was only natural for me to want to knit something for this pregnancy as well. Because yes, the good (?!) Catholic girl in me still felt horrible about feeling sorry for myself. And, at times, succumbing to jealousy. So with yarn purchased from both here in Ann Arbor and in San Diego, I started to knit my next project while on vacation in California.

I’ve poured my heart and soul into this project, officially known as the “Therapeutic Baby Sweater.” And just like the blanket, I’ve projected my love and happiness with each knit stitch. And with every purl stitch … well, it’s as if I’m trying to make amends for every bit of sorrow and jealousy I’ve felt in these past 9 months. A penance, if you will, for the sins I’ve committed.

My only hope is that whenever my SIL dresses her baby girl in this sweater that she knows, despite my actions (or lack thereof), that I love her baby girl with all my heart. That I am truly and honestly happy for her. And that despite the hardships endured over the past 18 months, she truly deserves this happiness.

14 Replies to “Penance Purls”

  1. OMG! i love everything! i had gotten away from knitting, well because when we started trying i knitted up a storm, because we’d get knocked up right away, right?
    you are much better at knitting than myself. i can’t big things, cause i lose count.
    happy knitting.

  2. Oh my gosh, it’s all so beautiful, but those little green slippers just kill me. They’re adorable. I’m glad knitting is so therapeutic for you!

  3. This is such a beautiful post. It’s so hard to find what is the “correct” emotion sometimes (and lord do I feel you on the Catholic guilt!). It’s so nice that you’re able to manifest that complex web of emotion into something tangible and beautiful. (And these are beautiful – I never got past basic scarf stage.)

  4. Wow! You are so very thoughtful and sweet AND you’re making me wish I could knit. I fear I will never be coordinated enough to do so.

  5. I have thought about making a baby quilt. I don’t have the patience to knit like you do, but I hope I have the strength to overcome my jealousy and atone for my bitterness the way you have done so beautifully.

  6. what a great auntie! i looooove the shoes!

    i have a niece coming in october, and i haven’t even started her project… i’m still working on a monkey for a baby born in july! ack!

  7. What a beautiful way to turn difficult feelings into kindness, Emily. I admire you for that.

    My dad gave me some great advice lately, that we all need to wallow in self-pity every now and then. I agree: It’s part of coping and healing, and is a positive force if we don’t make a habit of it.

    Hoping that the receivers of these gifts feel the love and thought and ache that’s gone into them…

  8. thanks for sharing the link. i love them. and i think you are right, i was sending good wishes with each stitch and clearing my own head and heart.

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