So This Is Grief

9.3.17

So this is grief.

Oh.

So THIS is grief:

Watching the sky light up with the fire from dozens of hot air balloons. I smile as the giggles of my girls fill my ears. Then my eye catches the sight of the couple next to me swaddling their newborn baby on their picnic blanket. Elliot would be about that big now. Tears behind my eyes. Elliot should be here! Or, grief is being at library storytime with my girls, when the lady next to me starts nursing her baby. What is she doing? Doesn’t she know my baby is dead?? Um, no. Of course she doesn’t. The world didn’t stop when Elliot died. But grief sure thinks it should’ve.

So this is grief:

Smiling as I look at Valerie sleeping in her car seat. I notice her perfect little mouth that looks just like Elliot’s mouth, and picture how he would look so much like her, but with his dark hair. And my pulse races and my brain reels and my body panics that I will never, never, never see him asleep in his car seat.

So this is grief:

Three months to the day from when that picture on the wall was taken, all those pictures of me holding Elliot as he sleeps. Forever sleeps. He really just looks like he’s sleeping. Remembering with crystal clarity, and yet with almost no clear memory at all, the 30-minute chaos of Elliot going from living to dying to died. And the UNBELIEVABLE feeling of it all. Shock. Horror. Wishing, somehow, there was a miracle. A way to wake him up. Oh, come back to me, my baby!

IMG_1054Oh. So this, THIS is grief. Shouting grief:

The song, the only song I can find that matches the intensity of my heart, and I turn it up in the car (or truck or van) and SCREAM to get the pain out. Because the loss of my little boy deserves a really good scream now and then. Don’t worry; I only scream when I’m alone. I’d love to know what the person in the car next to me thinks.

I see. This, too, is grief. Draining grief:

The fatigue precedes the grief, like a harbinger. My limbs become spaghetti, my thoughts become fuzzy, and I can’t stop yawning. Maybe I didn’t sleep well. I should know better by now. My body’s energy channels into my eyes, and they begin to spill hot tears as some particular memory plays out. I remember, I remember…his tiny little hand wrapped around my finger. The spot on my belly where his feet demanded my attention. The dances he did on the ultrasound screen. The tha-thump of his heartbeat. The doctor saying there was no heartbeat. I remember. And no energy returns to my body until I cry it out.

Oh, hello to this grief that finds me most days. Distracting grief:

I get the girls down for their nap as quickly as I can. That cookie dough ice cream in the freezer (people who bring ice cream are so nice) calls my name. I scoop out WAY more than the ½ cup serving proposed, change into comfy pants to make room for the ice cream, and snuggle in front of the TV. I don’t even like this Netflix show, but all I need is a distraction for 42 minutes. I want to forget life, just for 42 minutes.

Hmm. This one is interesting. Busy grief:

Do. Not. Get. In. My. Way. I am CLEANING, darn it! Or organizing, or planning, or driving to and fro. Or rearranging furniture. Ah-ha. I think I’m feeling better. I feel so important with my many things to do. The busy likes to make me think the grief is on vacation.

This, most definitely, is grief. Guilty grief.

Why did I ever leave his side? Did he really know I loved him? WHY DID I TAKE THAT NAP?!?!? I did this. It’s my fault. It was my broken body. I shouldn’t have vacuumed that day. Should not have picked up Valerie that other time. I should’ve kept my feet up more. Or less. I don’t know!!

Guilty grief is very loud. And no. Saying, “It wasn’t your fault,” does not make the guilty grief go away. But thanks, anyway, for saying it.

Sometimes I run from the next grief, but I shouldn’t. It takes a lot of energy, but it yields great rewards. Community grief:

It’s the friend who comes over for a play date and looks at the scrapbook other friends made of Elliot’s life. And she cries. Cries! With me and for me and for the loss of a baby that she, too, loved. It’s another friend who meets me at Elliot’s grave and walks with me there, listening to all my impossible questions about God and not judging me for them. It’s my church family, who spends the Sunday morning after Elliot’s death writing cards to my husband and me. It’s my friends who bring a meal. That act of service validates that our family is in something deep and crappy, and that it can be darn hard to pull myself together long enough to make food. So, thank you for the meals. It’s the Facebook groups I am a part of where we just cry it all out on the group newsfeed and say, “Amen to that. I understand.” And it’s the dozens and dozens of stories written by other mommies who’ve lost babies, who feel like the only women in the world I have anything in common with right now. It’s my mother-in-law who hugs me hard every time she sees me because she just knows. It’s my friend who buys me coffee and asks about and listens to every detail of Elliot’s death. She was brave enough to ask. And I so desperately needed to tell. It’s my dad who puts a blue bird on his grave. It’s my far-away friends who let me write and text the most random and sometimes disturbing thoughts from this horrendous journey. It’s my husband, who listens to me cry the exact same words over and over again. Who answers my irrational fear question, “We won’t ever forget him, honey, will we?” with a comforting, “No, we will never forget him.” It’s the friends who in a year or five years or ten years will still understand if I cry, who never expect me to “get over it,” who will just be there to listen and love. These are the friends who will remain. I am blessed to have MANY.

This one is some serious grief. The hardest grief. The most confusing grief. The most comforting grief. The most angering grief. The most loving grief.

The God grief.

I am confident God can follow conversations that bounce around like pinballs. He’d have to, to keep up with a train of thought like this:

What were you THINKING?!?! Why did he die?!?!? Oh, Lord, I am so, so sad. He’s my son. Thank you for his life. He’s the most beautiful gift you’ve ever given me. Some way, any way, use this loss in my life for your plan, bring beauty from these ashes….BUT WHAT HAPPENED?!?!? (Deep breath.) I know you see what I can’t see, Jesus. I trust that in Heaven we’ll be reunited and I’ll understand. But for now, this is just STUPID!!! Seriously? Seriously? Are you even there, God? Forgive me, Lord. It’s just so hard. MY BABY IS IN THE GROUND! THAT’S JUST DUMB! But He’s at peace in You, isn’t He, Lord? I trust he is….

And on and on it goes.

It helps. Some.

Then there is an unexpected grief. Beautiful grief:

I kneel at his grave, running the long grass through my fingers to touch ANYTHING that is close to him. There are those hot tears again, watering the grass, and I whisper a million things to my baby, to the body below and the soul above. I tell him his mommy is so proud of him. His sisters miss him so much. His daddy will never be the same. I tell him, “Your mommy is only so sad because I love you so much.” I don’t want him to think he did anything wrong. I grieve because I love him so much.

Grief.

Love.

Oh, wow.

Grief exists because of love. There is something beautiful in that.

So this is grief. Three-month grief. It’s different than it was at three days or three weeks or will be at three years. My nice counselor shows me a drawing of spirals, tightly wound together. “You’ve heard of the stages of grief,” she says. I mentally try to remember them….something like shock, anger, depression-but it ends with acceptance, right? She goes on. “What you may not have heard is that your brain circles through the stages of grief over and over again.” I gulp. That doesn’t sound like fun.

But she explains, as she draws the tight little spirals. “Right now, you are experiencing the stages of grief one on top of another.” Then she slows her hand and spreads out the spirals, making each circle bigger. “Eventually, you will experience those stages, those waves of grief, more spread out and with less intensity. But the grief will always be there in some form.”

Grief will always be here. Hmm. It does make sense. Because love will always be here.

So this, all this, is my grief. It somehow has to be a part of me, and yet not all of me. It can’t be pushed away and ignored, and it can’t be given free reign to rule forever. I think God can use it to be a friend, but the enemy wants to hijack it-to dismantle me, make me unrecognizable.

I don’t think Elliot would want that. I think he would want God to use it to make his mommy beautiful. Sometimes very sad, other times very angry, but beautiful in God’s sight.

This is grief on September 3, 2017. A night of remembering. Of missing him. But mostly, I hope, of love.

 

 

 

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Due

August 21, 2016. April 6, 2017. August 9, 2017.

 

Just dates on the calendar to most people. But those dates are so much more to me. They are the due dates of my babies in heaven.

 

For those of you who’ve not experienced pregnancy, this is how the first moments work (more or less). First, we women wonder if maybe we could be pregnant. For some of us, it’s a desperate hope that we are, after months or years of trying and hoping. For others, it’s a dreaded possibility, for we may not feel ready, or we may have experienced the pain of loss and don’t want to experience it again.

 

But then, we run into Walmart and awkwardly buy a few things we don’t need, while tossing that pregnancy test in the bottom of the cart as if it’s a box of raisins. We wonder if the lady checking out our groceries notices.

 

Then, we get home and pull the white stick out of the box. We read and re-read the directions, even if we’ve taken a pregnancy test before. We don’t want to do it wrong, because we have to know. We do our thing (pee on it) and cap it, set it on the counter and walk away. The directions said not to read the results for two minutes!

 

We check our watch. Two long minutes have passed. We return to the bathroom and stare at the test, letting our brain catch up with the evidence before us.

 

Two pink lines (or blue lines, or a plus sign). Two lines. Not one. Two. That means…that means…I’M PREGNANT! (Insert a wide variety of emotions here)

 

Then, do you know what most of us expectant mothers do? We pull out our electronic device and go on BabyCenter, or we Google “due date calculator”, trying desperately to remember the first day of our last period. Then we punch it in, and wait for the magic date to pop up.

 

Our baby’s due date.

 

Then, most of our minds involuntarily fly to that future date. We envision what season it will be, what ages our other children will be, what it will be like to celebrate a birthday that time of year. We picture the baby’s room and wonder how we will decorate it. We start to make mental plans about going back to work and if it’s time to get a minivan. Most importantly, we daydream about what those two lines really represent: a baby. In our mind’s eye, we see our baby.

 

I recognize that I am one of the blessed ones. The first two pregnancy tests I took that registered two lines represented my daughters, Sylvia and Valerie. Perfect, healthy pregnancies. Perfect, healthy babies born as close to their due dates as you can get. I lived in a blissful world where two lines always meant a baby who’d join our family near that special date.

 

And then life changed, as it has changed for the majority of women I know. I’ve realized that among my close friends and acquaintances, more women have experienced the loss of a baby than those who haven’t. More than half of the women I know carry due dates in their hearts that only they know, perhaps that only they remember and think about. Most of these women have lost their babies to the enemy called miscarriage, as I lost my first two babies. Others have walked the awful road of stillbirth. Still others have experienced the nightmare of neonatal death, as I have.

 

Among the women I know who’ve miscarried or lost babies to stillbirth or neonatal death, everyone grieves differently. Some women have more readily accepted their loss as part of the Lord’s plan than I have. Some women grieve deeply and silently, sharing their loss only with those closest to them. Some prefer not to think about it or talk about it. Some, like me, share their stories because it is a way to remember their babies and perhaps offer comfort to others experiencing a similar loss. We are all different in how we process the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a baby.

 

The common thread among the painful loss of all these children is a date that comes and goes that reminds us of what should have been. What could have been. What would have been.

 

Avery would be almost a year old now, a chunky little toddler trying to stay balanced and getting into everything.

 

Or, Everett would be almost four months old now, that cute smiley stage when a baby really makes eye contact and responds to you.

 

Losing Elliot has put a whole new spin on the grief of a due date that will never be. He was born. He has a birthday. After we found out he would be born early, his due date wasn’t forefront in my mind. It became a sort of gauge for when I hoped he would be home from the NICU, as many preemie babies are able to go home somewhere near their due dates.

 

But now that Elliot is gone, the should’ves and could’ves and would’ves have crept back into my mind.

 

If my pregnancy had not had complications, if my water had never broken, I would be 37 weeks pregnant today. I would be huge and hot and uncomfortable and complaining about how I couldn’t sleep last night because I was up five times to use the bathroom. I would be on the edge of my seat, excited and nervous as I awaited the day I’d go into labor and bear another child.

 

I will let you in on another secret we women have. Despite our discomfort during pregnancy, our exhaustion, our shock at a body we don’t recognize, we love it. We love carrying a baby. We love the bond that only we can have with a son or daughter who is nourished by our very life. All we want in the world is for our pregnancy to bring forth a healthy child to hold in our arms. Only those of us who’ve experienced the loss of a baby can fully understand the sorrow at not having that child in our arms.

 

Today as I reflect on and mourn yet another due date that will never be, I remember the babies of my friends. As Avery and Everett were real to me, and as the loss of Elliot is still so fresh and painful, I think about the other children who were due. These dates that have come and gone, or are yet to come, represent a life, a baby, a child that a precious mother will not get to hold in this life.

 

Avery matters. Everett matters. Elliot matters.

 

August 21, 2016. April 6, 2017. August 9, 2017.

 

What is the date tucked away inside your heart? Your baby matters.

 

For you friends whose babies live in heaven with mine, I honor their precious lives. I honor the dates I don’t know but that you do, dates when you think of the could’ves and should’ves and would’ves.

 

If things had been different, if our babies were here with us rather than in heaven, we would have loved them well.

2017 Baby Elliot 072

 

 

Elliot’s Birth Story

 

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June 29, 2017

Happy One-Month Birthday, Elliot!

 

I started writing Elliot’s birth story the morning of the day he died. Of course, I had no way of knowing what that day would bring. As far as I knew, it was just going to be another day with my little buddy, one of many. I sat in his NICU room typing these words, smiling at him as I recalled the crazy circumstances that culminated in his birth. I was actually planning to spend the evening of June 3 back in his room finishing the story. Instead, I returned to his room to find doctors working frantically on him, and spent the evening holding him in my arms after he passed away in them.

 

Finishing his birth story was hard but important to me. I chose to continue writing it in the same tone I began it, not with caveats of “I didn’t know that he wouldn’t live…” or anything like that. The important aspect of Elliot’s birth story is that Elliot was born. I didn’t get that with the two precious children I miscarried. Elliot is my son who grew in my body and came out of my body and lived. This is the story of his birthday, a day we will always remember and celebrate. I put a * in the spot where I stopped that day and continued writing a couple weeks ago.

 

Though right now sorrow overshadows much of the joy I have of the memories of Elliot, the day he was born is SUCH a joy to me. I love you, Elliot.

 

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ELLIOT’S BIRTH STORY

 

 

On March 31, when the doctor who’d just scanned my tummy confirmed that my water had, in fact, broken, and that there were only pockets of fluid around my baby, I felt like I was having an out of body experience as he spoke.

 

“So, we have to decide what you and your husband want to do…which depends on your personal convictions, and um, what kinds of interventions, and if you want to do everything that can be done…”

 

Wait. Was he asking me if we wanted to save our baby?

 

I interrupted him. “We want to do everything we can, yes.”

 

“Okay, in that case, the earliest we can admit you is 22 weeks and 5 days, because we can’t do any interventions until 23 weeks but we can start you on steroids and antibiotics. And then we’d try to keep you until 34 weeks when we’d induce you if you hadn’t already had the baby, so you could be in the hospital for a very long time….”

 

Oh. Hospitalization. It was really happening.

 

“….So that puts us at April 10, so just come around noon and go to the 4th floor and they’ll get you all checked in..”

 

As the doctor left, I asked, “Do you have any paperwork or anything for me about staying in the hospital that long?

 

“No,” he said, “just show up.”

 

Well, I just “showed up” a day early on April 9 after waking to heavy bleeding. That Sunday, yet again, it looked grim as far as sweet Elliot’s chances, but I kept holding onto that promise of God. When the doctor checked me out, the bleeding had all but stopped, and Elliot looked great except for his low fluid. The Sunday morning they admitted me and wrapped that fateful wristband on my arm, I didn’t know it would be seven weeks before Elliot’s birth and eight weeks before I would return home.

 

Thus began the journey of life in a hospital. What a journey it was! Some days I felt discouraged, antsy, frustrated, and sad. Many days were reflective, productive and restful. The hardest part by far was being separated from my husband and daughters. I hated missing out on every single thing that happens as children grow, things I probably would have taken for granted if I had been with them. I desperately missed the presence of my husband, the most comfortable and safe person in my life.

 

But being in a place where Elliot and I could be monitored frequently is exactly what was needed. Now looking back on his birth, God put me where he wanted me exactly because we would need medical help. The doctors and nurses who cared for me over those long weeks became more than my medical team; they became my friends. I trusted them and believed God would put wisdom in them about how to take care of Elliot and me. He did.

 

Three times prior to Elliot’s birthday, I had been moved from my antepartum room over to labor & delivery, each time because I was having increased bleeding. The first time was when I was only 23 weeks 3 days. The second time came when I was 27 weeks 3 days. And the the third time was when I was 29 weeks and 1 day. Each time they moved me, they put me on magnesium to protect Elliot’s brain, and also to relax my uterine muscles. The first time in L&D I was only on mag for 12 hours and had no contractions. The second time I was there, I was on mag for 40 hours and had contractions on and off throughout, some of them fairly regular, but not very strong. They checked me and I was only 1 cm dilated, not showing any signs of being in labor. Two weeks later on my third trip to L&D, I was on mag for 36 hours and had contractions that felt different. For about two hours in the middle of that time, the contractions were very regular and hurt. The pain spread to my back, which reminded me a lot of being in labor with my girls. But, they checked me and I was only 2 cm dilated still not showing signs of labor. The bleeding and contractions tapered off, so they sent me back to my antepartum room the morning of Sunday, May 28.

 

But, looking back, things didn’t feel quite right. I felt crampy and uncomfortable. I wasn’t having strong, regular contractions, but here and there I had some. It felt like things weren’t quite settling down.

 

I awoke Monday morning to a fairly strong contraction and some bleeding. I called the nurse who checked it out, and wasn’t too concerned about it, but called the doctor just to be sure. The doctor on call that day looked at the amount of bleeding and agreed it wasn’t very much, but wanted to move me back to L&D just to be on the safe side. Truly, another doctor might have just as easily decided the opposite; it was not necessarily a call for alarm. But I believe God put the wisdom in each doctor and nurse, each step of the way, to make the best decisions at each crossroads.

 

So back to L&D I went. They didn’t put me on mag this time; they just kept me on continuous monitoring of Elliot’s heart rate. Again, in a way, no one was concerned that anything significant was going on. When the nurse would check my bleeding throughout the morning, she’d say things like, “Oh, there’s not much there” or “That’s much more fluid than blood.” It almost seemed like we’d maybe made too much of it and I didn’t really need to be there.

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But around 9:00, I started having the occasional uncomfortable contraction, the same kind from a couple days earlier that spread to my back. Some of them were not even big enough to be picked up by the monitor, though, so I just started writing down the time whenever I had one that caused me to have to stop and breathe a little. I figured it was just a repeat of what had happened over the weekend and they’d probably start dying down again. They were happening two or three times an hour.

 

But as the morning progressed they * continued and some became even more intense. I asked for a heating pad and Tylenol to see if my back would feel better. The doctor came to talk to me and hesitated to check me for dilation because it was an infection risk for me. Around 1:00 she said that if my contractions and pain hadn’t settled down in an hour or two she would check me. Still, though, the contractions were kind of sporadic, maybe ten minutes apart at the closest, and didn’t hurt unbearably, but I’m a bad judge of labor pain. I am the woman who had a baby at home by accident, after all. In my defense, though, some of these contractions were still so small they weren’t even being picked up by the monitor. I didn’t really think I was in true labor.

 

During this time, Elliot was very active. I remember once a nurse saying that when I was in true labor, he wouldn’t be moving so much. Well, he was moving like crazy! I felt like he might even be changing positions. The doctor wanted to do an ultrasound to check his position.

 

Around 2:00/2:30, I had a contraction and also felt some pressure almost like I had to push. The nurse was in the room with me and called the doctor, who came right in, bringing her ultrasound machine. She did quick ultrasound and we were all surprised to find that Elliot had changed position. When I arrived at the hospital seven weeks earlier, he was breech. About two weeks after I got to the hospital he moved into a transverse pose, and stayed in the exact same spot. But now, he was breech again!

 

The doctor said she was going to check me for dilation, which at this point seemed like a good idea. She checked to see if I was dilated and had an unreadable look on her face. She calmly faced the nurse and said, “Okay, so she’s like nine centimeters.”

 

As Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey says, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather! Nine centimeters dilated was the last thing I expected. The contractions were not that strong and they weren’t occurring regularly! After Elliot was born, we called him Valerie 2.0 because irregular, not-that-strong contractions were exactly what caused her to be born at home. The doctors speculated later that Elliot changing position had something to do with why I dilated so quickly.

 

The doctor continued with her calm demeanor as I battled some inward panic. She told me, “We’re going to move toward a c-section.” I asked, “Will you be able to do a spinal, or will I go under general anesthesia?” (I was really hoping to be awake) She answered, “I think we’ll have time to do a spinal.”

 

But at that exact moment I felt another contraction bearing down, and at the same time, Elliot’s heart rate dropped dramatically, into the 60’s, which was the lowest I had ever seen it. At this point I did panic. Later, a doctor told my husband that my placenta had probably started to detach during that contraction, which is why Elliot’s heart rate plummeted. If I had not been in L&D, or if the doctor and nurse hadn’t been there with me at that moment, Elliot could have died right there inside me.

 

As soon as Elliot’s drop in heart rate occurred, the doctor and nurse sprang into action. I don’t remember everything that happened, but I remember someone calling “Code C” over the intercom, the nurse swiftly unhooking my bed from the wall, several more people running into my room, and then a group of people all around my bed, pushing me out into the hall. They ran me at a sprinting pace (I remember someone saying “slow down”) while I just closed my eyes and said, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

 

When I opened my eyes I was in an operating room. They shifted me quickly from the hospital bed to the operating table. Suddenly there were hands all over me–hands checking my cervix, other hands frantically rubbing my stomach, other hands sticking a tube on my nose. I heard the familiar voice of my favorite doctor next to me saying, “Heidi, it’s Kim.” (She later told me that though she didn’t perform my surgery, she held my hand through the whole thing) The next thing I heard was a voice saying, “You’re going to go to sleep now.” Then blackness.

 

I awoke to a nurse’s voice saying, “Heidi? Heidi?” I opened my eyes and realized one thing immediately: I felt terrible. She asked, “How do you feel?” And I croaked out, “My throat hurts.” Which it did. Apparently they had to shove a tube down there.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about how I felt. I wanted to know about Elliot, my sweet baby who I’d fought so hard for. Then my wonderful husband was by my side, holding up his phone with a picture of Elliot holding his finger.

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My son! My beautiful son! He had an exciting start to life, a very crazy whirlwind. The next four hours would be another roller coaster of doctors discovering his lungs were underdeveloped, and trying a variety of techniques to bring up his blood oxygen levels. Waiting to meet him all those hours was SO hard. But finally, they had him stabilized. At first, the nurse wheeled me in my giant hospital bed through the halls and into Elliot’s little NICU room. I could barely get a glimpse of him as I strained my neck and definitely couldn’t reach him to touch him. I asked to try a wheelchair. I knew it would be hard. I have never felt so awful. But I had to touch my baby, had to be with him, had to talk to him. So, my nurse took me back in the clunky bed to my room, and we worked me slowly but surely to a wheelchair.

 

Then I really got to meet Elliot. Perfect, beautiful Elliot. What absolute joy I felt seeing my son, touching his skin, feeling his precious hand wrap around my finger.

 

In that moment, in that room with him, I was in heaven. My son had been born.

 

 

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These are the lyrics of a song I’ve written for Elliot. I found a picture frame with a little bird on it that seemed so right for one of his pictures. Soon after, my dad wrote a tribute to Elliot, using the imagery of a bird. Sylvia and Valerie picked out blue birds to put on his grave. Something about all these images of birds has caused me to think of Elliot as my little bird, and so this song is called. It’s my song of love and longing for him.

 

“My Little Bird”

 

Away too soon; you gave me light.

 

Where have you gone, my little bird?

And why have you flown away?

In my dreams you’ll land and be with me.

I’ll cradle you and beg you to stay.

 

But your wings have spread, my little bird.

I’m left here on ground without you.

I search the skies to catch a glimpse,

Yet it’s deep in my heart I’ve found you.

 

To kiss your face; to hold your hand.

 

So hard to wait, my little bird.

If I could just touch you once more.

How my arms ache to feel your warmth,

But you’ve left earth’s shackles to soar.

 

Someday, my love, I’ll wrap you close.

 

Where have you gone, my little bird?

And why have you flown away?

In my dreams you’ll land and be with me.

I’ll cradle you and beg you to stay.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Elliot, my little bird.

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Remembering Elliot-Words Written By His Parents Read at His Memorial

 

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Remembering Elliot-Dustin

Around 2 pm on Monday, May 29th I received a call from my wife and all she said was, “Come now.” After a bit of panic I grabbed my bag and went to the hospital. When I arrived I went to the Labor & Delivery side to find out where Heidi was. I followed a nurse to a recovery room where she said, “Wait here so I can see if your wife is done in surgery; if not, then I will take you to see your son.” To that I replied, “Wait, my son is already born?” She said, “Yes, and he is already in the NICU with the doctors.”

As I waited in the recovery room, I thanked God that my wife as at the hospital when this happened and that Elliot was being looked after. The nurse came back and said, “Heidi is still in surgery being finished up. I will take you to meet your son.”

The nurse led me down and around some halls to the room that my son was in. There were six or so doctors and nurses around and incubator doing work on a small baby, my baby, my son. As I waited  in the hallway to meet him, I was full of excitement, happiness, joy, and and also worry about Elliot. After I had been standing there for about ten minutes, the doctor came out and introduced herself and asked if I wanted to meet my son. I entered the room and the rest of the nurses and specialists moved aside for me to meet Elliot for the first time.

As I walked up I saw this small little boy lying there a bit twisted, and with a breathing tube in his mouth, but beautiful and perfect in every way. He had a nice head of dark hair already (compared to his big sisters), and these big dark eyes that he was trying to open but couldn’t for very long because of all the bright lights around and on him. I stretched out my hands to touch him on his head, but as I did he grabbed me with one of his tiny hands and held my finger as I was holding his head. That was the first picture of him that I took so I could show Heidi once she was in recovery that her son was okay. I was so happy to meet Elliot after so many complications during the pregnancy. I thought that things were starting to look better, and I was ready for this new phase of life.

After that I went back to recovery to check on Heidi and show her the picture, then I returned to Elliot’s side to be with him for a while. Over the next three hours, the staff worked to get his oxygen levels up. As I sat in the corner of his room and watched the staff try different things to help him breathe, I just prayed that the Lord would guide the doctors and he could start to breathe. After awhile they figured out the right combination of treatments to get Elliot’s blood oxygen levels up. I thought, “Thank you, Lord, for your help and guidance.” I once again got to go over to his incubator and put my hand on his head and really take time to just look at him and just hold him the best I could. As I stood there looking over at him, I had so much peace and happiness that I finally got to meet and be with my son.

One of the things that caught my eye this time was the ridge on his head was very pronounced. I thought, “Wow, you have the best Klingon forehead out of all my kids; you are going to fit into out family perfectly.” Over the next day that I got to spend with him (because Heidi was still recovering from surgery), I was able to lay my hands on him so much. I was able to give him some of the first milk from his mommy, and change one of his diapers. All through that time, I thought we were in for a long stay in the NICU. I was happy and content to be in that room with him for as long as he needed.

I was not at the hospital most of Wednesday but got updates from Heidi via text message then came back to stay in the hospital Wednesday night to take care of Heidi and spend more time with Elliot. Heidi was feeling much better and we were both in the room with Elliot for a long time on Thursday. I watched Heidi with our son, singing, talking, and taking care of him as only a mom can. I was very content watching Heidi with Elliot and remembering how awesome she would be with another baby, just like she was with Sylvia and Valerie.

Since Tuesday morning Elliot was under some lights to help him with jaundice, so I didn’t get to see his eyes again because of the glasses he had to wear so it would not hurt his eyes. As I was leaving on Thursday, I stopped in Elliot’s room one more time and kissed my fingers to touch his head and tell him I would see him next week (I had to go home and prepare for my own minor surgery). When I left I thought this would be one of many more visits I would be making over the next weeks or months. Little did I know it would be my last time seeing Elliot alive.

Elliot, I love you, I will miss you, and I look forward to the day that we’ll be together again.

 

 

 

Remembering Elliot-Heidi

One of the special things about the relationship between Elliot and me is that I was able to bond with him in a unique way during my pregnancy. We speak of Elliot’s life in terms of the five days he was outside of the womb, but I know his life was many more than five days. He was fully alive from the moment of conception. And during the seven weeks I was on hospital bedrest, I got a special gift most mothers don’t get: completely uninterrupted, focused time with the baby in my womb. I got to know him so well in there! He wasn’t able to change positions like most babies because I didn’t have amniotic fluid, so I knew all the time exactly where his head, back, hands, and feet were. Twice a day, every day, I’d be strapped to a fetal heart rate monitor and listen to his heartbeat for an hour at a time. This also is a special gift most mothers don’t get. I was so used to the music of his heart. He had such a strong heart, and loved to wake up and make lots of movements and trouble. I’d joke with him that he was flirting with some of the nurses because as soon as they’d find his heartbeat, he’d wiggle around and away from the monitor so the nurse would have to come back and find him again. His sweet heartbeat is a sound that will remain with me the rest of my life.

When the medical team rushed me down the hall for an emergency c-section on May 29 after Elliot’s heart rate dropped, I just kept praying “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” The moment they put me under was a strange mix of fear and peace.

When I awoke out of the anesthesia, groggy and in pain, all I could think about was my baby. Suddenly there was my husband by my side, holding his phone up so I could see the picture of my sweet baby boy. He was out! I couldn’t wait to meet him.

That evening when I got to meet him for the first time, it was like a perfect dream. He’d had such a rough start, we’d been through such a rough pregnancy, but there he was–sweetly content and holding out his hand as if beckoning me to hold it. He peeked at me from under sleepy eyelids. I wish I could’ve stayed longer with him, but I had lost so much blood and was not well. It wasn’t until about 4 pm the next day I got to see him again. Each of the rest of the days of his life I was able to spend more and more time with him as I got better.

I spent most of my time with him with my hands inside the incubator, one hand on his sweet dark head of hair, the other hand cradling his feet or having him hold my finger. He had very sensitive little feet and would push back at me when I’d give his toes the lightest touch. While I stood there, I hummed mostly two songs over and over again, songs I used to sing in chapel in college and sang as lullabies to my girls: “Day By Day” and “Jesus Let Us Come to Know You.” He would get very calm when I would hum or sing these songs. I think I will always sing them to him.

I got fairly good at changing his little diaper inside the incubator, taking his temperature, and feeding him some of my milk on a swab. I loved doing these things for him, and dreamed of the days I could take care of him more, on the outside of an incubator. My heart is so sad that I won’t get to do those things for him.

On Elliot’s last day of mortality, I think he knew he’d be leaving us. I find it amazing that he waited to meet all his close relatives who live here. The last two he had to meet were his grandma “Mimi” the night before he passed, and his Uncle Ryan just hours before. I really think he wanted to give his grandparents, aunts, and uncles the memories of meeting him, memories for them to cherish.

On his last day, I also think he wanted me to have some special memories to hold in my heart. One was in the morning when I was humming to him with my hands on him. The nurse had put little blue mitts on him to keep him from pulling at his tubes and he got a hold of my left finger with his left hand, and my right hand was draped over his head while his right arm stretched up and held on to my right finger. My ankles had gotten swollen and I thought I’d take breaks and put my feet up. But anytime I tried to pull away, his face would scrunch up and he’d hold on to my fingers tighter. So I stayed, just sitting with him, singing. It is a time I will always treasure. When I see him in heaven, we will pick up there where we left off, holding hands and singing.

The last of the time I spent with Elliot before he went to Jesus, the nurse had just taken off his little sunglasses he had to wear most of the week because of the light they had to shine on him for jaundice. Finally my baby’s eyes were uncovered. I had some of my milk to feed him on a swab. I’d put the swab in his mouth and his little eyes would pop open and look straight at me. They were so clear and dark and beautiful. This was really the first time I got a good look at his eyes. I kept giving him bits of milk, and every time I’d put the swab in his mouth he’d pop those eyes open again, as if delighted with his treat. It was so adorable. I also wonder now if he was looking at his mama to say goodbye. I’m thankful I got to see his eyes, and also heartbroken I won’t see them again this side of eternity.

A couple hours later, I held him in my arms as he breathed his last breaths and as his heart beat its last. That was the first time I got to hold him. I held on to him for twenty precious hours after that.

I will always hurt that we only had five short days with him. He was such a gentle, sweet baby, and he was so brave and fought so hard. I felt like I had always known him. He was and always will be my son. Five days wasn’t enough. A lifetime wouldn’t have been enough. Only eternity will be enough. I love you, sweet Elliot. You will always be my baby boy.

 

 

 

Five Days

6/4/17

And I’m home again exactly eight weeks from the day I left to go to the hospital. I thought the day I returned home would be one of relief, joy, and reunion. Instead it is a day of a crushed spirit, mourning, and separation. I thought I would look back on my time in the hospital with some fondness, noting all the creative ways my family and I got through this time, with the great help of our family and friends. Instead, I look back on all that time with an aching heart, desperately sick at the thought that it wasn’t enough to save Elliot. I thought I would leave my baby at the hospital in the NICU. Instead, I’ve left my baby in the hospital morgue.

I spent seven weeks in the hospital on bedrest to give Elliot his best chance at life and healing. I spent about two weeks prior to that on bedrest at home. Even before that, from seven weeks gestation onward, I had almost constant bleeding that required restrictions on my body and heaviness on my heart. That’s about 160 days that I took special care of Elliot inside my body in hopes that he would someday live outside my body. He lived five days.

I know other mommies will understand when I say: ELLIOT WAS WORTH IT ALL. I would do it all again for the five days I got with him.

Of course, I am devastated and angry that I didn’t get more time with him. I don’t know how many weeks, months, or years it will take me to reconcile a God who loves me with a God who allowed this to happen. I don’t understand what I thought he promised me in the dream from all those months ago. But if he did promise me exactly what he showed me in the dream, a precious living preemie baby in an incubator, then God did fulfill that promise. It was just too, too short a time for this mama’s heart.

And yet, was precious Elliot’s life less valuable because it was only five days? Is a five day life less worthwhile than one that is five years or five decades? And are lives only counted when they exist on the outside of the womb? What of my babies and all the others who lived days and weeks and months on the inside? Our culture, in its mass psychosis of killing unborn babies, doesn’t even count them at all.

But you all who’ve journeyed this road with us have always validated Elliot’s life, and I know you truly grieve his death with us. Thank you. His life was so precious. All lives are so precious. Hold your children close. None of us know how many days we will have with them.

Elliot was so brave, so strong during those five days. The nurses characterized him as a very sweet, but also feisty baby. Yesterday morning, I got myself all situated to sit with him a while. He wrapped his left hand around one of the fingers on my left hand; my right hand was draped across his head, and he stretched his little arm up to hold one of my fingers on that hand. When my swollen ankles felt uncomfortable, I thought I’d slip my hands out of the incubator and elevate my feet for a while. Well, Elliot was having none of that. Every time I’d try to draw back a little, he’d make a cry face and grip my fingers tighter. So I’d nestle back down with him, and he’d get all content. I stayed much longer with him than I might have otherwise. I’m so glad he kept me there.

He is my son. He’s too precious for words, and my grief is too heavy for words. But I want to honor his life and his memory by saying:

Elliot, five days with you was worth every single pain and hardship I endured to get there. You are always going to be with us, always a part of our family. I am so proud of you for fighting so hard and holding on so long. I will cherish the memories we had those five days. I will also hold the memories of all the days in the hospital I’d lie in bed listening to the rhythmic music of your heartbeat, and all the acrobatics you performed in my tummy. Your life was not a waste. You’ve made an impact on a lot of people, little boy. Little lives can do big things. YOU MATTER.

I hold on to hope that I will hold my sweet little boy again. And even though I rail at God against the injustice of taking Elliot so soon, I must alsoIMG_1508 tell myself to be thankful. I’m thankful for all the memories that will make us smile for the rest of our lives: the times we got to change his diaper with that tiny cutie booty; taking his temperature under his armpit, which often made him a little cranky; putting my breast milk on a swab and watching his little tongue reach for it and then suck on it like he was enjoying a candy treat; “cradle holding” him with one of my hands firmly on his head of dark fuzzy hair, and the other hand on his ticklish little feet; his sweet fingers wrapping around one of my own; the way he would stretch his arms way up above his head and scrunch up his face. We will talk about him with Sylvia and Valerie, and surmise which ice cream might have been Elliot’s favorite or which superhero he would’ve dressed up as for Halloween. In the midst of sorrow, I must be thankful for the JOY that Elliot was, is, and will always be to us. JOY is his legacy, not sorrow. His five-day life has given us a son to remember, a little brother to talk about, a grandson and nephew to be proud of.

Thank you, God, for five days.

His Purpose

5/16/17

I’ve been talking with Jesus about why He’s allowed this season of waiting, separation, and challenge in my life and the lives of my family. What is His purpose? I think sometimes I make it too complicated; I have to make this situation make sense and of course make it very spiritual! My mind takes over and decides for Him.

 

My first inclination is to think: It’s to teach me a lesson. Somewhere in my walk with God, perhaps I sorely lacked in faith, so he needed to give me something really hard to make me grow. First, losing two babies to miscarriage. Then, having a challenging pregnancy that brought almost weekly the appearance of miscarriage. Finally, the pregnancy getting so severe that I had to move into the hospital and be separated from my family for months. Surely, He just wanted me to get more faith. And truthfully, the Lord is teaching me to lean on Him, more than I think I’ve ever had to. But is that his most important purpose during this time?

 

Another thought that comes to my mind: It’s so God can be glorified and other people will see His work in this situation and come to know Him. Of course this is true. God’s work is about people, so His fingerprints are most evidently seen in the lives of the individuals He is working in and through. Already I’ve had people tell me of their connection to Elliot’s and my story, and their seeing God at work has brought Him glory. So then I conclude that is God’s purpose for this in my life. Well, it may be part of the story. But I think He’s telling me it’s not the whole story.

 

There is something, an echo of intimacy with Jesus from long ago, long before marriage or kids or so many things that distracted me, that I think He wants to tell me. I’m having a hard time hearing it. I feel so disconnected from my home, my life, my very identity, that some days I can’t quiet all the loud heaviness in my heart. But finally, I think I am hearing Jesus come through the noise. I think He’s whispering His purpose for this trial deep within my heart.

 

It’s because he loves me.

 

What if all of this, all this challenge and waiting and separation is some part of His marvelous love? To draw me nearer to Him?

 

I, like many of us, find much satisfaction in being productive. I like to look around at the end of the day, and pat myself on the back for what I have accomplished (even if that only amounts to one load of laundry and baking a frozen pizza).

 

So, in this situation, I struggle daily with the guilt of being away from my family. Of not being the one to take care of my girls. Of not being able to help my husband bear the heavy load of parenting and work and home. I even feel guilty for missing out on the last quarter of my part-time teaching job. I know this guilt is irrational, that I MUST do the best thing for my sweet baby. But I feel like I’m letting others down.

 

But what if for Jesus, time away, alone with me, is exactly what He wanted? What if more important than any lesson I could learn or any glory I could bring Him or good work I could perform for him, He just wants ME?

 

What if I am more important to Him than all the things I could do for Him?

 

What if He wanted me to separate for a time from all that has defined me in this season of life: mom, wife, teacher, homemaker, grocery-getter, meal planner, mission trip leader, church member….?

 

God has given me those roles to serve Him and do good work in this life. But they are not who I am. Even the role of mom, which is so all-consuming with small children, is not ultimately who I am.

 

I am the prized possession of Jesus before I am anything.

 

I don’t feel like I can do normal life, let alone this painfully hard season of life, without being totally assured that He just loves me for me. I am going to fail in all my areas of doing things for Him. But if what He says is true, and all He really wants is me, then I am free to simply love Him in return. And anything I am supposed to do will grow out of that love.

 

I don’t want to miss what Jesus has for me in this season. If He’s allowed this to happen, then there is a reason, and not simply for me to wish these days away. I’m looking to find Him in these long, hard waiting days. Wow. This reality makes these days rich with meaning, even if the only thing I “accomplish” is to crochet a few more rows on Elliot’s baby blanket.

 

When all these crazy months are behind us, and our family is reunited, and life turns into routine again, what will Jesus have wanted me to taken from this journey?

 

I think it’s this: that to be loved by Him and love Him in return is the purpose. Of everything. To live life daily in His love gives meaning to any kind of day: mundane to overwhelming, joyful to tragic.

 

I’ve been very distracted from His love, but I want to reconnect with Him there. I want to find my identity all wrapped up in that love again. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The only result I desire for tomorrow’s events is that I will be drawn more deeply into the love of Christ.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬

Home

I miss home.

 

I close my eyes and picture that gray ranch, the perfect “starter” house for a new bride and groom, that has in the eight years since become a nestled-in, well-loved home. I miss my welcoming front porch, and the total comfort I feel walking in the front door to a bright open living space. I miss our pretty new wood floors and even the tile countertops I would not have chosen. I miss the French doors leading to a green back yard where the girls and I can always find an adventure. I miss our almost, ALMOST finished basement that my husband and I designed ourselves while it was still concrete as far as the eye could see. I miss the girls’ rooms, where snuggles and stories take place every night. I miss the mess of living and even the chore of constantly picking up.

 

Deeper inside the space my home occupies is what really makes it my home: family. I miss those little girls waking me up each morning, going downstairs to get them and gradually coaxing them upstairs to have breakfast. I miss watching them play (and bicker) while I do the dishes. I miss the relief of coming home with them after a busy morning out, having a picnic in our front yard for lunch, or a “floor picnic” in the basement. I miss the eager anticipation I feel every day for the moment my husband will walk through the front door after work. I miss our family dinners, hearing Valerie pray for each member of our family in an excited rush of words and ending with, “And bless this food to our body in Jesus’ name amen!” I miss sitting together after dinner watching “Vanna” and the girls shouting, “I won! I won!” whenever Mommy gets a puzzle right. I miss the utter exhaustion I feel when we finally get both girls into their beds, and the satisfaction of sitting down with my hubby to watch a favorite show. I miss staying up way too late most nights because we just have one more thing to tell each other before we really do turn out the lights and say goodnight.

 
I miss home.

 
But where I’m at is not all bad. There is a lot to be thankful for in room 4310. Friendly people surround me; friends and family visit me. My meals are brought to me every day. I have work and leisure activities to keep my mind occupied. I have a striking view out of my window. I have time I have not had in years, and will not have again for years, to read, write, create, and spend hours on end with Jesus. It is not a bad place. But it is not home.

 
I’ve been thinking about my temporary residence in the hospital as a metaphor for my temporary residence in mortality. The Bible says that my mortal life, my earthly home, is just a “tent” in comparison with what awaits me in eternity: a building from GOD, a heavenly dwelling. God’s word also says that I am an exile on earth, and that there is a better homeland awaiting me: the city God is preparing.

 
My pleasant house, with my family I love, along with the community of family and friends in this life–these are all good things. But my home in mortality gives an aching glimpse of how much better it could be, if things were set right. For within this tent of mortal life, there is conflict and strife. Relationships are riddled with hurt and hopefully forgiveness, but they are not easy. The separation of death is a wound that can’t be fully healed. The cruelty of man brings a shudder and a wish that there could be a paradise where NONE of these blemishes mar the beauty of life.

 

 
There is such a place. My favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, calls it the place “where no storms come.” No storms of life. No loved ones dying. No sin causing upheaval in relationships. No cruelty; no hatred.

 

 

My cozy home on E. Bates holds glimpses of heaven in every corner. I am homesick for it. But am I really homesick for just that house and its inhabitants? It’s easy to idealize my home while I’m away from it. But I know the truth is I struggle with much discontentment when I’m there. The girls are fighting. The floor is messy. My husband’s late. There’s dog hair is in my cereal. I want a break but can’t get one!

 

 

Maybe my longing for the earthly home I miss is really a much deeper longing. Things will not be perfect or even easy when I go home from the hospital. I will still ache and long to be home. I hope after this experience, I will have a new and deeper longing for my true home, the city for which I wait, the haven where no storms come.

 
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:1-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

 

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:13-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Sylvia’s Eyes

IMG_13064/25/17

I had just kissed my four-year-old daughter Sylvia and my husband goodbye, and stood in the driveway watching the big black truck pull away. The brake lights gleamed and I knew why. My husband cracked his window. “She wants one more hug and kiss.”

 

I ran and opened her door, climbed up in the side of the truck and gave her a fierce amount of hugs and kisses.

 
She looked up at me with those big, blue eyes, brimming with tears, and asked, “But when will we be together again?” I thought I had known the answer.

 
I held back my own tears as I hugged her one more time, as well as I could while she was strapped in her car seat, ready to go to Mexico on a mission trip with her daddy and grandma. The sun had not come up and it was chilly outside, and all I wanted was to make her feel safe and warm.

 

“It won’t be long, and you’ll get a donut on the way!” The promise of a donut on her drive to Mexico had been my tactic to distract her from the sadness she felt about her mommy not accompanying her on the trip. It worked, and I kissed her once more, then closed her door and watched them drive away.

 
I went back inside, lay down in my bed and cried. My husband and I had decided a few weeks earlier that I wouldn’t be going on this trip due to the many complications I’d faced in my pregnancy. But now that it came to letting my baby go to a foreign country without me, it was harder than I’d expected. I tried to console myself, saying, It will only be a week.

 
But that was not to be.

 
The next day, I was lying in a hospital bed, hearing the news that my water had broken, a dire proclamation at only 21 weeks pregnant. Then I was told that bedrest for the rest of pregnancy would be needed. Then, later in the week, received the recommendation to go on hospital bedrest, as it would give my baby boy his best chance of surviving and thriving. I knew that’s what I would do, though immediately my thoughts flew to my two little girls.

 
I’m a stay-at-home-mom, and literally my every day for the past four and a half years has been about Sylvia, and then sweet little sister, Valerie. What to feed them, what activities to enjoy, where to go, how to teach them and train them and raise them to know God. It’s been the hardest job I’ve ever had, and by far the most meaningful. I love being their mommy. It’s a job I’ve never wanted to entrust to someone else (except for dates with my hubby and the occasional break, of course). I have been proud and at the same time humbled to play such an important part in their lives. And now I would have to let go of it for a time. I didn’t know how my heart would bear it.

 
Sylvia returned home from Mexico to a much different mommy than the one she left: a mommy who had to stay in bed. I cherish that one sweet week I got at home with her and Valerie, as they’d cuddle me in bed, play their silly games, watch shows with me, write stories and draw pictures. Then, on a Sunday morning I awoke to heavy bleeding, and had to rush out of the house to get to the hospital. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

 
Now I’m struck with the fact that it was a month ago Sylvia asked me that very poignant question, “When will we be together again?” I’d thought it would be one week. Just one week of being out of our routine. Just one week of being parted. Now it’s been a month, and though the sweet visits from Sylvia and Valerie are precious to me, and the chat times on the phone lift my spirits-we are not really together. I will gladly give this time of my life to the protection and care of baby Elliot. But, at the same time, I accept that I’m grieving the temporary loss of the life I had known with my girls, and the changes that loss has already brought.

 
Something has shifted between Sylvia and me, and a change has taken place in Sylvia. When I look at those big blue eyes, I don’t see them brimming with the tears like I saw a month ago. I see her taking the changes in stride, growing up and becoming more independent than I would have imagined. It is too abrupt for me–I wasn’t ready for her to be okay without me. And yet, I’m very thankful she can be okay without me. She seems to understand, in her childlike way, that this is necessary for “the baby.” It’s the first in a long line of steps of her growing up and being able to handle challenges in life. I’m proud of her.

 
And I miss her.

 
I wish I’d had time to see what was coming, the monumental tide of change that life was about to bring my family. Maybe I would’ve slowed down a little more, cuddled in bed with her longer, read her more books, not worried about the silly dishes and laundry. Because I have a feeling I will return home to a different Sylvia and will need to rediscover how to connect with her. What comforts me most in this difficult separation is knowing that none of it has come as a surprise to God. He has known all along this would be part of the story He’s writing for me, for Sylvia, for the rest of our family. And in that realization, there is purpose. I may not see the implications of that purpose now, but I know my Heavenly Father does not waste anything.

 
I daydream about the answer to that question: “When will we be together again?” It may be a while, probably months, before life is back to any sort of routine. And even when it is, it will be very different with a new baby. I thought I’d have time to ease into this, but that was not God’s plan. Yet someday not too long from now, I will walk through the door of my house with baby Elliot, and both of us will be done with the hospital. We will wrap ourselves up in family and home, and hopefully take life very slowly for a while.

 
And I will gather Sylvia in my arms, look in her beautiful blue eyes, and tell her, “We’re together again.”

He Who Has Promised

I sat on a hospital bed in a delivery room, a tiny incubator on my lap holding an even tinier baby. My heart pounded with anxiety as I asked the nurse if my baby was okay. She nodded, unconcerned, and touched him. He began moving and I felt his movement beneath my hand, and he even sucked at my finger. He’s alive! Alive! My heart rejoiced. In the dream, I clearly remember giving the baby a name.

Promise.

When I awoke from the dream, I wept. It was so vivid. And felt so cruel. I did not have a living baby. I had two babies who’d died within the previous nine months, miscarried in early pregnancy. Their little bodies were not warm and moving like the baby in my dream. They were buried under a tree on my parents’ property.

Only as the morning of dream day progressed and the sadness and hurt dissipated, did I begin to wonder about the dream. It reminded me of two other times of life when I truly believed God had told me something in a dream. I wrote in my journal that morning: In the dream I gave him a name: Promise. Or is that the name YOU gave him, Lord? What kind of promise are you giving me? I think you were in this dream.

A month and a half later, an unexpectedly positive pregnancy test propelled my thoughts back to this dream. Fear of losing another baby almost immediately gripped me, except for the tiny whisper of hope, hope for my Promise.

I held my heart back from fully hoping for a baby, and remained cautious. At seven weeks pregnant, when I first saw blood, I was crushed. I wept in the bathroom in the middle of the night, knowing what that amount of blood meant. For my last two pregnancies, it had meant that my babies had died. As my husband held me, I cried, “I really thought this one was going to be different!” So devastated.

As a formality, I went to the doctor the next morning, expecting to hear that awful news: you’ve lost your baby. Instead, I heard a heartbeat. A heartbeat! My baby was alive! I sat in my car afterward, shaking with sobs, unable to drive or barely talk to my husband about the joyous miracle that our baby was still alive! The echo of the Promise rang in my heart.

I hoped my pregnancy would be uneventful after this awful scare. I didn’t know just how much I would come to rely on God’s Promise in the coming weeks and months.

At eight weeks, just a week after my first scare, I again lost a heavy amount of blood. It was the day after Christmas, and as Christmas had fallen on a Sunday, this was the day everything was closed. No doctor could see me, and as the bleeding began to subside, I knew it didn’t warrant a trip to the emergency room. I would just have to wait. It was our day to celebrate Christmas with my family, and they were so generous and loving, while I sat in a chair the entire day, paralyzed with dread and worry.

And yet. And yet! There was this tiny tether of hope, deep inside me, holding onto what I deeply wanted to be a Promise from God.

The next morning, again, my husband and I heard our baby’s heartbeat, saw his tiny frame on the ultrasound machine. Alive! But what was going on?

Two days later, at my first “official” prenatal appointment, the doctor saw and diagnosed that I had a subchorionic bleed-a collection of blood in my uterus. She didn’t say that day, but I’d come to find out in coming appointments and from other doctors just how massive the bleed was. It dwarfed the baby. More than one doctor has looked at original pictures of the bleed and called it “one of the biggest” they’d ever seen. The diagnosis was not news I’d hoped to hear; my first miscarriage occurred right after I lost a lot of blood and was diagnosed with a subchorionic bleed as well. I prayed that this time, the bleed would dissolve and not cause any more external bleeding. That was not to be.

I experienced some spotting on and off after that, but was hopeful as it did not usually amount to much. Then, around ten and a half weeks, I began having a heavier stream of blood. I had begun not to know when to head to the doctor. If it subsided, I’d try to remain calm. If it picked up, I’d panic. I’d tell God, “I want to believe your Promise! I want to believe!” But I also knew that I didn’t always understand God’s ways, and maybe his Promise meant something different than I wanted it to mean. I had doubts. I had fears.

And the evidence before my eyes did not give me physical reason to hope. After a few days of on and off bleeding, it became a flood. I spent one day waiting for an afternoon doctor’s appointment, and my mom came to help me with my two preschool-age girls. I wanted to get them out of the house, so I suggested we take them to McDonald’s. As I sat there eating, I suddenly felt that heart-sinking feeling of warm fluid filling my pad. I ran to the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: blood pouring out of me in a steady stream, like water. I sat there for probably five minutes, and the stream just continued. Finally, it subsided enough for me to get off the toilet. How could my baby possibly be okay?

But again, he was okay! When we went to the doctor and again saw him wiggling around on the ultrasound, it was so miraculous! The word Promise became embedded on my heart, becoming an anchor to hold on to in the midst of the fear that swelled against me almost daily.

And then we got the joyous news we were having a BOY! I could not have been more surprised. I really thought we were having a girl. But I thought both my girls were boys, so I should have known better. Finding out his gender gave him yet another layer of reality in my mind. Almost immediately I started looking at boy names. Almost immediately only one boy name seemed to fit: Elliot, which means “The Lord is my God.” Truly, this child had been created and sustained by the Lord his God.

After that awful round of bleeding, I remember thinking, “Well, nothing could be worse than that.” These are the things that we should probably not think.

At thirteen weeks, it became much worse. As I lay in bed on a Wednesday night, I felt yet another gush of blood. I began frequent trips to the bathroom, blood coming in heavier waves each time. In between gushes, I lay on my side in bed, and contractions began. I felt them every few minutes, my uterus painfully hardening. Then I’d rush to the bathroom to find more blood. In the moments I was laying down, I turned on “Though You Slay Me” by Shane & Shane. Though I deeply wanted to believe God would do a miracle, I knew I was having contractions and that was positive evidence for a miscarriage. I tried to put my mind on trusting and loving God even if He did not save my baby. Though you slay me, yet I will praise You. Though you take from me, I will bless your name. Though you ruin me, still I will worship. Sing a song to the One who’s all I need.

When I went to the bathroom and blood clots filled the toilet, I was sure it was the end. I wept in my husband’s arms. I wept for the baby I thought was lost, loving him so deeply yet not being able to do anything to prevent losing him. I sat in the bathtub, thinking it wouldn’t be long before I delivered him.

And, unbelievably, somewhere deep, deep inside me, the word Promise still gave me the tiniest spark of hope. It wasn’t much, but I couldn’t let it go.

We went to the emergency room, knowing that’s what should happen with this amount of blood loss. A nice doctor said he was going to do an ultrasound. The exam room looked exactly like the one I’d been in a year earlier, where an ultrasound confirmed that I’d lost my little Avery Rose. The dread that covered over me was palpable. Surely, this time, I had lost another baby.

Oh, the wave of relief that washed away that dread! There was our little Elliot wiggling around on the ultrasound without a care in the world! Even as blood still poured from me and contractions still tightened my uterus. ALIVE! God had been allowing me to go through such a trial, yet He continued to miraculously intervene in Elliot’s life! How could I not believe He had promised me this baby? It felt like having my son back from the dead.

After week 13, things started to improve. The bleeding from that awful emergency room day tapered off, and I had a couple weeks with nothing. Then, I’d spot some more for a few days. This became normal life. A few times I had heavier bleeding. By my 16 week appointment, the baby was looking well, the subchorionic bleed was much smaller, and it was everything I could hope for. Another check of the baby after bleeding at 18 weeks showed he continued to grow well.

At my 20 week ultrasound with the high-risk obstetrician in maternal-fetal medicine, Elliot still looked healthy, surpassing the 99th percentile in size. But when the doctor came in after the tech had scanned me, he described something that looked a little odd on the ultrasound screen.

“Do you see how this is kind of cloudy? That’s your amniotic fluid, and normally it would look black on the screen. It appears that blood from your subchorionic bleed has gotten into the amniotic fluid. That tells us that there is a weakening in amniotic sac.”

Hmm. That didn’t sound quite so good, but they didn’t seem too worried. The doctor did tell me of the increased risk of my waters breaking early due to the sac being compromised by the subchorionic bleed. But he didn’t seem overly concerned otherwise. When my husband asked him what I should be doing/not doing, he simply said, “Just listen to your body.” O-Kay. Well, I would try to do that.

Later that very day, my body did tell me something, but I wasn’t able to interpret just yet. I lost more “blood,” but this time it was light brown in color, and very watery. But, since it dissipated within the next couple hours, I didn’t worry.

The same thing happened a couple nights later. And a couple nights after that. And a couple nights after that. Finally, I emailed the high risk doc and asked if this could be amniotic fluid leaking.

The day he returned my email, I had had another loss of fluid overnight, and his email directed me to go in the next time it happened. I wanted more direction, so I also emailed my regular OB. At almost the moment she called me, I lost another gush of fluid. I told her what happened and she said calmly, “Go to the hospital.” So I went.

The kind nurse there got me all ready to see the doctor and also wheeled in the ultrasound machine. When I told them I wasn’t losing any more blood/fluid at the moment, no one seemed too concerned. The doctor pulled up the picture of Elliot on the ultrasound.

“Hmm. Your fluid does seem to be diminished. Sometimes this can be caused by not drinking enough water.”

I told him how much water I drink. “Oh, you do,” he replied. Guess that wasn’t it.

I found out later that the amount of fluid he measured total in my uterus was 3.8 cm. The amount that should be measurable is at least 8 cm.

Still, he didn’t seem concerned. Maybe it was just a low amount of fluid for some reason. They did a test on me called “Amni-sure”, in which they swabbed inside me for a sample of the fluid. Then they had to wait while the swab interacted with some chemical in a vial, and turned a certain color. As the nurse waited with the vial in her hand, the doctor started talking about how it really looked more like mucous, and I could go right home if it was negative and–

“Actually, it’s positive,” the nurse interrupted him, holding up the vial.

The doctor’s face abruptly changed. “Oh,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He and the nurse just looked at me, as I cried a little. It was not what I wanted to hear. I know the prognosis for a woman’s waters breaking so early is not good. I didn’t even realize how not good it really is. From their demeanor, it was like being told my baby had a terminal condition.

The doctor started talking about lots of things I could do/not do about the situation. He said that once (ONCE!) he’d seen a woman’s waters break at 19 weeks, and somehow the amniotic sac repaired itself and she went on to have her baby at 35 weeks. But that was the only example he could think of.

He talked about trying to do bed rest at home but how that’s really hard, but I could try to lay down at least two hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening…

He talked about how if the fluid didn’t replenish, I’d have some hard decisions to make, as without fluid the baby’s lungs cannot possibly develop, and even somewhere in there mentioned the possibility of “terminating the pregnancy”….

He said they could keep me at the hospital for now, though there was nothing they could do…

Though I knew there was nothing they could do for a baby at 21 weeks gestation, for some reason, I felt compelled to stay at the hospital. They admitted me, and the sweet nurse kept hugging me and took me to a more “comfy bed”, as she put it. I immediately contacted everyone I could think of to begin praying. And pray they did.

My mom told me later that she caught the nurse in the hall, and the nurse tried to reassure her a little, saying that she had seen these things turn around. My mom asked, “Like, how often? 50/50?” The nurse got serious. “No,” she said. “The odds aren’t that good. Maybe 80/20.”

I felt strangely at peace, even as I battled fear and anxiety. Everything about what I was hearing and seeing on the medical professionals’ faces were prognoses of doom. But I knew that my friends, family, and church were calling upon Jesus’ name on behalf of Elliot. And I knew the miracles God had already performed on behalf of my little Promise. God is so much bigger than what man can see!

I rested throughout the night, and didn’t lose any more fluid.

By 1:00 the next day, Dr. Bozeman, my favorite doctor, came in and greeted me warmly. He sat in a chair to have the hard talk with me, again, about all the realistically grim things losing amniotic fluid could mean. Then, he went to the ultrasound machine to scan me.

As he scanned, he seemed pleasantly surprised. “Oh, there’s some fluid. Yeah, there’s some more.” I could tell he was adding it all up. After he was done, he left for a while. When he came back, he said he had talked to one of the high risk docs in maternal-fetal medicine.

“She’s skeptical that your waters really did break yesterday, with as much fluid as you have today. But I told her that the results were very sure.”

Already God’s miracle had confounded medical science!

Dr. Bozeman talked a little more, and then sat down, kind of smiling and shaking his head. “It’s just kind of contradictory…the amount of fluid you had yesterday compared to the amount you have today…but miracles do happen.”

So that’s why I felt compelled to stay overnight! These readings showed something beyond what medical science could explain, much more than would be reasonable to expect in a day, and I believe God wanted to show up. In less than 24 hours, my amniotic fluid had increased in measure from only 3.8 cm to over 9 cm!

Dr. Bozeman and I talked some more, and he was relieved and encouraged. I told him about all the people who’d been praying for me, and he nodded in agreement when I said that’s what had done it. As he walked out the door, he told me one more time, “Your fluid levels today really are miraculous.”

Miraculous. God had done it. For me. For Elliot. But mostly for the glory of His name, that all those prayer warriors, all those doctors and nurses, all those skeptics who might happen to see the post on Facebook, would give glory to HIM who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

As I’ve recalled the roller coaster of this pregnancy, I know during the low points I have wondered, Why is this happening to me? After losing two babies, why couldn’t this pregnancy just be uneventful? But I’ve also started asking that question in a different way: Why is this happening FOR me? Why did God bless me with a prophetic dream of hope and encouragement? Why did every episode of bleeding result in a baby whose heart still beat? Why did Elliot survive contractions and loss of blood clots? Why should I receive a miracle of healing in my amniotic fluid?

Because God. That’s all there is. I don’t know why He sometimes gives and sometimes takes away. I don’t know what twists and turns this pregnancy will take from here. I don’t know what joys and challenges Elliot’s life may bring.

But I know my God. And I know that no miracle could occur without a need born out of distress. It’s like when the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind, and who had sinned to cause him to be that way. Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” I am humbled that the works of God have been displayed in me.

Does that mean I want this roller coaster to continue? No, thanks! But if God wills it so that His name will receive more glory, I will take it.

I will also take this sweet life God has entrusted to me, and guard it well. The doctors may say I’m fine, may clear me to return to “normal activity”–but it is my season to rest. Rest my body. Rest my heart. Rest in Jesus. I will let all those kind people in my life who offer to help me, help. I’ll let go of the guilt of not cleaning or shopping or cooking or taking the girls all sorts of places. There will be plenty of time for that in life. Today, I cherish and protect Elliot’s little life inside me, not taking for granted the miracles God has performed on his behalf.

He who has PROMISED is faithful.

 

The Heaviness of Hope

“Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 6:17-20

 

Hope can be a heavy thing.

I don’t think I realized this truth until the current season of my life. Hope and I have had a changing relationship throughout the years.

When I was younger, I felt a lightness in hope. Hope can be filled with promise and joy. It’s the kind of hope you feel when you breathe in the beauty of a sunset. The sunset speaks of a deeper reality–the beauty of the King who made it. Hope of this type settles inside you with a spark of life and love. It says, “If you think THIS is beautiful, just wait until you meet its Creator face to face.” This kind of hope is peaceful, content, and gives you an appreciation for the beauty to be found on this mortal plain.

About a decade ago, when I was lamenting over my lack of a husband, hope took on a new significance. While I was learning Spanish, I came across a word with two meanings: esperar. Esperar is a verb that means both “to hope” and “to wait.” This was astounding to me! Hope meant waiting? I really didn’t want to wait anymore for a husband. But, the more I studied, I realized that when God spoke of hope in his word, it always meant waiting. In fact, just like in Spanish, the verb for “to wait” and “to hope” in Hebrew is the same word. Even in different Bible versions, the same phrase can be translated either “wait on the Lord” or “hope in the Lord.” To hope IS to wait. At that time, it was an encouragement to find my hope in the waiting time. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” Romans 8:24

This was my first encounter with the heaviness of hope. I was able to grab on to Jesus for my hope in the waiting. Yet, it didn’t make the waiting easy; it made it bearable. The heavy truth is that hope means I am lacking the object of my hope. At that time, I lacked a husband, and my waiting time was not as long as I’d feared-only a couple years.

That for which I hope now, however, will be the longest wait yet. The object of my current hope will not find its fulfillment until my mortal life ends: I long to be reunited with my children who were taken too soon by miscarriage.

The despair of not having them in my arms now can be almost too much to bear. The image of SEIZING hope carries new meaning for me now. Hope does not fall passively into my lap; it must be taken hold of, intentionally. This is the only antidote for despair. I grab onto hope in defiance of despair. It is not easy; when I put on the anchor of hope, it is heavy. In some ways, despair is much easier.

Because hope means waiting, seizing hope means accepting the reality of waiting the rest of my mortal life to be reunited with my children. What grief that brings my mother’s heart.

I never knew hope could be so heavy.

Will the weight of this hope lessen, and someday be a lightness and a joy? I believe it will. My two-year-old daughter, Valerie, loves bug-watching. Her favorite bugs to watch are roly-polies. When we step outside in the mornings and dew still covers the grass, she can find several roly-polies to crouch by. When they scurry out of her sight, her response is always the same: “Hope I see another roly-poly!” This is her hope! What a precious example. I want to hope for those little sparks of joy that Valerie seeks after.

Child-like hope is something to strive for. I wait in hope even for that. But, for now, I will seize my heavy hope, trusting in my Savior to keep it safe and secure. I will wear the weight of it, hoping, WAITING, for the day all things will be put right.