*** NOTE: The following is an account of something very emotional I went through; please be warned if you have a tender heart. You may need tissues. I pray God will guard your heart with a spirit of peace as you read. ***
Sometimes you know it's coming; like the rumble of a distant train. The far-off whistle. It gets closer. It passes. The noise, the enormity, the power, it's still overwhelming but you had a chance to brace your senses. Sometimes, though, there's no warning...
Like heading down a main thoroughfare and all is well until life hits you like a Mac truck from a side street at 70 mph. No way to brace yourself, you just have time to look before you're hit.
Life's trials. Some you see coming; some you don't.
I realized in August of 2011 I was pregnant. I was troubled because I really didn't want to be pregnant but found I was also upset with myself for not being joyful. After all, God says children are a reward and a blessing. There's so many people who WANT to be pregnant, and here I am, grumbling because I AM. I have to admit, I'm not sure I ever completely surrendered joyfully to this pregnancy and in some ways, I think I am still wrestling with it (but more on that later).
We found out in time to put it on our 2011 Christmas cards that we were looking forward to welcoming Tobias (our fifth boy) to our family in May of 2012. So many friends and family had been praying we'd finally add a girl to the mix but I had resigned myself ahead of time, to avoid disappointment, that it was another boy. We were content and spent the next couple months trying to convince our other boys not to be disappointed he wasn't a she! (One of them, despite several reiterations, continued to tell anyone who would listen, that he was having a sister). We had boy clothes, boy bedding, boy toys... we know boys so life would continue with familiar rhythm.
My fifth pregnancy was going nearly as text-book as the previous four. The only exceptions were that I'd had the most severe morning sickness in the first trimester I'd ever had and a varicose vein that was throbbing if I didn't have my leg elevated or full-length support hose on (note: full-length maternity graduated support hose are an ordeal to get into, way too warm for Florida weather, and are by no means any kind of sexy... but they make a huge difference if you have circulation problems!) Besides that, my weight gain was minimal, baby was growing, we were both healthy, and all was going normal.
With my OB's blessing, two of my boys, and my support stockings, I had to take a cross-country trip to Seattle in February. My dad's wife had gone into hospice care, nearing the end of her battle with cancer; I wanted to see her before she passed and try to comfort my dad as he faced what was coming. It was a nice trip, despite the reason, and the boys and I got some wonderful time with family and friends. I was honored to be a vessel for God and pray peace and encouragement into my dad's sweet wife as she prepared to meet Jesus. We flew home and back to life as usual...
A couple weeks after I had got back, my husband settled into bed, wrapped his arm around my round belly, and asked if "Toby" (as we were already calling him) was moving. Not thinking much of it, I said no and assumed he was comfy and resting (most likely waiting for me to be nearly asleep before he started his nightly acrobatics!). I didn't ponder it further, went to sleep, then had a pretty typical day following.
It was a Wednesday night. There was youth group and then my husband had to attend a meeting with the church leadership. There were a lot of problems going on, stress levels were high, and a lot of things were coming to a head. I went home to put our kids to bed and one of the youth, my best friend's daughter, came to help. After we got the boys settled and sat down on the couch, my young friend asked if the baby was moving and could she feel him. I told her he wasn't and our conversation moved to other things. My mind, however, did not. It was in that moment the memory banks began to spin backward...
How long had it been since he'd moved?? I remembered the night before... Had it really been THAT long since he moved? What kind of mother was I that I couldn't remember WHEN I last felt him! The embers of panic began to smolder but I kept myself calm. I went through checklists in my head of where I was when he last kicked me, what things I could do to get him to move, reassurances that he was probably fine and I was overreacting.
The panic wouldn't go away.
I can't remember if I asked my best friend when she came to pick up her daughter or if I texted her later, sharing my concern, but I went and called my mom and poured a bath immediately. I texted my husband. No matter which way I lay on our bed, he wouldn't move. I texted my husband again. In the bath, he wouldn't move. I sobbed prayer upon prayer as I went through my bath. I dried off, dressed, and called my mom again. She said call the hospital. They said I was probably fine but go ahead and come get checked. I called my best friend. She came immediately. My last resort... a cold pack from the freezer against the corner of my belly where I could feel him laying. Nothing. I called my husband. He had finally gotten the texts and now my call and was heading home immediately while the pastor prayed.
I already knew.
I put on some comfortable clothes. I couldn't decide whether to pack a bag; it was early enough in the pregnancy I hadn't done one yet. The tears came in waves. My husband rushed in and changed his clothes. My friend arrived to stay with the children. She had been crying already as she prayed. We all hoped I was wrong.
As we got on the freeway to the hospital all that came to mind were hymns. I did not grow up in church and I had only started learning any of the old hymns over the previous few years. But, the words came. When I didn't even know what to pray, words of praise and faith came in singing sobs all the way there. I knew what was looming. I knew Christ had felt what I felt... dread of what I was about to have to experience with no way around it but with an odd peace that I cannot describe.
We arrived at the hospital and had to tearfully explain to the check-in desk why I needed to get to the maternity wing. (It seemed like every staff person from the door to the discharge had to ask what was going on... I felt like I explained it a hundred times). Every one of them reassured me that all was probably ok and we'd be heading home, just fine, in no time. Comforting smiles. Attempts to hide their own concern that I might be right... I felt sorry for them.
The poor little triage nurse in labor & delivery who had to do the initial ultrasound. I actually apologized to her. I know things like this are the hardest part of their job. She tried to find the heartbeat. Said the equipment must not be working right. I knew. I've been dopplered so many times. I know that echoing sound as the sensor searches my belly. I also knew how easy it had always been before this to find every baby's heartbeat. I knew. I prayed for God to rescue me. He spoke into my heart "My beloved, I cannot... but I will be WITH you through it." It was like the Holy Spirit squeezed my hand...
One of the midwives came in to do a confirmation scan. I felt bad for her to be the one to say "I'm so sorry." I felt bad for them now having to prepare themselves emotionally for my delivery. They were all so kind. Gentle. Loving. Patient. The care team was a blessing.
It was all so surreal; so vivid and yet such a blur. They said I had already begun to dilate, an indication my body already knew before I did. They got me a room, an IV, a drip of pitocin to bring on labor. They promised to do it slowly. They offered to add something to my IV so I could rest while it progressed. I couldn't decide. I wish now I hadn't. Or, at least asked for only half the dose. While it was nice to let my brain go numb and doze off for a while, the drug left me foggy long after that. Somehow I knew I should avoid the drugs but I didn't. I would have liked to be more cognizant and aware than I was after delivering.
I don't remember what time it was but the contractions wouldn't let me sleep. I didn't take long before it was time to push. Then, it was all done. They said his cord was attached to the placenta at the bottom, not in the center as is normal. They said he probably got big enough that at one point he got comfy on his own cord, went to sleep, and never woke up. They said when it happens it only takes about two minutes. No way to foresee it. No way to prevent it. No way to undo it.
We held him.
The nurses cried with us.
He would have looked just like the others. Dark hair. Cupid's bow lips. Same nose. So tiny.
They put a little gown on him with a hat so we could hold him a while. Even more surreal; a very odd mix of emotional thoughts dancing with the analytical and logical. Thoughts of what might have been and now would not be along side thoughts that this is not him, he is with Christ.
The care staff was wonderful and we were given a beautiful memory box, his footprint, a little flannel heart of the same material as his gown. The nurses took pictures and even put them on a disc for us.
I was discharged less than 24 hours after arriving and we were home before dinner. I would be thankful for my own bed and my husband's cuddles. As soon as we got home we gathered our boys and shared, in words they would understand, what had happened. They cried with us and asked a lot of questions that we did our best to answer. This process repeated itself several times over the course of a couple weeks and tapered off. Save for one aspect... Our eldest. At almost 8 years old he "regressed" in some behaviors in the week following our loss. We were befuddled at what was going on. Thankfully my mom had flown in to visit for a week and got him to open up. He was convinced his baby brother had died because he'd been praying for a sister. He felt a deep guilt because he believed he was to blame. We all took some time to love on and pray with him, reassuring him that there was nothing he could have done to make this happen nor prevent it. It was a tender opportunity to share God's mercy and sovereignty as best we could to such a sweet, tender heart. Not surprisingly, the behavior issues were remedied at the same time.
We met with a local funeral director who took care of everything that the church did not. Paperwork. Cremation. An urn. A memorial. Music. Words to say. Scriptures to share. All of it, so surreal.
The most profound thing I experienced through the entire thing was "peace that surpasses all understanding". It was inexplicable. I'm not sure I've felt God's presence so tangibly at any other stage of my life. I could almost feel Him holding me up when I didn't think I could do it myself. I don't think the question of "why?" ever entered my mind. I had (have) such an absolute belief that the first thing my boy ever saw was the face of Christ. I believe unshakably that he never experienced pain, fear, hunger, or sorrow but instead only knew God's love, peace and joy beyond the warmth, safety and love we tried to convey to him as he grew.
I learned through this that tragedy will, at some point, strike every one of us BUT tragedy does not need to be tragic. While Tobias' life was cut short according to our expectations, God showed us that even in just 32 weeks, his little life had purpose. I have a new testimony, a new purpose, I have discovered a new depth of faith, and I have experienced God's peace, all in ways I would have missed if all had gone according to our idea of "normal". I can reach out to an entirely new group of people that I couldn't before. (And, incidentally, have been embraced into a group I never knew before... I found out that stillbirths actually happen to about 1 in 200 women; when Toby passed I was shocked at the number of women I knew coming out of the woodwork to share their own story and offer comfort)
God has taught me a lot in the last several years about surrender. This was the most intense test yet. Through it though, He showed me that we must never hold on to anything (or anyone) so tightly that losing it (them) would shake our faith. This is another post for another time, but we nearly lost our fourth boy at birth due to a completely different issue and in the year following God allowed me to ponder long and hard on life, death, His absolute sovereignty, and how much control we do not have. In the moments leading up to my fourth son's birth the Holy Spirit reminded me "You talk about how your days are numbered; remember his are as well. Some people get 30 minutes, some 30 years, some more, some less. I am in control." It was that experience, that, while nothing can prepare someone for a stillbirth, that was as much a preparation I could have had. By the time I was in the car heading to the hospital I already felt the still, small voice, whispering "surrender" in the most comforting way.
I cannot fathom how I (or anyone else) could survive life's tragedies without faith that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28, paraphrased). There have been some other, less epic, trials over the last year but this has brought such perspective. It has given me a plumb line of sorts, a keel, a genuine depth of peace, that every trial is part of His plans for our lives. That's not to say that God wanted me to lose my son; but rather He knew it was coming and had a plan to use it for glory, not despair. He wants to do the same in your tragedy. Nothing surprises Him, nothing catches Him off guard. Your prayers will never find Him sleeping. He is with you through it, holding you, even when you don't realize it. He will always win with the cards you've been dealt, no matter how bad the hand looks. No matter how impossible it looks, trust Him to use it. Don't try to figure out how or decide what the best thing is for Him to do. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. All that matters is that He promised. He didn't say how or when. Life's tragedies will come. If we try to hide from them, prevent them, or just wring our hands while we mourn what hasn't even taken place, then we'll miss out on blessings beyond measure.
Like the lyrics to the children's song "Going on a Bear Hunt" that say "Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, gotta go through it!", such is life. It is a bittersweet adventure but He is inviting us to even survive death.
Today I'm praying for/about:
Today, (in no particular order) I'm praying for...
- Fresh ideas, inspiration and diligence to post regularly again
- My dad fighting mesothelioma too far away for me to hug him
- Children, parents, and teachers everywhere preparing to return to school
- My single friends as they seek God for His guidance in relationships
- Broken relationships; for grace to abound where grace has been withheld
- You; I'm praying for every single person who views this blog.
Thank you for standing in agreement with me for these precious souls!