Realizing a fear is hard. Having that fear to come light in your life is often more terrifying than the fear itself. In the midst of joy and excitement about our pregnancy, with my own anxieties lightly looming at the surface, my biggest worry came to life. We learned the day after my birthday that our sweet little baby, the one whose heart we listened to and watched beat, the one we prayed for and dreamed about…that same sweet baby was no longer with us. It was incredibly unexpected and the shock and grief that accompanies is almost inexplicable.
I will never forget that night, lying on the table. And as soon as he swiped the wand across my stomach and I looked at the screen, I felt it. I looked for that familiar little flicker, proof of vitality, and I hoped that I was just missing it. That my eye was untrained or that he was struggling to get a clear view. I could tell that the ultrasound tech was searching, and I finally stopped looking at the screen because I felt in my heart what he hadn’t said yet. I felt all of those fears of loss and tragedy becoming a reality in my life, and I felt all of those dreams we had slipping away, but mostly I felt the depth of loss creeping in, the loss of one you love.
We had planned for a home birth with this baby, so instead of being in a clinical setting, we were in the home of our ultrasound tech. And I am so grateful for that. Grateful for the intimacy and the warmth of a house where real people live, not just a place where people work and hand out good or bad news. He was so kind, so gentle, and so sincere. His words have replayed in my head for days, hundreds of times. “Honey, I’m sorry I’m just not going to have good news.” They’re like a CD that keeps skipping at the same part over and over again. But instead of a sterile attitude, it was much different. While Tommy and I cried on his table, he spoke to us of he and his wife’s own loss, he shared positive experiences after loss, and he told me at least a hundred times that this was not my fault, that there was nothing I did wrong or nothing that could’ve prevented this. He told me statistics and spoke to me about his own experiences-- that in the 400 scans a month he does, with his knowledge of chromosomes and their formation in pregnancy, he said it was simply a miracle that loss and tragedy don’t happen more often than they do. And while the statistics and reassurances of my lack of fault didn’t comfort in that moment, they’ve been a healing balm in the days that have followed as I have questioned myself and my actions. And instead of just the typical “I’ll give you a moment,” he quietly walked out and called my midwife whose number he had in his personal cell phone and let her know so I wouldn’t have to speak it out loud yet. I spoke with her too, listened to the compassion in her voice, and knew immediately that even though this was not the ending we wanted, we had picked the right care providers, the ones that we needed. I couldn’t stop the tears from the moment that he spoke until the moment that we left. He hugged me before I walked out the door, and as I’ve remembered those moments-- moments filled with shock, and excitement turned to sorrow, I have been grateful for this man’s presence there with Tommy and I as we mourned. He was not uncomfortable with our grief, and that made a difference.
Before we pulled out of his driveway, we prayed. We cried out for ourselves and the precious life we so desperately missed. And even though I couldn’t speak much in that moment, Tommy did, and he prayed through his tears and his faith was steadfast. The car ride home was hard and filled with waves of sadness and grief so deep I felt like I would drown. And yet, there was God’s faithful hand in that moment too. Because when we pulled up in the driveway and walked in the door, utterly changed and different people than who we were when we crossed that threshold just hours before, there came a little girl in pink pajamas. Running to me and yelling, “Mama!” with a smile. And there was comfort in those moments, when everything else felt wrong and the heartache was so heavy I could hardly breathe, she was there too, this living proof of God’s provision in our lives.
Much like with birth, we felt that my body just needed time. So we opted out of any medical procedures and waited. The waiting was hard. Too difficult to explain.
It was my birthday the day before we found out. We had gone shopping all day, bought all sorts of summery maternity clothes for me to wear to our upcoming beach vacation. And even though this little life was no longer with us, I still looked pregnant. And that was hard too. My regular clothes didn’t fit and still don’t. But I ached to look at my maternity clothes, to put them on, because it felt like a lie.
But the waiting period ended. I had feared that I would be alone, but I was not. Tommy was with me. I will spare details because they are just too personal, and memories that only we share of our final moments with our precious baby. But again, I was thankful that I had labored before. I felt that God had prepared me for this moment physically. So when the pain began, it was more like a familiar friend. And because Tommy and I have labored naturally together before, he knew what I needed and what comforted me. They were painful hours, physically and emotionally. Unlike my previous labor that left me with a baby in my arms, this left me with what felt like a gash in my soul. But like my labor with Abi Kate, even in the midst of pain, there was a gentleness that prevailed. She was asleep for a good portion of the time, and her monitor was on in our room. And while contractions crashed over me and all the sadness that they brought, I heard the music playing in her room. "Blessed Be Your Name"--the timing of that song playing in that moment….The bridge, “You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord blessed be your name’….” filled up our room during an intense few moments, and I knew that God’s plan was unfolding. The plan that we didn’t expect, and the plan that we don’t understand and won’t try to. And even though I felt alone and broken, I knew He was there. Even if I couldn’t feel it. While it wasn’t the ending we had prayed for, our pregnancy did end where it began- in the quietness of our own home-- and that is what we planned from the beginning.
I have been overcome in following days, by so many emotions and memories. The necklace that we ordered for Mother’s Day arrived in the mail the day after our loss, a nest with two little eggs to symbolize our babies. It hurt, to see the two and know that only one would share our physical home. But when we bought it, Tommy had suggested that we choose the birthstones for the month not that they were born, but the month that we conceived them-- because that’s really the moment that they joined us. And so, it was perfect, even though we had no clue when we ordered it that we would be without life when it arrived. Even though this baby will not share our home, they will always share our hearts.
The new breastpump that I ordered two days before will arrive soon, and with it will come deterred dreams, knowing that I will never nurse this baby late at night like we’d planned. And packing away the new maternity clothes, the cute dresses and shirts I’d planned to wear, that was hard too. Knowing that this baby will not make my stomach swell and my skin stretch... It is painful.
I teach pregnancy and childbirth. I am familiar with statistics and both processes. And yet, despite my knowledge, the questions arise. It’s just different when it is you and not someone else. I fall into this small statistic of loss. Less than 10% in fact. Having had a strong heart beat at 8.2 weeks, a correctly measuring, intact, and well-implanted gestational sac and baby. We are much more diligent about eating organic, whole foods now than we were 2 years ago. My house has been free of chemicals for over a year. I haven’t stopped taking prenatal vitamins since January of 2010. I rarely, if ever, take medication. Most people who know me know that I am a Nazi about my water intake, particularly during pregnancy. I had very few food aversions with this pregnancy in comparison to Abi Kate’s, so I ate much more often and much healthier foods. I continued walking for exercise during this pregnancy. And instead of losing 8 pounds in the first few weeks, I gained weight. For all intents and purposes, this was a healthier pregnancy than Abi Kate’s from the outside looking in. This baby was more likely to be healthier, stronger. I am young and I don’t fall into any risk categories of miscarriage. And yet, against all odds of their health and survival, 11 weeks is all we received with this little one before their heart simply stopped beating. It is hard to embrace and confuses the mind. I’ve always been afraid of miscarriage, simply because I know so many people whose lives it has touched and hurt. It’s one of the reasons why we wait to announce my pregnancies until a bit later, until my pregnancy is visibly obvious (which with both my babies has been sooner rather than later). In both pregnancies, once we reached double digits, I started to feel relief. To be a week out from completing my first trimester and to experience a loss-- we just never saw it coming. We were counting down the weeks until we went for a gender scan. Only 4 weeks away. Announcing a loss publicly was hard, and something I’d always hoped to avoid by waiting to share that we were pregnant. But in some ways, I was grateful that others knew about our baby because this little life was celebrated. Others rejoiced with us in their arrival and grieved with us at their loss. And it helped me to feel that even though I wouldn’t have tangible proof of this baby’s life, they were not forgotten. Their short little life was celebrated and welcomed by many.
From the moment I saw our still, little baby on the screen until now, Job 2:10 has run through my mind. “How can we accept good from God and not adversity?” Even though it hurts, I know that God is good and that is plans are not only right, they are perfect. And while this is what we prayed against, His way has prevailed. Throughout the process, we knew that His plan was reigning over us, but it is hard to accept. It will never make sense to me, and so I’m trying to be content with accepting that I will simply never understand. And that’s ok, because His ways are higher than mine. We don’t know why God chose to write this into our story. But we offer Him praise for giving us this life anyway. Psalm 139:16 says that he knows the number of our days before a single one comes to be. And while we thought our baby would have many more days, God gave them to us, in full knowledge that a few short weeks was the number of this baby’s life. And I am blessed to have been chosen to carry this little one, to love them, to be their mother. It is hard to offer praise in the midst of grief, but even if it feels monotonous, I choose to. To search for and grab hold of the tiniest fabric of praise. I have to. Because it heals my heart and I know that God is still good.
The thoughts of what if’s and fears for future pregnancies swirl close to my heart and mind. But in the midst of such sadness, I can’t give them too much thought or leeway. Otherwise they would overtake me.
It is cruel to experience such a loss, and for me, especially now that I am a mother. When I birthed Abi Kate, I birthed my motherhood. And so I approached this pregnancy differently than hers in some ways, simply because I was already a mother this time and I hadn’t experienced motherhood yet when I was pregnant with her. I loved this baby deeply, spoke to them and prayed for them, intimately connected to this life from the earliest of days. There were things I felt I already knew about how their personality would be, because I am a mother and a mother knows their child, even from the beginning. And now that they are gone, I know exactly what I will miss with them-- I know what it is to carry life for 9 months, to feel the love that labor brings, to hold a baby in your arms for the first time and examine their face, to learn who they are and what they like, to watch them grow, to nurse them and comfort them. I know exactly what has been lost with this child. So, we didn’t lose just our baby but our plans for them inside this family as well. It is an ache that is hard to describe.
I have known grief in my life, though nothing this deep and heavy. Sometimes it feels so encompassing that I feel almost hollow. And I know that it will take many more weeks than this life was with me to fully mourn their loss. That the lives of others will go back to normal quickly and mine will still be shattered and rocky. That people will be talking about other things around me, but my mind will be fully fixated on the child I no longer carry. It is too fresh to feel anything other than sorrow right now, but I fear anger and bitterness. I know for some these are healing emotions. But for me, in any grief, they’ve only served to be what they are and have offered no healing-- just the stagnancy of frustration. It is so easy for me to turn to them, but I know they will do me no good. So I am praying against them, and longing to flee from them when they creep near.
This is not what we wanted. Not what we anticipated. Not what we prayed for. But I have seen the evidence that God was with us, lightening the load and giving us peace in these moments. Though it would appear to be a constant reminder, I feel blessed to teach in the birth community. Because these women understand how sacred the journey of pregnancy is and how valuable each life and experience is, even if it is only for a few weeks. They understand these things in a way most people, even most women, do not. They are not confused about why my grief would run so deep and last so long, why a week later the agony feels just as fresh as the day it happened. So to have them grieve alongside me has been like water for my soul. And the outpouring of love and prayers we have received from friends and family and acquaintances alike has touched our hearts. I haven’t even had to cook dinner in a week because others brought it to us. As a people, we often don’t know what to do or say when others grieve. I’m guilty of that. Some people say too much or the wrong things, but they are trying. Some people say nothing at all, and that’s harder for me to digest. It is such a unique, personal loss and grief that it’s hard to understand unless you have walked through it. And even then, we all mourn differently. But I am so thankful for the people who try, and mostly for those who’ve prayed.
In the hours before our baby was born, a sweet friend sent me a song, knowing that music ministers to my soul. A song I had forgotten about. It was on an album that I had listened to driving to work for months while I was pregnant with Abi Kate. It was a song I skipped every time it came on during that time frame because I was terrified of losing her. But this time, as I listened to it, it ushered in healing and comfort. It spoke to the truth that this baby, though with us for a short time and small in size, is now part of our lives forever, etched into the very fabric of our souls. That we will never “get over” the life and loss of this life, but we will carry them with us always. They will always fill the spot of our second child, the one who made our number 4 instead of 3. “…I will carry you all my life… I will praise the One Who’s chosen me to carry you.” And because I couldn’t do anything else, this is the song I sang to our baby in the last hours.