Sideswiped

I wrote this in September, but I wasn’t ready to share it I guess.  Today feels appropriate on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day:

Eleven years.  Our first pregnancy loss was 11 years ago last week.  On Labor Day weekend 2007 (You see the wretched coincidence, too, right?  Believe it or not, it only just occurred to me.), I checked into the hospital for surgery, my husband protecting me when I was too small to speak up for myself, a pastor friend praying with us before the procedure – like last rites for a tiny soul we won’t meet this side of eternity – and then me looking up at my doctor’s masked face and hoping that it was all as unreal as it felt.

Eleven years ago, I woke up from anesthesia and went home to recover from surgery, and eventually over the last eleven years, I’ve recovered emotionally and spiritually, too.  At least I think I have.  It’s hard to feel “recovered” when I feel like I do today.  I usually feel the weight of the magnitude of our ten loses on that first baby’s due date, which is April 1, so to feel the sudden heaviness of it now was an unwelcome surprise.  I can prepare for what I know I’ll feel each April.  I couldn’t be ready for this fresh hell.  I don’t know what else to label this depth of sadness and grief.

It felt important to write out and to share, even though it hurts, and even though I may short out my laptop if I cry on it any more.  I don’t really want to talk to anyone about this moment of pain, but I know I must express it, or it will fester and kill me slowly from the inside.  I’ve locked away the grief before, and that’s a miserable way to exist.  So I am letting it go.  I am letting myself feel the pain so that it can run its course and heal up again.  I am not letting myself wallow in it or letting it stop me from living; retreating for a day or two is fine, probably even healthy, but more than that and depression brain will take over.  I am at least in a place that’s healthy enough to recognize that what I’m feeling now will pass, and that I know living in a fleeting feeling for too long will put me in an unhealthy place.

I’ve been saying that we have dealt with the pain of loss and grief for ten years, but to realize that it’s now officially over a decade is… hard.  I’m a writer – I know there should be more words, better descriptors, something more than hard… But that’s all I’ve got.  Right this minute, it makes my brain go numb to think about.  It feels like every emotion associated with grief pops up at one time, so my brain shuts down.  That’s why it’s taken me almost a week to even mull it over long enough to write down the bones of this current pain.  Writing it out, now that I can, gives me a skeleton frame to flesh out as I purge the emotions.

I’m not naïve enough to think that I had finally conquered the grief, so it would just live in it’s little corner of my heart and never come out of its cage.  I know it can escape and jump into my consciousness at any moment.  I guess I just felt like I knew when to expect the regular intervals of escape attempts, so being sideswiped when I thought I had my crap together is… hard.  I honestly feel pretty broken.  What I don’t feel is defeated.  I know that feeling the hurt all over again isn’t a sign of weakness.  It doesn’t mean I’m losing ground.  It only means I’m human.

I’m a human who has experienced horrible loss and pain, just as many of you have.  It’s not more horrific than anyone else’s pain, but it is unique to my experience.  And my experience of learning how to heal the gaping wounds is what tells me I’m going to be fine in a few days.  It may hurt like hell, but I can use the tools I have assembled to cope with this fresh outbreak, and I can grow through it.  I can use this reminder that time won’t erase grief to feel deeper empathy for the people around me who are struggling through a new loss or mired in an old wound like me.

This moment is reminding me that my only hope is in Jesus.  He is very literally the only true hope I have that I will not only see my lost children in heaven, but that they are safe and loved and cared for in his arms.  The are whole and perfect and wonderful, and one day we will praise God together.  Their lives, however briefly they physically existed are important to God, and their story matters.

I can express all of this through the artistic skills God has given me, which turns this clump of words here into catharsis, healing, and a way to shine the little light I have on the path for anyone else who needs to find their way through grief and depression.  If that is you right now, reach out and grab a lamp; find a foothold, no matter how tiny, and climb up a little.  Ask God to send you more light, more air, and go seek it out.  Write out your pain to release it.  Draw whatever emotions are running under the surface so you can address them.  Bring them out into the light and tell them the truth: you are stronger than the pain because God is for you.PILM Graphic

The Even Keel

In case you noticed the giant lapse in blog entries and wondered why, we had our little girl at the end of January. I actually went into labor on her due date, and our little Engelberta was born the next day. Also, in case you wondered, I am not going to use Engelberta’s real name here. If we are friends, then you have likely already seen her name and pictures on FB a few times. If you are Joe Public reading my blog, I hope you’ll understand that I’d like to give Engelberta some privacy since this isn’t her blog.
If you know me or my husband well, then you know that neither of us are overly excitable people; you know the type – they scream loudly on roller coasters, they squeal with delight upon seeing old friends, and they may actually jump up and down with glee. We, on the other hand, are not quite as demonstrative even though we may feel the same depth of emotion. I am the person who smiles (silently) on a roller coaster and who screams (on the inside) without making more than a little “ha!” noise. Through our whole pregnancy, people constantly asked us if we were excited, and most of them were squealing and/or jumping while asking the question. We always replied calmly that of course we were excited, while the interrogator looked dubiously at our lack of exuberance. I often felt like maybe I SHOULD be physically jumping for joy even though I was jumping, silently, on the inside. Our labor and delivery nurses kept remarking at how calm both of us were through delivery, but we kept laughing and saying, “You don’t go through everything we’ve been through and then freak out over delivering a baby.” You don’t freak out over much at all, actually.
I have realized that one gift the last five years’ events have given me is an extraordinarily even keel. Our circumstances can be all over the map, but my emotions don’t have to live on the peaks or in the valleys. Of course I feel the highs and lows, but my heart is anchored in the hope of Christ, and that gives me a solid place to stand no matter what life throws my direction. God gave us the lows of each miscarriage and the high of this successful pregnancy. The constant in every circumstance is that God gives us himself, and we have found our joy in his presence and not in our circumstances. That is freedom. That is certain knowledge that whatever happens, it is what it is, and it doesn’t define me; God does and what I do in the moment does.

Hope Deferred

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NLT

One of my favorite people on the planet has a child who will turn five in a month or so. This friend is the type of person who makes you glad to know that God created someone like that and then blessed them with a child to carry on all their best qualities. I found out that my friend and his wife were expecting their now soon-to-be five-year-old not long after I found out about my first pregnancy, and I couldn’t have been more excited to know that we would be parents within a few months of each other. Even after we lost our baby, I loved keeping up with my friend and his baby through the old college grapevine and then through Facebook. Every picture I see of his family is a little snapshot that tells the ongoing story of his dream fulfilled. Every post about the cute things his almost five-year-old says tells me that he is the amazing dad I knew he would be, and his wife is probably one of the coolest people in the world.

A recent post about the impending birthday was both fantastic and jarring – fantastic that they are celebrating five years of life with their little one, and jarring to realize that my first baby would have been five in April. I know we’ve been deferring our hope for a while, but I tend to think of our waiting through the losses in terms of just a few years, not half a decade. We have waited and mourned through five years to reach this point. We have lived with the sick and heavy heart of hope deferred. In that time I have learned that hope deferred really does make your heart sick – no matter how healthy it was to begin with, no matter how well you cope, no matter how much you heal – and a piece of that sickness will stay with you for the rest of your earthly life.

No matter how much joy our daughter’s existence brings – it is after all our dream fulfilled – it will never erase the past or undo all the heartache. Her life is a new tree of life in our lives, both figuratively and literally, and that new joy is all the richer and deeper because of our deferred hope. I have never been a fan of the replacement baby mentality – when people have a baby immediately on the heels of a loss to replace the pregnancy or child they lost – because it isn’t a healthy way to deal with the loss. There are moments when I feel our daughter moving around or hiccuping, and I feel overwhelmed by grief that I never felt any of our other babies do the same thing. What we lost over the last five years can never be replaced on earth; what we are gaining will not erase that pain, but we will appreciate our tree of life all the more because of it.

At first glance, you might think the proverb I opened with implies that hope deferred brings sadness while a dream fulfilled replaces that sadness with joy and a tree of life. Maybe superficially that’s true, but in reality, we aren’t really wired that way. I’d rather think of the hope deferred as fertilizer for the dreams that do get fulfilled. It takes a lot of manure to make the prettiest flowers.

It’s Just God’s Way of Showing You…

Consider this a fair warning type of post. It’s a rare complaint/whine from me, actually. The only comment I’m not fielding very gracefully is, “God is just showing you that he didn’t need you do IVF.” Here’s the fair warning part of the post: I will respond less than tactfully that God didn’t need us to do IVF the first eight times we got pregnant, either, and look how those turned out. Then I will smile and change the subject. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

I have heard this well-intentioned statement from a lot of people, and most of them are people that I love dearly. When I told one of my favorite people on the planet about how I was reacting to this, her response was exactly what I tend to think: “No, I almost think you had to do IVF; you had to be willing to do everything. I think that God is showing us he has a tremendous sense of humor and irony.” I love that my friend isn’t afraid to admit that God clearly has a sense of humor (he created me, after all), and he seems to have a flair for the ironic as well. I actually think God laughs when we attribute grander meanings to our circumstances. “That’s just God’s way of saying you’re going to have a boy.” “That’s just God showing you that you should be nice to short people.” “That’s how God shows us that artichokes are the perfect food.”

Of course those are ridiculous examples, and of course there is grander meaning to our circumstances, but I don’t think we know what that grander meaning is most of the time. I think that we rarely guess correctly when we try to guess how every circumstance fits into God’s plan. I think we might even be frustrated to know the answers most of the time; we’d probably be disappointed to know that our suffering wasn’t used as directly as we hoped. God has yet to tell me directly exactly why we had to have nine miscarriages to get to this point. I have no doubt that he has used our circumstances for his glory, but I don’t know why we had to endure all of what we’ve endured. No one does. We may never know.

What I do know is that to claim that this pregnancy is evidence that God didn’t need us to do an IVF cycle or didn’t use our IVF cycle for some part of his plan is malarky. It also trivializes our loss, not just the IVF pregnancy, but each of the eight miscarriages preceding that one. While that is certainly not the intention of my personal prophets, it is the emotional effect of their proclamation. Obviously, God didn’t need for us to do IVF to have a successful pregnancy; just as obviously, it wasn’t God’s plan for us to keep the previous pregnancies. Beyond that, I have yet to meet anyone who has the details about why those things happened the way they did except to say that God has a plan that we can’t always see or understand. That’s just God’s way of showing me that I have to trust him through every trial and every circumstance.

All the Time

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever! (Psalm 30:11, 12 NLT)

That pretty much sums up how I feel this week. I may seem a little quiet compared to some of my friends about praising God for our good lab work. Let me pause right here and say, God deserves all the credit and glory for continuing to give us good news about this pregnancy. Let me continue by adding that he deserves all the glory from every situation in my life, including the losses. Any good that has come from that pain has all come from him. Any good that comes from continuing this pregnancy will all come from him.

I hope that my faith has been acted out in my life plainly enough that anyone reading this would know that my faith is in God all the time. I have been exhorted more than once this week to remember that God can do anything and that we should never doubt his power. If I didn’t forget that through nine pregnancy losses, I’m not going to forget it now. What I don’t want to happen is for my focus to shift from relying on God to letting my faith rest on what he can do for me. I don’t want anyone else to be shaken in their faith if our desired and prayed for outcome doesn’t come to be. I praise God for keeping me whole and sane and for giving me great news about this pregnancy. I will not stop praising God if our good news changes – “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” No matter what.

This has to be your prayer, too, if you are praying for me. I would love nothing more than to find twins on our ultrasound in a few weeks; I would love nothing more than to see a single heartbeat; I would love nothing more than to experience a complete pregnancy and hold a squirmy baby early next year. Any part of that dream coming true would be a blessing from God; none of it is a measure of his love for me. We tend to be if-then thinkers: if God gives me a baby this time, he loves me a lot. Wrong. There is no if-then with God except that he loves us, and IF we accept the sacrifice his son made as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, THEN we become his children and will live to praise him forever. The good things he gives us are gifts – wholly undeserved, and absolutely no reflection of any goodness we may have demonstrated in our lives.

This baby is already a gift from God; born or unborn it’s his creation, and it’s part of my life forever. Have no doubt that I am giving God the glory for this gift and our joy. Have no doubt that God is good all the time, when you can see his good gifts – like our lab work this week – but even when it hurts, even when you’ve lost, and even when you mourn. ALL the time, God is good.

Period. End of Discussion.

This was the title of the post that was running around in my head last week. It was going to say that I hate the period after a miscarriage. As if the miscarriage wasn’t loss enough, you spend the month (actually, the rest of your life) after trying to cope and return to some sort of normalcy when you are hit with the ultimate normalcy of your next period. Maybe I’m weird (okay, there’s no maybe about that one…) or alone in this feeling, but the period after a loss can be harder to cope with than the moment of the loss itself; you can autopilot through a few weeks or even a month, and you can imagine that there was some sort or mistake in the lab work – or that it was all a nightmare that you’ll wake up from – until you start your period. (Squeamish folks/guys, skip to the next paragraph now.) Nothing feels more final or fatal than blood when you lose a pregnancy – it’s a constant, graphic reminder of your baby’s death. The return of a normal cycle just nails the coffin shut on your dead dream with the same bloody fatalism.

Here’s the rest of the story this month. Generally, I am only moody when I’m extremely stressed or my hormones are running amok, and my expression of moodiness is either to be angry at everything for no apparent reason or to cry at everything, also for no apparent reason. This was how I felt Monday last week, along with all of the general aches and pains associated with periods, so I consulted the calendar and discovered that I should be starting at any point. By Thursday, I was beyond cranky, so I decided to psych myself out with a pregnancy test – I could take it, see that it was negative and my imagination was running wild, and then feel free to start my period. God clearly has a sense of humor. That was the fastest changing, darkest line we’ve probably ever had on a home pregnancy test. I had just been waiting for my period to start so I could start taking the pill again so we could do the second opinion appointment so we could have a better idea of what steps to take next so we could… apparently watch God laugh at our attempts to plan.

I really considered not telling anyone, including my husband, until sometime next week. If it didn’t work out, I would only be a week late starting, which would probably not be all that unusual after an IVF cycle. As the opening paragraph indicated, I was already set to be a grump anyway, so who would notice if I was more of a grump? If it did work out, then I’d be far enough along to confidently yell “Surprise! We’re pregnant!” at random. You may be wondering why I considered not sharing this at all since I’ve been pretty open about everything we’ve dealt with. Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed. We spent the last two months dealing with IVF and another pregnancy loss – how could we have let yet another pregnancy happen? How could I possibly tell anyone without feeling like an idiot? I even hesitated to go to the doctor’s office on Friday. The staff would surely think we were nuts, and it’s hard to date a pregnancy that happens the cycle after a miscarriage, so… There were a million little nagging thoughts like that.

Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The nurse gave me several huge hugs, and the lab tech drew a souvenir pig on the test (I told her about inheriting my grandmother’s pig collection since they had pig stress balls to squeeze for blood draws last month…) which the nurse brought out and gave to me. My friends have been just as surprised as we were, but they have been amazing and supportive – as if I should expect anything less! You guys are awesome! My mom may win the best response award this time. She decided that we are having twins – one for me, and one for her. When I said Steven may not like that idea, she amended her decision to triplets – one for me, one for him, and one for her. I think there was a “Friends” episode like that: “There are three of them – surely they won’t miss one…”

The blood work Friday looked really good. The progesterone level was good, and the hcg level was 263, which might be the highest first test we’ve had. I know it’s the highest first level we’ve had in the last few years. If all is well, by Tuesday’s re-check, the hcg level should be at least over 600, and maybe even close to 1000. I’m hoping for 1000 tomorrow because that would be the best-possible-case scenario. It looks like we are right at five weeks, and this is where we always run into trouble. Right now, everything looks great, and I am hopeful that I have faced my last post-miscarriage period. Right now, I have no idea what God’s plan is, but I have no doubt he’s in control of every circumstance, regardless of the outcome. Period. End of discussion.

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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is not my favorite day to deal with, and this year it had the added sting of following so closely behind a loss and sharing the date with my birthday. I have often skipped church on Mother’s Day to avoid dealing with it – the awkward (for me, anyway) invitation to stand as an acknowledgement of achieving motherhood, the awkward (for me, anyway) gift that I can’t gracefully accept or decline without losing it a little, and the simple recognition of a day that I can’t really participate in even though I have children. It’s just not the same, and it’s a reminder of loss and unattainable dreams. The absolute hardest Mother’s Day church service is definitely baby dedication. It’s a sweet tradition – if you’ve had babies to dedicate – otherwise, it’s a good day to sleep in.
This year, there was no baby dedication during the service, and we decided to brave it. (Actually, I decided to try it, and my sweet husband who wouldn’t have been too affected by the day agreed to support whatever I felt like I could handle…) There was no extra standing ovation for the moms present this year, but there was a request during the greeting to hug a mom near you while greeting the people sitting around you. In the choir loft, mass hugging ensued, but I noticed one of our sweet older ladies on the back row had tears forming in her eyes while she tried to keep her face still. She and her husband have been married for over fifty years, and they never had children. She’s never told me so, but I get the feeling that she probably lost at least one pregnancy; she’s told me that people her age just don’t talk about things like that. I went over to give her a special hug, and she said, “It’s just a hard day.” I said, “I know” and spent the next song trying not to cry when I realized what I needed to tell her after the service.
After church I caught her in the ladies robing room before she had a chance to get out into the crowd so I could tell her this: “You are just as much a mother as anyone else here today who actually gave birth. You count today for all the time and love you have put into the lives around you – including mine. You are a mom, and you deserved a special hug today and to know that.” We were both crying by then, and she said, “It’s so nice to hear that you count.” It is nice, and it’s hard to feel like you count on a day like Mother’s Day when you have failed the simple biological task of becoming a mother. You feel like you shouldn’t count because you failed. It’s silly when viewed logically, but that’s the emotional toll.
I had the honor of helping another hurting lady through that day, and I was reminded less than five minutes later almost word for word by a sweet friend that I count for the same reasons I gave my choir buddy. Mother’s Day was still not an easy day for me, but it was a sweet reminder of how the body of Christ should work: serving and being served, building up and being built up, encouraging each other in love.