Wednesday, August 8, 2012

what helped

I'm often asked what helped us heal after our miscarriages. Nothing helped a lot but lots of things helped a little. Here's our list of hope givers, memory makers, smile igniters, and hurt healers.

We gave our babies names because they were real people. We named our little boy Ethan Andrew. Here's where I get vulnerable...Ethan wouldn't have been Ethan if he would have been born alive. We had a different name picked out, a name that Andrew and I have loved for a long time and still love today. Someday we hope Ethan will have a little brother with that name. I sometimes feel guilty about that, like we devalued him somehow by not sticking with the plan. We told ourselves he didn't look like the name we had picked out. Well...of course he didn't. He didn't look anything like what we had expected because we were awaiting a healthy, full-term baby. He was the size of my hand. His skin hadn't yet taken on that beautiful baby pink. And he wasn't breathing. We didn't stick with the plan because the plan went out the window when they couldn't find his heartbeat.

The even deeper truth is that I had planned on seeing the name we had chosen in the church program on the day our son was dedicated. I had planned to see it written in perfect, first grade teacher printing, laminated and stuck to a six-year-old-sized desk on his first day of school. I had planned to see it on a hockey roster, in a high school yearbook, on a wedding invitation. I had planned to call that name from our front door to get him to come to dinner. I had planned to say it in a certain mom voice when he was being a little too rowdy. I couldn't stand the thought of not being able to do those things. We needed a new name. I picked it and Andrew liked it and then our baby was Ethan. Andrew hadn't wanted to name any of our children after himself. But everything had changed and I think he liked the idea of sharing something so sweet with his boy. It was, after all, about the only thing they'd get to share on this earth.

We didn't give our second baby a regular name. We refer to him or her as Little One or as our August Baby because he or she was conceived and lost in August. Sometimes I feel guilty about this too. Maybe we should have picked a "better" name. But we didn't and I think that's probably okay. I'm sure God had already given both of our kids new names in Heaven, names I can't wait to hear when I get there.

A dear friend shared this quote from Jenny Schroedel with me after she and her husband lost their child, Gabriel.
"The act of naming the child is a powerful way to bring light to the reality of that child's existence. Naming is a holy thing - it was the first act that God trusted Adam with. I have heard that there is an Eskimo legend that a baby cries because it has not yet been given a name. We all ache to be fully known, to become who we were meant to be, and a name can be our first guidepost along the way. Naming a miscarried baby not only makes the loss more concrete - it also allows the parents to bond with their child, to claim him/her and to prepare for reunion with them - even as they offer their child back to the one who is Life." 

Another important step toward healing was our decision to plant a tree in Ethan's memory. We chose a flowering tree whose petals last a very short time. We thought the brevity of the blooms was fitting. Ethan's grandparents and aunts and uncles joined us at Andrew's mom and dad's lake home to plant the tree together. We had a short time of reflection beforehand, reading aloud a few Scriptures and quotes about Heaven. We played "Glory Baby" by Watermark while we put the tree in the ground. My mom brought a lovely birdhouse to hang on one of its branches. I love seeing that tree and I make a point to spend some time nearby it whenever we visit the lake.

Here are some of my favorite passages from Ethan's tree planting:
“Those we love are with the Lord, and the Lord has promised to be with us. If they are with Him and He is with us, they can’t be far away.” - PeterMarshall  
“Young women will dance and be happy. Young men and old men will join in. I'll convert their weeping into laughter, lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.”  - Jeremiah31:13  
“Heaven is the finish line, the ultimate prize. The God of all the ages will be there, and I want to go.” – Janet Paschal 
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5
“I used to think, loving life so greatly, that to die would be like leaving the party before the end. But now I know that the party is really happening somewhere else. That the light and the music escaping in snatches to make the pulse beat faster and the tempo quicken come from another place. And I know, too, that when I get there, the music and the love and the praise will belong to Him. And the music will never end.” – Bob Benson 
“But now, this is what the LORD says— He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”– Isaiah 43:1-3 
“Thank you Lord, for the privilege of walking through this passage. As hard and sometimes agonizing as it is, I wouldn’t miss it. To touch eternity so intimately, to hand off the hand I am holding to the very hand of God changes me. The glitter of glory lands on my face, too, and changes the way I see things. We are now sending Heaven a treasure we have held dear, entrusting our loved one to other arms, other hearts.” – Gloria Gaither 
“To grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:3

I wear two necklaces with the babies' names. I don't wear them every day but when I wear them, people sometimes comment or ask questions. I love that. When our daughter was born, our friend took a picture of her holding one of the necklaces in her tiny hand. I treasure that image - our sweet girl honoring her older siblings. We also had Christmas tree ornaments engraved with "Ethan" and "Little One."

I'm a reader, so it was very important for me to read lots of books about miscarriage and infant loss during that season of grief. It helped me feel less alone and isolated. Some of my favorites are:

Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven about the Death of a Child by John MacArthur
Losing You Too Soon: Finding Hope after Miscarriage or the Loss of a Baby by Bernadette Keaggy
I Will Carry You, a beautiful memoir by Angie Smith
Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie

Here are some children's books that I like even though I don't believe their claim that babies who die become angels:

We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead byPat Schwiebert
Someone Came Before You by Pat Schwiebert 
My Brother, He’s an Angel by Savannah L. Leyde

Sharing our story has been hugely helpful in our healing process. Whether through writing or conversation, with family members or complete strangers, every time I recount our journey through infertility and miscarriage, I feel a bit more whole, not so damaged. It's such a great feeling to help someone else, too. Our story takes on a whole new meaning and depth when we share it with someone who's grieving a similar loss. It's such a privilege to be able to walk alongside others in their grief, to be allowed into that vulnerable place.

My brother-in-law, a carpenter, built a beautiful cedar memory box for storing Ethan's stuff. I rarely open it. It just feels really sad but I'm still so glad we have it. The baby blanket and teeny tiny hat we got from the hospital are in that box. His ultrasound pictures are in that box. All of the cards we received from people after his death are in that box. Some onesies and a blanket used to be in that box. We went back and forth about whether or not to use those things when Harriet was born. We thought about leaving them in the box. They were Ethan's after all. But it made me sad to think of those precious little baby clothes sitting in that box forever, never to be worn. So before Harriet was born, we folded them and set them in the dresser in her nursery. I think she'd be proud to know she got to wear her brother's hand-me-downs.

Every year on Ethan's birthday, March 23rd, we try to do something fun. The first year, we went to the Science Museum. And on his second birthday, we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant we'd been wanting to try. It's still such a sad day but having something to look forward to adds a little sweet to the bitter.

Letting others in has helped so much...letting others serve us, visit us, pray with us, grieve with us, ask questions, tell us about the children they have in Heaven. Those little moments, quick conversations and kind gestures have meant the world to us. It isn't fun to be friends with someone who is infertile or with someone who is grieving, but so many have stuck with us through the awkwardness, through the discomfort, through the deep sadness, through the waiting times. It wasn't always easy to let others in but we are so glad we did.

So that's what has helped us, what has healed us. Nothing fixed it. Nothing brought our kids back. But that's the difference between fixing and healing. Our sadness will never go away but I do believe in complete and perfect healing. I believe that God can meet us in our sorrow and with a gracious, loving hand, rescue us from it. So that something that was once so hopeless can become a beacon for others to follow as they walk through their darkest nights. So that something that was once so ugly can become a beautiful picture of God's transforming work in people's lives. So that something that was once so painful can become part of our story...part of His story.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

heaven will hold them

Our journey toward parenthood hasn’t been easy. I'm sure some of you can relate. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome as a teenager, so we knew from the start that it might be difficult for us to conceive. I took my last birth control pill on my 24th birthday and we gave it a few months before asking my doctor for a little extra help. She wrote a prescription for Clomid and sent us on our way. About a week later, when the Clomid didn’t seem to be working, she referred us to a reproductive endocrinologist. Dr. C spent over an hour with us, explaining the plan and the medications. He wanted to reboot my system with a month of birth control pills but needed me to take a pregnancy test first. It was just a formality. I peed in the cup, set it in the little box and joined Andrew to wait for the nurse to bring us the birth control pills. She never came. Instead, Dr. C dropped off a pregnancy test with two beautiful pink lines. We couldn't believe it! Joy rushed in full force.

Four months later, I was starting to show. I bought my first maternity shirts and Andrew and I began discussing how we were going to fit another whole person into our tiny house. I remember being at church on a Saturday night, soaking up the worship, my heart exploding with gratitude for this little life in my belly. I rested my hand on my little bump and knew I'd never felt happier than I did in that moment. 

And then he was gone…

We went in for a regular appointment, and when the physician’s assistant couldn’t find a heartbeat, they sent us for an ultrasound. I’ll never forget the sweet technician’s words, “I’m so sorry, you guys. There are no heart tones.” I cannot begin to explain the agony we experienced in that moment. We felt betrayed, dumbfounded, gutted. Our son was already in Heaven.

The next 24 hours were a tornado of despair, pain, prayer, anger, and even joy. I was honored to be able to deliver our son. The induction...the contractions...hallucinations caused by the strong pain medication...trying to sleep. The room was dark and Andrew was dozing next to me on a pull-out bed. I felt a small rush of fluid and knew he was there, his teeny body tucked up against the inside of my thigh. It was like my skin was extra sensitive all of a sudden. I could feel his head, knew where his little legs touched mine. I laid there in silence, not wanting to tell anyone, not even my husband. I just wanted to be with my boy, me and him, skin to skin. I knew the sooner we called the nurse in, the sooner they'd take him away and I couldn't wrap my mind around that goodbye just yet. 

When I was ready, I woke Andrew. Together we marveled at his tiny hands, his perfect nose, and the slight way he resembled his dad. My mom got a chance to hold him too and the nurse took a roll of film. Everyone said that we'd want pictures someday and that it wouldn't hurt to take them, so we did. 

And then we handed our son's body over to the nurse, knowing that a couple of days earlier, we had unknowingly handed his soul over to the Father.

We named him Ethan Andrew.

thanks, Kristin Cook, for this picture

I tried to pass the placenta but I couldn't do it. I didn't know how. We hadn't taken classes yet! I hadn't read any books! I wasn't supposed to need to know this stuff yet! So they sent me for a D and C to clean out my uterus as if Ethan had never been there. As I waited for surgery, my mom came in with the pictures the nurse took. I told her I wanted to see them. I looked at the first picture in the stack and started to wail. I hadn't ever cried like that before and I haven't cried like that since. The images in the pictures were so unlike our actual experience of meeting our boy. The sweetness was gone. In the actual moment, his body hadn't mattered much because it wasn't him anymore. But the pictures were so clinical. His body looked so strange, distorted, even scary. The story the pictures told was so different from the quiet, priceless moment I remembered. I gave the pictures back to my mom and she took them, tears streaming down her face as well. Those pictures are somewhere in my parents' house. It's been two and a half years and I still can't look at them. 

Before they took me to surgery, I had to give up my glasses. I'm nearly blind without them, so there I sat in a thin hospital gown, slumped into a wheelchair, nurses and doctors buzzing around me, talking to each other. I couldn't see a thing. I felt completely isolated, abandoned in a sea of blurred scrubs and crushing grief. I didn't know where Andrew was, where my mom was. I quietly started to sob. A nurse anesthetist with a bald head and funky glasses bent down and asked if I was scared of the surgery. I gave him a partial answer, just a no. But I wanted to say, "I'm not crying because I'm afraid. I'm crying because my child is dead."

We went home after surgery. Our family was great. Our friends were great. Our church was great. Our dog was great (except when he destroyed the lilies the pastors dropped off and left a giant pile of dirt on our living room carpet). I read books about losing a child. I got a couple of necklaces with Ethan's name on them. We planted a lovely tree at Andrew's parents' lake home. We started to tell our story. 

A few months later, after finding out that Ethan had died as a result of Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), we lost another baby at just a few weeks. Again, our hearts were broken. Strangely, I loved when people asked me if I had kids because I got to say, “Yes, I’m a mom, but my children are already in Heaven with Jesus.” I love that they give me an opportunity to share my Savior boldly and joyfully with anyone who asks. We will never stop missing Ethan and his little sibling, but we will forever praise God for allowing us be part of their story, a story that only started with their deaths. We have already seen pieces of their purpose fulfilled here on earth. We cannot begin to imagine all of the glorious things they are doing with Jesus now in Heaven. 

My Grandma Henry passed away a couple of months before Ethan did, and it gave us such joy to know that she and Andrew’s Grandpa Allen were there to greet our children. We prayed every day that God would bless us with more children. But during those years, we were empty nesters, missing our kids and crawling into Jesus’ lap so He could remind us that even in our grief, God is glorified. 

We rest in the assurance that our babies are with Jesus, and that Heaven and worship and perfection are all they will ever know. We also find so much comfort in the fact that during their short time on this earth, they only ever experienced the feelings of being fully loved and desperately wanted. Some days that's enough. And other days, we just miss them. 
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