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.