Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Beauty From Ashes
I was expecting August 1st to be a wonderful day. I was just a few days over 3 moths pregnant and I was so looking forward to my first ultrasound. My facebook status that day shared how excited I was to see and hear my baby for the first time. I had no idea that I would see her, but never hear her.
In our minds it was a routine ultrasound and we had absolutely no indication that anything was wrong. I had been feeling quite sick and totally exhausted, but that's been pretty normal for me with all of my pregnancies. It felt a little worse this time around and at times I felt a bit shaky and dizzy, but honestly I didn't think too much of it. After two healthy full term pregnancies resulting in my two beautiful children it really just didn't occur to me that this pregnancy could be any different. Nothing could have prepared me for that day. We decided not to bring the kids to this ultrasound, and not having a babysitter Joe stayed home with them while I went to the ultrasound alone.
I remember feeling that nervous excitement at the beginning of my appointment. I absolutely love my doctor (who saw me through both of my other pregnancies and delivered Eli) and I was excited to be seeing her again. We went through the whole appointment and the ultrasound was the last thing. I remember quickly being able to see our little girl. The picture is never really that good when they are that young, but I could clearly make out her head and her body. My doctor took a few pictures and measurements and then showed me her chest and said that this was where she was trying to find her heartbeat. She spent a minute or two (or maybe more or less- time sort of seemed to blur to me) hovering in that spot. I just looked back and forth between my doctor and the student she had with her hoping to find some sign of what was happening...any indication in their faces that everything was okay. But it was not okay. My doctor turned off the ultrasound machine and everything just stood still for me. I was in complete shock.
I sat up and my doctor carefully, sweetly explained to me as she handed me some tissues that she couldn't find the baby's heartbeat. As the tears began to roll down my face she also explained that the baby was a little over three weeks smaller than she should have been. We decided that I would go right away to the hospital for a more complete and thorough ultrasound and my doctor whispered in my ear as she hugged me that she hoped she was wrong, but we both knew that she wasn't. Because as much as I was in shock I knew at that moment that my baby was no longer alive. I had seen her, but not heard her.
Those first moments of that horrible knowledge were probably the hardest of my life. And the next hour and a half would prove to be the loneliest time I have ever known. I called Joe from the doctor's office and managed through tears and gulps to share what I knew. He tried to find a babysitter but couldn't so I headed down the road to the hospital alone. And alone was completely how I felt. I tried to hold back the tears, not for myself, but more for the comfort of those around me. The young woman who did my ultrasound was nice enough, but she didn't know me and she didn't say much. The ultrasound itself must have been at least 15-2o minutes (again time was a blur to me). The screen was turned away from me so that I couldn't (or didn't have to) see the images and the whole thing just felt so cold and empty. All I could think of were my friends who had been through miscarriages and I couldn't help but wonder if this was how they felt too. Just alone- suddenly without that precious little one growing inside.
After the ultrasound I waited a few minutes and then the ultrasound technician came in with the phone. On the other end was my doctor delivering the conclusive news that would forever change me.
I managed to get through the hospital without totally breaking down. Though I did think to myself that maybe it wouldn't be all that unusual for a person to be walking through the hospital in a fit of tears and sorrow. And it dawned on me that many others, likely in that very hospital, had lost loved ones that day. And I felt then the reminder of the many blessings I have and I knew then somehow that though this would forever hurt my heart it would not steal my joy forever.
I walked to my van in the parking garage of the hospital, climbed inside, and for the first time just let myself sob until I was swollen and blind and covered in tears. After allowing myself to just feel the sorrow completely I knew that I had to get home. I had been asked a couple of times that afternoon if I felt okay enough to drive myself home. I said yes, but I'm sure I wasn't okay enough...but I just couldn't bear waiting for someone to come for me. So I composed myself enough to see and started driving the 2o minutes home. And in doing so leaving behind that feeling of being utterly alone.
Because God met me on my drive home. I knew in my head that He had been with me all along, but suddenly as I was driving I felt His presence as surely as I've ever experienced. I felt Him there with me in the van. He was there carrying me and grieving with me as I drove. The God not just of the suffering, but a God who has suffered was there with me, feeling everything I felt and knowing better than anyone the pain of loosing a child. I felt His presence so strongly that I reached out and put my hand on the passenger seat...knowing that the living God was sitting next to me carrying me home through my tears.
I walked into my house and immediately started crying again as Joe met me in the mud room. He didn't know the final results at that point but one look at the strain in his eyes told me that he did know. And Lily came running up right away asking me what was wrong with the baby. I looked at Joe and either he didn't know what to say or couldn't say it. So through choked words I explained the best I could in the moment to our sweet little girl. Even then she handled the news with such care and grace for a four year old. Over the coming days and weeks she would often look at me with her sweet eyes and say, "Mommy, I know you're sad about the baby...I am too, but I love you." Amazing that God's precious gift of my first daughter would be able to give me such comfort at the loss of my second daughter.
And much of the rest of that night went by in a blur. I remember just sitting on the couch popping every last bubble in a sheet of bubble wrap...unable to really do anything else while Joe put the kids to bed. And then we talked and Joe just let me cry. And through our conversation I'm sure that he said many things, but the one thing I remember is his saying, "We live in a fallen world." It didn't seem insensitive to me at the time, just not the thing I was thinking or even that I gave much thought to after he said it. But in the coming weeks that would be something God would teach me much more about.
After Joe went to bed that night I stayed up a bit, I just couldn't sleep. I snuggled up with a blanket on the couch and once again just let myself sob (like I did in the van at the hospital). And it was then that I noticed the storm outside. Funny that I didn't really notice it before...even though we had lost power for about 20 minutes earlier in the evening. But it was then that I actually saw it. It was pouring sheets of rain and as I sat there pouring out my own tears it felt as though God was crying with me...and He was. Once again I deeply felt his presence and His sorrow.
After a while I decided that I really needed to sleep as I knew the next few days would be emotionally and physically draining. I was able to stop crying, but I had to give it some time before I laid down because my nose was so stuffed up. So from the bathroom I wandered back into the living room and it was then that I noticed the incredible lightning storm through the one open window. I sat down on the kid's toy box just mesmerized. I have never seen lightning like that in Maine before. Ever few seconds the lightning would streak and just light up the sky and clouds- it was nothing short of spectacular. Just a bit earlier God was crying with me but in those moments God was showing me His power- He was reminding me that the God of the universe, the God with the power to light up the sky, was with me and in control. That night God showed me both sides of Himself- compassionate and powerful- and it was enough for me to know that I could trust Him. And it was enough for me to be able to sleep that night.
A few days earlier we received some other difficult news and in talking about it with one of my friends we had a good conversation about what it means to trust God. I made the comment that I believe that trust is an all or nothing thing- you can't just trust God with the little things in your life- you either trust Him with everything or you don't really trust Him with anything. Those words actually proved to be a comfort to me when we lost the baby because I knew in my heart that I really had no other choice but to trust God- and I asked God that first night that He might give me the strength to trust Him with everything.
The next few days floated by in a haze...resting, crying, sharing with family and friends, and just trusting the Lord through the sorrow. Three days later I had surgery and to be quite honest I was relieved to have the physical part of loosing the baby over. I was completely exhausted and yet as I rested in my bed later that afternoon I just couldn't sleep. All I could think of was our little girl and I was imagining what it might be like to be with her one day in heaven.
And then something amazing happened. God spoke to me. Laying there in my bed God spoke to me. I don't think it was necessarily audible, but it was so incredibly clear to my heart and my head that it might as well have been. I've never experienced anything like it before.
As I was laying there thinking about seeing our daughter someday God said to me, "My angels are rejoicing over her right now."
There was a pause and then God said,"And she's beautiful."
There was another pause and I said to the Lord, "Please tell her that her mama loves her very much."
And God replied back to me, "She already knows."
It was short, but it was the most intimate experience I have ever had with God. And all I could do after was just lay there and let the tears stream down my face- tears of joy and sadness and thankfulness for God's faithfulness. With just a few words God had told me everything I really need to know about our little girl and to have peace about her life. When God said, "And she's beautiful" my mind flashed to an image of a young adult girl, slender, with a thin beautiful face and long red hair. I don't know whether that was a vision from God of our daughter or just something that my mind was imagining, but either way it has given me an image of her to hold on to. And actually as I've thought about that brief conversation (I've replayed His words to me over and over in my head probably a hundred times) I've actually come to believe that His description of her being beautiful referred to much more than her appearance. I believe it was God's way of telling me that our Joy is whole and complete. She's not something they removed from me during surgery, but she is now whole and perfect in the arms of her Creator. This would have even more meaning for me later as we learned of her genetic disorder and the many resulting defects she had in this world. God knew that day exactly what I needed to release her into His loving care.
That's not to say that the following weeks (and now months) weren't still painful. I was no longer sad for our daughter (I knew that she was in the world she was designed for) but I was (and am) still heartbroken over the loss of our time with her here. Loosing her has felt so much more like what it is, the death of one of my children, than I ever would have imagined.
God has used this time to remind me, as Joe said the night we learned we lost her, that we live in a fallen world. I think that it is so easy for me (and probably many other Americans) to forget this. After all, I live a relatively good and easy life and it's easy to begin to live for this world and all this world has to offer. Sadly I've found that it has taken this incredible pain and loss for me to really see that this world is broken and full of pain, it is not the world that God designed us for, and it is not ultimately our home.
But...there is hope...for you and me and Joy. Because God sent His only son to die in our place...because He willingly experienced the pain of loosing a child I can know and experience the hope and joy that this world isn't all there is. Because He sacrificed His very life to redeem mine I can know that I will one day go to spend eternity with Him (and my baby girl) in the glory of heaven (the world we were meant for). One day God will make all things, even this, right and I cling to that hope.
On Good Friday the world seemingly went cold and dark. The God of the universe watched as His son was tortured and left to die on a cross. The only man in human history without sin, the only one of us to love totally, was beaten and killed by those He came to serve. Doesn't it seem odd that this day, the seemingly very darkest of all days, is called good? But it is good. It is good because of Easter. Because on that day God defeated sin and darkness forever. Because God was able to use the death of His only son to rescue the lives of his other children for all of eternity. On earth that "good" day was nothing but pain and sadness. But in light of eternity it is nothing but glorious.
And if that day can be called good, then I can look at this loss that God has allowed in our lives and know that it too is beautiful in light of eternity. Because there is Joy. She may have only lived for 9 weeks inside of me, but she lives forever a precious life in eternity. At times the pain has felt overwhelming, but I would do it all over again, without question, knowing that a life was created and lives on forever. Her life is the beauty from these ashes.