March 12, 2012

Missing The Child I Never Knew

{ the beautiful cake presented to me at my baby shower while eagerly expecting my firstborn }

I could've been celebrating my baby's birth date any day now.   Instead of writing this post, I would've been making final preparations for his/her arrival, drafting the announcement email and soon plastering Facebook with a very first picture.  Who knows?  Maybe my family and friends would've even thrown me a baby sprinkle, even though I would've protested thinking it completely unnecessary.  The thought of it all makes me quite sad.

Obviously that's not how things turned out.  That's not what God had in store for our family.

The miscarriage last August didn't just throw me for a loop; it made me grieve like I never had before.  I was taken aback by my sense of deep loss, because it had been a pregnancy both unplanned and initially unwelcomed. 

I wrote much of this post months ago while in the process of grieving and wasn't sure it was something I'd ever share.  But what I realized about miscarriages is that they are so common yet uncommonly spoken of.  When a miscarriage survivor grieves, it is often done so privately.  In the past, I have had a few friends share with me the news of their miscarriage, and all I could do was sympathize with them and say, "I'm sorry."  This post assured me that it was the best and sometimes only thing you can say.

Until I experienced the miscarriage myself, I didn't understand the level of physical and emotional toll it takes on you. I didn't understand the emptiness it leaves or the sorrow that lingers of never holding, meeting, or knowing your child.  Now I know.  Sharing my experience is important to me, because I think it's part of the healing process and perhaps others who've endured a similar loss will find some comfort knowing they're not alone.

After the positive pregnancy test last summer (and two more tests after that just to be sure), the truth is I was not jumping up for joy or bouncing off the walls with delight.  In fact, I was a complete mess.  How were we going to manage?  I could barely keep up with the boys as it was.  We couldn't possibly do this again.

It was enough to make me cry.  And with raging hormones all about, cry is exactly what I did!  The first few days were a blur as I tried to soak in the news.  This was definitely not a part of the plan.  We felt complete as a family of four.  We had finally fallen into a rhythm with our 3 and soon-to-be 2-year-old sons.  Things were finally getting easier for us.  This threw us off.

But my husband and I eventually came to grips with this new reality, because really, we had no other choice.  We surrendered our plans to God.  “Okay, Lord.  This is what You want.  We'll trust that You'll provide all we need.  We will welcome this baby into our family with open arms.”

My husband and I began thinking about how insane this spring would be for us, but we slowly allowed ourselves to look forward to the madness.  We suspected it was another boy and even joked around that finding a good name would be hard – we’d already exhausted the top contenders on our boys' name list.  Maybe we could go with Ethan or Aiden (although those names were becoming more and more frequent in our circle of friends)?

We started to think of creative and clever ways to share the news with family (we had sent boxes filled with baby stuff to our parents when we were expecting our firstborn).  However, not long after, I started to feel  cramping in my stomach.  It wasn’t severe, but it was uncomfortable enough to make me worry.  So I googled “cramping in early pregnancy” to see if this was normal and to my relief, I discovered that it was.  Then later that evening, the back pain started.  But because I was prone to back aches, I thought nothing of it.

The night after that, spots of blood appeared in the toilet.

Even though spotting in the first trimester is common, I knew right then and there something was not right.  This hadn't happened in my previous pregnancies.  I had trouble sleeping that night, and when I finally did fall asleep sometime in the dawn hours, I had a dream.  It was very fragmented and hard to make out.  I was at a big party crowded with complete strangers.  But in the midst of the crowd, I saw a very familiar face - that of my mother.  She looked stoic and calm.  Then I suddenly had an urge to use the bathroom.  So I looked all over the venue for a toilet and found one in the middle of the dance floor, with nothing but sheer drapes surrounding it.  I had to go so badly, I didn’t care who could see me.  As I relieved myself, I looked down and saw a pool of blood.

I woke up frazzled by the dream.  I gingerly touched my stomach, and my instinct told me the baby was gone.

That morning, I called my OB’s office and described the cramping, back aches, and bleeding to the nurse over the phone.  The doctor was able to see me that afternoon.  My sister-in-law kindly watched the boys for me while they took their afternoon naps.  We had yet to break the news to her, and this was not the way I envisioned telling her. 

As I sat in the waiting room, I absentmindedly skimmed through the pages of a pregnancy magazine, my mind completely elsewhere.  I wished my husband had been there with me.  I was not prepared for this, but I told myself everything would be alright.  A nurse finally called my name and escorted me into the room with the ultrasound machine.  And as I sat on the examination table waiting for the doctor, I said to God, “Whatever happens, I will trust You.”

And that’s when I heard the uncontrollable sobbing coming from the office next door where the OB conducted his consultations.  Whatever news had been broken to this woman had practically broken her to pieces.  I sat there, head down staring at the linoleum floor tiling, listening to the wailing through the thin walls and struggled to fight off tears myself.  “I’m so sorry.  I’m truly sorry for whatever it is you’re going through,” I thought to myself. 

A few short minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the OB and nurse walked into the room.  I tried to conjure up a smile, and the OB poorly attempted to do the same.  There was only somberness in the air.  Whatever news he’d just relayed to the woman in the room next door affected this veteran obstetrician as well.  I lied down on the examination table and said to the doctor, “I can’t believe we’re doing this all over again.”  He had seen me through my first two pregnancies.

When the doctor looked at the screen on the ultrasound machine, I knew it wasn’t good.  He turned the monitor towards me and pointed at a small white circle about the size of a quarter; it was the birth sac where the baby should have been.  He very calmly said, “There’s an empty sac.  This could mean two things.  It’s either too early in the pregnancy to see the baby, or it’s a bad pregnancy.”

I had never heard the term "bad pregnancy".  Miscarriage, yes.  Bad pregnancy, no.  I didn't like the sound of it at all.  It didn't seem right that there should be such a thing.

“We’ll draw some blood and be able to know for sure in a couple days.”

“And if it is a bad pregnancy?” I asked.

We’ll have to schedule an appointment to do a D&C.”  He printed out the sonogram of the empty sac, and for a moment, I thought he was going to hand it to me.  But he placed it in my file instead. Would it have been weird for me to ask for it?  It was the only physical reminder, other than the positive pregnancy tests, that this child existed.

I asked the doctor, “Can I just pass it naturally?”  The idea of my baby’s remains being scraped or suctioned out of me made me sick to my stomach.

“There could be a lot of bleeding and hemorrhaging.  D&C makes it easier.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Doctor.”  It was all I could say.

The nurse drew my blood.  And with a prick in the arm and a pit in my stomach, I left the office.

That night, I bled heavily, and because I opted against the D&C, I continued to bleed for over two weeks.  I wondered if it would ever stop.  Each trip to the bathroom became a painful reminder of the baby I had lost.

In the aftermath, the grief consumed me.  The miscarriage numbed both me and my husband with a lingering sadness that ensued for days.   But it also made us embrace what we did have - the incredible blessings in our lives, namely our two sons.  I know there are many couples who experience miscarriages (and some tragically more than once) who have no other children to help soften the blow or ease their pain and suffering.  My heart absolutely breaks for them, and for any woman who’s experienced life and death in the womb.

It’s an awful thing. 

Though I had told God I would trust Him no matter what the outcome, my anger took over.  I felt like my chains had been yanked and I wanted Him to answer for this incredible sense of loss I carried with me for weeks which turned into months.  I started to question everything about Him - God's very character and even His purpose and plan, not only for me but for the world.  What is the point of all of this?  What's the point of all the suffering, all the pain, all the hurt?

I retreated and fell off the face of the planet, abandoning a lot of things that had been a big part of my life before - church, ministry, work (I was still consulting), blogs, social media, social circles, writing, baking.  Instead I spent that time questioning, doubting, reading, researching - trying to find the truth.  I read a lot of Scripture in the attempt to analyze, dissect, and cross-examine the God I thought I knew but felt betrayed by.  I bombarded my husband and anyone who would listen (these were usually friends from my growth and discipleship groups) with endless questions about faith, God, infallibility, creation, redemption, salvation, justice, suffering, heaven, hell.  What did it all mean? 

I came to a point where I had to either reject what I've always believed or continue to have faith when it didn't make complete sense.  After a great deal of wrestling, the conclusions I came to were (1) I will never have all the answers.  I'm not God.  And I am in no position to shake my fists and demand all the answers from Him (not that it's wrong for me or anyone to ask the questions).  (2) With every fiber of my being, I cannot deny who I am or who Christ is.  I'm a sinner.  Deserving of a punishment I can't imagine.  But saved by the love He demonstrated on the cross, taking on the punishment that should've been mine, literally going to the depths of hell for me.  I was bought and redeemed by this act of love.  I am His and He is mine.  These are the things I know to be true, even when my logic would try to tell me otherwise.

I also know what's true of God's character.  He is good, even though I questioned that for a period.  Miscarriages and "bad pregnancies" are not His design.   And one day, we'll live in a world where these things no longer exist and every tear will be wiped away.  Sorrow will be no more.

And it's there that perhaps I'll get to meet and hold my baby, whose fragile heartbeat once resided with mine, even ever so brief.


15 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Rachel. I too have experienced a miscarriage, and is a very private pain. You are right that we do not talk about it enough. My doctor also used terms like "bad pregnancy" and I'll never forget what she said after she did a follow up ultrasound to make sure I had passed everything, "Well, now this pregnancy is just a distant memory." What the heck?? Thankfully I conceived my youngest son just two months after that, but it doesn't erase the memory of that pregnancy from my mind. It certainly does make you appreciate what a miracle life is. Thank you for so bravely and eloquently sharing!

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    1. *Hugs* to you, Rachel. I can't believe your doctor said that. :( I sometimes think doctors are the most insensitive b/c they see it happen so often, it doesn't phase them anymore. But they should realize and consider how painful and difficult this is for the woman. I also know people think my husband and I can try again, but as you said, having another child doesn't erase the memory of the miscarriage. I was hesitant to share this post, but writing has always been therapeutic and a way of healing for me. I don't want to forget this child or how God brought me through this dark period.

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    2. Rachel, through your grief, you've put into word both gently and powerfully the experience of life and loss. I'm thankful and moved by your choice to share this with honesty and vulnerability. I hope that you're strengthened through God's Holy Spirit as you continue to be healed. We grieve alongside you and James but are also glad to know that you chose to and continue to choose to walk into God's arms in your emotional and complex journey. May He hold you and James close and give you His peace and assurance. In His loving tenderness, Susanna

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    3. Susanna, thank you for your words of encouragement (here and the ones you've spoken to me before). I am thankful for such wonderful friends and family.

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  2. thanks for sharing.

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  3. I have a friend who, sadly, has been through several miscarriages and she has expressed the same sentiments about them being so little spoken of. This post was like hearing her speak. I can't pretend to understand the grief of going through one but as her friend I was pained to see her go through yet another one, for the chance at motherhood to slip by again.

    The stages of emotions you went through and how you handled things with God, I can completely understand, though. When I had a cancer scare a few years ago, I went through a couple of weeks of uncertainty--seeking second and third opinions, not really knowing my fate. I had also had a moment alone in a waiting room, right before my biopsy. I accepted at that point that things were not in my hands and I surrendered my situation to God. When I read you say, "Whatever happens, I will trust You", I must have said those exact words in that waiting room. It wasn't until then that peace settled inside me.

    Thank you for sharing your experience--I hope the words don't sound empty when I say "I'm sorry". Leaving our lives in God's hands is always the best policy but like others, I have a tendency to think I know better. Thank you for putting things back in perspective for me this morning. I will also forward your post to my friend so she doesn't feel as alone in the great losses she's had to go through.

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    1. Jean - Thank you so much for this note and for sharing your own experience of trusting God in the dark times. I'm thankful He gave you peace during that trial. I know my greatest idol is wanting to be in control, and I'm a mess when I don't have it. I had a friend tell me she's like the backseat driver telling God which way to go and how to drive the vehicle. I said that's better than me! I'm in the front seat, practically in God's lap, fighting Him and pulling at the wheel for control, even when I know how dangerous it is. Trust is hard, and walking this life in faith (esp. when life is a mess and doesn't make sense) is only by the power & grace of God.

      My heart breaks for your friend; I am so sorry for her pain and her losses. I also have friends who've had multiple miscarriages and want so desperately to become parents. I can't even imagine the level of heartache, devastation, hurt and disappointment they must feel. I will pray for her. May God comfort her in her sorrow and help her to trust in His plans for her.

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  4. Rachel you are such a strong woman to have written this post. My head is aswirl of the stages of this event, how bravely you handled it, and the strength and solace of believing in Him.

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    1. Christine - It's funny, but I don't feel like I handled it very bravely. I was quite a mess. But yes, going through the various stages and the emotional roller coaster ride is so hard (I can't imagine ever going through this again). And while I felt like I was barely clinging onto my faith, I realize it was God who never let me go.

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  5. Rachel, this is one of the most beautiful posts I have read. I can't even begin to imagine how hard this must have been for you... My heart breaks for you. But I am so happy to see how brave you are to share this and how much you lean on the Lord for your strength and solace... Big hugs to you, Rachel! I hope many women who have gone through this find strength in reading this post... Beautifully written!

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    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Marsha. I do hope that others can find some comfort in it and maybe share their own stories (I think it's a key part of healing) -- it's a big reason why I decided to write about it.

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  6. Oh Rachel - how I know you pain all too well - what a post - God bless you!!!

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    1. I'm truly sorry if you've experienced a similar loss. My prayers are with you.

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  7. Rachel, thank you for sharing so candidly. Wow, the depth of the soul is so beautiful especially when we are weak, that's what God's face is so near to us and we can understand His love that much more intimately. I still remember going thru my dark period a few years ago when I got sick, and it was unbelievably painful, but now that i think back to it, its the best thing He ever did in my life. It was the turning point in my life in terms of character, commitments, move, health, and even getting back to my relationship with the Lord. We may never know the will of the Father, but i am confident that He has redeemed you and will continue to redeem you. Praying a blessing over the baby you will one day meet in heaven. Hugs.
    Junia

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    1. Junia - Thank you for the blessing over the baby (that got me choked up). God works in each of our lives in such diff't ways. And I know, for myself, I have to continually surrender and keep trusting that He knows best. I'm continually praying over your health. *big hugs*

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