A long journey

It feels like we’ve been living at doctor appointments the past year and a half now.  My 2.5 year old knows how to get from the parking lot to the right places in the hospital.  When she plays pretend at home, she can tell you if she is being Dr.Waldrep (OB) where she will get out the stethoscope and listen to baby’s heartbeat in my belly or Dr. Kerr (blood doctor) where she will check my blood pressure and draw blood from my arm.  This has been a long journey.

Dr. EmersonUntil recently, I’ve tried to mainly focus on the present with this pregnancy.  To be thankful each day for the growing life in my womb and my body’s ability to nurture and provide.

But over the past month, we’ve started to look at the future more.  We’ve talked about what we want the time in the hospital to look like.  I’ve imagined actually making it to week 40.  While this is a good thing, it has also served as a reminder of how much we can lose.  Even as I look towards the finish line, even as I consider how perfectly healthy this pregnancy has been, it’s hard for me to imagine a baby coming home.

Two weeks ago, I had four different friends approach me in a five day period and tell me that they had a vivid dream of me holding a baby, this baby.  It’s almost as if God was giving them hope for me and encouraging me to keep being hopeful as well.  I wouldn’t say I’m currently a pessimist and believe something bad will happen this time.  I’m simply all to aware that everything could go wrong in the blink of an eye.

Monday I went in to the labor and delivery department for my pre-admission appointment.  I walked past the newborn nursery for the first time since we lost Maizie.  I had to turn my eyes away as I thought about my baby girl.  I walked into a nurse’s office around the corner and had to talk through my medical history – prior pregnancies and deliveries.  We spent a lot of time on Maizie and the effects of that loss on my body.  Sitting there feet from the nursery where I thought she would have been made the pain sear all over again.  Fear started to creep in as we discussed my bleeding.

“Are you planning to breastfeed?” the nurse asked.  “Yes, I want to actually use the milk that comes in this time,” I thought while remembering the milk that was never used with Maizie, while giving her the verbal answer, “Hopefully yes.”

I started to worry about being a patient again and thought about the medical trauma both my body and soul have endured.  I left that office and went to an appointment with my blood Dr, to test my clotting factors and begin making our plan for this next delivery.  How do we prevent bleeding?  I’ve never worried about my bleeding disorder before (although it’s been a constant source of angst for my mother – you should have seen the way she opposed me playing contact sports as a kid), but thanks to December 6th I now understand that blood loss could take my life.

I’m still hopeful that everything will be fine: healthy baby, healthy mommy.  I’m hoping all the fear, worry, and sadness will truly be swallowed up in the joy of victory.  I can see it happening.  A new set of memories will begin to be more present in my mind.  It is this current in-between stage where the past feels more real than the present or the future.  This season where I look with a degree of envy towards people who feel free enough to monogram things and talk with certainty of a baby’s arrival.

I am looking forward to the hopeful newness of this next child.  I so desperately want to meet them alive.  But, I need to continue to be honest with myself about the mix of things I feel.  Our family’s hope has always been to freely grieve the loss so that we are as free as possible to continue to move forward.  I don’t want to give pain, fear, or worry power to reign over me in the darkness.  When they stay hidden in my thoughts, they run with fury in my mind all day long.  This week I’ve sought to identify the specifics, to be sad over their presence because of my past experience, and to continue to move forward in thankfulness for my present, and to hope for our future.  It’s a very delicate dance, all amplified by hormones ;-).

Romans 8 came to mind today as I was trying to process the roller coaster this week has been.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

“For in this hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25).

I get that groaning.  I get that longing.  I want complete redemption.  The redemption of my broken body.  The redemption of my pain.  The redemption of Maizie’s death.  I feel the pain of it all presently.  But even in this pain, I know there is a glory that will be revealed.  The birth of a healthy baby will be a taste of it, but that is not the redemption nor the glory.  My deepest hope is for the moment in eternity when all things will be made new.  That is what I’m really waiting for.  That is where my confidence truly lies.  As I’ve waited for a healthy baby to land in my arms the past year and a half, I’m learning what it looks like to wait with hope and patience.

 

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Cardboard testimonies

At YoungLives camp two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share about some of our story with Maizie by writing a cardboard testimony.  We often end a week at Young Life camp with a visual display of the way God has transformed the lives of some of the leaders in the room.  On one side of the board the leader writes what their state was before Christ and on the other side they share a way God has transformed them.  This visual shows off God’s ability to transform death to life and to make old things new.  To a room full of teenage mothers I wanted to put our story out there because I assumed that in a room with a few hundred moms there were going to be some who had also lost children during pregnancy.

I keep wondering how big a part of my whole story and my shaping Maizie will be.  As I sat debating what to share, I tried to think about what has really been transformed by the Lord since December 6 when we were made aware of her death.  Besides sadness, what did I really live in following the loss?

Fear.  Lots of fear.

Fear that I wouldn’t have healthy children.  Fear my body wouldn’t recover.  Fear that maybe God wouldn’t be good to me.  Fear that people would continue to hurt me.  Fear that broken relationships wouldn’t be restored.  Fear of being misunderstood.  Fear this loss would cause irreconcilable damage on our marriage.  Fear that the darkness would stay this dark forever.  Fear that fear would rule my next pregnancy.  Fear that I would always be imagining worst case scenarios.

And what has God slowly replaced that fear with?  Hope.

Hope in Christ in all things.  Not hope in a healthy next baby but hope in the One who has purchased my soul.  Hope that God works all things out for eternal good.  Hope that my future is secure with Him.

Satan can completely destroy my life on earth.  If permitted, he could end it.  He gave me a good run for my money in 2016.  But he can’t eternally damn me.  There is light, even in the darkness.  Even if it is just the small glimmer of future redemption.  There is always light.  There is always hope.

I stood up to testify to the light I see even in the darkness.  Fear is replaced with hope, even if circumstances don’t change.  Hope did not come with a new pregnancy.  Hope came when Jesus paid the price for my sins on this earth and made my eternity secure.

As I stood backstage at camp, I thought about how truly dark the first six months following our loss were.  So painful.  I couldn’t find myself during that time.  I often couldn’t find God.  My heart ached.  My body went through so many changes.  Some relationships couldn’t handle the strain.  We had to fight to keep our marriage strong.  It was so much pain.

Part of me wondered if I was silly for sharing the other side of my board.  Can I really claim some victory here?  It was almost as if Stan was whispering, “Do you have hope?  Is God really good?  Are you faking healing?  Have you actually made any progress?”  Part of me debated getting out of the line.  “You’re right,” I thought, “I do still have fear.  Some of me is still hurting.  Maybe God hasn’t done much here.  Maybe He will forget me and leave me.”

I realized that God’s work in this area is not complete; but it doesn’t have to be complete for me to start sharing about His work.  In fact, it won’t be complete until I’m face to face with Him in glory.

I choose to claim victory, though I am yet to experience it fully because God has done a significant work to restore my hope.  I believe that is the work God will do in my life – to bring me to FULL hope.  Hope that will be made a reality in eternity.  2 Corinthians 2:14 came to mind, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”  While I go forward, I want to march triumphantly.  Even though its not over or fully complete, I want to claim the future victory that is mine.  I have seen God work in the past eight months.  I have seen Him transform my fear to hope.

I went out on the stage and I showed both sides of my sign.

Fear after losing a daughter during pregnancy.

Hope in Christ in all things.

What happened after I shared?  I was bombarded by teenage mothers.  Some who had lost babies early in pregnancy, some who had lost later like us, and one who shared about losing a twin in the delivery room.  The last one asked how I grieved and how I trusted God because she has tried to just stuff it all down.  I told her to grieve that baby and be as sad as she needs to be over the loss; but at the same time, to look to all of the promises of God and to know that she can trust His forever goodness.

Younglives camp

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Permission to Grieve

When a boyfriend in college broke up with me, I thought the Christian thing to do was to try to slap a smile on it and talk about how I was confident in God’s plan.  After an initial 48 hours of lots of ugly tears, I pushed down the rejection, inadequacy, and sadness.  Almost a year later, those feelings finally came pouring out.  It was ugly.  I felt them with the same intensity I should have originally.  In some ways, it felt like they came out with a vengeance because they were also mad about being locked in the closet of my heart for over a year.  When they did make their way to the surface, it was long past the time when it is socially acceptable to be grieving a break-up.  It was painful.

Stuffed down feelings come out, often at the most inopportune times.

One of my younger friends has been one of the most thoughtful people in my life since December.  Her wedding date was closely tied with when we had hoped baby #2 would arrive.  All of her wedding events were bittersweet for me.  Out of town events I “shouldn’t” have been able to attend due to proximity to my due date.  It was an honor to love and celebrate her this spring, but also a painful reminder of what might have been.

LauraWith each upcoming event, she would reach out and let me know that it was okay if I was sad while I was there and that part of her was sad with me.  It’s okay if you need to take breaks and get away.  It’s okay if you cry at an event for me.

In the season of engagement, when it’s easy to think “it’s all about me,” she choose the selfless path and still saw me.  She gave me permission to feel whatever I needed to, whenever I needed to.  It was one of the biggest and most gracious gifts I’ve ever been given.  What she essentially told me was, “Ali, you don’t need to perform here.”

In one conversation where she had been especially caring, I asked her how she was so good at this and so thoughtful (she’s wise beyond her years this newly 24-year-old former YL girl of mine).  She told me, “Ali, you made my high school mantra ‘When you’re a mess, be a mess.’  I’m doing for you, what you did for me.”  In the most lovable of ways, she’s a recovering people-pleaser-I’ve-got-it-all-together-all-the-time-gal too.

I like being a great friend.  I like having my act together. I like being productive.  I like being the girl you can count on.

One of the hardest parts of grief for me is the way it keeps knocking me down.  It’s been hard for me to give myself permission to be okay with being knocked down.

There have been several situations where I’ve heard the lies, “You need to get it together.  You need to act this way.  You are not meeting my expectations.  You need to get over this.”

There is no fast way through grief, no shortcuts.  If there was, I’m confident I would have found it already because I have been looking for them.  The only way to battle grief is to go through it.

Like my friend generously did for me, I’m trying to do for myself: You have permission to feel whatever you are feeling.  You have permission to let it out.  You do not have to hold it in or press it down.  It’s okay to admit that it’s hard.  It’s okay to acknowledge the pain.  It’s okay to still have waves of powerful sadness.

I’ve chosen to let myself be sad about everything I miss about never knowing Maizie outside of my womb.  I’ve let myself grieve the ways her pregnancy is different than this current way.  I’ve longed for the way she moved and felt in my body.  I’ve let myself feel anger towards God or others and then worked to reconcile.  I’ve allowed myself rest.

As I get through this, I want to be a deeper, more complete, more empathetic, more aware-of-others-and-their-story person.  I want to experience what it says in scripture that God transforms us from one degree of glory to another.  To go through this transformation, I’ve had to be willing to submit myself to the furnace of trial.  I am not going to attempt to control what this process looks like.

God is changing me.  He has been changing me.  I see the glimpses of it and I know I’ll see the markings of Maizie’s life on mine in bigger ways over the years to come.  I want that, more than I want to look like I have it all together.  It’s been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to look grief in the face and say run your course.  But I have had all the comfort and strength in the world as I rest in God’s hands.

To my dear friend Laura, thank you for the gift of permission.  No words will ever be able to describe what you did for me in those first four months following our loss.  I want to be that type of friend for other people in the future.  Sometimes I had to take you up your permission and sometimes I was able to rise to the occasion.  Either way, knowing I had it made me feel safe and known in a way I can’t describe.  Love you forever dear one.

harness smith

 

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