Friday, March 30, 2012

Mixed Up


The past few weeks have been very strange.  I haven't been as anxious about this new pregnancy, which is good, but I wonder if that's only because my brain has been occupied with other stressful things, like drama with our dogs, dealing with intense stuff from the past in therapy, and the Best Husband Ever being sick with a long stomach flu.  Even with the stress, though, I like how fast the days have been going, because that means that I am living a little bit more, instead of waiting for each agonizing hour to crawl by, bringing me closer to my next O.B. appointment.

But I have been concerned about my emotions.  Soon after finding out that I was pregnant a second time, my emotions seemed to turn off.  I have felt predominantly numb.  That is why I haven't been blogging as much, I think -- I just don't know what to make of this numbness.

I can understand why I would feel numb.  Perhaps its my brain trying to protect me from further trauma.  It makes sense, I suppose.

But I don't like it.  Because I am afraid of blocking emotions -- especially grief.  I haven't been able to grieve very much for my daughter, my precious, irreplaceable Eve, since becoming pregnant with her younger sibling.  And that's been hard, because I want to grieve.  It is healthy, and she is worth it.  It's the only kind of parenting I can do for her now.

Yesterday, a sweet friend asked me how I have been feeling about Eve.  I told her all of this --  how confusing pregnancy soon after a loss is, and how numb I feel, how unsure.  I felt sad that I couldn't tell her something more, something better, although I'm not sure what that would be.

But her asking seemed to do something.  It seemed to open the door to the grief, if only a little.  Later that day, still wondering about how I was feeling regarding Eve, I realized -- I felt sad.  Sad!  After weeks of alternating anxiety and numbness!  I can't tell you how good it felt, how reassuring, to grieve my daughter again.  I curled up on the couch and let myself be sad, talking to God and talking to her.

Grieving is healthy.  Grieving after a loss is necessary.  And since my daughter is dead, I want to grieve.  Let me grieve, Lord. 

I realized something else, too.  Since becoming pregnant, so many kind and supportive people have been checking up on me, asking how things are going with precious Baby #2.  But this is the first time in weeks that someone has asked me about Eve.

And it felt so good, to have her be remembered, to be talked about.

I wish it would happen more often.

I can't force that to happen.  I don't know if I even want to wish for it, because I don't want to be disappointed.  I'm trying to not think so much about Mother's Day for the same reason -- because I am afraid that people will forget that I am a mother, twice over now, and that I will hurt.

And I can't blame them, really, because sometimes it's too easy for me to focus only on this coming baby, not the one that already lived out her days.  Lately I have been marveling over the fact that we have a daughter, and that she died.  It seems so impossible.

But I will hold tight to the times that people are brave enough to talk about Eve.  To cherish the memory of one of my most precious loved ones.  To celebrate her life and mourn her death.

I will savor those times when Eve is remembered, is talked about, is honored in prayer in my hearing.  They are a balm to my soul, especially on days like this one, when I feel so mixed up.

Eve's butterfly

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seeing Gratitude When Life is Hard

This weekend our church held a one-day women's retreat.  The title and theme of the retreat was Seeing Gratitude, inspired by Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts.  I had the honor of sharing a part of my story, about how God used Ann's book and the practice of gratitude to prepare me for and help me survive Eve's death.  Here is what I shared.

When I learned the theme of this retreat, I was very eager to talk about how to be grateful during hard times, when it feels like life is crumbling around you and there's nothing that you can do to stop it. But now that it comes down to it, I am so afraid to tackle this subject, because it is so challenging. It goes against everything that we might normally expect from life and from God. But it is also so important.

As some of you know, I am not a stranger to suffering. I grew up in a dysfunctional home. Not very long ago, my life was nearly destroyed by an eating disorder. But the worst hit four and a half months ago, when my husband and I lost our first child, Eve. I was 31 weeks pregnant when I realized that I had not felt her moving all day. A short while later, at the hospital, our doctor told us that she had died. Two days later she was born, dead. The cause of her death could never be determined.

The past four months have been incredibly difficult. This has been the most horrifying thing that I have ever had to walk through. If I had ever thought that something like this could happen to me, I would have thought that I would not survive. Instead, I am not only surviving, but I have been surprised by many blessings hat can only have come from God. Incredibly and impossibly, these are blessings that I would not have experienced if my daughter had not died.

About a month before Eve died and was born, I began reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Intrigued by her experiment of keeping a gratitude journal, I began my own. Like Ann, I wanted to live a richer life and have a deeper experience of God, and wondered if gratitude might be the way to cultivate those. On my gratitude list, I counted 289 gifts, and then Eve died. When my husband and I returned home, dizzy with fear of what this new life in which our daughter was dead would hold, one of the first things I saw was the open notebook containing my gratitude list, resting on the table where I had left it.

At first, the sight of it made me feel physically sick. I wondered – what does anything of this gratitude stuff mean now? Where is God? How can I be grateful for anything? But days passed and the grief pressed in, and soon I began to feel a sense of urgency to record the details of Eve's death and birth, to make safe the very few memories I had of our life with her. And so I picked up the gratitude list again, and began to write. I listed out the beautiful and ugly, the pain and the sweetness that come when you must give birth to a child you know you will never get to take home, to watch grow. I kept writing even after I had recorded everything I could remember of Eve. I kept on writing, for the next three months, until I had met my goal of counting 1,000 gifts. In the end, I counted 1,203 gifts in total, 914 of which came after Eve's death.

I am not telling you this to show myself off. The temptation to be bitter has been huge. Whatever success I have had in this gratitude experiment is to God's credit, not mine. But I want to share my story in the hopes that it might encourage you, when you go through hardship, that gratitude can coexist with suffering – that gratitude can open the door to so much good, no matter the circumstances.

Since Eve died, I have learned that gratitude is a choice. Jerry Sittser writes in his book A Grace Disguised,
“The experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It is not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.... We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given. Choice is therefore the key."

After Eve died, I felt overwhelmed by panic. My baby had died – died within my own body, without warning or cause. Nothing felt safe. Everyone that I loved and everything that I knew seemed threatened. It took weeks until I felt okay with my husband just to go back to work, without me. And even though I have been able, by God's grace, to let go of this fear for the most part, the fact remains that often there is very little that I have control over in this life. The only thing that I truly can control is my response to the twists and turns of life.

Gratitude is one of those choices. Gratitude is not an emotion or a warm fuzzy feeling – although sometimes those can be effects of practicing gratitude. But when life is a nightmare and you feel like you can barely take a breath, gratitude is a choice. It is not an easy choice. There is a reason why gratitude and thanksgiving are sometimes referred to as “a sacrifice of praise.” But gratitude is still a choice.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us of this when it says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Something else that I have learned more fully since losing Eve is that God is in the business of redemption. I believe that God redeems our trials and suffering, that He can bring something good out of something terrible. James 1:2-3 says. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In Romans 5:3-4, Paul says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

These are not easy verses to hear. Frankly, I don't want to suffer. But the fact is that we live in a broken world. And some point or another, we will all suffer. We will all hurt. We will all grieve.

I don't want my daughter to be dead. I would give just about anything to have her alive and well in my arms right now. I hate that she is dead.

But I am glad in knowing that, if she has to be dead, good will come from her death. It is strange to say, but I have already experienced many blessings that I probably would not have experienced if she had not died. I have never before lived through a time of such pain or such growth. I have had my heart broken open, and not only do I feel incredible pain and grief, but now every bit of joy and happiness I feel is magnified. Her death has made me better able to appreciate the beauty of life.

Because she died, opening me up to so much pain, I have become much more empathetic towards other people's pain, which is a gift.

Because she died, I was forced to reexamine what I believed about death and Heaven and salvation, and as a result am no longer afraid of dying myself and can trust God's promises more fully.

Because she died, I have met many other women whose children are also dead, and they have become incredibly important to me.

Because she died, my priorities have been reorganized, and many empty desires have been killed off.

Because she died, even though life is harder, I have been made better than I was before.

But the most incredible, impossible gift I have received as a result of my daughter's death is God. In the book of Job, after God reveals Himself to Job, Job responds,
“I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I'm sorry—forgive me. I'll never do that again, I promise! I'll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor."

This is exactly how I feel – before, I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of God, but since Eve died, I have had a much more intimate experience of Him. It was not easy – at first, I was not even sure I wanted anything to do with this God who I had asked for a healthy pregnancy and child, who seemed to answer my prayers with death. I tried to push Him away, but found that when it came down to it, I couldn't. God pursued me through my rage and my pain, and gave me a new way to connect with Him – as a fellow bereaved parent. Because He not only lost His son, but willingly gave Him over to torture and death, I found myself able to trust Him again, and more fully than before.

Henri Nouwen writes,
“Suffering invites us to place our hurts in larger hands. In Christ we see God suffering – for us. And calling us to share in God's suffering love for a hurting world. The small and even overpowering pains of our lives are intimately connected with the greater pains of Christ. Our daily sorrows are anchored in a greater sorrow and therefore a larger hope.”

God is in the business of redemption, of bringing something from nothing. This is what happened on the cross – out of the greatest pain came the world's greatest hope. I believe that the same is true for our own suffering – out of our tears comes unexpected gifts and growth. We can be grateful for the God who pursues us with abandon, who will stop at nothing to bring us safely home to Himself and make us more whole and healed than we could ever imagine. This is the beginning of gratitude when life is falling apart.

Friday, March 16, 2012


It's been a rough week here.

I don't even want to write about it.

Let me just say that it's not just about my daughter's absence (although I am missing her so much), or being pregnant again (which is a difficult exercise in trust).

On top of everything(as if that wasn't enough), more challenging stuff is piling up, and it's heavy.  I am stressed to the max, and don't think I can take it if another "hard thing" is added to our pile.

Would you pray?  I feel like we are being pressed in from all sides, and it's getting hard to breathe.
"When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
   he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
   What can mere mortals do to me?"

~ Psalm 118:5-6

Sunday, March 11, 2012

{Sad Hope Songs} "Fall Apart" by Josh Wilson

I love this song. It makes me cry every time I hear it, especially this part:

"I don't know how long this will last.
I'm praying for the pain to pass.
But maybe this is the best thing that has ever happened to me . . ."

I cry, not because I am sad, although I am.

Not because I hurt, although I do.

But because it is true. And the truth of it brings me to my knees before the God who brings so much good out of the dark.

Maybe, just maybe, my daughter's death was the best thing that has ever happened to me, because it has changed me so much.  Changed me for the better.

Is her death something that I wanted to happen?  Of course not.  I would have done just about anything to save her, to feel her breathe, to watch her grow.  But her life and death were out of my hands -- and in the hands of the One who has the power and the right to give life and take it away.  And so, because Eve's death came was allowed by God, I have to believe that He allowed it for a reason.

I understand now why suffering is referred to in the Bible as a refining process -- a process that is good.  That makes us better.  Because my suffering has made me better.

And because of that, because I have seen so many blessings in the valley of the shadow of death, I must say thank you.
"Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory."

Every weekend I share a song that has been particularly soothing or healing to me since my daughter, Eve, was stillborn. I call these “sad hope songs,” because they are usually melancholy sounding but also full of the beautiful hope that is born out of pain and suffering. To pass a song on to me, please leave your recommendation in the comments.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Choosing Trust

5 weeks 2 days

Four months ago, I was waiting to go to the hospital to induce the birth of our dead daughter.  Eight and a half weeks ago, I began the journey into pregnancy without even knowing that I was.

One child who is dead.  One child who is just beginning to live.

How can I resolve these two realities?

The truth is that I am struggling.  And really, I am struggling far less than I would have expected.  I have only had a handful of sleepless nights since finding out that another's life again lives within me, only a few horrible days were anxiety ruled.  Strangely, the fear has been less than it seems it should be.

But it is still there.

How do you celebrate new life when the life you already celebrated and expected and lived for the fulfillment of ended without out warning, without known cause?  When your life has already been the definition of traumatic?  How do you hope for the best when the worst, that rare worst, has already scarred you?

This is what I am learning.

I don't know if I am learning it well.  But I am trying.

I think -- I think -- what it comes down to is trust.  The only other option is a life of bitterness and fear and hopelessness.  Because I have already learned how little I can control in this life, how little is truly under my power to protect.  There is only One that has true control, true power, and I try everyday to trust Him.

Some days it is not as hard.  Strangely, it was easier to trust God in the days and weeks after Eve died than it is now.  But I am still trying.  Trust is not a feeling.  It is a discipline.  I am trying to discipline my heart and mind, trying to cultivate trust that He is out for our growth, not our hurt.

I am trying to let Him grow trust in me.

My first baby died.  This baby might die.  My husband, my friends, my family, my dogs, my health -- nothing is exempt.  But everything is in His hands.

And so I choose to trust.  Even though it is hard.  Even though at times it feels like throwing myself off a cliff.  Even though God feels very far away.

I choose to trust the One worthy of all my trust.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Our Big News

Ultrasound #1

Ultrasound #1

Ultrasound #1

I'm pregnant again!  We had our eight week ultrasound yesterday, and since Baby looks good with a heart rate of 174, I can't help sharing.  Primarily because we want lots of prayer -- for Baby's health, and that I can navigate this pregnancy after a loss with faith, hope, and peace.  I feel very nervous sharing this big news so early, but I want whoever wants to pray to be praying, so that is why I'm sharing the news so early.

And really, I want to celebrate.  No matter what happens, this baby is alive now.  He (yes, I think it's a boy!) is not a thing, not a fetus, but a human being.  This baby is a gift from God.  This is life.  And I want to celebrate that gift, that life.  Even though our first baby died.  Especially because our first baby died.

Will you pray and celebrate with us?  I'd be honored to share this journey with you, dear blog friends.

"At that time, people will say, 'Look at what's happened! This is our God! We waited for him and he showed up and saved us! This God, the one we waited for! Let's celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation. God's hand rests on this mountain!'"

~ Isaiah 25:9-10

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My blogging has been slowing down these past few weeks.  Writing has become very difficult.  I just don't want to do it.  I suppose that part of it is that I just don't feel like I have anything worth saying at the moment.  I feel like I am caught between hope and fear.  It is a difficult place to live.

But since Eve died, something interesting has happened within me.  In the past, I would try to flee this challenging place, immersing myself in escapism.  Now, however, I want to stay present.  I am determined that God use everything for good.  The grief, the confusion, the anxiety, the anger, the terror, the tenuous hope -- everything.

Even though this place is uncomfortable, I know that there are lessons to be learned here.  Important ones.  Perhaps even the most important ones.

So, even though I have not been blogging, I have been pressing in.  Pressing into God.  Trying to trust when everything around and within me screams that trust is useless.  This is the best thing that I can do, and so I try.
"Peter replied, 'Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We've already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.'"

~ John 6:68-69