The Gift of My First Daughter
I knew that one day I would want to tell her story.
Yet it is so hard to put words to it. Difficult to begin. Difficult to write. Difficult to end. Is there really ever any end? I have a patient who is in her early nineties. She forgets everything from the now, even if she ate supper or not while I am still clearing her dishes! There is one thing she doesn't forget. She tells me regularly. About her third son. He lived only nine months. Together, we pause in sadness and remember him. She wipes a tear off her wrinkled face and invariably says, "but he is in heaven, and I guess I will see him soon." She sighs, "It's been a long time."
So tell me, when does it end? The day we bury a body? The day we remember a year gone by without her? The day we forget to remember one day? When we have another child? When we have grandchildren? How about great-grandchildren? Or when we are 92 and pause at the nurse's station to talk of our child we lost?
Maybe it only ends when we walk into heaven, eyes finally opened for the first time, meet God face to face, and then (how do you say "then" or "after" in a place with no time?) look around and go running, running to gather them up in our arms finally, at last - oh, how I missed you! Does it end then? Maybe not. Maybe it only begins. I am still waiting for the beginning with my baby. The ending started before the beginning. Death before life. It is not supposed to be this way.
This is why I can not write this story. The tears come and block my view.
Her Story - A PrologueWhen I was a teenager, I babysat for a family with two lovely girls and one little boy. The boy had the most unusual nickname "Buzzy". When I was in their home, I noticed the photo of one baby girl on the mother's nightstand.
Interesting, I thought. Which baby would rank the right to be there alone?
I asked the girls who that baby was. "Oh, that is Sarah."
Sarah? None of them are named Sarah. Who is she?
Sarah was their sister. She died of SIDS when she was only a few months old. Buzzy was born after Sarah, and he was put on a monitor to watch his breathing. He stopped breathing so many times that they nicknamed him "Buzzy" after the monitor's buzz which woke them so often.
Several years later, in nursing school, I picked the topic of SIDS for a pediatrics presentation. Besides the few basic facts and research into preventing SIDS, there was little to present from a nursing standpoint. When babies come in after SIDS, they are dead. There is little we can do.
I decided I would make this report more personal, and I phoned up this mother and asked if I might interview her about their experiences during and after Sarah's death. She very graciously agreed and I learned much of the suffering and accusations that families can go through after an infant suddenly dies. I did well on the presentation.
My only one thought through that was, "wow! I could never live through the death of one of my babies." If I had one prayer going into motherhood, it was that - don't let me have to live through this.
God does not always answer prayers the way we would like. I learned that the hard way. I also learned that in the times we think we will not survive, He will step in and carry us through it in ways we never thought.
Today, when I look back at the death of my daughter, I look back to a time of immense pain, but also to a time of immense comfort.
(no this is not a photo of her - we never got one)
Her Story - A Surprise AppearanceWe got married, and sure enough, a few months later, we were expecting. I told my husband who was initially in shock and then spent the rest of the day telling everyone he knew and some who he didn't.
I phoned my parents, and since this was their first grandchild, my mom couldn't believe it. (She did have a few kids, so she should know how this works!). My dad was thrilled. Nine months later, some of my family flew out to Europe to wait for this new arrival. We waited. We waited. And then we waited some more.
Do you know how hard it is to have group of people staring at your tummy and hinting that their ticket runs out pretty soon? If I even moaned slightly, the entire house jumped and watched my belly like a chicken was going to hatch out of it any minute. I was ready to kick them all out - along with the baby who had determined to never show up.
Eventually, two and a half weeks late, my tiny son made his appearance into the world. He was perfect. Minuscule. Hungry. He ate like a vacuum cleaner on attack mode.
About two months after his appearance, I started to feel strange. I was not getting back to normal. In fact, I felt pregnant. We had guests visiting, a mother of three teens who also was a nurse. I told her that I suspect I am expecting again. She just smiled and said I wasn't used to my body's changes, that's all.
I was used to my body. So used to it, in fact, that I already knew.
A month later, I flew back home for my brother's wedding. The day after I arrived, I bought a pregnancy test and confirmed what I already knew. Another baby would be born before its brother's first birthday.
I told my husband, and after a few moments of shocked surprise, he was excited. The two babies would be good friends. I told my family, and they were less thrilled. There was almost no response from them. It bothered me slightly, but I assumed that their minds must be taken up with the wedding plans. Maybe they didn't quite believe me. It was so soon.
So many times over the years, my mind goes back over the events of the next few months, wondering. Was it this, was it that? Was it the day I decided I was fed up with not having caffeine and had two cokes? Was it flying? Was it because an tense member of the wedding party shoved me angrily out of the way and I fell? Was it because my little brother didn't come home one night when we had traveled together to see old friends, and I stayed up all night pacing and worrying? Was it because of being tired after waiting for my brother, that I got a really bad flu from the kids where we were staying? Was it because I was exhausted staying up caring for my baby who also got the flu? Was it because for several days, I couldn't keep food in, but had to keep nursing since he would not take a bottle?
One event during that time stands out. When I took my son eventually to my old family doctor since he was so sick, I mentioned to the doctor that I was also pregnant. He looked up quickly, and said, "uh oh" in a worried voice. He changed the subject when I asked what he meant. Did he know something I didn't? Was this particular flu bad for unborn babies?
Questions and more questions. In the immediate crisis after she died, I had to learn to put down the questions. God knew the answers to them, and He chose not to tell us. I choose to trust. The questions still come, but I choose to set them down again unanswered.
It has become enough for me that He knows, and I can rest in that. I chose to believe the things I knew in my head about God, and one of those is that His way is perfect, even when it is not easy.
Her Story - A Normal CheckupAfter a few months in the States with my family, I flew back home with my baby. Back to my husband - oh, how much we had missed him!
The flight was interesting since I was still recovering from that awful flu and was pretty weak. Halfway across the Atlantic, I gave up. I couldn't find any more strength to rock a fussy baby. I was wiped! I put him in his carseat, fastened him in, and lay back in my seat. I knew he was crying, but I also knew that if left alone in a carseat, he would only last about ten minutes before he was out.
Yet, ten minutes of a howling baby is tough on people strapped down in close quarters in a metal tube. Not surprisingly, the flight attendant came by. What she did next surprised us. After taking one look at me and determining that I was exhausted; she fairly sternly, although politely, scolded the young man sitting on the other side of the carseat for not taking care of his baby when his wife is obviously worn out!
The poor guy! He looked up slightly bewildered and said, "umm... the only baby I have is a ten month old German Shepherd at home." (He was really nice about it, actually, considering he was sitting next to a crying baby!)
So the flight attendant asked me what they could do. I told her that I am still weak after being sick for a week, I'm pregnant again, and I am getting dizzy standing up rocking him. Thankfully, my son was never a shy type, so she asked if she could take him. She did, and about an hour later, she brought him back to me laughing. He had been up front to visit in the cockpit and had been playing with the pilots and having a ball. Just six months old, and already in love with anything that moved!
Finally, finally, the plane was home, and I was back in my husband's arms. He laughed at my tummy, now round with another baby, and put me in bed to sleep.
Within a week, I had an appointment with my OB. That morning, I had gotten up and pulled out my maternity clothes again, surprised at how early I needed them. With my son, I hadn't worn maternity clothes until well into the seventh month, but with this one, I was a few days short of five months and already pulling on my waist of my normal clothes.
I put on my favorite of my maternity tops and went out to drive the half hour to the doctor. A happy greeting with all the doctor's assistants as they drooled over my son and assumed I was in for a check up. Exclamations of surprise, and then delight, when I said that we were actually here for round two with the next baby. Wow! The babies will be so close, ten months apart. What fun!
The secrets hidden inside the womb.... unknown by us all.
We stood around the reception desk talking and laughing, and none of us knew. It was the last thoughtless, carefree moment I had in any pregnancy. Within a few minutes, I would hear those three words which changed everything on that rainy morning.
An hour later, I sat in tears alone in the car while my husband got gas, and tried to close my eyes and take myself mentally back to those minutes we stood by the desk with receptionists rubbing my belly and laughing. My hand rested on my belly now, an unconscious gesture, but one which was unable to protect or comfort the tiny baby girl inside. I couldn't even pull up a memory of how my world was a short hour before. Now, there were only tears, and tears I had to keep quiet so I would not frighten the little boy who babbled and laughed in his carseat behind me.
Her Story - Three Small WordsDo you ever wish that God issued a weather report for our days?
Warning - showers expected, have an umbrella.
Relax - bright sunny skies, enjoy yourself.
Watch Out - a sudden storm is blowing in, be prepared for disaster.
I've wondered this as I've watched different tragedies strike. On the day where several people were killed on a normal Sunday morning in service, what was going on that morning in heaven? Did God watch them get up, stress over getting kids dressed in time, brush their teeth, put on their make up? What was going though His mind? Did He whisper to them that morning? Did He surround them with a sense of His real presence? Or was it a normal morning? Did He sit quietly watching, saying to Himself, "Little one, today you don't know it, but today you will be here with me"?
I wish life came with a daily forecast. I wish He gave us a heads up on our days.
He doesn't, though. For reasons He knows, He lets life hit us full force without warning. When we least expect it.
That day I went in for a check-up was a day like that. Looking back, I know that God had His hand on the day. It was unusual for my husband to take off work to go to a routine first visit with the doctor. But that day, he was with me.
That last moment, standing around the desk laughing and talking. So happy. So unaware.
Then the doctor came out, and in we went. Up on the table for the initial check, and the doctor's confirmation, "yep, you're definitely pregnant again." Smiles all around. He measured my tummy, everything looking good. Asked about how far I was, and I told him what I thought, four and a half months, almost five. All good.
"Perhaps we will do an ultrasound to get a better idea right off the bat."
We eagerly watched the screen as the picture popped up. The doctor was silent as he moved the wand around one way and the other. I was a nurse, so I had seen many ultrasounds. Immediately, something looked wrong to me. The picture was moving too fast that I didn't know exactly what.
I wondered perhaps if I had my dates wrong or something. Maybe that is why it is harder to get a good picture. Maybe I am only four months, not almost five... maybe... But that is not what was missing.
The silence in the room should have clued me in... silence from my doctor and silence from the machine...
After a few more minutes with the only noise in the room being the ticking of the clock and the babbling of my baby boy, the doctor looked up and said the three words which changed my world.
"There's no heartbeat."
The silence should have told me. That was what was unusual. No ba-boom, ba-boom loudly filling the room with a fast tempo like trotting horses. Nothing. On the monitor, no flickering little white dot that is a tiny heart doing its thing. Nothing.
It took a minute for that news to sink in, past all the high of minutes ago, past all my dreams of two babies in the stroller, past the roundness of my tummy sticking up on the examining table.... no heartbeat...
My mind tried to scream at me. Do we need a heartbeat? Can't we fix it? Make it better, please ... Other things you can live with - no foot, no kidney, not enough amniotic fluid..... This was so final, so sudden. No heartbeat?
How can that be?! Just five minutes ago, we were rubbing my tummy, talking to my baby. No heartbeat? I think I lay on that table with tears pouring out the sides of my eyes and dribbling down into my ears for about ten minutes before I could even say to myself, "my baby is dead." Dead?! How can she be dead? She hasn't lived yet. I haven't held her yet! I needed to hold her. I just needed to hold her once. Oh, God, how can my baby be dead?
I sat in the car later, curled around my belly, one hand instinctively resting on the bump. A protective gesture - but how could I protect? She died. I didn't keep her safe. And how did she die without me even knowing? When did she die? Had she died and I just had gone on with my day unaware? She can't be dead. I can rest my hand on a round, tight tummy.
We drove home in shock. I am sure that the doctor said more to us, but I have no clue as to what. He did ask us to come back next week for another visit. This in itself became a bit of a difficulty since my husband somehow thought that we would come back next week to see if anything had changed. I don't know if it was his denial or the fact that he might not have put two and two together with how far I was, and he simply thought that maybe by next week, the heart would start beating. So for the duration of that week, I grieved, and he hoped.
We sat silent. Tears poured out of me like steady downpour on a quiet day. No sobbing yet, no crying, just tears without end. When we got home, my husband carried our now fast asleep son up to his crib, and went next door to work to tell them what happened and that he would be home all day. I went to my bed, threw myself down, and began to cry.
I cried. I cried screaming wails. But, my son slept in the next room, so I tried to keep my mouth closed and scream silently in whimpers. Durng the pain of my childhood, I had learned to cry without sound, so I did that now. I cried so hard that one of my eardrums burst. The pain registered only for minutes, and I continued to sob. Eventually, my husband came back from his work and wrapped his body around mine and we cried together.
Yet, in that hour or so before he came back, someone else came into that bedroom. As I lay collapsed across the foot of my bed, pouring out my very heart in tears, there came a stillness. Later on, I tried to explain that moment. The best I could do was to say it was as if God came down and picked me up and carried me to that very still place next to His heart and sat with me in the silence there. In those very special moments, I saw that God, too, was crying over my daughter's death. He mourned, too. He knew my hurt and my pain and was touched by it.
It was that deep closeness at that time which gave me the strength to live the next few days as I did. I saw God's heart, and in that glimpse, I realized that all the accusations and questions that would want to come in my mind to hurl at Him were not based in truth. "Why didn't You save her?" "Don't You care?" "Why would you do this if You love me?" Even the basic, unanswerable yearing "why?" had no answer, and no basis in accusation. He was not uncaring.
In the silence, God let me see His heart. As I lay there in exhausted tears, I determined one thing. I will not question God about this. I will not accuse Him. I sat in the stillness, and it was as if He put His hand under my chin, raised my eyes to look into His, and He asked me, "Do you know Me?" I did. I knew God. I believed many things about Him. I determined that minute to continue to believe those same things and I determined not to question His right to make decisions.
That day, as I lay wrung out from tears which would not stop, I told God the things I knew. "I know that You know what You are doing. I know that Your way is perfect. And I know that You love me." The next day, I added one more "I know" to my list which I repeated over and over to myself. "I know You know how much I hurt." My pain did not simply not factor into His decisions - He knew my heart and the pain that so crushed it that taking a breath was difficult.
At the same time as I knew God had a right to make decisions and He knew that He was doing, I had the deep knowledge that He knew my pain. He was not untouched by it. In the days to come, when I went out of my bedroom and faced the world, I faced many different reactions and different comments by people trying to mean well. In those difficult days, it was the ability to come running back to this place - this place of stillness, just God and me - that let me get through it all. Here was where I came to cry, to sit, to pour out my feelings before a God who Himself cried at my daughter's death.
In a real way, God hid me there, in that still place, and He protected me there. Outside was the storm and the chaos, the questions and the details, but there was that place of stillness where God hid me from all of that. Safe. He hid me in the stillness wrapped around His presence and sat with me. It was, at the same time, the worst time in my life and the best. It was a time where God met me like He never had before. And yet, it was the hardest time of my life. The very roundness of my belly mocked me as I walked or sat and rested my hand on it. How, in the very safety of my womb, could my daughter die?
I cried out my tears to God. Again and again, I lifted my face up and told Him, "I just wanted to see her. I wanted to twist a curl of her hair around my finger. I wanted to put a dress on her with pretty lace. I wanted to know what she looked like. I wanted to see her, to smell her, to cuddle her - just once, just only once. I needed to hold her."
God heard me. He was not finished with His ways of carrying me through that time. But for that day - the day that went from sunny calm to blinding storm - He brought me to a still place and hid me there. It did not protect me from the pain, but it didn't leave me alone with it, either.
God does not give us a weather report in advance, but He is a storm shelter in the middle of disaster - a very present help in time of trouble.
And... oh how I still miss her! My arms still ache to hold her, a solid longing ache which never disappears. Tonight, I kissed my little daughter good night when I tucked her in, and my eyes filled with tears for her big sister who I never got to kiss.
I still miss you, daughter of mine.
Her Story - The Things People Said
After an hour of sobbing alone across the foot of my bed, my husband came home and wrapped his body around mine. We lay together and cried. Here is where the confusion of what we absorbed or didn't absorb of what the doctor said set in. My husband was still hoping that next week the news would be different. He cried, but he did not yet let himself grieve because he still clung to hope. I knew more than he did. I knew how far along this baby was, and I knew that there had to be a heartbeat. It was not just too early. Yet, despite the confusion, we cried together.
Then the inevitable comes. The phone calls. The news must be told. I phoned my parents first, still slightly unintelligible through the tears and told them, "the baby died." Their instant reaction was, "not Bunny?!" (Son #1 will not let me use that nickname for him in public anymore - but it still makes a good threat - if you don't come when I call you at school, I will holler as loud as I can, "Bunny! I said come!)
No, not him. He's fine. The baby, the one not born yet.
"Oh, what a relief! We were so worried."
Ok. I get it. People say odd things when confronted with shocking news and the sheer fact of being stunned is some excuse for stupid things we say. Yet it was only the beginning of learning that people react differently to the death of a baby not yet born.
We went that week to our small group Bible study. At the time, we were in Europe and there was not a group near us that met in English, so we went every week to a small group of primarily American soldiers for Bible study. My one chance to speak in English. It was a good group for us, since they were also young couples and also having babies.
It is so hard to walk into a room in maternity clothes, meet friends you have not seen for a few months with a dead baby. There is no way to stop it or prepare. As soon as people saw me, from across the room their eyes lit up with surprise and excitement, and they began to move toward me with smiles. A round belly simply attracts women.
I cringed. Do I have to say it? Do I have to say it again and again?
Exclamations of happiness, greetings, kisses. "Oh, I didn't know!" "Wow, when is it due?"
It isn't. The baby is dead.
Silence. Dead silence in the room, growing like a wave from near me to the far corner where two people laughed heartily at their own conversation before someone poked them to silence, too.
I wished the ground would have opened and swallowed me. Facing the news reflected back in the shock and sorrow on so many faces was overwhelming. I wanted to hide. Tears, some hugs. If only we could have stopped there...
But no. People feel they must say something. It is built into us all... silence is awkward and we search for words to fill it. To make ourselves feel better.
To give them grace, it was mostly a room filled with young soldiers, young wives. Only two of us even had a baby at the time. They simply did not know what to say.
But that did not stop them.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
This is a good one, but no one stopped there.
"Don't worry, you can have another."
Another?! Another what? This is my baby, not a puppy that I bought. Is she replaceable?!
"At least it wasn't your son."
No. It was my daughter.
"Just be happy the baby wasn't born yet,; that would have been much harder."
Haven't I just spent the last few days sobbing out to God that I wanted to hold her, even just once?
"Maybe there would have been something wrong with the baby. Maybe this is best."Best? As if I wouldn't have wanted my child if there was something wrong with her?
"Try to be glad. They would have been so close together; it would have been hard."So, what? This is more convenient?
Never was I so happy for a study to start, and never was I so happy to get out of there! Each "comforting" word felt like a barb into my very heart. Can't anyone just be quiet?! I haven't even been able to come up with something to say - not after hours of melted tears in front of a God who is holding me through this.
I've found no reason.
I've found no answers.
I've found no comfort.
I've found no blessing.
I've found nothing that makes it ok.
All I've found is raw pain. And a God who holds me through it all.
Don't give me your thirty second answers. Don't tell me reasons, blessings, worse things. Don't even tell me that your aunt, cousin, neighbor, friend, sister went through this. My own pain is overwhelming me like suffocating in sludge, unable to even attempt to swim. I can't handle anyone else's too. Crushing pain, numbing pain, sharp pain, all running through me. I look out my eyes like a foreigner looks out at a new country. I don't even know who I am anymore.
Don't give me your thirty second answers. Instead, give me your silence. Come and sit with me in the bewildering mists of questions that float around the three words that took my baby away. Come sit, be silent, and let me lean on you, let me feel the warmth of your body as I lean against you so that I know I, too, have not been swallowed by the cold mists, but am still alive. Sit and question with me in the silence.
Don't give me your thirty second answers. Give me a hug. Take my seven month old son and tickle him. Giggle at him, and throw him in the air. Show him the world still laughs. The poor guy has seen nothing but silence and tears, and he is too young to understand why. Give me a cup of hot chocolate without asking me what I want to drink. Get one for yourself, and sit down and drink with me. Tell me you love me. I need to hear those words. The enemy whispers so loudly to me that God took my baby because He didn't love me, because I wasn't good enough. Be His words, be His love, and tell me you love me.
You have no answers. I know that. I don't either. I don't need answers. I need love.
But they were young, and not yet used to death. And there are always those few who know how to be there. My friend who said to simply come over. Come over every day, any day, come with no warning, no plans, just come. I am at home and you have a spot on my couch just for you. When I came, she did nothing different. We cleared breakfast dishes, did laundry, cooked lunch, cleaned the bathroom. She waited with me the day before the next doctor's appointment. We waited together. I did not have to face my days alone if I did not want to, and yet I did not have to face plans and activities. Just quiet routines at her house, where the sun shone in more than at mine, and the double stroller did not sit empty in the corner of the nursery.
It was this friend I called a few weeks later when I needed someone on a very difficult day to face. She came.
Her Story - If I Could Do This Again.....
My husband decided that we should not tell his family. We had not yet told them that I was expecting, and he thought we could simply spare them the sadness. Besides, they had planned a huge party to welcome my son into the world and celebrate the first grandson born into the family. Over two hundred people would show up, and he didn't want to ruin the party. So I was silent. This is a decision I regret even now. A week from the date we heard those three small words which changed our lives, we dressed up in our fine clothes, pasted smiles on our faces, and went to a party.
I didn't feel like celebrating. I felt like hiding and crying.
I tried really hard. I sucked in my belly, put on a nice dress which sort of hid the bulge, and attempted to smile. But the family could tell I was not happy. In the absence of any other information, they assumed I just did not like them and was not happy with their customs of celebrating. For years, that early opinion they formed of me held and colored their view of me. It was not until six years later, when I had my second daughter, that I told them that one had died, and died only a week before the party. That my husband had not wanted to tell them so they would not be sad during a celebration. By that time, it was too late. First impressions had already been formed. Now we understand each other far better, but I always wish I had just told them the truth and let them deal with the pain with us.
But the morning of the party, we had another visit with the doctor. There was no change. By this time, I was more prepared to hear it again, knowing full well that she had died. My husband heard it for the first time. This time it sunk in for him. That timing difference was difficult for us. But men grieve differently. There were times I felt his grief, and times I felt very alone in this whole process.
After the party, the whole family made a trip to a nearby country to welcome some relatives who had just moved closer. I went along, but as the week progressed, I felt weaker and weaker. The stress, the built up sadness, the stress of pasting a smile on every morning when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and shut out the world was difficult. My heart was sore, limping, and I was asked to be normal.
If I could do it over again, I would share the grief. It might have ruined the party, but it may have deepened our relationships.
Years later, I lost another child, very, very early on in a pregnancy. I actually lost that baby before I had even taken a pregnancy test, so the awareness of a new child had barely begun to register before he was gone. In that time, I was more quiet. I did not tell everyone, but I had learned my lesson, and I did tell some people. I needed my support system around me. I needed people to understand why I was hurting.
It is true that not everyone will react appropriately to grief, but I learned that not sharing can be as painful as the stupid things people say when they are lost for words.
Her Story - When God AnsweredI look at this title and wonder at it. "When God Answered" Part of me rebels against it.
"No, He didn't! I begged to have my baby back! I wanted to hold her. I begged to see her, to twist a strand of fine baby hair around my finger, to say goodbye."
But when is it ok to say good bye to your child? I think there would never be a time a mother's heart would not rip in two.
Time went on. The doctor had said at the last appointment that he could schedule an appointment for a d&c, but the thought of it made my stomach heave. To go in there and cut my child up in pieces and suck her out?! NO. I wrapped my arms protectively around my little bump. No. He said that we could also just wait, and nature would care for it.
I have no excuse. I was a nurse. I should have known what would happen, but my brain had no ability to absorb, access, or process information, and when it happened, it took me by surprise. Besides, my world had come to a sudden pause with those three words, and I still was staring out at life with a detached numbness.
But God was not numb. He was gentle in this time. He had His plans to soften the blow and carry me through it.
Home from our trip, we slowly began to go out of the house again, although only with people we knew well. A picture company had come to the military base and had offered family photos for $10. We had signed up weeks ago since it was a good deal. I didn't want to keep the appointment, but my husband encouraged me to go. He bought me a new dress for the photo - the only dress he has ever bought me. We dressed up, and smiled for our family picture - a picture I still treasure. It is the only one we have with my baby in it, even though she is well hidden by her brother on my lap.
We went out for pizza after the picture session with our friends from the Bible study. It was a young soldier playing with my son who informed us, "He has his first tooth!"
No. He doesn't have teeth.
But he did. In all the sadness of the last two and a half weeks, we had missed that. There it was, all white and shiny. I informed him that he had better not use that tooth for biting or there would be serious consequences! We began to smile, just slow, awkward smiles, as if stretching a muscle out of shape. Then we drove home. I had a tummy ache from too much pizza and just wanted silence and my bed.
It was about a half an hour drive through winding, dark country roads home to our house. Exhausted, I leaned my head against the back of the seat and stared out the window. Guilt from the few minutes of smiling came.
How can you smile when your baby is dead?I turned once again to God with my familiar cry, "It hurts. I know You do only what is good. But, I wanted to hold her just once, to see her, to know what she looked like... just once..." Quiet tears again slid down my face. And then God answered. Very clearly, His answer came into my head.
Your precious daughter went directly from the safety of your womb into the safety of My arms. She never suffered pain and never was touched by sin. She is free from these things with Me.The thought comforted me. To not know this pain we live with....
But, I just wanted to see her once, to fix her hair, to dress her in something pretty. I just wanted to see her!
What happened next I have a hard time explaining, and because I do, I rarely talk about it. But it happened.
In the dark of that ride through the woods, a picture came into my head. I was standing in a walled garden with flowers and vines. There was a gate through the wall with a stone archway over it, and the gate was open. Outside was a grassy hill leading up and the sun was rising. Light spilled in through the open gate into the dewy dimness of the garden. On the hill, facing away from me was a little girl, toddling with those little brand-new walking steps up the hill as fast as she could. I stood silent, unable to move, my voice quiet while my being screamed out inside me. And yet, the toddling baby must have heard, because at the last minute before she rounded the top of the hill and disappeared, she turned sideways, and looked back. For a fleeting second I saw her little cheeks and nose. Then, with a tiny baby giggle, she turned again, and her black curls bounced against her white dress, and she disappeared.
It was just a second, that picture. It takes longer to describe it than it took to see, but when the darkness closed in again, more tears fell, but quieter tears. God had come to answer my pain. Again I had that very real sense that He was sitting with me through that drive home, comforting me in a very real way. Later, I knew why, but at that minute, I was only driving home from a pizza night with a tummy ache very, very tired.
Her Story - A Dark Night Before Morning Dawned
When I last left this story, I was riding home in the car with a tummy ache after eating pizza. God had just spoken to me clearly that night, giving me comfort. He had said, "Your daughter went straight from the safety of your womb into My arms. She never knew pain and never knew sin." Then, in the quiet darkness, He showed me that beautiful picture of her toddling out of a walled garden through an open gate into the light of the new day. I clung to that half second glimpse of her turned head and little baby giggle. I held in deep in my heart, and hung on to it.
When we got home, I was exhausted. I went to bed, and my husband put my son in his crib, and went to play computer games. I tossed and turned, but could not get comfortable. The pizza had really disagreed with my tummy and I could not sleep. It took about an hour for me to realize that the indigestion was beginning to come in waves, and likely had nothing to do with pizza.
It took my mind a long time to wrap around the thought that I was in labor and needing to deliver. I should have known, but I didn't. Grief does not leave a clear mind. I called upstairs to my husband, but he was playing. He called down that he would come when he finished his game. I just sat, curled up on the bottom of the stairs waiting. Trying to think this through. How could I be in labor? The baby was dead. Labor is exciting. It is the beginning of hope realized. It signals that it is time to meet your baby. Mine was gone, no longer there to meet.
Yet, as I sat alone on the stairs that evening's words came back into my head. She never knew pain. She never knew sin. She is safe with Me. I repeated them over and over to myself. I opened my hurting heart up and looked toward God and sat with Him. And I hung onto the glimpse of the laughing girl with black hair toddling towards the morning. I sat there and said to myself, "someone left the gate open, and she has walked to God, straight to Him, that is all. This is not death; it is life. Maybe even more alive life."
After some time, my husband came down, took one look at me, and scolded me for not telling him it was urgent. But I was glad to have that time sitting alone. I needed it. God Himself was preparing me for a birth which was not a life. As we gathered up our son again and drove through the dark to the hospital to deliver the dead body of our first daughter, my thoughts were not on the twisted, cold, lifeless body inside me, but on the glimpse He had given me of my child alive.
It was a rough night at the hospital. A foreign country where things are not done like we would at home. No emergency care. By that time, I was bleeding heavily, and for some reason, they stuck me on a surgical ward with two other patients in a room. They told my husband he could wait in the waiting room, but not with me. By this time, I was in active labor, and crying. The nurses kept coming in the room and scolding me for crying, telling me to shut up and let the others sleep. Finally, they called my husband to tell me to be quiet, and he was able to better explain the situation. Then they transferred me to the maternity ward.
I expected to go into labor area and wondered how I would handle that, but instead they put me in private room near the door. Unfortunately, it was directly across from the nursery. All night, I heard newborns crying. The nurses had graciously taken my seven month old son into the nursery, too. They looked down their noses at me when I said that he won't take a bottle and I should feed him first. They knew how to get babies to take bottles, I was told.
The new room was nicer, but I lay in bed in pain for an hour listening to my son scream bloodly murder. He didn't take bottles. I knew that. Somehow, being a patient in this country meant you had no brains. The nurses knew best. After an hour of loud wailing, a shamefaced nurse brought my son in to me. "He won't take a bottle."
Um. yeah. I told you that over an hour ago!
By then, the contractions were nearing the end, and I was struggling. But I was a mother, and I rolled on my side, quieted my cries, and nursed my son to sleep. I gritted my teeth and sang to him, and he was quiet.
It was after he was returned to the nursery that my daughter was born. While the labor was rougher than any of my other labors, the birth was quick. I have often thought back as to why the pain was worse, and this is the only explanation I can give - it was pain without hope. It was without the hope that gives us energy to go through it. It was simply pain on top of pain.
And then she was born. No bigger than what I could have held in one hand. The nurses scooped her up, all wrapped up in her membranes and all, and plopped her into a plastic tub much like a margarine container. I still can hear the snap of the lid. Then they walked out of the room.
I never saw her. I had rested my head back, and I never saw her. They snapped that lid on and walked out with my daughter inside.
Later on, somewhere in the dark of that night, someone asked if we wanted an autopsy, and I think we said yes. A week or two later, we were told that she was perfectly formed.
But I never saw her. They simply threw her away in the medical waste in the incinerator. That thought took me years to cope with. We don't do that, but it was standard practice, I guess. She was, after all, a week short of 20 weeks, so not legally a child.
It was a dark night. I was left entirely alone after they walked out. Somewhere in that night, I struggled to wake as I had dreamed I was watching from above as my body floated down a dark river. I struggled and struggled to wake, fighting to wake for my son. My husband leaned forward when he heard me mumbling, and he called for help. I was bleeding badly. Then the nurses came back, took one look at me, and went running for help. I slipped back into a semi-conscious state again, and woke later with IVs running and the nurse calling my name. She was wheeling a bassinet into my room, and for a brief second, my heart lept, but no, it was not her.
One look in the bassinet had me at least smiling. A seven month baby looks like a giant in a bassinet. My husband said later when he checked on him in the nursery, he laughed. It was little bump, little bump, little bump, huge baby! I nursed one more in the half darkness of the morning, and thanked God that He still left me this one baby to fill my empty arms.
My husband was the buyer for a company and that next day was a day where he was supposed to order the whole winter stock at a trade fair. He had to go, and told me that while I nursed. I knew he had to, but oh how much I wanted him then. He said he would go get my friend to stay with me. It would take him two hours to get her and he'd be back.
As I sat alone in my bed with my empty belly nursing my son, the sun rose. Light streamed into my hospital room and lit up the wall opposite my bed. I raised my tired eyes to the light and saw something which made me cry. There on the wall was a painting. It was a painting of a walled garden full of creeping vines and flowering bushes. An archway stood over a small gate which had been left open, and outside of the gate was a gently sloping hill with the daylight beginning to dawn over it. It was the picture that I had seen the night before as we drove home after pizza. The same picture, except that now the little laughing girl in the white dress was gone.
I sat in stunned shock crying, yet they were tears of comfort as well as pain. Even on this horrible first morning that I had to wake up alone in a maternity ward surrounded by the sounds of other mothers caring for their babies, God had met me. He had come to answer my pain, to surround me with detailed comfort in the very minute I needed it. He had walked that dark night of pain through with me and was there with the morning's light.
Later on, when I was able to think back to it all, I had learned a lesson about God that I never forgot, but just then, I sat together with Him nursing one baby, mourning another, and being comforted by a very present God.
Her Story - A GiftThere is more to tell of this story, of God's ways of caring and comforting me, of unlikely people who did the right thing and brought me comfort, of facing fears during another pregnancy, and of God's goodness. But the reason I began this story is that I wanted to tell what gift God had given me with the death and birth of my first daughter.
We named her Lydia. It was not the name we had originally chosen if she was to be girl, but we named her Lydia. Lydia was the seller of purple, a valuable cloth fit for royalty. With Lydia's small life, I began to see God's hand in my life in a real way... like a purple thread woven throughout my daily journey. Lydia was the first believer in Asia. Our Lydia was our first baby in heaven, and it seemed like a good name.
Our children all had middle names which their dad chose. Ones which worked for his country. He never could find a name for her, and for ten years, she had only the one name. Last year, I told God that I wish she would have had a middle name, too. Then I was reading somewhere, and I found the name. Amana. It means permanent, secure. It was a good name. Lydia Amana. Now, I feel peace - she needed her whole name, even if she was so tiny.
Back to the gift:
I had watched my friend tell me about the death of her daughter, Sarah, who died of SIDS. I thought then, "the one thing I could never live through is the death of my child. I would not survive." I had longed for children all my life, and knew I just couldn't survive that.
A few weeks after Lydia's birth, I was again sitting in the car driving somewhere. Honestly, God and I have our best conversations in the car! I was thinking ahead to the next steps in our life which would lead us eventually towards going to country that really wasn't that "safe" to be in. Just having lost one baby, I wasn't thrilled about taking my only child (at the time) into a dangerous place. Hey, I was scared at times about taking myself there!
I had grown up in the 70's and 80's in churches that put a lot of emphasis on being right, being prepared to defend your faith, being strong enough to face persecution. Ok. But... how do I know if I am really strong enough. What if....? What if....? What if I am weak? The thought always frightened me. What if I am in a situation where I am not strong enough? I had grown up on the mission field. A few of our community were actually killed for their faith. It was not unheard of. What if I was not strong enough?
And then God began to talk to me. Very, very gently. He showed me again that last night, driving home from pizza and the quiet word and picture He had given to me, the very picture that hung on the wall of the room where I delivered my little girl's dead body.
He could have given me that comfort earlier - somewhere in the two weeks that I carried her body. It would have comforted me then. He didn't. He gave it to me the very night I was going to go through a labor without hope. He gave it to me exactly when I needed to think about my daughter alive with Him and not be focused on the twisted, dead body which I labored with. He knew exactly when I would need the help and met me exactly then with exactly what I needed to get through that night.
That was the gift God gave me. He showed me that it would have nothing to do with how much I had worked out my "spiritual muscles", but with Him. It wouldn't be a strength He would give me beforehand to store for when needed, but it would be given to me in the time I needed it. He, Himself, would give me what I needed to endure whatever came in the time I needed it. Even if I needed it in my weakest moment.
He gave me confidence in Himself. I know that God will enable me to face whatever comes because He has the strength, not because I do.
Do I still pray that nothing bad ever happens in my life? YES! But, I am not fearful anymore. (well, not so much!) I know my God.
That was the gift of my daughter's short life, that and the joy we and her brothers and sister will have when we finally get to meet her.