Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ruby and Malachi

Facing my Fears

I wrote my way through Ellie’s cancer.  But then the words disappeared, dried up.  You see, I write what God puts on my heart.  There are times when there aren’t stories there to share.  But there are other times when I hear God saying, “Tell this story.  I am doing something, tell them!”  Once again, I can hear that loud whisper in my heart.  God has a story he wants me to tell, a part of my heart he wants me to bare. 

When our second born daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia at just two and a half years old, our world shattered.  Any plans we had were thrown out the window.  For the next 28 months our lives were consumed with her treatment and care.  After that we spent another 12 months learning to walk again, to live without cancer at the center.  Somewhere during that time I felt my dream of more children shatter.  I thought it was over.  Many childhood cancers are genetically linked.  But for a long time I didn’t even ask.  I think I was afraid to.  When I finally did look for the facts, I learned that there are no known genetic links for our daughter’s cancer.  They do know that siblings have a four times greater chance of getting it “for no known reason”.  The unknown lurked in the shadows of my heart.  One day I felt God prompt me to confront my fear head on.  I did the math.  What did this unknown fear look like?  It looked like a .0004% chance.  I laughed.  The chances of many other things happening were much greater, and yet, those don’t stop anyone.  By confronting my fear I had eliminated it.  But my heart was like an onion, under that layer of fear, were others.  

When your sweet, perfect looking baby girl is diagnosed with a ravenous beast like cancer, you realize how precious life is, how delicate, how fragile.  It is a gift, a gift with no guarantees.   There is a saying that having a child is like forever having your heart walk around outside your body.  There is some truth in that.  Ellie’s cancer showed me exactly how much a mother’s love can hurt.  The idea of exposing myself to more of that scared me.  It scared me a lot.  But through God’s gentle leading and the encouragement of five godly women I confronted those fears one summer.  I said “Ok God, I am ready to walk by faith and not by sight.  I am ready to follow your leading, and not be controlled by fear.”  

Time passed.  I knew our family was not yet ready for the “next big thing”.  We needed time to heal from our time with cancer.  Practically speaking, we also needed time to get neglected things done.  So we waited.  We worked, we healed, we began to live our lives back out in the world again.  And this whole time the call to have more children sat on my heart.  From time to time I would go back to God with it.

“Are you sure?  Do you really want us to do this?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense you know.  We are way past diapers and naps now, our lives will drastically change if we do this.  Our house is kind of small, and we don’t really have much money right now.  Are you certain you want us to have more?  We are getting kind of ‘old’.  Do you remember the horrible postpartum depression I battled?  Do you want us to adopt instead?  You have instructed us to take care of the orphans… are you sure that’s not what you want us to do?”  In my heart I was thinking that this idea was completely crazy and I could produce a very long list of reasons why.  But His patient answers were always the same.  “Yes, I want you to welcome life. No, I do not want you to adopt right now, I want you to welcome life through your own womb.  I know all.  Yes, child, I do want this.  Follow me.”  He was always so sure, so steady, so firm in his answers. 

God calls us not to walk in fear, but to walk by faith.  And so we did.  It took a few months, but soon enough, I was pregnant.  Praise the Lord!  We were excited, and I was still fearful.  But we were going to have another baby…

Ruby’s Story

Ruby lived only a few weeks in my womb.  We lost her before she was even big enough to see.  We were so excited and had told everyone about her, only to have to turn around a week later and tell everyone that she had left us, including our children.  Our eldest was heartbroken.  She loves babies and has wanted more in our family for so long.  The timing of her loss made things more painful for me.  You see, we lost her on election night.  As I woke up the next morning feeling devastated and broken at our loss, the news media touted the great strides and wins for the “women’s vote” and “women’s rights”.  I was sickened.  I could taste the bile in my mouth.  What they meant was the legal right for women to kill their babies in this country.  It was salt in my open wounds. 

My husband was working out of town when it happened.  I felt like my emotions were trapped within me.  I thought maybe when he got home they would come out.  But it was a “birthday weekend” for our eldest daughter.  Before he arrived, his mother and aunt did.  And those emotions were just trapped inside of me.  I tried to put on a face, to hold it together and celebrate the birthday, but I knew I was doing a very poor job.  Inside I was crumbling.  I needed release and I couldn’t find it.  Sunday morning I went to church, alone.  Everyone else stayed behind to see Grammy and Aunt off.  That was fine with me, as an introvert by nature I knew I had a better chance of release if I was alone.  And I knew that the moment I opened my mouth to praise God, I would crumble.  And crumble I did before Him.  In the safety of His hands I let out my pain.

The emotions were intense and confusing, often conflicting.  One day I would feel like it wasn’t that big of a deal, after all, how could I feel so much for someone who didn’t even look like a person?  And the next day I would be brought to my knees, heart breaking and weeping for my baby who died.  I sometimes had feelings of sadness and guilt that I had either thrown my baby in the trash, or flushed her down the toilet without even knowing, without even looking upon her!  But then I would think in some relief that it would probably be worse if I had seen her.  I was shocked and heartbroken by the physical violence of miscarriage, even one so early.  It was a time full of conflicting thoughts and emotions.  It was a time of many questions.  Questions like “Was she really a person?  Did she have a soul?  How should I feel?  Is it really this big of a deal?  Should I just move on and try for another?  Why does this have to happen?”  It saddened me to think of how many children have been lost, how many people are missing from families.  I walked around being envious and sometimes angry of people who were pregnant or had babies.  Happy announcements brought me to tears and anger.  I didn’t like many of the thoughts and feelings I had.  An early miscarriage like that is very confusing and difficult to negotiate emotionally.  

 After a few months I was ready to try again… we were blessed right away with another pregnancy.

Malachi’s Story 

Malachi, snuggled in my womb the day before his birth.

I was nearly 12 weeks, nearly out of the first trimester, the moment when we would finally share why no one had seen much of me for two months.  Our eldest daughter had been telling everyone I was sick and I was assuming they must all think I was dying by now.  I felt a bit like I was dying, so horribly weak and tired, sick.  Yuck.  What did I do this winter?  I spent most of it in bed.  I have never done pregnancy well, and it seems that it gets harder on me each time. 

We didn’t tell right away this time.  I couldn’t handle excitement from others when in my heart I initially felt fear, not joy.  Over the weeks I became more comfortable and began to feel some excitement, some hope.  We slowly leaked the news out to a few people.  I was so sick that we needed some people to be in prayer and to help us a bit.  Then around 9 weeks I started to spot… since I had so quickly lost Ruby I assumed that was what was happening again.  It wasn’t, not exactly.  My midwife sent me to get an ultrasound to hopefully provide us some answers.  It did.  I went in expecting to see a baby with no heartbeat.  Instead we saw a beautiful tiny person with a perfect heartbeat.  Later my midwife called to tell me that I had a sub chorionic hematoma.  It was really tiny, and she was surprised that it had caused any bleeding at all.  I was to take it easy, relax, and wait for it to heal.  No crazy activity or exercise for me.  But, it was not something to “worry” about.  The ultrasound dated my pregnancy several days “later” than I had.  It wasn’t enough to cause any concern.  However, I started a pattern of the bleeding stopping, and then starting again a day or two later heavier… this kept going for over two weeks.  Multiple times I thought it was the end, but then it was ok.  I felt like I was going crazy.  My bleeding never quite crossed the threshold of needing to check it out again, so we just waited.  Plenty of women have bleeding in their healthy pregnancies I was reassured by everyone.  

On a Monday evening, we got together with good friends who have walked through dark valley's with us before.  Before we left they all laid their hands on me and prayed.  They prayed for baby, for me, and most of all for peace.  There had been so much worry, such a roller coaster.  More than anything I really did need peace.

Two days later my bleeding got heavier again.  We went in for another ultrasound.  Again, I went in expecting the worst, and we saw a beautiful little baby kicking his legs and waving at us, heart beating strong.  The hematoma had been healing and had shrunk.  Yet my bleeding had continued to get worse.  I had also noticed that about a week and a half before my symptoms had eased up and I was able to function more.  It was a little early for that, but I didn’t dwell on it.  After all, everyone kept telling me to just relax.  Baby was past 8 weeks with a strong heart beat; the chances of anything bad happening were very small.  I was trying not to see every little thing as a sign.  But something was wrong.  When my midwife called me that evening after getting the ultrasound results, she said that everything looked good.  But then she said “They changed your due date again.  Baby measured 9 weeks, 6 days.”  My heart pounded.  I was 11 weeks and 3 days.  She was in her car, going between two birthing mothers, and without all the paperwork in front of her hadn’t realized the discrepancy.  It was too much.  Part of me knew something was very wrong.  I had tried to deny it, but I knew.  I had to choose… I could let go of my worry and hold on to God’s peace, or I could hold on to my fear.  I chose peace, and when I did God graciously poured it out upon me.  Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen.  And I knew, I have learned by experience, that no matter what, I will be ok because God’s got me.  Should my heart break, He will put it back together again.  I prayed that if this must end, that it would end soon, that He would end this agony of waiting, that the timing would spare the hearts of our girls. 

The next morning I woke with light bleeding, the usual.  Around late morning I started to cramp a bit, again, usual.  Every time I bled it would irritate my uterus and I would begin some light cramping.  However, this time, it only got worse.  Around 2pm it was so bad I could hardly sit still.  By 4pm I couldn’t.  Part of me knew and was at peace with what was happening.  But the other part of me doubted because I had already been wrong so many times before.  Around 6pm I called my midwife and told her what was happening.  She asked if I was bleeding heavily and I told her that no, I was only very lightly spotting.  She was stumped.  She told me that I should go to the hospital.  That I had been under too much stress already and I shouldn’t also have to suffer through this much pain.  After I got off the phone with her I realized that I was moving like a woman in labor.  We called a friend over to stay with the girls and went to the hospital.  In the waiting room the pain intensified to the point that I had tears in my eyes.  I would have cried if I had the energy, but everything was focused on getting through the pain.  It was unbearable.  My poor husband was looking at me with an utterly helpless and miserable look on his face.  He could do nothing to help.  Just when I thought I could not stand it another moment longer, I felt a pop, and the pain subsided just a bit.  I asked Josh if he knew where the bathroom was.  He located it and when I stood to follow him, a huge gush of fluid poured out of me.  I waddled through the waiting room of curious onlookers to the bathroom where I birthed our perfect, tiny baby Malachi, born still at nearly 12 weeks.  He was perfect.  So tiny he would fit into the palm of your hand, so fragile, but perfectly formed.  I was relieved to know that he was not in that body in that bathroom of the emergency room.  He was not present in that moment of anguish and suffering.  He had gone home to Jesus.  

The pain was gone immediately.  The nurses were very kind and caring.  They took the baby and the tissue I had passed to the doctor.  It was complete.  They let me go home with no further intervention.  This past week has been a bit surreal.  We never told our girls about this baby.  After the deep disappointment of Ruby, we didn’t want to get their hopes up.  We had planned to tell them as an Easter surprise.  But God spared them that pain.  They do not know.  Someday we will tell them, but not yet. 

God’s Story

God has been weaving the same theme through our lives and the lives of our children over the past five years… life is precious.  Every single one has meaning and purpose.  Every single one is important.  Every single one is a person created by Him.  Seeing Malachi healed many of the open wounds and mysteries left from Ruby.  She was a person.  She is with God.  We grieve them both. 

In a twist that is one of the mysterious paradoxes of life, the same day we lost Malachi, Ellie cleared her two year post-treatment check up.  This is “graduation day”.  This is her life back.  This is a day we dreamed of.  And yet… as we celebrate the gift of having her here with us, we lose another. 

There are many things I don’t know.  But I know this, God is worthy of our trust and praise.  He has created each one of us with purpose, including the babies who only live on this earth inside our wombs.  They are his people, created for His purposes.  They matter.  Life matters.  I do not regret following where God has lead, even as my heart breaks.  Each one of us is here by his grace.  There is nothing more important than walking with Him, wherever He leads.  He knows all, I know but a little.  I will continue to hold His hand and follow Him wherever He leads, through the light and the dark.   

And so, I do not know what comes next.  My body and heart need time to heal.  Today I need to find a pair of pants that will fit and I’m hoping so very much that they don’t have to be maternity pants.  There is much pain in living inside an inflated body with an empty womb.  It will take time to get back to normal both physically and emotionally.  It is time to step back out into life, but I couldn’t do so without acknowledging what has happened, acknowledging the personhood and lives of our lost babies.  I don’t want to forget that they existed.  They were people, God’s people.  They are our children.  They deserve to be recognized and mourned.  We love them and will never forget them.  

Ruby and Malachi, we love you so much and can’t wait to hold you in our arms one day.