I’m not entirely sure how to start this story, as none of it has gone in any way as I’d expected, certainly not as I’d envisioned. Even seeing that in writing, and knowing that I’m putting it out there for everyone to see stirs up lots of feelings of guilt and even embarrassment. I guess the best place to start is the beginning, knowing that this story is going to be written much differently now, than it would have been three weeks ago.
After Ethan’s death, we knew we still wanted to grow our family. Even if he’d had been able to stay with us, we’d always secretly hoped, though perhaps not realistically, that perhaps we could have 4 or 5 children. The truth is, and I can only speak for myself when I say all of this, that Ethan left a gaping hole in my momma heart. From the moment he passed, I was aching for a baby to hold, smell, snuggle, kiss, and care for. Grief is a strange thing. I never wanted to replace Ethan, and I never will, but I also know, and have known since we learned of his diagnosis, that our journey in growing our family wasn’t over.
Knowing that I had more love to give, we asked at my postpartum appointment when we could reasonably start trying again, for another baby. My midwife advised us that waiting 6 months would be best, both physically and emotionally. I think there was a part of my subconscious that “needed” another baby to help me heal, though I would never have admitted that to anyone except maybe John. Barb likely knew this and advised us to wait to allow ourselves time to truly grieve the loss of our precious son, so that we didn’t sweep our grief under the rug and never truly deal with it.
I spent those months “dealing”. Longing for a baby, yes, but also grieving. Life did move on. My heart began its path towards healing but will forever have an empty space, left by Ethan’s passing. That piece of my heart will be in heaven until the day the good Lord calls me Home. In my mind, I knew I was healthy, in a good place spiritually, mentally, and physically; I had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be able to conceive quickly and without issue.
Well, as seems to be the trend in our lives these past few years… God had other plans. Someday I will learn the truth in the verse from Isaiah, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Month after month we were constantly learning that perhaps our plan was not God’s plan. Test, procedures, the works. Nothing could answer why we weren’t getting pregnant. Initially I was completely defeated and heartbroken. As the months passed and we crept closer towards a year, the pain became less intense and the reality of our situation began to sink in. Perhaps our family goals were not what God had in store for us. But through prayer, I didn’t believe that God had completely shut the door.
After 13 unsuccessful months, we finally met with a fertility specialist. We had exhausted all options that my OB/GYN felt comfortable with so decided to take the next step. We discussed with him that, because we’ve had three children already, we didn’t want to go down the IVF path. While we understand, and are incredibly sensitive to the need/desire for some families to make that choice, we had prayerfully determined that if we couldn’t get pregnant without it, then God’s answer was, “Be satisfied with the blessings you’ve already been given”.
We went through the typical routine of your basic test and interventions that first month, waiting to see what happened and what our next steps may be.
Here is where the story takes a turn that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
At the end of July, we took a trip with John’s family to Sunset Beach. Full disclosure, I’d been dreading the trip for months. This would be my first time back to Sunset since that earth-shattering week, just over two years ago. There are some places you just never want to return to… that was one of mine. The drive down was painful, the closer we got, the tighter the knot in my throat became. Each landmark that we passed indicated just how close we were getting. As we drove over the bridge, I could make out the end of the island, specifically setting eyes on the house we stayed at those few days surrounding my dad’s passing. The tears came, as I knew they would. And I let them, because it just hurt so dang bad. So many memories came flooding back. But I knew I needed to regain my composure and not lay my burden on the family we were looking so forward to spending the week with.
I know… this story is progressing painfully slow. But it’s really for me, not for you, that I’m taking the time to detail every little thing. I want to be able to look back on this someday, as I have been able to do with what I’ve already written, and find encouragement in God’s faithfulness.
That evening, after going on a supply run to Food Lion, I decided to indulge in one of my favorite adult beverages. It’s a rare occurrence for me, so it’s worth mentioning. 🙂 I knew I wasn’t supposed to take a pregnancy test yet, as I never test positive early, and I had promised myself I’d wait until three days later to avoid any more unnecessary pain or letdown. On the other hand… I needed to see that negative test before I could keep going with my drink. I know it wouldn’t have hurt anything, but if you know me, you know I’m a rule follower to the T. And one drink for me is the equivalent to maybe a few shots for the average person. 🙂
I peed, I dipped, I set the test down to wait. I’d even chosen the cheapie test. Why waste an expensive test on something I was 100% sure would be negative? While I washed my hands I casually glanced over to see what was happening and had to do a double take. I quickly dried my hands and moved closer to the test to make sure my vision wasn’t playing tricks on me. There it was… plain as day. Two very distinct lines. Clearly indicated that, after all this time, I was pregnant.
The next few minutes were a blur; a bit of a whirlwind. I remember trying so hard, for about 1.5 seconds, to calm down, take a deep breath, and try to think of a cute way to tell John. Don’t kid yourself, the first few months we tried, I’d had it all mapped out in my mind, the perfect way to surprise him. With time, though, the element of surprise waned… the need for a cute and creative way to tell him we were having a baby had dissipated. Now, it was all a matter of how quickly I could get to him. I raced downstairs where he was grilling on our 3 cubic inch charcoal grill (insert eye roll here- slight exaggeration, but it was seriously small). I asked him to come upstairs with me and, the precious, accommodating husband that he is, he immediately followed me. As much as I tried to pace myself and not look like a rat in a race, it was difficult.
We walked into the bathroom and I held up the tiny strip in front of him. In that moment I realized this was not quite as climactic for him, as he probably didn’t know what any of it meant. It wasn’t one of those tests that had a key written on it… “One line means not pregnant, two lines means pregnant”. So I wasn’t surprised at the skeptical look on his face, or by the question that followed, “What does that mean?”
“It means I’m pregnant! We’re going to have a baby,” I squeaked with a silly Cheshire cat grin on my face.
The next few hours were emotional for us both. Excitement, fear, anxiety, guilt, and grief. It’s odd, I know, to see those feelings all wrapped up in what is “supposed” to be such a happy time. And there’s no real easy way to explain any of it. After loss, everything is different. Nothing feels the way you expect it to. Happiness is relative. Pain is relative. Grief is a constant companion, even in celebration.
In those moments, my soul was reminded of the gift that this was for me, in particular. On what was, perhaps, one of the most difficult days I’d had in some time, God gifted me with something precious. He was making something beautiful out of something painful. He took a trip that was proving to be a week-long emotional battle and turning it into one of the most celebrated times I’ve had in years. Though it was still emotional, and I missed my dad, I was able to spend the rest of my week in peace, rather than in spiritual and emotional turmoil. It truly was a gift.
Writing about that piece was easier. What is coming next is harder. Everything is OK. Spoiler alert, I’m still pregnant (Praise God!). But our road has been bumpy.
Because I was in with a specialist, the OB appointments tend to be earlier and more frequent than with standard providers. At just prior to 7 weeks, I went to my first ultrasound appointment. I was by myself, as John was busy with work and, quite frankly, a little clueless with things this early on. It was at this appointment that things went in a direction I almost anticipated, but not fully. There were TWO babies! We were having TWINS!
I was beside myself with excitement. God had blessed us so abundantly more than I could have ever hoped for. After Ethan passed, and I began thinking of having another baby, I’d shared with John that I couldn’t imagine us only having one more. It would make me feel like we WERE simply trying to replace the one we lost with another. I knew we needed to have two more, to make my heart rest easier and to make our family feel complete. Like I said, when we were first married we’d imagined having 5 kids (yes, that was before we’d had even one and realized what it takes to be a parent). This was God’s answer to completing our family in a way I’d never expected, and I was ELATED!
After sharing the news with my sister, and then my mom (because I simply couldn’t contain myself), I drove to John’s work to surprise him in person. As expected, and as I still was myself, he was in shock. But we were so SO excited. To recap my doctor’s appointment, Baby A measured at 7 weeks 1 day and had a beautiful heart rate of 157 beats per minute. Baby B, while measuring slightly smaller, at 6 weeks 5 days, had a heart rate of 138 beats per minute. Seeing both babies and their strong hearts gave the doctor and me both hope. He said at this point, given that info, we had about an 85% chance of both babies surviving. I left the office feeling good about our “odds”.
The more I thought about it, the more my mommy heart began to worry. Baby B measure several days smaller… but that’s normal with twins, right? Its heart rate was so much slower, but heart rates vary SO much in babies, so that was normal too. Right? But I was still uneasy about it, and quite honestly, scared to death. I was scared of what it would take to be a mom of twins. Scared of a pregnancy with twins. Scared of the idea of a c-section. Scared of not being able to nurse them both. Scared of how I was going to do it all. But what scared me most was the thought of losing one of those babies. It was a fear far greater than any other I could conjure up. And it gnawed at me, nagging at me constantly. But it couldn’t drive away my excitement. I continued to reassure myself that God wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t show me two babies, two heartbeats, only to take one away. We’d been through too much and He just wouldn’t. I won’t lie… the day before our 9 week appointment, I wrote a blog post. Everything that I was going to say when we “announced” our pregnancy. And it was so upbeat, and happy. I was so optimistic, even talking to John about how we were going to have to get two of EVERYTHING! Cribs, swings, bouncy seats, car seats, a bigger car. All of it! And I couldn’t wait!
The next day was my birthday. I set up the appointment that day so we could surprise the kids at dinner with the news that they were getting TWO babies instead of one. It was going to be PERFECT! We went into the appointment and our doctor started the exam. My heart sank fairly quickly, as the image flicked over Baby A and then Baby B. He immediately said something to the effect of, “This one looks good, but I need to get a better look at the other one.” He repeated that several times until his measurements of Baby A were complete, measuring what I thought to be a very high heart rate of 191. Moving on to Baby B, we all knew that something wasn’t right. It was, even to the naked eye, much smaller than Baby A. When he zoomed in, it was clear that there was no heart activity, and the doctor confirmed as much.
My world stopped for a minute, tilted a little bit, and then the tears came. I sobbed, trying so hard to remain calm so that he could finish his exam. My baby, whose heart I saw beating not even two weeks ago, had died. Its heart had stopped beating and it had stopped growing at approximately 7 ½ weeks, a week and a half prior to this appointment. I was angry. So so angry. How could this possibly be God’s plan for our lives? How could He give us such gifts only to pull the rug out from under us… again?! What kind of God does this? I remember telling my friend April that sometimes I feel like a pawn in a game. No control, just floating along at someone else’s command and whim. Yes… looking back I feel so guilty for these thoughts. But they’re real. And what good am I doing anyone if I’m not honest? I felt so lost. Confused. Completely heartbroken. Worst. Birthday. Ever.
I think it’s important that I add something here. I understand that this is common. It’s termed “vanishing twin syndrome” and I know it happens a lot. Often times, people don’t even know there are two babies to begin with. So please, PLEASE don’t try to reassure me by reminding me of this. I know. I also know that miscarriages in general are common- far more so than vanishing twins. But the fact of the matter is, it still hurts. Like gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, earth shaking hurt. I saw my baby’s heart beating on that screen, plain as day. And then it was gone. Still. Frozen in time. So common or not, that doesn’t change anything.
And what’s worse… I still have one baby, living and growing, its heart still beating inside of me. The guilt I feel for not being so thrilled about this is difficult to wrap my mind around. Intermingling these feelings of excitement and joy with loss… it’s messy business. I still haven’t figured it out. We went for our last appointment with the fertility specialist about a week and a half later, more for peace of mind and consolation than any real necessity. I can’t tell you how many prayers I prayed asking God for a miracle. How many times I was literally on my knees, in complete submission, begging God to save our baby… I lost count. I had my family and friends praying for the same. That God would breathe Life back into our little Baby B. That He would do what only He could; move these mountains we were in the midst of. At my appointment, it was confirmed again that Baby B still hadn’t grown and wasn’t showing any signs of life. Baby A was measuring right on track at 10 weeks and 2 days with a heart rate of 180, much better than the week prior.
The road has been bumpy. If you’ve seen me out in public in the last 6 weeks, please know… I haven’t been myself. Obviously. Morning sickness is no joke. But combine that with all the other factors and it’s a recipe for an interesting looking momma. J We aren’t out of the woods yet. There are still some risk factors. We visited with a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist this week and the baby that we have, thus far, been blessed to keep, looks perfectly healthy. It has a beautiful round little head, a wonderful beating heart, two arms, and two legs. And because my instinct is telling me it’s a boy… it’s probably a girl. But that’s still a few weeks down the road and for another blog post entirely. I have ANOTHER hematoma. As I did with Ethan (and Miller for that matter). It’s caused some issues and some scares, and we aren’t out of the woods yet. I’ll be honest… there is a small part of me that is scared to put my entire faith and trust in God, after everything we’ve been through. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy, and that I wasn’t scared for the life of this sweet babe. But I read something on Facebook recently that was so profound. And every time I start to second guess Him, or question His faithfulness (I know… it sounds horrible)… I remind myself of this. “The devil wouldn’t be attacking you so hard if there wasn’t something valuable inside of you. Thieves don’t break into empty houses.”
THIEVES DON’T BREAK INTO EMPTY HOUSES!
I refuse to be an empty house. I will be a house so full of trust and hope and faith and JESUS. The devil can try his best. He can give me his very best shot. But I. Will. Not. Fail. Because if my God is for me, who could be against me? I won’t let the devil sneak his way into my thoughts and divide me from my God. Life is not easy. Life is not perfect. But I am exactly who God made me to be; the lives that John and I have been blessed with are exactly who God made them to be. And we will use every piece of our story and our lives to GLORIFY that God. Because He is good. And He carries us through. Despite our anger, our hurt, and our questioning of His ways (as I have spent much of the last few weeks doing), He has not once turned His back on me. And I know He never will.
I miss our little boy with every piece of me. I still grieve and mourn for him. Nothing will ever change or stop that, not even a new baby. And I’m thankful for that. It keeps him real, present, and always in our hearts. But now he has a playmate up in heaven, and my daddy has another grandbaby to take care of while we’re gone. But someday we will all be reunited. And until that day… I will tighten up my bootstraps, and move out.
1 Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”