I don’t know where to start, or how to begin. I’ve contemplated how this was going to go since my last post, wondering how difficult it was going to be to write about. We’re about to find out… I should warn you though, this will be long. I’m fitting quite a bit into this one entry, more for selfish reasons. This is a part of the story I don’t want to drag out… I live it every day.
20 June 2017
The original plan for my doctor’s appointment, the day following my dad’s funeral, was for my sister to come watch the kids while John and I went together. Go figure, Miller had woken up sick to his stomach in the middle of the night. So as not to risk exposing my sister if he did, in fact, have a little bug, we decided that John would stay home with the kids and she would take me. In all honesty, I wasn’t concerned… I was so sure that after all I’d gone through the past two weeks God wasn’t going to throw anything else my way. I was confident that all would be well with our baby. Nevertheless, my mom suggested that my sister come pick me up and take me, so I didn’t have to drive alone. It’s kind of incredible how He can show up in the smallest, most unexpected things. We went in for the ultrasound, saw the baby and a beautiful, although still fast, heartbeat (190 bpm). Miranda, the most precious ultrasound tech in the world, was SO gracious to us throughout the entire procedure. We asked about the heartbeat and she ever so gently said that it was higher than she’d ever seen but didn’t sound discouraging. I appreciate her care in keeping my emotions stable until we met with my nurse practitioner. Although the heart rate did concern me, I wasn’t defeated. Babies have heart issues all of the time, I prayed that it would either resolve itself or it would be something the doctor’s could fix during my pregnancy or after our baby was born.
Oh how naïve I feel now, looking back. Kristie came in with her precious never ending smile, but I could see that it wasn’t her normal “we’re having a healthy baby” smile. Y’all let me tell you, I don’t envy these doctor’s jobs. As wonderful as it must be most of the time, to welcome new lives into the world, they also have to be the bearers of really awful news so much of the time. She proceeded to tell my sister and me they were fairly certain not only that there might be a heart issue, but likely a chromosomal brain abnormality as well (possibly hydrocephaly or acrania). I fell to pieces. Literally, I remember feeling like my soul was crumbling, the weight and heaviness of the past two weeks came crashing down. I remembered being racked with grief and just saying, over and over, “I wish John were here. I wish John were here.” As quickly as I could I tried to gain my composure so that I could ask the necessary questions and be as present in the moment as I could. Through racing thoughts, I asked if she could please show me a picture of my baby and the areas of concern. She was kind enough to walk me through the pictures and viewpoints. In the picture below, you can see our precious little one. I drew a red line indicating what most normal ultrasounds would see for a skull, which is what Kristie indicated was not present with our baby. All normally developed fetuses would have a more pronounced forehead (even more so than my poor red-lining) and a fully present skull.
We discussed my needing to visit Maternal Fetal Medicine in Charlotte to confirm a diagnosis. If I could only give you a glimpse into how my mind reeled in that moment… the presiding thoughts being, “How can this be happening to me?” but at the same time thinking, “Why not? Why should it not happen to me? NO ONE deserves this, not me, not my friend, not my neighbor, not a complete stranger. So why not me?” And here is where I come back to the little things that God puts in place, like being driven to my doctor’s appointment. How divine was it that He whispered to my momma’s heart for Jennifer to take me to my appointment? Can you imagine me on the road after being hit with such a load? I was so numb I don’t even remember crying. She continued to encourage me that this didn’t have to be all bad. If we received a diagnosis of hydrocephaly, we could live with that! It wasn’t fatal and could be treated, to an extent. Deep down, I think we both recognized the true issue, but neither of us wanted to accept it yet.
The rest of the day was… a mix, between a blur and the slowest day of my life. If I remember correctly, I couldn’t even tell John when we got home. Can you imagine being the one to have to break such devastating news to your husband? I certainly couldn’t, and still can’t. My sweet sister was kind enough to take on the responsibility of informing my immediate family and closest friend. I needed to listen to her describe it but couldn’t say the words myself. I was in a constant daze. When I wasn’t asleep, I just sat… and stared… and sat. I was so confused. And even still, trying to put this all down into words, it’s incredibly difficult. It’s not eloquent, or well-spoken, because I don’t feel like there was anything graceful about this time. It was overwhelming and mind-boggling.
The night before our appointment was the first time I allowed myself to pray for a miracle. I believed that if I allowed myself to believe it was possible, and then didn’t receive one, that my anger would only grow. I already felt betrayed enough, I didn’t want to risk worsening my feelings toward God.
On June 26th, my brother, sister, John, and I made our way to the specialist in Charlotte. It was within seconds of seeing the baby on the ultrasound that I knew my prayer had not been answered, it actually appeared worse than I remembered. The technician asked me if my doctors had given me any information about what I was there for. Through my tears, I repeated to her, almost word for word, what Kristie said to me a week prior. She said that there did appear to be an issue and that she would step out to get the doctor. I held the hands of the team that had come to support me, the ones that I knew would get me through the next few minutes, the coming weeks, months, and years… and I wept. We all knew what was coming, as we braced ourselves for the words. And they came. The doctor came in moments later, repeated the abdominal ultrasound, froze a screenshot of our baby, and proceeded to tell us that she was so very sorry but our baby did suffer from anencephaly and was “incompatible with life”. She continued by informing us that they would advise termination of the pregnancy, especially since I was at such an early stage. Due to the increased size of my hematoma, there was a certain risk with continuing the pregnancy. She was very kind, but brief and direct- as I imagine is a requirement in their line of work.
Turmoil was filling every space of my life, I couldn’t tell up from down. I remember describing it to a few as being blind folded and spun around, and around, and around, then being left to find direction on my own. This feeling didn’t go away for some time, many weeks if I’m being honest. That’s not to say that I felt physically alone, because I have had SO much support from my family and friends, but spiritually… I felt completely abandoned. I was hurt, angry, I didn’t have it in me to speak words to my God. How could I allow myself to lean on The One who “did this” to me? He took my father, and now He wanted to take my baby?! What had I done to deserve this? I still don’t have the answers… but I know now that if I don’t lean on Him, I won’t get through this. I know that I didn’t do anything to deserve it. But there is still a great deal I don’t understand about what and why this is happening. I’ve come to the realization, though, that many things are not meant to be understood. If we knew all, what need would we have for God?
There were still a few more pieces to our initial puzzle. One being our follow up appointment with Kristie, just after our specialist visit. It was here that John and I made the decision to go ahead with a D&C which would terminate the pregnancy. Because I was so overwhelmed with information that day, as we all were, neither of us were thinking straight enough to ask the pertinent, necessary questions. Even Kristie didn’t advise us one way or the other. She was so honest and real with us and said that she didn’t know what she would choose if she were in the same position. We waited for a day and a half for a scheduler to call and set up our procedure date. I felt an urgency to the situation because I was so afraid of the unknown, and I wanted it to be over, done, part of the past. But on the inside, I was tormented with guilt. Who am I to choose when our baby dies? Isn’t that God’s job? It was not our place to make this decision. Even then, when I could feel Satan fighting a hard battle for my heart, I knew that God had given us this baby for a reason. I was its mother, John was its father… we couldn’t discount the fact that we had created a life together.
As I laid in bed one night, battles raging in my mind, I got a text message from my best friend April asking if I’d be willing to go with her to the pregnancy crisis center and get a second opinion. That hit me right in the gut, if I’m perfectly honest. I remembered being in a similar position months prior, aching as a friend made a decision that I feared would haunt her for the rest of her life. This put the whole decision that we’d made into a different perspective for me. I immediately sent a text to my pastor’s wife asking if we could sit and talk with her and Mike the following day. I credit April, and her beautiful relationship with our Savior, as being a huge reason that our baby’s heart still beats inside me today.
The surgery scheduler called the next day and told me we had to set up a medical counseling appointment with the provider that would be performing the procedure and that we would need to sign a consent form. The surgery could not be scheduled, then, until 72 hours after the consent form had been signed. I tell you what, praise God for these laws! Dr. Adams met with us that afternoon and I was armed with a laundry list of questions. I knew, by then, we didn’t have enough information going in to this procedure to make a decision that we would both feel complete peace about. I asked about EVERYTHING. What exactly would the procedure entail? Would we be able to see the baby? Was my life at risk if we continued the pregnancy? Were their risks to me that may not be life-threatening? Would our baby feel pain with either option?
I will share the answers, but let me warn you the first two are hard to read, they were even more difficult to hear explained to us. I recognize that these things are intimate and personal, but I’m trying to be as transparent in this process as possible. I think it’s important to know the real struggle that some people have. The procedure would essentially act as a vacuum. We would not see our baby because there would be nothing left to see. That alone made me quite sure that I knew what my decision would be. I could not allow our baby to be vacuumed out of existence like it never mattered, never existed, never lived- not if I had a choice. My life was NOT at risk if we continued the pregnancy. And there weren’t any major risks other than a high likelihood for miscarriage which could be a scary process, especially the further along I was in my pregnancy. Both options were believed to be painless to our baby. As far as carrying to term, in order to feel pain, you must have a functioning brain. We didn’t want to think I would deliver our baby and it would experience any pain before it passed. We couldn’t live with that.
After thanking the doctor and telling her we would think about our decision and let her know soon, we left the office. We did sign the consent form, in the off-chance we still thought that was the best path. When we got in the car, I asked John how he felt and what his thoughts were. I told him that I knew, with certainty, what I wanted to do, but wanted to hear his thoughts first. He said that since my health was not at stake, he would support whatever I believed to be best. I told him that to me, for the first time in a long time, God finally showed up. I felt Him in that room, in our conversation, guiding our words and our thoughts. After sharing the rest of my feelings with him about the visit, the procedure, and my decision, we agreed that we would keep the baby. To say I wouldn’t be able to live with any other choice I think is an exaggeration. Of course I would live, but I wouldn’t ever have forgiven myself. I would have lived with immeasurable guilt for the rest of my life, and he knew that as well as I did.
So it was settled… and the rest… it’s a journey. For a day or two following our decision, John and I both felt such peace and relief. It took a few days for the reality of the situation to begin to sink in. We are going to lose a child. It is inevitable. We can pray for a miracle, but I won’t get my hopes up for one, as I think there is a lesson and reason in all of this much larger than we can imagine. It is an ongoing struggle, and the reality of that as well weighs heavily on me. This, along with my father’s death, will be with us forever. My brother shared something with me last night that someone had recently shared with him. There are two types of pain, one is temporary, the other is long term. The temporary phase is when you mourn, and we have mourned our dad. The long-term phase is when you miss. We now miss our dad, more than we can express. As for John and me, and our precious baby, our temporary phase will last longer than most. We will mourn our baby until it is born, and then for some time beyond that. Then the missing will begin. I continue to trust in our Lord and Savior, and the plan He has for our family. I don’t believe that He won’t give us more than we can handle. I believe wholeheartedly that this is more than we can handle. But it’s not more than we can handle with HIM! He will see us through… every moment, every day.
I want to make sure I THANK YOU for allowing me to so openly share all of this with you, and for your support and encouragement along the way. Just these past few posts have done so much for me, allowing me to not only get my feelings out on to something concrete, but to know that they could be impacting someone else’s life in a positive way. The words of encouragement that you all offer are priceless and I’m so grateful!