Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Last year...

The great journey towards freedom in our mindset towards having children has brought me to a place of quiet acceptance, but it is still continuing. Before the end of my pregnancy with our fourth child in five years, I knew I had to be done, there was absolutely nothing left to give in any way- physically, emotionally, mentally. The sleepless years, the continual physical drain of being pregnant, or nursing, or both, for about 7 years had depleted beyond measure all of my resources. In fact, it had gone beyond that. It had not only deprived me of having anything further to give, but I had let it reduce what should have been precious times with young children, to a daily struggle for survival, getting to the next nursing, the next nap, hoping for a few hours of sleep before someone woke up to nurse, or need a diaper change, or had a nightmare, or needed their sheets changed, and then do it all over again the next day.The time was a gift from God, as the four precious children were, and yet, at the time, I barely had the strength to recognize the time as precious, and to remember how great a gift it all was.

Not that there weren’t happy times, there were. I have hundreds of pictures of cooing babies, smiling infants, laughing toddlers. Little blue eyed gap-toothed grins that I reveled in, that I treasured. George’s shy, precocious twinkle, stacking blocks 20 high, speaking in full sentences when he was 1, wondering if his shoes would need a snack soon; Ian’s luminous smile that lit up his whole face, alternating with a fiercely serious concentration and curling tongue while he did puzzles one after another; Grace’s galloping crawl, scaling every obstacle to get into the sink and play in the water; Claire’s complacent, slow, satisfied smile, taking in all the adoration, all the attention of three others who shared her smiles and thought her, most of the time, a wonderful toy to watch.  I can look back at pictures and remember the sweet times, the joy, appreciate the time as precious. There were a thousand blessings a day, shining up at me in my children’s eyes.

But while I was in it, the overarching feeling was exhaustion, trying to get it all done; shopping with a baby seat in the back of the cart, piled high with groceries, a toddler in the front, constantly struggling, Houdini-like, out of any restraining contrivance, and wiggly boys on each side. It was aching to sleep yet knowing I would never get more than a few broken hours at a time. It was tearfully watching the spring time come, knowing I would be doing it all alone for the long hot months that stretched before me. It was battling, meal after meal, to get children to eat; to get beyond their survival and try to instill character; it was every Sunday morning, struggling to get everyone dressed and ready, struggling to find something I fit into, and then never making it through a church service remembering one thing the Pastor said. It was years of working with a child who didn’t like to be touched, whose senses screamed at him from being overstimulated; with a child who was almost  2 years behind developmentally and had no short term memory; with a strong willed child who would fight and fight and fight, slapping parents in the face, screaming that she WAS in charge; it was the guilt over dealing with it all and trying to pay enough attention to a baby who was constantly getting short shrift.

And unfortunately, I let all these things overwhelm me. I was lost in the battle for my own endurance, and much too infrequently remembered to do anything to take care of the one who had to take care of all of them, or to ask help from the One source of strength that could help me. It was days of drudgery, blessed with moments of sweetness that I failed to savor fully, or to remember when the moment was gone. And somewhere along the line, I equated the exhaustion, the fight to do it all, (knowing even at the height of my strength, it wasn’t enough), with having another child. I knew in my core that it would mean more shameful neglect of the children I had already been blessed with. 

And so, we were done, and I felt this was from the Lord. Despite my weakness being the basis for the decision, I felt an overwhelming peace that our family was complete, that I was not to be pregnant again, that I could concentrate fully on doing what the Lord had already given me to do- be a mother to my four young children. (It never occurred to me that this completeness might be temporary) And if I could have stayed in this place of rest and peace, of leaning on the Lord instead of my own understanding, then I think this journey wouldn’t have become the tortuous tangle it has been. But, you see, I couldn’t leave it at that. I couldn’t just trust that the Lord would bring about His perfect will, I had to jump in with my efforts, my fears, my anxieties. If, (I wrongly reasoned), it were right for us to have only these children right now, then it would be “wrong” for me to become pregnant again. And that is what I fixated upon. It became a nagging worry, then a continual fear then an irrational anxiety. I couldn’t make love to my husband without it clouding our time together. I couldn’t bring on fast enough the onset of each period, which signaled we were “safe” for at least another month. Another month I could focus on the care, the nourishment, the character building, and the development of the children I spent every day with. For I came to see pregnancy not as a bringer of joy, but as something that would steal me away from my responsibilities, and make my daily struggle to keep my head above water a futile attempt.

Looking back upon it now, I cringe with regret, seeing how little I relied on the God who would have gladly taken my burdens, and helped me with the precious task He had set before me. I was focusing on my own strength, instead of realizing that if God decided we should have another child, He would give the resources to get done all He had called me to along the way. I was afflicted with the shortsightedness of the self-sufficient.

And the years went by. Gradually, it got easier, only two in diapers, then only one, a few less screams of sensory integration overload, a few more lessons remembered the next day, a few less battles for supremacy, and a few more moments to treasure the littlest one. The hours of sleep got longer, the days of struggle seemed shorter, and the lessons started sticking. I allowed some time to care of me, not just those around me, and I learned better to ask for help (although this is still hard for me). And as I learned to let God in a little more, I began to see more of His heart towards me, that He didn’t intend for me to do it all on my own, that He would help, that He would guide. All the lessons I had learned and lived by for so long before having children gradually started to come to the surface again. How foolish I had been, thinking God could only help in my little struggles, not the constant day-to-day ones, or the really insurmountable goals. How truly foolish. For, as the psalm says, “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God’.” And that is what I was saying on the inside when I acted as if I were the end of my resources. I would have told you, I would have thought, I would have outwardly acted as if I believed fully in a God who would really supply all your needs, but letting my fears dominate my outlook and letting my circumstances dictate my mindset was betraying what my heart really felt- that there was no God to help.

 The realization of this colossal failure of faith was a bitter pill to swallow, but the medicine was exactly what my weary soul needed. How could I have gotten better, if I didn’t realize I was ever sick? And it was a sickness, the self-sufficiency, the focusing on the exhaustion, on the fear of failure, on the hardship, instead of opening my eyes to the blessings, focusing on how miraculously the Lord was already providing for me, for all of us. It was the sickness of dread, the foolishness of fearing whatever the Lord might have for me, and the utter evil of saying that I knew better than God what that should be. And so, slowly, I began to open my heart and mind to receive whatever the Lord might want for me, instead of confining that to the narrow parameters of my own making. There was no desire for another child, but there began to grow in me an acceptance that if that were His will, that was the road I would take, and willingly.

And here is where the happy ending would fit in quite nicely. I wish I could end this with details of how we joyfully welcomed another child, that expanded all our hearts and our home with blessings unthought of. Or, that the peace I had felt from the beginning in the surety of our family being now complete had returned. But, that is not what the Lord had in mind.

My fears had subsided, I was living in faith, in acceptance of what He chose, not me, and then last spring, I got pregnant. It was a surprise, and at first, I struggled again with what my mind had been ingrained over the years to feel- fear, doubt, worry, etc. But I reaffirmed in my mind and emotions that I was never in control anyway, and that I was glad to give the reins to the One who knew the path. For seven weeks, this feeling grew within me, as the baby grew within me, and then, I started bleeding. I started to miscarry our child on a day in June that was otherwise filled with celebration over a dear friend’s wedding.

To say that I was baffled at the Lord’s plan was an understatement. It was a fiery trial testing the faith that so recently I had strongly reaffirmed. Did I really trust the Lord to give me the children He wanted us to have, to allow me to care for the ones He had already given me? There is never a reason, never a good explanation for a baby dying, no matter how small, no matter how short a time you have known them, or even only known of them. Before I carried my oldest son, I had miscarried twice. Once at 8 weeks, once at 5. And while at that time, it was the lowest depths of mourning I had experienced, it was nothing to what I felt now. Then it had been the death of a dream, the falling away of an unclear future. Now, it was the full realization of all the preciousness I had lost. Experience is a great teacher, and experiencing all the stages of pregnancy and baby love for my four children had taught my heart new boundaries of love that now reflected empty as dark glass. I knew what I had lost. I never understood the reason why then, and I understood still less now, yet I felt that previous loss to be only a pale reflection of the dark shattering of shining brightness that I had held only for a few short weeks now.

And I wasn’t the only one that felt the loss this time. Years before, Nate was even more distanced from the loss than I had been. Not only was it just the loss of an unrealized dream, but also there was no physical reminder of that loss, no pain or weakness to deal with for him. This time, he knew from experience what we had lost, and the Lord brought it into focus for him even clearer. In church on Father’s Day, about 2 weeks after I had miscarried, a man stood up in church to say how thankful he was for the gift of being able to be a father. He was surrounded by several of his seven children and recounted that there had been a time when they had had two boys and two girls, and been tempted to believe that their family was then complete. Obviously, the Lord had changed their minds and this devoted father now looked around him to his younger three children seated in church and choked up when he said “I just can’t believe what I would have missed out on, had we stopped with our first four.” He was so thankful for the other three the Lord had blessed them with. Sitting directly across the aisle from this man was Nathan, and he started sobbing when he heard this testimony. He told me later that it just made real to him the loss.

When you carry a child inside you, and nourish it with your own body, you know the tenuousness of each movement, each breath, praying for the baby’s growth and health. And with the falling away of my previous fears over pregnancy had come the full realization of all the incredible blessings of its supernatural glory. And because of that, now I felt the loss of it all more keenly. Of course, the grief soon gave way to guilt- was I being punished by God for the years of not wanting another child? Had my attitude of non-acceptance doomed my baby before he was even visible by any means? Was this just the natural consequence of not treasuring my children enough? I don’t know. But, I believe in a God of mercy, not only of judgment, and if He had been punishing me by taking this child, He did allow me a measure of grace along with the grief.

A few weeks after I miscarried, I had a dream. Now, I have always remembered my dreams starkly. In fact, I have many times only been able to distinguish a dream from a memory by careful study of the details. And now, this quirk of my consciousness was to serve as an unexpected blessing. In my dream, I was pregnant, big pregnant, sitting beside my husband on a bed (with a blue afghan on it), and I was just starting to feel the pangs of labor. It was flashes of time passing until the vividness of pushing became crystal clear. If you have ever given birth, you know there is no feeling like physically pushing a baby out into the world. I have four distinct memories of this, and now, in my dream, I had another. I remember every sensation of the sweat on my brow, my shaking arms, as I rose up to give one last push that would bring this little baby boy into the midwife’s hands. And then, there he was. Nathan laughed for joy as the baby was placed on my chest, and we smiled together at the rooting little miracle we now held. “His name is Alec.” I don’t know if I said it or if Nate did. And then he was nursing, the sweet tug of hungry innocence, and then another flash of time, and we were standing next to each other (I was wearing a dress my mother had 30 years ago) and I was holding my little urchin, marveling at the delicious sweep of blond curls atop his head. He turned and grinned at me, and I was surprised to see tiny milk teeth already. And then another flash of time, and he was standing between his father’s hands, taking his first wobbly steps. And then I awoke, and tears came to my eyes immediately as I reviewed the gift I had just been given. There was no touch of sadness, of loss, only of unexpected joy over the “memories” of my child that I never would have had otherwise.

This might fit into the happy ending category; certainly it was a moment of happiness, distilled among the sourness of the grief of the preceding time. I am so incredibly thankful for that dream that borrowed memory from another universe, from Heaven, from the gracious God who works all things for my good. But it did awaken in my soul the realization that beyond a quiet acceptance, we could gladly welcome another child. Again, there was no great desire, as I know so many women have, no yearning for an unknown baby to hold in my arms again. My arms are full with children now- I feel no lack. It was another step in the journey, though. I’ve been called to balance the thankfulness and contentment for the circumstances I am in, with openness to a future that might alter those circumstances. I think we are all called to that balance.

And then, a few short months later, I became pregnant again. This time, there was no quavering acceptance; it was an instant release to the path, to the Lord’s plan. There was a hidden joy that suffused my days as this new child grew within me. Nate couldn’t keep the grin off his face as we discussed names, as he caressed my already growing stomach. We forgot the fear, not only the long gone, irrational fear of pregnancy being a burden, but the too soon forgotten fear that pregnancy certainly does not always result in holding a living baby in your arms.

At 10 weeks, I went to the doctor. She said all looked good, my uterus was tilted back, which made it harder to feel, but that wasn’t abnormal. We scheduled an ultrasound for the following week. Nate was able to go with me to the initial appointment, but I had to go to the ultrasound alone, and all that day, I had been fighting feelings of anxiety, feeling something wasn’t quite right. I wish those had been baseless fears. Finally, my turn for the ultrasound came. I changed and got on the waiting table while a brisk technician tried in vain to get a picture from the outside. The frown never left her face as she said she was going to try an internal ultrasound. And then, I saw it, -the clear outline of a gestational sac, empty like a black hole, now devoid of any life. She said maybe I wasn’t as far along as I thought, but I knew they were empty words. The gestational sac measured just under 11 weeks, it just no longer held a baby. As she left, and I changed, drowning in the realization of my fears, I heard from the next room the only sound that would have brought any hope to my heart, had it been for me- the fuzzy galloping of a fetal heartbeat. I had never thought it to be a cruel sound before, only ever totally joyful, but right then, it was the harshest thing I had ever heard.

Following this were day after day of blood draws, testing levels, phone calls with nurses, until finally on Thanksgiving day, I started bleeding, making official what I knew already to be true, that I was never going to hold this baby either. And it surprised me that I felt even a new loss, I hadn’t even realized I was harboring any small hope still, and yet I felt it die as I sank into the interminable bleeding that was to be my reality the next few weeks. Beyond the renewed grief, which only gets sharper with repetition, not easier, the physical side of this miscarriage was worse than any I had ever dealt with before. I ended up in the ER, but thankfully, not the hospital. In some ways, the timing of the miscarriage was the worse ever, but in another sense, I know God arranged it so. We had been planning on making the announcement to the children after the ultrasound, and then sharing with all Nate’s family (who were visiting from Minnesota) on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, we quietly made his parents aware of what was happening two days after the ultrasound, and spent the next week and a half surrounded by family, trying to forget the reality and make the holiday time festive for the kids. I never would have chosen to be around anyone during this time, but it served as a blessed distraction, and a time of joy for the children, when otherwise, we would have been scrambling to find care for them.

            I don’t have a happy ending to go to from here, except to say that I believe, through absolutely no strength or effort of my own, I have learned to be content. I would never have walked this path willingly, but my faith in a God that I have seen no sense in has only been renewed. I can’t make sense of this, I can’t see a reason, I can’t begin to try to get to the other side of the reasoning God may have had in allowing these things to happen. But, I don’t have to know. I don’t have to make sense of it. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it, and it would be futile to try. I am content to let God be God, and to continue to stay open to whatever He may place before us. I am done speculating on the future, I am done bemoaning the past. All I can do is be content, whatever state I am in, and leave it to the Lord to determine the best state to put me in.

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to share this, as it is such an intensely personal experience, and I am a very private person, but I kept feeling a bent towards getting it all out. Perhaps this is only as a cathartic experience for myself, but I can’t help but feel that while the loss was deeply personal, the lives of my children, however short a time they were here on earth, are a thing to be recognized, and even to be celebrated. There will never be a marker in any graveyard as a remembrance of the short lives of my babies. I can never put flowers under a tiny likeness of an angel, or go to a physical place to remember their lives. They exist only in my memory, and now only in the arms of Jesus. So, I feel it only right to commemorate their existence, in the only way that I can, by telling the story.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Oh, Charity. I am so sorry for your losses. I had no idea you have been going through this. Thank you for sharing.