If you, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
Psalm 130: 3-4
Soon after my mother’s departure, I plunged into unfinished home building projects. Finish work abounded. Door trim needed sanding; molding needed caulk. Paint awaited my brush. I launched feverishly and gratefully into these tasks, dispelling the taxing quiet with music, my loud singing, and the sounds and odor of sandpaper, freshly sanded wood and fresh paint. The work absorbed my day, swiftly advanced the hours, and provided me with a sense of purpose. With four weeks of remaining recovery time before returning to work, I happily engaged in exhausting, satisfying physical labor.
Along with my vigorous undertaking of necessary home improvements, I made plans to return to the local junior college to continue my pursuit of a nursing degree. Enrolling in a freshman health class during the summer fulfilled two goals: obtaining necessary continuing education unit credits to maintain my athletic trainer credentials, and obtaining preferential placement for matriculation into the fall Microbiology class. It also fulfilled another purpose: running away from myself and my pain. I was systematically, blatantly ignoring the grieving process. I wouldn’t allow any time for it. Thinking I could do it on my own, I wasn’t giving God a chance to heal my spirit. I just needed to be strong and press on.
Yet moments of deep emotional distress would strike unannounced and swallow me. During one grocery store shopping excursion, my legs felt like iron anchors as I forcibly dragged my unwilling body through the store. But what I really wanted to do was stand rooted in the middle of the supermarket, flail my arms and shriek, “Don’t you know what just happened to me? How can all of you just go about your business as though nothing happened? I’m in mourning here, and you aren’t even commiserating with me in my agony!” I didn’t do it, but it took every ounce of sanity I possessed to constrain my impulse. We need to go back to wearing black clothing and black armbands signifying a death in the family, to provide visual bereavement, I thought. At least, that way, everyone might not be so damned happy acting around you, and, at the very least, offer their condolences.
Instead, I slowly migrated to the liquor department and wandered up and down the aisles. A bottle of wine would be just the right additive to my painkillers—to obliterate the physical and emotional pain. Didn’t I deserve a drink after all I’d been through? Getting good and drunk—in complete solitude—and sleeping through life sounded good, and forgivable. Did I even want to recover from the drowning? I could just close my eyes and awaken on the other side of this hell.
After three or four return trips to stare at the wine bottles, I extricated myself—with monumental effort—from their allure, paid for my groceries, and drove home. I knew from experience that when the sleep wore off the pain would linger, accompanied by negative effects of a hangover and deeper guilt from having succumbed to a frail moment.
The final nail driven into my sadness was the knowledge that they had intentionally removed my baby from my womb for the sole purpose of saving my life. Never mind that when Dr. Gordon opened my uterus he found an eighty percent abrupted placenta, meaning that Victoria wouldn’t have survived much longer in my uterus anyway. I felt as though I’d been slapped with a repulsive label: “emergency abortion receiver.” A placard that would hang on my mind and heart for life.
Nagging questions ping-ponged relentlessly around in my brain: Since I’d actually gone into labor, was it an emergency premature delivery, or would it qualify as an abortion? Was I now a member of a club of women who endured the stigma of self-doubt, questions, misunderstandings and political lobbing? If Dr. Gordon had performed the C-section upon my arrival at the hospital, it clearly would have been an emergency abortion to keep me from bleeding to death. Had the definition changed because I’d been in labor six hours before he performed the delivery?
What would have happened to me if abortion were illegal? Dr. Gordon didn’t indicate that he thought my placenta had abrupted before making the decision to take Victoria and end the pregnancy, but the immense blood loss must have given him an indication that was a possibility. He’d actually admitted to Chris that he’d taken too great a risk by waiting too long to go in. With humble honesty he to Chris, “I almost couldn’t bring her back.”
Still other questions rattled me: Did Victoria take a breath? Dr. Gordon assured us she had not. Was he just trying to protect us from further pain? He had described me as a time bomb waiting to explode. All I seemed to do was browbeat myself with questions: What could I have done differently throughout the pregnancy to make it last longer, giving Victoria a better chance at life? Why couldn’t we have held on just three-and-a-half more weeks? If I’d been transported to a hospital with a NICU and specialists, might she have been one of those wonderful “miracle babies” you hear about in the news? If my original doctor and radiologist hadn’t misdiagnosed the previa, would complete bed rest have bought us precious days, weeks, months?
My thoughts were often self-accusations: You just didn’t want her enough. You didn’t think of your health or the baby’s; you were selfish, pre-occupied, reckless. You foot! You took this pregnancy for granted! Yes...I did. One successful pregnancy to term, with a fairly uncomplicated delivery, lulled me into complacent expectations for an identical outcome. Other women had those problems, not me. I’d never given any serious consideration to the possibility of an insurmountable complication arising.
Regrettably, I also attest to a time of resentment at what Victoria was doing to my body and my pre-planned, well-ordered life and had set out with resolve and determination to triumph in that battle. Now I was convinced I was paying the price for that calculated, arrogant confrontation.
Early in recovery, however, I decided that God must have a very good reason for allowing Victoria to die. I don’t remember being angry with God, or questioning His motives. I merely wanted to be apprised of His intentions. But inwardly I recoiled violently during a phone conversation with my mother when she blindsided me with, “Well, I sure don’t’ know what you’ve done to deserve this!” The comment seemed so blunt, so harsh, so unfair coming from someone else. Little did she know that for days I’d been way ahead of her in my thinking: perhaps there was something in my past that required such harsh discipline. If so, I was prepared to accept full responsibility for my actions and failures. And when that acceptance occurred, something miraculous happened: Beseeching prayers seeking only God’s desired results from the circumstances slowly replaced my questions about why He allowed all of this to happen in the first place. What did He want me to learn from this? What was His plan now for my life? Where would this devastation take me?
Was I being too hard on myself? I didn’t think so. Perhaps I really hadn’t wanted Victoria enough, nor loved her enough. Maybe I’d been too determined to avoid any wrinkles in my life, to admit weakness or defeat. Pregnancy and delivery would have been just a blip on the screen of my life’s-accomplishments-checklist that year. Always the competitor, I’d been driven to continue working through my pregnancy because other women seemed so capable of this feat. Why couldn’t I rank up there among those super women?
Maybe pride had undone me.
With remorse and repentance, I became aware of the tragic disarray of my priorities; God started brandishing them before my eyes like blinding sunspots. My achievement checklist had been a mile long; Chris and I were roaring through life in a vacuum. We’d become too pragmatic, too worldly, too complacent, too self-absorbed.
Then God had pulled the plug.
Once again in my life, He was dropping His benevolence of grace and mercy directly at my heart’s front door. A firm knock to let me know He was there; a firm, disciplining hand reminding me that I desperately needed Him, and that I shouldn’t—couldn’t—go on, and really succeed in life, without Him.
It was my responsibility to reach out, finish opening the gracious, compassionate gift He’d extended to me so many years before, and be completely engulfed in its contents.
NEXT WEEK: The emotional fallout continues, Parker and Chris return me to the hospital…and we bring Victoria home…
This Saturday, April 13, will be the 20th anniversary of Victoria's death. Chris and I have plans to take the next step to bring more healing to our hearts.
Thanks for joining me.
Until next week!