Monday, February 3, 2014

Moving Forward After Neonatal Grief and Depression: The next step

           For those of you just joining me, this blog is specifically dedicated to helping families recover emotionally, physically and spiritually from the loss of a child during pregnancy, at birth or soon after birth, and to help mothers and fathers successfully navigate high-risk pregnancies and premature infants.
            On a broader scale, it can help people dealing with any kind of loss and grief, and, perhaps, burning spiritual questions about their lives.

            To new readers: Welcome!!

            After nearly three months of depression-related posts, we now return to my story, which ended at a point when I was—in stops and starts—emerging from the throes of grief-driven depression, and had just experienced a great, “Ah ha!” God moment. And I’m finding myself asking, “Okay, God, what are You saying to me?”
            Then the next question uttered in my brain had to be, And what am I going to do about it?  
            Did I really want to know the answer to that last question? Was I willing to entertain thoughts of what “doing about it” might mean? What would it cost me?
            And even if I was now functioning on a whole new plane didn’t mean that everyone else had transcended to the next level and was ready, willing and able to venture forth into bold, new territory with me.
            Along with my “Ah ha” moment, I realized that answering that question—about where I was going from that point—was going to take time. And it wasn’t entirely, “Where am I going from here?” that had to be considered; it was also, “Where are we going from here?”
            Because having another child involved two people, not just one. There was only so much that I could do alone, but I knew that from that point forward, I needed to be working on myself first.
            And it is at that critical crossroads in my life that my story continues…


            God’s timing is always perfect, even when we’re nervously watching our clocks. In my panicky uncertainty, it was no different for me. The next four months brought a myriad of stresses and fears, all of which had nothing to do with coming to terms with my powerful need to control the outcome of a pregnancy, yet, these issues demanded all of my physical and emotional reserves. Some of them even threatened to further drain the mostly arid well of my soul.
            Yet I pressed on to return to the land of the living and discovered that as much as my head wanted to move on, my heart remained resistant.
            I had returned to singing in our church’s choir and was scheduled to sing a solo in consecutive services, almost one year after Victoria’s death. The day’s itinerary was already packed with a scheduled afternoon birthday party for Parker at his favorite pizza place and delivering the children’s sermon. With determination, I practiced, prepared, wrote and developed. When the sun rose on that April morning, I felt fortified against the world and any challenge it might throw my way, eager to present a musical offering to God and give a brief discourse to the children, and ready to orchestrate a gift of joy, laughter and peer fellowship for my four-year-old.
            It had been years since I’d sung solo “in public, “ so I was apprehensive. That morning—as I stood before the microphone, first fiddling with its height and making light banter with the congregation—my heart pounded and my hands trembled. Yet as soon I started singing, a “voice” softly encouraged my heart, Give it up, Andrea! Give it all up to Me. Being newly sensitive—probably hypersensitive—to the Holy Spirit’s voice, my brain perked up, and something deep inside of me welled up to obey, to “let it go.”
            Within seconds, the fear dissolved, and my soul sank deeply into the lyrics and music. When I finished singing, I returned—drained and emotionally overcome—to my front row seat between two other choir members who lovingly patted my leg.
            Without warning, the stabbing reality of the approaching one-year anniversary of Victoria’s death unleashed smoldering grief and pain that exploded like steam erupting from a pressure cooker. It boiled to the surface with a frightening life force all its own, besieging every cell in my body, crushing the protective dam I’d erected in my heart. My hands reflexively clutched my face to control the seismic avalanche churning deep within my soul. Scorching tears threatened to trigger hysterical convulsions.
            Please don’t let anyone see me, I pleaded internally as the quavering spasms of panicked breathing clamped my chest. I was afraid to breathe; I knew an agonizing death wail would erupt from my cramped lungs if I so much as opened my mouth to exhale. A shear force of will allowed me to remain anchored to the seat as I choked down the swelling throat spasm. My heart and brain pounded in a chaotic rhythm.
            Control! I can’t let anyone see me like this. I’ve got to get control!  
            I longed to bolt from the chair into the adjoining outdoor courtyard to locate a hiding place, a corner in which to curl and embrace myself, to wrench tears from my saturated body. To wring myself dry.
            As the service end drew near, I slumped in the chair, relieved and utterly spent.

            Why did God let this happen when He knew I wanted everything to go just right? When He knew how hard I'd worked, how special I'd wanted this day to be.

            I immediately knew the answer: He wanted to teach me a lesson about how dangerous self-reliance can be, and how there’s only one thing I should really invest any energy relying on. After all I'd been through, apparently I still hadn't learned the lesson.
            Between services I slipped outside to wander around alone, to gather strength for the second service. Give it all up to me, peddled around in my mind as I paced the short, concealed sidewalk. But the second service time arrived, and I quickly re-entered our church’s storefront meeting place with the rest of the choir. Soon after, I headed forward to present the children’s sermon and then later rose to light a candle to recognize the gift of Parker’s birthday, and to commemorate Victoria’s death.
            The candle-lighting portion of our service was a time for members to express a joy, sorrow or concern in front of the congregation, a cathartic ritual for some, a time of peace for others—a means to share life and bear your soul to your immediate family of believers.
            In the middle of explaining my reasons for lighting a candle, I succumbed to unsolicited tears and found myself standing paralyzed in front of the congregation—hand clamped over my mouth, silently holding a flickering white taper. Motioning to Chris for help, I was grateful when he joined me to continue where I’d abruptly stopped. As I slumped against Chris’s strong frame, he expressed both the day’s melancholy mix of sadness and joy.
            But I couldn’t remain supported by him for long. I had to let go. I regained my composure and was soon planted in front of the congregation, once again preparing the microphone and music.
            Tension crept through my jaw and vocal cords as I started singing, and the song was devoid of the emotion infused into it in the first service. But suddenly the firm directive entreated me again: Give it all up to me, Andrea. Give it completely up to Me!
            As I responded to what felt like an intensely loving command, the tension abruptly diffused. In seconds, I’d forgotten myself and allowed the song to be carried to the congregation by an otherworldly conductor. The song was no longer mine; it belonged to the Source of its theme. Suddenly, it was over, and I opened my eyes to experience loving smiles and exuberant applause.
            I prayed my singing would bring attention to God, not me. In that moment, I felt that it had, in some small way, done that. In my weakness, the Author of my life was made strong; and He arranged for me to receive the blessing. Euphoria suddenly replaced my grief. It continued throughout the service and carried me through the remainder of the day.
            We spent the rest of the day ushering boisterous four-year-olds around, watching them laugh, tear open gifts and do silly things, while concurrently enjoying adult conversation and mediocre pizza.
            Something unexpected happened to me that afternoon, however.    
            The friend who had brought her beautiful infant daughter to church two months earlier—the baby I’d been unable to hold and barely gaze upon—brought her to Parker’s birthday party. And she confronted me with the same request she’d made of me two months earlier: “Do you want to hold her?”
            I say “confront” because that’s the way my fragile heart reacted to it, not because of the way she delivered the question.
            Did I want to hold her?
            I breathed deeply, and then hesitantly extended my arms to receive the baby.
            Ever-so-slowly, the internal trembling subsided, and my body instinctively swayed in that gentle side-to-side movement mothers seem to naturally acquire for soothing a child. But repeatedly, I found it necessary to remind myself that she wasn’t mine; that I would have to give her back. Turning my head, I noticed another friend staring at me from across the noisy table; her eyebrows raised and mouth gaping, her questioning eyes searching my face like a targeted laser beam.
            Well, Andrea,” she nearly shouted. “I am surprised! Are you sure you can do that; are you okay?”
            “I’ll let you know if you need to relieve me,” I responded with a smile. “I am doing better.”
            You must be!” she countered. “Thinking of trying to have another one?”
            “Maybe,” I managed to relay across the giddy shouts of pre-schoolers and heads of seated parents consumed in conversation. “Chris and I have started discussing the possibility.”
            It felt so comfortable, yet so strangely elusive to hold such a small infant in my arms again. Did I really want to have another baby and go through the sleepless nights, diapers, and complete dependence so familiar in the first three to fours years of a child’s life? We had worked so hard to bring Parker to the age of four.
            Or did I just want to prove that I could be victorious again. To show the world that I wasn’t a loser?
            More time, I thought, as I gently returned the baby to her mother.
            I still need more time


NEXT WEEK: The painful anniversary day…

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!