Monday, January 26, 2015

14 Things I Learned From Losing a Baby

         I learned a lot of things through the loss of a baby. I learned about others, about life, and about the world. Mostly I learned about myself, and about God. I’d like to share my learnings with you.

1. I learned how to cry.

And I don’t mean just etiquette-dictated sniffles that guarantee people around you don’t get squirmy and uncomfortable. I mean big, gasping, body raking, wailing sobs. I learned just how emotionally and physically healing tears are.

And as I really learned how to weep for myself, I learned how to weep for others. To feel their pain and grieve alongside them.

2. I learned that going through the grief process is good.

So many people in our Western society act and talk like grief, and the process, are a sign of weakness. That we just need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and get on with life. Life’s tough. Deal with it. In that way, though, deal with it doesn’t mean do something about it; it means ignore it, and it should go away.
Usually, though, if you don’t acknowledge your grief and deal with it—really deal with it, by allowing yourself to go through whatever stages you will personally go through and acknowledge your pain—it will manifest itself in some other, negative way.

3. I learned that everyone grieves on her own timetable, and you should never allow anyone to rush you through the grief process.

For some people, they can go through all grief stages and grieve intensely for a week and be done and nicely healed. For others, it takes weeks, months, or years. While you don’t want grief to end up consuming your life and future existence, you need to allow yourself to heal on a timetable suited to you. Don’t let anyone push you, unless, of course, you really aren’t healing and are utterly absorbed in self-pity that doesn’t improve.  
Be patient with yourself. Let others know what you’re ready or not ready to do.

4. I learned that people are often really clueless about how to “deal” with someone who has lost a loved one, especially an infant or baby in pregnancy.

They don’t know what to say; they don’t know how to react. So they avoid you, and you feel avoided. Even pastors don’t always know how to act toward you.

5. (And this has to do with the above point.) I learned that people have the innate capability of saying the stupidest things and should listen and think more before they open their mouths trying to be helpful.

I’ve even been guilty of this.
My parents didn’t really know what to say to me, and they’d experienced the same type of loss themselves.
Often, people didn’t extend the grace, mercy and patience I needed. I already felt battered and bruised, and ill-spoken words left a few more dents and marks. Like the obstetrician friend who said, “Oh, just forget about it and try for another one.” That left me stunned. From a doctor? Really? She acted like it was so easy to do. Just put it on your to-do list and check nine months and a baby off.
Then there are the spiritual friends who try to spiritualize the event by quoting Scripture or saying, “Your baby’s in a better place now.” (True, but I wanted her here, with me!) or, “You’ll get over this.” (I knew that, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, and looking at getting over it didn’t help me deal with the painful present.) Or the ridiculous: “God wanted another angel in heaven, and He chose your baby.” First of all, that’s not where angels come from; angels are angels and humans are humans. Two entirely different, created beings. And how small that makes God seem. I’d want to scream out: “Well, God, then if you want another angel, either make one—a real tiny one—or go take someone else’s “angel.” Leave mine here! I think you have plenty of angels in heaven already.”
Then there was that stranger at the post office who was eyeballing my two boys and thought she’d make friendly, motivational conversation by saying, “Do you just have the two boys? Well, you should try again for a girl!” She oozed sweetness and smiles.
I narrowed my eyes and shot back at her: “Well, I had a girl, and she died. And now I can’t have any more children.” That silenced her. I didn’t handle that one too well, but hopefully she thought about her poor assumptions and was more careful the next time around, when she had the opportunity to offer a good word to someone else.
I’ve learned to listen and think more and keep a stapler close by to use on my lips.

6. I learned that death is not a beautiful thing.

An ICU nurse told me “Death is beautiful” when they wanted to disconnect the respirator they had lodged into my dad’s lungs, even though he was sitting up and communicating with us. For a brief second I believe her. Then my mind shot back sixteen years to what it was like holding my precious Victoria in my arms. The silence, the limpness, the gasses that filled up in her little body and turned her fragile skin a dark hue.
Death is ugly. It involves deterioration and pain and heartache and devastated dreams. It rips your heart and guts out, twists them around and strangles them, and stuffs them back into your body in all the wrong places. It sucks the air out of your lungs, dulls your brain, and scares you to madness. It makes you feel panicky, and empty, and alone.
Of course, death is often beautiful for a person struggling with the ravaging effects of cancer or a fatal disease. Then it can be a relief to everyone involved. But it’s still pretty ugly. So many people are wasted shells of their former selves when they die, after having fought and struggled against the disease. They’re exhausted. And while the end may be peaceful, I think it’s a stretch to say it’s beautiful.
I know, “Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints.” I believe that. I really do. And when death comes knocking around my believing friends and family, I remember that, and it gives me hope. God doesn’t look upon death the way we do. But I’m human, and all I have is my human frailties with which to deal and confront death. I don’t want to begrudge anyone his heavenly reward, but I know how it feels to have to say goodbye and be left behind on this earth. And frankly, it usually sucks.

7. Death can be a time for celebration.

I know. Now I’m sounding hypocritical or waxing philosophical. But for the reasons mentioned above, death can be a time of celebration. A time to thank God for the life he brought into your life. And in particular for mothers, the life He gave you to carry for as many months you held life in your womb. The joy of being blessed with the movements of life: the wiggles, the hiccups, the arm and foot punches. It’s the time to remember a special life. And thank God for it.

8. I learned that loving involves a lot of risk and potential heartache.

It might be easier not to make yourself vulnerable to it, but love is the most important thing in the world. Not exposing yourself to it, not taking the risk and protecting yourself from it, makes life barely lived or experienced. It robs you of life the way God wants you to experience it.

9. I learned that I am not really the captain of my ship, in complete control of my life.

Teachers and leaders might pump your psyche and ego up by telling you that, but it isn’t true. There are WAY too many variables in life—too many for that to be remotely possible.
That distinct and hallowed role belongs to the Creator. As well ordered as I think I have my life, it could all go awry or disintegrate in the next second—by my own careless word or hand or someone else’s. No wonder my grandmother always tacked on the epitaph “God willing” to every hope or plan she uttered. She wasn’t very educated, but she was one smart lady.

10.  I learned I’m not the good person who didn’t deserve to suffer like I did.

I learned that it's more of a miracle when I’m not suffering, and everything’s actually humming along nicely, according to plan and going my way.
Look at the world around us, outside of our nice middle or upper class, or even lower class sphere. The reality is that much of the world is an ugly place saturated with bigotry, anger, hate, self-serving motives, pain, suffering, lying, cheating, stealing, laziness, greed, etc. It is unrealistic, and arrogant, actually, to believe we won’t be subjected to some of it in our lifetime.

And may I say here: Don’t blame God for it. Man is not inherently good, like so many politicians and liberal preachers say. The world is not basically good. The people in it are broken, sinful creatures. Really examine your heart and your motives. What’s the true answer? Be honest. Man has no trouble finding trouble on his own. And passing the trouble onto others.

There is goodness out there, but the source is not man.

11. I learned that I took all of the good things in my life for granted, including the people in it.

I’d forgotten how precious life is. I’d become jaded and hardened. I probably thought I’d deserved all of that goodness and love. I didn’t.
I’ve always been the type to kind of squeeze everything out of a moment and out of life, but I’d become cynical and careless about so many things. That horrible realization only further pummeled my already squashed heart. But it was a costly lesson I needed to learn. And hopefully I’ve learned it well.

12. I learned that eventually self runs out. (This goes along with not being the captain of your own ship.)

Eventually you run out of options. You have no place to go. You can’t make any snappy, clever decisions to change the story. You can’t talk your way out of it. No one can give you any hope or help you change the story’s gut-wrenching ending. You are where you are, and you’re wedged in a corner with no way out. You either cry out for help, to the One who can help, or you can retreat farther into the corner. Or you try to come out swinging. At the air.

Everyone usually wants someone to blame. To point a finger at. (I could point my fingers—all ten of them and my toes—at the doctors who misdiagnosed my pregnancy complication and gave me such poor medical care. But it wouldn’t have helped.)

You’re actually in a good place when your self really runs out and you admit it has, and you have no control and nowhere to run or hide. You hang yourself out like an exposed sheet on a clothesline, being whipped in the wind. At that point you can start healing, really healing, and discovering what life is about, and living life in a different, more fulfilling way.

13. I learned that God brings more good and lasting changes out of the pain in life than He does out of the good things.

Through suffering, you can sometimes learn life’s most important lessons.

We pay more attention to personal pain. We take it personally. We examine and twist it around to examine all angles of it. We play with it in our hands. Our hearts continually dust it off and peer at it, again and again and again. We give it to our minds to try to analyze. And the brain peers at it some more.

But pain and loss is when we’re more likely to let God work on us. And it changes us, usually for the good, if we’ve listened well.

A lot of people like to let loose that passage around the time of loss and pain that has to do with God working everything out for good. What so many don’t realize is that it doesn’t say that everything that happens is good. It says that God works everything out for good. Big difference. And then there’s the rest of the passage so often ignored or omitted. God works everything out for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

So the question then becomes: Do you love Him? Do you want things to be worked out for good? Do you want things in your life to have purpose? I mean real, everlasting, eternal purpose?

14. I learned that I need a Savior, really badly.
I learned just how misguided and selfish I could be. That hurt. A lot. It still does when I think about it and remember my life twenty-two years ago. I could have directed all of my anger onto God, which is okay, (King David did it, and God can take it), as long as the anger doesn’t stay placed there. Sometimes I think people re-direct their anger onto God because they can’t handle being so upset with themselves or their fellow men. He ends up being the easy, convenient scapegoat.   

My pastor said that in some way, we’re all struggling in this journey toward God.

I don’t know about us all struggling toward God, but I do know that we’re all struggling, and that we all have a God-sized hole in our hearts and souls that only He can fill. And I do know He’s the One who gives life, because I’ve tried to live life without Him being an integral part of it, and I know how different life is when He’s in it and in control.

It’s full of love and joy and hope, and real purpose. Not just me-focused purpose.            
Eternal purpose.
It’s the most important thing I learned on that painful journey.

There’s nothing better than finding God, especially after He’s been pursuing you all of your life. You learn just how blessed you really are, how precious life is, and how much joy there is in it!


So that’s my story.
What’s yours? What have you learned, or are you learning through your loss? What has helped you? What’s hurt? What encouraging word can you give to others? What encouraging word do you need today?

What direction would you like to see this blog go? Do you think I should “sign off” on it and say, “Goodbye.”?

While I’m officially taking the month of February off (the first time I haven’t written a formal weekly post since October, 2012), I’d like you to let me know what you, the reader, would like. Do you want to continue growing together? Would you like me to switch to providing you with more reference material for neonatal loss, grieving and healing? Would you be encouraged by devotions to help you get through your grief?

Please give me your feedback, and I’ll be praying.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!!


Once again, until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
It’s been a blessing to take this ride with all of you!

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Death Can Change Your Life and Your Perspective On It

            The death of someone close to you always changes your life. Death always causes you to have to adjust to a "new normal." And then after you experience the thrill of victory again, and you're running on adrenaline and euphoria, you kinda feel as though you have life by the horns and nothing's ever going to go wrong for you again. 

           Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. And eventually you start to settle down, remove your rose colored spectacles and see life in reality again. And sad, ugly things continue to happen to you and others you love. And your heart hurts again. 

           But this time you have a better idea of who's in control, and you learn you can't always answer life's tough questions. And you get to know the One who can.

           Three days before Parker’s fifth birthday—almost six weeks after Cory was born—my precious Shetland sheepdog Beau died at home of kidney and liver failure. He had managed to hang on for me, and then begun a rapid decline immediately following Cory’s birth. Ironically, the week before his death, he and Parker had been playing “baseball” in the entryway of our home, reminding me of his energy and thirst for play when he was a puppy. Chris and I grieved deeply over the loss.
            A year later, I was able to cry with and comfort my friend—the neonatal nurse who supported me through my confinement, and whose baby girl I had initially been unable to hold—when she suffered a devastating miscarriage of her own and lost a baby boy. She poured out her heart when she admitted that even though she had counseled many parents during their own personal losses, she never really knew what they had been experiencing; never knew the depth of their anguish and grief. She never really knew what it was like—until it happened to her. She said she called me because she knew I would know. I did. In one devastating moment, we were bonded in another type of sisterhood, and suffering together through a typically silent sorrow.
            Not long after Cory’s delivery, Dr. Landry performed two more cerclages on patients, one carrying twins. In both circumstances, the amniotic sacs ruptured within a week of surgery. Shaking his head one day during one of my post-delivery office visits to him, he said, “I don’t know how you made it. It must have been determination.”
            I knew how I’d made it: solely by the merciful hand of God. And I told him so. He first looked at me as though I’d just dropped in from Mars, and then he nodded knowingly. He didn’t have a comeback. The stats screamed Miracle, and there was no arguing to the contrary.
            And Dr. Landry could still not understand how I could have ended up with an incompetent cervix after a normal pregnancy with Parker. There had been no obvious deformities in the cervix, or evidence of damage or scarring. “Then maybe Parker’s the greater miracle,” I offered.
            Now that I was staying at home full time and not returning to work, I began to immerse myself in Bible study. Becoming transformed by what I learned, and what I’d endured, I wanted to feed continuously on God and His word. I was unable to be satiated; always desiring more. I began learning how to view Chris as my total, consummate Savior whom I trust and rest upon. His mighty work continues to this day, and every day that I get to know Him better, I love Him more and more.
            I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to think I would have eventually embarked on the awesome and fulfilling journey of walking with God on my own volition, but in my heart I know that idea is absurd, and I would not have embarked upon it. With assuredness—because of my life history—I knew I did not deserve His blessings. None of us deserve them. None of us are “good” enough. Yet I had asked for an almost unreasonable bounty and received it. But before receiving it, Jesus led me into the darkness to see Him shine, and to experience the immensity and power of His grace. Chris and I were both bruised and blessed in that darkness. In it, we began our journey of real salvation, of coming fully to Jesus Christ. And we both bear wounds that remind us of His unending grace.
            I did not replace Victoria. She was not replaceable. She is part of our family; a member we simply did not get the chance to know. Yet, she is still a child on our family tree. She was a child from whom I experienced the precious movement of human life, and a child who God used to teach me about the preciousness of human life. Something I had forgotten. Although she is physically gone from our lives, she remains a well-defined memory and spiritual part of our existence.
            I’ve been asked many times over the years if I believe God caused Victoria’s death, if I think that was His plan all along. Many people don’t like my answer. I tell them I think God took a look at me, the way I was living my life, and knew something had to be done to get my attention. Whether He “caused” all of those things to happen in just that way, I won’t conjecture. What I do know is that nothing happens outside of His will. So if that is truth, then if God did not want those things to happen to me, He could have stopped the events in their tracks and saved Victoria, in spite of the careless, devastating medical care I received that compromised her life and mine. He could have made sure I had a breezy, carefree and barefoot pregnancy with Cory. But He didn’t. Even if He didn’t cause them to happen, He did not stop them from happening, either. I’m good with that. God is God, and I’m not. His ways are not my ways, and I need to let Him stay on the throne and be God, and trust Him, even when my heart is breaking, and my brain is screaming, Why!? Is that easy? No. Sometimes I need to remind myself of it every second of every day. But when I do—and I believe it—life is so much easier and fulfilling. And purposeful.
            So, with escalating and undiminished passion for life and our Lord, our family strives everyday to renew the spirit of hope, wonder, joy and love, with the guiding hand of the Savior. We are continuing to awaken to the life Jesus wants us to possess, with all of its simplicity, fullness and joy. It is a daily journey, an adventure we cannot possibly make alone (successfully, anyway), and a trip that will fall woefully short of its possibilities if we try to run it solo. I came perilously close to having my journey abruptly curtailed before I even had a chance to step on the lighted path and experience life in its fullness. Against all human reason and odds, I had traversed the darkest and deepest valleys, and then soared to the mountaintop, all on the wings of His grace.
            The grace that gave me the strength to step out on a transparent bridge of faith, and try again.


I Needed the Quiet
                                                 I needed the quiet so He drew me aside,
                                                Into the shadows where we could confide.
                                                Away from the bustle where all the day long
                                                I hurried and worried when active and strong.
                                                I needed the quiet though at first I rebelled,
                                                But gently, so gently, my cross He upheld,
                                                And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things.
                                                Though weakened in body, my spirit took wings
                                                To heights never dreamed of when active and gay.
                                                He loved me so greatly He drew me away.
                                                I needed the quiet. No prison my bed,
                                                But a beautiful valley of blessings instead—
                                                A place to grow richer in Jesus to hide
                                                I needed the quiet so He drew me aside.
                                                                                    ~Alice Hansche Mortenson


NEXT WEEK: Things I learned from losing a baby…

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



Monday, January 12, 2015

Day-to-Day Life at Home With a Premature Baby: Dying to Self and Thriving

            Life in the NICU with your premature baby is one thing; bringing him home and living with him day-to-day, without medical help or relief, is quite another. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to die-to-self, having a preemie will take you down that path!

            Soon after our arrival home from the hospital, our laid-back NICU baby turned Mr. Hyde on us. He tried our patience, nerves and resolve for nearly seventeen months.
            As many high-stressed preemie babies are, he was hypersensitive to light, sound, activity and tactile stimulation. Quiet entrances into the bedroom brought fearful screams; covering his sleeping body with a light blanket brought kicking anger and cries of terror. Unable to maintain eye-to-eye contact with any of us, I feared my new baby had some kind of affection disorder, like autism, and I waited nervously for the time when he would search my face with his eyes or treat me with a smile. How I longed for the slightest up-curling of his lips!
            He had his nights and days completely reversed, unable to go to sleep without the lights illuminated in his bedroom. He’d taken up residence in a cradle next to our bed, so that meant the lights were on when we were trying to sleep. If we sneaked around his bed to extinguish them, he awoke with a start and holler, refusing to return to sleep unless they were again turned on. If strangers ventured toward him or tried to snag him for a hold, he’d cry, then succumb to fits of gagging and choking. Within minutes, he’d assume a catatonic appearance, then fall irrevocably asleep in my arms or baby seat, his body limp from the exhausting stress.
             Clearly, Cory was agoraphobic, so I remained fairly confined to the house—and content to be so—for several months. Miraculously, I was able to nurse him, and nursing continued every hour-and-a-half, with feedings no less than five times a night, well into June of 1996, sixteen months after his birth. He nursed for twenty-four months. Initially unable to produce substantial amounts of milk for him during night feedings, I had ot p supplement him with occasional bottle supplements of formula. Attempts to let him “cry it out” were fruitless, as he could—and would—scream defiantly for periods of time that sometimes extended into an hour-and-a-half range or longer.
            Well-meaning friends insisted it would be good for Cory if we exposed him more to the outside world and other people. “He needs it,” they’d admonish me. But all of the books we read on the subject of hypersensitive babies instructed us to maintain a specific routine—a quiet, peaceful routine—without surprises, loud noises, or copious amounts of touching or playing. We always watched for the tell tale signs of hiccups indicating stress overload. The hiccups came often and lingered, but we persevered with quiet surroundings, consistent behavior, and tender, careful touching (I was fairly successful with baby massage), and a miraculous dose of patience. The books warned us that it sometimes took close to two years for hypersensitive babies to relax and become comfortable with their surroundings. Cory didn’t improve those percentages.
            Our love and patience paid off. He bloomed into a bright, energetic and exhausting toddler and child, who regarded the world as a tremendously exciting place. A place to be experienced and conquered; a proving ground for the imposition of his steely determination and will. His first goal included overpowering the rest of the family—mother, father, and especially his older brother. He became loving and playful, as well as sensitive and volatile, a Tasmanian Devil with a temper to rival the Warner Brothers cartoon character. He bore the nickname “Hurricane Cory” for the second and third year of his life. And he elevated the art of manipulation and argumentation to a science.
            He grew from my baby to my little boy, bursting forth to establish his autonomous identity in our family, and in the world. Almost daily I stared at him, and wondered how he got here. But I know how he got here, and I continuously thank God for His precious gift to us. For better or for worse, Chris and I now love a little harder and hang on a little tighter—to both of our miracles. Too soon they are gone, and I did wonder, in melancholy anticipation, about life in a quiet house, without colorful toys, endless questions, expert argumentation, pattering feet and squealing voices. (What does a home schooling mother do once she’s forced into retirement?)
            Then there was that name thing that I talked about in one of my posts, when the name Joshua popped into my head as a name for Cory before he was born. A name I hadn’t even considered. A name I set aside because I couldn’t imagine God doing something as “simple” as giving me a specific name for my child.
            Within weeks of Cory’s arrival, I learned the meaning of Joshua. I was stunned when I learned it means “God saves.” Once again I considered the possibility that the “voice” I heard had been God, and that I had brushed it aside too quickly. If only I had taken the time to look up the definition; it would have been a perfect name for our baby. (And it may have stilled my anxious heart.) God truly did save him, when all the actuarial tables were stacked against us. Fearful of being disobedient, I seriously contemplated changing his name, but Chris said he really “looked more like a Cory,” and wanted to stick with that. Sometimes I looked at him and thought: “my little salvation from God.” But it doesn’t matter what his name is to think that; he is my salvation from God. Nothing can change that fact. And Cory has turned out to be a perfect name for him.
            And I still think of that mysterious nurse who “materialized” in my room at Cory’s birth, the one who could not be identified by other hospital workers and who I never saw again. Several years after Cory’s birth, while I was doing a study on angels, her memory snapped into my thoughts. Could it be? Had it been? I was almost afraid to consider the possibility, so awesome to me was the suggestion or thought of angelic intervention. Sometimes I think of the time when I will meet “her” again, and I am filled with excitement and awe at that opportunity. Will I reminisce with an angelic host about the day they fulfilled their responsibility to minister to one of God’s children? While I am aware that biblical angelic visits were always of the male gender, and many Bible scholars say that an angel would not appear in the form of a woman, I do not dismiss any possibility of entertaining an angel unaware, and the thought causes me to shake my head in wide-eyed wonder. And smile.
            Through that stunning two years, through ugly, dark valleys and soaring, verdant mountaintops, I had learned well that with God, anything is possible.


NEXT WEEK: Epilogue Part 2…

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!