Sunday 19 January 2020

Family and Loss

I just read an article about two sets of young parents who lost their babies without ever being able to take them home. One, a little girl named Grace, died not long before she could be delivered, and the second, a little boy named Charlie, who lived for only a few days and went though numerous surgeries. They talked about their great love for these children they would not be able to raise and how they did not blame God for wanting them to come back home to him. While their grief in this life will never entirely disappear, both families know they will see their children again and that brings peace. My heart went out to them. I know what it feels like to lose children, and so does my daughter. The pain is so intense it feels like it will rip everything inside apart, and there is always the niggling thought that perhaps something could have been done to prevent it.

I was with my daughter the day she lost her first child. I was driving from Idaho to Washington to visit when I got a frantic call telling me to hurry because she was spotting and needed me to take her to the hospital. Her husband was working and couldn't be reached. I drove as quickly as I could over unfamiliar and winding country roads the last 100 miles of my journey. Without even stopping for a bathroom break, I drove her to the closet town that was over thirty miles away. By the time her husband arrived, the baby was gone, and we all learned that if the doctor been able to get to her sooner, the outcome would have been much better. Her next child, my grandson, was stillborn. I wasn't there when he was delivered, but I went to the mortuary with them to pick up the little silver heart where his ashes had been put so she could carry them with her wherever she went. 

Times like these truly force us to think about our mortality and how very lucky some of us are to even be alive. But they also bring back painful, personal memories for me that fade a little when I'm not reminded of them, but seem to come back full-force whenever I read about people who have been able to see and perhaps hold their babies for a brief moment in time. I was able to get pregnant with great regularity, but I was not able to carry any of my babies for over three months. I never got to feel them move inside of me or see my body change in that beautiful way a woman's does as a baby continues to grow. I never got to feel their heart beating or wear maternity clothes. After twenty tries at becoming a mother naturally, the doctor found so many tumors inside of me that an emergency hysterectomy was performed. 

I never talk much about those days of sorrow and pain. I was blessed to adopt two beautiful babies who have brought great joy into my life, but it often seems like whatever I was cursed with has continued to the next generation with no biological reason. My daughter was finally able to have a child who lived. My grandson is six now, but he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at three and there have been numerous times when we've almost lost him. My daughter-in-law has never been able to get pregnant, but she and my son have adopted my sweet granddaughter who is now eleven. I love them fiercely and would do anything to see them healthy and happy. 

The hardest thing to digest was finding out after my last miscarriage that it was a chromosome imbalance between my ex-husband and me that caused all of my babies to die. Had I married anyone else, my babies would have survived. That was quite a bitter pill to take, especially since my marriage had never been a happy one, and my husband had only agreed to adopt if I would do all the work. That was an easy decision for me to make since I wanted children so badly. I'm only sorry I couldn't give them everything I wanted them to have - mainly a home where they would feel nothing but love and acceptance. None of us were ever good enough for the man who had promised to be there for us.

I've never shared this next part with anyone other than a teacher I had in a college class when I went back to get a Master's degree in mid-life so I could better support myself and my children. It's rather lengthy, and was written as an essay in third person because even ten years after the fact it was nearly impossible to think about without excruciating pain, but it tells about my last miscarriage. Maybe it will help someone else who has experienced the same kind of loss. We women have tender hearts, but few people know what to say when a baby is lost early in a pregnancy. It seems like we're mostly forgotten, and once a mother is able to carry a child and take him or her home, she moves from that place of seeming bareness into the life most women take for granted. I hope this essay gives those of you who have never encountered this kind of tragedy some added perspective so you can bless other's live with your understanding and support.


     She looked around the small cell she found herself in. Suddenly, it all came back. Three months ago she had entered the gynecologist’s office for the hundredth time, or maybe it only seemed like that because the trauma associated with each visit had made each moment’s wait in the examining room seem an eternity. She had clenched her fists until the knuckles turned white and had tried to push back the nausea that threatened to strangle her.
     She had known why she was here for days as she always had. A new life was growing inside of her - a life trying for the twentieth time in ten years to gain a physical body and the chance to be her child. She had known of this child’s existence within a few hours of its conception. 
     Most people thought she was crazy when she told them of her uncanny feelings, so she quit telling. But not telling did not make the premonitions go away. It only made them more intense. Besides, what did it matter to anyone else how many times a woman got pregnant? It was like taking a vocational class at school. Students could try with all their might to build something beautiful, but if the project was not completed, it was deemed a failure.
     And she couldn’t handle another failure at not being a woman - the real woman her husband had always wanted would give him a child. There was nothing wrong with him. He got her pregnant on a regular basis. It was her fault she couldn’t carry the baby to term.She could almost understand his coldness when a baby was lost at home, but not being with her when the remains of their children were pulled from her womb was something she would never understand. They were hers whether dead or alive. It hardly mattered that she would never get to snuggle them in her arms. The vision of their glory and innocence would be etched forever in the recesses of her mind.
     To control the pain, she learned silence, but that silence only contributed to the enmity she often felt for the man who had promised to love and cherish her in sickness and health.His constant criticism made her feel less-than-human, but this pregnancy seemed different and maybe it would take away some of the stigma she felt for not being like other women. This baby had already made it through the first trimester - something none of the others had been able to do. And today, she was going to see this awe-inspiring miracle for the first time through an ultrasound – also something that had never happened with any of her other pregnancies.
     It was cold in the examining room, and the temperature lowered even farther as a monitor was brought in and a gooey substance smeared over her abdomen. The doctor smiled, the nurse held her shivering hand, and when she looked up she could see her little miracle moving vigorously around in the safety of an embryonic sac. She could identify tiny fingers and toes. It was too early to determine sex, but that didn’t matter. She had seen something awe-inspiring and marvelous. No other experience in life could be quite as grand and glorious.
     She wanted to savor her newfound peace and contentment alone because no one else would understand how valuable this moment was to her womanly sanity. She had long before given up talking about her real feelings, and wished she didn’t have to share this experience with anyone except her two adopted children. Time and exposure to emotional abuse had not yet hardened them as it had her. They knew she loved and wanted them. Adoption was just a big word they had yet to understand.
     And they talked constantly about having a baby brother or sister. Her daughter wanted to hold the baby and show it off. Her son wanted to share his toys. It didn’t matter if they got broken because he would show the baby how to take care of things.
     She stroked her stomach on the long drive home, crooning words of love to her unborn child. And when she got to the house, she hurried to her room and undressed in front of the mirror. She felt beautifully radiant for the first time in her life and wanted to see if the reason for her hope had altered her physical appearance. It hadn’t! Her tummy wasn’t even protruding, but the tranquility in her eyes had never been there before. She smiled to herself as she dressed to prepare the evening meal.
     About midnight there was a cry. She jerked awake and listened for the sound of her children. All was quiet, but that was not unusual since they lived far out in the country where nighttime sounds came only from nocturnal birds and animals whose habitats were near. Still, she knew that sleep would not return until she had checked on their safety. So much could happen to them in the night, like the time her son had difficulty breathing and she had held his hand through the bars of his crib all night long. It had turned out to be an intolerance to milk, something easily corrected, but not so easily forgotten. 
     Moonlight stole across their peaceful, sleeping faces as she brushed each cheek with a kiss and secured their tangled covers.She had often wondered about a mother’s intuitiveness when it came to her children, but as the long night hours turned into a flickering red dawn she understood more fully that a mother’s intuition was merely one of God’s gifts of preparation for what was to come.
     Her family was seated around the kitchen table eating a Saturday breakfast of bacon, eggs and homemade pancakes when the first fluttering in her abdomen began. She escaped to the bathroom before anyone could see the hovering tears. Surely it couldn’t be happening again, but tiny drops of fresh blood were descending from her uterus to her undergarments.
     With panic so all encompassing that she feared she would become physically ill before she could even sit down; she called her doctor at his home. His instructions were brief. “Get to the hospital at once.” 
     The town where the hospital stood on the banks of a swift-moving river was over forty miles away. She lay in the back seat with her husband behind the wheel. It was mostly a silent drive, except for an occasional question as to what was happening from her children. It was too late for even a word of kindness now from the man she had married because he had never been part of what she was going through before. 
     The lights in the examining room were blinding, but she hardly noticed. She was stripped of her clothing and strapped to a table. A nurse was squeezing her hand. “It hurts, dear, I know,” she tried to comfort in a practiced fashion. “But it won’t be much longer.”
     “Not much longer,” she reflected, as cramp after cramp elicited inside contortions. How could these people know what time was? Nineteen, now twenty times she had been placed in this identical situation. Her baby was dying, and all the begging and pleading and prayers in the world could not reverse it. Where was God’s mercy? Hadn’t she sufficiently proven that she would endure anything to give life to one of his children?
     The doctor completed the exam and then tore off his examining gloves as he moved to her side. She could read the pity in his eyes. 
     “I wish I could be more hopeful, but I’m afraid your baby is starting to abort. There’s a possibility the process could reverse. We’ll have you admitted, and then we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
     She mumbled a polite thank you and was whisked away to the maternity ward where she was put in a room with a woman who was in the final stages of labor. It was the perfect irony. She couldn’t blame the woman who every now and then groaned out with pain, but it was hard to be sympathetic when the woman announced that she would never go through the ordeal again because no child was worth it.
     Her own children were taken to her mother’s where preparations were made for them to spend the night. They didn’t want to leave her and clung to the side of her bed, but she reassured them with a motherly kiss, and told them that grandma was expecting them and would have something fun for them to do. Her husband asked if she needed anything, or if he should stay. She told him everything would be fine, so he left with the children.
     She would never remember the details of that long afternoon and evening. Only that she cried and prayed that God would not forget her, and that in his mercy he would let her child live. And when the nurses came in to check on her, she put up a courageous front. She had spent years learning how to hold feelings inside and nothing would allow her to fall apart in front of strangers now. The pity would destroy whatever was left inside. Besides, what she was going through wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just something that happened to unlucky women, but even unlucky women deserved a miracle sometimes.
     The woman in labor had her baby, and another expectant mother was brought in to replace her. Fortunately, it was a woman even less inclined to small talk than she was so they got along fine. Television was impossible to watch because she could not stop herself from slipping into the bathroom every time she felt even the smallest contraction to see if any changes in her condition were evident.
     She wanted to go home. She wanted to hold her children so tightly in her arms that the impression of their small bodies would never leave hers. At the same time, she wanted to run away from everything - all the pain and suffering and heartache that had come with trying to be a natural mother. Perhaps things would have been different if her husband had not blamed her for the loss of their children. If she had the courage, she would tell him what the doctor told her in the examining room that morning. It wasn’t her fault. There marriage had been cursed with a chromosome incompatibility. All their babies would die. But if they had been married to other people . . . It was too late to think about that now.
     In the early hours of the morning, her baby quit struggling. It slipped from her body as silently as it had entered it. She couldn’t stop herself from scooping up the remains in a clinical container and holding them close to her heart while she said goodbye. In a few short hours, they would be analyzed and destroyed.
     She left the container behind and slipped silently back into bed. She wanted to grieve like some of the women in the south she had read about, rocking back and forth and moaning loudly and with total abandon. Even throwing or breaking things would bring relief, but that wasn’t her nature. She couldn’t stand waste of any kind, so she did the only thing she was prepared to do. She took pen in hand, and aided by the moonlight pouring in through her window she wrote.
     “My tiny, precious baby, just a few short minutes ago your physical body left mine. Only heaven can know the pain and sorrow I am going through. It is so real, so intense, yet somewhere deep inside is calmness, a loving certainty that you are back home with our Heavenly Father.
     “I wanted to give you a physical body, a home for your spirit, and a family who would love and support you. I also wanted to feel your tiny arms around my neck and hear you call me ‘mommy.’I know God must love you very much, and he must have wanted you with him a little longer, but that does not stop the pain and heartache of losing you. And it does not stop the emptiness I will feel inside when I leave this hospital without your small body next to my heart where I can cherish the feelings of your spirit growing inside of me.
     “Yesterday, a miracle happened. The doctor did an ultrasound. I saw your tiny body clinging so desperately to mine and your strong heart beating. I knew you were a fighter, and someday you will bless the lives of many others with your strength.I can see the temple through my window. It is nearly three in the morning. The physical danger for me has not yet passed but shortly will. However, my emotional longing to hold and love you will be with me for what is left of my mortal life. I will always wonder about you, wanting to know where you are and whom you are with.
     “Every time I look up into the brilliant blue of the sky, I will pray that someday we will meet. That I can take you in my arms and give you all the love I have inside to give. I have to believe that someday this will happen – that you can yet be a part of my life. Be brave my precious baby. Life will hold wonderful things for you when you finally make it to earth. And I will be waiting for you no matter how long it takes.”
     She held the papers to her lips, and tears of mourning blotted the ink. She had done all she could. Life would never allow her the blessing of natural motherhood, and her belief in personal miracles had been shattered almost irrevocably, but she would never give up loving every child she met because there was no way of knowing if one of the children she had tried to carry would come into her life in a very different way. 

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