“I’m so sorry, but I cannot find a heartbeat.”
No mother can ever prepare herself for those hideous words. The ultrasound tech gripped my hand as she gave me the news. I had gone in for a routine prenatal check-up. My pregnant belly has been big enough to require maternity clothes for several weeks now. I was well past the first trimester, when supposedly the chance of miscarriage goes way down. The whole world knows and can see that I am pregnant with my seventh baby. My children all know and are thrilled. True, I hadn’t felt the baby move in a few days, but I thought that perhaps I was just too busy to notice the flutters. My children were with me in the medical exam room when the midwife tried and tried to find the heartbeat with the Doppler. We had been able to hear it right away a few weeks ago. She asked me if I could come down to get an ultrasound just to be sure nothing was wrong. And something in me knew. As I left my six children in the room with promises of strawberry shakes if they could behave well for just a few more minutes, I walked down the long hallway and prepared myself for the worst. I had peace, and I kept saying over and over in my heart “I trust You, Lord. I trust You.” I didn’t ask Him to please make the baby okay. I didn’t demand anything from Him; I just sat with Him and waited. The baby was gone. I asked the ultrasound tech to tell me what the measurements were, and the best she could say was that the baby had passed about a week earlier, meaning we had made it about four and a half weeks into the second trimester.
My grief chokes me. I haven’t taken a full breath since I found out that my baby was dead. I know women who have experienced this kind of pain.
I know women who have gone all the way to the end of the pregnancy only to have a stillbirth. I know women who have lost children to SIDS, cancer, and cystic fibrosis. And still, compassion for others, prayers for the Lord’s comfort, even weeping tears of empathy as I’ve walked with them through their grief have not managed to prepare me for my own loss. There is really no way to compare suffering, either. Pain is pain whenever and wherever and however it comes. I’ve been extremely healthy through all of my pregnancies. God has blessed me abundantly with the fruit of the womb, and I am the joyful mother of children – many children. While thoughts of losing a baby have entered my mind with each pregnancy, I have determined over and over again to myself, even with this child, that I would choose to dwell on Abba’s goodness and walk the path He has placed me on with trust and faith. Why borrow trouble from tomorrow, right? Then, one day, tomorrow comes and that trouble forces you to your knees.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
I gave birth to all of my children in the beauty and peace of my home. At first, I thought I might choose to let my body go through a natural delivery in the privacy of my bedroom so that I could quietly grieve with my husband and not have anyone watching us and interrupting the sacred process. However, after discussing options with the doctor, I determined that the risks of hemorrhaging and infection outweighed the benefits of privacy since I was this far along. Besides, as soon as my spirit knew the state of the baby’s life, I believe the connection in my body was made, and I started cramping almost immediately. I carefully walked my children out to the van to drive home, and they knew something was going on. I told them that the baby had died in Mommy’s tummy and was now with Jesus. Big tears welled up in their eyes as they listened to me describe that their baby had been taken from us, never to see the light of day. Noah’s response was the most difficult to watch. Surrounded by five sisters, he was determined that this baby was a boy. He wanted a brother so badly. He wept and wept. “My baby brother is dead.” He’s only four. I told the children that it’s okay to feel sad and that we can cry as much as we want because this hurts a lot. I called Pete, who was at work and the news devastated him as well. He came home to be with me. As we lay on our bed, holding each other, we decided we would allow the process to begin naturally (as it already had, but very slowly) and then when it started to get serious, we asked God to show us it was time to go to the hospital. I have a wonderful, loving, supportive family. We ate steak, roasted asparagus, and watermelon for dinner. I had a glass of wine. All of us were crying off and on while going through the motions of dinner dishes and getting children ready for bed. The whole time, I spotted and lightly cramped. What was happening hadn’t really sunk in, but I knew it would hit me in full force when it began in earnest.
1 Peter 4:13 But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
Pete and I drove to the hospital not even having words to speak to each other. We just held hands. We checked in at Labor & Delivery. The staff was very supportive as they showed us to a private room. The midwife on call discussed the process. We would begin augmenting the labor immediately with a massive dose of Cytotec and then a Pitocin drip to keep the uterus contracting. When I needed pain medication, Fentanyl would be offered every 30 minutes, and the doctor on staff assured me I could have an epidural later on if I wanted it. She told me the process would get really intense toward the end, and that I should not expect things to really get moving until about 12 hours had passed on the heavy doses of meds. I’ve done natural childbirth with every baby, but I had no desire at that time to experience the physical pain. I thought that my heart was in enough pain and I didn’t want my body to feel anything. But as labor started progressing, I sensed from Holy Spirit that I was to embrace this with my whole being, not just my heart. It would give dignity to my baby to go about the process the way I would have if I’d carried full-term. My uterus responded almost immediately to the IV medication. I took the Ambien that was offered, but sleep was far from me as the contractions were too much to sleep with. It only made me feel like my feet weren’t attached to my body. Pete slept on the couch in the room while I tried to relax. I remembered all the relaxation techniques from the childbirth education books I’ve read over the years. Relax, open, keep my jaw relaxed, keep my fists from clenching…all of this was helpful, and yet how do you carry the tension of grief while trying to tell your body not to carry tension? It turns out that I didn’t have to wait for even close to 12 hours. Contractions came strongly every minute or so for about five hours. I cried and prayed the whole time, mostly alone in our dark room. Finally, a gush of blood came as my water broke. A nurse came in to check me and said that the baby was partly out of my cervix but most of the body was still in the womb. It wouldn’t be long. I asked for some pain medicine as my back had started to hurt quite badly. This was so different, like my body wasn’t ready somehow. I was in transition. I didn’t want an epidural because I wanted to feel the process, and the shot of Fentanyl only took the edge off. It did help me relax much better. It only took about 20 minutes of talking myself through a few more contractions before the body slipped peacefully out. I gasped and asked Pete to look and see if it was the baby. It was. The midwife and nurse came into the room, surprised that the process had gone so quickly compared to what they were expecting. They treated me with the utmost respect and dignity. They brought over a warmed blanket, just as they would have for a living baby. After the tiny body was wrapped, they asked me if I wanted to hold him. Him. It was the son we had so desired and prayed for. His body was perfect except that it was tiny. Tiny ribs, tiny hands with perfect fingerprints. Perfectly etched eyebrows. Pete’s chin and cheekbones. Noah’s nose and lips. My perfect little son. I loved him. I wanted him so badly. I wanted this baby.
Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
The next few hours were pretty awful as my body had to be pressed, pushed, sedated, and scraped of all traces of placenta. As the baby’s body lay peacefully next to my bed, safe from the ravaging of the sacred place he had dwelt in for four months, I endured the physical surgery I had prayed wouldn’t happen. We prayed the placenta would release on it’s own, but it had to be ripped apart and taken out piece by piece. At least my baby’s body had not been desecrated in this way. Finally, when I could endure it no longer with just the Fentanyl, the doctor brought in the anesthesiologist, who would put me under, not quite like general anesthesia, but enough that I wouldn’t remember the last 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Pete did not get this relief but stayed by my side as they finished the D&C and I was blissfully unaware. I am so grateful we decided to complete this process in the hospital. I did bleed quite a bit, and it would have been tough to know what to do while at home. Just dealing with the grief was difficult enough. I was very well taken care of. When I woke up my belly was flat and empty, and only an ache resided as a reminder of what had just happened. Not even a decently-sized, post-pregnancy puffiness remained as a courtesy to my broken heart and empty arms. There was a woman who labored in the room next to mine during the night. She delivered a newborn who screamed and screamed, the beautiful sound drowning the sorrowful silence in my room. I dropped off again into exhausted, haunted sleep.
John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
I could compartmentalize the suffering in the hospital as long as the baby was still inside me. But we got home and it dawned on me just how real the fact was that we lost a little one. There is no trace of him anywhere, except his tiny body rests in his baby blanket, wrapped and preserved in a freezer until we bury him in his final resting place. I didn’t realize how many dreams I had for him living in our family, growing up in the loving environment of our wacky, unique weirdness and establishing himself as a brother. As Pete and I talked about grieving for a life not lived, we began to see that the grieving is for how much he will not experience. I will never nurse him, though my breasts are already filling with milk that will never be life-sustaining. He will not be sharing those cloth diapers with Ketziah that I carefully wash and dry in the sunshine every few days, the whole time thinking about wrapping his tiny butt in them come winter. He’ll never race around in his undies and cowboy boots with Noah, playing with swords. He’ll never get to practice his letters with Jaelah and Selah, or be the baby when Chavah and Hosannah force him to play house with them. He won’t ever cry, laugh, or love. His entire existence was in the secret place of the womb, where God knit him together. The hospital sent me home with a brand new, fuzzy blanket. I held it all day yesterday as I rested. The minute Ketziah felt how soft it was, she grabbed it and snuggled with it until it was time for bed. I tried to take it back, but she screamed until I let her go to bed with it. There truly isn’t anything to fill my arms with. Not when what I really want is my son. We meditate on the fact that he is with the Lord. We’ve been discussing and learning about our position in Christ for the past several weeks, and here our son is living it right now in glory. He both lived and died IN Christ, without ever living the experience of the fallenness of the world, though that is the very reason he was taken from us. He now dwells with the Lord, where Pete and I are positionally since we know Yeshua, yet we’ve not arrived there yet. Our son has gone before us.
2 Corinthians 4:17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
I’m trying to allow myself to feel the grief and sorrow of this experience. It’s deeper than anything I’ve known. My tears fall continually, and I’m letting them without any thoughts of constraint or guilt. I think the reason I was so overwhelmed by the graciousness and dignity the staff at the hospital showed me was because they truly honored this life. No one said anything about being grateful I have six healthy children waiting for me at home. Nobody mentioned that there are plenty of women who don’t get to experience motherhood at all. No one criticized me for having “too many” children. They were there for THIS baby, and for me his mommy. And even though it’s true I have six children and the sweet blessing of motherhood, that truth doesn’t take away the pain of this moment in my life. I was allowed to have all the quiet peace and decency that this baby deserved. That I deserved. As I’ve tried to breathe deeply yesterday and today, I’ve gotten a chance to let the Lord start to minister to my heart. The first picture He gave me, and the one I’m holding to dearly, was of my son. Yeshua Himself was carrying him on His hip, walking away from me towards a glorious landscape of light and clouds. As I watched, my baby looked back at me and waved. “Bye-bye, Mommy,” he called to me. Then he turned around and faced where they were headed together, as if he was more interested in where the Lord was taking him. Probably much more glorious and amazing than anything he could have experienced with me on this earth. He hasn’t forgotten me, but he’s perfectly content in the everlasting arms. The same everlasting arms that hold me right now.
Philippians 3:10 That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.
We named our baby boy Joshua Zion Dean. Joshua means “Yahweh’s salvation” and Zion means “a mark, a sign, or an indication” (it is also a physical place referred to many times in the Word, and the heavenly Jerusalem is distinguished as Zion as well). So our baby’s name literally means “marked by Yahweh’s salvation.” His memorial stone reads “A Life In Christ” where he was while inside my womb, and where he is today, indeed, where we are with him. As we prepare to lay his body to rest, I remind myself again of God’s faithfulness and mercy to me. All the days of my life, He has been by my side. Both through suffering and rejoicing. He promised He would never leave me, and I’m holding to that promise today. The cup of suffering has been passed to me. Can I refuse it when my own Lord did not? He knows the number of my days and I will not withhold from Him my whole life as an offering. As Job says, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Perhaps there will be much fruit produced from this terrible pain. For now, though, I let the tears fall.
Psalm 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.