Gordon Lightfoot and Baby #4

Thanks for reading with us this last week of August – a significant week for our family.

It’s not often that we hear a dad’s perspective on miscarriage. Today Steve is sharing his side of the story.


August 2013

I remember pulling out of our driveway, driving down Clark Street, calling my mom.

“Mom,” I said, holding back tears, “We’ve lost the baby.”

“Oh, Steve,” my mom replied. “I’m so sorry.”

I fought back the tears as long as I could – but it was a losing battle. My baby was gone. My wife, whom I had spoken with moments ago, was heart-broken and alone – and I was 20 minutes away, driving with blurred vision. This kind of thing didn’t happen to us! It wasn’t supposed to.

***

Through each of our first three pregnancies I fretted every step of the way. Something’s going to be wrong with the ultrasound. The baby isn’t going to make it to term. The baby won’t be healthy – and so on. But I didn’t worry about number 4. Making babies is what we did! (My wife did the heavy lifting, but I added my part.)

When I found out we were expecting I knew what it meant. I was going to get teased. “You know what causes that, right Steve?” or “Wow, are you guys Mormon?” No one seems to have 4 kids any more. For us it was a goal – our idea of the perfect number. We were from big families, it was our destiny or something. So yeah, I was a little worried about teasing. Not a lot, but I knew it would come. One thing I didn’t worry about? The health of Lauren or the baby. We got this.

***

No. We didn’t have it at all. We lost the baby at 18 weeks. We went to the hospital just like we had in the past few years. They hooked up Lauren to all sorts of machines. But one machine was missing.

There wasn’t a machine to hear and monitor the baby. It was in our room, but it wasn’t connected.

Lauren was induced. We sat together. We cried together. In our delirium we even laughed together. At one point I left the room and got a soda. On my way back, I noticed they had put an image on our door. It was of an oak leaf floating on a still pond. It was a sign to those that entered the room that we had lost our child. I remember thinking that none of the other rooms had that sign.

As I heard, through the wall, the baby in the next room cry out with life, it all took me back a few years to when I was on the other side of the situation: That night, as I had walked back to my room and to my healthy son and wife, the hospital intercom had called out: “Code Blue, Maternity. Code Blue, Maternity.” It was an eerily calm voice. I’m assuming it was pre-recorded in a fashion that didn’t incite panic. The fact was, calm voice or not, at that moment those parents, whoever they were, were facing a challenge that I couldn’t even fathom. Thank God my baby was safe.

Now, back in my room awaiting the delivery of our deceased baby, I was in shock. I can’t tell you the number of hymns and choruses that went through my mind. The main one being –

He gives and takes away, He gives and takes away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.

I sang that line over and over again – willing it to make the pain stop and bring sense to the day.

Lauren eventually delivered Emanuel Reuben. We chose the name because Emanuel means “God with us” and Reuben means “Behold a son.” We held him. His hands were so small. His feet the size of a dime. He was so human. He was my son.

They swaddled him, as they would’ve done a newborn and we held him. Then, shortly after, they wheeled Lauren out of the room to have a D&C. I was alone in the room with Emanuel. I was alone for quite a while. I’ve never felt so alone.

In the song “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” there’s a lyric that goes like this:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

I felt that line. I never blamed God – I know we live in a broken world. I know that in this world we will suffer – and I know that we have hope in One that felt our pain and overcame it all. Sometimes knowing and believing isn’t enough. It still hurts.

God wasn’t done with us. That August was a warm-up. The following August we miscarried again. This time a month after our youngest cut off her pinky. Bottom line – I wasn’t a fan of August. “We don’t deserve this,” I thought.

But here’s the thing I was reminded of. August has a lot of great things in it as well. My parents were married in August. My dad, mother-in-law, and eldest niece were born in August. My brother was married in August. There is a lot to be thankful for in August. And that thought led me to the ultimate healing conclusion: We are blessed. God has blessed us with three beautiful children. Morgan the wise, impatient first-born, Levi the energetic, rough and tumble middle, And Taylor the wake-you-up-at-6am-on-a-Saturday-so-she-can-climb-up-and-snuggle-in-your-bed third.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes? It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s exemplified in the friends that bent over backwards to help and offer their support. I see His love in my children as they hold us tight. I see his love in my wife – a woman I feel God must have meant for someone more deserving…

I love my God. I love my wife. I love my children, Morgan, Levi and Taylor. I miss my son and our 5th baby I never got to meet.

I thank God for the trials and rough patches in my life – without them, I wouldn’t treasure the love and blessings I’ve been given.

God is with us. Behold a son. I love you little man.

The Healing Effect of Peaches

December 2013

It usually hits me in the middle of the night when the house is quiet and everyone else is sleeping.

It burns in my throat, and my chest gets tight so I can’t breathe.

The tears roll back into my hair.

I put my arm over open my mouth and try not to sob.

And then I start to get a headache, and I tell myself I can’t do this – can’t get a migraine from the grief.

***

On August 23rd, 2013 we cried because there was no heartbeat on the monitor.

On August 24th we cried as we said goodbye to our boy whom I had carried in my womb for 18 weeks.

In September I cried because my belly should have been big and round. But it was empty and flat. Well, as flat as it has been after having three babies. I couldn’t help but imagine it an empty black cave.

In November, I cried on my oldest baby’s birthday. Because a dear friend had her baby that day too. And I was fine. I was happy. So happy for them. But I couldn’t stop crying as I stood in the hot shower thinking about bringing them a meal, wanting to hold this brand new baby girl. Is it appropriate to ask for a private moment with the baby so you don’t have to bawl with an audience? “I just need a second with your 5-day old infant.” Probably not. Why do we insist on saying we’re fine when we’re not?

I held her. And I didn’t cry. In a way, the weight of her ministered to me. I sat by the fire with her mama and daddy, next to the lit Christmas tree, and held her warm heaviness. It was what I needed.

Like when her mama had written me four days after we said goodbye to Emanuel

So maybe this is a completely crazy thing to ask you right now, but for the last three days I’ve been canning peaches and praying for you guys. Today I just felt like I should ask you if you wanted to learn how to can peaches…

Can peaches. Do I want to can peaches? Sure. Will it be awkward? Maybe.

So we canned peaches. And at first we didn’t talk about it. But little by little, like the skin we pealed from 7 quarts of slippery sweet peaches, I let it out.

***

Grief is interesting. It comes and goes as it pleases with no care as to where you are or with whom you might be. Sometimes you think you won’t be able to hold up in a situation without losing it. And you’re fine. And other times it blindsides you, overwhelms you with no warning.

Like that time in the grocery store – my first time to the store a week after we came home from the hospital. I had just checked out, collected my bags, and as I was turning to leave, I passed a young mom with a newborn. You could tell it was a fresh one, tucked in the baby carrier. The floodgates opened. I ran to the car, and before I could stash my groceries in the trunk, I was all-out sobbing. Sobbing in the Northland parking lot. I just drove. And wept.

Holding each other up through grief is funny too… There is no one-size-fits all. I might need to talk but someone else might need to be quiet.

It’s not normal to ask someone to can peaches 3 days after they give birth to their stillborn baby. I would never have had the courage to ask. I would have pushed away the thought and convinced myself that it was a weird thing to do. But my friend asked. And I will never look at peaches the same. Peaches were a balm to my soul.

I didn’t know what to do with others’ grief before. I used to avoid it. I didn’t know what to say or do.

Here’s what I know now:

Make the meal.

Sit in the silence.

Let the person talk if they want to.

Ask even though it’s awkward.

The Loss That Cracked Me Open and Changed Me

I’ve avoided writing about this topic for a long time. Which is strange because in many ways it’s what made me start blogging. I haven’t known where to start. And I think it’s wise to not run out and write without living the story first. So, I’ve been living our story.

I also think I’ve been waiting for some great ending or tie-together or revelation. And sometimes that doesn’t happen in this life. Or it only happens partially.

The last week of August has some significant markers for us. So I thought it made sense to share these stories this week.

These posts have taken two years to write. My hope, as you read our story, is that you are encouraged to reach out to those around you who have experienced loss. If you are the one who is living a loss of some kind, I pray for you as I write. You are not alone.

* * *

It was May 16th, 2013. I’ll never forget because it was also the day my sister, Alyssa, was leaving our house to go to New York for graduate school. I was sitting on the floor in the living room, and realized I was simultaneously nauseous and exceptionally tired. Those two things only meant one thing for me, and I knew right away – I had to be pregnant. I got the kids lunch, and asked Alyssa to watch them while I ran to the store. I snuck back in with my test, and sure enough – instant plus sign.

Steve and I had always wanted four kids – it was like our magic number. That’s just how it was going to go. We had girl-boy-girl, so we’d talked about how perfect another boy would be.

My pregnancies had been fairly uneventful with my blood pressure creeping up a tad at the end – nothing to be too concerned about. I was nauseous, and fighting headaches as usual. I was just looking forward to making it through the first trimester when I hoped I would feel better.

We got to August, and I had my blood pressure taken at the chiropractor. Lo and behold – it was very high. I called my OB, and she instructed me to come in and have it checked there. Still high. They sent me for observation in the maternity triage. The nurse had difficulty finding the heartbeat, but finally assured me that she had. After some monitoring, and prescribing some blood pressure meds, I was sent home.

I developed a migraine the next day, and Steve took me to the ER. Even with medicine my blood pressure was not regulating. They sent me home with a higher dose of blood pressure meds.

The following day, Friday, August 23rd, I went in for a routine blood pressure check. I went by myself because – no big deal. I’d be in and out. My blood pressure was looking better with additional meds, but it was taking a long time for the Dr. R. to find the baby’s heartbeat. I mentioned offhand the difficulty the nurse had had, a couple days earlier, and she assured me, “Oh, I won’t wait that long – we’ll go right to the ultrasound room.”

She looked increasingly concerned, and then said “Let’s go.”

“Is everything ok?” I asked.

“Let’s just go. NOW.” she said.

I know what is supposed to come up on the ultrasound screen. I know there’s supposed to be a rythmic movement  – the heart pumping blood through the baby’s body. The whirring sound of life pulsing. I had seen it at 8 weeks.

I could see the baby’s head and body, but here, at 18 weeks, there was no heartbeat.

Two weeks away from finding out our baby’s gender, there was no heartbeat.

It felt like an out-of-body experience. I remember thinking, “So this is what this feels like… This doesn’t happen to me. I have easy pregnancies. I have healthy babies. I don’t know what to do with this…”

As I’ve since heard Beth Moore say, I had no file for this.

The doctor shook her head, not wanting to give up, “Let’s go to the other machine – it’s more powerful. I’ll get the ultrasound tech.”

 As I walked down the hall to the second room, I pleaded with the Lord –

“Please, you can make this baby come back. You can make him alive again. You can do anything. You can do this. PLEASE DO THIS.”

Waiting alone in the dimly lit ultrasound room, where I had seen my three other babies before they were born, I called Steve. He left the kids with my sister and made the 20-minute drive – undoubtedly the longest 20 minutes for both of us.

The second ultrasound confirmed that the baby had died. My OB arrived and Dr. R. came back in. They gave me plenty of Kleenex, and then it dawned on me… “I have to deliver the baby, don’t I?” That’s what they recommended given how far along I was.

They took me to a room to wait for Steve. I called him to let him know, and when he arrived we just stood there, arms around each other, and cried.

Even though I thought I wanted to be induced right away, they recommended we wait until the next day. They were right.

We went home, and called our families. We talked with our pastor. I was grateful to have one more night to be with our kids and sleep in our bed.

My friend Heather brought us dinner and flowers. Sunflowers. I don’t know why – they just seemed desperately beautiful to me.

sunflowers

That night, as I took a dose of medicine to start the process, I cradled my belly crying. “I’m sorry, baby…” I knew the baby was gone, but the thought of making my body push him out was unbearable.

I remember waking throughout the night, tears streaming, and Steve holding me.

– – –

We drove to the hospital on Saturday, August 24th, me clutching the vase of sunflowers. I remember passing cars and wondering where they were going, how they were feeling, and if they could fathom what we were driving to.

At the hospital the nurse took us to a room with a wordless plaque hung temporarily on the door – a solitary falling leaf in shades of gold and dark purple. “So that’s how they let people know,” I thought. “So they don’t walk in to cheerily…”

We spent the day watching Tigers baseball, Steve curled up in the bed beside me. I slept off and on as the Pitocin did its work.

Oddly enough, we found things to laugh about, and I remember wondering if it was ok to laugh… At one point the doctor was in the room for one of those moments, and she turned and said, “I’m glad to hear you laugh – it shows you’re emotionally healthy. Laughing is one of the best coping mechanisms.”

We waited all day and finally at 9:33 pm, with one push, our baby left my body. A son. He weighed 5 oz, and measured 7 in. long. We held him and marveled at his tiny fingers and toes, nose and eyes.

We decided to name him Emanuel Reuben. Emanuel means God with us and Reuben means Behold a son. We wanted to remind ourselves and affirm to others that God was still with us…

– – –

The hardest part was leaving the hospital room. Steve had gone to get the car, and the nurse and I were waiting for the wheel chair she had called for. When it came I sat down and she handed me my sunflowers, then bent down to adjust the foot rests. “Are you ready,” she asked? I nodded yes. But as she wheeled me to the door grief overtook me, and she paused as I wept. “I should be leaving a room like this with a newborn in a baby seat,” I thought. I couldn’t bear the thought of making eye contact with people in the hall – me with no baby.

I wonder if they clear the hall for someone like me. Because it was mercifully empty as we left the hospital.

– – –

I cannot begin to tell you about the kindness and love we felt. Some from complete strangers – like the local funeral home that offered cremation services free of charge – this was all uncharted territory for us. Mostly from our family, small group, pastor and church. They brought meals, flowers, and the most touching of all – a lot of people listened. Sometimes it was awkward, sometimes people didn’t know what to say and maybe sometimes they didn’t say the right things. But they showed up anyway.

Oddly enough, and still puzzling to me, I was never angry with God. I was profoundly sad, but I remember thinking – “He is still good…” I can’t explain the peace I felt. As Steve put it at the time – how could we take good things from the Lord, and then be mad at Him when bad things happened? It’s just part of being in this broken world.

Emanuel changed me. Carrying him and then losing him has given me empathy for others that I didn’t have before. Would I rather have him here? Absolutely. But I can see that I would not be the same person without him. I don’t know if I would have had a reason to press into the Lord.

This isn’t an original image, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I first read it. So I’ll tell you in my own words. Sometimes there are hurts in our lives that break us – crack our hearts and leave us splayed open to the world. But that is the perfect opportunity for God to get into those cracks and start to heal us. That’s when Jesus can get into the dark nooks and crannies – when we’re raw and honest with Him.

Emanuel started that for me.

Losing Emanuel

Suffering. We’re all marked by it… We’d all like to avoid it. But in this life there really is no way to insulate ourselves from it.

And no matter how statistically ordinary – 10-20% of all, 3 out of 4, 1 case in 1000… when it’s you it doesn’t make it better that it’s commonplace. It just really hurts.

Here is part of my story:

Like I said in the video – I have no idea what you’ve gone through. I’m sure I could not begin to imagine the tragedy that has befallen some of you. I am so sorry. But I do know that my God has met me in my suffering and He can meet you in yours. I do know that one day He will make everything right. He will live among His people and

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)


So what will you decide? Will you allow the fire of suffering to shine light or to bring destruction?