Monday, September 29, 2014

Olive's Birth Story - Part 1

Two months ago I was in labor, it was a day I had both longed for and dreaded at the same time.  I was anxious to birth her, especially since we had made the decision to birth at a birthing center rather than a hospital.  A birthing center meant no major interventions, no pain medication - a decision I was confident in, but still anxious for.

My labor started around 2am on Tuesday, July 29.  I woke up with what felt like strong menstrual cramps, went to the bathroom and went back to bed.  I had been having contractions since the day prior and since I could still rest, thought I should get sleep while I could.  That only lasted 20 minutes.  I woke back up and knew that day would be the day we would welcome our baby.

I got up, trying not to wake my husband or the dogs.  I wanted to walk around and let gravity do it's job.  I paced around the kitchen for an hour or so before sitting on the exercise ball.  The contractions were anywhere from 3-5 min apart and lasting about a minute each.  I called my midwife around 4am and we decided I would continue to labor at home and call her back in an hour or so.  I was able to rest on the couch in between the contractions, but around 4:30 I thought I should wake up my husband. 

What an exciting morning! We called our parents and told them the news - I remember my mom crying to me because she had been sick and was so sad that she wasn't feeling well and I was going in to labor.  I told her it would be fine and I would call her when the baby had arrived.  My inlaws prepared to get on the road and make the drive from Illinois to stay with our dogs.  My husband and I showered and packed up the remaining items we would need to take with us.

At around 5:30 I lost my plug and knew that things were progressing. I had no idea how far along I actually was as I hadn't been checked internally at any of my prenatal visits.  We left for the birthing center around 6am.  I remember saying goodbye to our dogs - and promising them that we'd return with their baby brother or sister.

I knew I needed to eat something, but wasn't hungry.  Traffic wasn't too bad, but I remember wondering what I looked like to cars that passed by - holding onto the side bar of the door, the faces I was probably making.  I tried to eat some frozen berries in between contractions and drank as much water as I could.

We arrived to the birthing center and my midwife checked me.  I was 100% effaced and 4.5 centimeters dilated.  She wanted me to walk around as much as I could - and I knew it would be good for me, but the last thing I wanted to do was walk.  We settled in to our room and stayed put.  My husband got me some food and kept refilling my water bottle.  I sat in the rocking chair listening to the Mumford & Sons Pandora station - rocking and saying to myself "down and open".  I wanted to move the baby down and allow my body to open to welcome her.  After drinking so much water, I needed to use the bathroom - at that point walking was difficult.  I decided to just stay on the toilet and labor there.

Sitting there allowed my hips to open more and there was a nice cold wall I could rest my head on in between contractions.  I actually fell asleep in between each one.  My poor husband - just sat there with me.  We didn't talk much but I knew he was there and that was all that mattered to me.  At some point a midwife came and asked if I wanted to take a shower.  We thought the water hitting my back and belly may feel good - and boy was she right.  I was able to stay in there for awhile and could hold onto the shower bars while doing lunges to try and move the baby - as she had flipped to a different side and wasn't quite in the position we wanted her in.  After the shower I returned to the toilet - "down and open".

Around 1pm I moved to the tub to labor there.  Oh, what a wonderful feeling.  I felt like I was floating and could just sit and let my belly feel the water around it.  I don't recall how long I labored there for, but I believe it was a couple hours.  All throughout the day, both mine and baby's heart rates were good and strong - no signs of distress from either of us.  My husband just continued to fill up my water bottle - the last thing I wanted was to drink water, but the midwives kept telling me that I would feel better after delivery if I was well hydrated.  From the time I was on the toilet my body was bearing down - I wasn't pushing, but I could feel my body tense up and bear down through each contraction - almost like a dry heave.  Since I had been doing that for hours, the water I was drinking was burning as I felt almost like I was experiencing acid reflux.  They brought me in something else to drink to try and help with that.

After the tub I went back to the bed to try and get in different positions to move the baby.  She still hadn't flipped to the other side and the lip of my cervix was over her head.  I remember being shifted into different positions to try and move her and when that didn't work my midwife had to reach in, while I was pushing, to try and slide it over her head.  It took awhile, but eventually we made it.  Since the baby was now in a better position I moved back to the shower.  This time I just used the bars in the shower to hold onto while I pushed in a squatting position.  The gravity helped, although this was, by far, the hardest part of my labor.  

There were only a few times that my head would start to wonder how much longer this would take - never once did it tell me I couldn't do it though.  As soon as I would let my mind wander, I'd bring it back - "down and open".  There were times I felt like my body would rip in two, it hurt and it burned but I knew I could do this, I felt strong and confident in my body's ability to birth her. I remember one midwife telling me that after 2 more contractions I could move back to the tub and deliver my baby.  Those 2 contractions seemed to take forever, but when she told me that we'd be eating dinner with our baby that night, I knew I was in the home stretch and I just wanted to hold that sweet child!

After those two contractions were through and her head was crowning, we began to move (waddle) back to the tub.  Just before I was to get into the tub I started to bleed so they moved me back to the bed and told me I could get in the tub and soak after I had the baby.  My dreams for having a water birth were gone, but at that point I didn't care - I just wanted to meet my baby.

There were no clocks in our rooms, so I had no idea what time it was - other than the midwife's reference to dinner time, I assumed it was between 4-6pm.  I remember being extremely sweaty, and feeling like I smelled awful - I believe I even apologized for that (of course, I would!).  I continued to push and her hand came out with her head and I was so relieved that her head was out.  I felt my midwife wiggling her around and turning her to get the rest of her body out.  At 5:18pm they laid that slippery baby on my chest.  I couldn't believe it - we were parents!  We just held each other, held her and cried.

At one point the midwife referred to Olive as 'buddy' so I thought she was a boy. I kept asking what we had, what was it? One midwife replied, "didn't you look?"  Finally I saw that she was a girl - "we have a daughter?  It's a girl?"  I was overjoyed.  Most people, including us for awhile, thought we were having a boy.  Secretly I was dreaming for a daughter, so when I realized she was a girl, my heart rejoiced!  This is exactly how I imagined it - a peaceful labor, a strong and confident delivery  and a baby girl with a strong heart rate.  She looked at us, but she didn't cry. 

We would never hear her cry.

*I'm choosing to end this part of the story here - as the 29th of the month seems to be a tough enough day for me.  I will share the remaining moments in Olive's life in another post.  Today, on her 2 month birthday, it's important for me to focus on the positives of her birth story.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mom Gulit

"Mothers are all slightly insane" J.D.Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

We're in week 8. That's how I seem to categorize my "life after Olive". Its pretty natural, don't you think? If she were alive I would tell you she's 8 weeks old. Time, for the first few months of a baby's life, is typically given in weeks - so we're in week 8. 

8 absolutely insane weeks. Weeks filled with every emotion a person can possibly feel.  Weeks of sadness, difficulty, and gut-wrenching pain. Weeks of confusion, blame, faithlessness. Weeks of love, joy and happiness.  Weeks of wonder, amazement and reflection.  

If you didn't know that Olive had passed away, you'd think I was just like any other mother of a newborn, wouldn't you? That's what I've been struggling with most lately.  Its not the sadness, difficulty and gut-wrenching pain - its the other emotions, the ones that make me feel like a human being again.  The ones that have allowed me to pick myself off of the shower floor, and look at myself in the mirror without feeling like I've aged a thousand years.  The emotions that have given me a voice that doesn't choke up every time I speak of my daughter, the ones that have allowed me to put on a little make up and buy myself some new clothes.  Emotions that don't change the fact that I'm in love with my baby girl.

Yet, a new emotion arises out of all of that: guilt. 

Lately I've been having more happy days with a few sad moments rather than sad days with just a few happy moments.  I've been preparing to return to work, starting to get back to more of a routine and finding myself thinking ahead to the future. 

And then I feel guilty.

I have guilt about everything. 

If I'm not sad or hurting then I must not be close to her.
If I allow myself to laugh or have fun then I must be forgetting. 
If I look at her picture and don't shed a tear, then I am just the worst mother in the world.

I even have guilt for unborn children that I may never have! 
I feel guilty that I will never enjoy another pregnancy the same way
Guilt over not being able to rest for 40+ weeks until I'd hear that baby's cry
Guilt that every milestone another child has will be bittersweet
Guilt that every part of another child's life will have to be shared, intentionally or unintentionally, with a sibling they will never know
Guilt for thinking about the fact that someday we hope there are other children
Guilt that I could ever even love another child 
Guilt that it will seem as though we're trying to replace her


It's only been 8 weeks yet some days it feels like a lifetime ago. 

Now, I know that "mom guilt" exists and I know that I'm suffering from it.  I also know (mainly through the wisdom of my husband and therapist) that it's natural, but I can't let myself get stuck in it.  I'm working really hard to acknowledge the feeling of guilt but then trying to move on from it. I have nothing to feel guilty about. Olive isn't mad at me or disappointed in me for living my life -Olive is enjoying the most amazing feelings of unconditional love and peace. She doesn't have to deal with these petty earthly nuisances, and shouldn't I be grateful for that? Isn't it every parents wish that they could take on the hurt and pain of this world in place of their children? But it doesn't have to be all hurt and pain - that's the hard lesson for me in all of this.

Recently a neighbor invited me to a women's bible study at her house.  We're reading The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministeries. The study isn't just about helping women to determine how to navigate making major decisions in their lives, but how to "see the hand of God in everything", even in every day decisions. 

Today we were discussing assurances and "standing in the reality of truth rather than the reality of our circumstances". How do we trump our feelings with truth? I'm learning to do this by acknowledging my circumstances, acknowledging my emotions and then moving on.  Just because I FEEL insecure doesn't mean I have to BE insecure.  Just because I FEEL guilty doesn't mean I AM guilty of anything. 

I can have a good day and still love my daughter. I can smile and have fun and still remember her. I can plan for my future and she can be a part of it, even if she isn't physically here.


"People fear what they don't understand. People let foolishness take them places they don't want to go. And feelings left unchecked will sometimes flat out lie to you". The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst

While 8 weeks can sometimes feel like ions ago, my daily roller coaster of emotions, left unchecked, can keep these wounds feeling raw and new. Last night, a fellow bereaved parent told me to "sit still in the wound". If we thrash about in the middle of the wound, it will stay open and raw. If we allow ourselves to sit still in it, it will always be there but will heal around us - becoming a part of us, but not scarring us.  

"There is no right way to do this [grieve]", my husband told me last week.  I can't help what my heart feels when, which is why I may be here in a couple weeks telling you that I'm a hot mess again (which assumes that I am currently less of a hot mess at the moment).  For now I am trying really, really hard to welcome the happy days, welcome the moments of joy that come along with thinking about the future, and know that none of those feelings make me love my daughter any less. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crossing the Finish Line

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

As many of you know, I named this blog in honor of my sweet daughter and all of you who have showered us with love and support over the last 7 weeks.  I often say that we would not be able to endure all of this without your constant thoughts and prayers.  I feel  them.  I feel you lifting us up and I, in turn, ask God to bless all of you for the constant outpouring of love you've given us. 

This past weekend was no different.  The support we received, whether in person, through prayers or monetary donations to Olive's Branches team was overwhelming.  We had over 50 people join us and walk with us as we honored the memory of our baby girl at the annual Briggs & Al's run/walk to support Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Our team raised over $3200, and that combined with the donations we received after Olive's funeral, totaled over $5000 donated to Children's in her name.  What a beautiful day it was!

I've been trying, over the last two weeks specifically, to honor her life - rather than dwelling in her death.  This is a difficult task, but one that is so important to my healing. I don't want to be angry. I don't want to be sad every day. I want to look back on those days with her and remember them as ones filled with love.  Our days are numbered and hers were shorter than most - but that doesn't mean they were insignificant. 

I wasn't sure how I would be on Saturday.  I was anxious (as I've been lately) about being in public - surrounded by people who don't know what to say or how to take the hurt away.  It's a tricky, conflicted state I'm in - constantly feeling like I'm straddling heaven and earth, my mind always on her but my body here on earth, running the race of life. I've questioned a lot the past few weeks, but always come back to the same reality: this is our story.

A lot of people ask me how I can continue to cling to my faith, how I can be so strong?  Let me assure you that this is not strength - this is a grieving mother, navigating the best she knows how, through a whirlwind of events that continue to lead me back to one thing: God has never failed me before, and He certainly didn't fail me in this either.  We're human, we naturally believe that we are in control and when we aren't it's easy to want to place blame.  That blame is typically directed to God.  How could He do this to ME?

The event on Saturday got me thinking about the race of life and how often we stumble through it. We start out feeling so strong and able and then something gets in our way.  We slow down, we hit a rough patch, our brain starts to tell us we can't finish - but we press on.  Hitting that finish line brings so much relief - we can rest! And then we find ourselves in the next one - going through the same motions.  I don't believe life is one big race, but many - testing my endurance, my strength - a true battle of brain vs body. Maybe you've been there?  I'm certain you have.

What options do you have when you're tired? Stop and walk? Give up? Any of you who have ever ran an actual race know that even when you're tired you still keep going.  You may go a little slower, you may actually stop and sit - but eventually you keep going, eventually you hit the finish line.

That's how I view this loss - I have days where I have to stop, cry (sob), yell (scream) and rest. Then I find myself waking up to a new day, another opportunity to keep going, regardless of what yesterday brought I have another day in front of me.  I cannot give up.  I have to believe there is good in all of this.  I have to believe there is a plan and a purpose - even if I never see it with my own eyes. For some reason my race is longer than Olive's - which is hard for people to understand because we believe no one should have to bury their child.

God never promised us a life without pain, (Heck, even if you don't believe in God you know that there will be challenges in this life), so why when faced with it do we feel like He let us down? Because good people get hurt? Because innocent people suffer and die? Why do we act as though these things don't or shouldn't happen when we know full well they do and they will? If these things never happened there would be no faith, and without faith there is no finish line.

The way I see it I have two options: I can blame God for her death or I can praise Him for her life. This doesn't mean I don't question Him or often times think I could have done this better.  This doesn't mean I can't be angry or sad or conflicted - but if I ever want to get through this, if I ever want to see her again- faith is my only option. 

So I choose faith.

I found myself walking, at different times through the race on Saturday, with different friends and family - but as we approached the finish line there was one person I was looking for. I stopped and waited for a moment until I saw him- my husband.  I wanted to cross the finish line with him. Last year we found ourselves walking this same race - who could have imagined this year we'd be walking for a different reason?  Certainly not me. But this is our story now, this is our race - and there is no doubt in my mind we'll finish.

At the finish, the real finish, we'll not only be rewarded with the ultimate prize - but our precious Olive will be there to greet us.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let Me Tell You About My Daughter

Today is a gloomy day.  Gloomy days are the worst.  It's hard enough to get out of bed, but when it's dreary out - it's almost an invitation from the darkness to hide under the covers and stay there. 

I finally got myself out of bed this morning around 10:30.  I was awake, as I usually am - thinking about where the last 6 weeks have gone and wondering if this is some crazy dream, scratch that, nightmare that I'll soon wake up from.  But one scan around the room tells me this is reality - her pictures, the bereavement box we received from the hospital with her belongings, the stuffed monkey my friends made me at Build-a-Bear that weighs exactly 8 lbs 2 oz that I hold at night when I find myself staring at her picture, smelling her blanket and wishing her sweet dreams as I fight back the tears. They are all there, sitting quietly on their shelves, inviting me back to the reality that this is my life now.

I grab my iPad and scroll through my email, Facebook, Instagram - getting a glimpse of what normal looks like for other people.  This morning as I was scrolling through Facebook I noticed an event in my newsfeed that looked interesting - a yoga circle hosted by someone that I've been seeing as part of my healing process.  When I clicked on the link I noticed it was a yoga circle for moms.  Hmpf.  The tears started before I could even process it - I want to respond that I'll be there, I am a mom after all-but I don't think that's what they mean.  This isn't the first time I've been conflicted - everyone tells me I'm a mom, I believe I'm a mom - but being a mom without an earthly child is such a confusing state to be in.  I'm sure it won't be the last event that will leave me feeling like I'm not really part of the "club".  I closed my iPad.

As I was sitting on the deck, drinking my coffee, I noticed the sun trying to peak through the clouds.  That's how my heart feels on days like today.  I'm so sick of being sad and angry and confused - I long for the moments when a little glimmer of happiness shines into my heart.  I decided today's post was going to be a happy post (even though it doesn't sound like it's starting out that way). 

Today I'm going to tell you about my beautiful daughter, Olive.

Early on in my pregnancy Olive liked to make her presence known. I knew the exact moment she was there.  November 9, 2013 I woke up in the middle of the night with some pretty intense cramping.  We had been trying for a baby and every month prior had been the same - but that night, instead of waking up thinking something was wrong - I knew we had conceived.  I waited, and waited...took pregnancy test after pregnancy test - all negatives.  It didn't matter - she let me know she was there and I felt it.  On the morning of November 21st I woke up after having the most peaceful dream that I had just delivered a baby - I knew that would be the day. I took a pregnancy test and fell to my knees, thanking God for this gift.  Praising Him for choosing us to be her parents, for giving us that opportunity. 

At 18 weeks I felt her move for the first time.  She was a little stinker, always moving - every doctor appointment we would have, she would scurry away as our midwife would try and find her heartbeat.  You would hear swift movements in my belly until we'd finally pick up her heart rate - just long enough to get the info we needed and she'd be on the move again. 

Olive was a foodie, like her mom - although not necessarily the type of foodie I had hoped for. Her preferences were Mexican (tacos) and sweets (donuts, milkshakes, ice cream cones, pastries).  Girlfriend had a sweet tooth like her daddy (and now, by default, her mommy). I dreamed of the day I'd have a helper in the kitchen with me, someone to lick the beaters and sneak tastes of whatever I was making. While we won't get those moments, I know whenever we celebrate her we'll have some of her favorite foods on hand - after all, everyone needs a good excuse for sweets now and then!

She was a good sleeper - we'd settle into bed and she'd give us a little gymnastics show and then off to sleep we would all fall.  My favorite nights were the ones where we'd fall asleep as a family - daddy's hand on my belly, my hand on daddy's - snuggling our little one.  She never kept me up at night -which I had secretly hoped would follow her into the real world. The only time she actually woke me up was the morning I started having contractions at 2:30am the day she was born.

Olive was born after 15 hours of labor - a beautiful labor, one where my body and mind were both confident and strong.  A labor that I wasn't sure I could do the way I intended, but once I was engulfed in it, was positive I had made the right choice (I will do a post on Olive's birth story, as many of you had initially been interested in it - but that will come at a later time).  It was a peaceful labor, even when I was grunting and screaming - my body was doing exactly as it was supposed to - and I was proud of myself, proud of us.

At 5:18pm she came out, all warm and slippery - she was gorgeous. I spent most of my pregnancy wanting to keep her inside - I loved the bond I had formed with her and wasn't ready to share her.  But when she came out, and was laying on my chest - with my husband's arms wrapped around us - it was more than my heart could handle.  I was in love!  In love with her, in love with my husband, in love with our beautiful little family.

It's true that most of the time I spent gazing at her was in a hospital NICU with wires and tubes - but that didn't take away from anything.  She was my daughter - the most amazing being I had ever laid eyes on.

Olive had my nose and my husband's ears.  At 8lbs. 2 oz. she was much larger than I had anticipated - and much bigger than both mommy and daddy were when we were each born.  I love chubby babies - and she had cute little rolls on her arms and legs - chub that created beautiful wrinkles in her feet.  Her cheeks, oh my stars, her cheeks were my favorite.  They were so kissable - I longed to be able to spend hours kissing them - especially the bottom of her cheek where you can't tell where her cheek ends and neck begins! She had this beautiful little dimple in her chin that I would run my finger over, knowing secretly (or not so secretly) that it must have been the fast food and ice cream I consumed so often in the last months of my pregnancy that led to all those rolls.  Either way, she was perfect.

Her skin was perfect, not a flaw on her.  She didn't look like a typical newborn to me - everything about her was smooth and soft.  She had this fantastic baby mullet - the right amount of fuzz on top with strands a tad bit longer in the back. Sweet little lips and gorgeous dark eyes (that we were only able to see after she was born as they remained closed the whole time she was in the hospital) that you could get lost in.

Olive was a fighter.  Yes, I know in the end she lost the earthly fight - but when she came out she wanted nothing more than to breathe - and she certainly tried.  While in the ER, the doctor was about to call time of death when another doctor was able to find a weak pulse.  She still had life left in her - she had a purpose on this earth and she wasn't going to leave until she was good and ready.  Olive held on until mommy could get there, she held on and was able to meet lots of family and friends.  She held on longer than I think many of us thought she would - and when she was able to fight no more, she let us know all on her own - very independent, a perfect mix of both mom and dad, no doubt.

She spread love and hope - her little life reached around the globe in a very short amount of time. People stopped what they were doing and spent time with God. Moms and dads hugged their babies tighter because of her.  Perspective changed and love filled the hearts of many. 

Olive may never learn to tie her shoes, graduate from high school or become a doctor who saves lives - but in her short time she made us very, very proud.  She helped bring people together, she showed my husband and I a new kind of unconditional love, and her life and death are helping to strengthen my faith. 

I can't brag to you about how her first word was dada, or how she learned to read at age 3 (because she would've, ya know!). I can't brag to you about how she got straight A's or scored the winning goal in a big soccer game - but I can brag about 36 amazing earthly hours and the lifetime of love she's given us. 

There is not a moment that I'm not thinking of her, thinking about how my life has changed because of her.  While it all seems icky and confusing at times - it's still incredibly beautiful.

And that is what I'm choosing to remember today.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


"There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it."  C.S. Lewis

After writing my last post I enjoyed a couple days with limited "suffering" - meaning I was able to find joy in small things, cry a little less and sleep a little better.  I imagine my body and brain needed a break from the unbearable sadness I had been experiencing the days and weeks before, so I welcomed them.  I didn't allow myself to feel guilty about feeling relief, as those negative feelings didn't serve me.

After those days were over, the roller coaster of emotions started back up, and here I am...again.  That's the thing about my days - some are good, some bad and I never know which I'm going to get when I wake up.  Sometimes I get both - in the same day. A good day can often go bad quickly. A bad day can also get better, although not nearly as quickly!
All day today my heart has been heavy, but tonight I gave in and let it overtake me.

I am reminded DAILY of my loss, sometimes hourly...everything around me screams "YOU HAVE NO BABY."  The good days I'm able to acknowledge these things and continue on.  The bad days I let them linger and get the best of me, sometimes causing me to be extremely angry and other days just turning into tears that flow uncontrollably, sometimes both.

I awake and there's silence.
After showering I stand in my closet and look at the maternity clothes that I have to keep wearing because many of my other clothes still don't fit.
I pass by pictures of a child, my child, that only spent a brief moment in my arms.
There are plants that need watering, gifts that need thank you notes and books on grief that need to be read.
Sympathy cards and 'thinking of you' cards still trickle in.
Laundry soap specifically purchased to wash baby clothes and cloth diapers still sits near the washer.
Medical bills for a baby that never came home.
The closed door that belongs to her nursery filled with baby items I don't know what to do with.
There is a wooden box sitting on my mantle that holds my baby instead of my loving arms.
Frozen meals still fill my freezer, serving as reminders of the extra time I thought I wouldn't have.
Every time I leave the house to go somewhere there is no car seat in the backseat.
I can't go into public without being asked, "How are you?" or "How's your day?" - generic but polite questions that leave me wanting to scream, "I'm awful, how are you?" or "Actually pretty crappy, you?" but after they politely ask I politely respond what they expect me to - "I'm OK" or "Good, and you?"
My physical body - the extra weight, loose skin and weak muscles that no longer have a purpose but serve as a CONSTANT reminder of my loss.
Taking the dogs for a walk with no stroller to tow the precious cargo I imagined I'd have.
There are pregnant women everywhere - their big beautiful bellies leave me longing for mine again - because at least when she was inside me she was alive and belonged to me.
My calendar reminds me of all the days that have passed since she left us.  That same calendar is now filled with therapy sessions, grief support group meetings and a return to work date that looms over me, all making me want to throw up.
A to-do list that includes items that I've done and have yet to do: cancel newborn photos, call the daycare, the therapist, the insurance company, follow up on autopsy results.....
baby's cry in church.
Facebook statuses filled with beautiful photos and updates of children and families.
Songs on the radio, billboards for Children's Hospital, magazines specifically for parents and babies in the doctor's office waiting room.
The same evening routine: husband comes home, dinner, discussion, a little television and bed - reminding me that nothing has changed, yet everything is different.

This is my life now.  I look in the mirror and barely recognize the woman staring back at me. Who is she? How did she get to this place? Will she always be this sad? When will she truly trust and allow God to fill her with peace?

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  1 Peter 5:10

I long for the day I am restored and strengthened.
Today is not that day. Today the emptiness and grief have taken over, bringing me to my knees.

Lord, I don't know why you have brought me down this path. I don't know what purpose I serve in all of this. I don't know why I couldn't have had her for just a little longer. Help me to get through this. Help me to trust you - take away this unbelief and replace it with trust. Give me the wisdom I need to recognize and accept this as a part of your plan. Surround me with people who build me up and return me to you. Fill this gaping hole in my heart with your love and presence.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Weathering the Storm

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.  Psalm 69: 1-2

This weekend was supposed to be Olive's first road trip and overnight stay at her grandma and grandpa's house.  My husband's parents live in Illinois and we had plans to visit and catch up with extended family that were in town for the holiday weekend.  I had been thinking about and planning for this weekend for months.

If there was anything that our three baby showers taught me it was that we probably didn't need as much as we had. I imagined we'd load the car up with a ridiculous amount of baby gear, way more than we'd actually need for our short 2 night stay. Would I sit in back with Olive and the dogs, or trust them to be next to the car seat and not get in her face the whole ride?  Being Labor Day weekend, the probability of getting stuck in traffic was high. Would we have to pull over so I could nurse her, change her or calm her?  In the end none of these things would matter because our trip would no longer be the same. 

Not at all how I had planned.

Just like the hundred or so times before, we tossed our overnight bags in the back, got the dogs in their seats and drove off....just the two of us.  Friday, August 29th marked one month since Olive would come into our lives.  The whole drive down I cried.  I kept replaying my labor and delivery in my head, longing to be pregnant again just so I could feel connected to her.  As I watched the clock hit 5:18pm I imagined them laying her on my chest.  I closed my eyes through the tears. I knew it was going to be a long weekend.

Mornings have always been difficult for me since Olive passed.  I have little motivation to get myself out of bed, mainly because I know it's another day without her.  From the moment I wake up, my mind takes me to places I wish it wouldn't - dark places where I ache, dark places where I think about who I can blame for this, dark places where I cry out to God to save me.  Lately, though, I find myself heading to these dark places at many times throughout the day.  I live with a constant lump in my throat, choking back tears - having to pause before responding, in fear of breaking down. 

My anxiety was high as I knew I would have to face family and friends that were going to express their condolences, ask questions and hug.  Worse yet, after all of that was out of the way, people were going to be normal.  There was no more living in my own world of sadness, I had to come to reality - a reality where I'm the only one with a dead child, I'm the only one living in that agony, everyone else was moving on with life and was going to be enjoying the beautiful day.  Sure they would be kind and compassionate, but eventually someone would tell a joke or start talking sports. Eventually someone would want to talk about something other than Olive.

That's the hard part about trials that we face - they are our trials, they don't belong to anyone else. Sure, other people will experience the loss of the child, but no one else will ever experience the loss of MY child. How on earth will I go through the rest of this earthly life without this sweet, precious baby?  How do you just trust that this, whatever "this" is for you, is all a part of God's plan? We can't answer these questions on our own. I thank God that He has brought me strong Christian friends to remind me and help bring me back from these dark places.

After I got home Sunday night a friend had sent me, word for word, the sermon that was preached at her church that very morning. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:2-7

A verse I've heard many times before, a verse I've even read since Olive has died - a verse that is not easy to comprehend in the face of heartache like this - which makes it a verse that is so much more important for my healing.
Paraphrased from the sermon: Jesus didn't tell Peter to go around the waves or wait until they started to die down. He had him walk right through them. And even after Peter sank, Jesus pulled him up and put him right back in the middle of the storm. Israel was jammed between an army that wanted to kill them and a sea that could swallow them. But the LORD didn't build a bridge of over it or give them a map to go around it. He had them walk right through it. God's solution wasn't for them to run away from their trials, but to face them, and, eventually, overcome them.

It's easy for us to be full of joy, just as long as things don't get too bad. As long as you never get sick, as long as you have enough friends, as long as you keep feeling special, as long as the tumor goes away, as long as you keep your job, as long as the right people get elected, as long as you never have to bury someone who is near and dear to your heart. Does God really expect you to be full of joy when one of those things happen? He didn't say it's easy, but James does believe it's possible to find pure joy in the middle of any trial. However, it takes a very important gift from God to be able to find it. It takes wisdom. But you won't ever have this wisdom if you believe there are limits as to what God can do for his children. 

How on earth do you weather a storm like THIS? How on earth do you consider the death of your child pure JOY?  This is certainly something I'm struggling with.  This is where I tell you, dear reader, that I am not strong enough.

Maybe I've been praying for the wrong thing - maybe strength isn't what I need.  The times in my life that I've felt "strong" are probably the times that I've been the furthest from God -

"No thanks, God, I've got this.  You can just keep on helping all those weak people out there, I can handle this on my own."

The storms in life are God's way of bringing us back.  Did my daughter have to die for that to happen? Maybe - maybe not - that's not my call.  There is no doubt that there is a bigger picture here, a bigger part of the plan that I can't see, a piece of the puzzle that I'm missing. Strength isn't really what I need, what I should be praying for is wisdom and trust. Wisdom to understand that I don't have all the answers. Wisdom to remind me that man couldn't save her but He could and He did. Trust that God is holding me through this storm. Trust that He has never failed me even at my lowest times. Trust that He is caring for my girl - way better than I can (which is a hard thing to wrap your head around as a parent, isn't it?). 

Our faith is directly tied to all of God's promises. So if he has made you a promise, then act like he's going to keep it. If he says he is with you always, then act like you're never alone. If he says he provides a way out from every temptation,then keep walking away from it. If he says he answers your prayers, then pray like God is listening. If he says he will do what is best, don't complain about his decision. And if he says that every trial in your life right now is strengthening you for an even bigger trial still coming, then start looking at your trials as a blessing, no matter how big and scary they may be.  

This weekend was just one of, I'm sure, many reminders that none of this has gone as I had planned - yet all of it has gone exactly as He has planned.  Which brings me back to the question - how can I find joy in this trial?  I'm certainly not joyful that my daughter is dead, and either is God.  He didn't want Olive to die, He doesn't find satisfaction in death, there is no joy in death - but there is joy in life. 

Even though it takes everything in me to focus on it - there was joy in her life.  Since I believe life begins at conception - we had a lot more than 36 hours with her.  There is joy in a healthy pregnancy, joy in feeling your baby grow and move within you, joy in knowing that you and your spouse created (with the help of God) this amazing being.  We can be joyful that my labor was positive - I was strong and confident in my abilities to birth her.  There is joy that we became parents that day, joy in the experience my husband and I had together, joy that we got to hold her - as there are many families that don't get that experience when they lose a child.  There is joy that she was born alive- and that our families and we were able to have time with her.

As I was talking with a friend tonight she helped me come to a realization - it was a short life but my husband and I were able to be at her side for the three most important milestones she would have: her birth, her baptism and her death.  We were there- holding her hand, stroking her hair, loving her and present with her as she was born into this world, born into God's family and received by the angels into her eternal home. And as parents, that was all we were given the opportunity to do for her - and we didn't let her down. THAT brings joy to my heart.

There are going to be many more dark days ahead of me, which is why I have this blog - when I get these moments of wisdom that I've asked God to show me - I need to read them over and over again so that I can let it sink in, so that I can remember and restore my faith in Him.  Whatever your trials are, whatever storm you're facing I hope you can find something that brings you peace and joy from it.  It doesn't happen from reading one bible passage or blog post - trust me, I've tried!  It's a continual process, a long journey, but one that we have to remember God is in control over - our shelter from the storm.