Friday, March 25, 2011

My story from MOPS

Yesterday I was very blessed to have the opportunity to share my story with a wonderful group of moms at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  I was very nervous in the weeks leading up to yesterday, but when I woke up yesterday morning I felt a lot of peace about sharing.  I could feel all the prayers that people were saying for me and felt surrounded in God's peace.  This is my story as I shared it yesterday:

I found out I was pregnant for the first time in November 2000.  I was 19 and unmarried.  I had accepted Christ as a young girl, but in my teenage years I became rebellious towards the faith my parents had raised me with.  I was excited to be pregnant; my whole life I had wanted nothing more than to be a mommy.  I was oblivious to the fact that something could go wrong…I just assumed that when you got pregnant you had a baby.  My biggest fear was just telling my parents.  My pregnancy was very uneventful until the weekend before I was supposed to have my first OB visit.  I was thirteen weeks along when I started spotting.  I went to the ER where I had my first ultrasound.  The baby was only measuring 6 weeks and there was no heartbeat.  I had a D&C that weekend.

I was devastated to say the least.  I didn’t know how I was supposed to carry on life as a “normal teenager” after going through such an experience.  Someone very close to me told me that the miscarriage was a blessing in disguise and that I was so young and had so much going for me, a baby would have gotten in the way.  I tried to seek out God, but in the end I gave into the thoughts that plagued my mind that losing the baby was my punishment for disobeying him.  And so I ran away from God.

The next five years my life spiraled out of control as I tried to fill the broken hole I felt in my heart.  Nothing ever seemed to fill that hole and my life fell further and further out of control until I hit my rock bottom.  During those dark years of my life I always knew God was near.  I could always hear him calling me back and when I knew I had nowhere else to go, I surrendered to Him.  I found a great group of college aged Christians, got involved in small group, got back in the Bible, and recommitted my life to Christ.

I would like to tell you that the transformation in me happened over night…and in some ways it did.  But I still struggled with the demons of my past.  Shortly after I recommitted my life I met my husband.  After a whirlwind three months we were engaged and three months later I found out I was pregnant again.  This time I was ashamed…I felt like such a hypocrite.  Not to mention the timing was incredibly inconvenient.  We were three months away from our wedding and I still had a semester of school to finish.  Despite all this, I was still in love with the tiny life growing inside of me.

Six weeks into the pregnancy I began spotting.  I had an u/s that day, and to our surprise we saw not one, but two babies!  But we also saw a large blood clot in my uterus.  Unfortunately the babies were attached to the clot and unless they were able to attach to a healthy part of my uterus they would not make it.  After a few more u/s the doctor confirmed to us that the pregnancy was no longer viable and I had another D&C.  With all of the craziness of planning a wedding and finishing school, I didn’t have a lot of time to grieve, although my heart was still broken.

We got married that September as planned and five weeks later I found out I was pregnant a third time.  Once again I started spotting around 6 weeks.  I was completely beside myself.  I couldn’t bear the thought of losing yet another baby, but when we went in for an u/s I saw something I had never seen before…a beating heart.  I continued to spot the entire first trimester, but the baby was always doing great and on July 16, 2007 I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful red-headed little girl.  I cannot even describe to you the joy that surrounded me that day.  God had finally blessed me with the baby I had so desperately longed for.

Six months later we were very surprised to find out we were expecting yet again!  The pregnancy was perfect…no spotting, no scares and on October 3, 2008 I gave birth to the most handsome little boy.  As I looked at my two precious babies, who were only 14 months apart, I felt so blessed.  I felt like I was finally doing things God’s way and he was blessing me in return.  But I still had a lot to learn about God’s ways.

When my son was 13 months old my husband and I were ready for another baby.  Three weeks later we found out we were pregnant for the fifth time.  The pregnancy was normal and at 20 weeks we found out we were having another little girl.  The u/s did show one of her kidneys was slightly dilated, which basically means she was not eliminated enough from that kidney.  We followed up with u/s for the remainder of the pregnancy…mostly just to monitor the amniotic fluid levels.  The doctors were not sure what was going on with her kidney, and they wouldn’t know until she was born.  I was told that it could just work itself out after she was born or that the worst case scenario was that she would need surgery to remove the kidney…which wasn’t even that big of a deal because we only need one functioning kidney anyway.  I was not thrilled with this news, but in the grand scheme of things that could be wrong with a baby, this did seem fairly minor.  I just trusted God to take care of my little girl.

August 9, 2010 was my due date.  I went in for my last OB appointment and felt her kick at the Doppler as the doctor listened for her heartbeat.  I had no idea this would be the last time I would feel her move or hear her heart beating away.  I went home that day and tried to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t dwell on my anxiety over wanting labor to start.  I was ready to meet my little girl.  After the kids were in bed that night I was able to put my feet up and relax for the first time all day.  This was usually the time of day I would feel her move the most, but that night I didn’t feel anything.  I drank some orange juice and ate some fruit hoping the sugar would get her moving.  But I still didn’t feel anything.  I began to push forcefully on my stomach and she still didn’t respond.  My husband asked me if we should go to the hospital and I said no.  I was tired and wanted to get some sleep in case I went into labor.  Really, I was in denial.  And of course I couldn’t sleep at all.  I started having regular contractions around midnight and around 3 am we left for the hospital.  There was none of the excitement, or anticipation I had felt driving to the hospital with the other two.  I just felt really sad, but I didn’t quite know why.

When we got to the hospital the nurses hooked me up to the monitors.  They couldn’t pick up the baby’s heartbeat.  In that moment I knew she was gone.  We had to wait a half an hour for the on-call doctor to come in with the u/s machine.  It felt like an eternity and as he did the scan he asked a ton of questions about the pregnancy.  The screen was turned away from me so I couldn’t see, but he finally said, “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.”  I covered my eyes and sobbed.  A million questions ran through my mind…I had just heard her heartbeat; everything was just fine…do babies really die on their due dates?  Then I had another contraction, and the first thing I said out loud was, “So I still have to deliver the baby?”  It sounded so stupid coming out of my mouth, but I could not fathom going through labor and delivery.  I was scared about what she would look like, or if I would want to hold her.  It was all too much to comprehend.

Less than five hours later my sweet Harper Elizabeth was born silently into this world. I remember crying from some unknown place deep inside as my doctor unwrapped the umbilical cord from her neck five times. When my doctor asked if I wanted to hold her I immediately responded YES!  My fears about her were gone and I was surprised to see how “normal” she looked.  Her lips and fingernails were blue but she was beautiful…a perfect blend of how my other two children had looked as newborns.  It was not until her birth that the doctor was able to determine what had caused her death.  I will never forget how long and stretched out her cord was.  Apparently she had been such an active baby she had gotten her cord all tangled and tied in a knot, but it wasn’t until she dropped before labor that the knot tightened and cut off her blood and oxygen supply.  Even with all of the ultrasounds I had during my pregnancy there was no way the doctors were able to see a knot in her cord.  This type of stillbirth is called a “cord accident” because there is no way to detect it.  There was also no link between the cord and the issue with her kidney.  It was very hard for me to accept that there was no one to blame and nothing that could have been done to save her.  I hated the thought that she could have been a perfectly healthy baby…if only.

We spent the day holding Harper; we bathed her and dressed her.  Our children and parents and my sister were able to hold her.  And then we had to let her go.  I knew I would never again hold my baby on this earth.  That was the most painful moment of the entire day…leaving her at the hospital with an empty belly and empty arms and going to a home that was ready to welcome a beautiful baby girl. 

There was a brief moment in the hospital that day that I looked at Harper and vowed I would never allow myself to feel that pain again.  But the very next day I felt a consuming desire to have another baby.  I’m not sure if it was the hormones, or the confusion my body must have felt going through 9 months of pregnancy and 9 hours of labor and not having a baby in my arms as the end result.  Maybe it was just a way to have some hope that better days were ahead.  Either way, I knew I wanted another baby as soon as possible.

My doctor said because I went full-term I needed to give my body time to heal, but we could try in 3-6 months.  Those three months felt like an eternity, but I am glad we waited that long because I was able to do a lot of grieving.  I had no idea how much work grieving is, and how long of a process it can be.  Even now, seven months later I am still in the midst of it.  I was able to realize that a new baby is not going make things all better, and that there will always be a place in my family that only Harper could hold.  Nonetheless, I still desired to have another baby.  When we finally hit the three month mark, I started to have some fears if I was really ready and even asked a few of the mentor moms to be praying for us.  When I didn’t get pregnant that first month and I was devastated.  I had never not gotten pregnant!  I had this whole plan that I would get pregnant right away and have a baby by Harper’s first birthday, so when I didn’t get pregnant it was like starting the grieving process all over again.  I was so excited when I did get pregnant the following month…I was due exactly one year and one month after Harper’s birthday.  So I wouldn’t have a baby by her first birthday, but waiting one extra month didn’t seem too bad.  I announced the pregnancy right away and asked everyone I knew to be praying for our new baby.  I thought for sure nothing bad would happen this time…we had already been through so much; God would never let anything else go wrong. 

But on January 17th I miscarried the baby at home at just over 6 weeks along.  I was devastated.  Not as much for the loss of the baby, although painful…I was more devastated that God would have allowed this to happen again.  I thought I “deserved” a healthy baby and I just couldn’t understand why I had to suffer again, on top of the pain I was still dealing with from losing Harper.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t mad at God.  I felt abandoned; I questioned what he was thinking.  Although being angry with God was a place I didn’t like to be, and a place I didn’t want to stay…I couldn’t avoid that fact that I was hurt that he allowed this type of pain in my life over and over again. 

When I look back at my life over the past 10 years, the past 7 months, even the past 2 months I can see how much God has carried me through and how far he has brought me.  Through each one of my losses I have learned more about him as he reveals more and more of himself to me.  But I realize I was only able to grow in my faith because I made a conscious choice to seek him.  Even today, as I struggle with why life isn’t turning out the way I dreamed it would, I still have to make the choice to believe his promises and seek him, when I feel like running away.

Some of the biggest lessons I have learned about God is that he is a loving and caring god.  He was not punishing me when I lost my babies.  I believe he was crying right along with me and offering to carry me through that pain.  I will probably never understand in this lifetime why God did not save Harper, or any of my other babies, but I know in my heart that it was not his intention to have his people suffer.  It was only because of sin being introduced in the world that we have all became subject to pain and heartache.

I have also learned that God never wastes your hurts…he can and will use everything for his glory and his purposes.  He has created every life for a purpose and even in the midst of my pain I can see how he is using Harper in my life to reach out to others who are dealing with similar losses.  As a mother I have no greater joy than to know that my precious daughter, who even in death, is being used by God to fulfill his wonderful plan.  Our time together may have been way too short, but her life still has meaning and purpose.

One of the most recent things God has been working on in my heart is releasing the control I think I have over my life.  When Nikki and I first talked several months ago about me sharing my story at MOPS I had this vision of standing before you with my pregnant belly telling you all how good and faithful God is.  Obviously, that was my vision, and not His.  But I am still going to tell you that God is good and faithful, but not because I got my way, or things worked out the way I wanted them to.  He is good and faithful because he does love us and because in our weakest moments he is the only one who can offer us true hope and peace and grace to make it through.  I may never understand all the “whys” but I choose to put my trust in a God who cannot be put in a box…a God whose ways are higher than my ways.  If I could figure out his plan or predict what he was going to do next, he wouldn’t be a very big God…so I have to choose to trust a God much bigger than me, even if it doesn’t always make sense.

Everyday I have to make the choice to believe that his promises in the Bible are truth and cling to them with every ounce of my faith, even on days when that faith seems very small.  I hold tight to the promise that his plans for me are good, even if that plan seems very painful right now.  And I hold even tighter to his promise of eternity; a place with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears…a place where I will be reunited with my five precious babies.

One year ago today...

One year ago today we had our first ultrasound and found out we were having another little girl.  These are the pictures from that day.  Before I even got pregnant with Harper I loved the name.  I asked Joel what he thought of the name Harper if we had a girl and he agreed to it.  We never even talked about any other names for a girl or boy, so on this same day last year we knew right away that this new little girl would be called Harper.  These pictures are very special to me because, even though we have so many beautiful pictures of the day she was born, these pictures are the only pictures of her as a healthy living baby.