As I get older, I realize that life is much messier than I once anticipated.
Over twenty years ago, my husband and I felt ready to start a family. The experiences of friends as well as the narratives told through television and movies created my expectations of that season of life. How often does media tell a story involving miscarriage, infertility, stillborn, or SIDS? How many stories are shared by older women to their younger female relatives regarding their own painful moments of losing a baby?
When painful realities are hushed, we are all affected.
Although it took longer than expected, I conceived my first child in less than a year. I suppose in some ways, my naivety lessened my anxiety. I didn’t realize the likelihood that a full term, smooth pregnancy was not guaranteed. Fortunately, I gave birth to a small but healthy son six days early.
Of course those early days presented much differently than what I imagined. Sleepless nights, limited free time, juggling work and time at home created an exhausting rhythm to my days. But we cherished the life we had been given; marveling at his developmental milestones. We loved our expanded family.
When my son was eighteen months old, we began conversations of adding another child. Since conception took several months previously, we assumed that pregnancy this time would not happen quickly. However, to our surprise, I discovered baby number two was on its way after only three months.
I shared the exciting news with close friends and family. Although, I was only a few weeks pregnant, I had no reason to believe anything could could go wrong. I made an appointment to confirm it with my doctor. I went alone since I assumed the visit would proceed as planned. There was no need for my husband to take time off of work.
But, my assumptions were quickly shattered.
As my doctor spoke, I struggled to absorb his words.
“I don’t see anything here.”
This is not what I expected.
He mentioned the slight possibility that the embryo may not have developed enough to see. My mind attempted to cling to this thread of hope.
In these days before cell phones, I picked up the pay phone in the lobby and called my husband. The tears began falling. Hard. My voice, barely audible, attempted to explain what I had just been told.
“They can’t see it,” I muttered through my cries.
I don’t remember my husband’s response. But I do know that neither of us were prepared for this moment or what was to come.
Initially, thinking that it was a blighted ovum, I was scheduled for a D&C.
Thankfully, the procedure appeared uneventful physically. Emotionally, I was still trying to reconcile my hopes with reality. At least my husband and I could return home to confront our grief and seek refuge in God’s healing arms.
A few days later, as I began moving about to the familiar rhythms of my days, the phone rang. My doctor spoke on the other end; my pregnancy was not yet over. The results of the D & C indicated that my body was holding an ectopic pregnancy.
Shock. Confusion. Fear.
I had read about ectopic pregnancies. I knew their implications: in addition to the loss of a baby there was a very real threat of life to the mother.
Fortunately, my life did not appear in Jeopardy yet. Therefore, Methotrexate was chosen as the treatment. A few days later, I found myself receiving the injection on my hip via a large needle. The physical pain was secondary to the pain my hurt felt as I realized i was choosing to officially end the life of this child. It’s quite possible that the embryo had stopped developing already. But, the guilt hung on my shoulders.
That summer became a blur of twice weekly blood draws, grief, death, physical side-effects, and stress between my husband and I. Yet, I continued to try to speak life into my toddler.
Fortunately, I became pregnant again. Despite my fears surrounding the first few months, I had no difficulties while waiting for the arrival of this baby. Again, six days early, I delivered a healthy baby girl.
We enjoyed the changing dynamics of our family. We had a son and a daughter. The days were filled with finding moments of joy amidst the chaos. But I felt our family was not complete. My husband and I bantered for several months over the size of our family.
Eventually, we decided to try one more time.
In what appeared to be a cruel twist of irony, we discovered that once again an ectopic pregnancy was confirmed. How could this happen again?
Despite the familiarity with the routine involved in the treatment, our hearts broke again. Dreams and hopes dashed in an instant. Guilt resurfaced. Would a third child ever become a reality?
In response to this situation, my doctor suggested that I be tested in order to discover what may be causing the ectopic pregnancy. Dye would be inserted into my fallopian tubes while he watched it on a monitor. Any blockages would be apparent.
No one could have prepared me for the results.
Despite carrying two full-term pregnancies, I was born with a condition called Unicornuate Uterus. In common terms: half of a reproductive system. Truthfully, most women with this condition, cannot carry a baby full term. Furthermore, pregnancy itself is a long shot. Not to mention that being deaf and possessing only one kidney are often associated with it as well.
Finding out your body’s idiosyncrasies as an adult when you have had no symptoms creates a bit of a surreal feeling.
The grief of losing two children is real. The memory doesn’t disappear. In fact, sometimes, I think that my body’s memory is all too aware that there should be two other children in my sphere. Often, when I’m rounding up my children as we prepare to leave, I feel an inner sense that two are missing.
Flicks of pain surface once in a while. Yet, mixed in to the sadness, gratitude finds itself. My husband and I recognize that the three (yes, we tried again after much prayer and conversation) children we have are a gift. We don’t deserve Seth, Lena, and Eli more than any other people longing for their own. We have no answers explaining the mystery of God’s ways.
But we are thankful for what we have been given. And that is how we find gratitude in the midst of grief.
Have you lost a child due to pregnancy loss or stillbirth? I have a fantastic book to give away. “Loved Baby” by Sarah Philpott provides a healing balm to the soul. Sarah wrote 31 devotions to “help you grieve and cherish your child after pregnancy loss.” This beautiful book will be given away at the end of the month. Please state your interest in the comments below for a chance to win it.
I asked myself this a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband and myself. To say the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is affected.
The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family. My daughter began treatment for bipolar disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depressionalong with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do affect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.
Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. Mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision and healing.
It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.
How do you begin cleaning up the mess?
Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s OK
Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
Originally published at http://mudroomblog.com/cleaning-up-mess/, this post also appeared at https://themighty.com/2016/10/when-things-calm-down-parenting-children-with-mental-illness/
The ways that God speaks into our lives constantly amaze me.
Sometimes it’s loud and blatant .
Other times, the voice comes as a whisper or a gentle nudging.
And often, it comes in the midst of an ordinary moment. Unexpected. Like a burning bush appearing among the familiar landscape.
One day, as I waited at an intersection for the light to change, I glanced up at the Target across the road. I was just passing time. Yet, my eyes connected to a sign advertising the need for overnight stockers. For some reason, the sign resonated with me.
Why? I have no idea. My husband was working. My days and nights were filled with the schedules and activity that result from having three small children.
The Holy Spirit was nudging through the most ordinary circumstances
As the light turned to green, the thoughts were packed into the back of my mind and I proceeded down the road and onto my day.
Two years later, I found myself listening to my husband share the devastating news that his company would be closing a few months later. A peace “that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7 )” permeated my heart as we talked over a coffee date about the plans for our immediate future. A few months provided a bit of cushion but still….what if he doesn’t find a job? Do we sell our house? So many questions surfaced.
And did I mention Christmas was right around the corner? I had a college degree as well as an M.Div. but I had left my pastoral position to enter a season of staying home with our children. Now what?
As we talked, my mind had not forgotten the nudge about the Target sign I had seen two years earlier. The job would entail nights at work and sleep during the day. How does one do that with a two year old? Ironically, my husband’s company did not have a current space for him to work from so he was given the opportunity to work from home.
God affirmed what had been revealed two years earlier. A new season for me was emerging.
Within weeks, I donned the red shirt and displayed my new title: Target employee.
Though the schedule often left my body exhausted, my spirit felt renewed. The job allowed for adult conversation, a means of providing financially for my family and even opportunities to look at merchandise without being yanked away by bored children.
In addition, my eyes and my heart were opened up to the life situations for many who live “under the radar.” Many people with whom I worked alongside, shared stories of broken dreams and desperation.
A wife became ill, and though retired, her husband resumed employment in order to pay bills. Two corporate executives lost their jobs in a mass lay off. Now, one worked the night shift. Many single moms worked with me. Unlike myself, they navigated sleeping in between transporting kids to school and managing other household tasks.
College students who juggled work with school also became colleagues. Here we were, an eclectic group to be sure, but serving together for one purpose. And I felt honored to be invited into their narratives.
In January, my husband found a new job which meant my job at Target was no longer necessary. I was happy to be done but a bit sad that this season was over. I was well aware that, while I had the option to leave the job, others did not have such a choice.I left with their stories imprinted on my heart and pondered how I could help others in similar situations.
Like Esther, my life entered a new season-for a divine purpose. One, that she hesitantly embraced as it came about unexpectedly and took her out of her comfort zone. But Mordecai exhorted, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Ultimately this season reminded me that our calling is wherever God leads us. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace.
When have you been ordained to “such a time as this?”