Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”
That was the YouVersion verse of the day on Sunday. When I opened my app in church, I breathed in these words with a deep sigh and closed my eyes. I need to be held today.
I noticed this verse was already highlighted in my app, and it turns out I highlighted and shared this very same verse on Instagram 52 weeks ago. One year ago. Today.
That was the day I lost my 5th child.
Don’t Give Up
It actually started nearly 6 weeks earlier when I learned I was pregnant. I had been assured that after 3 healthy, uneventful pregnancies before, the loss of my 4th child in March was surely “a fluke,” just one of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage. We did not plan to conceive again so soon after a loss, but God has always seemed to take the lead in our family planning, so I was overjoyed at this gift. I immediately went to the OB for bloodwork as a precautionary measure. A few days later they called to say my progesterone was low, so I gladly started on prescription supplements.
A week later I went back to the doctor to repeat my bloodwork and ensure the medicine was working. I felt great physically and emotionally, so I didn’t worry one bit about it. One morning I ventured to the grocery story with all 3 of my young’uns – ages 2, 4 and 6 – in tow. We loaded up in a cart and had barely made it in the door when my phone rang. I didn’t even look at who it was before I answered.
“Hello, this is Nurse from Dr. So-and-So’s office. We got the results of your bloodwork, and the numbers went up, but not enough to feel good about it. So, you know, this pregnancy just isn’t viable, so we need you to come in tomorrow for a D&C. I can put you in at 9:00, or…”
I stopped in my tracks, stunned not only by her message but the completely casual tone in her voice, as though we were talking about having a wart removed.
“Uh, no,” I interrupted. “I’m not doing a D&C. You just said my numbers went up.”
The nurse sounded incredulous that a patient would actually stand up for herself and not just blindly do whatever she was told. “Oh… Uh, well, they did go up, but you see it wasn’t enough, so it’s going to miscarry. We need you to go ahead and do the D&C because Dr. So-and-So is going on vacation, so he won’t be around to…”
“NO.” I said firmly. “I said I’m not doing it. I’ll come back in tomorrow at 9 to repeat my lab work. Goodbye.”
I hung up the phone and just stood there in the middle of ALDI’s entrance for a moment. I don’t know if my kids were staring at me or climbing on boxes of food or what. The whole world stood still. All of a sudden I turned around and walked back out of the store. “Come on,” I told the kids. “We’re not shopping today. We have to go.”
I packed them in the car as calmly as I could. I don’t remember breathing at all. We immediately drove to the church where my husband worked. When we got there, our church administrator came to the door. I said I need to see Jeremy right away, and she said of course. “Here, let me take the kids,” she said as she swept them into the church nursery and put on a movie. That simple gesture of helping without my having to ask, without knowing what was wrong – that meant the world to me, and I will never forget it.
I don’t remember how Jeremy made it to the foyer. I just remember collapsing onto a bench and weeping. It was several minutes before I told him what the nurse had said, but it didn’t take him that long to figure it out. We didn’t talk. We sat on the bench and held each other and cried for what seemed like forever. Finally my husband said, “So, what do you want to do?”
I spoke without trembling for the first time since I hung up the phone. “I don’t want to give up.”
The next few weeks were a roller coaster. More like a series of roller coasters, or maybe a whole theme park strung together in the most dramatic and paradoxical sequence imaginable. I went to the OB every other day for labs. I had a couple of ultrasounds. I never once saw my doctor.
On the off days from getting my blood drawn, I would get phone calls from Heartless Nurse who thought I was being obtuse to hope in the life of my child rather than submitting to an unnecessary surgical procedure. She would tell me that my numbers went up again, but still not enough. I would tell her my God is greater. It seemed like I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone.
Just before Dr. So-and-So left town, I convinced him (over the phone) to order an ultrasound if my hCG level reached a certain number. He agreed, and we spent the weekend praying for that number. Our family and close friends joined us in fasting for that one number. We came up just shy of it, but they still did the ultrasound. The technician wasn’t able to see enough to determine health or gestation, but she did see something that looked like an embryo in my uterus. A few minutes later we met with Dr. So-and-So’s partner, who both he and many friends of mine have said is the best. I was thrilled to finally sit with a doctor who could see that good things were happening.
“You need to do this D&C as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s for your safety. This pregnancy could be ectopic (tubal) and if it ruptures then you will need emergency surgery.”
My heart sunk, not because I was scared of the possibilities, but because the doctor seemed so determined to do this procedure after I had just seen an embryo on that ultrasound screen. “I don’t understand why this is a concern,” I retorted. “We just saw the baby on the ultrasound, so we know it’s not ectopic.”
The doctor picked up my ultrasound chart and slapped it back on the table. “This means nothing to me,” she huffed.
Tears welled up as I told her about my faith in God and in this child. I was praying for a miracle, and I wasn’t giving up.
She literally rolled her eyes at me. “Well, I guess I can’t force you to do it, but you need to know it is my strong, professional, medical opinion that this procedure is necessary, but you have a right to decline my professional advice. Just promise you’ll come to the ER if you have any abdominal pain at all.”
I nodded and left her office.
You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.”
I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I felt a great deal of spiritual anticipation at the beginning of 2014 regarding big things that were in store for our family. Around that time I also felt God leading me to fast for a miracle. This isn’t necessarily a strange thing, as fasting is a spiritual discipline taught by Jesus himself and which every believer should practice. It was weird to me, though, because I’ve never considered myself very “good” at fasting. I have done it, and that’s fine, but I never seemed to get much out of it. I wasn’t terribly concerned about that until the Lord specifically told me to fast, so I figured I should learn more about it. I borrowed some really helpful books from my pastor and studied the scriptures. The unusual part about my call to fast is that while God told me there would be a miracle, he didn’t bother to say what the miracle would be.
I was still trying to learn and figure all this out when I got that first call from Heartless Nurse. I thought I needed to figure everything out to do it “right,” but when I got that news, nothing else mattered. I began a modified Daniel fast (basically, I didn’t eat any bread, sugar, or meat for 10 days) right away. I knew what my miracle was. God wanted to save my baby.
Over the weeks that I journeyed through all the doctor visits and bad reports, I was also on a spiritual journey wherein God increased my faith beyond what I had ever imagined. I spent more time in the Word than ever before. Every second I could possibly break away – early in the morning, late at night, nap time, while the kids watched a movie, any time I could get a moment of quiet – I was reading the Bible and searching for hope in the scriptures. God consistently led me to scriptures and stories of faith and miracles. I was connected with family and friends and complete strangers who shared their own stories of miraculous pregnancies and affirmed my faith. I visited my PCP for a sinus infection, and the Nurse Practitioner cried and prayed with me when she heard my story.
In the face of all the doubt and discouragement from my doctor, I was filled with faith and hope from every other source in my life. It was the most exciting time in my entire life, truly expecting greatness from the God who is able…
…But then He didn’t
On Tuesday, June 17, 2014, I started bleeding. No pain or cramps or other symptoms of a miscarriage, so I reminded myself who is the Giver of Life, and I continued praying and believing. That weekend my husband and I took a short trip to a bed & breakfast in Gatlinburg for our anniversary. We went to Cades Cove on Saturday, and in one of the little churches on the Cove I found an old hymnal open to this page:
Despite the obvious circumstances, I was full of faith when we returned home Saturday night.
Then came Sunday morning, June 22. It was my brother’s birthday. There’s something about birthdays… My husband left early for church, as usual, so I was rushing around trying to get everyone ready for church. I was scheduled to serve in the nursery, so I had to be early. I need to remember to call my brother. The kids all want something different for breakfast. I’ve just got to fix my hair…
I was walking across my bedroom when I felt it. Something came out, but not completely. My heart stopped for a moment and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. When I miscarried in March, I asked God to allow me to see my baby so I would know for sure this was it, and he granted that request. That tiny baby looked exactly like a 6-week-old fetus (technically zygote), and that moment with my teeny tiny little one brought me so much comfort.
This time was not like that. I reached down and pulled out what I had felt. I was horrified. It was a jumbled mass of tissue and blood vessels that honestly terrified me. My husband was gone, my kids were in the other room, I had no idea what to do. I was so shocked by what I saw, I wanted to take it to my doctor’s appointment the next day to have it tested in Pathology. It was the only thing that made sense to me in that moment. What is it EMTs do when someone loses a limb? Don’t they freeze it? That seems extreme… Maybe it just needs to be cold?? I placed it on a tissue while I got dressed, then I got a plastic Ziploc bag and put it in the refrigerator.
I called my best friend and told her I had an emergency and needed her to cover for me in the nursery. She didn’t ask questions but immediately agreed. More of those little things that others did for me to show me grace in my time of need. I called my mom. I was flustered. I know I didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know why I was calling, I just didn’t want to be alone in that moment.
My parents came over and took my kids to church. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be alone, so I got ready and went on to church. I was late, so I sat in the balcony. My parents sat with me.
Our worship team sang the gospel hymn “My Life Is In Your Hands” :
You don’t have to worry / And don’t you be afraid
Joy comes in the morning / Troubles they don’t last always
For there’s a friend in Jesus / Who will wipe your tears away
And if your heart is broken / Just lift your hands and say
Oh, I know that I can make it / I know that I can stand
No matter what may come my way / My life is in your hands”
Honestly, I was furious. I sat there in the balcony silently crying tears of anger and betrayal.
As confused as I was by what I had seen, as much as I felt in shock, the one thing I knew was that my pregnancy was over. I had lost my baby, or whatever was left of him. All that prayer. All that faith. All that believing. And here I am looking like a fool. I was so angry with God for the miracle he didn’t do.
The next day I went to the doctor and brought along my “specimen.” They did an ultrasound to confirm there was no remaining tissue in my uterus. Bloodwork confirmed that the numbers were no longer rising incrementally but had drastically fallen to almost zero. I still never once saw my own doctor.
That afternoon I sat on my patio during my usual time in the Word and just stared at my Bible. I was so broken, I didn’t even know where to start. I turned to the only scripture I could think of – the only prayer my wounded heart could utter:
I lie in the dust.
Revive me by your word.”
I lie in the dust. I felt so crushed, so helpless, so frustrated, and yes, still angry. I poured out my heart to God. I cried and screamed and told him how humiliated I felt that he let me down. Honestly, I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to give up. I wasn’t shy about it. God was right here with me, so he knew how I felt; there’s no sense trying to hide it. I was so mad. Over the next few weeks, I wept bitter tears nearly every day as I cried out to God. But I kept crying to him. Because even in my brokenness, I knew he was with me.
I will bless the LORD who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the LORD is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is filled with joy,
and my mouth shouts his praises!
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your godly one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting my the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.”
No matter how angry I was, how broken I felt, no matter how much I wanted to walk away, I couldn’t because I know the truth. The truth is that God is good, and his plan is so much bigger and better than anything I could imagine for myself. Even when I didn’t want him there, God never left me. And he will never leave you.
There is joy in the presence of the Lord. You don’t always have to feel happy or like everything is going right. Because sometimes, it’s just not. Sometimes, you are sad and things are a mess. Sometimes you are standing there in the middle of the wreckage of your life, and you don’t even know where to start picking up the pieces. And he is there, and there is joy in knowing that he is with you.
I’m still on my journey of healing. I’m expecting a healthy baby boy in 6 1/2 weeks, and while his existence does not erase the hurt of my losses, he is my constant reminder to joy in the presence of the Lord. A few months ago, on my birthday, I shared with you as I mourned the loss of my 4th child. That day, in the midst of our grief, my husband and I chose a name for our son that means “Jehovah’s gift.” This gift in my womb is kicking and rolling now as I type, and with every flutter and punch, I hear the Lord whispering to me, “I am here.”
My friend, he is here. And he is there, with you. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know the point of the journey I have been on, but I have learned to experience joy even in the midst of pain and to trust the goodness and love of a Savior I don’t always understand. I am not alone. You are not alone. You are never alone. Each day he carries us in his arms.
I love you. I need you.
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the LORD.”