Quiet Hand, Part IV {Warm Blankets and Forehead Kisses: Evidences of Grace}

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{This is the fourth post in a series about my experience with pregnancy loss.  Read Part I: First News: Sweet PeaPart II: Kite-Flying, Part III: Yellow Light}

When I reflect on the experience at the hospital following the news of the loss of our baby, my mind dwells on the grace of God. I do not say this lightly nor do I claim to be a saint; I am as flawed and as far from a holy God than the next person. But I must share that grace is not something I had to muster up from the depths of my Positive Petunia self. The grace I knew on that day — I know this day — is is the kind of grace that finds us, follows us, pursues us; it is grace we breathe in as we walk through the ups and downs of life.  Grace that not only saves but sustains us. This season of carrying a life and losing it has been no exception: it’s a journey laced in evidences of His grace and kindness.

In each part of this series, I’ve tried to shed light on the Amazing Grace so many of us know from the hymn often accompanied by blotted tissues at the gravesite. I encourage you to take time to open your heart and watch for those “glimpses of grace” so lavishly given by the Father — in good times and in trials. His grace is sufficient and will meet you in the thickest of thick, whatever narrative you’ve been asked to live. Pinky promise.

One last note: I’ve really tried to delicately and authentically paint a picture of my experience with miscarriage without too much personal detail but just enough to bring a voice to the silent sorrow therein.

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Entering the hospital as technically pregnant, having a D&C (a procedure known as dilation and curettage) then leaving unpregnant is a mind- and body-boggling event. In so many ways it feels like an annulment, canceling out everything you knew — including unbridled joy — in the moments and days before; if it’s an early loss and you hadn’t shared the news with many, it can almost feel like the pregnancy never existed. You may not have gotten to the point of feeling your baby move, but you felt that babe with every fiber, every bone, every breath of your mama being.

(Of course, when I say “you” I mean “I” but somehow it’s easier to say “you” in these situations as if to distance myself from the vulnerability of it all.)

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Image via Matt Redman: “Your Grace Finds me” – click to watch official video

“Is Grandma here yet?” my son groggily asked, hugging my neck as I kissed his forehead. He requested that I wake him up before we left for the hospital.

We’d told him.

Instead of the green balloons and big brother t-shirt, we sat at the kitchen table a few days before, the three of us, after the ultrasound, to give him the news of another kind.

“Son, we want to talk to you about something…”

“What is it?” he asked, the sorrow-saturated tones in our voices masking the expectant excitement in his.

“Well, we found today that Mommy had a baby in her tummy…well, the baby died but his spirit went to heaven.” The honest words came easier than we’d thought.

“That’s sad,” he shared, pausing for several seconds, long enough to see his contemplative eyes reveal that he  had etched this piece of information into his short life’s narrative. It’d come up again but for now he thought about one very important thing in the life of a five-year old: “Can I go play now?”

My huband and I smiled, happy to know our son was…okay.

Sweet grace.

A few days later, he’d spend a Monday with his grandmother. She would be the “special visitor” in his homeschool day; they’d do phonics and math together and wait for the “Stove Man” to come and take away the old and deliver the new. My heart rested at the thought that he was okay.

Grace.

On our way to the hospital, my husband and I held hands, thinking of 11 years ago when he asked for my hand in marriage on a wintry Sunday afternoon; a day filled with friends, family, and celebration cake with berries on top. This day, we faced a different course.  But grateful to traverse it together.  We’d eat lasagna that night, one of the meals sweet friends had kindly prepared for us.  

More grace.  

Admissions was kind to us and we quickly checked into the “same day” care unit tucked away in a corner of the hospital. We needed to do a pregnancy test first, I was instructed. This seemed strange to me but in my dazed and melancholy state I figured it was standard protocol.  Perhaps they didn’t know what I was “in for.”  Having fasted since the night before, I didn’t really have to –

“YOU DON”T NEED TO DO A URINE SAMPLE. NO NEED TO DO A URINE SAMPLE. WE DONT NEED A URINE SAMPLE!” A loud rather unsympathetic voice yelled across the suite.

After a change into a pale green hospital gown, a nurse fastened my bracelet and had me state the reason for being there as if for a crime I didn’t commit.  She took my medical history and started the IV. We’d just have to wait for transport to take us to the holding area.

My phone buzzed. “Mom, you wrote the wrong date on the morning message!” My son informed me, laughing. “That’s so silly!” My husband could overhear and we all laughed together. In the Same Day Care of the hospital before a procedure to rid my body of what are medically deemed as “products of conception.”  We laughed!

Such grace.

“You go ahead and change it,” I invited him. “How’s your day going, Boo?”

“It’s going great! We did morning work and calendar, and the Stove Man is coming at noon!  How are you, Mom?”

Oh sweet boy. He was more than okay; he was great. Oh sweet, kind grace.

“I love you,” I smiled in my hospital bed and passed the phone to my husband who kissed my forehead.

Like clockwork, transport arrived only minutes later. The man was kind, taking the twists and turns of the hosptial smoothly, handing me off to the next leg of the journey.  So many hands invloved.  My husband kissed my forehead again, following behind; I could feel his presence behind my rolling bed.

Another nurse greeted us in the holding area stall where I would wait for the doctor to come.  She opened the blanket warmer and tucked several underneath the paper-thin sheet that offered little protection from the cold, sterile air of the hospital.

“I can’t wait to tell my son about the heated blankets.” I shared thinking about all the Hallmark cards that describe love as a warm blanket.  They’re on to something.

So much grace in a warm hospital blanket.

An operating room nurse came, introducing herself as Jen. “Please state in your own words what you’re here for.” She verified the informaion on my hospital bracelet. The doctor would be in soon along with yet another request to share why I was there. For a split second, I thought about saying nothing, pretending to be anyone other than the name typed on that bracelet.

“Sorry it took me so long,” the doctor would share a while later. “I was assisting with a C-section.”

“You really run the gamut as an OB/GYN,” I piped up, surprised to hear my own voice.  She nodded and shared a list of procedures she routinely performs.  Instead of being jolted by the reminder of the obvious, instead I felt safe in her care.  Matter-of-factly, she reviewed my medical history and I choked through a request to do one last ulstrasound…just in case.

There was no need to do another ultrasound. This was it.

The anesthesiologist came on the scene and routinely offered her condolences. Again, a check of the bracelet and statement of why I was there.

They’d tell my husband where to wait.  After a round of “I love yous” and squeezing of hands, more forehead kisses.

Feet first, I arrived at my final destination — the operating room — where I was introduced to another nurse who quickly put away her cell phone. I could only see eyes. Slits of “it’s going to be okay, mama” peeking out among scrubs that had no color. I try to remember but all that comes is colorless.  More warm blankets, one for each arm, each stretched out 45 degree angles from my straight body. Talk of the way the anestheosligst likes to stand, a question of if I can take IB Profren…

I awoke in recovery to a kind nurse asking my level of pain. “A 1 or a 2,” I mumbled, eyelids heavy as boulders. They mentioned I’d go to recovery for a bit before same day care and eventually I’d be wheeled back and reunited with more forehead kisses.  Sweet kisses of grace.

Now, I invite you to consider the glimpses of grace in your own life. How or where have you experienced echoes of grace or mercy? If so inclined, leave a comment; otherwise reflect in the quiet of your own heart.  Kara Tippetts, terminally ill wife and mom to four children shares this from her book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard:

“Hunting for grace and living from your heart are not simple decisions. Learning the gift of each breath and spending it all in big, BIG love is the greatest calling of my remaining days— yours, too. The high calling of today is set before us both: to be humbled by the grace of God” (17).

Glimpses of Grace

  • Heated hospital blankets
  • Forehead kisses from my husband at every stage
  • Texts and Facetime calls from my son letting me know he was having a “great day.”

Quiet Hand, Part III {Yellow Light}

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{This is the third post in a series covering the story of my journey with pregnancy loss and infertility.  This is one woman’s journey in learning to trust in the unseen, the bigger picture, the absolute perfect and sovereign will of a loving Father in the midst of pain and uncertainty.  My heart goes out to anyone who has walked this often lonely road, especially those who whose arms have yet to hold a child of their own, those who know the ache with every part of their being.  Whereever you are in your journey — perhaps you face unexplained infertility, primary or secondary, or maybe you stand in another trial altogether.  May you find peace, comfort, and joy in the morning.  Read Part IRead Part II.}

 ~

“I think God is giving us a yellow light, Mom.”

Our five-year old had latched on to a stoplight illustration to describe prayer.  “Red means no, green means yes…”

You know what comes next.  Yellow means slow down.  Wait.

Often from the backseat that faith-filled child, whom we’d just start to referring to as young man in place of big boy, continued to remind us that we hadn’t gotten a red light yet; we were waiting for our green light.   

Only an ultrasound stood between sharing the news of a green light, the baby he had prayed for earnestly almost every night at dinner.  The one he’d name Sophia for a girl and Blaze for a boy.  We’d planned to surprise with a box of balloons in what happened to be his favorite color — green — and a signature big brother t-shirt, the kind I’d walk by at children’s clothing stores and wonder if he’d ever be able to wear.

(One of the things about secondary infertility is that although you may have a child at home, that child then wishes, hopes, and even plays big brother with his stuffed monkeys.  So the longing moves on the continuum from a single to a couple’s to a family’s longing.  Oh, the wrenching twists and turns of the heart to see your child ask so fervently for something completely out of your control other than the simple biological act of baby dancing, if you know what I mean.  I had to always fight a deep sense of failure that I couldn’t produce a brother or sister for our son.  But then I’d graciously be reminded that it takes three to tango if you believe God is the Creator of life.)

But first, the ultrasound.

Another insufferably long week had passed.  Despite dim internet findings on the prognosis of low embryonic heartbeat,  my bloodwork looked excellent, pregnancy symptoms in full force, and a phone call instructed us “not to worry.”  I’d been on both sides of infertility — primary and secondary — and although birthing a child can tip you over the side of the mountain with hope, fear and anxiety threaten to steal the joy bubbling — literally and physically — inside of you.  One friend, who carries several losses on her Mommy resume, describes the mixed emotions of “joy, elation, hope…muted behind the bars of a guarded heart.  Terrified to love so fiercely and lose so tragically again.”

The ultrasound.

My sweet hope-filled-believe-in-the-best husband prayed in the car before we headed in to our appointment where a few Baby Bellies graced the waiting room of the doctor’s office.  I wondered what the office staff thought of women who don’t have a belly to show for anything or a “safe zone certificate.”  Does that exist?  Do they avoid getting to know patients until said status is achieved?

The ultrasound tech called us back and I peeled off what felt like a permanent fixture of winter layers, my stomach in novice Boy Scout knots.  It was our fourth ulstrasound of the pregnancy; each one as heart-grabbing as the next.

“Lift up your hips,” she instructed.  “More.”  The grainy image of our Sweet Pea graced the screen.

Something was missing. The tiny pulsating white spot of a heart we’d seen just one week ago was no longer beating.  A sea of black without even a faint glimmer.  No movement except the sigh that shook my entire body.

This is the moment engrained so deeply in my mind that flashes on the screens of the back of my eyelids as I lie my head down on the pillow at night.  The punch-in-the-gut-this-isnt-happening recurring dream that will remain on the reels of your story of life.   

“It didn’t grow,” the tech said as she flicked off the screen as if a switch to a tiny part of my soul. “There’s no heartbeat.  I’m sorry.  You can go back out to the waiting room and wait for the doctor.”

He gives and takes away.  Just like that.

We walked through the endless maze of exam rooms past doctors and staff from the practice, avoiding eye contact.  No private room to hold each other to react to the news that we had lost our second child.   Instead, we were kicked back out into the world with the Bellies, a tablecloth ripped out from a celebratory banquet table, left to pick up the mess.  As one social worker describes it,

“There are no words to explain the depth of despair that a parent goes through when attempting to understand the shift that occurs when all hopes and expectations suddenly drop out from underneath anything stable.”

We could barely speak to one another.  All I could do was stare at my phone and think how in the world was I going to tell my parents that we had miscarried….again.  No more due date in October, no need to dig out the stored baby clothes I’d been saving just in case.  No need to come up with a new name for the “Sensational Six” cousins.

But I was sick!  I had no signs of miscarrying!  My body says I’m pregnant!

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I knew the options.  We could wait to miscarry the baby naturally or schedule an outpatient procedure called a D & C.

Yellow light…again.  In time, we’d clean up the stained tablecloth, broken china plates, and shattered crystal glasses.  We’d inform the guests that the guest of honor wouldn’t be able to make it; the party was canceled.

In the meantime, we would wait.

A weathered book, a gift from a dear friend, lives on the bookshelf and comes out from time to time.  The author is no stranger to suffering and he brings to light the balm of comfort found in God in Psalm 27: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord”:

…this ‘take heart’ offers a very different hope than what we often offer one another in moments of difficulty and disappointment.  What makes this ‘take heart’ different is that it’s a call to wait on the Lord.  It isn’t about trying to change emotions; rather it’s an invitation to rest in the one place where rest can really be found — in the Lord”  –Paul David Tripp, A Shelter in the  Time of Storm (64).

We’d wait.  Rest.  Embrace the yellow. 

Read Part IV: Warm Blankets and Forehead Kisses: Evidences of Grace 

Glimpse of Grace:

  • The opportunity to “see” our baby 4 times “on screen.”

Quiet Hand, Part II {Kite Flying}

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{This is Part II in a series of posts covering the story of my second miscarriage.  I call the series “Quiet Hand” as I am often reserved to share pieces of my life story.  However, the truth is that beneath this often perceived shy girl there’s a deep well of words which given the opportunity, bubble to the surface.  We all face loss in our lives — loss of a loved one, a job, a life dream, a relationship.  While I’ve hesitated and wondered how to share my loss(es), after this most recent experience I’ve never been more sure of giving a voice to the often silent grief of infertility and pregnancy loss.  Sure, my loss may pale in comparison to what others have lost but it’s the road God’s asked me to walk and I’m happy to share it with the hope that these words and this one woman’s journey through the fire will bring an ounce of comfort to anyone suffering.  Read Part I here.}

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QUIET HAND, PART 2 — Kite-Flying

I wish I could say that I offered up a couple prayers and snap! crackle! pop! all of the worry and anxiety disappeared.  Leaving the ER bathed in ultrasound gel and with unexplained abdominal pain — other than  pregnancy side effects — was disconcerting to say the least.  I arrived home to an empty house; my husband still in New York, my son at his aunt’s house.  Sleep finally called and the diagnosis of a small bacterial infection came the next morning.

Normally, a small infection is no big deal but when you’re pregnant and all too familar with miscarriage you can’t help but escape an itching case of the “what ifs?”  Even the most Postive Prayerful Petunia, whom I strive to be in most situations, is simply Petunia in her most human state.  A litany of Bible verses crossed my mind.  “Cast all your anxieties on Him…be anxious for nothing…” Good scriptures that bring comfort and peace in times of pleading with an often anxious heart.  Yet the fight was fierce.  Negative Nancy, in all her doubting glory, danced on my other shoulder.  

Trust is a little (or a lotta) bit like kite-flying.  All I could do was unwind the kite string and submit my beautiful diamond to the windy bright blue sky.  Just run with it and enjoy the course of exhilirating dips here and there, trying to swallow the underlying fear of a plumetting nose dive that you can do nothing to stop.  

Early the next week another ultrasound declared our young pregnancy as “viable.”  The handy dandy pregnancy fruit comparison told us he or she was about the size of an appleseed.  We walked out with a due date in the early fall and a request to come back in a week for one more “good” ultrasound.

So we waited some more.

Cautiously optimistic,” my husband would say.  Almost instaneously, fatigue and all-day sickness washed over like waves with both an undertow and riptide.  Although not obvious to the naked eye I felt like the ugliest color of green in the crayon box.  I took these as signs that all was progressing normally, ate crackers and sour candy, took prenatal vitamins, and drank fizzy soda water and Coke.  I even purchased some maternity clothes for good measure.

You bet I was going to allow that kite to flap in the wind.

Nervous butterflies followed me everywhere including the dark room of the following ultrasound.  About a minute after inserting the probe, a blinking white ball of a heart appeared on the grainy screen.  A heartbeat!  I’m not sure when you believe life begins but I can tell you that seeing your pea-sized little blob of a guy or gal and hearing his or her beating heart, well, there’s not much else in this world that can take your breath away.  We loved that blob of a baby from first sight!

“It may be that the heart is kickstarting,” our doctor would share several minutes later, slightly concerned with the slow, erratic heartbeat the tech recorded — the first in the 50s and the second in the 120s.  “It’s still early.  These cases are 50/50 and can go either way.  I’d like to see you in another week.”

So began another week of waiting, releasing yet again our baby up to the Heavenly Father.  Let your will be done is a scary, vulnerable thing to pray yet equally freeing as I cast off the weight of blaming myself for any possible future outcome.  People say not to Google medical issues but I found myself burning the midnight oil researching outcomes of low heartbeats and success stories on various pregnancy forums and medical journal articles.  Two words kept creeping up on the glaring white screen: embryonic demise.

C’mon little kite, stay a flyin’.

Read Part III: Yellow Light

Glimpses of Grace

  • Several opportunities to see our little Sweet Pea “on screen.”
  • Our 5-year old son did not know anything but somehow was in tune asking about all things baby-related.
  • Reminders of God’s sovereignty

Quiet Hand, Part I {First News: Sweet Pea}

{I’ve long wondered what my “story” is.  Like many children, from an early age, I immersed myself in fictional stories and the inner worlds of their characters.  Today, I’m drawn to character — fictional and non-fictional.  What makes people tick?  What are their thought processes?  What compels them?  How do they deal with difficult situtations?  Often the listener in conversation, I delight in hearing others’ stories especially those with real skin on.  Perhaps this is the result of moving around a lot as a kid and assuming the role of the observer?  Or maybe it’s simply the way I’m wired.  Either way, just like when I was a kid in school, when I do have something to say or add to the conversation, I’ll raise my hand.  

With the encouragement of several close people in my life, I am raising my hand and ready to write (share) my story.  I tried in the days following our loss, but the words did not come.  They’re here now.  I’m not frantically waving “pick me!  pick me!” but rather raising what we call in teacher-speak a “quiet hand.”  My hope is that just as I searched and scoured books and articles for stories of those walking a similar road, there’s a soul out there that may read this and be encouraged.  This is a story of loss and sorrow, one of tears and fears, but one of deeply-rooted joy in the most unlikely places.  

We all have ways of being brave and courageous; choosing to raise my timid hand, open it and allow others in and risk sharing personal pieces of my heart is mine.  Thank you for walking with me in this journey and whereever you are on yours, I pray you’ll find comfort whether it’s in these words or elsewhere.  You are not alone!

I’ve decided to break this up into several segments and conclude each with “Glimpses of Grace” – positive things that struck me in each part of our journey.}

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QUIET HAND, PART 1 — First News: Sweet Pea

“They told you, right?” the doctor leaned over the side of my hospital bed in the corridor of the emergency room, arching her back to avoid collision with the barrage of patients, EMTs, and tear-streaked family members looking for loved ones’ rooms.  It was a “doozy” of a night with some rough cases I overheard at the nurses’ station…

Um, no.  I mean, I did pee in a cup and was a couple days “late.”  The thought of pregnancy crossed my mind as quickly as it left.  Given that a couple months prior my husband and I sat across from a fertility specialist (after years of trying) who told us (very kindly, mind you) we had about a 1-3% chance of conceiving on our own.  And that was after months of testing and difficult diagnoses.  We both had strong convictions to not pursue her recommended treatment (that’s another story) and over the holidays had shared our decision with our families.

“It was positive.”  The doctor relayed flatly and explained some tests she wanted to run to rule out the causes of the intense side pain that had placed me on a Friday night date with my Stand-in Husband at the local hospital.

(My real husband happened to be in New York City for his intensive grad class weekend, completely clueless that I was 1) in the hospital or 2) knocked up.  I wanted to wait until we had more information before calling him so he didn’t worry, take the first train out of Penn Station, and fail his class).

Talk about picking your jaw up off the floor.  Think of every possilbe cliche to describe surprise, shock, and elation and insert them here: ________________.  The doctor’s back was to my Stand-in, also know as my sister-in-law, who had graciously dropped everything to go on said date.  I will never forget the happy tears in her eyes and the way she cupped her hands over her mouth when I spilled the news across the hall.  I will always remember that moment; she was the first person to find out and would carry the responsibility of keeping the secret of our beloved Sweet Pea until we were in the “safe zone.”

Part 2, Kite-Flying

Glimpses of Grace:

  • That we were even able to conceive given our single digit chances and a long season of trying.  “For with God nothing will be impossible.”  -Luke 1:37  God is outside of statistics!
  • Despite my husband being out of town, my sister-in law and her family were available to help.
  • The way my husband and I were unified in our beliefs and convictions.

Feltboard Easter Story {with printable template}

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Thought I’d pop in to share the felt board story we’ve been using the past few years for Easter.  *Updated with the corresponding Jesus Storybook Bible pages based on Luke 22-24 & Mark 14-16.*

Have your child place the felt pieces  (using the template below) as you read the JSB or any Bible beginning in Luke 22 or Mark 14.  Alternately, you could simplifly the story for younger children using the condensed summary (also below).

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Felt Resurrection Template <—-Click to download.  Print & cut then trace onto felt (colors indicated.)

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Note: Felt is ideal but you could also use construction paper or cardstock. I tried to make the templates as simple as possible and interchangeable for future Bible stories.  For example, the Mary template could be used for other women in the Bible and the Jesus template could be used for other male figures in the Bible.  Some glue may be needed to assemble pieces.