I would like to tell you a story. This story is a true story, and one I believe needs to be shared. It’s not an easy story to tell, and in fact it’s quite uncomfortable to tell it. Finding the right words has been like grasping at the wind; just when you think you’ve caught it, it slips right through your fingers.
I’ve heard it said that miracles happen every day, but we’ve just become so used to seeing them that we don’t recognize them for what they truly are anymore. I think that is very true.
This story is about a miracle; three miracles really. The first two I will tell you about soon enough. The third miracle – the smaller but still important miracle, is that I have been able to share this story with you here today.
When Tim and I got married we decided we wanted to wait a while to have any children. We married quite young, so we had time. We wanted to have “our” time first and create our own story together before having children. We loved the idea of children, we just thought too many people didn’t take time to enjoy their marriage first. We didn’t want to be the old couple who had nothing in common once the kids were all grown up and moved out.
We also wanted to be in a situation where we could provide for our children without too many concerns. We wanted to be able to give them our attention and have a home where they knew we weren’t just “getting by”. Everything didn’t have to be perfect, we simply wanted to give our children the very best from the beginning.
With all that being said however, I wanted a baby, and very badly. I have always had this plan that we would have a couple and adopt a couple – or more. I’ve always wanted a big family. I guess coming from a small family with only one brother I have always loved the idea of having more around. So even though I’m saying “we had a plan”, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t counting down the days with almost frantic anticipation.
As time went by, the waiting started to be a little longer than anticipated. It’s not that we weren’t ready to be parents, we simply still felt financially unprepared. Life doesn’t always go as we plan of course, and it took a while to get to where we wanted to be. As the years passed by, the desire in me for us to have a baby was growing stronger and stronger by the day. I used to think the term maternal clock was just a saying, but no, I was certainly ticking!
I prayed about a baby. I mean big time prayed. After what started to feel like forever, patience finally paid off and the moment I had been anxiously awaiting had arrived. We we’re ready.
The day that we found out that I was pregnant, it wasn’t from a little stick with a line on it. We were driving along when suddenly out of nowhere, out of my mouth came this quick, sharp and somewhat desperate tone of voice that I didn’t even know existed in me: “Pull over! I need ginger ale!” Tim, being the wonderful husband that he is, did just that. He pulled up to a near by convenience store and got me the ginger ale. As he handed me the extra large green bottle, he smiled as he spoke the words that we were both thinking: “You’re pregnant!”
The days and weeks following finding out that I was pregnant were a blur of excitement and nausea. It was also a time of questions.
A week before the ginger ale epiphany, I had visited a doctor to check up on something that had been happening with my neck. I had strange and alarming pulsating on both the left and right sides which were often visible when I slept, and it was beginning to be of concern. Tim would say that he could see the movement push from the base of my neck all the way through to the top sometimes; it was definitely an anomaly. The doctor scheduled an ultrasound of my neck.
The day after a test had confirmed my pregnancy, I received a phone call from the hospital saying something had showed up on the neck ultrasound, and that I was being sent to a specialist – a vascular surgeon. At eight weeks pregnant I had my appointment with the surgeon. With Tim by my side, and our baby in my belly, I was told that I had three benign tumors in my carotid arteries. One that was three centimeters in size on one side, and two smaller ones on the other. How they got there, no one knew.
Frustration set in. This was definitely not the news I thought I would be hearing. On the bright side however I was assured over and over that this would not, and could not, effect the baby in any way. During the appointment with the surgeon, he talked us through the procedure of removing the tumors. To ensure that it wouldn’t complicate the pregnancy, it would have to wait until after our baby was born however.
Tim asked questions about any risks to me, signs we should be looking out for, and the big question: “Was there any way the ultrasound could give false positives?” The doctor matter-of-factly explained that they were certainly tumors, and that there was no chance of error.
When we left that appointment I looked at Tim and said “Okay then, I have seven months for my miracle to manifest. I am NOT having that surgery!” Our focus needed to be on this baby growing inside me, not some scary diagnoses that arrived at the most perfectly inopportune time. I wasn’t avoiding reality or ignoring my doctor or body. I decided to take a stand of faith, and I began to ask God for a better solution.
The Waiting Game
So the weeks went by and our little bean in my belly began to grow. We told a few family members and close friends the news, but not many. We wanted to wait as long as we could so it was a big surprise for everyone.
At 10 weeks I had an ultrasound, and for the first time we had a glimpse of our precious one and heard our baby’s pounding heart.
In the early stages of pregnancy there were, of course, moments where I would suddenly worry about the baby or about my health. Tim would constantly encourage me however, and I also held strong onto the belief that I would not have to have neck surgery. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I truly believed that by the time my baby was born every one of those tumors would disappear.
Over the next few weeks my body went through more changes as I settled into the pregnancy, and reached the end of the first trimester. I remember feeling like I was crossing the finish line of a marathon; I was entering into the “safe” zone.
The Not So Safe Zone
One night, Saturday November 16th, 2013 at 6:20pm to be exact, the day after a routine doctor’s appointment where it was confirmed everything was on track with our baby, something happened. It wasn’t anything big. It wasn’t anything shocking. It was just small, and quiet. It was something however. I had a pain. Not a long, lingering, alarming pain. Just a small, quick and quiet pain in my tummy. I felt uneasy. I told Tim and we prayed. The pain never came back.
A couple of hours later I noticed one single very small drop of blood. Tim and I decided it was best to go get checked although this was not something completely out of the ordinary during pregnancy. Woman can bleed a lot more than I had without issue, so I wasn’t extremely worried. Still however, to at least be able to get a good nights sleep we decided to be on the side of caution and we went to the hospital.
After a very long wait in the emergency room, I was checked by a doctor who confirmed that I, and our baby, were just fine. Relief. We were sent home, but were asked to come back the following morning for an additional ultrasound to confirm everything was on track as it should be. While waiting for the results of the ultra sound the next day I saw a young woman, who I noticed the night before. She was also pregnant, just a couple of weeks behind me. Her ultrasound had been just after mine. Unlike me, she was called into urgent care for her results. I remember feeling very sorry for her as I watched this happen. If she was called in before me, I assumed that there must have been something they needed to tell her quickly.
A half an hour later however, I saw her walk out of urgent care with a smile on her face while laughing and talking with her husband. My stomach dropped. I felt my heart beat in my throat. I approached the registration nurse asking how long it may be for my results to be ready, and she informed me they were waiting for a bed for me. Wait. A bed? Why a bed? What did that mean?
Tim held my hand. He said things; comforting and positive things. We continued waiting. Time seemed to stop.
Finally, we were called to a private room. The doctor soon came and introduced herself with a reassuring smile. Again, a little relief. Then in one sweeping calculated sentence, without a hint of emotion that would of allowed me to prepare, she delivered the devastating news that they could not find our baby’s heart beat.
Horror. The tears began to stream before my brain could compute what had just been said. I suppose my heart was simply one step ahead.
“The fetus stopped growing.” These words made my silent tears turn into heaving sobs – angry heaving sobs. Fetus? Our baby, who the day before was apparently growing healthy and strong, has now been demoted to fetus?
I sobbed into Tim’s shoulder as the doctor rambled off pointless and non comforting statistics on how often it happens, and gave an obviously scripted speech on how it wasn’t my or my body’s fault. At one point she said “Oh honey, don’t cry.” Luckily Tim’s quick, sharp death stare gave her the hint that she should probably stop talking, and that it was time to leave us alone for a little while.
As the doctor left the room and Tim and I waited for a new OBGYN to arrive, I had a moment where I didn’t know how to continue breathing. Then Tim said something to me that sent a small ray of hope into the black hole of despair I was suffocating in. “They couldn’t find a heart beat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there. They just couldn’t find it. It’s also possible that they may be wrong. We can’t give up.” Was it possible? Anything is possible. Was it probable? I didn’t know. It was exactly what I needed to hear however. I needed that glimmer of hope to get through what happened next.
The next doctor, after checking me, told us that although the “fetus” had stopped growing, my body hadn’t realized it yet and so had not begun to miscarry. They wanted to send me in for an immediate D&C procedure (Dilation and Curettage). I said no instantly. How dare they think they could take this baby from me? Tim asked them what he was becoming so good at asking: “Is there any chance, even the slightest possibility, that you may be wrong?” The doctor shook his head with a definite no, although the words he spoke were not as convincing: “With how far along you are, and the fact that we cannot find a heart beat, the only possibility is that the fetus is less developed than we think, and so the heart cannot be detected. As you have had one ultrasound already confirming your dates however, it is extremely unlikely.”
Extremely unlikely was not impossible however. The doctor informed us of both the risks of the D&C and the risks of natural miscarriage should it happen. It didn’t matter to us how unlikely it was, we were going to give our baby every hope in the world to survive. My clothes went back on and we left the hospital. If there was even a 0.00000001% chance that this baby could be living, of course we weren’t letting them do that D&C!
The following days didn’t feel real. It was like I was trapped in a moment of space and time not able to go forwards or backwards. It’s a place that no one wants to be in. Three days went by – three long, emotionally exhausting day’s. Then came Wednesday night.
When I went to bed I could feel that my sleep would be disturbed that night. Something inside me knew that in a few hours time I would be woken up again. As crazy as this sounds, earlier in the day I heard a voice – not audibly, but from somewhere in me. I heard, or felt is perhaps a better way to explain it, “I’m okay mumma”. I SO wanted to believe that meant my baby was alive inside me; remaining for another few months before coming to live in our arms. Deep down though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I could feel it. My baby was okay, just not okay inside my belly. Please understand that I’m not just saying this as some sort of coping mechanism. When you have a baby attached to you, you feel things and know things that sometimes cannot be easily explained – or explained at all. To say I heard my baby who hadn’t been born or learn to speak yet sounds ridiculous. You know what though? It’s true.
I woke abruptly at 3am. I had extreme and sudden pains in my stomach. Contractions if you want to be technical. I slipped out of bed and didn’t wake Tim. I didn’t know what to expect. I was terrified.
In silent agony, tears streamed down my face faster than I could breath. Still, I knew I could do it. I had to do it. I was alone, yet at the same time, I never felt alone for a single moment.
I don’t feel the need to go into the gruesome details of everything that came next. I will say however that over the next 24 hours I was in labour at home, and gave birth to a baby who I loved, wanted and prayed desperately for.
About six hours in, curled up in agonizing pain on the bathroom floor, Tim was now awake doing his best to comfort me and bringing me painkillers. I shook my head, instantly thinking “you can’t take those when you’re pregnant!” Any other reality still hadn’t kicked in. When it finally ended on Thursday, I felt an enormous void; empty. Not physically, emotionally.
Questions, Blame & Healing
The following day’s were full of cuddles on the couch and watching movies with a lot of ice cream. Anything to try and take our minds off what had just happened. There were hours of tears streaming down my face more violently than I had ever experienced in my life. This cry was a different kind of cry.
Our house felt quieter and emptier than ever before, even though the one who was gone had never made a sound or occupied a room. It would take a while, but we knew we would get through it. Moment by moment and day by day, together.
The nights were full of blank stares into the distance as my mind raced through reason after reason of why, and how, this could have happened. Was it my health? The doctors kept saying no. Tests kept saying it was nothing to do with me.
In such great sorrow however, even if it wasn’t true, I couldn’t help but blame myself at the time: “Maybe I didn’t deserve a baby. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe I have made too many mistakes. Maybe I’ve made too many wrong decisions.
Through all my self blame and sorrow however, one constant source of relief was knowing without a doubt that our dear baby had gone on to heaven. Now please, don’t think that I simply persuaded myself of such a thing just because I went through a difficult time. Heaven did not become my crutch to move forward like some may assume. I’m also not talking about a mythological heaven, or heaven the concept, but a real and literal heaven. I believe, and have believed, in heaven before and after the miscarriage. I am a Christian. That doesn’t mean having all the answers, but it does mean having some, and this IS one of the ones I have.
So where was God you may ask? Well, the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God. I said before that I was alone, but never felt alone. That’s because even in the moment of miscarriage I could feel the comfort of God with me; it was my strength. There is a famous poem that I feel explains what I am trying to convey perfectly, and I’d like to share it here:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
There was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
There was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
By Mary Stevenson
About a week later, I remembered what the vascular surgeon had said. As soon as I had the baby, I would have to have surgery on my neck. Although I didn’t now have a child in my arms, I guess I had technically had the baby!
With my heart in my throat and fear suddenly over taking me at the idea of having the surgery (I thought I had at least another 5 months for my miracle to manifest after all), I called the doctor’s office. After their apologies for my “loss”, they decided to book another scan so that they had updated images to use when planning the procedure.
Two weeks later, again with Tim by my side, we were once again in the surgeons office awaiting an update. This time was not like last time however. Breathing out a deep sigh, the surgeon, with a slightly uncomfortable look on his face gave us the news: “There’s nothing there. Your arteries are clear. We can’t find any of the tumors that we thought were there. There is no need for surgery or for any further testing”.
Bewildered, I stared ahead speechless. Tim jumped in with the question of the year: “Is there any chance you could be wrong?” “Absolutely not.” “But with this new information, that means you were wrong last time. First you told us there were tumors and that there was no mistaking what they were and what was needed” “Yes, I realize. It must have been a misreading.” “Okay, can you please explain to us how you mistook and measured three different tumors on different sides of the neck?” Awkward silence. “I don’t know what to tell you.” We decided not to argue. We could see that he was simply trying to cover his… practice. We knew the truth, a miracle had taken place.
Through the following day’s, weeks, and months, grateful for such a huge miracle to happen amongst so much sorrow, I began to come to terms with the fact that we don’t always get answers to our questions.
We were believing for two miracles, the miracle of life in two forms; a new born baby and life and healing in my body. We were expecting it to be on our time frame in the way we wanted. I expected to give birth to that baby at exactly 9 months, and for my healing miracle to manifest simultaneously.
Indeed however, God does work in mysterious ways; mysterious to us at least. I’m not saying he “took our baby because He needed another angel in heaven” or anything ridiculous like that. That’s foolishness and nonsense. I can accept that some things can only be answered from a perspective I don’t yet have. Everything we expected to happen did actually happen, just not in the way we thought it would happen. I did get the miracle I desperately needed.
I think sometimes mercy comes not in the things God gives us, but in the things that he keeps us from. What would have happened giving birth at 9 months with blockages in my arteries when blood pressure increased to extremes during labor? What would have happened in the neck surgery? You see, there are always more than one way to look at something.
Stronger Than I Thought
After some time of healing (physically and emotionally) for us both, our second miracle happened. For the most part, it’s the reason I can now find the words I lost for so long. That miracle is sleeping beside me right now as I write. She is a living, breathing, beautiful, rainbow, miracle baby.
Again, it didn’t happen in the way I expected and Willow is not a baby replacement. She is her own beautiful gift, just like the first baby was. My second pregnancy was also far from easy. Every step of the way there was an obstacle. I was diagnosed with so many things that, with my natural mind, I should have believed that my second pregnancy was also doomed. Every step of the way however, miracle baby Willow showed her strength (that is a whole other story I will tell some other day).
Through the twenty-four hours I experienced on the bathroom floor during my miscarriage, through the doctors offices and hospital rooms, through months of praying, believing for, and having a baby, I learned in such a huge way that I am so much stronger than I could have ever imagined.
This adversity has also strengthened Tim and I with a strength and bond we had never even considered. Going through something like this can do one of two things to a couple; it can deepen your bond or it can break it. We chose this circumstance as an opportunity to grow our bond of love to an even deeper place. I could not have got through it without him, and it is something that we will always have as part of our story together.
If you have made it this far into the story, I hope you understand that I am not writing this because I want sympathy, or for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling this story because I even have a desire to tell it. If I had my way, this story would be locked away in the depths of my heart, never spoken of again.
I am telling this story because I know that I am not the only one who has gone through a great tragedy, and I know there are many more in the world who will unfortunately experience a miscarriage, still birth or have frightening health issues. If you are going through anything even remotely similar to my story, I want you to know that there is hope, and I want to encourage you to hang on.
Whatever your story may be, however bad things may appear, believe for a miracle. Miracles happen, healing happens, and God is with you whether you feel it, believe it, or not! I do hope that you believe.
Secondly, I want to give testimony to the things God has done in my life. Without Him I would have never made it through. He was with me through the pain, was with me in the struggle, and is still with me today. I have held onto this simple truth from God the entire time: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)
Finally, as I watch baby Willow grow, blossom and show her undeniable strength on a daily basis, I am reminded that you really cannot ever give up. You never know what good thing is coming just around the corner. Bad things happen yes, but God things happen too! And no, that was not a typo 🙂
If I could encourage you with one final thing, it would be to reach out to anyone who has had recent pregnancy problems. People go through great lengths to hide their pain. You may never know just how much an encouraging word or a hug is really needed. If you feel awkward about it or don’t know someone that well, you don’t have to say much. However sometimes a small gift or just the simple gesture of letting someone know you’re thinking about them, or praying for them, is a huge deal – it can truly make all the difference in the world!