Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In Response to the Firestorm That was My Facebook Wall Yesterday

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” –Madeline Albright

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. A lot of thinking.  That happens when everything you thought was certain and true and stable in your life gets ripped out from under you over the course of a few months.  I’ve fielded a lot of questions about my personal life, my thoughts, my beliefs on what Scripture teaches. I thought, Hey, instead of answering every single person individually, how about I share an article on Facebook which articulates my thoughts perfectly, and with which I fully agree.  That ought to cut back on the personal questions, verbal assaults, and assumptions.

I was wrong.

I shared Gary Thomas’ “Enough is Enough: Why The Church needs to Stop Enabling Abuse,” and simply said it articulates my thoughts well, and encouraged everyone to read it and give it some thought.

That would be nice, right? Giving an article some thought–especially an article directly dealing with how poorly abuse is handled in the church– before saying everything on your mind? Before deciding that you yourself don’t even need to know all the facts, but will instead presume them, and are judge, jury, and executioner in someone’s very thoughts and motives.  Which was, of course, ironically, what I was immediately accused of.

142 comments later…multiple personal messages and phone calls…

How dare I post about my personal life on Facebook! How could I further humiliate my husband by insinuating the things in the article were also true about us.  Why would I want to cause people to assume terrible things about my marriage? Take it down. Take it down, NOW.

You guys. I believe I was very clear in my post that I was simply posting an article about rampant abuse in the church, how it’s not only swept under the rug, but enabled and perpetuated.  And so many of you did an amazing job of proving my very point.  If you assumed things on my own life, marriage, or situation because I shared an article with which I agree, that’s on you.  If maybe you were privy to more of the personal details of my life and projected that on to the article and my intent in posting, and then commented with deeply personal information about my life, I may have deleted your comments, and I’m not sorry I did.  I’m only sorry you thought it was appropriate to go there on Facebook, and more sorry that you thought my posting the article in the first place pointed to or said anything specific to me or my life. I’m not the one who went there on Facebook. You did.

For those of you who read the article for what it was, assumption and judgement-free of what I may or may not be saying about my own life, thank you.  Thank you for considering how we can stand up to this very horrific and deeply entrenched pattern in the church.  For those of you who reached out to me via texts or personal messages, thank you.  So many of you said, “Thanks for posting this article and shedding light on a very touchy subject.  I wouldn’t have thought twice about it possibly being personal until I saw some people’s comments–by the way, are you okay?”

And more sadly, so many of you reached out and said, “Thank you so much for posting this, because yes, yes, YES! I am being abused, and when I went to the church for help, they only made it worse!” So many of you said, “I don’t have a voice anymore, and I need someone to help me get it back.  Please. Please help me get help, too.”

My God-given voice has been crushed and suppressed by the “church” for too long.  Now that I have found it again, I fully intend to use it to be a voice for the voiceless, to shine light in the darkness, and to set the captives free.

Last year, during the darkest time of my life, I got the words “Out of These Ashes, Beauty will Rise” tattooed on my foot.  I guarantee you, when I had that permanently inked on my foot, I had no idea what that beauty rising out of the ashes would be, I just knew God was good, all the time. Some people tell me that I am giving up hope of beauty rising.  But I think that it’s just beginning to rise.  And it looks entirely different than I imagined it would. But it’s even more Beautiful than I ever dreamed it would be.

Speaking of which, I can’t wait for you all to see my next tattoo…

 

 

Advertisements

An Odd Juxtaposition of Incongruent Elements

My youth pastor once preached a sermon where he used an illustration.  He had been an art major, and while he was out viewing art, he and a friend saw a beautiful, old, ornate cathedral.  And on the front of it was a neon florescent lit cross.  He tells the story of how his friend tilted her head, somewhat confused, and expressed, “That’s an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.”

Grief is a lot like that neon cross on the cathedral. An odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.  It doesn’t always hit us the way we expect.  And it certainly doesn’t always look the way others expect.

I remember when an elderly friend died. His wife didn’t cry at all at his funeral. They had been married for over 60 years…and she didn’t even cry at his funeral.  Instead, she cried months later when her friend’s husband died. She cried at his funeral all the buckets of tears she wanted to cry at her own husband’s, but couldn’t.

Grief is a funny thing, isn’t it? When and how it chooses to manifest itself often makes no sense at all. We often feel sad when we don’t expect to and okay when we expect to feel sad. We have times where tears are expected and culturally appropriate, and times where expression of emotion is frowned upon. But our grief doesn’t always hit us on the timetable that we, or everyone else, expect it to.

I expected to cry when Zion was stillborn. But I didn’t. I felt numb right then.

I expected to cry at his funeral, during the slideshow, or maybe while my sister sang the haunting melody of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” But I didn’t cry then either.

I cried when I saw the hearse and wasn’t expecting it. I cried when the funeral director had us carry the casket out together as a family and lay it in the hearse, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I cried when I was alone in my bed. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I cried a lot.

But other times, I laughed when I didn’t expect it. I laughed with my family on my birthday, the day after he died, while I was still pregnant with his lifeless body. I smiled and recounted my blessings over a Thanksgiving feast that friends and family and I had been bound and determined to enjoy.

My sister and some friends and I laughed over something silly after his funeral. We did Christmas and birthdays, and celebrated, and plodded through the weeks leading up to his missed due date. I dreaded that date. The weeks leading up to it were filled with that odd juxtaposition of incongruent emotions. Some days were sad days, some days were okay. Most days I curled up alone in my bed at night and felt sad.

For some reason, May 1 was the date that my heart broke. The first of May, the month I had been dreading for so long, was the day when all the pent up grief from the months before washed over me, and I felt its suffocating weight. I hadn’t expected that.

If there is one thing I have learned from this, it’s that grief tends to manifest itself in the ways we don’t expect. The ebb and flow of sorrow and normalcy come in and out like the tide, some days soft and slow, other days, crushing and overwhelming. We don’t choose when we feel grief’s vice-like grip. And sometimes, that can be hard for others, those on the outside looking in, to understand.

It can feel confusing to watch another person grieve, because they don’t always appear to grieve in the same way we would, or think that they should. It can feel duplicitous when we know how heavy their heart is, but somehow they smile and laugh, or do “normal” things, or even appear to have fun.

There are no rules for grief. There can’t be. Everyone experiences grief differently. Everyone moves through its stages differently and at different paces.  But please give the grieving person the benefit of the doubt. Please don’t judge them for not crying when you think they should, or crying when you think they shouldn’t. Please don’t shame them for having moments of “normalcy” where they are able to smile and laugh despite their heavy heart. Please don’t expect them to conform to whatever pattern of grief you feel theirs should look like.

Grief is a scary, confusing, multi-faceted beast.  It never manifests itself in the ways you expect, and rarely at the times you expect.  The last thing a grieving person needs is to be told how their grief should look so it makes you feel better.  Our brains always want to make sense of things, and grief doesn’t make any sense. It just is.  And grieving people just need you to be with them in their “is,” without judgement or expectations.  They have no idea how their journey will look or how long it will take, but trust me, it’s even scarier for them to navigate than for you.  Just keep loving grieving people, thinking of ways to help or lighten the load, offering encouragement and love.  Their process may take longer or look differently than you expect or think it “should.”  That’s okay. Just walk with them anyway.

While I was out one evening,  choosing to have fun instead of mope, one of my friends snapped this picture of me.

IMG_2825

I love it. It reminds me that not all of life is sorrow and sadness and suffering.  It reminds me that, as awful as these last few months have been–for so many reasons in addition to the death of my son–there is still some joy.  There is still happiness.  There is and will continue to be healing.  There is light at the end of this tunnel.  And beauty will rise out of these ashes. (And if your concern is actually that in my sorrow, I am turning to drinking and debauchery, have no fear. We can have a conversation about our views on drinking and smoking if you want, but please don’t make wrong assumptions based on a picture.)

These two pictures, side-by-side, are an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements.  But they are no less true.  Grief is an odd juxtaposition of incongruent elements, too.  Two hours after the smiling picture was taken, I was curled up in bed sobbing.  These pictures, to me, are a visual representation of the complexities of grief. There is no right or wrong way.  There is no time frame.  There are no rules.  Grief just is.

Please don’t watch a grieving person from the outside and assume they are depressed or sinning because they exhibit sorrow.  Please don’t judge a grieving person for smiling or laughing and assume they are cold and heartless.  Please understand the multi-dimensional, complex creatures that God made us as humans, and give grace instead of condemnation.

Our brains naturally want to make sense of the senseless.  But grief doesn’t make sense.  It’s just like that neon green cross flashing atop the gothic cathedral.  Strange.  Confusing.  Odd.  Ugly.  Irrational.  It doesn’t make always look like we think it “should.”  But maybe we should be the ones changing how we think grief “should” look, instead of shaming the grieving person for  not conforming to our expectations.  Maybe we shouldn’t impose our expectations on those who are just trying to figure out how to feed ourselves and our kids most days. Maybe we shouldn’t judge grieving people for having good days followed by bad days followed by good days. Just walk alongside them instead of analyzing their every step. Pray for them instead of persecuting them. Serve them instead of waiting for them. Take the opportunity of being friends with a suffering soul to extend grace, mercy, and love without strings attached.   “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to get it all together. He came to us at our lowest.  May we be there for the hurting when they are at their lowest, offer a hand up, and walk along together.

Birthday Wishes

IMG_2820

Dear Zion,

This morning, I woke up to a pile of kids on my bed. After a series of nightmares all night long, I welcomed your brothers and sisters climbing under the covers with me, snuggling in and laughing at the antics of Adoniah. My heart swelled with love for those four little joys, and suddenly, I was keenly aware that someone was missing. You.

“Shuah, go into the other room and get your baby brother to join us!” I only thought the words, and just as I opened my mouth to say them out loud, I remembered.

You weren’t asleep in the next room. You couldn’t join in on the pile of siblings in my bed. Why was my brain playing terrible tricks on me and making me think you were?

Today is May 10. That day that every mom circles and puts hearts all over and writes “Due Date!!” on her calendar for but totally hopes she gets to end up meeting her baby sooner than that date.

But I didn’t want it to be so much sooner. And I had imagined I would get to keep you once you were born.

We have a birthday tradition here. However many years the birthday person is turning, they get that number of candles on their cake. And they try to blow them all out, and if they do, they make a wish. You never got to blow out birthday candles and make a wish. So I will make a wish on your behalf. Lots of wishes actually, because this Mama’s broken heart has an infinite number of wishes for her baby boy.

I wish you could have kept growing inside of me until you were ready to be born, healthy and alive. I wish I hadn’t complained about how awful it is to be pregnant. I wish I hadn’t been afraid of how in earth would I handle five kids?? I wish I had a birth story for you that ended in joy and not sorrow. I wish I could have had that moment with you–that ethereal moment that surpasses all human joy–that moment when you would have come into the world crying and been placed on my chest. That moment when I would have seen your face for the first time, and you would have squinted open your little eyes at me and seen your Mama for the first time. I would have cooed “Oh hi there!” To your squishy, round face, just like I did with your brothers and sisters. And I would have beamed with pride and joy and laughed with your daddy and the midwife over the miracle of new life and birth.

I wish I had gotten that moment with you.

I wish I could have seen the look on your big brother’s face when I told him you were a boy!! And I wish I could have seen the pride in his eyes when he would have held you for the first time. Eliana would have doted in you. Jubilee would have giggled over you. Adoniah probably would have poked you, or even given you a good bop on the head for good measure–just so you could start your life out knowing he was older than you.

They would have loved you. We would have loved you. I wish we could have had the chance.

But sometimes I think about how I wish you were in my arms, and I remember…you are in Jesus’ arms!! How glorious would that be?? You are more alive now than ever. And you have even met your sister before me, and so many cousins. I can imagine all of you enjoy playing and laughing just like I did with my own cousins growing up. Sometimes when I am feeling the overwhelming sorrow, I remember where you are and how happy you are, and I smile. You are in good hands.

But it doesn’t take away the emptiness in my own arms, the ache in my heart, the tears from my eyes. I may never again hold you on my arms, but I will always hold you in my heart. I will always be your Mama and you will always be my son. I will think about you every November 22 and December 1 and May 10 for the rest of my life. Those dates are burned onto my heart. The day you died. The day you were stillborn. The day you should have been born.

Today, you should have been born. But nothing in this world is as it should have been, is it? And you know that firsthand, as you sit at Jesus’ feet, in His very presence, and experience eternal life without sin, pain, and death.

Someday I will see you again. And your sister. And your cousins. Give them all hugs and kisses and play some hide and seek and tell stories and laugh a lot in the meantime, okay? I will do the same down here with your brothers and sisters, and we will always wish you were with us, too.

Love you now, forever, always,

Your Mama

 

Bitter. Sweet.

I want to print Zion’s baby book. Or rather, I need to print it. But I don’t really want to.

Part of me does and part of me doesn’t.

All I have left of him are my memories and those pictures. And I love those pictures.

Well. Some of them.

But some of them, I hate. Some of them, I can’t even look at. Some of them rip through my heart like a dagger, piercing through to the very depths of my being.

After he was born, we were concerned that his skin would start peeling, and so we handled him very, very gently.  At first, his whole body was slightly damp and sticky and a little bit shiny. When we pulled him out of the sack (he was born en caul, my water never broke), part of the stretchy, sticky substance stuck to his body, a large portion covering half of his face.  I tried to peel it away at first, but I was too afraid of tearing his tender skin.  I knew he would never feel it. But I would.  And I just couldn’t.

So for the first half of the pictures, his face is half obscured by what was left of the sack.  And it looks…creepy.  Eerie.  Disturbing.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to at least try to get that sack off his face.  Thankfully, my long nails were perfect for oh, so carefully peeling a strand off. And once it started coming, it kept coming.  And then! His other eye! His whole face! Why hadn’t I done that before?  Some of my favorite pictures of us with him we took before I got that stupid sack off his face.  And I will always wish I had pulled it off from the beginning.

I love, love, love this picture of my hands in a heart around his tiny, precious feet.  You guys.  Every. Single. Little. Toe. Melt-your-heart adorable. But every time I look at it, I want to redo it. I want to be able to reach into the camera and pull that leftover strand of sack off his feet.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

But the ones that I can’t look at are the ones where it’s just him, lying limply on his blanket.  As soon as we would prop his head or hands up one way, they would fall lifeless to the side again.  His head would roll back to the side, his cheeks and neck bulging out grotesquely under the weight of his still disproportionate head. I can’t look at them without remembering how horrifyingly dead he was.  How it was the opposite of what a birthday should be.

I can’t look at his wide open, vacant eyes without wishing I knew what color they would have become.  Without wishing he had at least been alive long enough to grow eyelids over those eyes so they weren’t just so awfully empty.

My five-year old just walked in as I was browsing through his pictures to find ones for this post. She gasped in awe, “Is that baby Zion?” she asked, running up and gazing longingly at her brother.

Then. As only children, in their sheer uncensored honesty can say things.  “Ewww.  He looks kinda ugly.” And then she was off to fight bad guys again with her siblings. And I am left with that bitter truth.

I hate that. I hate that I think the same thing. I hate that part of me cringes when I see some of his pictures, because he just wasn’t ready yet. He wasn’t ready to be born yet.  He wasn’t ready for the outside world. My mama’s heart wants to protect him from anyone else thinking or saying the same thing.

I love, love, love this one of us holding him  together.  But I can’t look at the pictures of us holding him without wishing he had grown big enough to hold him in our arms instead of just our hands.

img_0285

The pictures are both bitter and sweet.  Truly bittersweet.  Some of the pictures I absolutely love.  I will print them out and hang them on my wall and my heart will swell with love and longing every time I look at them.  But others are just hard.  Others are just plain sad for me.

And part of me feels like I need to hang on to those painful ones, too, because it’s all I have to remember him by.  But another part of me says it’s okay to let those go.  It’s okay to not print some of them in his baby book.  It’s okay to want his baby book to be my favorite pictures, the ones I love of the son I never got to know.

One of these days, if Shutterfly will stop glitching long enough for me to finish the book, I will print it off.  I will print the pictures that I love, and not print the ones that I don’t love.  And I will happily share his memory with anyone who wants to see the pictures I feel comfortable showing.  And that’s okay.

 

 

Good Morning, May?

 

I woke up this morning, and it was May. Finally. I have been dreading this month for weeks. And it’s finally here.

I laid awake half of the night, listening to the branches scrape the roof, wondering if it was an intruder, or maybe the kids waking up and building obstacle courses in their room again?

But, no. It wasn’t that. It was simply five inches of extremely heavy snow coating the newly blossomed tree branches, weighing them down so much that they trailed over the roof, blowing in the wind and scraping the shingles repeatedly.  Occasionally, I heard a loud, splintering crack, as another huge branch simply couldn’t handle the weight of the snow anymore and crashed to the ground.

Lately I wonder how much longer I can handle the weight of my grief.

This wasn’t how the first day of May was supposed to look.  Last week, it was 70 and sunny. The grass was green and springing up in all new places in our yard.  Tiny leaves sprouted off the branches, and hope filled the air. Spring was coming. But now, winter had stolen back in, its frigid air whistling through the tree tops, its snow shrouding the blossoms.

This wasn’t how May was supposed to look in our home, either. Me, alone in my bed, listening to the eerie scraping of snowy branches, clinging tightly to the tiny blue blanket that my son’s casket had been wrapped in.  I’ll never forget, when I went to pick up that casket to bury him, how I waited in the funeral home narthex. Waited in silence, barely keeping the tears back.  And how the man, kind and gentle, slowly walked back towards me, carrying that precious miniature box.  His eyes met mine as he handed him over, and I was amazed at the depth of grief and compassion in his eyes. We didn’t say anything to each other. We didn’t have to.  We both knew. There are simply no words.  Only unfathomable sorrow.

I gritted my teeth, put my chin up, and walked back to my car.  But as soon as I closed the door safely behind me, I picked up that precious casket, wrapped it in my arms, and held it tightly to my chest, allowing the tears to fall, and the grief to wash over me. The night before we buried him, his casket was in my parents’ garage.  I knew in the morning, he would be buried beneath the dirt, and I would never hold him close again.  All I wanted in the whole world was to steal out to the garage after everyone was asleep, take his casket out of its protective box, and hold him close one last time. I wanted to sit on the steps and cling to him and cry all the tears that felt stuck in the back of my throat, burning, searing, aching to be let out.  But I couldn’t. Maybe someone would hear me. Maybe I would bother someone.  And so I didn’t. And I will always, always wish I had. It was my last chance to be that close to him. And I will never get that back.

Every night, as I climb under the covers in bed, I pull Zion’s baby blanket up to my face, close my eyes, and just inhale its scent. I think maybe if I breathe deeply enough, I can remember what he felt like to hold. Or maybe, if I breathe in deeply enough, I can even undo all the terrible truth and actually hold him in my arms for real, like I was supposed to be doing right now. I burrow under the duvet and grasp his blanket to my chest. If only he was on my chest. I wonder if every stillborn mother feels that aching in her chest–that horrible, awful, heavy nothingness–where your newborn baby was supposed to lie, warm and soft and full of life. Nothing can fill that emptiness. Nothing can take away that ache.

I hear another branch snap and crash to the ground outside. I have been dreading the month of May for many weeks now. With each day it grows closer, my heart grows heavier, the ache more physical than emotional.  May, with all the hopes and dreams it held. The beginning of spring, of new life, of new birth.  All that beauty is buried beneath inches of white snow, but in a couple of days, it will all come alive again.  Spring will still come, even here in South Dakota.  The new life hidden under the snow is still there, still alive, and it will pop back out again.

But while May will inevitably bring forth spring, causing sleeping things to come alive all around, my baby will still be dead. He will still lie cold in his grave. The new birth in our home that we had eagerly anticipated is not to be.  So while it may technically be spring, it may be May, and there may be tulips under all that snow, I look out my window now, and it seems perfectly fitting.

I’ll take it. I’ll take five inches of snow on the first day of May this year.  I’ll stay in my bathrobe in my bed with my baby’s blanket and my baby’s pictures and my empty arms and my tears, and I will wait for spring to come.

IMG_2766

Zion’s Story, Part 3

Part 1     Part 2

We pulled into the church parking lot that bitterly cold morning, and there was the hearse. The hearse for us. The hearse for him. That awful, concrete symbol of life turning into death, of joy becoming grief, of a deep sorrow that will never really go away.

I hadn’t been expecting it. I knew they were bringing him in his tiny casket, but I never considered they would drive him to the church in a hearse. Its massive, tomb-like essence shrouding his miniature body and carrying him to where we would gather with friends and family to mourn his premature death.

I inhaled sharply. My chest grew tight. My breath caught in my throat, and I covered my mouth with my hand, the tears coming in a sudden wave of sorrow and cascading down my cheeks.

“I didn’t know they would bring the hearse,” was all I said, as my Sister’s arm went around me comfortingly. It felt like it made everything that had happened over the last couple of weeks really real. It all came flooding back to me.  The grief and sorrow intermingling with the dark guilt hidden in the depths of my soul.

I had held him in my arms for a couple of hours the day he was born. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I would only have those few brief hours with him, and I intended to soak in every single second. After we took pictures with him, I just held him on my lap, or next to me on the hospital bed while we waited to be able to go home.  Harvene brought in a memory box that the hospital had put together. She took great care picking out a tiny crocheted blanket and hat for him. She wrapped him in first one blanket, then another, wanting to pick the very best things for him. Did we want to put something special in the casket with him when we buried him? No, I really didn’t. I didn’t want him in the casket, let alone anything else.  It wasn’t like he would ever enjoy a blanket’s soft comfort, or know that someone somewhere had knitted a miniscule hat for him.

Everyone was being so wonderful. So kind. So compassionate. They all called him “him” and not “it,” or even called him by his name. Zion. Their gentle care for me caused me to withdraw even more into myself, the knowledge of my shame hanging over my head like a dark cloud. If they only knew what had been in my heart, they would never be so kind.

I felt desperately protective of my son. I was acutely aware of his gestational age. 16 Weeks. Well, technically, 15 weeks, 6 days. But who was counting? I knew who was counting—thousands of clinics all over the country who didn’t consider a baby of my son’s gestational age a human life. He was under that 20 week mark. He could still be legally aborted in so many places, with unwitting mothers being told he was “just a clump of tissue” and that ending the pregnancy wasn’t murder.

I picked up those tiny fingers and counted the fingernails, the wrinkles on his knuckles. How could anyone say he wasn’t human? I had heard of enough people saying with the loss of a pregnancy “Well, at least you weren’t further along.” As if his size makes him more or less of a person? As if that eases the heartache of losing a child?

I knew that seeing a dead baby couldn’t be easy for anyone, but to me, he was beautiful. He was mine, and I wanted to memorize every little detail before I had to let him go. For a long, long time, I just held him. As the hours passed, his skin began to dry out, his body becoming more brittle. I began to be afraid of accidentally tearing his soft skin.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to hold him anymore. I didn’t understand why, I just knew a dark cloud of sorrow was forming over my head, and it no longer comforted me to hold my stillborn baby.

And then I realized why. With the passing of each hour, his body—warm when he was born—grew colder and colder.  His limp, unmoving form began to torment me.  And I began to smell…death.  I had never been with a person when they died before, and I wasn’t cognitively aware that death had a smell, but I suddenly knew all-too-well, that death most certainly did have a smell.  And my baby was wearing it.

I suddenly wanted him as far away from me as he could be. Harvene had asked if we were ready for her to take him yet, but as much as my aching heart longed to say yes, I couldn’t say it.  Once he was gone, he was gone forever, and I couldn’t bear that thought. But I couldn’t bear the thought of him lying there cold and dead, either.

“Stephen,” I said quietly, handing Zion over to him. “Please take him and put him over there. I can’t hold him anymore.” Thoughts plagued me that I couldn’t give him up yet—I would always wish for these moments back. I had to soak up every minute.  But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t hold him anymore.

It was taking hours for me to be cleared to go home, and I needed a distraction. Hannah had been by her phone all day, waiting, praying, texting encouragement back and forth.  She had said she would come over if I wanted her to, and I desperately wanted her to. Stephen headed to pick me up the Arby’s sandwich I was craving, and Audra came in to tell me she wanted to do a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was delivered safely.   Hannah came in and waited with me.  I felt self-conscious of my hospital gown, the IV hooked up to my arm administering fluids, the blood on the sheets.  All the signs of having given birth, but nothing to show for it.

And then the tech came in to take me down to ultrasound. I told Hannah I would be right back and climbed into the wheel chair they brought for me. I was only gone for a few minutes—everything looked great! I was cleared to go. They wheeled me back into my room. I carefully stood up and looked over to where Hannah was standing with Stephen. He had returned with the coveted food.

“Annie, you didn’t tell me he was over here,” Hannah said, her voice holding a question in it. It was as if she had really said, “Why didn’t you show him to me earlier?”  Stephen stood next to her, his face showing both sorrow and pride as he showed Hannah our son.

My heart dropped to my feet. Why hadn’t I showed him to her before? “Oh, um, yeah,” I fumbled lamely, hurrying to climb back into the hospital bed and cover myself up.  I wondered if maybe I could cover my shame with the blankets—like I had quickly covered up the blood when Hannah walked in.

Hannah knew. Hannah knew my secret. How could she even look at me? Look at him? Why had I thought it was a good idea for her to come? Surely she would chastise me the way I deserved to be. Surely she would tell everyone there to stop being so kind to me—that I didn’t deserve it.  That I was a terrible, horrible mother and should be punished, not sympathized with.

I couldn’t look in their direction. I felt like my heart was being ripped in two—part of me wanting to let Hannah see my baby, and the other wanting to run and hide. I pulled out my food and began eating, having lost my appetite, but desperately needing to keep my hands busy.  Hannah walked quietly over and sat next to me on the bed, her arms circling around me, her head resting softly on my shoulder.  Her compassion both confused and tormented me.  How could she really love me, knowing what she knew?

Harvene came in to make little ink footprints of Zion’s feet. Then she asked if I wanted him.

“Um, sure,” I muttered, not knowing how to say my heart couldn’t handle being near him anymore. I wasn’t finished with my sandwich, so she gently laid him on the bed next to me.

I couldn’t eat another bite. I silently wrapped up the leftovers and put it back into the bag. I didn’t know what to do next. I just wanted to get out of there. But we were still waiting for the paperwork. Hannah and I tried to talk about normal things—anything to take my mind away from where we were and why we were there.  Eventually, Hannah kissed the top of my head, gave me a tight squeeze and headed home.  Stephen and I were left alone in the hospital room as the sun slowly went down.  Stephen came over to the bed, pulled me into his arms, and I laid my head against his shoulder.  The room grew darker and darker with each passing minute as we just sat silently on the bed, arms wrapped tightly around each other.  Neither of us reached to turn on the lights. Neither of us cared.

I could feel the tears burning against the back of my eyes. “Stephen?”

“Hmm?” Stephen answered, his face against my hair.

“I…” My voice caught in my throat, and I cleared it self-consciously and tried again. “I…I didn’t want him.” I said it so quietly, it was nearly imperceptible. The tears came then, running down my cheeks in quick succession. The burden of shame was nearly suffocating, and I knew the only answer was to speak it, to bring it into the light.

“What do you mean?” Stephen began rubbing my back softly.

I cleared my throat again, attempting to speak a bit louder. “When I found out I was pregnant, I was mad. I didn’t know how I could do five kids.  Adoniah wasn’t even one year old yet! I was mad at God because He knew how much I didn’t want to be pregnant again, but He did it anyway. And I was selfish, and angry, and a terrible, horrible mother.” I was sobbing now, my heart breaking.  “What mother doesn’t want her own baby?? I don’t deserve to be sad! I don’t deserve to have anyone be sad for me!”

Stephen just held me for a long time while I cried. I finally allowed myself to cry all the hot tears of anguish, shame and guilt that had been pent up in my soul for so long. After a long while, the storm of tears abated, and Stephen spoke quietly.  “You are not a terrible, horrible mother.  You are a wonderful mother who loves her children very much.  But you are also overwhelmed, and scared and only human and the thought of having a fifth child was too much for you.  It’s only natural to feel the way you felt, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t love or want Zion.”

“Because I did want him! I really did!” I choked out. “I was just really scared.”

“I know you were. And there is grace for all of that. This isn’t your fault. God isn’t punishing you. And it’s okay to be sad.  Whether you were happy or sad when you found out you were pregnant, your baby lived and died, and you loved him, and you wanted him, and it’s okay to be sad.”  Stephen ran his hands through my hair and wiped the tears tenderly from my cheeks. “It’s okay,” he repeated softly.  I didn’t know if I really believed him yet.  But I prayed that someday I would.

The sun had disappeared behind the horizon and the room was dark and quiet. Harvene came in to say our paperwork had finally come through, and I was free to leave. But first, we had to say goodbye.

Stephen carried Zion over to me. I took him, one last time, and touched his rounded head.

“Goodbye, sweet baby,” I whispered. “I love you now and into eternity.  And I can’t wait to see you again someday. Say hi to your sister for me, okay?” Tears blurred my vision as I handed him to his daddy. I watched Stephen just hold him tenderly for a long moment, unable to speak.

“Goodbye, Zion Emmanuel. We love you,” he said, and then handed him to Harvene.

And then she was gone. And he was gone. And we were alone in the dark quietness of the room. Alone with the ache in our heavy hearts. Alone with our thoughts, our regrets, our sorrow.

And now I was sitting in my son’s funeral. His small, beautiful casket sat on the table in the front of the sanctuary, surrounded by my favorite picture of his tiny feet and his initials.

As we closed out the service, we stood and sang “It Is Well.” I sang the words feeling desperate sorrow but clinging to hope. Hope that this wasn’t really the end. Hope that I would see my little boy again.  Hope that Zion’s short life had made a difference.  Hope that God could bring beauty out of these ashes.

I would end up getting that phrase tattooed on my foot. Scrolled across the top of my left foot, in black ink that was permanently embedded in my skin—just like Zion was permanently embedded in my heart—I would be reminded day in and day out, that God had been faithful in the past, and He would continue to be faithful. In our joy and in our pain.  In our strength and in our weakness.  It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“And Lord, haste the day

When my faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll

The trump shall resound

And the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.”

casket

Zion’s Story, Part 2

Click for Part 1

Edits-0001.jpg

I’ll never forget the stillness into which he was born.

That moment, which is supposed to be charged with excitement, anticipation, and sheer agony—was utterly silent. I could feel him coming, and then—there he was. Just like all of my other babies—one minute we are waiting and wondering, the next second, they make their appearance in a shocking, unexpected rush.  But all those other times of quick birth were followed by a flurry of frenetic activity.  Nurses and midwives running to and fro, grabbing warm blankets, wrapping up baby, placing him on my chest, Daddy cutting the cord, everyone beaming with pride and relief. Welcoming them into the world with joy, tears, elation.

This time. Silence. Stillness. A quietness that screamed throughout the room that this—this was not how it was supposed to be in this moment. Birth should be the beginning of life, not the beginning of death.

He was stillborn December 1, 2016 at 12:46pm. Nine days after he passed from life into death, he finally passed from my womb and into our arms. I don’t remember much about those nine days of waiting. It passed in a blur, sometimes quickly, other times agonizingly slowly. The nights were the longest. I could keep myself busy during the days taking care of my other four littles, and friends and family often stopped by, bringing meals or just sitting with us to take our mind off what was to come.

But at night, the bitter reality would creep up on me as I lay in the quiet darkness. The utter stillness inside my rounded belly felt almost haunting.  I would rest my hand under where my baby lay quietly beneath my skin, keenly aware that I only had a few more days to hold him close, and then I would finally permit my pillow to absorb my silent, pent-up tears. I have never found it easy to allow my tears to surface. I often envy people who are able to cry, because, when the tears come, they often bring with them some semblance of relief. Like a dam of sorrow breaking and spilling out over parched ground. My dam rarely breaks though, and when it does, it is most often in solitude.

I knew that Stephen would be more than willing to wake up with me in those nights, to hear my heart, to dry my tears. And I am sure I should have allowed him the privilege of caring for me during those nights.  But I just couldn’t let myself bother him. He had been under so much stress himself, the last thing he needed was to lose sleep over me, too.

So each night, as the hours grew unbearably long, I would finally slide out of bed, grab my favorite blanket, and curl up on the couch. I usually turned on Anne of Green Gables or something familiar and soothing, and before long, I would have drifted off, the moonlight spilling in through the window over me as I slept.

As the days and nights came and went, it became increasingly torturous to notice that the baby inside me lay quietly, unmoving, and never would move again. As much as I wanted to hold on to him for as long as I could, it felt as if I was scooping sand through my fingers and watching it pour through the cracks and disappear forever. I couldn’t hold on to him anymore. He was gone, and I had to let him go. It was time to hold my baby in my arms for the first and last time, and then hold him in my heart forever.

And so it was that on the morning of December 1, I woke early after yet another sleepless night. We were to be at the hospital at 7:00 for the induction.  By the time we loaded the car and drove the 30 minutes there, I felt calm. The whole thing felt completely surreal. Almost as if I was watching myself from outside of my own body. Stephen held my hand as we stood and waited by the elevator. We were almost there. Almost to labor and delivery. I dreaded that moment. Stepping through the doors to sign the papers, meet my nurse, walk past all the rooms where other mothers were giving birth to living babies.

Who would I get as my nurse today? I had experienced bad labor nurses before, and I prayed that today would not be one of those days. Oh, why couldn’t it just be my own mama with me today instead of a strange nurse whom I had never met?

Harvene didn’t look up from her clipboard as she walked from behind the nurse’s station to meet me. Her short, black hair was cropped tightly against her head, and her face had an expression of no-nonsense as she studied my file.

Oh, Lord! I prayed. Please let this be a compassionate nurse!

Stephen was holding my right hand, but suddenly, I felt an arm slip around my waist from the other side. I turned to see Harvene standing beside me, smiling gently as she squeezed my middle.

“My name is Harvene, and I am going to just treat you like my own precious daughter today, because I have a daughter the exact same age as you, and she just lost a baby last year. I am so sorry this is what we are doing today, but I am just going to take care of you like I would my own girl.”

I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. Thank you, Jesus! If a person has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, having kind and gentle people to walk alongside them makes all the difference.

There weren’t many people who came and went from our room that day. But both Stephen and I received so many texts, messages, emails, and voicemails, we couldn’t even keep up with them all.  People from all over the world were praying for us that day. And we could feel it.  We could feel the strength enter our weary bones and prop us up to do what had to be done.

Stephen stood beside my bed as Harvene helped me into the hospital gown and then started the IV. There would be no monitors this time. I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the cords of fetal heart monitors or blood pressure cuffs. This time was so different. So strange. So quiet.

My midwife, Audra, had come in and given me the medicine intended to induce me. They told me to be prepared for something fairly similar to a full-term birth and that the contractions should start coming pretty soon. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. I had never been induced before, so none of us knew how my body would respond to the medication, but we all hoped that it would kick in quickly and that I may even go home after supper.  Everyone kept saying I should be feeling some cramping that would grow increasingly uncomfortable, but so far, I felt like it was all just some nasty joke. Sure, I felt a couple of squeezes here and there, but at this rate, I felt like I would be in this hospital bed for weeks before the baby was born.

I watched the clock anxiously. I could take my next dose at noon, and I was hoping maybe that would jumpstart things. As it was, I had felt one or two cramps that were beginning to somewhat resemble contractions, but nothing to write home about. I was growing increasingly discouraged and mentally exhausted.

Around 12:30, Harvene came in to administer the next dose. Finally. There was a knock on the door and someone brought a lunch tray in and slipped quietly back out.  Harvene explained that there was a sign on my door—a heart with a tear drop—to let staff know when they entered to be considerate.  We may be in labor and delivery, but this delivery wouldn’t receive any congratulations or well wishes.  They wanted to be respectful of how difficult it was for parents in this situation, and they did an amazing job.

Audra came back in to check on me. She explained that once the baby was born, we could keep him with us for as long as we wanted.  We had arranged for a photographer—a good friend of ours—to come and take pictures once he was born. And then, once I was cleared to go home, we would say goodbye to our baby, and he would be sent to the funeral home to await burial. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the reality that we would be leaving the hospital today without a baby. And I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore.

I shifted uncomfortably on the bed. My back was beginning to ache from half-sitting, half-laying for the last 5 hours. Harvene had just checked my progress to see if anything was happening. Nothing. I hadn’t dilated at all.  I wanted to be like, “Are you serious?? I have been laying here for 5 hours hooked up to stuff and I haven’t made any progress??”

But as soon as she left, I began to feel strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. Something in me signaled that things were about to start happening.

“I think…I feel…” I frowned, confused, at Stephen, and he frowned back—his eyes searching mine for clues as to what my body was doing. Stephen was always the most amazing support as I had birthed our last four children. He always stayed calm, listened to what I needed, and soothed me with encouraging words and a gentle touch.  Now he waited expectantly for me to finish my sentence and help him to know what I needed from him.

I didn’t know exactly what I felt, as I got up and walked to the bathroom, hoping to find relief from the strange, aching sensation around my middle. It felt almost like an intense heaviness deep within my belly, pulling in and downward.  I could feel a building pressure.  I felt I needed to sway back and forth, to rock myself, to—suddenly, I realized what felt so familiar.  “Oh! Stephen call the midwife back. I think the baby’s coming now!”

Stephen poked his head out the hallway and called for the nurse. Harvene hurried back and looked at me oddly.

“You’re feeling…how?”

“Weird. Just…weird,”

“Weird, like…pushy?”

“Yeah, kind of, I think so, I don’t really know,” I fumbled for the right words, instinctively rocking back and forth, hands on my hips, my brow furrowed in concentration.

Harvene said there was absolutely no way I could be ready to push, but up onto the bed I climbed for her to check again.

And suddenly I felt that feeling. That same feeling I have right before all my babies are born. I can’t really find words to describe it though. Pressure? Yes. Squeezing? Yes. Agony? Yes. But this time, not agony of body. Agony of soul.

I distinctly felt him come away from the warm safety of my womb. It was like a breaking of sorts. A breaking of the connection between his body and my body. A physical manifestation of how my heart was feeling.

And in one swift, fluid motion, he was born. Caught in the nurse’s panicked and unexpectant hands—held firmly in place while she quickly paged the front desk for help. I could hear the edge of alarm in her voice as the nurse on the other end calmly asked how she could help.

“I need the midwife now!” The nurse on the other end responded in a chipper voice that she was on her way.

And then we waited. Me half sitting, half laying on the bed, Stephen beside me, his hand protectively on my shoulder, and Harvene at the end of the bed, doing her best to keep that tiny baby in until the midwife arrived.

“I just don’t want you to bleed out,” she somewhat whispered. “We need Audra.”

I don’t really remember Audra walking in. I just know all of a sudden she was there, and he was there. Laying on the hospital bed still tightly cocooned in his sac. We could see his arms and legs through the translucent layer. The sac was so strong Audra had to find a pair of scissors and cut it open and then—finally—we could all see—

“Ohhhhh, it’s a boy!” Audra gasped as she oh, so carefully peeled the sac away from his body, as he lay curled tightly into a ball.

A boy?? Stephen and I looked at each other, shocked. A boy? We had no boy name! We had been absolutely confident that they baby was a girl, and that her name would mean resurrection and new life. The new life we anxiously awaited on the other side of eternity. The new life we believed our baby was already experiencing. We had found the perfect name for a little girl to represent God’s promise of a future hope. But a boy? It was a boy!

And now we were all marveling at his tiny form. Audra picked him up gently. He fit perfectly in her cupped hands as she held him. She wrapped him in a little blanket and Stephen cut the cord.  We all hovered over him—Harvene, Audra, Stephen and me.  No one spoke. We just looked at him in silent wonder.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

He was absolutely perfect. His skin was only still mildly translucent and had the appearance of being wet, while not actually feeling wet.  His eyelids hadn’t formed yet, so his tiny eyes stared vacantly up.  But even then we could tell they were blue.  We picked up his hands, his fingers—and counted every single one of them. Ten fingers. Ten toes. We saw his tiny fingernails. His knuckles. His elbows! His ears. Oh, those teeny, tiny, perfect, round ears!

Everything was fully formed, just so very, very small.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

And then they handed him to me. A baby to his mama’s waiting arms. I had carried him in my womb for 16 weeks. And now I cupped his precious, lifeless body in my hands. He was so plump! I hadn’t expected the round belly, the filled-out arms and legs. And he was warm. Not because he had life of his own anymore, but because of so recently being entombed within my life. His little body still radiated with the heat of being so close to my own.img_0285

I expected the tears to come then, as I held my baby there in that quiet hospital room. But they didn’t. I felt encompassed in a grief somehow too deep for tears.

Kamie came and took pictures. I had no idea then how much those few photographs would mean to me once he was gone. Kamie wept as she moved his little arms and legs to take each picture.  I felt overwhelmed with gratitude at her willingness to do something so extremely difficult.  The respect and honor with which she treated his miniature body was like a balm to my soul.

We still didn’t have a name for him. We hadn’t told our families that he had been born. Harvene took him and weighed him.

3 ounces. 6 inches long.

So much personhood in such a tiny being. But he was a person.  That much was blatantly obvious just to look at him. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But Dr. Seuss, have you ever seen a person this small? Not many people have.  But as we sat in that hospital room that day, each one of us affirmed the beauty and reality of his personhood.

The chaplain came in to pray with us and to explain the next steps of having the baby buried.

And then Stephen said, “Remember when Jubilee was born? We had a boy name picked out that you always wanted to use, and I think it would be perfect for him. Zion Emmanuel.”

Zion Emmanuel. “A memorial to God with us.” Yes, it was absolutely perfect for him.  For God had been with us every step of the way. We could feel his nearness, we trusted in his goodness, we took hope in his faithfulness.

“Zion Emmanuel Willcox,” I whispered the name over my baby’s unmoving form, still cradling him in my hands. “It fits.”

Part 3