Monday, September 28, 2009

Celebrating a tiny life, part 2

" O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up,
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, you know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it."
Psalm 139:1-6

As far as I knew waking up the morning of Friday, September 11, everything with the pregnancy was progressing smoothly. In fact, the day before I had had a very vivid dream that I was pregnant with twins, and was curious enough to find out that I thought maybe I'd go by the local hospital that next day and get checked out.

So Friday morning I ventured out into the rainy streets, with Chloe in tow--first to pick up Clara Anne from her kindergarten and then to go to the hospital. We had a little difficulty en route. The first taxi driver wouldn't wait for me to go in and get Clara Anne, so we had to get another taxi coming back out from her school again, and waited awhile to get one. Finally we got in that taxi and the driver took me to what looked like the hospital, but was in fact an adjoining building and the hospital was a full city block away with lots of mud puddles in between. This was my first visit there and I wasn't exactly sure where I was going, with two young girls in tow, walking slowly around the puddles trying not to get dirty, finally arriving and asking someone where to go, only to find out everyone was out for lunch. (11:30am to 2pm, nice lunch hour!) So we slogged back out to the street to find another taxi and get home again. On arriving home I found to my dismay that I was having some spotting, more than I had ever seen in any of my other pregnancies.

John came home for lunch and we decided that it would be best for me to get back to the hospital that afternoon to get checked out. Here's where I should have gone to a different hospital in town that I was familiar with. Instead I went back to the one closer to our house, but got lost several times, redirected no less than four times, and finally, after leaving home at 1:30, was able to see a doctor at about 3:30. She was not concerned about the spotting but thought I should have an ultrasound.

Clara Anne had accompanied me to the hospital, so we sat and read from an American Girl book while I waited for the ultrasound. That experience involved a funny language moment where they were asking me about pee. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what they were saying! Finally after asking numerous questions I realized they were asking me to make sure my bladder was full--it would be easier to see the womb that way. Ahh, comprehension! Finally I was able to have the ultrasound done--Clara Anne in the room with me the whole time. She was very sweet and concerned, "Mommy, are they going to check the baby? Can I see a picture of the baby? Is there something wrong with the baby?"

After the test, the first words out of the technician's mouth were "zheng chan de." (Normal.) While breathing a sigh of relief, I looked at the picture she printed out for me. I couldn't read much of what was on the page, but she sent me back up to the doctor for more "advice."

The doctor, an older lady with frizzy hair and glasses, seemed caring enough but was bluntly honest with me. She presented three options. Based on my dates, the baby should have been about 51 days gestation, with a clear heartbeat and more development. But the ultrasound showed the baby too small for that age. There was no heartbeat, but there isn't a heartbeat for as small as my baby looked to be. So option one was that the baby wasn't growing normally, there were serious problems. Option two was that the baby had already died but my body didn't recognize it yet, which is why I hadn't had any heavy bleeding. By the time she got to option three I was emotional enough that the Asianese part of my brain was not working well, and between my emotions and her use of medical language, I just couldn't understand what she was saying. (Later, through talking with my helper, who helpfully called the hospital back and talked to the doctor directly, we understood that she was considering the possibility of late ovulation, but she wanted me to have a blood test done to know for sure.)

Suffice to say, by the time Clara Anne and I left there, I was in tears. I felt in my heart that the baby was lost, but still wanted to hold out hope, if there was any to hold on to. We had plans that evening for guests to come to our home for supper and a study time, so we went ahead with that and I was thankful for my dear friend Rachel who listened to all my wandering thoughts, prayed for me, and let me cry a bit, too.

Saturday was tough. I got clearer information from my helper as she looked at the ultrasound results and what the doctor had written, and told me that the ultrasound had placed the baby's age at 32 days. I went over and over the dates, and just couldn't see how the baby could still be alive. John came home for part of the afternoon to be with me and we decided that we would go ahead and have the blood test the next day to look at my hormone levels, and hopefully then know for sure.

Waiting in uncertainty is never fun for anyone, but I can honestly say that the Lord helped my heart to be peaceful during this time...truly a "peace that passes understanding." I had my blood drawn on Sunday morning and went back Sunday afternoon to have the results read. My helper and my friend Becky accompanied me, so that John could stay home with the girls. Becky chatted with me and told me interesting stories about her family to keep my mind off things. I went, fully expecting to hear that my levels were low and therefore confirm the baby's death. Instead, the doctor's first words were "zheng hao" or, "just right." My levels were exactly where they should be considering the baby's age.

A sliver of hope again! I had given up, accepting the likely reality of a miscarriage, and then a bit of hope was injected into the situation. Unfortunately, the only thing to do was wait. If I waited a week or so, they would do another ultrasound and see if there was growth or not.

One complicating factor in all of this is that I am Rh negative. This wouldn't be a big deal except that almost no one in Asia is Rh negative, including my husband. So with all of my babies, I had to have an injection at 28 weeks and then again after the baby was born, if the baby was Rh positive, to prevent Rh sensitization. And all of my babies were Rh positive, so I had the shot each time. As this was all happening, I was corresponding with an American doctor who strongly suggested that I travel to the capital city to obtain the injection (the only place in the whole country where it can be bought) so as to have it on hand if needed. (I.e. if I did miscarry, I would need the injection within 72 hours.)

So we made plans to travel. My friend Rachel graciously agreed to travel with me on Wednesday, the 16th. We took the early train to the capital and the latest train back home, and had a wonderful day together, especially considering the circumstances! We made lots of memories, laughed a lot, cried a little, prayed together, ate some yummy food, hit Starbucks, bought fun stuff at the import store, almost missed our train coming back, and just generally had a great time. The doctor's visit, however, still left a lot of room for uncertainty.

I had another ultrasound done, and the results of this showed that there was some growth to the gestational sac, but in the doctor's opinion, it looked "empty." Her advice was to "terminate" and she had already launched into how I could do that when I said, "well, wait a minute! How old does this place the baby?" When she responded with "about 40 days" then I declared that I was not going to do anything until I knew for sure what was happening. If there was even the slightest chance that there was still a baby in there, I was not going to take any other action. "You're right, we don't need to rush, we can wait another week and see what happens," she said. I was glad I defended my baby and didn't just agree right away to whatever she said!

I had gone to the capital city fully expecting to hear, "There's been no growth, your baby is lost." But instead, the sliver of hope remained! What could I say other than that this was the Lord's plan? We prayed for a clear answer, and He could have given it, but chose not to. So clearly, it was His plan for me to remain in that uncertainty for that time. He must have had some things to teach me, and one of them was about prayer.

After my first doctor visit in our city my friend Rachel had asked me how I was going to pray about this situation. I shared with her that until we saw clearly otherwise, we were going to intercede for this little one, that the Lord would grant LIFE, protecting and caring for that sweet little one's body and soul. We were going to plead for this life until the Lord showed us one way or another what His plan was for this wee one. So I felt that same determination rising up in me, facing that doctor in the capital city: We are not giving up yet! The Lord hasn't shown us clearly that the baby has died, so until we know for sure, we are going to plead for Life!

The doctor did, however, prescribe the Rhogam injection so that I could take it home with me and have it given here if needed; at least that part of the mission was accomplished.

Thursday and Friday passed with the slight spotting continuing, less if I rested, but still always there. Saturday morning came around and John was off early to the office. I wasn't feeling great, just felt like resting, so the girls and I camped out on my bed with a stack of books. Soon I felt too sleepy to keep on reading, so the girls got down and played Dominoes next to the bed while I dozed. I was awakened by a text message and when I got out of bed to go get the phone, I very suddenly had to rush to the bathroom.

In the next moment I knew clearly what the Lord's plan for this tiny life was to be. The sliver of hope disappeared quickly, to be replaced with tears, blood, and pain. And yet, He was with me.

"This is my plan...whatever I do is good...I love you."

I managed to call John, who came home quickly, the girls kept playing in happy ignorance, and Christin slept on peacefully. We talked together and hugged and prayed. We thought and wondered and reflected. We trusted and cried and prayed again.

The irony of the timing of all of this was not lost on us. If we considered the discrepency between my dates and the apparent age of the baby, it appeared that the baby had died right around the time that I was getting those positive pregnancy tests. And I continued on, blissfully unaware, until the spotting happened just two days after we finally told everyone. I won't deny that there was a tiny voice in my heart that said, "why Lord? Why this way? I didn't think I wanted another baby . . . then you gave me one, only to take it away, just after I told everyone about it. Why?" But I will say this: that voice in my heart was a very small one, and the Lord helped me not to give it much credit. The truth is, it doesn't need to bother me that I don't know why. I am thankful, so very thankful, that the Lord gave me a sense of trusting in Him, that there is a reason--whether I know it now, or will ever know it--and that reason is for my good. My heart has resounded to the truth that He is God, and He is good. He has a plan. He does not act in an arbitrary way. It is for my good, no, not just my good, it is the best thing for me that events unfolded in precisely the way they did. He has a plan for me, and for my tiny baby too. Thank you, Lord, for granting faith that I can rest in those truths and not be caught in the endless, bitter, recriminating "whys."

In reflection, it is a wonder that anyone ever has any children at all. The whole process is so minute, so exact, so unbelievably complex, that the fact that any person manages to conceive a child, carry that child to term, and give birth to a healthy baby is truly nothing short of miraculous. And to think that I had three of those healthy babies! No problems whatsoever! (Well, if you don't count morning sickness for weeks on end and prelabor contractions for weeks on the other end!) So the fact that sometimes there's a problem is really not so surprising.

I've also read (believe me, I did tons of internet research during that week) that because now pregnancy tests are sensitive so early, and women also are having ultrasounds done so early, that the rate for miscarraige is around 30%. In the past, perhaps women had miscarraiges without realizing it, since they hadn't taken a test and/or hadn't seen the baby on an ultrasound. So almost one-third of all pregnancies end in miscarriage--a terribly high number, now not just a number to me anymore.

It's amazing how your perspective can change overnight. I didn't plan to be pregnant, even (gasp!) didn't want to be pregnant. Then, in a matter of moments when those two little lines appeared, I suddenly wanted to be pregnant more than anything else in the world. Suddenly the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth receded far, far into the background and I felt I would do anything to protect this tiny life.

And there's the difficulty. I couldn't do anything to protect it, I couldn't stop the miscarriage from happening. It was totally out of my control. In a way, during that week of waiting, I felt very similar to how I felt in my other pregnancies: things were out of my control, I simply had to trust. While carrying Clara Anne, I had a period of time where I really was worried about the baby. There are so many terrible things that can happen and I was worrying about them all. Finally I came to a point with the Lord where I had to say, Lord, this child is yours. Whatever you choose to do, it is Yours to do. I recognized that the worrying wouldn't stop after I gave birth; there would always be something else to worry about. And not only was that not pleasing to God, it was not a recipe for a joyful life!

It's not such a bad thing sometimes to realize that we're not in control. This circumstance was a good opportunity for me to affirm: Lord, this child was yours. Your plan, not ours. In your hands, not ours. We joyfully welcomed this wee one into our family, and though the time was so very brief, we are thankful. We are changed. This little one will always be part of our family story now.

In sharing the news with Clara Anne and Chloe, Clara Anne showed a very mature response. (Actually, I was crying at the dinner table when this conversation took place.) She asked about the baby, and we told her that the baby had died and so wouldn't come out to join our family. She said, "Well Mommy, if the baby died, then that must have been God's plan." I assured her that was certainly true, but it still made me a little sad. She responded in kind, sharing that she was a little sad too. But then I told her that sometimes, it is God's plan for little babies to go right to heaven rather than joining their families on earth, and she was so glad to hear that the baby went to heaven. She hugged me several times and said, "Oh, Mommy! That is so much better, isn't it! The baby will always live in heaven with Jesus and doesn't have to live on earth where we disobey!" I think this was Clara Anne's attempt to affirm heaven's perfection against the sin, suffering, and pain of life on earth. And she's right!

As John and I have processed things since the miscarriage, we've realized that there are definitely differences in losing a child. It is hard to lose a baby at 9 weeks gestation, but it is harder to lose a perfectly healthy baby in the process of labor, as happened to my high school child development teacher. It may be even harder to lose an almost two year old through a tragic accident, like my Aunt Judy and Uncle Dave, and it may be even harder to lose your 33 year old son, married with children, like my parents did when my brother died. All life is precious, and so there is loss in each case, but it is different. That has been a helpful thought as I think through the loss of this child.

I can honestly say, as well, that Scripture has been a huge comfort to me in the last few weeks. Psalm 139: the secret places are not hidden from Him, He knows our every thought and need . . .and all our days were written in His book, before there was even one of them. . . those verses were very helpful for me. As well, I had the opportunity to study through Philippians with some American friends and it was a very fruitful and valuable study, particularly in thinking about suffering as a gift for growth in the Christian life. I'll conclude my story tonight with a verse that the Lord impressed upon me on my trip to the capital city that day--it really sums up what I want this trial of losing a baby to accomplish in me.

"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." Philippians 1:18b-20

Amen, Lord, let it be.

[I felt in my heart that the baby was a girl. Of course, it was too early to tell. But if she had joined our family on this earth, we liked the name Charity Noelle. Charity was wanted. She was loved. We celebrate that she was part of our family, even for such a brief time. Thank you, Lord.]


Emily Carlson said...

Rachel, your post brought me to tears. I was so touched at what Clara said regarding the baby living in heaven- what a precious, spirit filled child, full of God's truth! I relate to your worries, fears, and disappointments. After almost 5 years of trying to have a baby, when I finally found out I was pregnant, I didn't want to believe it because I didn't want to be disappointed if it didn't last. I am thankful, and grateful to God, for giving us a second child, and with only 11 weeks left, I realize we have less and less to worry about. :-) Thank you for your honesty, your thoughts, and your faith. Blessings to you and John!

Brian P said...

Rachel, Thank you for sharing your heart and life with us. You guys are in our prayers.

Groovers said...

oh Rachel, tears stream down my face as I read your post. Please know that your words of faith have greatly encouraged me to know & love Him more! Praise God for the work that He is and has done in you & through you. I'm so very sorry for your loss, but am eternally grateful for your heart for Jesus.
love to you all,
Courtney Groover

The Culbertsons said...

Rachel, I am praising God as I read your story for all that He is doing in your life and in your family's life. We have been praying for you and John and will continue to do so. Most of all, I pray now that the Lord will use this suffering for His glory in giving you more opportunities to share the good news with other women who have experienced this trial. Many blessings to you!


Aine Willis said...

Rachel, thank you for sharing your pain in this difficult time of your life. I too have suffered from miscarriages. It's a very painful process. God Bless you and your family. I love that you are using this chapter in your life to find perspective.

Sommer family said...

Dear Rachel and John,

I was so touched by the thoughtful and precious way you put this. Our hearts go out to you all for this loss, but we thank the L. for His mercies that are new every morning! We all send our love!

Kris, David, and Grant

The Santos Family said...

Rachel, as many have said, I could not read without crying.... and we don't even know each other that well. We have also suffered the loss of miscarriage and know the pain it causes. My heart and prayers go out to you and your family during this continued time of healing. The Lord is still good (which I can hear through your blog) and we will one day be reunited with our little ones. May you be blessed.