Saturday, February 27, 2010

Journey into Motherhood: Chapter 4

Read Journey into Motherhood Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.
This little plaque hangs in Maddie and Eden's bedroom.

I spent the next day at home resting and by Saturday morning I wanted out of my house. We went up to my in laws house and spoke with my pastor and father in law. Seth and his dad decided to go golfing in the warm sunshine. I stayed at my in laws on their comfortable couch and watched TLC on their cable. A friend came by with an Italian woman’s expression of love: food. The pot roast she had prepared was good, as was a few moments of company.

I went to church on Sunday. Other than the Wednesday evening I spent in the hospital, I did not miss any church service or function. The only element about being at church that I dreaded was greeting everyone during our church’s traditional hand shaking segment. I did manage not to cry the entire time I was at church (as far as I can remember) but going from person to person with sympathetic expressions on their faces was pushing my limits. I appreciated everyone’s care and knew that they were truly sad for our loss. It seemed that the whole church had lost a baby. I wish that I had been better able to simply be grateful for their well meaning expressions but I admit that one phrase which was often repeated by a few people greatly bothered me.

“You’ll have another.”

It was said in a few different forms: “You’ll have your a quiver full.” or “You’re still young, you can try again.”

I knew that each person who said it meant it to bring me comfort but it did not. For one, we had no assurance that we would indeed have another baby. We had been told that Grace had died due to spinal bifida, which is a condition that could very likely affect every child we conceived. But mostly what I hated about the “you’ll have another” phrase is that even if I had ten children, they would never replace the one I had just delivered. Would we ever consider telling a parent who lost their oldest living child that they should be fine with that death since they had a younger living child?

Miscarriage can be an awkward thing to know what to respond to. I certainly had never known what to say when a woman I knew lost her baby. To some, it is just a fact of life and not a big deal. Sad, yes. But not really an outright tragedy. To others it is more significant. Added to the confusion in our situation was how late in the pregnancy we had lost our baby. Although I was twenty weeks into the pregnancy, Grace had died at 19 weeks. A week had gone by before we knew that her soul was already in Heaven. A death at or after 20 weeks is considered a still birth, but Grace was considered by most people as a miscarriage. Actually, the hospital had referred to it as a “fetal demise.” I had been greatly disturbed by hearing that term spoken by my nurses in conversation with each other.

Most people expressed their sympathy in simple heartfelt forms. A hug. A sincere “I’m sorry.” A plant, which was actually a really wonderful gesture. It was an assortment of plants in one decorative container. I kept the “dish garden” on my kitchen counter for very long time. I knew that people loved us and were from their heart, sad for our loss.

There is a lady in our church who lost her full term daughter many years ago. When we intersected each other during our hand shaking time, I quietly said, “I know that you know.” And she warmly took my hand and said, “No, honey. Only you know. Only you.” And that was a true statement. I could never know just what her loss had meant to her and she could not know what mine had meant to me. Over the course of the next few months, as the news of Grace’s death spread, I listened to several women who had their own tales of baby loss. Though there is a sisterhood of mothers with babies in Heaven, it is mostly a personal experience. To assume that we could ever fully know just how another person feels, about any difficulty or tragedy, would be a mistake.

As the days went on, I reminded myself that this was not the first hardship I had ever experienced in life, and it surely would not be the last. Since I had become a Christian when I was nine years old, whenever bad things happened, very quickly, usually that very day, God would do something special to let me know that He cared for me. The best way I can think of to describe it is that He would figuratively wrap His arms around me and give me a big hug. After some trials, I would be reading my Bible and it almost seemed that my Bible had fallen open and a specific verse jumped off the pages at me. The verse, though written centuries ago, would fit my circumstance perfectly. It would bring me such tremendous comfort and was like a giant “I love you” sent from God. Sometimes, the special token of affection from the Lord would come in a particular sermon that was meant just exclusively for me, or so it felt. The hugs from God came in a few different ways but they had always been there and they had always come soon after a hard thing came into my life.

As soon as I came home from the hospital, I started looking for my hug from God. Thinking that I would make it easy for God to reveal it to me, I began reading the Psalms. Surely this would be a good place to find my special hug from God, I thought. But I did not find it right away. I read through Psalms without finding my hug from God. I read through it again and again and still did not find it. I listening intently during sermons for my hug from Heaven but did not hear it. I looked for it as I went about my days but nothing came right out and gave me that special message just from my Father to me telling me that He knew and He cared and He loved me and would make everything okay.

Of course, I KNEW that God loved me. He had sent His Son to die on the cross for my sins and had expressed His great love and watch care for me in so many ways I could not begin to count them. It is not that I needed a new sign from Heaven to know that I was saved or that God had not forsaken me. I knew that without a doubt. God was still God and He was still kind and good and right. But what I was searching for was a special hug from God for this particular hour. He had always done so in the past and in this, my saddest period of life, I just knew that He would so again. And so I kept looking, and I began praying for God to send me a special hug.

Early the next week, a small graveside service was held. Only Seth’s parents, siblings, grandma and uncle were present. Grace was placed in a small white coffin with a silver teddy bear in the corner. A hole had been prepared in the same cemetery plot as Seth’s late grandfather. Grace was placed directly on top of her great Grandpa McCoy.

As can be the case in upstate NY in May, it was a chilly overcast day. We huddled in the old country cemetery surrounded by fields and cow pastures while Seth’s father spoke briefly with an open Bible in his hands. My sister in law, who is always one to cry, wept. Seth and I stood side by side staring down at the little box that held our baby. Again, I prayed for God to give me something to hang onto…. a gesture from Him to me to get me through these days. A cold wind swept by and I, being the ever unprepared for cold weather California girl, shuddered. Seth put his arms around my shoulders and squeezed me close to him. My prayer to God for His hug had been continuing in my heart and at that moment, God said seemed to me, “Until you can feel my hug to you, accept Seth’s in its place. He’ll be the temporary expression of my great abiding love for you for the time being.”

And so that is how it was for a time. In all my “expertise” for all things pertaining to marriage, which I had accumulated in less than one year of marriage, I had firmly believed that husband, though the spiritual head of the home should not be the wife’s spiritual crutch. And really I do still believe that statement to be generally true. But at that time and place, Seth became my spiritual crutch for a period. That may not be right but that is the way was for a season.

Another sister in law had brought a bouquet of pink flowers. I was so appreciative that she had thought of bringing some flowers for Grace. Along with all the other things I had not thought of, flowers was yet another.

Our small assembly cried, we hugged and then we walked away. I sat in the passenger seat of our car while everyone was loading into their own vehicles. My mother in law passed by my window and stopped.

“Are you okay?”

And then I said the only thing that I could think of… not a Bible verse but a quote from a silly movie.

“To despair is to turn one’s back on God.” I smiled. It was from Anne of Green Gables.

“Yeah, that’s right.” She laughed. “It’s funny the things that come to mind at these times, isn’t it?”

Before my follow up appointment with Dr. G, I had researched spinal bifida and had arrived with a list of questions. This soon became irrelevant when Dr. G. revealed the pathology report results. Grace had not had spinal bifida at all but actually had a chromosome abnormality called Turner’s Syndrome. A healthy baby’s DNA is based from XY, for a boy or XX for a girl. Grace had only one X. It was caused by just a fluke in the way the cells came together. It was most likely not genetic. Some girls afflicted with Turner’s Syndrome are born and live somewhat normal lives. They are infertile and have physical deformities. Some defects on major organs can limit life span significantly. A common issue with TS is a cystic hygroma, which Grace had on her neck. This was what appeared to be spinal bifida initially. This cyst, which grew so large that it disrupted supplies to her brain, was the actual cause of death for Grace.

The news was somewhat good, since TS would most likely not be repeated in all our children, which is very plausible with spinal bifida. It seemed so strange that the whole time that I was pregnant, assuming that the baby was perfect and healthy and fine, she had been sick for every minute. The name Grace fit her as well as it ever had. She was, and is, perfect and whole in Heaven enjoying the grace of God in person.

It soon became apparent to me and Seth that I did indeed need to take the week off of work. But I stayed as busy as I could. One day I went shopping at the mall for hours. I only came home after a sharp cramp in my side became more than I could ignore. We took a trip to library close to our house. I had no makeup on and though was having a good day emotionally, was not looking my best at all. This made running into one of Seth’s childhood friends, whom I had never met before, less than ideal.

As we chit chatted, he casually asked when we were planning on having kids. Seth, in his easy manner, told him that we had actually just lost our first baby. He faced showed his regret for asking and he apologized. I felt badly that he felt bad, so I tried to lighten the atmosphere.

“Yeah, I don’t usually look like I’ve been hit by a truck!”

It was one of moments when my attempt to make the mood less awkward actually made it more awkward.

Exactly one week after Grace had been delivered; I went for a hair appointment. The person who had been cutting my hair since I moved to NY was very good at hair styling and I loved the way my hair came out every time. But the stylist proudly and loudly held to very liberal and radical world views. Our conversations had always been cordial even as we discussed extremely opposite opinions, and though I had considering finding a different stylist, I had the impression that my stylist had a very bad perception of Christians and I pridefully thought I could be the one to change their mind. Since my stylist had seen me early in my pregnancy, I had to let them know that we had lost the baby. They expressed sympathy and also included that they “didn’t think a baby was anything until they were born”. I still remained friendly, because arguing with a person holding shears to your hair is not recommended, but knew that I would find someone else to cut my hair. Before leaving, my stylist again expressed sympathy. I smiled widely, and boldly looked into their eyes and said, “God is still good.” They nodded in a quiet manner as if to say “If you say so, crazy lady…” and I left.

Summer was upon us and with it the youth activities and trips that youth pastors and their wives are privileged to participate in. I cried every day, at least once a day but was usually able to do so at private times, at home and alone. It was as if the tears and emotion built up throughout the day. If I made sure to release them at appropriate times, they would not burst out when I did not want them to. Most of the time.

At one youth conference we took the youth group to, the pastor’s daughter had also suffered a miscarriage. As the pastor shared part of her story, the tears could not be stopped. They flowed during the entire church service; they flowed as we left the church and loaded our van up with awkwardly silent teenagers, and the tears continued to flow as went to a fast food restaurant. I composed myself as best as I could in the ladies’ room, with one sweet teenage girl doing the best any teenage girl could do to be my friend at that moment.

When I came out to join our group at the tables, a friend from college entered the restaurant. When he first saw us, only Seth was facing him.

“Wow, you guys stayed skinny! I got married, fat and happy!”

As I turned around, his jovial expressive dissolved. I am sure he thought that we were married, skinny and miserable. I can almost imagine that even all these years later, he pities poor Seth McCoy married to that skinny, grumpy girl!

All through the summer, I was reading my Bible and praying. I was doing everything that I knew to do to keep in fellowship with the Lord. But something was not as it was before Grace’s death. It was as if the connection between Him and I was severed. I was still saved, still a child of God. But when I prayed it felt as though my prayers went no farther than the ceiling. When I read the Bible, the passages did not come to life for me. I evaluated myself over and over again to determine what the root of the breech in our relationship was. I honestly did not believe that was angry at God. The prevailing emotion I felt was simple sadness.

I knew that Grace was in Heaven. I knew that God loved her and cared for even more than I could even comprehend. I knew that God hurt for my hurt. But the distance was still there, or at least that is how I felt. The problem was most certainly with me because God is always right and always perfect. Even years later, looking back, I cannot determine what was the exact reason for the lack of connection I felt between myself and the Lord. But I absolutely felt it and it created the loneliest time I ever experienced. I had already been lonely for the year that I had lived in NY anyway, but now with a breach between my Father and me, I was very painfully lonely. The principle that one cannot live life based on emotions became a guiding force in my mind. Though the emotional aspect of reading my Bible and praying was not there, I still continued to do so. I felt like a hypocrite who was only going through the motions, but had to recognize that even just going through the motions was better than not. I kept remembering the day at the cemetery when I had felt God instructed me to let Seth be my crutch. It seemed as though Seth was still spiritually in tune with the Lord. So I had to let that be enough for the both of us for the time being. I made no decisions because my decision maker was broken. Seth was steady and sure, when I was everything but steady and sure. So I leaned on him. Maybe someday, over the course of our lifetime, Seth will need me to be his spiritual strength. I hope that if he is ever the weak one, I will have the spiritual muscles enough to carry both of us.

During the summer, a singing tour group from our alma mater came to our church. It just so happened to be a ladies’ group with consisted of girls that had been my friends when I was a college girl myself. Though none of them were close friends of mine, I was so happy to see them. I felt so light inside being able to fellowship and play the part of a carefree happy person again. As we hung around the hotel that they were staying at, eventually the conservation went to Grace. I told them the basic facts and the carefree spell was broken. The tour preacher preached a sermon about God’s help through times of trouble. I cried big wet, snotty tears the entire time. I had never met this preacher or his wife before this service and really regretted that the impression I would leave them with was of snot running down my face.

As fall approached, we moved into a bigger home. A bigger home that we had thought we’d need for our baby. I hung onto the few bags of hand me downs baby items that I had been given, though I had not taken them out to admire, fold and refold since Grace had died. They sat tucked away out of sight but not out of mind.

Though I still cried daily, I did feel stronger and life began to slowly come back to my walk with God. We went through Grace’s due date of October 6th and though we missed her and knew that we would always miss her, time had done its work and the pain was less raw with each day. Around this time, we discovered that were pregnant again. There was no cute gift or clever way to tell Seth this time. I simply left the bathroom, with the positive test sitting on the counter, sat on Seth’s lap and whispered that we were pregnant. We could not talk about it at first but after a few days we allowed ourselves to get excited. We started to make plans. We started to hope.



Vanderpolclan said...

Dear, dear Kayte,
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your heart here. My heart feels for you and Seth, but am thankful for God's care for you during this time. Praying that God will indeed bless you with many little blessing in the future.

stacy said...

I can't find the words to express the emotions you have just stirred up in me. You told your story so beautifully. I sobbed the whole way through. Thank you for sharing.

wendy said...

Kayte- I came here through Amy Senecal's blog- and I want to thank you for writing so openly about your loss. I too felt that distance from the Lord after the loss of a baby- but mine was because of anger and fear. I praise God that He never lets us go, and patiently walked me through what would be the biggest challenge to my faith thus far. Thank you for sharing- Wendy