Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grief is Messy

On the day following our ultrasound appointment, I decided to do some research to learn more about what was going on in my body.  My doctor had referred to what I was experiencing as a "pending miscarriage", but I was struggling to find information online so I decide to consult my What to expect when you're expecting book, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel.

After searching through the index and table of contents, I came across a chapter entitled:  "The Complicated Pregnancy".  One that I never intended to read, and one I hoped I would never have to.  A portion of the chapter was dedicated to miscarriages and I began by reading about the different types of miscarriages.  As I was reading, I discovered multiple types of miscarriages: Chemical pregnancy, blighted ovum, missed miscarriage, incomplete miscarriage, and threatened miscarriage.  I had no idea there were so many different types.  Prior to this, the only way I had ever heard the experience described was simply "miscarriage".

As I read through the different types, I soon discovered that what we were experiencing had an official name, a "missed miscarriage", which was described as when the baby remains in the uterus even though he or she has died.  Reading the official name and description of my experience brought some understanding and in a bizarre way, some peace.  In general, I tend to experience more peace when I feel like I understand something better.  However, that did not change the fact that I cried my way through the entire portion of the chapter addressing miscarriages.  I had heard of the term miscarriage before and even had family and friends who had experienced one, but only in my worst nightmare had I dreamed of utilizing the word in reference to my own personal life experience.

During my reading, I also learned that a missed miscarriage was "very rare" so I could not help but wonder, "Why us?"  But that was not a question for me to answer.  However, it was of course, a very natural response in the midst of my grief.  Grief can bring up many questions, doubts, uncertainties, and a myriad of emotions...sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, and often many "What if's".Some researchers describe grief as stages:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The stages appear so organized and structured, almost so lovely that you could tie a bow around them.  But for anyone who has ever experienced grief, we know that grief is messy.  It does not follow any structure or plan.  It surprises us and catches us off guard.  One moment we feel like we're okay while the next moment we feel like our world is falling apart all over again, and sometimes this all happens even within the very same day.

Early in my grief journey a friend of mine shared an illustration with me that resonated with me.  She talked about how sometimes we feel like we're taking several steps forward then several steps back.  She described grief or any difficult time in our life for that matter as climbing up a mountain.  On the really tough, painful days, we often feel like we are back at the bottom of the mountain.  However, she said that when we fall, we do not fall all the way back down to the bottom of the mountain, but we fall exactly where we are - whether we're halfway up the mountain or almost to the top, we land right where we were on our journey.  It does not change the fact that it hurts, and is painful, discouraging, and challenging, but it does mean that we're not starting all over again.

On those difficult days, it's important to remember that truth.  "I am not starting all over again.  I have already experienced some healing and nothing or no one can take that away.  It's just a rough day and tomorrow is a new day."  Remembering this has helped me so much on my journey.  Because when those rough days come, they are so difficult, painful, and discouraging, that it's tempting to give up hope.  But it's only temporary and when we do fall, we're not starting all over again, and we will get back up.  So if today is one of those days, may these words bring hope.  You are healing, this is temporary, and tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Part of the Plan?

After arriving home from the doctor's office, I was so completely exhausted and heartbroken that my body was beginning to shut itself down.  But before drifting asleep, all I longed for was to be held by my husband and to pray together.  I headed upstairs to our bedroom shortly after we arrived and utilized my limited supply of remaining energy to change into more comfortable clothes and crawl into bed.

Not long after, my husband laid down beside me and wrapped his arms around me.  We cried together then he prayed:  "...I know You didn't want our baby to die.  That wasn't part of Your plan..."  In that moment my husband communicated what was in my heart.  I knew that death was never really part of God's original plan, but instead a consequence that followed sin (Romans 5:12, Holy Bible, NIV).

I desperately needed to remember that this was not part of God's original plan because I hated going through this and didn't understand why things had happened this way.  Knowing that God didn't want our baby to die allowed me to imagine Him holding me and crying with me - just like my best friend would, just as my husband did.  2 Kings 20:5 (Holy Bible, NIV) states, "...I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you..."  He hears my prayer.  He sees my tears.  He will heal me.  To know that God hears me, sees me, and promises to heal me has brought me much comfort in my grief.

It's not easy to make sense of my faith in the midst of grief, but in all honesty it's not easy to make sense of anything in the midst of grief.  Life doesn't make sense and everything seems to change, including you and me.  But there is One who never changes (Malachi 3:6, Holy Bible, NIV) and He continues to remind me of His Truth and provides the strength and encouragement I need to sojourn on.  And because He loves you, He can give you those things as well.  I don't know if it will come as a verse in the Bible, a conversation with a friend, or a song on the radio, but it will come.  He hears your prayer.  He sees your tears.  He will heal you.  And that's a promise.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Worst Nightmare

I remember that day clearly, which is ironic since the entire day simultaneously feels very foggy.  May 10, 2012, the day that was supposed to be one of the most exciting things my husband and I have ever experienced.  That day, we woke up a little earlier than normal to attend our first ultrasound appointment together.  We were the doctor's first appointment of the day.  I had been dreaming of this day since we took our first pregnancy test on Easter weekend.  Dreaming of the first time we would be able to see our baby and longing for the peace I hoped it would bring in knowing our baby was okay.  I had been counting down the days until our first ultrasound in much anticipation.  However, buried deep within my heart was this haunting fear that our baby's heartbeat would not be heard.

Several weeks prior to our appointment, the scene from Marley and Me when John and Jennifer Grogan attend their first ultrasound appointment kept appearing in my head.  The one when Jennifer Aniston's character, Jennifer, says, "Is there anything in there?", after minutes of silence pass as the ultrasound technician conducts the ultrasound with a concerned look on her face.  Although that scene haunted my mind, I chose to dismiss it - choosing in that moment not dwell on fear and instead turn my deepest fears and worries over to my Creator through prayer.  I had even mentioned this image to a few friends and my husband prior to ultrasound, but their encouraging and supportive words eased my mind.

Nevertheless, although I was so incredibly excited, fear still lingered within my heart as I entered the door to my doctor's office.  I felt a certain nervous excitement, which made me even more thankful that my husband by my side.  We had only been sitting down for about five minutes before the nurse called my name.  We headed to the room where the ultrasound would be conducted.  After updating some medical history and getting my blood pressure checked, the nurse assured us that the doctor would be in shortly.

As our doctor entered the room, my nervous excitement momentarily increased..."This is it", I thought to myself.  She introduced herself and I introduced my husband.  Then without hesitation she motioned me to come over to the bed so we could begin the ultrasound.  She got the machine ready and put the warm ointment on my belly and began moving the wand back and forth.  I looked at the screen for a few seconds then choose to look at my husband instead because my full fledged fear of what may or may not be seen momentarily overwhelmed me.  

"There's your baby", the doctor said after what seemed to be ten to fifteen minutes, although it was probably only five in reality.  I looked longingly with some peace.  Although to be honest, I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking at, everything seemed jumbled and unclear.  She continued to move the wand back and forth and I watched her as her eyebrows communicated that she was concentrating intensely, searching for something that should be found.  

Again, my fear overcame me and I choose to look in the opposite direction.  Eventually after a long silence, she said, "I cannot find your baby's heartbeat so I'm going to send you to the hospital for another ultrasound.  Their technology is better than ours and there are times when they can find it when I can't."  I choked back my tears momentarily, but as soon as she left the room I looked at my husband and they began to flow freely.  I am certain that he could see the fear plastered on my face.     

In my mind I thought, "This is my worst fear coming to life."  My husband attempted to encourage me by sharing that he thought he saw movement on the screen where the heartbeat was supposed to be.  I attempted to receive his words, but all I could think was, "Oh no...This is exactly what I feared would happen."  Although my heart was full of a million emotions and my mind was afflicted by fear, I began praying asking for God to help us.

As we traveled the short trip to the hospital, I sent one text message to my best friend asking for prayer.  Fogginess began to descend upon me as we walked through the hospital hallways.  After lines and paperwork, we finally made our way to the radiology area.  Shortly after we sat down, my phone rang.  It was my dad.  I began sobbing as I told him that we were at the hospital and struggled through my tears to repeat the words that the doctor had said.

Soon after, my name was called and my husband and I made our way back to the room where they conducted ultrasounds.  The technician explained that she would not be able to give us any information while we were there today, but that we were to report to our doctor's office afterwards to hear the results.  We shook our heads in acknowledgement and agreement.  

I found myself yet again having the warm ointment squirted onto my belly.  They took picture after picture and I attempted to wait patiently.  But by now my bladder was so full, it was aching.  I closed my eyes in an attempt to escape my present reality, and began talking to God about our present circumstances with short, repetitive statements.  I do not remember everything we talked about in that moment, but I do remember saying, "If this is really happening, I know You'll help us get through this."  And although I meant it with all my heart, deep down I hoped that by some miracle our baby would have heartbeat.  

After both types of ultrasounds, traditional and transvaginal, we made our way out to the hospital parking lot.  As we were walking to our car, I said to my husband, "Can we just go home instead of going back to the doctor's office?"  It was a rhetorical question, but that's really what my heart wanted.  I did not want to go back to the doctor's office to hear what I thought was coming.  I wanted to avoid that conversation with all that was in me.  Plus, I was already so exhausted emotionally and physically, I did not feel like I could even survive the conversation.

After submitting to reality, we headed to my doctor's office, checked in at the front desk, and waited in the lobby for what seemed like an eternity.  It was one of the longest moments in my life.  My husband checked Facebook and I played Bubble Breaker on my phone in an attempt to not think about what felt like impending news.  Finally, my name was called and although I did not want to hear what I thought was coming, I really wanted to know what the results were.

After we entered the room, the doctor came in and began speaking aloud my worst nightmare, "The hospital confirmed what I thought to be true, your baby does not have a heartbeat."  She then proceeded to say many more things that I tried to listen to wide-eyed in a feeble attempt to hold back the tears.  After she finished, she walked out to get something.  I looked at my husband and lost it, yet again.  He came over and stood by me as I leaned my head on his leg sobbing.

After we left, I felt simultaneously numb and sad beyond belief, and so incredibly exhausted.  I had never experienced something so heartbreaking before.  I had never experienced my worst nightmare actually come to life.  Yes, I had experienced painful things before and had fears and worries come to life, but never my worst nightmare.  My heart was broken.  Yet my heart clung to the prayer I had spoken earlier, the promise that God would take care of us even in the midst of this.