April 17, 2013

Goodbye Before Hello

Our little bean.
It’s been two weeks since we lost our third baby, fourteen of the fastest days in our marriage. (We wish we’d experienced this sensation of time hurtling past us when Mary Brooks was hospitalized. Where's the fast forward button when you need it?)

I spent that Tuesday, the morning I saw our baby without a heartbeat, alternating between fog and clarity. I held myself together at the doctor and called Bradley from the parking lot, losing myself at the sound of his voice and breaking the news between sobs. I kept telling him how sorry I was. 

He thought I believed I'd done something wrong; he wanted me to stop apologizing. That wasn't it - it really just broke my heart to break that news to him: Bradley, you lost your baby, too. I doubled over at the pain of hurting my husband that way; I didn't want him to feel what I was feeling.

I got home and went straight to bed in crisis mode, propping myself up to text, email and make all the necessary calls. I felt compelled to spread the news, respond to loved ones and rest in between as I could.

Then I needed to be up, to be busy and out of my usual space. I had no idea what to do with myself; I wasn't pregnant anymore.

I left the house to grab lunch, call clients and speak with a poise that escapes me even when I'm trying my hardest. Thank you, Lord, for moments when I'm outside myself.  And for their kind, caring, far-beyond-professional reactions at the news I'd be out of pocket - and why.

I called my OB to schedule the surgery and praised God that our favorite doctor was on call to do it. She's yet to deliver one of our children, but at this point an orderly could catch my newborn and I wouldn't care - it's such a happy time. This was something I was both heartbroken about and terrified to have done; I needed her in that OR, and I'm tremendously relieved she was able to take care of me that day.

That night I barely slept; I stared at the clock, continually swallowing a growing lump in my throat, fighting back fears of a surgery I never wanted to have.

I've never been under that kind of anesthesia, never been intubated, never been in a hospital gown except to welcome a perfect, crying baby into my arms.

The surgery itself was much easier than I anticipated, and the compassion and care we received was unparalleled. Our doctor teared up over us before she took me back; I knew she felt this, too. I'm not sure how Bradley managed to stare at the walls for the hour I was gone, but he did. I'd have crawled out of my skin.

I came home and slept all day Wednesday and most of Thursday, making up for lost time and avoiding the "what do I do with myself now?" thoughts that were all I could manage when I was awake.

The house was too quiet with Mac and Mary Brooks gone, which made my waking hours difficult, but I was glad for the time to focus on me. To sleep and be waited on hand and foot by a man who has been far too good to me since the day we met. We did little but talk and rest that day, skating by on the bare minimum of activities, save a mall walk (senior citizen style) to fend off cabin fever on Friday.

That Saturday we went to a gorgeous wedding out of town that reunited us with friends we hadn't seen in a while. It was a last-minute decision, putting on my gold wedges and choosing to dance (er, sip and chat) the night away. I'm so glad we did.

Sorority squat, anyone?
As for Bradley? Our loss is the same, but we're dealing with it differently - just as we did with Mary Brooks. This time around, I'm not letting that make me feel crazy or too emotional or hypersensitive. Bradley stays busy to process things, and I just process them. Full time.


We're both okay, though, and I wouldn't be standing if he wasn't right here with me. I wouldn't be standing without my faith, my family, and the knowledge that I've lived through something agonizing and survived to see the other side. I can do this.

The searing pain in Mary Brooks' situation (my euphemism for what we lived through last year) was watching her suffer and feeling I should do more, do something to help. It felt like dying, watching her hurt.

This baby didn't suffer. She was a delight to us from the moment we knew she was coming, even in my sickest moments. I felt thankful all the way through, and I am filled to my brim with joy at that knowledge. This baby has brought me happiness, even though I won't see her sweet face in our nursery.

What we're working through is sadness for US, not our child. 

Our baby is healed, whole and healthy. God answered the prayers we all have for our babies: take care of them, keep them safe, make them healthy, let them know they're loved. He's answered each of those, just not in the way I wanted. His ways aren't mine, but they're perfect; I'm at peace with that right now.

People ask how I am, and I don't know if anyone believes I really am well. As well as a girl can be in this situation, truly. I haven't cried since the day of the surgery, which is a small miracle given my overactive tear ducts.

My heart is mending; it's focused on the many splendid parts of my life. Working in yoga pants, laughing with my husband, enjoying long overdue spring weather, kissing my newly-chubby daughter's cheeks, giggling as Mac tells me I'm the "sweetest sweetheart" he "ever had."

My heart is full. I am trying so hard to be in THIS moment, in THIS day. Not reliving the blank faces and sad eyes in an ultrasound room, not wondering when our baby stopped growing or if I should have noticed at the time.

My heart is with our two children here, soaking up the moments I might have glossed over or even been exhausted by a few weeks ago. It's with the baby I won't meet on this Earth;  I wonder what our family would have been like with that addition.

I cringe opening Mary Brooks' closet door, seeing the dresses I left without monograms, hoping they might be reused by a baby sister sometime next year. (Cue Bradley's logic: "Aren't they just as pretty without monograms? Do we have to put her initials on EVERYthing?" God bless that man.)
One of my sweetest blessings
I'm startled by pregnant bellies on Facebook and Instagram, by girls who were due when I was or even later. I scroll quickly past those pictures, wishing them well but knowing it's best for me not to linger on what others have right now. I have been given so much, and I need to count my own blessings.

The thing is - other people having babies has nothing to do with my loss. It's wonderful for each and every family, and we are excited for them. That spot is a bit raw for me, though, so I'm giving myself breathing room and avoiding things that cue unnecessary sadness.
The other
Happiness (and pregnancy, for that matter) is not a zero-sum game. Someone else having a beautiful experience does not take away my opportunity to do so - and boy, am I thankful for that. I am so giddy for others' happy news, but I'm in a spot where joy and gratitude mix with sadness - that earns me a bit of grace.

I lost a baby. That's so bizarre to say, even now. It feels foreign, surreal, impossible. Empty, sometimes. I was pregnant, and then I wasn't. How could a life change so much that quickly?

But I did lose a baby, and I've got to treat myself with kid gloves, if just for a moment. Not opening MB's closet or commenting on Instagram gender announcement doesn't hurt anyone - but it might spare me a wince or two in a delicate time.

I have received support and sympathy from our loved ones, and also from a variety of unexpected sources. The further I get into this, the more I realize I've joined a club no one wants to be a member of - but many are. 

My experience, though my own, isn't entirely unique. The emptiness isn't unfamiliar to people who've gone before us. I'm both comforted and saddened by that - I want to make everyone's time in this space easier.

I've learned to show grace to people who mean well but express it poorly, even using words that hurt or sting or confound. I've learned there's no sliding scale for grief.

If never becoming pregnant is the worse thing that's ever happened to you, your loss is the same as mine. If you lost a baby the very day you discovered you were carrying it, your hurt is no less deep than this. There's no degree of grief that doesn't hurt, and categorizing losses by how far along or how deeply felt does no one any good.

If you've ever been here, I'm so sorry. I hope you never have to return. I hope none of us ever has to return.

I thank you for your prayers, your advice, your encouragement - and I apologize for not having had the time to respond.

I've devoted myself to resting, recuperating and working my way through this. There's no time left to spare to denial or "powering through" sadness; I lost nine months of memories to that and I just can't do it again.

I'm feeling what comes my way, moment by moment. Mostly I'm feeling grateful, loved and ready to get back to "normal," whatever that is. But if I have sad spots, I feel those, too. (How New Age-y am I sounding right now?)

I sure wish this hadn't happened. Or that it had happened far, far sooner than it did. 

But it did, and I'm here. I'm swimming along, pushing my way through this and hoping I can be the shoulder or ear to someone who joins this unfortunate club one day, should she need me. So many of you have been there for me; it's remarkable the bond that forms between two people who've hurt the same way.

Turns out there are no free passes for crappy things, even if feel you just put one behind you. This world is broken and this life is not easy, but we aren't alone. You've been the Lord's arms and shoulders (and bread and wine and flowers and cookies) these last two weeks; I'll never be able to repay you for that.

I awoke the day after surgery believing all this was a bad dream. It isn't, but what I'm waking up to is still beautiful.
God is good; I am carried and being made whole. 

This is what grief looks like when you stare it in the face; this is a do over in which I let the Lord in right where I am. I'm sad. I'm thankful.

I'm at peace. Truly, and in a way I can't explain.

It's bittersweet, but I'm not going to fight it this time. There's too much wonder here to waste.

My loves.
"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord." 

-Psalm 27:13-14

April 2, 2013

A Big Surprise, A Bigger Loss

After last year, my prayer for 2013 was that it would be boring. Uneventful. Nothing to report.

That wasn't to be the case at all - in wonderful (and not so wonderful) ways.

As I rounded the corner in my post-race recovery and fended off the flu, Bradley and I got a pretty big surprise: two pink lines. A very unexpected, wholly undeserved blessing.

Mary Brooks was only 11 months old at the time; after running the numbers we realized our third (third!) baby would be born just eight months later. Whew.

The day before MB turned one, we heard a gorgeous, perfect, super fast heartbeat and confirmed we'd be meeting the third baby Smith in late September.

By then Mac would have been a week or two shy of four years old; for a brief moment we'd have three under four this coming fall. We were overwhelmed, overcome with gratitude and excited beyond words.

It felt like getting away with a bank heist, like winning the lottery. We got something wonderful for nothing! My heart had healed just in time, and we were wide open to the joy a new life would bring.

We celebrated Mary Brooksie's first birthday knowing she'd be a big sister this time next year. We giggled and dreamed and joked.

I went back a month ago, at just over 11 weeks, to hear that tiny heartbeat again and be reassured it was safe to tell the world. A veil of cautious optimism lifted, and it felt safe to set things in stone.

There were plans for an SUV, as our Altima couldn't squeeze in another car seat if it tried. There was talk of sharing rooms.

A date the week of Mother's Day was circled, and we hoped to confirm baby's gender by then. What an unforeseen gift.

This morning I got a peek at my tiniest baby, just about of four months along, and saw that she no longer had a heartbeat. Our little bean, our third child, was gone.

There will be no baby in September.

There will be no SUV for now, no moving Mary Brooks into her big brother's room as he has fervently requested for months.

Tomorrow morning I will go into the hospital for a procedure to do what my body has not yet done itself.

I'm sad. I feel guilty for being embarrassed at first about our tremendous blessing, at how close our babies would be in age. For putting off telling clients and the "world." For worrying about insurance and paperwork and the lack of sleep to come.

I'd do anything to give this baby a heartbeat back, to fill that empty third car seat in my mind.

The moment we found out two and a half months ago, we added a fifth member to our family. We planned names, we envisioned three Smiths growing up, we laughed at how we never saw this coming - the unanticipated joy of a new baby so soon.

I never saw this coming either, but I'm thankful all the same. Thankful for the time we had dreaming about this baby and the blessing she was to us. For a life that now turns our hearts heavenward; we know that's where this child is.

I know there's a plan here, that a God who works miracles (and we are living proof) didn't create this child - the one we didn't even think to pray for - for no reason.

We are sad and shocked, but we are held.

This morning, amidst the flood of emotions, I was terrified - my heart had just mended. I didn't want to spend another year as a zombie, muddling through a field of heartache to get to the other side.

The post I had written for today was about Joel 2:25, how the Lord had restored my wasted year. How He had healed me, brought beauty from ashes. I'll post it another day, and I'll add a new chapter.

I know the Lord will do that again, that He'll heal us and make something glorious out of what we're living. Out of what feels wretched and aching and awful this minute.

I'm asking for His peace in the meantime - and your prayers.



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