I never had a problem getting pregnant. It was staying pregnant that seemed to be my problem.
It was the fall of 2007 when those 2 pink lines first changed my life. My husband had signed a contract with a record label just 18 months earlier and our lives had becoming increasingly hectic. We had decided to get married sooner than anticipated due to his impending career changes and spent our last year in college as newlyweds traveling on the weekends to his shows.
Now, with one year of marriage under our belt, we headed out on our first real tour. On the very last night of the tour, I decided to take a pregnancy test per the recommendation of a friend. To my surprise, it was positive! We were delighted!
But soon after, I started bleeding and eventually miscarried in a crowded airport bathroom before we boarded a plane to return home. A line of women stood impatiently in the 3 stall bathroom, waiting for me to vacate my place of grief. I will never forget the excruciating emotional turmoil of being forced to experience such a sacred moment in that crowded, public, and dirty place.
It felt like an eternity before I had the courage to clean myself up and leave the bathroom. I sat down next to Jimmy and whispered, “It’s over.” Sinking down in my chair, I tried to hide my tears. Every person in that terminal was an unwelcome intruder to my grief.
Back home, I was grateful for the busyness of our life of travel and suppressed most of my emotions. Better luck next time, I guess.
My doctor told us to wait a few months before trying again to get pregnant. So we waited. And after a few months, we kept waiting. We never officially decided, but somehow we both knew we weren’t ready.
A couple years later, we felt ready to try again. It didn’t take long before I was taking prenatal vitamins and calculating my due date. But this time my joy lasted only a few days. My grief was accentuated by the fact that Jimmy was on the road and we were fighting about something. But again, I pretty quickly pushed aside my pain and chose not to fully enter into the grief my bleeding body was coaxing me toward.
Staying distracted was easy to do. My parents were moving toward divorce and I was caught in the middle. As the oldest and only married child, I was daily wrestling with how to handle their complaints against one another. I had also found myself in the middle of a complicated situation with a friend, often facing accusations, hurt feelings, and disagreements. And so my week-long pregnancy was easy to push aside.
STARTING TO HOPE
As all the conflict and hardship continued, I found out I was pregnant again. At this point, those two lines were more ominous than hopeful. Pregnancy had brought mostly disappointment. But, it was another chance at starting a family, nonetheless.
I survived the first week. The second. The third. I had actually made it in to a doctor’s office with something alive in my uterus. We heard a heartbeat. Saw the baby on an ultrasound. And suddenly something dangerous began to happen. I began to hope.
In those early weeks of carrying our 3rd baby, I had a strong sense of God’s unique purpose for that child. I had walked with God for many years and was familiar with His ways in my life, so I didn’t doubt Him. In fact, it seemed to line up with what I had prayed just a year before.
When my dad had first dropped the bomb that he was leaving my mom, I began to specifically pray that a season of new life would be given to our family, that He would restore my parents’ marriage and allow us to have a baby. The day we told my dad I was pregnant, he told us he was going to ask my mom to move back in with him. With that, hope put down an anchor. I was clinging to this baby for dear life. God had answered my prayer! He was bringing me out of a season of sorrow and into new day of delight!
I wrote in my journal during that time, “I am still shocked that we are going to have a baby. This isn’t just a cool month where I get to be pregnant and then it goes away. So surreal.” Even when that old familiar intruder showed up, I wasn’t phased. Sure, I saw a little blood, but this time it was different. God had practically promised me I got to keep this one.
Just as I suspected, the ultrasound showed the baby’s heart still beating just fine. Part of my uterus had experience a rupture, so I was told. But no need to worry, it wasn’t near the baby. Great! I wasn’t worried. I could handle a week or so of bed rest. Sure, we had been planning a little get away in Colorado the next week, but neither of us had a problem making it a staycation.
I put that ultrasound picture in a frame on the coffee table to remind me why lying down all day mattered. And I waited.
Each bathroom visit got just a tad more unnerving. I kept calling my doctor, only to be told that yes, large blood clots are normal to pass with this kind of thing. Friends brought me meals and talked to me to pass the time. Days passed and I began to do Google image searches for “9 week old miscarried fetus.” I was desperate to know what I should be seeing and what I should not be seeing. But still, I had hope.
I remember feeling sadder than usual on Sunday, December 13. I passed the time on our couch journaling, praying, thinking. In the evening, Lindsay and Landon came by, two of our dearest friends. It meant the world that they wanted to check on us and see how we were. But I remember very little of what we talked about. I was living in a world of my own thoughts, staring at my framed ultrasound picture, and desperately praying, “God keep this baby’s heart beating.”
The day ended as all the other bed rest days had. I got up to use the bathroom one last time before going to bed. But that bathroom visit wasn’t like the others. And I no longer wondered what a 9 week-old miscarried baby looked like.
Grief hit like a tidal wave. There was nothing to do but ride it out. I collapsed in Jimmy’s arms and wept until I fell asleep.
SEARCHING FOR GOD
“We’re going to Colorado.”
It was my first thought and first statement the next day. Get me out of here. No more laying on the couch, no more looking at that picture. I couldn’t handle being in my own house. We got our things together and were gone the next morning.
Without a precious life to protect, my body went into overdrive. Halfway into our drive I was curled up in the fetal position in the backseat praying for the cramps to end. I lay there pondering the ways of God. He had never promised me a life free from suffering and grief. But He did promise to be near to the broken-hearted. I loved God and wanted desperately to protect my faith in Him from the bitterness that lurked nearby. Didn’t He promise me this baby had a purpose? Does God really love me? NO, I determined our trip to Colorado was going to be a retreat for my soul, a basking in God’s nearness as I grieved. Bitterness not invited.
But God didn’t show up. Of course, God is ever-present. His Spirit is inside me. I knew all this. But all the same, He seemed absent. I had walked with God for many years. I knew what it felt like to sit quietly with Him and feel His tender love. To read His word and see the glorious truths of His character jump out at me. To pray to Him and sense my heart changing.
I sat quietly but my heart felt cold. I read His word but saw nothing glorious. I prayed and prayed and begged Him to be near. Never in all my years of following Jesus had I felt so far from Him. Suddenly, bitterness didn’t seem like an enemy but a warm blanket.
We arrived home just days before Christmas and despair greeted me at the door. I began to be suspicious of God. I knew He could have kept our baby alive, but He didn’t. I knew He could make His presence felt, but He didn’t. I didn’t have a category for this.
I poured my heart into my journal pages: “Lord, where are you in the midst of all this? I feel very lost and chaotic. Please help me. Lord God, why would I want to worship you when you have taken our child away from us? It is hard for me to trust you. How can your joy be my strength? I don’t have joy. I was so ready for a change of season. For joy, finally. Newness of life. But you took it away. Our little babies, you took them away. Why? I know you could have kept them, but you didn’t. I feel so confused, sad, disoriented, ugly, discouraged, hopeless. Alone.
THE PAIN OF OTHER’S JOY
I knew as soon as I walked in the door. A sleeve of saltine crackers and 2 liter of ginger ale gave it away. Ashley was pregnant.
Truly, I was so grateful for a dinner with friends. It meant so much that they had invited us over, since we had recently worked through some conflict together. But internally, I was boarding up windows and doors. The hurricane of emotions was coming and I wasn’t sure I would make it through this one.
They understood their good news would pour salt on a still gaping wound. But we were good friends. The kind you tell first. So after dinner, with tenderness and kindness, they shared the joy that God had given them life. They were expecting.
What happened next I can only describe as a miracle. I told Ashley I was happy for her, for them. And then I asked, “Can I pray for you?” The words slipped out of my mouth before I could catch them. No way could I do what I had just offered.
I placed my hand on her abdomen, praying, “Oh Lord would you protect this baby. Keep its little heart beating strong and grow this child in Ashley’s womb.” Tears began spilling over through my eyelids, my whole body full of sorrow. I suddenly knew what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 5:14, that the love of Christ controls us. It certainly wasn’t my idea to pray. And those certainly weren’t my words.
We exchanged a few cordial words and I reached for the door, desperate to escape before the dam broke loose. I made it out before the tidal wave hit again, grateful for the steady emotional state of my husband and the isolation of our car. Surprisingly, my miracle prayer for Ashley had grown the depth of my sorrow, not lessened it.
INTERCESSION: MY WAY OF ESCAPE
A steady stream of pregnancies were announced. This special gift of life shone brightly on my friends. I felt like a cavern of death. Bitterness and envy hovered nearby, offering solace from the pain. I desperately wanted to embrace them. But like heroine, I knew that first taste would begin to grow an addiction to something that would kill me. I resisted.
In mid January, I entered our church prayer room for an hour-long prayer and worship set. God’s door seemed locked to my cries for help, but I was determined to bang on it long enough to force Him to respond.
From my journal: “God, where are you? I thought I was your daughter? I just wish you would be here for your hurting daughter. It just seems mean to leave me alone at my most sorrowful hour. What am I missing? What is going on underneath that I can’t see, because I know with all my heart what is true about you. But I feel so far away from you. I don’t know how to hide in you because you don’t feel near. I feel so far away from you God. Please come help me. I am drowning without you. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Just then, one of my pregnant friends entered the room and sat just a few rows in front of me. Bitterness blind-sided me. Even here Lord, even in your sanctuary I am not free from affliction! I sank to the floor and desperately scribbled a prayer for my friend’s baby in my journal. No, my heart did not resonate with the words I wrote. I prayed out of a desperate attempt that was my only escape from the tightening grip of bitterness. “Father, you have chosen to create this new life in your perfect timing. And I will choose to celebrate new life. Lord God, keep his or her heart beating strong and healthy. Father God, bring your ever-strong hand of protection on this child.”
And then I heard God.
Not audibly. But unmistakable nonetheless. The next words in my journal read: “Lord, now I know what you are calling me to do. You are calling me to pray for and love these children as I did my own.”
I stared in disbelief at what I had just written. I’d like to tell you I was happy about it, but I wasn’t. After all my desperate pleas for the comfort of God, He felt silent. And now this: Pray for them? Pray for those around me with the blessing I hungered for? The task was impossible.
Just a few days later, I started my period. Evidence of an empty womb. The same day, my friend Ashley was making her news public. The task was impossible. I begged God for help to pray. And so I prayed for the shaping of little arms and legs, for the development of a perfect face, and that He would keep that little heart beating hard and strong. And then I wept.
Jimmy and I went to see a fertility specialist and began initial testing. Then I went to our small group, where my friend Lindsay, the one who visited the night I miscarried, announced she was pregnant. And so I prayed for more beating hearts and then collapsed at God’s feet crying out: “This is hard! My heart is aching. Help. Help. Strengthen my weary soul. Strengthen my wounded heart. I am unable.”
THE REBIRTH I DIDN’T WANT
The marathon of intercession for pregnant women around me was one of the hardest things God had ever asked me to do. Nothing in the Bible resonated with me. My heart was bankrupt of any emotion that agreed with God’s Word and drowning in sea of contrary feelings.
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)
He sure does withhold good things. He’s the one who said children are a blessing and He’s withholding them from me. Favor and honor? More like death and sorrow.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)
Am I His child? He seems to be wounding me, pouring salt in my wounds and rubbing it in.
If you, like me, believe that God is sovereign over our lives, then infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth create a crisis of faith. An internal wrestling. A nagging doubt about God’s goodness. Your usual source of peace and comfort, of strength and help, seems now to be your enemy.
How do you draw near to the One who seems to hold the torture instruments?
A beautifully childlike, yet balsa wood faith was dying in this season. My old ways of relating to God were no longer an option. He was coaxing all my doubts and fears from their well-locked cages. I didn’t like this game. Those things were in cages for a reason. The hours I spent wrestling with God felt chaotic to me, but looking back I can clearly see the steel rods of a mature faith were being erected.
Amidst the confusion in my soul, I knew 2 things well:
1) I didn’t like the God I had grown to love.
2) There was no where else I could go, for who else could deliver me from sin?
And so I stayed. I wrote out verses I didn’t believe as a desperate attempt at faith. I asked God for strength to believe the unbelievable. And then I waited on God. For what, I wasn’t sure. I just waited.
A BOLD REQUEST FOR JOY
Praying for my friends’ babies and waiting on God was my new normal. I found ways to get back in some normal rhythms, but nothing took away ache.
In mid-march I found myself writing out Bartimaeus’s story in Mark 10 in my journal. By the encouragement of a book I was reading I inserted myself into the story. I wasn’t a blind beggar, so I sat for a moment thinking of what problem seemed to define me. I wrote: “So they called the sorrowful one, Kelly, saying to her, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”
Sorrow was the forest I couldn’t seem to escape. No amount of time in prayer or the Word had seemed to mitigate it. And then I wrote, “Answering her, Jesus said, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”
Somehow writing it out and personalizing it, I felt the weight of the question. Was it really that I just wanted children in my home? Was that my ticket out of this forest? Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I sat in the gravity of the moment.
“My Master, I want the fullness of joy in your presence.”
Yes, I had decided. If Psalm 16:11 was true, if this unbelievable reality was available in my lifetime, that was what I wanted. Fullness of joy.
I couldn’t not ask! I desperately wanted to become a mother to a living child. But a greater desperation had eclipsed it. A desperation for true joy. The joy not dependent on circumstances.
Seeing my request in my own handwriting settled some of the debris in my heart. Grief still resided, but was no longer driving me. I knew now that I wanted something more than I wanted to be pregnant. I had something new to ask for. Praying for children took a backseat. Asking God “Why” took a backseat. This determined request for joy became a welcome friend.
Through our fertility tests we learned I had a uterine septum, a piece of tissue dividing my uterus in half and keeping my chances of miscarriage at 70%. As I recovered from the surgery to remove it, Jimmy and I rejoiced! The thing that had caused our babies premature deaths was gone!
On May 8, 2010, the day before Mother's Day, I was greeted with another set of pink lines. My new steel beams of faith held tight as I was faced with all the emotions again. The fear, the hope, the joy, the pain. Amidst it all, I could feel the stability of new desires under my feet. A desire for joy in God, not my circumstances. A desire for His presence despite the outcome. I knew He could take this child away. But even so, I only wanted Him. Who else but Jesus was strong enough to keep me from bitterness, to keep me from the black hole of doubt? To whom else could I go?
I held my first baby in early January, 2011. Even throughout my labor the night before, I asked my husband, “Will I really get to meet this child?” Part of me was still afraid to believe it could be true. Part of me was still grieving the lives I didn’t meet. But I did meet her. We named her Lively. And just as we had prayed, she was full of life.
PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN
I met a woman who worked in labor and delivery that year. We had both lost children through miscarriage and began to share our stories. She asked me, did you ever find you had a problem? I relayed the medical information about my womb, as I had become skilled at doing, and she began to tear up. “God has been so merciful to you!”
I definitely agreed, but not in the way she meant. I asked for clarity.
“You could have carried those babies full term!”
“I know.” I had asked God to keep them alive. I knew He could have, no matter what my uterus looked like. But He had chosen not to. “What do you mean?” I asked her.
She went on to explain the dangerous situation of babies who grow in half their mother’s uterus due to a septum. If you carry children full term, they are often deformed due to lack of space, they suffocate and die in the third trimester, or the uterus can rupture in labor. She again explained, “God has been so merciful to you! To let you find out and get it repaired.”
I now have 2 biological children. Both of which would not be here without the premature death of their siblings. It wasn’t until my 3rd miscarriage that my doctor even considered sending me to an expensive fertility specialist. My precious 3rd baby had such immeasurable purpose in my life. We named her Eliza (which means God’s oath). Through her death, I found myself in a surgery that made way for healthy pregnancies. Through her death, God changed me in ways I would have never asked for, but desperately needed. Through her death, there is life.
I’m not sure why God let me see some of what He was up to in the loss of our children. He didn’t have to. I can only pray it gives hope to others who are still in the middle. That even when you cannot imagine a way this could be good, for those who are in Christ, it truly is good. Because God is good and He does good. (Psalm 119:68) It is in His nature to accomplish good for those who trust in Him.
For me, I resonate with the psalmist: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71) Through this affliction, I learned things of God I wouldn’t trade for the world. Through this affliction, I know Him better. Through this affliction, my faith has been fortified. May your affliction produce this and so much more.