I had just turned 16 weeks and was excited for our little bundle that was set to arrive in mid June, 2013. In just two short weeks we would find out what the gender of our baby was. Such joy!
That night, however, I started to feel tired and achy. I called the on-call doctor at my ob/gyn office because I was worried about the pain I was in. They did not seem concerned and at the end of the day, I could feel the baby moving so I thought to myself "everything is fine."
On Sunday I called the on-call doctor again that evening just wanting reassurance that everything was ok. From everything on paper, my complaints seemed normal to her and I had nothing to worry about. The pain I felt all day was a constant lower back pain and cramp...one big constant cramp that never seemed to subside. Even with reassurance, I was incredibly concerned but told myself once again that I was ok. I was still worried about my condition but managed to fall asleep. Little did I know our world was about to forever change.
In the middle of the night I woke up feeling nauseous and cold with terrible chills. I just couldn't seem to get warm. I laid back down and at about 3:30am the world stopped spinning when my water broke. I knew it was my water because my water broke at home with my two-year-old son Bradley at 40 weeks. At 16 weeks, it was absolutely terrifying. At the time, I was in so much physical pain from contractions that I really didn't think about the implications of what all of this meant.
My husband, Brad, called the on-call doctor who told us to come to the hospital and then called my mom to come over and stay at our house with our son. Once my mom arrived, Brad was able to pack my bag, and start getting me out the door. I was nauseous, light-headed, and didn't think I would make it into the car...but with the help of my mom and Brad, I made it and laid down in the back seat. With a deep breath and a kiss on the forehead from Brad, we were on our way.
When we arrived at the hospital ER, we were put in a room. The pain had subsided slightly and I only hurt to the touch so I felt a little more relaxed. With that relaxation, came the rational thoughts of what was happening. At this point you know things in your head, but until they are said out loud, it’s almost as if it isn’t real.
After an hour or more of waiting, I was taken to get an ultrasound. I told myself there would be no heartbeat…I mean, there was just no way. As we sat in the ultrasound room, waiting for the technician, tears started streaming down my face. This was the moment of truth. Once the picture was on the screen, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a heartbeat. This was by far one of the toughest moments in this whole process. I mean…what in the world? What did that mean?
We also could tell my water had broken. The beautiful cushion that used to be around the baby was no longer there. The amniotic sac was right up against our sweet child. The technician couldn’t tell us much, not even the gender but we understood that the radiologist needed to make a full report before we would be told anything significant.
The ER doctor came in to give me a test to see if I had amniotic fluid draining and I did. He went on to tell me that my sac had ruptured and I would likely miscarry. There was nothing we could do but wait. I had the choice of being admitted to the hospital or going home. We decided to go home and at 10am, after six long hours, we were released from the hospital on Sunday, December 31st.
Though we were going through such tragedy, we felt God’s presence strongly. He was providing for us in the midst of our tragedy…we were calm, strong, and found out that my doctor was now on call as of 8am that morning. Of all the days she could have been on call over the holidays, this was the day, the one-day. I couldn’t believe it, but was SO thankful to have her to call. Thank you Jesus!
The call came in and my doctor ever so gently told me the chances were less than 1% survival for the baby. We contacted our family and some friends for prayer and support. We weren’t sure what to do but tried to stay calm, pray, and oddly enough, rented a movie.
At about 4pm, one of my dearest friends’ mom, stopped by randomly to bring flowers and a pizza. We were surprised when the doorbell rang but happy to see a familiar sweet face.
As she hugged me she almost immediately said that I felt warm and that I should take my temperature. With the encouragement from my friend, I took my temperature and it was 101 F. I remembered reading the discharge papers as we left the ER and reading that if I had a fever of 100 or greater, I needed to call my doctor immediately. By the grace of God, my friend’s mom came by that evening and told me to take my temperature. To be honest, I don’t think I would have thought to take my temperature and wouldn’t have called or gone in until I was so sick and in severe danger. Once again, God was caring for us ever so closely through this experience.
A fever meant the infection that had ruptured my membranes, was now endangering me. We called my doctor and she told us to come in immediately. At this point, it was clear that I had an infection and our assumptions were correct, I was in danger.
As we sat in the ER room, she called Brad over to the bed, held our hands and told us we would have to deliver our sweet baby. At first I didn’t understand…did she mean labor and delivery like I went through with my two-year-old? Yes, she meant I would have to go up to the labor and delivery floor and go through the same process, with an incredibly different result. I thought maybe they could just take care of everything and I would be asleep through it all but the safest thing for me was to deliver my live baby at 16 weeks. To be honest, until she said it out loud…it just wasn’t a possibility or even real in my head. Then she said those few words, and tears streamed down my face. This was real, and it was happening to us.
Following that, my doctor then asked us if we would like to see and hold the baby once we delivered. We hadn’t thought of that question but I felt strongly that I wanted the memory I had of the baby in my belly to be my final experience, but Brad had a quite different response, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he wanted to see the baby. We would come to find out later just how perfect our different decisions were.
As I arrived in my new room and signed all kinds of paperwork to accept care on that floor, Brad and I got to the paperwork about the baby. What we would do with our sweet baby’s body and things like that. It was terrible and to be honest, we really didn’t know what to check off or what to sign so we decided to leave it blank. The nurse told us that under 20 weeks of age, we had the choice of having the hospital take care of the baby or we could go through a licensed facility, a funeral home.
Our baby was born at 8:29pm. I asked what the gender was…and they told me it was a little boy.
At the time I didn’t know that he was alive and they quickly took our baby to another room. Once Brad knew I was ok, he followed. Meanwhile my doctor started prepping me for my d & c. Since I had an epidural, she was able to do everything in the labor and delivery room. I was thankful for that.
While Brad was with our baby, he felt him, saw his fingernails and toenails, talked to him and sang the songs he sings to our 2-year-old at bedtime. Brad left our baby only for a few minutes to call our parents and tell them the baby was born and I was safe. Once he went back in to be with our baby, my doctor was there. She asked Brad if he’d like to hold him. Brad anxiously said YES. She sat next to Brad with her hand on his shoulder and felt for our sweet child’s heartbeat. It had stopped and they called the time of death. At the time, Brad didn’t really know that was what they were doing. We didn’t even think of “time of death” as something that we’d need to know.
Brad put our sweet boy down and came back to join me in my room. When he was in the room, he told me about holding our baby and about his little heartbeat. Oh, that was painful news…a heartbeat. How was that even possible? Though I had all those thoughts I was overcome with peace of knowing that Brad was there to hold him and tell him everything was ok.
We sat in my room for about 20 minutes and that is when we decided his name was David. It was a name we were thinking of for our 2 year old and at that moment, it just fit. He was our “beloved” boy.
The nurse came in the room and said that they would be taking David away in a little while if Brad wanted to see him again. He did, so away he went. In those short last moments Brad had with David, he told him about his big brother. Brad told him his name was David and that we loved him very much. Brad returned and we brought in the New Year on the labor and delivery floor of the hospital. Brad looked at me and then looked at the clock and there it was, midnight. We said, “Happy New Year” and had our first kiss of 2013. As you can imagine, I will forever look at New Year’s Eve differently.
A sweet social worker came in and told us she was sorry for our loss. She went on to tell us that there had been a misunderstanding about how David’s remains would be handled. We were initially told that under 20 weeks of age, we had the choice of the hospital or a funeral home taking care of the remains and we had chosen the hospital. However, with a live birth, a licensed facility was the only option. This was devastating news. It felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders. This meant more phone calls and having to relive this tragic event over and over again. She gave us a list of places and asked that we let the hospital know within a week which facility we had chosen. I didn’t even want to think about it. When you’re going through this type of thing, you are in a fog, you know it’s happening, but until people talk about it out loud, it’s not real…but this was real, very real.
After the “facility” talk the social worker also mentioned different ways in which we could possibly recoup the cost of having to use an expensive licensed facility. Basically she explained that some life insurance policies cover children that are born alive. Also, the government recognizes all live births, no matter how old, as living children. If we wanted to, we could claim David on our taxes since he was born on the 31st of December 2012. This was huge in my eyes…not the tax stuff or recouping money but the fact that the government recognizes David as my child, my child that I lost. That was incredible and in an odd way, comforting.
Writing this now seems like that conversation should have been weird or awkward but in the moment, the way the social worker spoke with us, it wasn’t. She was caring for us in really important ways, ways we didn’t know we needed. The social worker went on to tell us that the hospital put together a memory box for us. In it were David’s hand and footprints, pictures, a sweet card form the nurses and a few other things. The social worker said they would keep it in their office, until we were ready to pick it up, if in fact, we did. At the time, we weren’t sure.
We thanked her for her time and taking on such an incredibly important job and she left us. As she walked out I sobbed in Brad’s arms. It was a lot of information we had not expected to get.
Various nurses started coming in to get me ready to be discharged. Thankfully, I hadn’t had a fever since early morning so I was able to go home. They removed my IV, had me sign discharge papers, and explained recovery details. Brad gathered my things, and we were ready to go. We left our memory box with the social worker department. At that point, we knew we weren't ready to bring it home.
They wheeled me out to our car around 9pm on January 1, 2013, and we were on our way home.
At the hospital, you are in a bubble. You know the world is going on outside but you really don’t think about it. I didn’t realize leaving the hospital and driving home would be so painful.
As we drove down the highway, signs that I see weekly looked so different to me. It was the painful reality that we were driving home without David. That the world is still going on despite our loss, and that we were about to step foot in our home and try to find some sort of normalcy in the midst of this tragedy. I sat in silence in the car and started to cry.
Brad parked the car in our driveway and we sat there for a few moments. We gathered our things and walked up to the front door. It was the moment of truth. The moment we would remember forever, the feeling of coming home without our sweet child.
That evening was tough. The amazing thing is that in that moment we weren’t angry, or saying, “Why us?” We were knee-deep in the Bible finding passages that we knew spoke about this subject. We found the Bible verse we were thinking about, 2 Samuel 12:23, David said, “I will go to him but he will not return to me.”
In a systematic Theology book we had been studying, the author said, “David knew with confidence that he would see his son again when he died.” (Grudem) That is the verse Brad and I needed to read and that is what brought us such peace that night. We are so thankful for Jesus and the Bible. The Bible not only guides us on every day issues, joys, struggles, blessings, and concerns, but also brings us great comfort in tragic situations. It is not just any book. It is truth, God’s truth.
That evening we got a text message from our campus pastor from church. He said that he would be coming over in the morning and asked what time would be best. He didn’t ask if he could come over, but made it very clear that he was coming and to just give him a timeframe. That was exactly what we needed. Had he asked, I am not sure we would have said ok but God knew exactly that in that moment, we needed to be told. Brad and I knew it would be hard to see him because it was the beginning of us acknowledging our life without David. It was the beginning of saying everything out loud and fully acknowledging that everything had really happened.
It was finally time for bed and I was nervous. I was nervous to go to sleep. I was nervous to face a new day, waking in the morning only to realize it was not a dream. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I’d feel alone in the middle of the night. I was nervous.
Brad prayed for us and by the grace of God, I slept through most of the night.
Wednesday January 2nd, we woke up and Brad and I got ourselves ready for our sweet Bradley to arrive home when my parents brought him the next morning.
That morning I also got an unexpected text message from a dear friend. She said she felt led to go to a funeral home for us and ask them what the process would be for handling David’s remains. She asked me, “Is that ok?” I immediately said, “Yes,” and was grateful for her going out and doing it for us. If she had just offered, I probably would have said, “No thank you.” But because she was in her car, and on her way, it was perfect, and exactly the way it was supposed to happen. To be honest, I'm not sure when Brad and I would have gotten around to that and God knew we needed help.
When my parents arrived, our sweet little boy was asleep in their car and Brad took him to his bed. He looked up just long enough to see that he was home and fell back asleep for an early nap. Poor boy was exhausted.
Then my friend called with amazing news, she said the funeral home wouldn’t charge us anything on their end for handling David's remains and we’d only need to pay a minimal charge to the crematorium. We were speechless, we couldn’t believe that it would not be a financial burden. My friend also said that she would bring the papers to us so we wouldn’t have to go to the funeral home. This was such a blessing.
Although we had all of that wonderful news, we also found out that we would need to know David's time of death, we needed it for his death certificate. Time of death? Death certificate? Oh goodness, that meant we would have to call the hospital for that painful information and we just hadn’t prepared ourselves for that.
My sweet, brave husband called the social worker department at the hospital and found out that David’s time of death was 9:08p, David lived for 39 minutes. This was the first time since everything happened that we thought about how long David lived and/or his time of death. What a painful thing to recall but I realize now that this detail and all of the other details we would be forced to talk about and find out, were just what we needed for our grieving process.
At about 10am, our campus pastor arrived. As we sat in our living room, he asked us questions and we shared our hearts and what we were feeling. After about 45 minutes, we were finished talking and he asked if he could pray for us. As Brad and I sat on the couch, our pastor got down on one knee in front of us, placed a hand on both Brad and my shoulder and prayed. It was a beautiful moment.
That day we decided that we wanted to add a few little things to be cremated with David. We picked one of my two year old's special blankets, a wooden car that Brad’s Dad made, and a stuffed bear that my mom made. Brad put the items together on the couch to take a picture of them. We wanted to remember those sweet things by photo. Once he got the shot he wanted, he collected them in his hands. As he turned with them to face me, I could see his eyes were watery. I knew in that moment that these items were not just any blanket, car and stuffed bear, they were David's. Brad handed them to my mom but something in me made me take them from her to hold. Oh my gosh, in that moment it was as if they were my son, David's. I was immediately overtaken with emotion and had an unexplainable physical reaction and almost collapsed.
As I went to hand the items back to my mom, I couldn’t. I decided that if they were still in my home, I wanted them to be in my arms. As my mom opened the door to go to the funeral home, I handed everything to her. I touched them one last time and sobbed. It was the most intense moment we had experienced thus far. As the door closed I turned to Brad and went limp in his arms.
Friday came and we got the news that David had been picked up from the hospital. That was another call that made us catch our breath. We knew the call was coming…we just didn’t know when. As soon as we knew he was no longer at the hospital, it was almost as if it was a new death. Everything we had experienced was at the hospital and now our sweet boy would be leaving and going to a funeral home. It was a strange feeling, something I can’t quite articulate but it felt different. It was yet another event that kept us in reality. Our sweet boy was dead, and this was going to be a journey.
Now that David was at the funeral home, we would just wait for the call that we could pick up his ashes and thinking about picking up the ashes was tough. Brad and I talked about that…when we’d pick them up, what we would do with them…and we just didn’t know. That was one of our biggest prayer requests…what would we do with David’s ashes? It was quite unsettling not knowing and we continued to pray hard for a definitive answer.
Saturday started our weekend of just us, just our family of three. I had forgotten how awesome it felt to just be. Just sit with my two boys and be. I always felt like we needed plans, we needed places to be, and needed to be social. We didn’t. It felt so wonderful to just sit with my boys and enjoy each other. Enjoy Bradley’s belly laughs, his fusses and objection to naptime. The things I used to feel were so frustrating, had become so beautiful. It was as if I was looking at everything through new glasses, I had a new perspective and I wanted to embrace it with every part of my being.
I will forever look back and cherish that first weekend after David died with my sweet family. We felt Jesus so present and it was beautiful.
Being an engineer I sometimes struggle with the different head knowledge vs. heart emotions. The confusion of knowing something in my head with absolute certainty yet feeling something so deeply that contradicts the thought; it’s basically my mind versus my heart. The conflict came from knowing with every part of my brain that God is in control, loves us, and that David is in a better place, yet still having such an incredible pain in my heart. This was a tough connection for me to make. If I knew this with such certainty…why did it hurt so much? The beauty of all this is that I am human and God created me this way on purpose. He created me so intelligently to both think and feel and also be confused about how that works together sometimes. It might sound strange but knowing this was reassuring to me.
A few weeks into January, we found out a huge amount of information. We found out the cause of my water breaking and David being born…a bacteria. This was all such strange news to get. It was one thing to have my water break at 4+ months, but to have such a rare bacteria as the cause was hard to process. The likelihood of having preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM i.e. water breaking before 37 weeks) is about 2%. To add to the complexity of my experience, my sweet baby was born and lived for 39 minutes. How was this possible?
Brad and I soon realized that we wouldn’t understand and we wouldn’t get satisfying answers to the questions we had. Science could only get us so far with an explanation and that made it ever more clear that it was only God that we could find peace in with all of this. It was only our faith in Christ and his beautiful plan for us that we could come to terms with this unexplained tragedy. I realized that I needed to stop asking the “why” questions to God…
“Why did this happen?”..."Why me?"..."Why David?"...
and start asking the “How”…
“How can you use me through this?”
Basically we knew that God was giving us all of Himself, but not all of the information…and that was ok…He is and will always be, enough.
- - - - - - - - -
January 30th was the first time I held a newborn since losing David. My friend had her little girl and I knew since the moment I received the message that she was in labor, I would go to the hospital to celebrate her little miracle.
That morning I woke up and was overcome with emotion. I experienced tears of sorrow, tears of joy for my friend, and even unexplained tears. Brad saw me weeping and sat by my side. He began to pray for me out loud. He prayed for strength, a strength that he knew could only come from God.
I didn't feel like a new person or have a sudden jolt of strength but I trusted in God's goodness and love for me and got myself up. After I took Bradley to preschool, I was on my way to the hospital.
It was beautiful. The little girl was beautiful, and with the excitement of the birth, holding that small body, and looking at that sweet face, I didn’t feel anything but joy for my friend. What a beautiful gift God gave me, the strength to go be by my friend’s side and feel joy.
That was the "strength" he put over me. He knew I couldn't muster up the emotional strength, so instead, he took away my pain all together. For the first time in a month, for 45 minutes, I didn't feel an ounce of sorrow.
Thank you Jesus. Thank you for knowing what I needed, even when I didn't and thank you for giving me what I needed then and every day of my life.
In the next few weeks through February I learned a few things about myself, my family, and my faith:
I’ve never experienced a greater loss. Coming to terms with this was huge for me, saying it out loud was even bigger, and finding peace in the midst of all of this was going to be a challenge.
I really appreciated when people told me specifically what they were praying for me about…it just felt good to know the details.
Self-doubt…asking questions like, “Could I have prevented this?” etc… was inevitable, but how I chose to deal with it was of utmost importance.
Telling friends about my self-doubt and having them tell me they just prayed about that specific doubt earlier in the day solidified the power of prayer for me. I knew it was powerful before these experiences but I had never experienced that before. It just blew me away. My friends had no idea I was struggling with that doubt yet felt led to pray about it without even talking to me. AMAZING!!!
I wanted to be treated normally. I wanted people to laugh with me, cry with me, and even joke with me. I wanted to feel normal.
I had a crazy urge to buy things and/or plan things…I wanted to keep my mind busy. I needed to find a way to redirect that busyness with prayer and God’s word.
As awful as some days were, I needed to continue to take care of my body. This might seem obvious but when going through grief, it’s so easy to forget about yourself.
The next time I filled out new paperwork at the doctor’s office for a pregnancy, I would have to say 4th pregnancy, 1 child…and that would hurt.
I see my 2 year old and my marriage in a beautiful new light…with less anxiety and stress over silly things that just don’t matter.
I realized that seeing already pregnant people and new babies didn’t bother me…it would be new, surprise, pregnancy announcements that would initially strike a cord with me. The first call from a friend (that I had no idea was even trying) about their pregnancy was on February 18th…and I don’t think I’ll ever forget where I was and what I was doing. I was ecstatic for her and her family but I also felt great sadness for the uncertain future of my family…if there would be more babies in my future.
Our church was everything “the church” should be for my family. We didn’t have any expectations but were floored by the outpouring of love and support that we received from them.
And, most importantly, that I need to Glorify God with all of my being through this tragedy and my journey through grief.
Each one of these realizations were profound and impactful. Another month went by after losing David and March ended with Easter. What a beautiful way to end that month, with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is my Hope, my Strength, my Redeemer.