Monday, July 27, 2009

The Pregnancy

"I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him... My heart rejoices in the Lord." - 1 Samuel 1:27 & 2:1

First Trimester

From day one, I was blessed with the perfect pregnancy. I got an enormous thrill watching as the lines on those pregnancy tests to which I’d become so addicted got darker and darker each day. I often c
arried around the latest one in my purse so I could look at it whenever I wanted to smile. Of course, after we got to see an ultrasound of our baby and watch its heartbeat on the monitor for the first time at just six weeks into the pregnancy, I pretty much had a constant smile on my face from then on.

I never got any morning sickness, or tiredness, or mood swi
ngs, or problems. For the first 12 weeks, I honestly prayed to get nausea or sore boobs, just to have some sign that I was really pregnant! Because of the lack of physical symptoms, we were certain we were having a boy, and picked out a boy name and bedding!

Even without symptoms, though, I felt an incredible bond with this baby. I would take long walks outside and pray for it while holding my hand on my belly. At nine weeks, I rented a Doppler, and would liste
n to the baby’s heartbeat every couple of days, just to reassure me that it was healthy. And I would cry every single time, praising God. That heartbeat was—and is, to this day—the best sound I have ever heard. I’m sure it can only be topped by the sound of one’s own healthy, living newborn’s cry— a sound I’d gladly give my right arm to hear.

Second Trimester

My belly grew quicker than most—it was pretty obvious even to strangers that I was pregnant at three months. On Mother’s Day I walked into the Sunday school at my church where I volunteered, and one of the four-year-olds came up to me and put her hand on my belly and asked, "Are you having a baby?" I was SHOCKED! I thought it must be some sixth sense kids have, but later that week, a cashier at Whol
e Foods asked me if I was pregnant too (the same woman later asked me in my third trimester if I was having twins, so clearly she thought I was extra-large the entire time).

Besides my rapidly expanding abdomen, my first physical sign of pregnancy was a rambunctious flutter of kicks at only 16 weeks. They felt like little q-tips poking me from the inside—it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I fell completely in love with this little one so utterly dependent on me.

I researched everything about how to have a healthy pregnancy and lived it out like the perfectionist I am. Instead of buying pretty maternity clothes, we put our funds into making a more healthy life for our growing baby—we had come so far that we were determined to do this right. I ate 100% organic food, free-ran
ge meat, wild-caught seafood. I quit coffee cold-turkey as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and didn’t have even one caffeinated coffee my entire pregnancy. (And if you know me, you know that is a MAJOR sacrifice.) I used only natural cleaners, detergents, and even beauty products. Any possible risk of chemical contact was cut out— I never pumped gas in the car (VOCs), we threw away any plastic we could, and switched from a vinyl shower curtain to a cloth one. We planned for baby’s life outside the womb to be clean too —organic cloth diapers, organic crib mattress, and organic bassinet. We wanted our baby to start out life with a clean slate.

A Scare

One Saturday morning, at only 17 weeks, I was surprised to wake up to a rock-hard belly. Poking it, I realized it was doing this at regular intervals every few minutes: hard, soft, hard, soft. Freaked out, I did what any mother would do—turned to trusty Mr. Google and searched my symptoms. And of course, I saw only the worst stories, and suddenly feared I was having pre-term labor. We called my doctor for instructions. She informed us that we were probably going to lose the baby (!!!), and that I would have to wait it out. She told us not go to the ER because there would be nothing they could do to save a baby at such an early stage!

Horrible thoughts went through my mind—what if I can’t ever carry a baby to term? What if this is the only time I get to experience the joy of pregnancy? What if something is wr
ong with me? How on earth will I go on without this baby? I won’t want to live. I turned pale, became dizzy, and began to shake uncontrollably.

Jeff knew that such a mental state wasn’t good for me, so we sped to the ER—despite the doctor’s advice. Upon hearing about the emerge
ncy, my mom dropped everything and drove all the way from her house to the hospital, and while we were waiting, she put her hand on my belly and felt the baby give a firm kick! God was reassuring us that the baby was healthy in there, although probably a little annoyed at the contracting uterus tightening around her.

Three hours of worry later, we found that nothing at all was wrong! What I’d been having were “practice” (Braxton Hicks) contractions, which are totally normal. Just for reassurance, we were offered an ultrasound, and it was then that we were surprised to learn our little baby was a beautifully healthy girl.

I praised God with every part of my being, and didn’t stop. I’ve never been happier in my entire life as I was when I was pregn
ant with Grace.

When we first saw her, she was kicking and punching in there, and then she leaned back, put her hands behind her head and crossed her legs like she was chillin’ in a hammock. Not only did we get to see that she was healthy (10 fingers, 10 toes, everything in place and w
orking) but we got to see her being a drama queen. :)

Who Grace Was

Grace developed a distinctive personality from early on. We had felt led to pray – since before conception – that she would become a leader, and would bring God praise.

And from the way Grace act
ed in the womb, it seemed that she was already headed towards becoming that leader-type personality! Her kicks were strong, right from the beginning. When she moved, it was decisive, never sluggish. Sometimes she’d push so hard that I could distinctly make out a hand (right at my hip bone), or foot (in my side) and butt (way up near my ribs). She’d just hold it there, sometimes for a whole 30 seconds, as if she was testing the strength of her muscles. The last three months, she would kick so forcefully while I was working, that I would be forced to relax my abs and lean back in my desk chair to give her some room to play. It seemed like she was already bossing me around. We prepared ourselves for a headstrong child!

She was so beautiful, even on ultrasound. What a tiny, feminine nose and face. What a perfect beating heart.

Already a girly girl at just 21 weeks, crossing her legs like a little ballerina!

23 weeks, viability milestone! I was thrilled that she could now survive outside the womb if born!

And she loved music. Every day, I played her worship songs, and her body
moved miraculously to the rhythm. She loved songs loud, with strong beats, and with powerful crescendos! She would have a dance party and I would sing along! She really liked “Agnus Dei” by Darlene Zschech, “Hosanna” by Hillsong United, and “Your Name” by Phillips, Craig and Dean, all which, interestingly, sung praise directly to God (instead of just singing about Him). Her life was full of praise, cheer, excitement!

Her name, Grace Evangeline, was a direct reference to what God had laid on our hearts about her purpose. The word “grace” itself means to give something to someone without the intent to receive anyt
hing in return. Jesus himself offered all of humanity the ultimate gift of grace – he sacrificed his own life for our sins – so that we could live eternally with Him. The gratefulness we felt to God, and for Him blessing us with this precious daughter, led us to name her “Grace.” She was to reflect Him, and His forgiving, unending love! And she was to spread that exciting story of grace, thus the name “Evangeline,” which means “bearer of good news.”

We didn’t know at the time how soon she would live up to her name, or how her purpose would be fulfilled without ever having cried life’s first cry.

I knew the name Grace had become really popular as a middle name, and I’d even heard a few people mention they didn’t like it at all as a first name, so we shared it with only a few family members. The last thing we needed was criticism, when God had already called this name a done deal.

Third Trimester

Just think, for nine months of pregnancy, every minute you’re alive is about the baby. Eating, breathing, sleeping, living
– it was all for Grace. The idea of doing something solely for myself had become some distant memory. Budget? It was overhauled to include baby furniture, baby clothes, and extra food. To-do list? It was cleared for things like “buy breast pump, paint nursery, register at the hospital.” Spare time? It was filled with birthing classes, doctors visits, researching cloth diapers and vaccinations and baby sleep theories.

In August, we moved into a bigger rental townhouse (with its way bigger rent payment) just for Grace. And I gave up my beloved VW Beetle and bought a bigger brand new SUV, with room for a car seat, just for Grace. Our life turned upside down for her.

And it was heavenly. I loved having someone “around” all the time to communicate with. Working from home, I never felt alone – Grace was always with me! Food I ate or movements I made or noises around me all got responses from Grace. I felt like she was giving
me her opinion on things. I took videos of my belly as she shimmied and kicked and hiccupped in there. We were already the best of friends – I couldn’t wait to be her best friend throughout her childhood, as my mom was with me.

In late pregnancy, everything happened as it should: my hip bones spread as they were supposed to, I passed my glucose test with flying colors, I never got any stretch marks, I slept a solid nine hours of sleep every night, I was already producing breast milk, I took outside walks daily, and Grace’s heart would beat clear and strong every time we Dopplered it. Grace’s size always measured ahead—our little overachiever! I loved being huge and pregnant, it was something I’d waited my whole life to experience.
While some people hate being told they look big when pregnant, I was thrilled to hear that comment! (And boy was I big – I gained a total of 43 pounds when all was said and done, and I never did quite figure out how I gained so much.)

Me & God

With every passing day, I had this increasing peace that I couldn’t fully describe. Nothing could bother me (except maybe that one pregnancy side effect of being hot all the time), not even the debates about the upcoming elections, which would have made non-pregnant me blow a gasket. Part of it, I’m sure, was the nicely balanced hormone levels. But mostly, it was that I had been blessed with everything I could possibly want. I was living my dream life. I remembered the desperation I had felt just one year before, and realized that God had finally delivered me. I was living out his grand plan for me: I was the mother of Grace Evangeline Young.

The whole pregnancy
, God had walked alongside me. I’d felt his undeniable presence and purpose every second of my day. From the beginning to the very end of my pregnancy, He had guided me to read through the Old Testament, to learn about His character. As I read, I had cheered on Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and especially David, and learned more about God than I had in my entire lifetime. I wondered why I had never before realized how exciting the first half of the Bible was! God was working amazing miracles back then, and I marveled at how He was creating a current-day miracle inside me!

Weirdly, by the end of October, I had made it to the book of Job, the gut-wrenching story in which God allows Satan to kill all of Job’s children and steal his worldly possessions in one fell swoop. I felt so uneasy about reading that book during pregnancy, and I tried to speed-read through multiple chapters a day, hoping to finish it without dwelling too much on its sadness. I wanted to be reading Psalms by the time Grace was born, praising and rejoicing! But as God would have it, I only made it to the chapter right before God begins to speak to Job, the day before November 3.

Last picture taken while Grace was still alive

As I reached the finish line of the pregnancy, we readied the house for Grace’s arrival. We had our three baby showers, accumulated baby stuff, had the nursery painted, furniture ordered, and hospital bags packed. When I visited the doctors, I learned that Grace was head-down, ready to go at any time! I was giddy with excitement when Jeff installed the baby’s carseat in the car and set up the bassinet in our room – it was all real now; this was really happening!

I was so blissfully unaware.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Beginning

Ever since Grace died, I’ve had a horrible aching in my soul, a nagging feeling, urging me to write what I’ve gone through. From the very beginning, I have not wanted to. Sometime during the first week when I came home from the hospital empty-handed, someone wrote to me in a sympathy card that I should write down everything that was happening to me in a journal to later use as my story about God’s love, but I was very stubborn about NOT writing. I felt blank, numb, and later, angry and negative. Why would I ever want to look back on these days? Why would anyone else? Couldn’t we just erase this whole time completely? I wanted to go into a coma for a year, and wake up not remembering this whole thing.

But God allowed Grace to die for a reason. I do not believe death is of God – it is of sin, of Satan – but God did not intervene when the life of my innocent child was taken. He instead chose to redeem the situation. He’s making an ugly thing beautiful. He’s transforming my broken life right now. And that’s why His spirit is leading me to write. Everyone needs to know that our God is a loving God. And after everything I’ve been through, even now as I am currently miscarrying a baby that I’ve carried for eight weeks, I can still say that I trust Him.

Emotionally right now, I am low. But spiritually, I’m nuzzling in close to our God. My faith in Him is increasing. My joy in Him is increasing. He is present and at work. It’s exciting!

Many of you have written me, asking how I’m doing or how you can pray for me, and most of those emails go unanswered. So, I’m going to write my story here. There are so many pieces to this, from the events that occurred, to the emotions that I’ve experienced, to the things I’ve questioned. For now, I’ll just share the beginning of the story.

To tell the story of my baby Grace, I have to start in 2007, long before she was conceived.

Or maybe even further back… to childhood. You see, I’ve always felt an undeniably strong desire to be a mother – I’ve always felt like that was my purpose on earth, like that’s THE reason God made me. And I know that can sound cliché. But I feel like other women have big dreams – become president of the US, or they want to fight some major injustice in this cruel world, or start a successful business, or live a life full of thrills and excitement, or some other noble goal. All I’ve ever wanted to do is bring little souls into this world and love them like crazy. All my life, I could think of nothing that would be more fulfilling than bringing forth life, of your own flesh and blood, creating something brand new with the person you love, watching that absolute miracle grow, pouring every ounce of yourself into this child, teaching them, sacrificing of yourself for their good. I would willingly get stretch marks and gain weight for a baby, I’d willingly do bed rest if necessary; anything for the thrill of new life!

I lived my life to adulthood with that as my priority, my big plan. And everyone knew me as “the one who wanted to be a mommy.” On our wedding day, the shaving cream decorations on our getaway car read “9 months!”

I even chose my career because I could do it from home as a mom – writing and graphic design. And in the summer of 2007, after two years of marriage, I quit my full-time ad agency job to start my own design company. I quickly found clients and eased right into the work-from-home lifestyle. In September, Jeff and I agreed that it was time we started a family. Everything was falling right into place!

We began the journey to parenthood by asking God to bless it. Holding hands and praying aloud, tears of joy streamed down our faces. We had waited so long for this! As someone with a severe case of Type A personality, I went into baby planning with the same gusto as I went into wedding planning. I researched every bit of fertility info I could get my hands on. And every morning at 6 a.m., the alarm would go off and Jeff would stick a thermometer in my mouth so I could chart my temperature that day. (To this day, basal thermometers are my life.)

That month, we tried for the first time to conceive, and it didn’t work out. I cried despairingly for hours and hours after we got a negative pregnancy test, because I had a deep sinking feeling that we really had an infertility problem. That same day, Jeff mentioned to me that a doctor had told him years ago that he had a physical issue stemming from a surgery he had as a child that could potentially cause infertility. Immediately, I set us up for a meeting with a specialist.

He was tested, and the results were dismal. The doctors said his issue was so severe that he would need surgery or we’d have to undergo fertility treatments to get pregnant, that our odds of conceiving on our own were incredibly low. We were devastated. We feared trying for long periods of time with no hope, we feared IUIs, we feared IVF (which sounded impossible because it costs as much as a new car, and our insurance wouldn’t pay for fertility treatments), we feared the label “infertile,” we feared failure.

I actually wrote in my journal that I felt like my closest friend had died. The one thing I wanted more in life than anything else seemed unreachable. I was so depressed that my mom was worried about me being home alone, and made me come down and spend time with her, and we just drove around in the car, talking.

But after a week of prayer and a strong sense of God’s presence, Jeff and I decided to ask Him for a miracle. We wouldn’t move forward with treatments of any kind. It was the first time in my life I actually felt completely under God’s control, that I was fully allowing Him to do with me what He wanted. We would certainly do our part – living healthily, avoiding strenuous exercise since it’s bad for fertility, doing everything we knew of to enhance fertility: avoiding caffeine and alcohol, me drinking gallons of grapefruit juice/green tea/pomegranate juice and eating loads of fresh pineapple, eating plenty of wild salmon, Jeff taking fertility vitamins, taking cod liver oil, and more – and the creation of a baby was up to God.

In December, our fourth month of trying, I opened up the Old Testament to Deuteronomy, a section of the Bible I usually avoided for fear of boredom, and landed on this:

“If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.”

In my journal that day, I wrote, “I have complete faith that God is going to bless us with children.” With His power, I had a peace I’d never known before.

And in February 2008, He blessed us with our first pregnancy. Nine short days after ovulation I took a test, which was negative. I had never tested that early before -- maybe I had an intuition? (I was addicted to taking cheap pregnancy tests that you could buy online for like 85 cents per piece, and because they were so cheap, I didn’t mind taking tons of them. And of course, every month, I’d spend hours analyzing each one under different lights hoping to see a line.) Only ten days after ovulation, I knew with almost perfect assurance that I was pregnant, and sure enough, I saw a faintest-of-faint pink line on my pregnancy test - and I was sure it was a line, for I had seen so many stark white negative tests in the last six months. Jeff wasn’t convinced. Calmly, he said he was only “about 80% sure” he saw a line, but didn’t want to jump to conclusions. (Meanwhile, I was about to internally combust.) So, I took a digital. In less than a minute, that glorious word popped up with as much confidence and drama a little digital contraption can muster. PREGNANT.

I screamed! Jumping up and down and skipping and squealing, I showed Jeff the test. We BOTH started bawling our eyes out, just hugging as tight as we could. How could this have happened?! What about the infertility?! Praise God above, praise Him, praise His Name! It was absolutely unreal. It was a miracle.

Jeff took me by the hand and led me to the living room. We knelt by the ottoman, and Jeff thanked God aloud and prayed for our little baby’s future. I continued to sob the happiest tears of my life. We had begun this journey almost six months before with a prayer, and we found ourselves praying once again as God came through.

Next, I began hearing songs playing, each with the word “baby” in it -- Jeff had created a “procreation” soundtrack. Haha! Mariah Carey’s “You’ll Always Be My Baby” came on first. :)

Not wanting the elation and surprise to simmer the tiniest bit before we shared the news, we began calling our parents right away. My mom was first. When I blurted out that I’d gotten a positive PG test, she sobbed and shrieked and used up every calorie of energy left in that body of hers (she’d been on a 40-day juice fast for lent). I *loved* hearing my mom cry (she never cries, not even at my wedding). She began praising God, saying she had never had one doubt that He would give us a child. She knew all along that that was the life He had planned for me. I used to think that the reaction of the parents in “Father of the Bride Part 2” seemed heavenly, but that was nothing compared to my mother’s uncontainable gladness.

But on Valentine’s Day, a week or so after, I began to miscarry.

To someone who has never experienced the excitement that is a positive pregnancy test, it’s hard to explain how overwhelming and depressing it is to miscarry only a short period later. How can you love a baby you didn’t know? How can you miss someone who never breathed a breath? I always used to wonder (or, sadly, scoff at) women who said they “knew” they were pregnant from the moment of conception. Now I understood. I’d felt unusually positive and confident in God’s power that entire cycle. I had known I was pregnant before I ever took a test. I believe that those feelings were me sensing the presence of the baby’s soul. From then on, I believed a baby’s soul is present from the moment of conception.

In our desperation to get pregnant again, we decided to go ahead with the surgery that doctors had long suggested for Jeff. (Although, I’m really not sure why we did it, since we now knew we could get pregnant on our own.) Doctors warned us, though, not to expect to see positive results (a.k.a. pregnancy) from the surgery for several months, because it takes at least three months for sperm to generate and thus respond to the surgery.

But, only three weeks later… we were pregnant. And this time, it stuck for the long haul.

(Yes, you are allowed to laugh, because we were back to trying only four days after Jeffrey’s surgery. We didn’t want to miss one single cycle, regardless of his physical pain—especially because we’d heard you’re extra fertile after a miscarriage!)

I ovulated on March 3, 2008, and just seven days later, I could sense the baby’s presence. Ignoring it, though, because the previous month’s loss had left me heartbroken and fearful, I tried to live as normally as possible. We rented movies to watch in the evenings, and one night, as we watched “Dan in Real Life,” I felt sure that I was pregnant. No real symptoms to speak of, just the feeling that another person was in the room with us. The next morning, I got that beautiful little line on a pregnancy test. The line was evidence of our little Grace in progress!

Our happiness and excitement were slightly restrained by what had just happened to us only weeks before. Our early pregnancy innocence had been stolen from us because of the miscarriage. But my wise mom told me to have faith, that this was real, and that I needed to put my pregnancy worries in God’s hands. Growing new life was God’s business, and it was up to Him now.

Deep down, I knew this pregnancy was meant to be. Worries of miscarriage quickly left my mind as faith took over. Almost right away, we started sharing the news that a baby was coming!