Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Grace's Earthly End

Today, August 4, 2009, Grace would be nine months old, and I’d be planning her first birthday party. I'd plan to have a pink & brown cupcake party, with gluten free cupcakes, and Grace would have her first ever taste of sugar. She’d wear something beautiful in the same brand as her coming home outfit (Biscotti), or maybe a fluffy tutu-dress from Belle Ame.

But here, instead, is the beginning of the story of her only birthday. The only day I ever got to hold Grace in my arms.

Grace’s last weekend

I don’t usually write about the weather. I feel like that’s a tactic only used by fourth graders and lousy Christmas family newsletter writers. But when my daughter was last living, it was the most beautiful late autumn Jeff and I had ever seen. We’d had our wedding in the fall only three years before, and back then I would have paid thousands for trees this colorful. The vibrant fall seemed to sum up a perfect pregnancy, and seemed to signal the start of a new season of our lives, one of sheer excitement! (Now, with all the feelings of loss associated with it, I wonder now if I’ll even like the season ever again.)


Our third wedding anniversary was October 29, and we didn’t do much to celebrate – besides, what gift can you give one another that is better than the gift of new life, a child?! We were GIDDY!


Saturday…I ventured out to a brunch with my mommies group of all pregnant women, and held the first tiny baby born to the group. Soon, I thought, I would be holding my very own baby in my arms! Everyone reminded me that it was November 1, only 19 days left until my due date!


Sunday…we went to church, and Grace jammed out to the worship music! She always seemed to have a lot of fun in my belly! I felt extra special that day, and had worn a black dress with four-inch black heels (I’d been so thankful to never get any swelling, allowing me to wear heels!). I was enormous, and it seemed like every stranger I passed congratulated me. Our drive home, we passed the hospital where I would give birth, and I got all excited thinking about how in two weeks this same drive home would be the most happy drive of my life—with a baby in my arms!


…That evening, we went to the last session of our Bradley natural childbirth class. And Grace kicked all the while. Jeff said how excited he was about labor (ha! I was like, of course YOU’RE excited! I’m the one pushing this thing out!) —we were ready for this! (I was well prepared to give birth without pain medications or interventions, and felt very confident in the technique—I’d told everyone about it so I’d keep accountable!) Then we went home and Jeff videotaped actors for his Grace Epidemic project. (It is eerie watching that video now, knowing that it was the last day my Grace was alive.) And Grace kept right on kicking, as she always did. Later, Jeff gave me my nightly back massage—he’s the best husband ever—and we watched Grace move around in my belly (for what we didn’t know then would be the last time ever).


We headed to bed and I reached over and put my hand in the bassinet attached to our mattress, as I had gotten into the habit of doing, and imagined how in a few short weeks I would be stroking my peacefully sleeping baby there, admiring her, my offspring, the greatest blessing I’d ever received.


I prayed thanks, and fell asleep.


November 3, 2008


It was a dark day out, starting to drizzle, but my first thought was how something great was about to happen. I said aloud to Jeff, “For some reason, it feels like Christmas morning!” I cannot get over how weird that feeling was. Maybe God was trying to bless me with a calm before the storm…


…because the rest of that day can only be described as the worst of my life.


Jeff left for work, and I went downstairs to make Grace and I breakfast. I sipped my OJ, but Grace didn’t kick like she usually did with that jolt of fructose. Odd, I thought, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly alarmed, and went on talking to her, telling her I loved her as I always did. I was awake a little earlier than usual, anyway. I showered, but Grace didn’t move like normal with the water’s warmth. I poked the spot where I knew her butt was, but she was obviously sleeping. Still, I thought, it was early. Yet, when I got out, I really started to worry.

I went to the nursery and lay down on the floor next to her crib (like Jeff had been doing each morning as he prayed for her, for nine months) and gulped cold water, hoping it would wake her up. My heart started to race when she didn’t wake. My doctor’s appointment was scheduled for 9:30 that morning, and I left the house as quick as I could, speeding down the road and arriving ridiculously early. At the stoplight before the doctor’s building, the word started flashing through my head, stillbirth stillbirth stillbirth. Everything was a blur, as they weighed me, took my blood pressure, and Jeff arrived. All I could think or say was “I haven’t felt her kick this morning.”

The fluorescent lights in the room made it look so cold and horrible in there, increasing my panic. I could hear heartbeats from Dopplers thumping loudly through the thin walls of the rooms on either side of me. But when they tried to listen to my child’s heartbeat, it wasn’t there. “No,” Jeff said to me, and grabbed my hand tightly as the doctor rushed off to find the ultrasound machine. “She’s fine; it isn’t what you think; they’ll find it; please God.” (How would I have ever survived if Jeff hadn’t come to the appointment that day?)


The doctor rolled in the ancient-looking machine and fumbled the cord, clearly flustered, and got another doctor to help her. When they finally got it to work—my stomach is in knots as I type this—the ultrasound machine showed a lifeless little girl, a beautiful heart, but one that had stopped beating forevermore.

"I’m so sorry," was all the doctor said. I put my hands on my face, where they remained for the next several hours, and whispered, "Oh my God. Oh my God." This is when shock set in—the body’s gift to its emotional state—to help me survive the blow. I had become numb, and would stay that way for the next 24 hours. I thought back to my childhood, about the night when my friend’s dad had passed away in a tragic car accident, and about how we had gone to the hospital that night and saw the family. I remembered how I had hugged my friend and sobbed uncontrollably, but that she was strong and wasn’t crying. I finally understood it. That’s how I felt now. Crushed, flattened, beaten down to silence, to numbness. I couldn’t even cry.

Suddenly, I had to get this baby out. She seemed heavier than ever before. I hated how stiff her body felt, preventing me from even being able to expand my lungs and get a full breath, and then I hated myself for disliking anything about my poor child. But I couldn’t handle having this dead baby inside me. I needed her out NOW – it was URGENT! I repeated it to each of the doctors, but didn’t watch to see if they responded or not. Everything was so blurry.


Walking out of the office, I noticed that my hands were still on my face. I wondered what everyone in the waiting room thought of me – what did they think was wrong? Were they panicked about their own babies? I thought about all of those people on the news all the time, those women in Iraq or Israel after a bomb exploded and killed their families, and how they would always be running around, screaming and crying. I wondered when or if I would get to that point. Right now, I pretty much felt dead.

In the car, I saw our new pink baby carseat all strapped in and ready to go. Overcome with too much emotion, I’m pretty sure I almost passed out. We rushed to the hospital, where the marathon of labor and delivery—that grueling emotional and physical journey—began.


The Hospital


We walked in and although we’d already taken a tour of the hospital, were absolutely clueless where to go and wandered around blindly. Jeff asked someone at a desk where labor & delivery was, and with major attitude, she pointed down the hall, and said, “Um, In labor and delivery.” So strange, I thought, how people have so much anger. I had just lost my daughter and I wasn’t as angry as her.


It was dark and empty in there that day. The nurses were all huddled around the nurses’ station, probably talking about who they were going to vote for, as it was the day before the presidential elections, and they all turned around when they saw us coming. Immediately, we told them who we were, and silence fell.

I felt ill. This was not how it was supposed to go at all. I was supposed to walk in here in labor, already six centimeters dilated, and near ready to push, with everyone in awe at my strength and supernatural pain tolerance. And I would breastfeed my baby girl right away, and dress her in her beautiful pink lacy outfit (that was sitting inside the suitcase in our bedroom, already clean and ironed) and bring her home in that pink carseat to a house all set up just for her. But this? Nurses feeling sorry for me? I wanted to turn around and walk right back out.

A nurse brought us to a room on the quiet, empty side of the maternity ward, probably so we wouldn’t have to hear other people giving birth to living, crying babies. I wondered how they assigned a nurse to us. Did they draw straws? Did she owe someone something? I can’t imagine anyone volunteering for such a horrible event.


I think we must have been there over an hour before we even thought to call someone. How do you tell your parents, who have been looking forward to meeting their first grandbaby for nine months, that they will never get to? I hated that we would have to make one of these kinds of calls, the kind nobody ever wants to get, the kind that you think are only made in later life when your grandparents are getting on in years. That we would have to make one of those calls now, as healthy happy people in our twenties, it was too much to bear. I told Jeff he could call, but he didn’t have to if he didn’t want, and I sure wasn’t doing it.


He was so strong that day. He made the calls to our parents, one by one, out in the hallway. I’m so glad I didn’t have to see his face as he spoke those words. And he called his boss to tell him that he wouldn’t be back in for a very long time. Months later, we learned that his boss actually called our church that day to let them know about the situation, and thus we had our church praying for us from the very beginning.


On the phone, my dad didn’t believe the words that Jeff told him, saying that He knew our God was a miracle worker, and that Jesus could raise our baby from death. Until the next day when we left the hospital hours after Grace had been born, Dad didn’t believe that she was really gone. In my shock and numbness, I didn’t have the faith to believe that kind of miracle could happen. I loved my dad for it though—I loved his faith, and I loved his deep love for his granddaughter. If only I could go back, with the faith that I now have, and experience that day, I wonder if that miracle could happen? Could I have believed God and allowed him to work in such a big way? Maybe I wasn’t giving Him an “in.”


But God was there, beckoning me to him. Whether I wanted Him or not. All those years of my asking him to “be with me” to “comfort me” to “strengthen me” to “guide me” were coming to fruition. He was answering those prayers when I needed them most.


A song started playing in my head, one that I didn’t know I knew, but the words kept playing… “You spread out the skies, over empty space, said let there be light, in a dark and formless world…”

“Ugh,” I thought, “Go away music. Go away feelings. Go away everything.” I didn’t want to think, or pray, and I definitely didn’t want music. But the song kept right on playing in my head. “Gosh, where is that song from?”


Our nurse sat down on a stool in our room and asked me a gazillion questions. The doctors did too. Had I fallen recently? They all seemed to ask that question. Because, you know, there has to be someone to blame. Had the baby been kicking regularly the last few days? Car accident?


Everything had been so normal, the whole pregnancy! I felt not an ounce of guilt. Boy was I thankful at how perfectly I had treated Grace in there all nine months. There wasn’t anything I did that I wouldn’t do again. I wracked my brain, but no, there was nothing. This was as random and tragic as you could get.

Before beginning the induction, the doctor came in and prayed with us. One of the great things about our doctors’ office is that it was a Christian organization, and they were very open about the fact that they prayed for their patients. I don’t remember much about the prayer, except how I thought it was odd that she opened it by calling God “Daddy.” Maybe she did it on purpose, or maybe God just wanted us to hear it, but, He was a daddy too, and He too lost His only child.

Because it was so cloudy and gross outside that afternoon, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night, but it seemed like we’d already been there an eternity when 1:15 rolled around and it was time to get things started.


As it was still two weeks before my due date (I was 37 weeks and 4 days, to be exact), my body wasn’t even slightly ready to give birth. My belly hadn’t dropped, there was zero dilation, no contractions, no effacement, zip. It looked like Grace hadn’t planned on making her grand entrance for quite a while; she would have probably come quite late. We were well aware that because my body wasn’t ready, this induction may not work, and we could potentially end up having to go home and try this again on a different date or have a c-section—both which sounded like ways to somehow make my worst nightmare even worse.

In a small way, though, we felt like that part of things was already taken care of. People were praying for this delivery to go smoothly, and we could already feel God working through those prayers. This induction was going to work. And I was going to deliver a baby—who was no longer living. I’ve never been more scared in my life, or dreaded anything as much as I dreaded what was ahead of me.

30 comments:

Rachael said...

Heather, I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of that day and what you've been living through ever since.
Thank you for sharing Grace's story with us, and for encouraging us with your faith.

ashlee proffitt said...

My heart just broke again.

Tara said...

Heather,

I cant imagine how hard it is for you to write about what happened with Grace. Thank you for sharing, you are such an inspiration.

Kevin & Beth said...

Heather,
My heart still aches for you. I can not believe little Grace has been with God for nine months now.

Beth

Amelia said...

This post brought me to tears again. You are so amazing for sharing this with us, and for your strength these past 9 months. I know this must be incredibly difficult to write out.

All my love
-A

Pamela said...

My heart breaks for you, Heather. You are such a strong woman.

Lauren said...

Dear Heather,

My heart aches and breaks for you as I read your posts. Your faith in our Holy Father is amazing and inspirational. I pray for you often, as your story touched me from the beginning.

Lauren Koch (Ridenour)

Meghan said...

I will always be in awe of your stregth Heather. And your story will always bring me to tears. The love you have for both Grace and God is obvious and overwhelming.

Thank you for sharing.

Alex said...

Heather, your writing is so beautiful. Grace's story is meant to be shared. Thank you.

xox

Laura said...

Heather,

I have been in prayer last night and today for this post. I pray that you feel God's presence all around you today! Thank you so much for being obdient to the Lord and sharing with us.

Blessings,
Laura

rosa727 said...

This is so tough to read - I can't imagine that you lived through it. Thank you for sharing this - you are a beautiful writer.

bcschjenk said...

My heart breaks with you as you retell your story. I will continue to thank you for sharing though because you give others strength through this. God has been tugging at my heart to relive some of my own personal heartache and allow healing to happen. I pray you are finding pieces of love and healing along the way.

Anonymous said...

I am writing through the tears again wondering how you found the strength to get through the unimaginable. I am truly inspired by your faith and courage, and I pray continuously for you and your family to have peace and comfort in God's love. Thank you for sharing Grace with us.

janet said...

Heather,as I read your post today. my mind went back to that fateful day. The one thing that I will always be thankful for is being able to be there with you and Jeffrey.and seeing how God helped you through such a umbelievably sad experience. I am also thankful that I too was able to hold Grace in my arms and tell her how mush we loved her. The Glasgow and the Young familes were bonded forever that day. We were joined in our grief over the loss of our little Grace, and the love we have for our children-Jeffrey and Heather. But most of all we were joined by our faith in God and the knowledge that He will be with us to help us,guide us and to love us always.

Vanessa said...

Heather, your strength and faith is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing Grace with us through your beautiful writing.

Sarah Smith said...

Heather,

My heart sinks as I read about the day that you found out that your baby girl's heart had stopped beating. I think that what you are doing by sharing your story is an amazing thing and destined to touch the lives of people you don't even know. I can not wait to rejoice with you and Jeffrey in heaven when you meet your three beautiful children face to face. I love you both!

Sarah

Anonymous said...

Heather, It is amazing to see God at work through you, Jeff and Grace. I shared your blog with the girls at work and to see their emotions as they witness God's spirit through you is amazing. My prayer is that you snuggle in God's arms and just let him hold you. Your writing is so heart felt. God's Grace has changed me forever. Love to you and Jeff. Mrs Fulmer

Susan (Bellefior) said...

Heather, thank you for sharing Grace's story, even though I know it is incredibly difficult. Your faith in God and your strength are inspiring.

Anonymous said...

heather, I've followed your story and I cannot imagine what you have been through. I am not a religious person but I am impressed and humbled by your sense of faith. my little boy was born the week that you lost your daughter and as he celebrates his 9 month birthday today I will hold him close and send a prayer for Grace, and you, and Jeff.

Molly Whitmore said...

Your courage and strength is truly inspiring. You are such a strong women to share your story, and experience of your sweet Grace. I will continue to pray for you and your family, that God will bless you with a wonderful and perfect pregnancy.

KaraLyn said...

Heather, you do not know me, but my heart breaks for you as I read your story, and praises God that you are being obedient in telling it.

I fully believe that every situation we experience in life is an opportunity to choose whether or not Christ will be praised through how we deal with it. Jesus WILL be glorified through you telling this story. Blessings.

Tracie Miles said...

Heather - with tears in my eyes, I am praying for you. No words seem suffficient. Please just know that myself and everyone at Proverbs 31 is praying earnestly for you. Even though Sharon only sends occasional emails with updates, you are always on my mind, even though we have never met. I pray God blesses you with peace and blessings and the desires of your heart in every way.

Glynnis Whitwer said...

Dearest Heather - May God bring you healing and peace, minute by minute, as you heal from the deep loss of your daughter. And may the hope that you will one day hold her in your arms bring you joy.
Love, Glynnis (A P31 friend)

Rachel Olsen said...

So glad you chronicled this journey in this post, sweet Heather. And gracious do you look like your beautiful mother!

I pray the Holy God you serve, meets all of your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. And that the God of all Comfort continues to heal your heart and draw you unto Him.

You are quite a woman!

Suzanne Eller said...

Thank you for sharing your pain and your love for your beautiful little girl.

Anonymous said...

Heather, what a journey you've been on. what a beautiful woman of faith you are. thank you for having the courage to write this. blessings - melanie chitwood

Teske said...

Heather,

It take such courage to tell your story. God will use Grace in a mighty way. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praying for your strength and that you are able to rest in the comfort only He can provide!

If you are up for it, I encourage you to check out my blog (Mommies with Hope) http://mommieswithhope.blogspot.com
which is a part of a ministry I run for women who have experienced the loss of a child, like you, and like me. I pray that you will be encouraged by some of the posts.

By His Will,
Teske Drake

Mommies with Hope
http://mommieswithhope.blogspot.com
www.mommieswithhope.com

islandsunshyne said...

Hi Heather -

(It's Ang - prfctlyimprfct, from LJ). Just wanted to let you know that I'm reading along...I am so in awe of your bravery and strength and your ability to put this all in writing. Reading this brings me back to that very day, when I was reading along on LJ, learning of everything you and Jeff were going through. I can't believe it has already been 9 months...it is crazy how quickly time flies. I just wanted you to know that I think of you often. Really, I do. I am thinking of you guys and praying for you and for Grace.

You are an amazing, beautiful, incredible woman, Heather. And I am honored to "know" you, and to call you my friend.

Much love to you, hon.
xoxoxo
Ang

Anonymous said...

Heather: An old friend sent me the link to your blog after my husband and I found out we'd lost our baby at 20 wks on August 1st. Similarly, we had to deliver the baby and experience all the physical pains of childbirth (and after) only to come home to an empty nursery and a hole through the heart. I have found encouragement through your story, not in your loss and heartbreak, but in knowing that I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your heart and your faith.

Cami said...

Heather, my heart breaks for you all over again. It's hard to believe 9 months have passed since Grace went to be with God. Thank you for sharing your story and Grace's story with us in such a beautiful way.