Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Encouraging things to say to someone who has lost a child

Over the past almost 18 months (wow, can you imagine me having a kid that old right now?) since Grace left us, we’ve had SO many encouragers come alongside us. Some of the things people wrote us and said to us in have been mind-blowingly good. The best were the simplest statements, each which carried an immense weight of meaning.

Now, I was planning on sharing the “Do’s and Don’ts” of things to say when someone has lost a child, but after looking over the “Don’ts” that I'd written, I realized that some people might be offended. And honestly, the last thing I want to do is make someone feel badly. Not one person who talked to us or sent us a card or message was ever mean-spirited, nor did anyone mean anything other than support. So, I just want to share with you the “Do’s” so that in the rare and tragic case that you ever encounter someone who has lost a child (God forbid), you’ll know some uplifting things to say.

But, as a note, often the best thing to say is nothing at all. Just being there can be the best way to comfort someone who is grieving. A simple card with your signed name or a homemade meal or a shoulder to cry on or a Starbucks drop-off or a necklace with the child's name engraved in it – all of these were done for us and they all beautifully classify as "being there."

Encouraging things TO say!

It makes me cry when I read through the beautiful things people wrote to me in the months following Grace's death. How was everyone so inspired with such encouraging, deep, heartfelt words? Had I never been through something like this, I would have never known what to say, and yet, somehow you all knew. The following are my favorites, but there were hundreds more that blessed me similarly!

1.You’re a great mom. Grace is blessed to have you as her mom.

People who said this to me became some of my favorite people on earth. Because, they knew and acknowledged Grace as a person, a human being, who was loved by her mother – me! They recognized the positive of the situation – that in the process of being pregnant with Grace, I had become a mother.

When saying this, use the present tense. Just because Grace died doesn’t mean I wasn’t a mother before and after she died. Having a child living on earth isn’t the definition of parenthood! To parent is simply to raise and nurture a child, or to cause a child to come into existence. Grace originated in my body, I nurtured her for nine months, raised her body from a tiny ball of cells, communicated with her, was her friend, showed her love unconditionally, experienced her life with her! I was and am her mother!

2. Congratulations on giving birth. Congratulations on your daughter.

Counter intuitive in the situation? No, it’s actually one of the best things anyone thought to say. They saw my daughter as an accomplishment, one that I worked so hard for, and spent so much time and energy and love on!

3.She is beautiful.

What a perfect thing to say. Instead of focusing on the death aspect, you can compliment and bolster a mother’s pride by telling her how awesome her child is. People also commented on which parent they thought Grace looks more like, and mentioned several of her unique features.

4.I’m praying for you.

 If you really do pray for the person, then saying so will mean a lot. God worked through the prayers that were lifted up for us during our most difficult days. And it will mean even more if you continue to pray, and tell the person you are months later, when most people will have forgotten and moved on from the loss.

 5. God will bless you again.

Being confident in God’s power, and looking to the future– that is the perspective I really wanted and needed to hear when I felt practically hopeless. One of my friends actually bought and saved a “congratulations on your pregnancy” card many months before I became pregnant with this baby, as she was in complete faith that God would bless us with a healthy pregnancy again and she’d have a chance to send it. How cool to receive that card with her message written inside about the story of faith behind it!

6. You look great. Good job on the weight loss!

It’s great when people remember that the mom who just lost a baby is also dealing with everything that comes with being postpartum – leaking boobs, physically recovering from childbirth, the night-sweats, the hormones, the weight loss. Compliments on the one positive thing that is happening to the mother – her body returning to normal (a few months down the road) – are very well received ;)

7. I will miss her. I will never forget her. She made an impact on my life.

Recognizing Grace as more than an unborn baby – but as a human soul who lived on this earth, whose existence made the world a better place, who brought glory to God her Maker – that’s all any mother could want to hear about her child (living or not). Amen!

And there were so many more. People complimented her grave-site, headstone, the labor and delivery, our strength, our faith, our story, our God. If there’s one thing I know about mourning, it’s that positive comments go a very long way.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The journey towards a healthy pregnancy began as follows…

(Side note before I begin – because I’m in such a happy place now, it’s a little tough to go back to the depths of my emotions in 2009. So, I’ll leave out a lot. I can’t talk about her funeral – as beautiful and worshipful as it was—and I can’t talk about the many ways I mourned her and missed her. I just can’t go there right now. But please know that even though I don’t write out my feelings of mourning Grace, it doesn’t mean that that didn’t fill my every thought for more time than I’d care to remember. And when trying for another baby, we were NOT trying to replace her – she is simply not replaceable.)

“The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”

When I came home from the hospital and began my mourning process after losing Grace, one of the first things I did was open my Bible. I wasn’t really looking for answers – I was looking for a familiar friend. God was there, and I needed him more than ever before in my life. I immediately went to the place I had left off the day before Grace died – Job 38.

I cannot tell you how powerful it was to realize God had put me there, in that chapter, enduring sadness I’d never experienced before in my life -- what irony. Because up until that chapter in the story, God had allowed Satan to take away everything Job had -- his source of income, his home, his health, but more importantly – he’d lost his 10 children. Satan had killed every last one of them. I connected with Job on a level I wish I didn’t.

Up until that chapter in the story, God hadn’t showed up. And all the while, Job never rejected God. But in chapter 38, God spoke.

I shivered.

And it’s funny, when He finally spoke, God didn’t explain himself. He didn’t tell Job that Satan was the one causing him all of this strife. He didn’t tell Job that He was merely allowing Satan control in the situation. No, he just poetically tells Job about the details of his creation on earth – down to the goats and ostriches -- that He loves and cares for.

And that love -- that power -- humbled poor Job. After everything he’d been through, Job realized that God was still a loving God.

And Job asked for forgiveness.

And you know what came next? It’s so good it brings tears to my eyes, especially now. It says that after Job prayed, “the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” It gets better. “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. … And he also had seven sons and three daughters.”

In my own utter despair, I gained a flicker of hope.

He’d given me hope that He’d bless me again.

I had hope in Him, even though I hated what God had allowed to occur. And much later, I would go on to cry out to him in anger. The year after Grace died got progressively worse over time, as shock wore off and I truly began to mourn. But hope remained…


The first six weeks after Grace’s birth were a daze. My body and mind were in such a state of shock that I didn’t really know what was happening. My brain turned off and my emotions didn’t kick in. I was blank. Coffee, my life’s one luxury for which I’d longed for nine long months, didn’t taste like anything. I couldn’t cook, exercise, talk, or go to the store. My breast milk came in and I didn’t have a baby to feed – my body was so confused. Between adrenaline from the shock of tragic loss, and the crazy rollercoaster ride of postpartum hormones, I was most certainly not myself.

But God was there even still.

He was present through people, friends, acquaintances, even strangers. From the moment we got home from the hospital (actually, before we even left!), flower arrangements, trinkets, books, and heart-felt cards started flowing in. With cards and Facebook messages and emails, we literally got hundreds of each. A lot of times, I couldn’t even process what they said. I also didn’t really notice who sent the cards, but I felt comforted by their presence. Some days, going to the mailbox was the only thing keeping me going. I wish I could say I was exaggerating. Our mailbox was so overflowing that on a single day, we would get 30 cards. Often, I didn’t recognize a single person who sent a card. People in different churches, in different states, friends of friends, all were sending us encouragement. If you were one of those who sent one, thank you – you’ll never know how important you were.

With Facebook messages and emails, we got so many that there was no actual way to respond to them all. And they just kept piling up. We hoped everyone would understand that we were in mourning and we could only accept people’s thoughtful acts, but not return them.

God continued to bless us through people. One afternoon, we stepped outside the front door, only to find an anonymous envelope bursting at the folds with several hundred dollars in cash. (And boy, were we in need – our hospital bills and the genetic testing they did on Grace were enough to put us in bad financial shape, not to mention the burden the burial and funeral put on our parents). We also received a check in the mail for nearly $1000, from a group of my lovely girlfriends, who’d also purchased a star in Grace’s name. Several others sent money and gift cards, some offered to do our shopping for us, and our small group from church made us meals.

We allowed people to pour into us when we needed their support to stay standing. And in December, only days before Christmas, we needed that support more than ever.

Another Attack

I think that by Christmastime, many had assumed the worst of my mourning would be over. After all, it had been six weeks. But as you know, I’d been in shock, and hadn’t even started the process of sorting out my emotions. All I’d done for six weeks was breathe all day long, and then cry myself to sleep every night. Well, on December 20, I began what I thought was my first postpartum menstrual period. I was slightly and oddly glad at what seemed to be the return of my fertility. But within hours, gladness moved to fear, as the bleeding became scarily excessive.

I called the doctor’s office, only to hear them tell me it was only a heavy period. I called again the next day, clearly worried, and still, they were not. The fourth day, I felt so weak and lightheaded from ever increasing blood loss that I couldn’t even sit up. I was on the floor, curled up in the fetal position, when the doctors called back finally convinced that I needed to get an ultrasound … and fast.

The smell of ultrasound gel, and the cold dark room drummed up terrible memories of November 3, and I became feverishly gripped by fear. I was so terrified and crying that I couldn’t even tell the ultrasound technician what was going on – Jeff had to explain the situation. And unfortunately, the ultrasound showed something terrible. When I’d delivered the placenta after delivering Grace, somehow large pieces of it had remained inside of me. Clearly, my body thought it needed to get rid of them, and had been basically bleeding me to near death. Had I continued to bleed at that rate, I don’t doubt that I eventually would have died.

I would need an immediate D&C, a surgical procedure where they scrape the inside of your uterus.

If I had wanted to begin to heal emotionally, this was quite the setback. For one, retained placenta can cause horrible uterine infection, and infection can cause scarring. And a D&C on an infected uterus can cause even worse scarring. Your uterus can be ruined; the ability to get pregnant can be taken away.

We were well aware of this and it was my last thought as I was put under general anesthesia. “How, Oh God, could you continue to allow more and more heartache?”

When I awoke and was puking (as is what I always do after being heavily medicated), my doctor told me that there was no infection. We had to wait several weeks, though, for the biopsy for what was in there. It could be cancer, it could be anything.

I then moved into a state of panic. I had thought we were over the worst of the tragedy, but then the new fear for my health had taken me by surprise. I spent much of my time just praying that God would stop me from allowing myself to slip into such a dark depression that I couldn’t come out. (Thankfully, when the biopsy came back, it had not been cancer. It was indeed placenta. But our fears about what that D&C had done to my uterus remained for the next several months.)

But there was always that teeny tiny hint of hope. We knew God would bless us again. We simply knew it down deep in our souls. God had placed this UNQUENCHABLE desire to be parents to living children.

Stepping Forward

And so only two months after Grace went on to be with the Lord, we started trying again for her little brother or sister. We knew things would be easier to endure if we had another baby to nurture, a baby would be the fulfillment of our desires. And in March, we got pregnant again. In utter weakness, I didn’t allow myself to get excited. I was numb and didn’t want to experience pain again if we lost this baby. This baby would be due in November like Grace had been. It was eerie.

But this one went home to be with the Lord too. Satan was attacking me when I was at my lowest low. You see, I didn’t think God would allow me to go through more pain after losing a full term child. I didn’t think more pain was even POSSIBLE. But it was, and it caught me completely off guard. It was the death of yet another one of my children.

I can honestly say I was walking in misery for the next few months. I was in so much pain that any little thing that anyone said had the potential to deeply wound me. I didn’t want to see people, especially mothers with newborn babies. We even stopped going to our small group bible study for a while. Everything reminded me of Grace, everything reminded me of what we’d lost. And I was always prepared and waiting for another dose of pain, a new tragedy. My body and mind were living in anxiety, always expecting the worst.

Honestly, when we bought our house and began the building process in May, I wasn’t even thrilled about this momentous occasion. I just wanted to be a mom. We found out the builder accepted our offer the day I learned I wasn’t pregnant that month.

But in June, we got pregnant again. This pregnancy -- which I was trying desperately to keep with progesterone supplements and bed rest (I even missed Jeff’s brother’s wedding because of it)-- was even more difficult than the other when it, too, was lost. I knew my purpose on earth is to bring God glory, and I knew God had planted this desire in my heart to bring Him glory THROUGH being a mother. But I told God that if I didn’t get to be a mom to a living child, I really didn’t know if I wanted to live at all.

After that second miscarriage in July, we wondered if we had a serious problem -- that maybe there was something new causing these losses. While I was still in the process of miscarrying, I made our first appointment with a fertility specialist. We had already done genetic testing on Grace (even though we knew the cause of her death had been the cord entanglement), and as we expected, the results had shown that she’d been perfectly healthy in every way. They’d done every blood test in the world on me too. Thyroid was good, no blood clotting issues, no hormonal imbalances, no nutritional deficiencies, nothing. So the doctor suggested – much to our horror – that there could be something physically wrong with my uterus, that maybe when I had the surgery to remove the retained placenta in December, perhaps the surgeon had been too rough in there and caused scarring. I already had symptoms that hinted at scarring, making it all the more likely.

This, to me, was the worst-case scenario. If scarring was covering much of the surface of the uterus, a baby could never implant deeply enough to live past the first trimester. I might never be able to have kids again.

Something within me told me this wasn’t right. But I wanted to be sure. So we agreed to move forward with semi-invasive testing to see if there was something going on in there. Of course, I posted here on the blog when I was debating whether that was a good idea. I knew God was going to show us a miracle. Should I allow doctors to dampen my faith?

After some serious prayer, I cancelled the procedure the day before it was scheduled.

But the next month, I was disheartened once again, and I went through with it – even after I’d had a serious flu only days before, rendering me bedridden with a high fever (I think I may have gotten H1N1—it was the sickest I’ve been in many years). And praise be to the God of all, the procedure showed that there was nothing wrong with my uterus.

I wish I could say that was enough for me -- that that was evidence enough that God was going to get us pregnant -- but I was still fearful. The month after that, we did a different procedure to see the uterus once again. And again, nothing was wrong.

All the while, through every one of these trials, God was building my faith in Him.

Believing God

With the loss of Grace and my miscarriages, I realized that God doesn’t cause death. As a matter of fact, he sent His Son to conquer death once and for all. He is a LOVING GOD. But sometimes God allows Satan (see the story of Job!) and the powers of darkness in this world to attack us and attack our tiny unborn babies. The thing was, I never realized before how much power we have in Jesus’ name to overcome the enemy and defeat his plots against us! But my faith had to be strengthened.

It was first strengthened through prayer. Throughout much of my life I had sort of figured that we were supposed to pray, but that it didn’t make much of a difference because God was going to do what he was going to do anyway. Of course, that was until I started to read and think about what God actually says about prayer.

For one, he says in James that the “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” I must have read that verse a million times before, and it never dawned on me that the power in the verse was the “in faith” part. I had spent so much time just begging and pleading for God to give us a healthy pregnancy and a living child at the end, but I didn’t truly believe God would definitely answer my prayer. It’s funny how as Christians, we’re called believers, but so often we are filled with disbelief. We needed to pray in faith that God would remove whatever was causing the death of our unborn children. We needed to actually believe God is all-powerful.

I could go on and on with verses that say the same thing about faith and prayer. From His word, we knew He was going to heal us. Psalms 103:2-3 “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”

There were a lot of people who asked me, in one way or another, how I could still love or trust a God who had allowed me so much hurt, so much death and loss. Some went so far as to mention that children may not be God’s will for some people. (By the way, to attempt to tell anyone God’s will for his or her life is a pretty bold move – don’t do it unless it’s scripturally founded!)

Thankfully, I had found in God’s word some exciting stuff regarding our offspring – that having kids is indeed His will. We know that in the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1, He commands us to “be fruitful and increase in number.” Children were his beautiful idea, and He didn’t just allow us to have them – He commanded us to!

The Bible is FULL of verses in which God calls children a “blessing,” a “reward,” and our “inheritance.” Having children is clearly God’s desire for us, his will. I began reading these verses daily, writing them out and taping them to every surface of our house, memorizing them, speaking them aloud.

“He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” Psalm 113: 9 “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Psalm 127:3-5 “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.” Psalm 128:3

(there are LOTS more)

And you know what else I found in his word? I found that every single barren woman in the Bible conceived and gave birth to a living baby. You just don’t see sustained barrenness and miscarriage in the Bible – they are not His will.

With scripture, faith and constant prayer under my belt, I was ready to believe without doubt that God had healed us of anything that could cause miscarriage, and that He was about to bless us with a generation of Godly offspring. I’d begun praying like I’d never prayed before. I began believing in God’s power like I’d never believed before. I continued worshiping God for being the awesome loving creator that He was and had always been in my life.

A Year Complete

It was by October that I had truly turned a corner. We were nearing Grace’s birthday, and instead of being depressed and perpetually teary (as I had expected to be), I was actually feeling joy from time to time. I was able to thank God for blessing us with our nine precious months with Grace, and was genuinely thankful for the life He’d given me – a husband who was perfect for me, a new home, a freelancing job I loved, an overwhelming peace and confidence in Him. My soul longed and cried out to God for a baby, but I had faith that a baby was coming.

In mid-October, Jeff was supposed to be a groomsman in a wedding in Minnesota, and the day before we were to fly out, I had a breakdown. I’d thought my emotional wounds had healed, but a year of mourning had worn me down, and it all came flooding in. And I was bitter than an entire year had passed since we lost Grace, and all I seemed to have accomplished that year was to get through the worst of my mourning. I feared that the happiness of a wedding would cause me to be jealous of the newlyweds’ innocence – they’d probably get pregnant on their first try, never lose a baby, never experience this kind of pain. But Jeff, being the loving husband he is, prayed with me, let me sob, patiently listened to me express my pain. (He’s such a good listener!)

And that was the last time I was deeply sad.

We went on to the wedding, and I felt genuinely happy for the couple. And I felt healthy and energetic for the first time in a year – I’d lost all of my pregnancy weight plus some, we’d been eating even healthier, exercising. I’d also quit my caffeine addiction cold turkey the month before, and felt somehow very alive despite my lack of coffee. I was able to truly enjoy the wedding.

The day we flew out of Minnesota, my period started and for the first time, I didn’t cry my eyes out.

When we got back, our time and thoughts were filled with moving out of our rented townhome and into our newly built long-awaited first HOUSE. I wept as I packed up Grace’s room, folding the tiny pink dresses, taking down her soft floral crib bedding, opening the memory box that held a lock of her blonde hair and her footprints and death certificate. But I was beyond ready to move out of the place that brought us so much pain, and move onto a new home that I was confident would see many blessings! Before the floors had been installed in the new house, we had written verses of God’s many promises on the floors, as we declared His presence there, and dedicated the home to His glory. We were thrilled to move into a place that was associated only with JOY.

On October 31, we moved our stuff out of that wretched townhouse and into our new home. We then slept each night at Jeff’s parents’ as we waited anxiously for our loan to go through so we could sign the papers, become official homeowners, and finally be allowed to “live” in our grand new home. Closing day kept toying with us, being scheduled for a day, and then being pushed back several more. Somehow, we were calm and collected and lived out of a suitcase with no complaint.

Grace’s birthday came when we were still waiting to close on our house. It was a gorgeously sunny fall day, and we couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief that we’d made it through the worst year of our lives. We were blessed, even though our little girl wasn’t with us, even though we weren’t celebrating her birthday with her.

We visited our new house that evening, and… little did I know, (okay, I actually knew) I was ovulating. Technically we were trespassing, since we didn’t own it yet, but heck, our bed was there.

And so, on the very last day of a very long year that had been filled with the stifling pain of death, God blessed us with new life.


Somewhere in the blur of happy days to follow, we closed on our house (YAY) and Jeff carried me over the threshold -- it seemed very much like a fairy tale or an old Kodak commercial. Now, I can’t say that pregnancy wasn’t on my mind, or that I wasn’t the hormonal obsessive woman that I always was in that post ovulation two-week-wait, because I was -- for goodness sakes -- trying to get pregnant. But I pushed the thought to the back of my mind, determined not to let my joy be stolen from me by worry.

One evening, 1.5 weeks after Grace’s birthday, I picked up a box of two pregnancy tests from Target. To have waited so long to buy them was amazing for me, because usually I would stock up on tests and start testing days before I could sensibly get a positive result. This time, I was going to be stress free – one test would be enough to tell me yes or no.

I slept soundly all night, and even woke up late that cheerfully sunny Sunday morning. Jeff started breakfast downstairs as I walked to the bathroom, ripped open that test and took it. Waiting patiently, I repeated scriptures against fear, and couldn’t help but just praise Jesus and say his name over and over.

It took less than the time limit for a beautiful pink (you KNOW it’s my favorite color, for good reason) line to pop up in the test window. No sooner than my eyes sent the good news to my brain, I yelled to Jeff, “this is really positive.”

It wasn’t a questionable line like it had been in previous cycles, it didn’t show up late, and I wasn’t using the most sensitive test on the market. The line was more clear and perfect than it had ever been before – we were pregnant, and this baby was going to stick. And wow, how crazy that we’d conceived on November 4?!

Jeff and I praised the Lord; I took the other test in the box just to see the pretty line get darker, and we began a new journey of faith, now believing that God could bring this baby to our arms, full term, healthy, ALIVE.