Fantasy

I awaken to her early morning cries. I slowly crawl out of bed, and pick her up. I kiss her forehead and lay her on the changing table. I change her diaper as she squirms. I zip her sleeper back up and scoop her into my arms. We head over to the rocking chair.  I realize how big she’s getting; her body and legs cross over me and her little feet slide through the hole under the armrest.  She plays with my hair as she nurses. I wonder what she’s thinking about…

Is my fantasy realistic? How would I know? 

Is it healthy to fantasize about how things would’ve been? I don’t know that either. But sometimes I do let myself indulge in the sweet “what ifs”. 

Maybe it would be better to fantasize about heaven…

I see her loved and warm in Jesus’s arms. 

I see her being rocked to sleep by my PopPop or Daniel’s Grandma Ginny. 

I see her dancing with an angel. I know she’s playful.

Is she a baby in heaven? Will she grow up? Or is she an ageless being? 

I think she’ll greet me when I die. I imagine recognizing her right away in light and hugging her so hard. 

Is heaven somewhere else? Is heaven here? Can she hear me or see me or feel me? I just want her to know I love her. I pray and ask Jesus to let her know. Maybe she already does. I hope she knows her daddy and me and how much we love and miss her. 

I remember being pregnant with her and talking to her. I told her, “We love you, Ginny! Mommy and Daddy love you so much.” I could barely get the words out through tears. I couldn’t contain my love. I was so happy. I fantasized about holding her and taking care of her then too. I asked Daniel, “Can you believe that in 3 months we will have a one-month old?!” We laughed at each other with wide eyes. 

Sometimes it feels like I’m still pregnant with her, like we are still waiting. I’m still fantasizing. I’m still hoping she feels my love. 

She is getting older in my fantasies though. She’d be 8 months old if she was born on her birthday, and she would be almost 7 months old if she was born on her due date. Would she be sitting up on her own? Would she be eating food; would she like avocados, bananas, mashed potatoes? Would we have taken her for her first road trip to the ocean or the mountains? We’d push a stroller on our walks. She’d be there with us watching OU football and picking out pumpkins. I’d be thinking about what to get her for Christmas and choosing a “baby’s first Christmas” ornament….

Back to reality — How wonderful that she gets to celebrate her first Christmas with Jesus! She probably has a better understanding of the salvation and glory of Christ than we do. That thought does comfort me, but we will still have an empty stocking. 

Will my mind always drift in and out of two realities? – the would’ve been and the actually is. Maybe one day the two will meet when Ginny and I are reunited. 

Symptoms: Postpartum or Grief?

I’ve experienced a lot of symptoms over the past several months. Sometimes it’s confusing whether what I’m feeling is due to having just had a baby or having just lost a baby. I end up playing a quiz game – Is it postpartum or grief? 

Some symptoms are pretty straight forward: milk coming in – postpartum, thoughts of heaven – grief. 

Most of the symptoms are confusing: brain fog/memory loss, physical pain/achiness, crying frequently, hair loss, feeling isolated, fatigue. Those could be symptoms of either or both.  

Then I have those symptoms that feed off of one another. Postpartum instincts make me feel the urge to hold, feed, and check on my baby, which in turn is a cruel reminder my baby is gone. Then my grief symptoms get worse. 

If you’ve had a baby, you probably remember the surveys the doctors give you. These surveys are to check for postpartum depression. You take a little questionnaire about how much you cry and how you are coping throughout pregnancy and then after you give birth. Doctors use the results to determine if you may be experiencing some of the signs of postpartum depression or anxiety. 

I pitifully took the final installment of the survey at my 6-week check-up after my stillbirth. This isn’t looking good, I thought to myself as I was checking boxes. I cry all the time. My doctor looked at my sheet and said she thought what I was feeling was normal grief symptoms. She told me to let her know if I ever feel like I can’t function to do the daily tasks I need to as a part of normal life. That may be a sign of postpartum depression. I’m sure my survey would’ve raised some serious red flags had I had a normal birth, but I didn’t. I was healthy in grief. 

Postpartum depression was one of my biggest worries during pregnancy. I was so afraid it would steal some of the joy of having a newborn. I knew it was pretty common, and I have friends who have experienced it. It’s another dark heavy aspect of motherhood that people don’t like to talk about. It is much more common than we know (in fact, 10% of dads also experience postpartum depression). I have such sympathy to those who are going through that. 

But thankfully I wasn’t.  Even in all my tears and pain and sorrow after losing Ginny, I knew I didn’t have postpartum depression or anxiety. I knew because I knew what it felt like not to feel myself. I had anxiety during the first trimester of pregnancy. I felt like I was about to give a big important presentation to 100 people…all. the. time. I felt so nervous that I had to force myself to eat and I had trouble sleeping. I knew my job was stressful, but I had handled more stressful projects with ease in the past. When friends asked me how I was feeling, I’d say, “Thankfully I don’t have much nausea, but man these pregnancy hormones are kicking my butt. haha!” Then inside I’d be thinking I don’t think I can do this. I’ve never felt this way before. What am I going to do? I would go to the bathroom at work and cry. I was not my normal joyful self, even though I was so happy to be pregnant. Those hormones mess with your brain chemistry, and it is really tough. I’m so glad that that anxiety went away after the first trimester. I felt so much better from then on out in my pregnancy. 

And in my grief, I still felt like myself. I still feel that joy deep in my heart, through all the sadness. I’m so grateful for that because I know stillbirth can be a perfect storm for depression and anxiety. Then you have an even harder quiz: postpartum, grief, or depression. So many overlapping symptoms!

The further I get from Ginny’s birth, the less and less I experience the postpartum and grief symptoms. I’m still grieving and always will be, but the grief symptoms have changed. I don’t break down quite as easily, I’m not as tired all the time, and I’m no longer afraid to be alone. I do still think about Ginny all the time and cry pretty often. 

My postpartum symptoms, for the most part, have all gone away. I lost A LOT of hair between 3 and 6 months postpartum, but that was the last major change. 

This may sound crazy, but I know other Loss Moms have shared the same thing… It is actually comforting to experience postpartum or grief symptoms now, several months out. Every once in a while, my hip with ache like it did before and after birth. I’ll smile to myself and think, Yeah that really did happen. I didn’t dream it. I really am a mom. And when another hard wave of grief hits me, and I’ll feel a little comfort in that pain. I’m reminded that my heart still knows Ginny; I haven’t forgotten. 

I don’t know how long these symptoms will last, but I know there is one that will never go away – my increased LOVE. I love so much more now. I’m not sure if that is due to having a baby or losing a baby, but either way, it is here for good. 

When the Answer is No

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” – Matthew 18:19-20

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:13-14

These were the scriptures I had in my heart when Daniel and I were begging for Ginny’s life. In that dark ultrasound room, the technician said that she was having trouble finding the heartbeat. I started panicking. Then I remembered that my God works miracles. The technician left to get a doctor, and Daniel and I prayed harder than we’ve ever prayed before. In Jesus Name Ginny Will Be Born Alive!! We are asking for a MIRACLE! Please please let Ginny grow up. Give her life! Please FATHER!!

The doctor arrived, “I’m so sorry.” We had our answer. I was shocked. 

I was in shock that Ginny was gone. And I was shocked that the answer was no. I had faith! I believed! 

I’ve seen miracles. I know of pain gone, cancer gone, accidents avoided, lives spared, lives restored, unexpected provisions. I knew God could. But God didn’t.

God said no then swept us up in his arms and comforted us. I could very strongly feel his love for us and his broken heart, and yet the answer was still no. 

That whole night and next morning, I knew my family’s prayers. They were praying for more than my peace. They were praying for a miracle. They hadn’t had the chance to petition God for Ginny’s life. 

That’s why I was not surprised when we got to the hospital and my mom asked the doctor to “double check” that Ginny was gone. She didn’t mind when the doctor said that they had double checked yesterday. She knew God could raise her from the dead. But I had my answer. I did have the chance to petition. I knew in my heart the answer was no. In tears I told my mom, “She’s not here.” She accepted that, and we moved forward with the induction.

In the days since, I’ve been drawn to passages that I’ve glazed over in the past. Passages I didn’t want to focus on before. Passages of “no”. 

One of these is 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where Paul describes a “thorn” in his flesh. A physical ailment that he asked God to remove three times. God answered no each time and responded that his “grace is sufficient for you.” God did not answer in the way that Paul wanted. God used Paul’s pain to reveal the power of his grace to cover all weaknesses.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

Another even more powerful example is when Jesus is praying before his betrayal and crucifixion. He asked that this “cup” (his fate) be removed. It was clear that the answer was no in Matthew 27:46 when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had to face his fate and bear the sin of the world on that cross.

“And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” – Mark 14:35-36

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?’ That is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Matthew 27:46

In looking at both of these examples, we see the pain and suffering of the moment. But we know the bigger story and can see the eternal context. We can zoom out and see God’s grace covering Paul’s weakness. We can fast forward three days and see Jesus’s resurrection and the redemption of the world. The moments seemed hopeless and desperate, but that is not the whole story. Love and grace get the final say. 

I don’t know much, but perhaps the same is true for our stories. In the moments that God answers no, we only see disappointment. But maybe one day we will be able to zoom out and see the whole story in an eternal context. Maybe we will one day know the “third day” of our situation – one that stems from the redemption of Jesus’s third day. 

During my pregnancy, I prayed for two babies. I prayed for Ginny, and I prayed for a friend of a friend who I heard had a terrible diagnosis. From genetic testing, it was determined that this other baby had a very high probability of having a genetic disorder incompatible with life. The mother chose to carry her baby to term. A few weeks after losing Ginny, I heard that the other baby was born after an emergency delivery – perfectly healthy. No trace of the disorder. It was truly a miracle. He answered our prayers with “yes”. His will be done. 

Acts of Remembrance

As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous posts, it is so important to me that Ginny is remembered. Remembering her makes me feel closer to her. It acknowledges her life and impact and makes it more real.

Through this loss, I came to a deeper understanding of the value of remembrance. I can feel the power of a physical and symbolic act of remembrance. To honor someone or something through the act of remembering is spiritual. It connects our bodies to our minds and hearts. It gives significance. 

Daniel and I knew we were changed forever because of Ginny. We wanted a physical symbol to remind us of her, our love, how we were comforted in our sorrow, and all the lessons we’ve learned through suffering. We decided to both get tattoos to honor and remember Ginny. 

I decided to get her name on my wrist. I wanted it to be obvious that the tattoo has a special meaning. I want people ask; I want our future children to ask. So I will always share her story. I was already permanently marked in my heart. Now I am permanently marked on my body. I love it. 

Daniel’s tattoo is more symbolic. On days I think I may want to put my hair up, I wear a hairband around my wrist. During labor, I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to wear my hairband on my wrist because of the IVs in my hand. Daniel volunteered to wear my hairband around his wrist in the hospital. He used it to put my hair up for me before the epidural. He took care of me. That hairband fell out of my hair and behind my back in the hospital bed during delivery. It was there when we held Ginny’s body and gave it up. When we left the room, Daniel was sure to find that hairband and put it back on his wrist. He has worn it everyday since. It reminds him of Ginny, taking care of me, what we’ve been through, and what we are missing. It has been a physical reminder of the change he experienced. He decided to get a black band tattooed on his wrist to represent that hairband and all its meaning. So beautiful!

There is so much power in a physical symbol of remembrance. Something so small can have so much meaning. It carries the meaning around with it. It pulls on our hearts every time it is seen. 

Again and again in the Bible, we hear God asking people to remember – to remember his love, to remember all the times people cried out for help and God drew near, to remember what we’ve learned. Time and time again people forget. Time and time again, God reminds us. He reminds us, then he tells us to remember. 

Traditions in the Jewish and Christian faiths come from this call to remember. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus was sharing a meal with his disciples as an act of remembrance of the Passover. He broke bread, poured wine, gave thanks, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant of my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20) That covenant represents the reconciliation of man and God, the forgiveness of sins, and the defeat of death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 

The act of remembering that meal and Jesus’s loving sacrifice is called communion. At our church everyone forms a line and takes a small piece of bread from a loaf and dips it in a cup of “wine”. Sometimes Daniel and I are asked to help serve it. Daniel will hold the loaf and say to each person, “Body of Christ, broken for you.” I hold the cup and say, “Blood of Christ, poured out for you.” I look each person in the eye as we share in this act of remembrance again and again and again until the entire church has taken communion. If you ever get the opportunity to serve communion, I highly suggest it. It is not checking the box of religious ritual. It is a powerful and spiritual experience. Something about that physical act to acknowledge Jesus’s love for each and every one of us is overwhelming. My heart feels so full afterward. It is a symbol that carries so much meaning. 

Sometimes we need that. We need a physical symbolic reminder of what is most important. We get swept up in our lives and forget to remember. These acts or symbols of remembrance make us pause, think, remember, and feel the impact in our hearts. It keeps us grounded and connected to God and to each other. 

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” – Deuteronomy 4:9

“Do you have kids?”

I used to think that question was benign. I thought it was a safe question to ask when meeting someone new, like ”Where are you from?”. 

But this question is not safe. If someone asks me this question, there is a 80% chance I will cry in the next 10 minutes. 

The first time I was asked my immediate response was “no”. Luckily it was toward the end of a brief conversation with a stranger. One minute later I was in my car bawling. I felt intense shame. I felt like I denied Ginny’s existence. I called Daniel, and he quickly reassured me that we can answer that question however we want. There is no wrong answer. We may want to answer “no” to strangers who we don’t know or trust and “yes” to those we know we will be building relationships with. It’s okay either way. 

I agreed with him, but I still felt bad for answering “no”. Mostly because that was my automatic response. I didn’t even think about it. It’s not that I forgot about Ginny. It was that I knew it would make us both uncomfortable. I would not even consider sharing something so vulnerable to someone I don’t know. I came to the conclusion that those were not legitimate reasons to answer “no”. I vowed that the next time I would say “yes”. 

The next time was when we were out of town visiting family. We met our family’s pastor at their church. He asked the question. I responded “no”, realized I had broken the vow to myself, and then immediately started crying in front of everyone. I explained we had a stillborn daughter in February so the truth was “yes we do have a daughter in heaven”. He hugged me and assured me that I will soon figure out how to best answer that question. He and his wife prayed for us and shared encouraging words with us. 

I wouldn’t break my vow next time! I would respond “yes” no matter how uncomfortable or awkward.

….Why is it awkward anyway? And why do I care if it is awkward? 

It is awkward because people don’t know how to respond. We aren’t taught how to respond to death and grief, especially when a baby or child dies. People assume it is a taboo subject to bring up, so then they often profusely apologize for even asking the question. But it is okay to talk about. I love talking about Ginny. I don’t like when people feel bad for bringing it up or assume I’m in pain because of it. I’m in pain either way – your mentioning it doesn’t make it hurt more. 

I also think my immediate response is “no” because I don’t want to make people sad. This is a lot of people’s worst nightmare, and they are so sympathetic. I know it is silly for me to worry about whether other people are empathetically sad when we are the ones who are really sad, but something in me (Enneagram 9) hates making people upset….

The next few times I was asked was by fellow volunteers. We would get to know each other while working a volunteer shift together. I finally answered, “Yes I have a daughter, but she was stillborn at the end of February. She’s in heaven.” Most people would respond wonderfully. They would say, “I’m so sorry. How terrible?! I don’t know what to say.” Often they would tear up which would then make me tear up. Some asked follow-up questions that I didn’t mind answering at all. Those are the best conversations. I end up feeling loved, and I feel like I’ve honored Ginny by telling her story. Those shifts would end in hugs and smiles.

Then there were the people who didn’t know the right things to say…”Well you got pregnant once, you can get pregnant again.”  and “This sort of thing happens; don’t worry.” Those are the wrong things to say (bonus pro tip: never offer condolences with the words “at least”). I tried successfully to not be offended by those remarks. At their root, they are trying to make me feel better. They don’t want me in pain, so they try to minimize the pain and loss. But in doing so, they minimize my daughter’s life. Not helpful. Anytime I get a comment like that, I smile and nod and change topics. I don’t dwell on it, and I give them the benefit of the doubt that they meant well. 

Despite the inappropriate responses, I am going to keep answering “yes” for now. It could lead to a deeper connection with someone. Also anytime a story like ours is told, it reduces the stigma just a little bit. By talking about it, it makes it okay to talk about. That makes people feel less alone, spreads awareness, and ultimately spreads a little hope. And that’s good for everyone.