Invisible Daughter

This morning Chet and I were standing among a small group of moms and toddlers whom I hadn’t met before. We were in a park at a playdate that was kindly coordinated by a mom leader in our community to give us something fun to do on a Monday morning. The topic of birthing came up. The moms were swapping stories of epidurals, home births, and whether or not it was actually true that you forget the pain. I could feel my pulse rising. Was I feeling triggered by the topic of birth? No, I don’t think so. I love talking about both Ginny and Chet’s birth stories. I searched my brain for why my body was reacting. I think I was  nervous because I had to decide whether I should drop the bomb of stillbirth on this perfectly pleasant morning. I really wanted to. For me, it wasn’t a bomb; it was my motherhood story. I wanted to talk about my beautiful but invisible daughter. When would be the right time? Maybe I should let everyone else share first. I knew that once I spoke, the faces of laughter would transform into faces of compassion and concern. No one else will want to share their birth stories after that. I could feel my heart beating as I was summoning the courage to drop the bomb. But before I was able, someone changed the subject to carseats or preschool or something else for which I have no Ginny story. I felt both relieved and disappointed. 

One of the hardest parts of leaving North Carolina for Alabama was leaving our friends who were with us when we lost Ginny. With those friends, there is an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) understanding of how our lives were impacted by Ginny’s life and death, and that is comforting. When our NC friends see me as a mother or Daniel as a father, they see as us the parents of both Ginny and Chet. People here in Alabama only see Chet.

Now with each new person we meet, we need to figure out the best way to share our story with them. I love talking about Ginny. I love sharing memories of her pregnancy and birth. I love sharing about how God was with us through our sorrow. I love including her as part of our family. She is such a huge part of who we are. But it is not always an easy topic to bring up. 

One of the first friends we met here has a daughter named Ginny. What a great segue! – “We have a daughter named Ginny too!….” Opportunities don’t normally present themselves that easily. One of the next friends we met was 33 weeks pregnant; that was trickier. Although I don’t believe my story should require a trigger warning, I also want to be sensitive to the heightened hormones and natural fears that pregnancy brings. We held off on telling that friend until after her baby was born. It was hard to wait and sort of felt like lying. 

Being a stay at home mom, I often find myself standing among groups of moms at the playground, in Chet’s nature class, or in our stroller group. The other moms may ask me, “Is he your only one?” or “Is he your first?” I usually hesitate, which is awkward because it shouldn’t be a difficult question. I may have literally met this woman just seconds ago. I try to make a quick assessment based on who else is around, how much time we have, the likelihood I will ever see her again, etc. I may answer a quick “yes” with a smile and return the question. In these moments, my heart breaks just a little more and I feel a tinge of guilt. I feel like I denied Ginny and a huge piece of myself for the sake of comfort or time. I try to give myself grace and remind myself that it is okay to answer this way. Other times I respond by saying, “He’s actually our second. We had a stillborn daughter before him. He has a big sister named Ginny in heaven. We talk about Ginny a lot.” I also deliver this reply with smile. I try to show that we are hopeful and comfortable talking about her. That is completely true, but it also helps minimize their discomfort or regret in asking a usually harmless question. 

The responses I get vary. Most people say, “Oh I’m so so sorry. How hard! I can’t imagine.” This is perfectly appropriate. Some others don’t say anything and might just nod, which is not ideal but understandable. It’s hard to know how to respond, and I am not offended. I love when I get follow up questions about Ginny or my experience. I also love when people share their own stories of loss or friends’ losses. It helps to talk about this to know we aren’t alone and to dampen the stigma.

It’s amazing how much I can tell about people by their response to my sharing Ginny. I can usually quickly tell if this is someone that I will be able to have a deep connection with or someone who may want to stay more surface-level. There’s a place for both types of friendships. I can usually also quickly tell if someone has experienced hardship or sorrow in their own lives. Most of the time, when someone has experienced grief, they receive the gift of empathy. You can sense the difference between true empathy and more common sympathy. When I sense the empathy, I wonder what sorrow that person has had to bear. Sometimes they share, and sometimes they don’t. When I receive sympathy, they remind me of myself four years ago. I’m happy for them that they haven’t had grief, but I also know it will eventually come to them. Maybe my story and the hope I share will help them when it does. 

The more time we spend with our new friends, the closer we get and the more they understand how much Ginny is a part of our lives and hearts. I’m seeing it already. This weekend we had a sweet friend and her little girl over to watch football and play with Chet. We were talking about pregnancy, and she asked me about my pregnancy with Ginny. It meant so much to me to be able to talk freely about my daughter. It made her (and me) feel much less invisible.  

Parenting After Loss – The 2nd Year

In the baby loss community, you’ll often hear the phrase “My heart is fuller than my arms.” This is certainly true for me. Don’t get me wrong – one toddler keeps me very busy, but I’m definitely not as busy as I would be if Ginny were also here. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t take my time though. In fact, I spend way more time grieving Ginny three and half years out than I thought I would. She is still in my thoughts all throughout the day everyday, and I still devote hours a week to mourning her. What I’ve learned is that this is healthy and normal life after loss. 

Grief does not resolve on its own. Time itself does not heal. It takes work and devotion and Jesus to heal – and that does also take time. I think of it as tending a garden. If left ignored, the garden of grief will become overgrown with weeds and pests. Nothing fruitful will grow. For me when I ignore my grief, I feel very heavy with tension in my shoulders. I get irritable and irrational; I may lash out at those I love. I am not able to have as much fun or laugh as I normally would. In some others, neglected grief manifests itself in far worse ways such as addiction or violence. To prevent this, I must spend time “mothering Ginny” by mourning her. I tend to my grief garden by journalling, talking to those who care, praying, looking in her memory box, thinking of heaven, walking, reading passage of lament, listening to music or relevant podcasts, and crying. These activities are like pulling weeds, planting seeds, fertilizing, pruning, and watering. It is hard work but the result is peace, hope, and compassion for others. My heart is light and I can be my best for Chet, Daniel, and my community. 

A loss mama does not stop mothering her child once her child dies. So now I’m left trying to figure out how to balance parenting one living child and one child in heaven. As with all of parenting, it takes prioritization and intentionality. I do what I can to parent both kids at once. I tell Chet about Ginny, and we look through the special photo album from her pregnancy together. We thank God for Sister Ginny in our prayers. I think of her on our walks or in the car. I try to devote more time during Chet’s naps, after he is asleep for the night, and on the weekends with Daniel’s help. It’s hard to prioritize time to mourn over doing chores or errands that need to get done. It feels selfish to take this time. So occasionally I will put it on the back burner and focus on other things. Then slowly I feel the weight growing; I become weary and easily frustrated. Daniel sometimes reminds me that I need to take the time alone to mourn. I remember that this isn’t optional. This is a mandatory part of my life. I’m not sure it will require this much time forever, but it does now. It’s not selfish – it’s mothering my sweet Ginny and it is essential to be the mom I want to be for Chet. This is parenting after loss. 

Release

Sometimes the grief builds up and needs to be released. It feels heavy on my shoulders and on my heart. A good cry or journalling session usually does the trick to lighten the burden. If I go a while without being able to release the pent up grief, it just builds and builds. If it goes too long, I don’t have the energy to go about my normal day. 

One day a few months back, I was feeling this way. I knew I needed to cry, but I had to care for Chet. All morning I was feeding him, reading to him, and playing with him with a heavy heavy heart. I finally made it to nap time. My plan was to bounce him to sleep on a yoga ball while singing a lullaby (the ONLY effective way to get him to sleep at that time) and then go to my room and bawl my eyes out. I was looking forward to it; I needed the release. 

I started bouncing and singing, bouncing and singing. It wasn’t working! I kept bouncing and singing for what felt likes ages. He just kept looking up at me, refusing to sleep! I was getting frustrated. Ugh! Just sleep! I need to cry! I kept trying and trying. I called out to God, “Please help Chet sleep! I need to go cry! Please!” God responded, “Rock him.” I rolled my eyes. That will not work! He doesn’t sleep when I rock him. I’ve tried that a thousand time. It doesn’t work. I kept bouncing and singing, bouncing and singing. Nothing. “Ugh! God, please help Chet sleep! This grief is so heavy. I need to cry to release it. Please!” He responded, “Rock him.” That won’t work! I was getting so frustrated! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! Nothing. Ahhh! Fine! 

I angrily stood up and walked over to the glider, knowing that rocking him was futile. He never fell asleep when I rocked him. We sat down. I looked Chet straight in the eye and started rocking and singing the lullaby. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and started… laughing. He laughed a huge belly laugh and didn’t stop. I couldn’t help but laugh myself. The two of us rocked and laughed, rocked and laughed, rocked and laughed! Soon I felt my grief releasing and my heaviness falling away. 

Chet didn’t take his nap that day, and I didn’t cry that day. But we both felt refreshed. God saw my burdens and decided He didn’t want me to mourn with tears that day. He wanted me to mourn with laughter! Thank you, God! 

“He will yet fill your mouth with laughter.” Job 8:21

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:21

Parenting After Loss: The 1st Year

Over a year has already passed since we brought Chet home from the hospital. I still look at him in disbelief. I am in awe he is here! He keeps getting cuter and cuter, and I just can’t believe my eyes when I see him. 

One year is a big milestone for a lot of reasons. For loss parents, we are hyper aware that one year marks the end of the possibility of infant death. What a relief! According to the CDC, in the US more than 1 in every 200 people die in their first year of life (not including miscarriage or stillbirth). After having experienced baby loss, those odds seem monstrous. The chances of death greatly decrease for children over 1 year. Our boy is strong and healthy, and I’m so grateful! I wish I could say I have no lingering fears, but that’s not reality. COVID daily reminds us of our human fragility. Anything could happen, but that is also what helps us embrace every moment. 

We do embrace every moment and rarely, if ever, take a minute for granted. Time seems to be racing by, so I try to slow it down by rocking him for one more minute, putting my phone down (when I’m not taking thousands of pictures and videos), and having nightly family dance parties to the song Un Poco Loco from the movie Coco. We have a lot of fun together. My heart stings a tiny bit every dance party. Ginny’s not here. 

As more and more of Chet’s adorable personality comes out, I enjoy imagining the two of them playing together. Chet is so smart and interested in everything. He has a longer attention span than I thought possible for a baby. He spends time trying to figure out how things work and is very determined. But he is also very goofy. He never gets tired of laughing at our funny faces or sounds, and he loves making us laugh. He growls, roughhouses, makes loud noises, and throws things – all things I’m not used to, having been raised with two sisters. He LOVES music. It’s a privilege to learn these details about my son. I got a sense of who Ginny is, but I do mourn not knowing the details. I do know she is playful and goofy and fun. So I know she and Chet would have a blast together. 

Each milestone that Chet hits makes me so grateful to experience this. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, all we’ve been through, and who we are as a family. I’m hopeful for all that’s to come, here on Earth and in heaven. And my heart breaks…

My heart breaks in all the normal ways a mama’s heart breaks as her baby grows up. Recently Chet stopped breastfeeding. One day he just lost all interest in nursing. It was around when I was planning on weaning anyway, so it was actually great timing. Even so, I was on the verge of tears for three straight days afterwards. I know it was hormones, but it was also just realizing that Chet is not a baby anymore. He is growing up and that chapter of our relationship is closed. That time was so so precious. I will be forever grateful, honored, and proud to have been able to nurse him for so long. And for some reason, it made me miss Ginny. I felt like it triggered another wave of grief. Why would Chet’s weaning make me grieve Ginny? I asked a friend. She said that anything that marks the passage of time is hard. I think she’s right. Our family is moving forward, and Ginny is still missing. I think it’s also because now I’m taking the time to think back on this past year – all those sweet moments, cute smiles, precious snuggles – all the babyhood. Now I know what we are missing. Well I know the first year of what we are missing. And my heart breaks. 

Now we’ve started the second year. We are going to keep embracing every moment, making each other laugh, and remembering big sister. I’m excited to learn what else we’re missing! 

An Explanation

When the doctor said the words, “I’m so sorry. I have to give you the worst news.” everything went still. I could not believe what I was hearing; I was in shock. Yet somehow I still mustered the question, “Is there any way to know what happened?” He replied with a response that we would hear several times over the next 6 weeks, “Sometimes these things happen, and we have no way of knowing why. Fifty percent of stillbirths have no explanation.”

Half of all stillbirths have no explanation? How is that possible? With everything we know, how in the world is that possible? 

During labor with Ginny, Daniel and I discussed it. We would have tests done on me, Ginny’s body, and the placenta to try to find what happened. We decided it was not because we needed to know what happened to Ginny (nothing would bring her back), but it was so we could have all the information to help in planning our future family. All the tests came back negative. No cause could be identified. Doctor’s gave us reasons why it wasn’t a cord accident, it wasn’t genetic, it wasn’t anything we did, it wasn’t anything we didn’t do, it wasn’t my thyroid, it wasn’t my antibodies, it wasn’t an infection… The list went on, and everything got crossed out. I was relieved and disappointed at the same time. All they could tell us was that Ginny was small for her gestational age and the placenta was small and unhealthy.

We entered into pregnancy with Chet holding our breath with our eyes wide open. We didn’t know what had happened; it could happen again. But this time we would be closely monitored. If it looked like Chet was showing signs of growth restriction, we could potentially take action. 

Little did I know that all of Chet’s monitoring would actually shed light on what happened to Ginny. At the 11 week ultrasound, the technician identified that I have a septum in my uterus. The maternal fetal medicine doctors described what a separate uterus was. The interior of a normal uterus is shaped like a triangle, and mine is more of a heart. There is a divide at the top half of my uterus. It was something I was born with. Usually this anomaly results in recurring early miscarriages or preterm births. There wasn’t much data on whether it causes late stillbirths like mine. They couldn’t tell how large my septum was since my uterus was stretched during pregnancy. But if my septum was significant, they said it was possible that Ginny’s placenta had reduced blood flow. That aligned with the fact that the placenta was small and unhealthy, resulting in her growth restriction. The doctors explained that Chet’s placenta was growing up onto the septum, but we were already monitoring him. We would have to wait and see if it impacted his growth. 

Thankfully Chet’s growth was never impacted! He was born at a healthy 8lbs 10oz at 39 weeks!

After Chet was born, my doctors referred me to get an ultrasound of my empty uterus to evaluate the septum. I was nervous to get the ultrasound for multiple reasons: 1) ultrasounds are always kind of triggering since we learned Ginny had died in an ultrasound and 2) I so badly wanted an explanation for Ginny’s death. I was afraid that this, like all the other tests, would lead nowhere. I postponed the ultrasound multiple times because of this, using COVID as an excuse. Once I was fully vaccinated, I had no more excuses and anxiously went to my appointment at the hospital. 

God’s grace shows up again and again. He provided comforts for me during my appointment. As I was waiting in the crowded waiting room, I met a husband and wife who were staying at The Family House where I worked. They were there to get a check up after being 2 years cancer free! They told me how helpful Family House was to them and what a special place it is. Hearing that warmed my heart and helped me during the anxious wait. 

When I got called back for the ultrasound, the technician was a sweet young woman. She asked if Chet was my first, so I told her about Ginny. She empathetically listened, and then shared that she had a miscarriage two weeks earlier. We were able to have compassion for each other. We discussed losing a baby, when to decide to try again, and pregnancy after loss. We said we would be praying for each other. She was the exact right person at the exact right time. We both needed each other, so God allowed our paths to cross. 

After the scan, an OB who I’d never met came in. He said that my septum was in fact significant. He said that septums like mine do cause 2nd and 3rd trimester losses. The good news is that it can be removed with a simple outpatient surgery. 

It was the answer I wanted. It gave me such peace. This explains what happened to Ginny, and it is fixable! I knew in my heart that it was my body and not hers that caused her death, but I didn’t have an answer until now. Ginny’s death could’ve been prevented if I had known about my septum, but I had no way of knowing. Some guilt was lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t something I did, and I couldn’t have known. 

A couple weeks later I met with a surgeon from the fertility clinic. He said my septum is 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down into my uterus and it is very wide at the top. It is more of a wedge. He said I am a great candidate for the surgery. The surgery only takes 30 minutes, and the recovery is only a day or two. When I asked him his thoughts on this causing my stillbirth, he explained that the portions of the placenta attached to the septum would not receive adequate blood flow to keep up with the needs of a growing baby. Then he said, “What I can’t explain is how you had a healthy pregnancy.”

We knew Chet was a miracle. This confirmed it. He is a miracle in so many ways. He beat the physical odds to be born big and healthy even though I have a septum. He brings us so much joy and love as our rainbow. And because of him, we now have answers about Ginny. I’m so grateful for our boy! 

I’m scheduled to have my septum resection in early July. I’m a little nervous but mostly just relieved.  After over 2 years we finally have an answer. It doesn’t bring Ginny back, but it does offer some rest. I am blessed to be part of the small percentage of loss moms who found out what happened and can do something to hopefully prevent it from happening again. 

Parenting After Loss – First 6 Months

With nothing to compare it to, I’m not sure what about my parenting is different because of our loss. I can make guesses…most of my guesses have to do with either fear or gratitude. I don’t think I would have as much of either if Ginny hadn’t died. Life’s moments are more precious when you know how fragile it all is. 

It often collides into me when I’m rocking Chet to sleep. I think it’s because: 1) we are in his room that used to be Ginny’s nursery, 2) he looks so very precious sleeping in my arms, 3) I think of sleep as the most vulnerable time because of SIDS, 4) the stillness allows the blessings of the day to catch up to me. I can’t contain my gratitude for him! How did I get so lucky that he is actually here?! I want to kiss his cheek, but I don’t want to wake him. I kiss him anyway. What I wouldn’t give to kiss Ginny one more time! I can’t let the opportunity pass – I never do.

When it’s time to place him in his crib, I deliberately and symbolically place him in God’s hands. I am not the sustainer of life. I again pray Your will be done. As I lullaby, I often sing Chet a worship song called “Abba, I belong to you.” It is such a comforting song, and it is a good reminder for me. Chet does not belong to me; Chet belongs to Abba (God the daddy). I quietly step out of the room peacefully knowing that Chet is in God’s hands no matter what. 

… and then I turn on the monitor. Daniel and I watch that monitor like it’s Sunday night HBO. We analyze his heart rate and oxygen levels. We listen for cries and watch for wiggles. Hounding the monitor is better than leaning over him to check his breathing a million times which would be the alternative. We follow every single safe sleep rule every single time.

That’s the dance of parenting after loss – knowing you are not in control so trustfully handing everything over to God and then anxiously pulling it back inch by inch until you think you’re in control again. Then the thoughts come in: what if I accidentally drop him? kneel on him? scratch him? What if he chokes? What if he gets COVID? What if? What if? What if? ….I deliberately and symbolically place him in God’s hands as I place him asleep in his crib… the dance continues.

It can be exhausting. Parenting in general is exhausting. But I daren’t complain. I feel so guilty if I complain about Chet ever. It is a miracle he is here with us; what right do I have to complain? I was voicing this to my lactation consultant as she was helping me with my severely damaged nipples. She said, “This is really hard. You are doing a great job. It is ok to complain about this. It is ok to cry about this.” Just as I learned that joy and grief coexist, I am learning that you can feel so grateful and at the same time acknowledge the difficulties. It isn’t taking things for granted. (By the way, my nipples healed around week 8 after Chet has his tongue tie fixed – Hallelujah!)

I do feel a bit of anger when I think about how we shouldn’t be figuring things out for the first time now. We should have already been through this before. We should have experience with the newborn stages, the sleep regressions, the diaper rashes. We should be pros at loading the car up for a drive. We should know how to adjust stroller straps. We should have known not to buy those flimsy off-brand milk storage bags. I’m frustrated I didn’t know. It’s in the everyday reminders that we are 2nd time parents with 1st time problems. These inconveniences don’t matter at all; the hard part is that we are reminded that we missed it all the first time around. 

My heart wilts every time I think about her being here. I imagine bringing him home from the hospital and seeing her sweet reaction to meeting her baby brother for the first time. I imagine her making him laugh by being silly. I would need to always keep an eye out that she’s not sneaking him a gold fish or squeezing him too tight. Daniel and I would divide and conquer bedtime. We would have family hugs and family prayers. She’d show him everything. They’d be best friends. I’m sorry she’s not here. 

I’m so happy she was here though. Although he hasn’t gotten to meet her yet, Chet has a sister who loves him. He will always know her as part of our family. We will celebrate her life and look forward to meeting her in heaven. We acknowledge the broken world we live in and how it is still so full of beauty and love. We never take things for granted, especially every day we have with little brother. 

(Un)Fulfilled

A rainbow baby does not replace a baby who died. I knew this when Chet was born. That’s why part of me was surprised at how much joy he brought us. My heart felt so full; I didn’t expect so much fulfillment from having a living baby when Ginny is still gone. 

I started feeling kind of guilty for being so happy. Was I dishonoring Ginny by being happy? Was I moving on or forgetting her somehow? No, I wasn’t forgetting her. I still yearn for her as much as ever, if not more so. But there was a part of me that was empty and is now full since Chet arrived. 

After talking with Daniel about it, I realized what it is… When Ginny died, we didn’t just lose our daughter. We lost the ability to be parents in the way we imagined. Instead of changing diapers and pushing a stroller, we were writing in journals and crying together. Before Chet arrived, weekends were often when grief hit hardest. Our weekends were empty when they should’ve been filled with taking care of Ginny. We always felt like we were supposed to be doing something, like we forgot something. But we were just parents without a child. 

For me it was physical as well. After giving birth to Ginny, I had hormones and instincts driving me to want to care for a baby. I needed to hold and nurse my baby who wasn’t here. For months I would anxiously look for her when my instincts would tell me she needed me. It’s the same feeling I get now when it is nearing time to feed Chet again. I feel a nervousness and urge to take care of my baby. But now that urge is fulfilled. Finally! After a year and a half, my physical need to care for a baby is met. 

Now our weekends are busy with Chet baths, smiles, and tummy time. We are finally experiencing the typical parenting life. That part of what we lost is back. And that feels good. 

But as I mentioned before, a rainbow baby does not replace a baby who died. As overcome with joy as I am that Chet is here, I do still hurt for Ginny. I’ve noticed that any minute I have alone is filled with grieving and thinking of Ginny. In the shower, drying my hair, walking to the mailbox, driving to pick up my Target order – any minute that I’m not taking care of Chet, I’m thinking of Ginny. It feels like if one kid doesn’t need me, the other does. I don’t feel like I actually get any time to decompress. 

I do want to think of Ginny and continue to mourn her, but I also need some time to just rest my mind. I haven’t found the balance yet, but I think if I designate specific time for mourning Ginny (journal, pray, look through her memory box, read), it may relieve some of the built up grief and allow me to have moments of rest. Or maybe there is no such thing as rest for a mother of two under two…even if one of the two is in heaven. 

Surreal

Delivering Chet in the same hospital that I delivered Ginny was pretty surreal. A year and a half later we were back at the same place doing the same thing but thankfully under different circumstances. There were a few moments that brought back such vivid memories of Ginny’s birth. That made this experience surreal at times. It was like deja vu, but it felt like a dream instead of a nightmare. 

Two of these surreal moments were when I was being escorted in wheelchairs. The first was after I delivered Chet; I was wheeled by my nurse to my postpartum recovery room on the 3rd floor. As I rolled down the hall with Chet bundled in my arms, the memory of rolling down the same hall empty-handed flooded my mind. I remembered being explained that I was going to the 6th floor instead of the 3rd floor so I don’t hear babies crying. I remember being congratulated by well-meaning, uninformed staff as I left the labor and delivery unit. My nurse whispered to me, “I’m getting you out of here. I’m getting you out of here.” I remembered not being pregnant anymore. I remember being so so disappointed. All these memories came back to me crystal clear when I heard staff congratulate me and I replied with a smile and a “thank you”. Wow! I have a baby now. I have a reason to be congratulated this time. I made it! I was proud of myself for one moment. Then I got really sad. I was sad because I missed Ginny, and I should have been holding her down this hall a year and a half ago. I was sad for my old self. I felt sorry for her because she was blindsided, broken hearted, and didn’t even fully know what she was missing. And I also felt sad for every other woman who has to roll down that hall empty-handed. I thought of all that devastation in the same place most people only know joy. That hall can seem so very lonely, but it can also be so joyful. Surreal. 

The second time I was in a wheelchair was when I was being discharged. I remember how painful leaving the hospital was without Ginny. I knew her body was getting an MRI, and we were leaving. I couldn’t believe I was going without her. Waiting for me at home were the daunting tasks of facing the nursery, physically recovering, and figuring out how to fill my days without Ginny. Those moments of rolling down the halls, in the elevator, and through the lobby were torture. I just wanted to get to the car as soon as possible. I remember my escort was stopped by a couple of people asking for directions. I was so frustrated at them. The information desk was 10 feet away! I wanted to yell, “Can’t you see that I  have been through something traumatic and finally got discharged?!! And you are keeping me from getting home right now!! Ahhh!!” Of course I sat quietly clutching my vase of flowers instead of a baby. 

This time was a whole different story. I did have a baby in my arms! As I headed down the hall, I remembered last time. I remembered how painful that was, and I was so happy I have come full circle. Chet had survived, and I was actually taking him home! I never fully believed we would bring him home until that moment. I felt triumphant…until we reached the elevator and I remembered COVID. Oh yeah we are in a pandemic, and I have a tiny, vulnerable newborn in my arms. As we exited the elevator, people in masks rushed by this way and that way. I don’t ever remember seeing the lobby that busy. People would stop or linger staring at me and Chet. “Awww how sweet and cute! Congratulations!” they would say. I just wanted them to step away. Could they be infected?! As I waited for Daniel to pull the car up, I contemplated whether it would be better to cover Chet’s face with a blanket. That didn’t seem like a good idea, but he was so exposed without a mask. I hunched over him and lifted the blanket so he would maybe be more protected at least in one direction. My escort was a feisty older man. He said, “Don’t worry. I got you. There is no way I’m wheeling y’all out of the same door people are coming in.” He proceeded to roll us around the corner and out an emergency exit to avoid the crowds. I couldn’t thank him enough! His thoughtfulness made me feel so much better. 

As traumatic as some of the memories of my hospital stay with Ginny were, I’m glad I delivered Chet at the same place. It felt redemptive. I felt strong. I also felt so so grateful to remember those moments. I’m glad to remember them to not only honor Ginny, but also to recognize what a miracle Chet’s life is. This could’ve gone differently, but instead we were blessed with a beautiful, living baby boy. I was also reminded we could make it through anything and God will be with us… even in a pandemic. 

Season of Joy

Standing on the beach in San Diego right after finding out that the baby in my belly was a boy, God promised me joy. I felt so strongly in the moment that God was telling me that my season of sorrow would not last forever and that he does have joy in store for me. After the year of such intense grief and a heart full of worry for my unborn child, it was hard to believe that I would experience joy. But as soon as Chet’s first cries hit my ears, that promised joy rushed into my heart and onto my life. I can honestly say I have never been happier! Even with everything going on in 2020, I have never been happier. 

I miss Ginny more than ever. I still often cry longing for her, but those tears are so full of love that they don’t steal my joy. 

I am so incredibly proud of myself for making it through the last couple years. I’m proud of myself for surviving, for being brave enough to change my life in positive ways, for enduring pregnancy after loss, and for hoping. I’m proud of myself for listening and following the Holy Spirit even when the path wasn’t the clearest or most logical. The fruit of following the Spirit for me this year is JOY. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

Joy isn’t something you can always force (although I’ve tried RE:Joy). It is something God gives you. It runs deeper than your circumstances, but having a beautiful baby boy in your arms does help. I’m so incredibly grateful for this season. It wouldn’t be this sweet without the hardships of the last season. 

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” –  Psalm 126:5

I’ve been in the valley. I’ve done the hard work in processing loss. I’ve questioned “why” and wrestled in lament. I only saw darkness in my future. But God walked with me through the valley. God listened to my lament. God’s kind and patient presence lifted me out of my season of sorrow and into a season of joy that I couldn’t have imagined. It is beyond all my expectations. 

If you are in a valley now, do not give up hope. God is beside you, and there is a season of joy ahead for you too. 

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

Chet’s Birth Story

It’s been a little over a year since I shared my last birth story. At that time, I didn’t know when or if I’d be sharing another one. Ginny’s birth was an epic and healing experience. I immediately looked forward to the opportunity to deliver another baby – ideally living. Not a single time in pregnancy with Chet did I dread giving birth. I couldn’t wait, and by the end of the pregnancy I felt desperate to deliver him. I felt he was safer outside the womb than inside. After a month of prodromal labor, I couldn’t believe I actually made it all the way to my induction date at 39 weeks. 

Delivering during COVID was another thing to think about, but honestly it wasn’t my biggest worry. After being immersed in the baby loss community, I knew what all could go wrong without a pandemic. I still wasn’t convinced we would bring home a living baby. I was just grateful Daniel could be there with me.  

We arrived at the hospital around 8:20am and stood in a short line at the door to be screened for COVID before entering. They asked if we had symptoms or traveled, took our temperature, and gave us masks. We would be required to wear masks any time we were outside of the room and any time someone came in the room. 

We headed up to the 4th floor, got checked in, and were walked to my room. I had always visualized delivering in the same room we delivered Ginny, but of course it was a different room. It felt smaller, but it had a nice view. As we got settled in the room, we set out a picture frame with the pictures of Ginny’s ultrasound and a sunflower. I knew I would need be able to see my girl and have something to point to when explaining our loss to hospital staff.   

Daniel went to get a visitor’s pass. They already had his picture on file – the picture on his pass was from the day Ginny was born. When I looked at Daniel, I could see the picture of a man who just lost his daughter next to the face of a man who was about to welcome his living son. There were so many reminders of what we’ve been through. But thankfully this time was different; we saw our baby’s heartbeat on the monitor.

I was already 3-4 cm dilated so they were able to start pitocin right away. My nurse was kind and very knowledgable. It was clear she studied my chart and knew my situation. She explained that since I’ve had a lot of extra fluid the doctors may want to break my water in the operating room. One of the risks of extra fluid is cord prolapse after water breaks. If there is cord prolapse, Chet could be without oxygen and an emergency C-section would be necessary. She also said that since I have a big baby, the doctors will probably let me push for 3-4 hours before suggesting a C-section. She was trying to prepare us for the different possibilities. I was praying for a vaginal delivery, but I told the nurse my only expectation was a living baby. 

By the early afternoon, my contractions started getting more intense, and Chet’s heart rate started dropping after each one. I got really anxious. The nurse came in and suggested that I lay on my left side. That seemed to help Chet’s heart rate, but it was frustrating since I knew I needed to move around to encourage him to descend. I worried how Chet would be able to tolerate pushing if he wasn’t even able to tolerate contractions. I was overwhelmed – I worried that Chet was having a hard time, and I was missing Ginny so so much. 

Around 4 pm the contractions started getting painful so I requested an epidural. The epidural went smoothly and worked on both sides unlike last time. Thankfully Chet’s heart rate stopped dropping, and he seemed to be able to tolerate other positions. I felt so much better physically and mentally. 

After the epidural the doctors checked my cervix, and I was 5-6 cm dilated and 80% effaced. Chet was still not fully engaged so they decided to wait a bit longer to break my water. They didn’t end up needing to do so because at 6:20 pm my water broke on its own! I started freaking out because I was afraid of cord prolapse. We quickly called the nurse in. She said that they would be able to tell pretty quickly if that happened by looking at the baby’s heart rate; Chet’s heart rate looks great. I was so relieved. She called the doctors and started prepping the tables for delivery. 

The nightshift nurse came in and introduced herself. She was very kind and enthusiastic. She said she is a really close friend of the nurse who helped deliver Ginny. We talked a bit about Ginny. She said her babies were over 10 lbs each and she loved delivering big babies. She asked how I was doing. I still had no pain because of the epidural, but I could feel pressure. She said she thought it would be soon and called the doctors.

At 8:20 pm the night team of doctors introduced themselves. They checked me and I was fully dilated. They told the nurse to have me start pushing and to call them back in when it was time. I had labored in a mask, and now I was about to push and deliver in a mask. I didn’t even think about it – I was so focused on Chet and doing what I needed to do to get him here safely. The nurse coached me to take deep breaths and push as hard as I could during contractions. Daniel held my leg and encouraged me. It was clear the nurse was in her element; she got so excited as she could see Chet’s head full of hair. She had Daniel come look as I was pushing. She asked if I wanted to look with a mirror; I quickly answered no. Before long he was about ready to come. The nurse called the doctors, and they came in. I kept pushing as hard as I could when I felt the urge. I pushed for 45 minutes.

At 9:18 pm Chet was born! They immediately placed him on my chest. As I felt his arms and legs with my hands, I was overcome with happiness. I held my breath and waited for a cry. I heard gurgles and then a cry. I started sobbing! He’s alive! I looked over at Daniel and he was crying as well. He is finally here! I couldn’t see him very well since he was up at my chest and I was wearing a mask, but I felt him. I felt his little hand was holding tight onto my necklace, the necklace that reminds me of Ginny. It was such a special moment. I kissed his head through my mask. I heard a nurse call out the APGAR score of 8/9. I knew that was really good! I was so so thankful! 

The next couple hours were spent holding him on my chest. He was so beautiful! I couldn’t believe he was actually here! He breastfed right away. My heart was so full! He weighed 8lbs 10.8oz and was 21.5in long. Daniel held him, and we took a picture as a family. I was overwhelmed with love and joy! 

Both my labor and delivery stories are pretty similar in that they followed strikingly similar timeframes. Both experiences were beautiful and such an honor. But this time instead of a heartbreakingly silent, precious, and far too short moment with our daughter’s body, we were given a loud, bright-eyed, squirming baby boy. Instead of hearts flooded with love and sorrow, we had hearts flooded with love, joy, and excitement. What a contrast! What a blessing! God was with us during both experiences. Both experiences were powerful and life-changing. I’m grateful and extremely proud of both birth stories and both my beloved babies.