Follow by Email

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Parenting after a Loss

     The beauty of a rainbow, the brilliant color after a storm. Hope shining through the dark sky.

     My heart has been all over the place this past month. Mostly I have been filled with intense feelings of thankfulness, of gratitude. My heart has been so full, as I have the opportunity to watch my sweet rainbow baby grow up right before my very eyes. It is truly such a privilege that at one time, I was not sure I would ever be able to experience. Yet here I am, watching my little Noah discover the beauty of this world. Some days, when I see his bright eyes light up in wonder, I just catch my breath, wondering how I am so blessed. Seeing the world through his eyes, has made me look at everything from a whole new perspective. I think back to this time two years ago, when we were facing our very first Christmas without our daughter. It was the hardest holiday season, filled with grief beyond anything I had ever known. That year I skipped Christmas, because it just hurt too much. I did not want to celebrate, did not want to watch others celebrate, I just wanted to cry and be alone. I remember writing in my journal that all I really wanted to was to go to sleep, and not wake up until the middle of January. I just wanted it to all be over. It felt like a cruel joke. It felt like my heart was being sucked right out of my body, and even breathing was difficult. It was all I could do to get out of bed each morning, and I couldn't wait to get home each night, and just lay under a blanket and cry. That season was also filled with eager hope, and bitter disappointment. Josh and I both knew that we wanted another baby. I knew that I wanted it, needed it, to help heal my broken heart. But as much as I wanted it to happen right away, we had to wait once again. So in the midst of my intense grief during the holidays, I also experienced the very clear sign that my body was not yet growing that precious rainbow baby my heart so longed for. It was a very, very, tough season.
     This month, as I anticipate the holiday season that is now upon us, I have been crying out to God to speak to my heart. I have felt a longing, deep in my heart, to continue to minister to others. I have felt God calling me to continue sharing Caroline's story, our story, and Noah's story. There are so many ways that God has woven these stories together, and so many amazing miracles that take place in each of them. It is truly such an honor to watch how God is writing each of these precious stories. I just feel like He has taught me so much, and through that I want to be able to reach out to others. I still do not know exactly what He is calling me into yet, but I pray that He will make it clear in the right time. For now I am praying for an open heart, an open mind, and that I will be ready to answer His call when the time comes.
     Throughout this past 14 months, I have been learning so much about what it means to be a mom to a baby who comes after a loss. This is an area where I was completely unprepared to face before Noah was born. I expected it to be emotional, and to be full of joy and healing. And do not get me wrong, it has been all of those things and so, so, much more! But at the same time, it has been incredibly challenging. I never anticipated the ginormous amount of tears I would cry over his sweet baby head, as I thanked God over and over and over again for allowing me to be his mom. I never anticipated the worry that would flood my heart at the smallest details. I never anticipated the happy tears, and the sad tears that would mix together as I watched Noah experience the precious milestones and "firsts". I never anticipated how my body would handle both the trauma of losing Caroline, and the intense relief of holding my very healthy, much alive, baby boy. I never anticipated all the parenting fails, that leave me feeling full of guilt. I never anticipated the way my mind would wander to worst case scenarios. I never anticipated how not being able to breastfeed my daughter would impact my 13 month breastfeeding journey with my son. I never knew. I never expected. I could not have fully prepared.
     Being Noah's mom, and being able to raise him each and every day, has been my greatest joy and privilege. There are not even close to enough words in the English language to fully express how much this little boy has healed my heart, and brought so much love and laughter into my soul. He is such a gift from God! Noah's story, and the amazing way that he entered into our lives, is truly orchestrated in beauty. I hope to share Noah's story, in full, with all of you in the soon future! As I look back over these past 14 months, where we have been able to hold him here in our arms, I am just filled with such gratitude. God is so good! We love our little boy so much!
     But our journey to parenting Noah has been tricky too. In the same way that my pregnancy with Noah was so different, because of what we went through with Caroline, our parenting is different because of our experiences as well. I have realized that there are not many resources available for parents who are expecting/ parenting a rainbow baby. It is an area that could use more support, and especially more research. I know that personally I had to battle through many tough issues, some of which I am still struggling with each day. Some days I just felt so alone, and wondered why, when I finally had a healthy baby in my arms, was I feeling this way, or that way? I am beyond thankful for my friendship with a dear friend, who was walking down the very same journey. A friend who stood beside me, listened to me, and understood exactly what I was feeling. In so many ways, I wish there were ways to be able to offer that unconditional support to others. I would love to be able to help other moms realize that they are not alone in this parenting journey. Because truthfully, parenting a child after losing a child, is so different. It is SO SO SO GOOD! But it is different.
     I do not know what God has in store for my future. But I do pray that He will continue to give me opportunities to minister to others. To share some of what He has, and is continuing to teach me. I know that this world is a tricky place, and often it is easy to get down with all of the sad news surrounding us. I know that entering into this holiday season has already brought up a flood of emotions for me, and I know that it is only the beginning. It is just a clear reminder that in the good times, and in the bad times, we must cling to the One who holds it all in His hands. May we focus on that truth as we anticipate the joyous coming of our King! May we enter into the advent season with bright eyes, like those of a child, filled with eager anticipation and excitement for the arrival of the True Gift, the tiny baby, the One who entered into this world, our world, as the most helpless babe. Yet through His story, His life, we are able to watch the most beautiful unfolding of this true Gift, the sacrifice, that was given for you, and for me.

         Oh Come, Let Us Adore Him!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Seasons Change

     It is that time of year, when the weather gets cooler, the leaves change into brilliant colors, and glittery frost begins to appear on the grass and the rooftops in the early mornings. Fall has arrived in Michigan! To be perfectly honest with you, I am not a huge fan of cold weather, and I truly get so sad at the thought of winter arriving in just a few short months. If I could have summer all year long, I would be a very happy camper. But we live in a place where the season change. We go from hot to cold, to really really cold, to cold and then hot again. Living in Michigan for my whole life, has taught me that there is so much to learn from each season. There is a beauty that comes along with each change in the weather.
     This morning as I was drinking a cup of tea on the couch, I glanced out my window. Looming above the tops of the houses, I saw the beauty of the trees. They are no longer just different shades of green, now they are filled with leaves of many colors. The reds, oranges, yellows, and browns all blend together to create a beautiful picture. A picture that makes even me, start to love this season. If you just take a minute to stop and admire the beautiful trees all around you, it is nearly impossible to not find yourself loving the change.
     As I sat there, gazing at God's masterpiece outside my window, it hit me with a sudden rush. Oh how much changes within me during each season as well. I reflect back on how far I have come since I began writing this blog over two years ago. In just six short days, I will have reached yet another day that has so much significance in my heart. The day that three years ago, I took a pregnancy test that changed our lives forever. The day that I discovered for the very first time, that we were going to be adding a little one to our family. It never ceases to amaze me at how those dates will forever remain imprinted in my heart, my mind. I will never forget that feeling, when I saw that positive sign slowly appear on that little screen. So many emotions. So many thoughts. So many prayers of thanks. We had waited so long for it to finally happen, and then it did.
     But now, reflecting back on that day, three years later, oh how much has changed. How many seasons have gone by, with that missing piece of my heart still gone. Sometimes I just long to go back to that one innocent moment, when I stood barefoot on that cold tile floor, gazing intently to be sure that I wasn't just seeing a positive sign, because I wanted it so badly. Back to that season of my life when innocence was "normal". Back when I didn't know that anything could go wrong. When everything finally just felt right. When after months of trying to get pregnant, we finally were!
     Yet here I am, in 2016. This morning I had to flip my calendar into the month of November. That day, the 8th day of November will come and it will go, with nothing visibly changing. It will be just another day. But so much in my heart will change, just as it has during the course of the past three years. I know that I will experience thoughts of what could have been, what should have been. I know that I will experience sadness, and the longing to hold my sweet girl just one more time. I know that I will experience joy, at the thought of the 35 weeks I had with her. I know that I will reflect back on all the ways that my life has changed since that day.
     In the months following that cool November afternoon, we experienced excitement, disbelief, eager anticipation, and even a little bit of fear, all the normal feelings that most everyone faces at the thought of becoming parents for the first time. But then we entered into anxious worry, as the snow and cold of the winter months bit sharply at our faces, at the initial news of something not being right with our much loved, much wanted little baby. Our hearts were stunned, shocked, and completely numb at the news that our baby was not going to survive outside of my body. News we NEVER EVER NEVER expected to hear. The months following, as we watched the winter unfold into the blooming of spring, we walked down the journey of the shadow of death. Knowing fully that our chances of holding our baby alive were slim, and that our time as a whole family was going to be very short. We felt the bitter cold turn into the warmth of the spring sunshine, as we grieved each day at the anticipation of having to say hello and goodbye. Each day was torture, as my heart so desperately begged me to do something, anything, to save our beloved baby. Yet even with the greatest technological advances of our day, there was nothing that we could do. My heart pleaded with God to save our baby, to heal her, to fix her. All the while we waited, unsure of the unknown future. Somehow, in the midst of the chaos surrounding the changing of the seasons, I felt joy, deep down in my heart. I felt joy as I watched my belly grow and expand. I felt joy as I felt those first fluttering kicks. I felt joy as my sweet baby grew and moved around inside of me. I felt joy as I sang to her each morning, and before bed each night. I felt joy as I read to her, all the many books that I had been so eagerly collecting for my first baby. I felt joy as I talked to her about her daddy, and shared the depth of my love for her through stories and whispered words. I felt joy each time I got to experience all the fullness of this life, and knew that she was right there inside of me. I felt joy in knowing that she was safe, and cozy, and alive right below my steadily beating heart.
     Then the seasons began to change again, the clock continued to tick, and the calendar continued to flip. As we entered into the month of June, I knew that we only had one month left. One month left of her knowing the safety and security of my body. Each day the sun began to get warmer, the sky turned a more brilliant shade of blue, and the smallest buds began to poke out on the rose bushes. Summer had now arrived. Just 17 days later, the time had come. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I wanted more time. Needed more time. This was not suppose to happen yet. My body was failing me. Failing my daughter. It was not July 22 yet. But somewhere in the midst of the pain, as I lay in bed late that Monday night, wishing, hoping, praying that the contractions would stop, I felt God's peace surrounding me. I felt God's hand lifting mine as I made that emergency phone call to the doctors office. I felt God's strength filling me as I whispered "okay" when I was told it was time to go to the hospital. I felt God nudging my heart as Josh and I sat on the cold floor of our laundry room, holding hands, and pleading with God for the life of our baby. In that moment, we once again committed the life of our sweet baby into God's hands. The peace that surrounded us throughout that night was beyond anything we could have asked for. As I lay in that hospital bed, listening to the incredible sound of our baby's heartbeat, laughing with Josh about the  ugly hospital slippers on my feet, we knew that God was there. Throughout all the season changes that had occurred during my pregnancy, never once had our God changed. He always and forever remained constant. He was there with us that Fall afternoon when I took that pregnancy test, He was there with us that freezing snowy morning when we first heard the diagnosis of our baby, He was there with us each windy spring day as we grieved, hoped, and loved our precious baby that was growing inside, and He was there that early summer morning, on June 17, at 5:16am, when they pulled our beautiful, oh so loved, first daughter out of my body. He was there beside us as we said hello, as we admired and loved on her, and He was there as we whispered goodbye 19 minutes later. He was there as we held her in the hospital, soaking up every moment. He was there when I kissed her perfect little cheek for the very last time, and stroked her baby soft hair. He was there holding up my arms as I handed her over, the very last time I would ever hold my baby on this earth. He was there as Josh and I drove the streets of Grand Rapids, making our way back home, alone. He was there as I walked into my house, fully feeling the weight of what was missing. He was there in the long, sleepless nights. He was there through the shuddering tears, and the desperate pleas. He was there as we lifted that tiny white casket, and placed it in the ground. He was there as we kneeled in the cold wet grass, and said our goodbyes. He was there in the days that followed, as we tried to continue moving forward with our life. He was there. He was there. He was there.
      He was always there.
     Now today, as I once again embrace the changing of the seasons, I find that there is hope rising inside of my heart. This hope that I had lost, and often wondered if I would ever find again. The hope that had been dimmed the day I heard those life changing words. I remember wondering so often during those long days after saying goodbye, if I would ever feel like myself again. I wanted to hope, desperately wanted to hope, but it was so hard to see around my pain, my heartbreak. Yet I smile today when I think about the hope that is now much more clear. It is a hope that has far greater meaning to me than ever before. As I watch my little boy eating, with a sparkle in his eye, I see that hope. Even though nothing will ever be the same, and we will forever have that missing piece of our family, I can start to see the shadows clearing when I watch to see how our story continues to unfold. God has given me a reason to smile again, a reason to sing, and a reason to laugh. God has restored hope into my heart. I am ever so thankful!
     The changing of the seasons brings so many memories to my heart. So many happy memories, ones that I will cherish and smile over forever. But it also brings about sad memories as well. Memories that bring tears to my eyes, memories that hurt my heart, and some that I wish I could forget forever. Yet they are all a part of me. They are all a part of who I am, as a wife, as a mother, and as a child of God. They are proof that through the storms and through the calm, God is there. Although our lives change so much, and we go through the good times, and the really hard times, God's love never fails. And that my dear friends, is something that we can rejoice in, and something that we can cling to. My hope for you today is that no matter where you are at right now in your life, whether you are experiencing the chaos of a raging storm, or enjoying the peace of a calm of a quiet day, that you can rest safely in the arms of our Father, who promises that He will love YOU always.