Category: life after loss

Five Years Later

A friend of mine always gets a kick about how I keep track of time…

That was 5 years ago this spring.

That was before I started getting pregnant again.

That’s when we were at the theater.

That’s when I was Tweeting.

That’s back from our road days.

 

…and on, and on.

Last week, I started Tweeting again. I need to for my job, but in order to relearn the language, I started using my personal account again. Like all things social media, it’s a giant rabbit hole, not just of information, but of emotions.

I soon “saw” people I hadn’t seen in awhile and got caught up on one of their stories. Perhaps the most emotional one for me is the story of Sara Frankl, known on Twitter as “@gitzengirl.”

I read Sara’s blog for years. And in the middle of a crazy, turmoil-filled season in my life, she passed away after an agonizing battle with a rare disease.

I am delighted to see her legacy is moving forward, captured in a book and a foundation and the constant reminder to CHOOSE JOY.

Rod and Kel's Beach House

In five years, literally everything about my own life has changed. We moved two more times, and as of this July, we now live in our “BEACH HOUSE.” Through connections very divinely-ordered, we “have our own house” again, one mile from the ocean, with palm trees and golf carts and a salty breeze. It’s unbelievable…

kids Aug2016

We had three more children… two of them born to heaven, and one of them growing like a tall Carolina pine tree. I will never understand the baby that came to us (one year post-tubal-ligation) this January, and I may never quite get over saying goodbye to our Jesse at the end of February (2 years from the day of our first miscarriage), after seeing his perfect beating heart. But I am grateful for the new filter through which I view life… it’s always surprising, it’s always abundant, and we are never alone.

This year of 2016 has been full of the unexpected. We lost friends to moves, and gained friends who moved closer. We lost friends to disagreements, but gained others through grace. We lost a few dear friends to death, far too young in our eyes, but welcomed a few special little ones earthside. And I learned that redemption of sadness and loss maybe doesn’t look how we always thought it would.

our beach at full moon

And I am reminded that every story ends with an ellipses. There is always more to be told…

As I write this today my heart is full on many levels. I have missed coming to this place and sharing, but I know my life is so “abundant” right now that this is a privilege rather than an appointment. It’s one I will take. We never know what is coming tomorrow, so the life in our hearts should be expressed RIGHT NOW.

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Last Time Mom

take pictures in your heart

In the American birth industry (oy ve, it is an industry) a woman who gives birth over the age of 34 is considered “advanced maternal age.” Some statistics say that 20% of babies are now born to women over 40.

So there are a lot of “us.”

I first encountered “AMA” after the horrible appointment in February 2014 when I was told my baby had no heartbeat. My doctor wanted me to schedule a D&C that day, but since I was experiencing no miscarriage symptoms, I chose to wait.

Note: I do not regret this at all. Based on research, it was very possible that my tilted uterus was obscuring the view of the fetus and things were fine. However, God “helped” me out in that 5 days later, I began experiencing pretty severe symptoms along with another ultrasound that showed the fetus was shrinking. I inevitably had a D&C, but I would have never rushed to one.

Anyway, when she sent me away with follow-up paperwork that day, I had to look up everything it had said: “Threatened AB” (which means threatened abortion – potential miscarriage), “AMA.” I am not sure what my age had to do with anything since I had never had a miscarriage nor had any pregnancy complications, but alas. I was labeled.

My granddaughter Nora and me
My granddaughter Nora and me

It became clear to me early in my subsequent pregnancy with Jack exactly what AMA meant. You want to know my unprofessional summation?
It’s a marketing scheme. Surprise! We are in ‘murica, where one of the most natural processes on Earth has been turned into a sanitized and overly-scrutinized-by-insurance choose-your-own-adventure with very little adventure unless women happen to know they can take ownership of their own stories (that’s another post). And being AMA did not mean a darn thing in terms of my pre-natal care or experience, other than I was offered and encouraged to have optional genetic testing done, including an amniocentesis, to determine whether my baby had any genetic defects… even though there was no history in my or my husband’s family to put us at risk for anything other than Celiac disease, dry skin, and chronic stubbornness. 

I declined all the tests.

Please understand my heart. I understand and empathize with why these tests are valuable to some people. I have heard the song “I Will Carry You.” I personally know people who experienced the tragic outcome of trisomy 13 or 18 or have had babies born who needed immediate critical care. But I also know people who did everything preventative in their power, tests, precautions, and were still surprised by a diagnosis in their child that was devastating. And even when we are “prepared” with knowledge, what can we really do in instances of tragedy?

So my heart here was… We are going to get the child we are meant to get. He or she might be in perfect health or might have something severely wrong. Either way, we will care for that child with all the love and resources we can. We would not terminate a pregnancy based on genetic testing because basically, all of them have more than a small chance of being wrong.

Thankfully (and I thank God daily), Jack progressed beautifully. I had a bonus ultrasound at 16 weeks which I thought was only going to tell us his gender (he was, ahem, All Boy), but when the tech took us through indications and markers that I didn’t even know existed and showed us that we essentially had nothing to worry about, my exhale turned into tears pretty quickly.

In a previous post, I mentioned how I compartmentalize my fears. Yeah. I had done that. And I didn’t realize how scared I was that my age or some other factor was adverse affecting my baby until I was told that he was fine.

A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!
A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!

So what good was it to be AMA? Well, here are my thoughts:
A few weeks before my due date, I felt like the oldest woman in the world!

– as a 37 year old with 2 previous births, a miscarriage, and having raised 2 step kids from puberty to adulthood, I had…well, the wisdom of experience. I don’t ever consider myself wise, but at this point in life, I do consider myself experienced. So when other expecting mothers (and I was blessed to be around a lot of them while pregnant with Jack) had concerns and questions, I was able to be That Mom… the Titus Mom…not the voice of expertise, but the voice of experience and encouragement.

I was very clear about what I did not want. I did not want any interventions I didn’t need. I didn’t want to gain unnecessary weight. I didn’t want my baby to have bottles or a schedule.  I didn’t want to fuss with things that didn’t matter or try to take care of anyone outside my immediate family. These were all things I did differently when my girls were born… I had an unnecessarily clinical aftermath of Kaity’s birth (and probably an unnecessary C-section, but that is also another post), I had a hard time losing weight, I didn’t know enough about breastfeeding and gave up for the wrong reasons, and I tried much too hard to take care of more than what or whom I needed to.

I also knew what I wanted. A gentle C-section (thank God this was a readily available process at our local hospital and with my preferred doctor). On-demand, relaxed breastfeeding. Not too many visitors (I lost on this one a little, but only because our baby is so loved).

– I knew what to expect. This mattered on so many levels. I knew what to ask for during all the pre and post operation procedures. (Rod got to be with me during most of my pre-op, not because I was nervous, but because it is boring! If only I had asked for this when I was getting my D&C..)! I knew how to cope with the surgical pain. But more importantly… I knew time was going to fly. I knew Jack would look like a different person in a week. I knew those blurry, mostly-sleepless first nights would not last forever. I knew it was just as important to take pictures with my heart and mind as it was with my camera. And so I savored every single moment. And I still am.

I can espouse on and on about the privilege of being a “last time mom.” I guess that’s a more applicable and less smart-aleck way of reusing the term Advanced Maternal Age. Even though my hair is graying and 40 is only a year and a half away, I don’t feel advanced about much of anything. The longer we are raising kids, the more questions parenting brings. That is why it is important to be a community that shares with love and encouragement. I hope as a mama and stepmom and grandma (this still makes me smile and shake my head), that is what I will always do.

Life After Loss

IMG_7650Let me put this disclaimer out there: I cannot even pretend to touch the subject of grief. It’s big and it’s personal, and from my standpoint, it suffers by comparison. In recent months, I have had friends who lost a infant, lost a young child, lost a husband. All these losses blow my mind and my heart. I can’t speak to them. I can only speak to my deepest grief thus far…

“I will trust and not be afraid. I will arise and go forth by His name.”

Recently, I had a conversation with some friends about a mutual friend who is pregnant. The theme of the conversation was fear. It was, “Yikes. That news is out there early… what if something bad happens?”

It is a reference I understood. When I first confirmed I was pregnant with Miranda (April 12, 2006 lives in infamy for me!), I had NO intention of waiting to share the news. In my spirit of storytelling, I’d certainly shared my monthly disappointments with people (& this was before Facebook). Why wouldn’t I share the good news? That whole “wait until the second trimester” thing was far from my mind.

Rod told me later how worried he had been. Miranda was my first pregnancy after a diagnosis of infertility. She was my first pregnancy ever. Chances were good (about 20%-ish) that we’d have a miscarriage. And in a moment of celebration at Aurelio’s Pizza, a moment I told few people about, there was spotting. At our first doctor’s appointment, after I had taken 1-2-3-4-5-6-SEVEN tests at home, there was a faint enough line to cause the doctor to put me through a blood test and a 24-hour wait.

You know what I did after we left that doctor appointment? Went to Babies R Us and made a registry.

Please know, it wasn’t because I was not scared. If I paused to think about it, I would have lost my mind with doubt and terror. I am a story gal – I have a pretty large and intense imagination. Because of this, I am at times forced to compartmentalize. It is all too easy for me to vividly imagine the worst, to put myself in different shoes. I have to selectively ignore possibilities sometimes. It’s not me being naive; it’s rescuing me from me.

As the story goes, the blood test was positive, the spotting was nothing, and Miranda Rose arrived in all her glory 7 months later (ironically, by the time I knew I was pregnant, I was almost in my 2nd trimester).

Perhaps that is why a miscarriage eight years later knocked me down so hard. Miscarriages, in my vague frame of reference, happened to young women, first-timers, people in accidents… not to older moms with previous perfect pregnancies. The idea of pregnancy #3 resolving that way was not something I had considered for one single second.

So what do you do when you get pregnant after that?

Let me back up. David, the baby we lost, was not planned. He was a huge, amazing surprise. Jack, however, is the only baby we ever “tried for” and got. With Miranda, I did not think I could get pregnant. With Kaity, who was conceived when Miranda was 6 months old, I was mentally in a place of “it happened once but it probably won’t happen again.” (Irony is the story of my life, y’all). With Jack, there were calendars and stuff. Apps, because it was 2014. In fact, I know the day he was made (I’m not gonna write about it here, but if you ask me, I will tell you something about Disney World and pixie dust…)

On the Sunday before Memorial Day in 2014, a new friend of mine announced on Facebook that she was pregnant. She also announced a due date in February 2015. Because I was tracking dates and possibilities so closely, I looked at that and said, “She must be like… 1 day pregnant!” I was in awe of her anyway, already a mama of 4, a champion, and a wealth of knowledge who’d already helped my confidence about pregnancy and birth and mama-ing. Anyway, I went to bed that night and dreamed of her. Nothing specific, just my friend and babies and a blur that held when I woke up (When a dream stays with me, I tend to know it has meaning). And so that day, I knew I was pregnant too.

Rod said I should wait to take a test. It was really early, and though he didn’t say it, he was really worried. We’d told ourselves we’d give it 2014 to get pregnant again, come what may, but I had already confessed how unsettling it was to think we wouldn’t have another baby. I did not want my childbearing chapter to end with a miscarriage…

I am normally pretty submissive to my husband, but that Tuesday, on the way to work, I stopped and bought a pregnancy test. My heart was racing. I needed to know (I’m an information addict). There was a five minute drive to the church. I played one song: Crystal Lewis, “Lord I Believe in You.” Crystal’s range is far higher than mine. I sang along anyway. I might have shouted.

“Lord, I believe in You
And I’ll keep my trust in You
Let the whole world say what they may
No one can take this joy away
Lord, I believe…”

Because once again, I found myself in a place where I needed to choose to believe. Even if this story didn’t play out how I wanted, Jesus loves me. Even if I don’t see a joyful ending or a hopeful next chapter, even if my childbearing years end with loss instead of life, God already performed amazing miracles – giving an infertile woman *3* babies, 2 on earth and 1 in Heaven. It would be ok.

And it was ok. I walked into work, stepped into the public bathroom in the empty lower level, took the test. I wish I could say I was surprised when it was POSITIVE, but somewhere in the midst of the last 9 years, from infertility diagnosis to two babies to miscarriage, I’d become a hopeFUL person instead of a cynical one. God had already confirmed in that dream about my sweet pregnant friend that I was pregnant too. I hung up and called Rod (who also wasn’t surprised I’d taken the test and who laughed with me on the phone), I called my mom (she is so used to me. Thank you for knowing me, Mama), and then I marched upstairs and told all my co-workers, who had loved me so well through my miscarriage (oh, you guys… I am so grateful for you).

I was something like… 3 weeks?… pregnant at that point. Common sense and a million pregnancy articles would have told me to wait to tell anyone. Crystal Lewis and amazing grace told me to SHOUT THAT OUT. God was giving me life after loss. LIFE.

I will tell you that the following weeks were a battle of my mind. There were some days of spotting, and even one night of some bleeding. There were moments I could not stop my imagination from running wild. There were days of not only fear but of guilt and grief – I still very much missed and mourned our David (I still do!).

uncle jack
Ultrasound/Celebration Meme by Allen :)

I had some amazing people pray with me (including an impromptu “call down the fire” at my Pampered Chef party. Thank you, Chris. I will never forget that, or the early baby gift of bedding you gave me). I had a sweet surrogate dad send me Bible verses and songs right when I needed them most (Junie. I love you!) I had a prophecy of a pea-pod, sprouting forth with life (Kelli! Thank you, thank you <3 ). I had a playlist I put together of songs to affirm me, which I listened to over and over again. I had a husband, my champion, tell me over and over again that no matter what, I was going to be ok.

On June 26, I had an ultrasound scheduled.  For the 24 hours before, my heart raced and my stomach churned. I was relieved that my girls were in Illinois with my parents. I flashed myself forward to scenarios of celebration as well as grief. I prayed and declared victory and life. I thanked God for the person inside me, even as I held that little person at a distance.

My first ultrasound with David had been a nightmare. At first, Dr. M. couldn’t find an embryo at all (turns out my uterus was tilted). Then there was a baby who was smaller than he should have been and whose heartbeat wasn’t visible (in the years since I’d had Kaity, that process had changed. Before, we were only waiting to hear the heartbeat and that wasn’t until 10-12 weeks). I was confused and angry and quite quickly broken.

This time… oh wow. I have told people about the song in my head in those seconds leading to the ultrasound:

“We wait for you.
We wait for you.
We wait for you to fill the room.”

The song talks about the Holy Spirit. I was, of course, waiting to see my baby, but it was both of them who greeted me the moment I looked at the screen. Now an ultrasound veteran, I immediately saw a heartbeat flashing beautifully. I immediately felt the reassuring presence of a life-giving God fill the room. I cried and said, “Thank You, Jesus” over and over again.

I was something like 8-9 weeks along at that point. I could go calculate but I don’t care anymore. There was still a long way to go in my pregnancy, and there would still be battles of fear and worry to face, but I declared life.

And I would do it all over again.

To the friends I referenced earlier, who were sweetly concerned about sharing baby news too soon, I said, {paraphrase, because I am rarely eloquent on the fly}, “Sometimes you have to battle fear by calling it out. For me, I had to declare life quickly and loudly and to everyone.”

Our faith does not change situations all by itself. I could have just as easily lost another baby. In fact, that friend, the one who I dreamed about, lost one of her precious twins, born 6 days before my Jack, at 9 weeks old. Loss and life are intermingled in ways we cannot even fathom. But God made us to persevere, to live, and to love even through the darkest tragedies. When I see my friend smiling at her children, functioning through her grief, I am in awe of her spirit and of the God who sustains her.

There will always be loss. But there will always, always be life on the other side.

 

 

Redemption Child

One year ago today, 3 months after a devastating miscarriage, I suspected I was pregnant again. This week, I am revisiting the journey of carrying and birthing our Jackson Cash – my redemption child!

redemptionchild1Unmitigated joy. It’s not a feeling I am used to, and yet, when I am around my baby son, whether he is eating, sleeping, chatting, smiling, or just looking at me with his wide, blue eyes, I feel it bubbling up.

It’s not that I love him more than my other children; of course not. But his timing, his entrance into our world, well, it’s so easy for me to see God’s hand in it.

I have probably said before how much having another child surprised us. The roller coaster of shock, elation, and heartbreak of our miscarriage last year changed me forever. It changed my perspective on mothering, family, my career aspirations, my belief in God and His works, my bond to other women, my pregnancy experience… everything.

But carrying and having Jack changed me, too. In the years between Kaity’s birth and his (6 years, 11 months…), I was often, as my Gramma H. would say, “running myself down.” I didn’t like my body. I wasn’t losing weight. I didn’t nurse the girls long enough. I should have pushed harder for natural births. I didn’t enjoy them enough. I should have taken more time. I should have planned my job moves differently. I should homeschool. I should do this, this, this, and this. AND, even better, “This person did this better. This person looks better. If i was like that person, my kids/family/body would be ______.”

What a lost cause that thinking is.

During my pregnancy with Jack, I met amazing women, mamas, nurses, midwives, birth workers, who encouraged me personally or by simply sharing their stories. Through those months – and the four following, I’ve been able to make peace with my C-section births, my ability to breastfeed, my level of patience with my children, and my role as a mama, a stepmom, a grandma, a wife, and a sister in the community of mothers.

In a nutshell, God sent me a whole lot with my newest, my last baby. While the loss of David last year brought me so many questions, the birth of Jack brought me affirmations.

God used Jack to make me listen to Him saying…
You are enough.
You are new.
You are forgiven.
You are strong.
You are beautiful.
You are young.
You are patient.
You are kind.
You belong.
You give love.
Let my joy radiate from you. Point to your son and say, “The Lord is good. His promises are real and true. I have been redeemed.”

As a result: I don’t feel uneasy when I have to nurse my son in public; I feel confident. I don’t feel shameful about the extra pounds around my waist or the gray hairs sprouting more frequently; I feel strong. I don’t wonder if my husband is really attracted to me or whether my kids really adore me; I feel cherished. I don’t feel like I missed the boat in my career; I feel like my whole future is still unfolding, and like I am showing a smart, balanced, and loving example to my children.

I was these things all along, though. I was supposed to see them that way. And it dawns on me that God could have used any number of things to clarify my vision. I am very grateful that He chose as His means of attention-getting a pure bundle of cuddly joy, one who elicits smiles in a hundred different ways, one made to fit perfectly into the curve of my chest and my heart. God sent Jack to make me a better listener…

And oh, the things I am hearing! :)

And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
 Romans 4:21

to be continued!