4 || Losing My Child, Keeping My Faith
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Psalm 77:4
I can still so vividly recall the sights, sounds and smells of June 9, 2011, the day my life changed forever. I can still hear the silence as the nurse and ultrasound tech told me that my baby had no heartbeat—nine days before her due date—and asked if there was someone they could call. I can remember thinking to myself, “Why would you call someone? Keep looking for the heartbeat until you find it!”
I can still feel the heaviness of the 38-and-a-half weeks’ pregnant pause as they waited, patiently and uneasily, for my reaction. I can still see their faces as they looked down on me with pity, with the knowledge that it would take me some time to process the finality of their words.
And my husband—my poor husband—who had to be told by his wife that he’d never hold his daughter alive. My heart still aches when I think of that fateful, unavoidable phone call. I can still hear the shrieking and sobbing of my husband on the phone—a sound surely reserved only for the worst places in hell—mixed with the urgency and guilt of his being hours away from me, as his job demanded, and the screeching sounds of his truck’s gas pedal pressed to the floor, the one thing he could control, as he raced to my side in a blind panic. I can still feel the gut-wrenching fear, a fear that would haunt me for months to come, that not only did I lose my daughter, but I would also lose my husband, and be left with nothing on this Earth, a deeply depressing place full of pain and suffering.
I can still recall the dread and sadness I felt when Scott, in an amazing display of faith, told me to ignore the doctors, ignore the nurses, and pray as hard as I could for our daughter, Hanalei. “They’re wrong—they’re all wrong!” he screamed. “Our baby is OK. Just hold on to your belly and pray!” He wouldn’t let go of that hope, even as he watched monitors flash alarms for the next 12 hours warning that the baby had no heartbeat, until my water broke as a result of medical intervention. He later told me it was at that point that he escaped to the bathroom and lost it as I slept under the relief of medication.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and death, I can still so vividly see the hours that followed that first dreadful realization of our changed lives in the ultrasound room—the announcement by the doctor that I would be induced, the long walk down the hallway to the hospital, the tone of the elevator and my sheer panic as the doors opened to expose the words “labor and delivery.”
Thankfully, I have no problem recalling the sheer joy I felt at discovering the overwhelming beauty of my newly born baby, or the love I felt while holding her, and still feel. Flashes of these memories, and so many others—the unexpected grief and burial pamphlets, the depressing floating leaf card placed on our door to haunt my husband every time he left to get ice or drinks, instead of the fluffy pink “It’s a girl!” wreath my mother-in-law so lovingly prepared—played through my head in the following months with such rapid succession, it was like a horror movie that I couldn’t turn off, oftentimes, not even for the escape of sleep.
I can remember looking lifelessly into a mirror one day, a couple of days after Hanalei’s birth, and being startled by the hollowed-out eyes staring back at me. What shocked me most, and probably what startled others in my life, was the fact that I could see raw, naked emotion exposed on my face like a broadcast of my soul.
Each summer morning dawned with a new taunting that things were no longer normal with us. This sudden remembrance brought on a daily panic that replaced the welcome, but brief, forgetfulness of sleep. We lived indoors, sleeping and waking, sleeping and waking. Every new month and season brought on a sober realization that time was moving on, whether we were ready to or not.
Unexpected Stumbling Block
As the weeks turned into months and the healing effects of time took their natural course, another fear took hold of my heart and delayed my recovery. It was becoming increasingly evident that we were not getting pregnant, something we had told everyone we wanted since the moment we were cleared at our six-week checkup. Grief and anger turned into bitterness, grief and anger. My peers, who had their babies around the same time as I had, worried over teething and milestones and new baby outfits as they carefully planned for their next pregnancy. I felt out of touch with the rest of the world, with the natural order of things, and expressed this in my journal: “I can’t seem to work myself back into normal life. I can’t find out where I fit, where I belong. The world marches on and I’ve fallen out of step.” The hurtful notion that we had been left behind, forgotten, and denied our expectations, compounded into extreme darkness and hopelessness.
Month after month, we debated over whether we should risk the painful expectation of another pregnancy test, as we watched women around us with growing bellies and arms full of happy babies. In my journal, I recalled a time in the early stages of grief when my husband and I numbly watched others ride a carousel for which we had no cash, a cruel symbol of our empty arms: “I’m so tired of watching everyone else enjoy the carousel. Their faces are jubilant as new scenes constantly flash before their eyes—refreshing as they revolve. Parents hold onto their kids and they smile into the breeze created by the carousel. The movement is stimulating, and has the same effect on the others who get to ride. I stand on the ground, watching—stuck. Bars separate me from them, but not so much that I can’t see their thrill. I miss my old life. I miss the days when Scott and I laughed. I miss believing our happiness would last.”
“When will You comfort me?” Psalm 119:82
I entered, exited, revisited and rebelled against every stage of grief known to any textbook on the market. I was scared to hope, scared to live, scared to move on and cast off the veil of grief, hurt, anger and self-pity that was familiar and safe to me. I became faced with a decision: I could stay on the road that led to a lifetime of bitterness and fear, or venture into an unknown world, a world where I must admit I no longer fit my own definition of “normal.” I remember the day that I describe as a sort of epiphany, when I came to the realization that control was out of my hands. I liken it to a story I once heard of a nervous flyer trying to hold his plane up in the air by his seat’s armrests. I had to physically relinquish my self-assumed illusion of control. When I let go of that, a lot of burdens left along with it: overwhelming feelings of guilt (it was no longer my fault that my baby died), worry, self-pity and stress. Although my grief will be a lifelong healing process, this new viewpoint allowed me to move on like never before. I began to accept the fact that my life was no longer most people’s view of “normal,” but a new kind of normal—my normal.
Where Was God? Where Was I?
The best way I can describe my relationship with God during that time was that I was not on speaking terms with Him. I had prayed every single day of my daughter’s life for a healthy baby, and my prayer was not answered the way I wanted. “Why should I pray to Him again?” I reasoned within myself. What’s more, I became aware that I superstitiously believed that praying again would only result in the same horrendous outcome the next time around. Although harboring these feelings, I was afraid to admit to my anger with God—afraid I would be punished.
My path back to God was a long, difficult one. I, in my human “reasoning,” tried to figure out why a good God would allow such suffering. Fortunately for me, my gracious God did not abandon me in my foolish snubbing. As the thick fog that had blanketed my life for so many months began to lift, I observed that although I was angry with God, He waited for me—patiently, lovingly forgiving me as I hurled cruel accusations against His name, spoke horrible untruths against His nature, and angrily ignored everything He has been to me throughout my entire life. For the millionth time, I stood mocking with those who nailed Jesus to the cross, and He forgave me.
I slowly transformed from selfishly thinking that nobody had suffered as deeply as I had, to focusing on others’ sufferings, redirecting my “why me” mentality to feelings of compassion for my fellow humans. I began to count my blessings and thank the God who gives and takes away.
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11,12
My eyes began to open to Bible passages revealing the greater picture, the picture of salvation, assurances of suffering on this Earth, and a God who loves me, who is there for me. As one of our amazing elders pointed out to me, this God willingly watched His only child, a perfect child, suffer an atrocious murder that I deserved. This is the God I serve; this is the God who has blessed me beyond measure.