You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.
The first two weeks/posts, I will be sharing parts of our own story and why this is so important to us. From there, you will have the honor of hearing from a few others.
[I am about to share with you a most precious and personal story that I possess. Why I would do such a vulnerable and risky thing is because I know there are many sufferers, many victims of this, many grievers and mourners, and momma's with empty arms and broken hearts. And they, we, tend to remain silent. For a number of extremely valid reasons, we silently suffer, isolated. There is this thing within me that drives me to share my brokenness, my precious stories that are my actual heart, and point you towards He who loves and He who cares and He who sees it all. Feels it all. Weeps and mourns and grieves right next to me. Right next to you. So please, if this is for you, read it. Soak it in. Know you are not alone. If this is for a friend or a loved one...pass it along. Please. During the fresh time of raw grief, I read a few posts over and over and over again. Because there were not many that hit the home of my heart. I pray that this would hit the home of many hurting hearts.]
[Empty Arms Part 2]
Written Spring, 2015
The moment those two pink lines appeared was one of those forever-changed moments. They were faint, but they were there...on five different tests. It was a moment that moved mountains of doubt and sadness in my heart, a moment that ushered in delight unexplainable, that signaled for the sirens of smiles to consume my entire body. Can your whole self smile? Because that is what I experienced. It was as though the Hoover Dam had been ripped to shreds and the river of life and hope and reality and dreams and visions of little toes and squishy cheeks and big blue eyes was flooding my whole being.
Loren and I cried tears of laughter and smiled the biggest smiles we have ever smiled. That speaks volumes if you witnessed us at our wedding. We jumped around and we danced and Loren put is ear up to my womb - we celebrated. Baby Brenner has been created - we had been waiting for what seemed decades. This was life to celebrate.
Patiently, we had done our best to withhold rearranging our second bedroom until the pink lines emerged or until we were in the thick of adoption. We had nearly moved two times hoping to welcome Baby Brenner (BB), but decided against it both times, "Let's just wait until the two pink lines emerge. Then we will make a decision about moving." A year into this "trying" thing, we stopped scheming up potential names. It hurt too deeply to discover names only to meet a newborn claiming it. We halted planning for the future, because the future was foreign and we knew we needed to live now. Presently. And presently held no promise of a BB. But when those two pink lines arrived... Immediately, dreams were dangerously and relentlessly unleashed. The desires of our souls were close, just 36 weeks away. It was more than a dream, it was reality: we would be adding a third to our small family tree.
I would swell fat with life, stretching wide and growing round, I couldn't wait to not see my toes. To need Loren to tie my shoes.
Plans began to unfold. Coffee and lunch and dinner dates planned with various family members and close friends. A list of who to tell first and how was formed. Gifts for loved ones were purchased and made, we were ready to share this precious life in special ways with all who love us. With all we love. We knew this little BB was already doused in a divine love, a love immeasurable.
Let's unleash love for him, we thought. He is worth it.
When we shared the enthralling news with my in-laws, more clear tears of salty love were shed. Tight hugs and warm embraces, ecstasy indescribable. BB would meet us in October/November at some time.
Courses of action were immediately claimed: we had yet to spend Christmas in Eagle with the in-laws. Why not this year? Bring that bundle of baby with us. A two month young at Christmas! Game plans for our home were sketched out: shelves, storage, make room for BB. My mother in law bought me a beautiful dress, one with a stretchy waistband. I looked forward to wearing it this summer when we saw them again in July; my stomach will be swelled big, round, and beautiful. I would feel fat, but Loren would see me as radiant. Because I was carrying our child. Our so wanted and so loved and so precious child.
We were coming into spring and the flowers were blooming life and all was joyful, hopeful, lively. Promising. Expectant.
When the clots of blood fell into the toilet, I felt my heart drop right with the red so bright. I stared into the bowl of contaminated water. Life froze, my heart stopped, and I experienced the heaviest emptiness possible to [wo]mankind. This can't be happening. I swallowed and begged, "Jesus, no. Jesus you are the author of life. Jesus you heal and you are good and you want this life more than I do. Jesus, make your name famous and keep this life living in my broken body. That's miraculous."
Slowly, I strolled to the living room and laid by the heater. Surely, if I lay down, BB cannot leave my body. Surely, if I am warm but not too warm, he will remain cozy in my womb. Surely, if I think happy thoughts and send oxytocin coursing through my veins, he will experience my bottomless love. Surely, if I drink plenty of water and no sugar or caffeine or anything bad, he will know how much I care and cling to my womb. Surely, Lord, you wouldn't take my child, my so wanted and waited for child.
When I told Loren I believed we were losing this life that had drastically altered ours, he wouldn't believe it. It was unfathomable. He said no and he searched and scoured google for stories of Hope. Stories of bleeding and life surviving the blood flood. Though many moms and dads wrote their victory stories for the world to see, I knew I was empty. I experienced it when I flushed my baby down the toilet to forever reside in the sewer with feces and vomit and urine.
Before the blood tests that would unravel our hearts to sheer brokenness, I said to my beloved husband, "If we lose this Baby, I need you to go there with me. I am going to grieve and be honest and I need you with me. I cannot do this alone." As if I were crazy, he said, "Of course I will be there with you. This is horrible."
It was a Sunday in March when the confirmation of death was given. It was that March Sunday that our life was, once again, forever changed by our little BB. It was that March Sunday that I knew deeper than my heart that I would feel this void until I reach Heaven.
Never have I conceived such sorrow, such desolation, such loss. Never has my womb felt so empty, so barren. November, my arms will be empty when they should be fuller than ever before.
The weeks that followed were the most painful of my small existence. My chest, my actual heart, ached. Snapped in half, part of it had been flushed down the toilet. It was raw and wounded, gaping open and obviously broken. I had always been warned by doctors that miscarriage was a high probability for me, but never had I any clue as to the deep ripping of my heart that it would entail. People don't talk much about miscarriage, about pregnancy loss, about the death of their very alive baby, and when they do it feels sterile. It is protected - I was protected. I had no idea the penetrating pain of this specific loss.
My husband and I grieved deeply together that first two weeks. We laid in bed a lot and our tears ran together, knitting our hearts more into one. We named our Baby, we ordered a custom made garden stone, I planted an entire flower bed in his honor. Our friends Ben and Bethany gifted us with a snuggly bear I will never lose, neck jeweled with a B and a dove, and a big bouquet of flowers. We were not going to pretend that this Baby did not exist. He altered our forever. The sobs echoed through life and I was heavy and empty all at once.
My ultra sound appointment remained so Dr Card could be sure there was "no tissue left." The CNA that weighed me as she has for three years now looked at me with sad eyes, "I was so excited that you were finally pregnant.. I'm so sorry." Words like, "chemical pregnancy," and "spontaneous abortion" were used. They made me feel bad, dirty, stupid, useless, barren.
"We can continue fertility treatments after your second cycle begins." As if it were no big deal, as if there was nothing to mourn; no Red Sea to walk through. Just try again. Simple as that.
But when I dared to glance into the future of this year, what once held promise and life and hope and chubby cheeks to gobble and little toes and fingers to count and poopy diapers and sleepless nights and stupid quarrels because of exhaustion...was now replaced with an irrevocable darkness. All I could see was a dark night of my soul, as I trudge through waves of grief and loss. The loss of my first baby. How could I try to get pregnant again? How could I risk losing another? And yet, at the same confusing time, I wanted so badly to conceive again. I wanted that hope and that promise. I wanted full arms at the end of 9 painful months of swelling and stretching and marking my body with scars of love.
The blender of desires were confusing. They still are. The loss of life with such potential is painful. Life that had not yet run its course, did not even have a chance: lost from my womb, our arms. Forever.
I thought other's pregnancy jokes were painful before...
I thought when people said, "Are you sure you want kids?" after wrestling theirs was hurtful before..
I didn't even notice, before, when people said, "well, at least all my kids are alive" as a funny joke that they made it through the day..
I thought seeing all-things-pregnancy and baby related was painful before...now the mere existence of my people and their plumpness and their fertility and their healthy alive babies and even my own self crumbled me to bits of fragmented pieces of flesh. It is an ugly place that I am in; I am that person that people avoid, for fear of hurting. I am broken. More broken than I ever have been. Never have I been so incredibly aware of how human, how fickle, how desperately in need of Grace I am. I thought I understood loss, but I now understand suffering and grief and agony on such deeper levels...and I know there are much deeper levels that I selfishly hope to never experience.
There are zero words to explain the depth of despair our hearts are traveling through while attempting to understand the ridiculous shift that is occurring while all of our hopes and expectations for that life is dropping out from beneath anything stable. It's an experience and loss that we will never make sense of, it is tragic and drastic and totally unfair.
- - - -
Since writing this post in the fresh weeks of losing that so precious and so wanted baby through pregnancy loss, I can say that while walking through the raw ugliness of it, I knew Jesus was with me right there, catching each tear. I knew that He would heal me over time, but I wasn't about to rush it or force it, though at times, I was frustrated at how slow the healing process felt. When people would say, "You will be whole again," I would either think or say, "But right now I'm not, and I think thats okay." I think thats okay to say and acknowledge, believing that one day we will be whole again. It's okay to not be whole, to be broken and sad, to grieve loss.
I can tell you that people who tried giving us formulas and ways to "get through it" really just ticked me off and I had to distance myself from them. I can tell you that the few people who validated our loss and our grief and our pain and the roller coaster of ugly and beauty and mourning and confusing joy amidst that brokenness, those were the people I kept close. Those who didn't expect me to resemble something I wasnt, those who didn't attempt to mold me into something I wasnt, those who loved me just as I was and brought me meals and precious memory gifts and shed tears with me, I needed those people. Those are very dear friends.
I can also tell you that I nearly punched the multiple people who said, "at least you got pregnant." Instead of violence my heart sank to below my toes and into the earth's crust, reminding me how very little I am but even more how very little that baby's life meant to others.
Please, if you have someone walking through this loss, just sit and listen and validate and hug and pray out loud with them and then shhhh. Pray for peace but also ask God why for them, because they're trying to face that question in an honest way without being condemned. He will not condemn the honest questions of our heart.
Loren and I went to Europe for 3 weeks the end of April and into May. That trip was timed perfectly. Though I had envisioned myself rounding wide while adventuring the trains and trams and hills and streets of Europe, I was still blessed to get away from our normal routine and breathe. I felt that for the first time, I could exist how I was: broken and accepted. I felt that no one had parameters and measuring sticks for me, merely because I knew no one there. It was refreshing.
I had three friends who already have their hands full with two to four kids who blessed me immensely through this process, constantly reminding me to be gentle with myself, constantly reminding me that it is okay to grieve the loss, that it has only been This Many Weeks or This Many Months and it may take a lot longer than I want. They would ask me how I was doing, they would ask me about our little BB, acknowledging that he was real and valid. They validate our baby's life and therefore our loss, and for that I am forever thankful.
It wasn't until the very last day of August and the very first week of September that my heart was able to loosen its grip a little bit and breathe, thinking mainly of our adopted baby wherever he/she/they are. There is no timeline for grief. There is no formula or strategy. I cannot express this enough.
I believe that Jesus is with us while we grieve, grieving and mourning right along side us, about this broken world that is full of death and loss and sickness. The things that God did not initially intend for. I believe that He is with me when I am grieving like a train wreck and when I am grieving beautifully, whatever that even means.
I hope and I pray that you find refuge in Him. Even if that means laying in bed, letting His warm presence wrap around your fragmented self. I haven't been able to say this all year, but right now in this moment, I can say it in full confidence: He is good. And it's okay if you can't say that right now, just know that I am believing it for you in the meantime.