Saturday, September 20, 2014

Goodbye, Wee One

This past week has been unbearably hard, and yet it's impossible times like these, filled with grief, that we feel God's presence nearest.

We found out in early July that we were expecting Baby #4, and although we're completely overwhelmed with life right now, we were all elated!

The pregnancy seemed to be progressing normally and without complication, and then on August 3, when I thought I was about 8 weeks along, I experienced sudden, heavy bleeding that lasted for about 12 hours.  We thought we were miscarrying, because even though this experience was completely different from a previous miscarriage we had, we couldn't imagine that a baby could survive such extreme blood loss.

Our midwife was out of town and recommended seeing her associate doctor to make sure everything had passed properly, since it was so unusual.  It was a few days before we could get in to see the doctor, so we had grieved and resigned ourselves to the loss.  And so, it was startling when the doctor said, confused, that she thought she detected a heartbeat.  She wasn't entirely certain, so she sent us to the hospital for a second opinion.  Sure enough, our  baby was alive!  It was a miraculous, precious gift!

It turned out that I had had a placental hemorrhage, where the placenta had begun to detach from the uterus wall, causing all the bleeding, but apparently had corrected itself and all was well.  Apparently, also, this sort of thing can be normal in late first trimester.  The hemorrhage put us at slightly increased risk of miscarriage, but was no real concern and there was nothing to be done about it.  The ultrasound indicated (and our midwife confirmed by other checks) that we were a whole month farther along than we thought.  That added a new dimension of surprise and concern, because there was that whole month that I believed I wasn't pregnant, and one just isn't as careful about things when the womb is empty. 

The pregnancy continued normally, with a bad case of "morning" sickness (try "unending" sickness!) being my only ailment.  At around 16.5 weeks, I suddenly started feeling better; at the time, I thought that was a positive thing.  For maybe a week prior to our latest appointment, I had started to feel concerned--not for any particular reason, and worry is normal when you're pregnant, and also several people had suddenly started asking me if everything was okay with the pregnancy, and that just made me wonder...But as far as we knew, all was well.

16 weeks
Then this past Tuesday, September 16, we went to our scheduled 17 week appointment, and couldn't find a heartbeat.  Our midwife was obviously concerned, but we knew that my placenta was up front, and she wondered hopefully if that was just in the way.  I knew that wasn't the case, and suddenly it made sense why I hadn't felt the baby move yet...Anyway, we went straight to the hospital for an ultrasound to find out for sure what was going on.  Our worst fears were confirmed on that black-and-white screen...our baby was gone forever.

Waves of emotion, pain, grief, guilt, confusion, fear, and brokenness washed over me from that moment through the following days.  Tears became the norm.  Having to plan for a birth and burial just made it all so much harder.  For several reasons I won't list here, we chose to induce labor and birth in the hospital--and I'm glad we did.  But leading up to it, I really struggled with fear and resistance.  I felt like I was being dragged unwilling into a forced abortion; I was clinging tightly and didn't want to let anyone take my baby from me.  Even though 2 ultrasounds and 2 doctors had confirmed it, I couldn't let go of my fear, "What if the machines are wrong???"  I almost backed out; I almost couldn't do it. 

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the day scheduled for our lost baby's birth, God strengthened me and gave me peace for what we were about to face that day.  The peace God gave was so real that the nurse and doctor both commented that they couldn't tell I was laboring because I just looked comfortable, and in fact the baby was born while they were both out of the room because they weren't expecting anything to happen.  More than that, God even blessed us with joy, and we had moments where we were able to laugh--not at all making light of the sorrow of the day, but just to find humor in small things to lighten the burden of our souls.

Every part of the birth went well, and we were able to spend several hours with our little boy.  We named him Nathaniel Joel...Nathaniel, meaning "God has given;" Joel, meaning "Yahweh is God"...because this boy was a gift God gave us for a short time, and He knows best why it was time to take him home so early.

I briefly mentioned how one of my troubling emotions was guilt...Life has been exceptionally hard lately, and I've struggled this whole pregnancy with feelings of guilt for not providing a healthier growing environment for this baby--in all areas of diet, exercise, and emotional health.  So when he died, I was overcome with horror that it was my fault, that God had entrusted me with nurturing this precious life and I had failed.  That is where the Lord gave us one more mercy...

Nathaniel's tiny feet in my hand.

After Nathaniel was born, the doctor immediately noted, with certainty, that he had a chromosomal abnormality (such as Down's Syndrome).  Also, the placental hemorrhage I'd had earlier in the pregnancy, interestingly, is often correlated with or indicative of a baby with a chromosomal abnormality.  While some of these precious babies do live to full term and beyond, very often they don't make it to birth because their valves are weaker and water can collect around their hearts, causing it to stop working.  And often, of the ones who don't make it to birth, many make it as far as 28 weeks gestation before passing away.  (I'm speaking only what I remember hearing the doctor say, which could be a fuzzy memory; this is not intended to be a scientific statement.)

The mercy is two-fold: 1) That we were spared even greater pain of losing our baby at a later gestation, because the longer you have to love the child, the harder it is to say goodbye; and 2) The fact that there was a real, medical reason for Nathaniel's death relieved my aching guilt that it was all my fault.  The reason doesn't make it easier to lose him; it doesn't diminish any of the love we feel for him or the pain of loss or our desire to raise him and watch him grow.  He is precious because God made him, and he is special to us because he is ours.  My heart breaks that we'll never get to hold his hand and feel him squeeze back; we'll never see his face light up with smiles; we'll never get to fall in love with his personality...But we have the joy his short life gave us; we have the assurance of God's faithfulness; and we have the promise that we will see him and hug him and hold him again someday.   

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