Personal Journey

Moving Forward

It’s easy to get stuck, eyes looking back at an event or circumstance. Like it has a grip on you, a hold over you. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only” and “why” keep your focus glued on the past. It’s easy to look back. It’s important to remember the past, honour it, process it, acknowledge it. It is also important not to get stuck there.

It’s hard to look sideways, to see where you are right now. Well, it’s easy in a way. It’s easy to see the hard bits, the tiring bits, the frustrations and difficulties. It’s harder to see the good things. The sticky hands that want to play with your hair can be annoying, but there is sweetness in it. Looking sideways, I have a husband who works, a toddler who plays and challenges and gives huge cheeky grins, and a baby who cuddles and smiles and puts much energy into growing like a bean. It’s tiring but it’s blessed. I need to remember to look intentionally so I see it.

It’s impossible to look sideways and then forget to also look up. Inevitably recognising what I have here, reminds me of the One who gives it and blesses it. Not only that, but I remember who is “up there” with the One who cares about them – and me – more than I can imagine. So constantly am I reminded of the babies up there, now I have a little boy down here, who occasionally gets called the name of his heaven-dwelling brother.

Backwards, sideways, upwards.

Forwards.

Acknowledging the past, letting myself heal. Appreciating the present, and the presence of my loved ones. Remembering the One who guards my life and the little ones with Him. Then, looking forward, with love, hope and faith, because if I can see God when I look backwards, sideways and upwards, I can trust that He’ll be there in the forward journey too.

 

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Hope is…

 

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When we moved house down to beautiful southern Tasmania, we had to do a lot of driving. That week there was rain every day. And you know what else? There were rainbows every day. Driving along the Huon River, there was rarely a drive where we did not see a rainbow.

Sometimes, in the midst of the storms and rain, it can be easy to focus on the mud. If we just look at our muddy feet or mud-splattered windscreen how easy it is to miss the glory above us. You can’t see a rainbow if you don’t look up.

I have been thinking on this: hopelessness, not death, is what should be feared.

If we love Jesus, believe in his promises, we grieve with hope. Hope that one day restoration will come. Take hope away, and what is left? “Lessness.” Just… LESS. Hope expands us, revives us, gives our spirits room to breathe. Vision for a better future, a healed, connected future… it gives us a reason to keep pushing through the pain.

Anyone can grasp this: do we not hope that broken legs will heal again? Without hope, waiting for broken bones to mend and the body to be restored would be horrible and depressing. The wait would seem unending, and anyway, how could we know that the leg won’t just stay the same?

Hope says, I believe my circumstances aren’t always going to be like this. Things will get better. One day I’m going to walk on this leg again. One day my heart will be healed.

We see in a rainbow a declaration of nature: the rain isn’t over but I’m grabbing hold of the sunshine that’s peeking through. The storm isn’t done yet, but I’m not going to wait to shine. It’s wet and miserable, but look at me, I am transforming this greyness into vivid beauty.

A rainbow reminds us that hope is most beautiful when the rain is pouring. If the rainbow waited until the rain was over to shine, it would never shine at all.

If we wait until life is good before we hope again, really, we have missed the whole point and purpose of hope.

Hope is planting seeds in spring.

Hope is pruning your fruit trees.

Hope is wearing thongs on your feet when Spring has barely begun.

Hope is buying a bigger car, because this one just won’t fit three kids.

Hope is getting that book you love, even if you don’t know how you’ll find time to read it.

Hope is declaring, “I will rejoice in my Heavenly Father, even though I don’t understand his ways.”

 

Breathe: A Short Story

BREATHE

The sea called her, the waves whispered her name.

“Come to us,” the water murmured, enchantment rich in its voice.

She stood there, poised, uncertain, ready to spring but held back by some unconscious pull.

It would be so simple to start walking forward and to keep going until she had no choice but to surrender. One step, one little step. She closed her eyes, concentrating on her feet, willing them to move. They remained stubbornly where they were, refusing her, disobeying her.

A wild, half-strangled sob escaped her. Is this what her grief had brought her to? Divided, torn, her heart burning within her yet also empty and hollow with loss. She longed to see him again, to hold his tiny, downy body in her hand, to again have the physical connection to her baby for which her body grieved.

He was only a breath away… An undrawn, suffocated breath away… A water-filled breath away… He was nearly in reach.

Sobs poured out of her now, choking her. She collapsed onto her knees, gasping and sobbing, clutching at the sand with desperate, shaking hands.

A voice, in her head, “I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you.”

“But you did,” she cried out, unheeding of any other people who might also be on the beach with her. “You did, you let him die!”

“I never left you. Even in your time of sorrow and disaster I was there with you.”

“But he died, he died! Don’t you understand? If you were there how could you let that happen? If you loved me at all, how could you do this?”

“Not even death can separate you from my love.”

“Not even death. You say that like death is nothing. How can you not care?”

“I died for you while you did not know me. I destroyed the power of the grave to steal forever. The sting of death has gone, and you can grieve with hope.”

At these words the woman’s sobs began to subside, though tears still ran down her cheeks, marking her face with the sorrow she carried within her. She thought of a bereavement card she and her husband had been given, in which someone had written, “We cry with you over the loss of your precious son. We pray continually that God will prove his faithfulness to you and that you will know what it means to grieve with hope in your heart.”

“With hope in my heart,” she whispered, remembering how that comment had struck her as a little insensitive, for at the time she was too deep in the well of grief to easily think of her son in heaven, too hurt to think of God without resentment.

“Look up,” said the quiet, clear voice.

She looked up and saw arching in the sky above her a vivid, glorious rainbow. As she gazed at it, peace began to trickle into her heart. She remembered, yes, even in the midst of the trauma of stillbirth, she had not been alone. She remembered the overwhelming sense that it had been a sacred, holy time. She remembered the joy that had overtaken her at the sight of her still, beautiful baby. She remembered being grateful that he was being spared suffering, pain and physical trauma. Grateful that he had gone from the safety of her womb to the wonder of heaven.

Faithful. That is what the rainbow was reminding her: God was faithful and he had not left her and he would not leave her. He would keep his promises.

Cruel, cruel trick of grief; Its relentless pull had made her forget the faithfulness of her father.

Contemplating the rainbow and all it symbolized for her, she let its beauty revive hope in her again. She let it remind her that she had something worth waiting for, even if it was going to be many decades.

Taking a deep, reviving breath, she turned and walked away from the murmuring, whispering water.

Sorry, Rewind Unavailable

When something unimaginable and out of control happens, how you think about living changes. Your focus zooms in so it becomes pinpointed on the current moment, because the current moment is all you can deal with. You realise that “right now” is the only part of your life that you have any real influence over.

The irony is that life is always like that. As much as many people would like to plan and know the future, we can only live and be active in the current, active, moment. The past and the future are both passive – the past because it is over (though perhaps it still actively influences you), and the future because it is still a concept, a promise. When nothing goes wrong, the illusion of control over the future is never challenged. People can have all the different types of insurances, all the promises of promotions and ongoing work, be confident in the “certainty” of their future plans, and it can all be a false security.

When something happens that changes your life – an accident, a death, job loss, sickness, market crash, whatever it may be – suddenly you realise how much you are at the mercy of circumstances.

Death is particularly merciless. Even with insurance payouts and financial aide, it is harsh and final.

When I am asleep and dreaming, I have a lot of agency. It is quite rare for people to be able to do this, but I can change the direction of my dreams. If they start getting scary or depressing or violent, I will mentally halt the dream, “rewind” it to the last moment when things were fine, and then let it continue on, taking a different tangent.

When a tragedy happens, there is no way to rewind and redo. I hear so often of people wishing they had said “I love you” more often, that they had apologised or forgiven instead of being bitter and stubborn. I think that it is easy to assume that “one day” things will be okay, or that having a strained relationship unrestored will not be too much of a drain on you. The problem is, when a tragedy happens, if you were wrong, there is no second chance. There is no pause and rewind. Life just keeps moving forward, relentless.

Sometimes I wonder if my daughter will live a long and fulfilling life, or will it be cut short? I hope she will outlive me and become grey and wrinkly, but I don’t know. You know what – if she were to die young, I do not want to know. I don’t want to live with the foreknowledge of something sad and terrible happening. I don’t want to grieve before there is a reason to do so. For those of you who have found yourselves in this position of knowing, my heart goes out to you, and your graciousness in your circumstances has amazed me.

If something horrible does happen one day, I want to be there, in that moment of shocking reality, steadfast in the knowledge that I made the most out of my “right now.” I want the joy that comes from knowing I treasured the good times and kept my perspective during the hard and tiring times. I want the peace that comes from knowing I apologised and forgave quickly after frustrations and arguments, and that I said “I love you” often and genuinely.

I don’t know the future, but I know the One who does. That’s been enough in the past, and it will be enough in the future, too.

Beauty, Passion, and Hope

Esther’s House Gala Dinner, 2016

I was not sure what to expect when I walked up the steps of the building and toward the room hosting the third annual gala dinner for Esther’s House, for this was my first time attending. I had heard wonderful tales about a dessert auction and had been warned to that I would most likely cry at some point, so I came well prepared with cash and tissues.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked into the room was beauty. The room I had entered was beautiful, with tall white and green flower arrangements and soft candles. The women at the door were beautiful. Throughout the evening, there were continued moments of beauty: the singing, the honouring of people, laughter, beautiful cakes, and the beauty of so many people gathered together with the unified aim of supporting Esther’s House. Not least was the the inner beauty of the woman who spearheads Project Esther, and the beauty of vulnerability that she and the other speakers shared with us.

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As beautiful as it was, the night was just as passionate. I was moved by how deeply Gaye believes in this cause. Nothing said that night was just words. Everything was from a place of deep conviction. Each of the three speakers were eloquent and moving, compelling me to look at myself and ask, “what can I offer?” I was challenged by their passion. Pregnancy and motherhood has been something I have long been interested in, amplified after I lost several pregnancies, but I have struggled to know how to act on these interests. While at this dinner, I began to see how I could start putting actions to my beliefs.

The night was a lot of fun. It was fun to be with friends, acquaintances and other like-minded people – people who believe that there is hope and solutions for women who find themselves in impossible situations. It was fun to be silly and to not be looking after my toddler (back at home with daddy), and to catch up with people I had not seen for a long time. And this might sound trivial, but it was so enjoyable to dress up. I have not had the chance to wear my favourite dress and pile on sparkly eye-shadow for some time now, and I took full advantage.

Did I cry? Yes, a little. But I laughed more, and I feel like fresh hope was breathed in to me. There are people taking action to help provide resources, support and help to women who find themselves in vulnerable or even scary positions.

And I am sure you are wondering about the dessert auction. Let me assure you that it is all you can imagine, and that the Death by Chocolate cake our table won was a wonderful way to top off a beautiful, passionate, fun, and hope-filled evening.

Short and Precious

In a world where people seem to be always searching for ways to prolong their lives, I have been learning to find preciousness in the very short lives of my children.

This November, I had the privilege to practice, yet again, the art of having hope and joy in adverse circumstances.

I found out I was pregnant on October 16th. I felt good, confident that this pregnancy would work. As per my normal approach, we told family soon, as well as several friends who I knew would support me and my husband in prayer. I anticipated needing support, because being pregnant after miscarriage, let alone stillbirth, is a complicated, scary thing.

On November 2nd we chose a name, Ariel Joy. Lion of God; Joy

November 4th, I went to hospital in an ambulance, experiencing heavy bleeding. My friend and pastor went with me. My husband, and later her husband too, met us at the hospital.

There were various tests and checks. The obstetrician’s eyes were flooded with compassion as he held my hand and confirmed that it was indeed a miscarriage. Ariel Joy had gone to live with her brothers, Jeremiah and Theodore John.

Among it all, I had unexplainable peace. To be truthful, I was very surprised to miscarry this baby. Things felt different this time, and I truly believed that I would be raising this child.

It has greatly helped me to already be sure that my first two children are safely and joyfully living in heaven. Ariel has joined my sons in their glorious home. She is not lost to me.

As I have said to one or two friends, “Ariel has moved from my womb into my heart.”

Ariel’s short life is precious to me and treasured by me. I look forward to the day when I get to hold her in my arms at last, to cradle her against me, to feel her warm breath on my neck.

Ariel’s life, like the lives of her brothers before her, is short and precious.

And God? He is good.

I Was Scared, Too

I had a comment from a friend today: “I finally looked at your blog. I was too scared to before.”

I totally get it.

I often feel that – not towards this blog (for obvious reasons), but towards other blogs and articles.

A title like “My Experience of Miscarriage” or “Seven Things Not to Say To Someone Who has Experienced a Stillbirth” can have a rather stressful affect on me. I don’t know what is written in the article. I don’t know if it will hit an extra raw part of me. Maybe it will just make my heartache intensify. Maybe it will just be annoying.

I also remember the fear I had of looking at Theodore the morning after I had birthed him. I remember I spent quite some time preparing myself and steeling myself. I didn’t know what to expect. Was he going to be shrivelled up? Grey or blue in colour? Would his cheeks have sunken in?

It was really quite stressful.

Then I finally looked at him. What a huge relief!

He was beautiful. More beautiful than I could have imagined. The purple tone his skin had when he was warm and just born had changed to a soft pink. He was still but looked so peaceful. He looked like he was sleeping.

I know other friends were nervous to look at him. Some have shared how they were so filled with fear that they were scared to look at him, but then they did see him, and their fear dissipated.

I remember how I was too nervous to kiss him, because I didn’t know what his cold, immature skin would feel like against my lips. When a friend visited, and cuddled him, and then kissed him before putting him back in the cooling crib (which was keeping his body cold so he wouldn’t deteriorate quickly), I was watching very closely to see her reaction. She gave me the courage I needed so I could be brave enough to kiss my very own and very loved baby. I wasn’t brave enough before.

It makes me cry so much to even write that. I feel perhaps I ought to be ashamed because I wasn’t brave enough, but the truth is I am not, because it isn’t something to be ashamed about. Sometimes things can just be too much, and we need someone to help us. I am relieved beyond measure that one of my friends was brave enough and could, unknowingly, give me the courage and strength I needed to do something so simple and also so incredibly profound. Without her, I may never have kissed my son, and I would likely be struggling with regret over it the rest of my life.

Because of my friend, I don’t have that. I have treasured memories and beautiful photographs instead.

So don’t think that I don’t understand if you have been afraid to read what I write, or if you were afraid to look at my tiny son. I do understand. And I am glad you found the strength you needed.

When Time Stood Still

This beautiful post was written by my husband. I am so glad he has shared this, as fathers of stillborn babies are so easily overlooked.

Have you ever experienced that moment in life where everything stops? That moment in between one heart beat and the next, where your whole life changes? Where life stops and time stands still?

It all happened about a year ago.

My wife had just finished giving birth to our beautiful little boy Theodore and at the very moment I laid eyes on him, the moment I held him: time stopped.

My heart exploded with love and then collapsed with pain and sorrow. He was so amazing, so beautiful, this was my boy; but he was not breathing, his heart was not pumping, he was still, as still as death.

Time stood still.

People came and went from our hospital room, meeting our little boy. But he could not meet them.

Time stood still.

We left the hospital. People coming and going, chatting and laughing; how has nothing changed? Does the world keep spinning?

Time stood still.

Back home at last. It is empty, there is no light, no chatter or laughter, there is no life. Our boy does not cry out, we do not hear him. All is silent.

Time stood still.

A small white coffin, a small plot of land, a small hole, our beautiful little son is lowered and buried. Why do we have to bury him? No one should have to bury their child.

Time stood still.

Assignments? Uni? Time passes around us. I stare at the blank screen. Why bother?

Time stood still.

Time has passed and slowly adjusted. I am no longer perpetually stuck in time, at the moment of my dead son’s birth.

However, there are still moments time stands still: when I see another father with his little boy(s), in the silent of the night, when no one is watching, when tears are shed. What would it have been like to play with them, teach them, love them and hold them tight, telling them that ‘I love you and always will’.

I Remember

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I remember wanting to pack my hospital bags, and refusing to, because I was only just over 20 weeks.

I remember being nearly 24 weeks along and choosing not to worry, because what is the point of worrying anyway?

I remember my own incomprehension as I looked at the screen, while the ultrasound technician searched, wondering why it looked so different to the other times.

I remember the tears of the ultrasound technician as she told us she was so sorry, but she couldn’t find the heartbeat.

I remember the way nurses and assistants rushed to help in any way they could, even in things as small as finding me apple juice.

I remember my shock at finding out this was a stillbirth, not a miscarriage, and the terror at finding out I would actually have to give birth very soon.

I remember Anna, one of my midwives, praying for us and crying with us.

I remember coming home to pack for a stay in hospital, not knowing how long I would be there.

I remember thinking Theodore was going to be a girl, because that is what it looked like on the scan (even though the baby had been Theodore from the start), and packing cream and pink wool for knitting – just in case the stay was long.

I remember the gentleness of the staff, and their consideration in putting us in a room away from full term mothers and babies.

I remember feeling like it was not going to be a long wait until the baby was born, and the midwives being careful not to encourage my thinking too much, because usually it can take quite a while.

I remember constantly being on my phone; I felt so loved.

I remember hoping for an amazing miracle. We asked God for a sign. If we were asked if we wanted one more ultrasound, then we would know Theodore would miraculously live again.

I remember not getting that sign, and knowing that Theodore was gone.

I remember the fear of labour and of the unknown being replaced by peace and joy.

I remember trying not to grin like a lunatic while the midwife was being serious and compassionate.

I remember when I knew for sure I was in labour.

I remember the swiftness of the process, the speed with which my body worked to deliver my son.

I remember that whenever the pain reached a point where I did not think I could handle any more, it would change.

I remember the feel of my son slipping out of me.

I remember knowing in that moment that he was too small, that I did not actually want the miracle I had previously been hoping for.

I remember saying in my head, “God, I want the baby to stay with you!”

I remember how time stood still, and how this sacred time was marked by the clock in the room literally stopping for an hour or two.

I remember how warm he was. He had the warmth of my own body.

I remember how I saw him and loved him.

I remember how amazed I was at how much joy I could feel – so much joy that sorrow was completely pushed aside – at the sight and feel of my very own son.

I remember how tacky some of his skin was, and how the rough towel stuck to it until he was placed in something softer.

I remember how big his hands and feet seemed. I remember being so excited at Theodore’s birth that I messaged as many people as I thought would want to hear, even though it was the early hours of the morning.

I remember waking up the next morning, and being reluctant to look at my son, because I didn’t know if he would look different.

I remember he looked even more beautiful. His skin had stopped being so purple in tone and had become pink.

I remember the vernix making him look like he had a little moustache.

I remember holding him, but being too nervous to kiss him, because I was scared of how his skin would feel.

I remember how hard the bridge of his nose was, and how taut his Achilles tendon was.

I remember how he had no kneecaps, but did have the sharpest elbows I have ever felt.

I remember his tongue. It was a normal tongue colour even though the rest of his skin was not a normal baby pink.

I remember how glad I was that he was beyond pain and injury whenever I had to move him or hold his head, because the skull portions would move around so much.

I remember making a conscious effort to memorise him. I would measure his foot against my finger to know how long it was (the top half of my thumb), and I would pay attention to the cool barely-there weight he was when resting on my thigh.

I remember how his head was covered with fine blond fuzz, and how soft it felt.

I remember turning him over and looking at his back, with the miniature spine, and how he really had no bottom yet at all.

I remember how he fit, curled up, in my hand.

I remember turning his exquisite hand over and gasping in amazement at the lines and creases on his palms.

I remember people saying he looked like Julian, and insisting that his brow and nose was like mine.

I remember being too busy with visitors to have time to eat, so I would ask the nurses to bring me sandwiches and milo.

I remember haunting the halls in the middle of the night, while my sleeping husband lay next to our baby, because my heart and body longed to hear the crying of babies.

I remember how Theodore fit in my hands, but how my arms longed for a baby to hold.

I remember, finally coming across a baby. He was being held by his father in the waiting room. The father let me hold him, and I remember how the father’s eyes went all red and teary. He said to me that they had had a stillbirth only a year earlier, and earnestly encouraged me not to give up.

I remember knowing he would have let me hold his precious baby for as long as I wanted to, and how my arms felt relieved to be filled.

I remember how hard it was to leave our baby alone in a cot when we finally left the hospital and went back to our own house.

I remember how listless and aimless and awkward we felt when we arrived home, after having a baby, but without a baby.

I remember that after arriving home again I insisted on never closing the door to the room which would have been Theodore’s.

I remember how the day after we arrived home from the hospital it was Fathers Day. It will always be Father’s day very soon after Theodore’s birth.

I remember my son. One year later and it is all fresh in my mind.

I remember you, Theodore, and I love you.

Eleven Months of God’s Faithfulness

As it approaches the first anniversary of Theodore’s death and birth (in that order), a kind of protective numbness seems to be sweeping over me again. A surreal feeling of “did this really happen?” and “is it really me that this happened to?”

The reality is there, however. I see it in so many ways.

  • The knowledge that my son would be coming up on eight months if only he had lived and been born in December, not August.
  • The keen awareness that his birthday is not in the right month.
  • A frustration with those who appear to take their healthy and alive children for granted.
  • A knowledge that death really can happen at any time, and no one is immune.
  • The realisation that my husband and I are “bereaved parents” – a label that is at once a comfort (parents) and a heartache (bereaved).

Recently, friends have had the shock of having their little boy diagnosed with leukaemia. They have begun a blog (edwardisham.com) as a way of responding to this huge and hard life event. Within their writings, I see reflected some of my own journey since Theodore’s death.

  • The time in the hospital and the specialist appointments (though they have far more than I did).
  • The realisation that life seems more fragile now.
  • Taking time to adjust to a new label: cancer parents.
  • The knowledge that as hard as it is, that does not mean it is unfair.
  • And, above all, the belief that God will hold and sustain them through this, that he is faithful.

Seeing the response toward the Isham family is such a blessing. It is beautiful to watch and be a part of, and it reminds me of how much support Julian and I have been given over the past eleven months. To see and hear the prayers for them, and the words of hope and encouragement, makes me wonder, ‘is this what people also did for me and my husband?’ It thrills me to see it happening, to see people caring and loving and praying and practically supporting.

I have been reminded of how much each word and each hug or hand squeeze meant to me. I know how needed those things are, and I am so glad to see them happening.

They are not the same situations. Tiny Theodore was stillborn. Little Ned has leukaemia, but there is a great deal of hope and expectation that with the treatment and care he is now receiving, he will go on to live a full life.

Whatever happens, we make it through and we lean on God, and we have hope that he will bring beauty from the ashes of these hard times.

He is faithful, and he is trustworthy.