hope

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 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.

He is My Inspiration

Theodore’s early death is a source of grief, because we looked forward to having him and raising him so much. His life, however, is a source of encouragement and inspiration to me now. It spurs me on to love more, forgive faster, and to have my eyes focused not on the temporal but on the eternal.

After his death, I remember reading Psalm 139. Verse 16 was a huge source of encouragement for me. It says this:

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

I read this, and I knew beyond doubt and beyond questions that Theodore had already lived his life. Every day ordained for him had been lived out. In less than twenty-four weeks, he had lived every moment he was meant to live.

I remember being so blown away by this. I was so filled with peace and satisfaction; any feeling that my son’s life had been robbed from him was banished. Instead I had an awe-filled knowledge that he had lived his life, every day he was intended to have. It is hard to be too full of sorrow when you start seeing things like this. Yes, the grief of losing him is still there; grief is a process. But, for me, this helped to resolve practically all of the anger and confusion I had been feeling at times.

At the same time as feeling the relief that Theodore had lived his life, I felt a responsibility settling upon me. If Theodore has lived all his days, if his earthly life is spent, then it is my responsibility and my husband’s responsibility to make sure we allow the purpose of Theodore’s life to come to fruition. This calls us to a higher level of love and trust and faith. It spurs us on to behave in a way that is kind and patient and understanding. We could so easily have shut ourselves away and let ourselves become bitter and angry. We could have refused to believe that any good could come of this. We easily could have blamed God. But we were so careful not to let this happen. We did all we could to keep ourselves open and caring and loving. We did all we could to make it easy for people to share in our grief, and also our joys. We have worked hard to keep our eyes trained on the faithfulness of God and his promises.

It is not always easy. I think sometimes, people see me as being more healed than I am. I keep trying to be patient, because how can I tell someone that they are hurting me, without hurting them in return? So I try. I try so hard to keep walking in love, in patience, and in forgiveness. There are times I see Theodore in my mind’s eye, ahead of me, encouraging me on. “Come on, mum. Keep looking up.” And I am reminded that this life is just for a short time. I am encouraged that I can live this life well, and walk in love for every day of it.

Theodore’s short and precious life motivates me so much to keep my eyes firmly fixed on what I am living for, on who I desire to become. It helps me remember the peace and joy I have when I intentionally – trustingly – release myself into the safe and steady hands of God, and into the unknown, surprising, demanding, exciting future and purpose which is in store for me.

Quite frankly, my son is my hero. He is my coach, my champion, my muse, my encourager, and my inspiration as I live out everyday, every moment of my life.

Six Months

This time last year I was about two or three weeks away from finding out I was pregnant.

Had things gone well, I would have had a two and a half month old baby boy (and I would probably be trying to nap right now instead of writing a blog). However, it has been just over six months since Theodore John was born still at 23 weeks and 6 days.

In the six months since then, my husband and I have held a funeral, grieved (in completely different ways), and known the agony of getting a grave plaque only a few days after the due date – and the day before Christmas.

We have borne as kindly and as graciously as possible the news of friends’ pregnancies and the births of new babies. We have learnt how to share our journey without dominating conversations with our sorrow. We have learnt how to not let that same grief overshadow our home, too. We have learnt how to find joy and laughter in everything that offers it. We have learnt how to pin our hopes and expectations on something bigger than ourselves.

Losing a child certainly is not something you recover from quickly or easily, especially when it seems like every second friend is getting pregnant or celebrating over a newborn baby. There are reminders everywhere. Television shows, Facebook, Pinterest. Going to the hospital, the cinema, the supermarket. Even my favourite clothing store has a new maternity section now, and the changes in my own body are a daily reminder, should I care to notice them.

Yesterday I held the newborn baby of some friends, a big solid boy. And as I held him there was no glimmer of self pity or jealousy or anger. I was just happy that this baby had arrived and was living, breathing and scrunching up his mouth and nose while he napped in my arms.

Six months on, I think my husband and I are doing well.

My Anchor Holds

I have a new necklace. A sparkly anchor pendant on a silver chain. It is my Theodore and Jeremiah necklace.

An anchor. Someone suggested it symbolised hope and strength, as that is typical symbolism for an anchor. Well it does. But it doesn’t.

One of the songs at Theodore’s funeral contained the words, “my anchor holds within the veil”.

The veil is, for me, a safe, calm place of peace and safety and – yes – hope and strength. It is a place where I cry out in pain and frustration and grief, where my tears are not lost or forgotten but counted and kept.

It is a place that remains stable and secure, even when everything else is uncertain and stressful and, occasionally,  grim. It is a place where my worry ebbs out and is replaced by peace.

It is a place I need.

Really, it is a place of trust. Trust that good will come from this bitter grief. Trust that from this sorrow something beautiful will grow and blossom and shine.

And as much as I need this place, I also need the reminder that it is there.

I need the reminder and the reassurance that I am safe and that I am not going to get disoriented and lost while I am on this bewildering journey.

This is what my Theodore and Jeremiah necklace does. Its presence reminds me, encourages me, comforts me and calms me.

My anchor holds within the veil.