Monday, September 29, 2014

Why Your Experience Doesn't Give You Insight Into Mine

Normally, I am all for likening your experience to someone else's in order to help empathize with them or to help them through a tough time. Scholars and professionals who are much smarter than me have shown that having that skill actually makes us more human and helps us to forge connections to other human beings, thereby making us feel less alone.

At the risk of sounding like I'm the exception that proves the rule, however, I respectfully submit that you just can't do that for me. You can't.

You see, we are the parents of a deceased child. 

I can feel you wince. I winced typing it out. There is no experience that can touch it and there is no way to describe it to soften it for the listener. In fact, the only reason to  try to soften it is to put other people at their ease; there is no way to phrase what we have experienced that will make it hurt less or bother me less or help me to survive it easier. All of the words surrounding what we've experienced hurt and none of them actually help. I have actually spent time trying to put all of the euphemisms that I've heard for it on a scale of Not Too Bad Really to Makes Me Feel Violent or Like Sobbing Uncontrollably Depending on the Day. The scale shifts depending on my mood, on the day, and on my condition.

You see, you can't help me. You haven't been through what I have. You might say, "Well, but you haven't experienced what I have, specifically, either." And you're right. But looking at the worst things that have happened in your life, I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that someone very, very close to you has experienced your worst moment. It wouldn't take a lot of time or effort to find someone who knows what it's like to fail a college class, get divorced,  have a miscarriage, experience infidelity, be depressed, or lose the love of their life. Those things are sad and hard, yes, but they are also very common in our society.

Child loss, in the first world in which we are privileged to live, is a rare and terrible thing.

So much so that, when the subject comes up, the room goes quiet. There is throat clearing and foot shuffling. There are platitudes galore ("God has a plan! She's in a better place! You'll get through this! God never gives us more than we can handle!"). We don't encounter this in our daily lives (thank God!) and so we have no tools with which to deal with it. 

This means, though, that unless you've been through it, you can't judge me. You can't base my marriage on yours. You can't compare my faith walk to yours. You can't tell me how to survive it or how to get through it. Let me emphasize this: You can't. 

You spiritual leader might have told you that you can. You might think that you know of books and scriptures and quotes that will snap me out of this. You might believe that all I need is a little analogy or a little tough love and I'll be fine. You might think that I'm handling this all wrong, that I'm not brave enough or solid enough, or that surely you would never handle this kind of thing this way.

All I have to say to that is you have no idea what you would or would not do or say, what lengths you would go to, what situation you would put yourself in, or how you would feel. You just don't know. You don't. I don't care what you think you know about yourself because this kind of thing rips the bottom out of what you believe to be your lowest known level and tells you that you can go so much farther down than you ever imagined. 

You. Don't. Know.

My marriage is not your marriage. Mine probably has more fighting in it. And more crying. You might see the contention and feel the discomfort between us after we've had a fight. But it also has a lot (a lot) of cuddling and hand holding. A lot of late-night ice cream eating after one of us has had a nightmare. It has a lot of laughing and a lot of support. I never have to explain myself to my husband because, you see, he knows. He knows the depths of insanity and anguish that child loss can take you to. I never have to tell him why I am the way that I am because he already knows. And I know about him, too. We have our own sad, grief-stricken little club to which you cannot gain entrance and that club has its own rules and expectations. Trust me, you don't want to be a part of it but you also can't tell us how to operate within it, either. Last time we checked, the divorce rate for couples dealing with child loss is around 78%. I'd say that we're doing pretty well, three years later, and that doesn't even take into account everything else that we've lost since losing our girl.

My faith is not your faith. You don't know. You can't tell me what to do or how to feel. You can't tell me to hang in there or try harder to read my Bible more or...or...or...just don't. You have no idea. We are surviving. We are getting through it. We aren't laying on the bathroom floor with our wrists slashed open. We are upright, working our jobs, making our meals, caring for our son, and, doing life. So back off. I know that that sounds harsh but...back off. Really. The last thing we need is someone telling us how to live a storyline that they keep telling us that they, "just can't imagine going through." If you really can't imagine losing a child of yours, then (and I say this with love) keep it to yourself.

My life is not your life. At the end of the day, my choices (and their consequences) are my own. So when you see me experimenting with my diet, trying out new philosophies, eating pie at 12:30am (ahem), or whatever else you might not agree with, please try to remember that I need grace and understanding more than your judgment and that, unless I'm directly harming you (like, I made you actually bleed or totaled your car) then it really doesn't affect you. I need love. I need acceptance. I need you to remember that I'm a good person and friend and that I'm still myself. I don't need lectures and judgments. I love you, but I don't love feeling like I'm not measuring up.

Look, this all may have sounded harsh but it's said with love. It's written more in a tone of soft pleading than sharp anger. I'm trying. I think that the fact that I'm not walking around drunk out of my mind every day or locked away in a cell somewhere is reason enough for celebration. In the rush to make sure that I'm righteous, please don't forget that I'm also human and in need of love. 

Understand that I don't necessarily want to talk about my choices in depth (because I spend a ridiculous amount of time in self contemplation with my journal all on my own, thank you) and that that's not a commentary on you but rather a commentary on the fact that I'm just tired of "dealing" with myself. 

Please understand that I care but...I also want to just be a normal person who is to be commended for surviving agonizing circumstances. I want to be allowed to make mistakes and to not be expected to have an explanation (or required to give one) for everything that I do. Because I'm surviving. I'm getting through it. I'm working through it. And that takes time and I will make mistakes. Please love me anyway. And if you can't, then please keep your mouth closed. Thank you.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When Your God-Planned Family Doesn't Look Like One

Very early on in The Hubs' and my married life, we were convicted that the use of birth control was not something that the Lord was leading us toward. We felt that, in trusting the Lord with every aspect of our lives, we should also give over the planning of our family to Him. By no means has this journey been a linear one for us, mostly because there was a period in both my husband's and my lives where the way that we were living our lives was not in accordance with the way that God wants us to live in a lot of ways. I came back to the Lord first and, when he sought to know more about the way that my heart was turning, my husband joined me about a year later. We started praying together fervently that we would know what God wanted for us and what direction our lives ought to take.

God has the benefit of being able to know everything - yesterday, today, and tomorrow - and he knows what His plan is for all of His children, both those who have been born and those who are yet to be born. It is our belief, then, that He knows best when children ought to be added to our family and it is up to us to be obedient to accept them as precious gifts.

3Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. - Psalm 127:3-5
(Please understand that our belief in what God wants for our family in terms of the use of birth control is an answer to prayer that we believe is for us only and not something that we believe is true for everyone or in every situation. Obviously if you and your spouse have prayed about it and feel that birth control is right for your family, then that is between you and God. We would never presume to believe that just because something is right for us it would be right for you!)

The Hubs and I married in October of 2009 and shortly thereafter began to pray fervently about what we should do about starting a family. Over the course of that year, we both received confirmation that we should start a family soon and that, indeed, doing what we could to prevent children from coming into our family was not the Lord's plan for us. By September of 2010, my husband was comfortable that the answers we had been receiving were from God and that it was time to step out in faith. By January 2011, we were pregnant. 

We were thrilled, terrified, nervous, scared...all of those emotions that first time parents feel when facing the birth of their very first baby. I did all of the reading that I could on parenting and childbirth, we went to a birthing class at the hospital, we dreamed, planned our nursery in the shoe-box house that we were living in at the time (which we aptly called "The Little House"), took "bump shot" pictures...oh, I was so happy. We couldn't wait for our daughter to arrive!

She came right on time, on her due date, September 28, 2011. She was beautiful with a full head of thick, dark hair and a dainty, round face. We named her Violet Georgine, using both of my grandmothers' names. I wanted her to have a strong legacy, women to whom she could look as an example of Godly womanhood and perseverance. She was so lovely, so tiny, so feminine! We loved her so much!

Three days later, the unthinkable happened and we lost her. She passed away for reasons that are still unknown to doctors and researchers, and trust me, we've seen them all. All we have are our memories and the pictures that we took of her in the short two days that we had with her before she went into the hospital.

We held to our faith in God, to the knowledge that no matter what happened, we were still a family. We clung harder to God and His goodness than we ever had in our lives before. It was like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver; our faith was literally the only thing that kept us getting up in the morning, going to work, fixing meals, taking care of saved us temporally as well as spiritually. And we held fast to the knowledge that the answer to our prayers about family planning was still as true now as it was before we lost our daughter.

In spite of our own fear of what we now knew could happen only too easily, we didn't try to keep from getting pregnant. We were terrified of what it would mean for us if we did conceive again, but our fear wasn't a good enough reason to disobey what we knew was a directive from the Lord.

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." - 2 Timothy 1:7

We went on in 2012 to have a miscarriage. And then another one. And then another one. And it was completely devastating. Each time, we experienced the rush of hope and love that came with the knowledge that there would be a new baby in our home and then were brought low by the defeat and heartbreak that comes along with the loss of that child. It was a very dark time in our lives, for sure, but through it all we clung to each other and to God who we trusted to lead us through this "valley of the shadow of death."

And then, that August, I once again found out that I was pregnant. Once again, we experienced the joy and hope that accompanies that kind of news, but this time it was heavily tempered by the fear of losing yet another child. By this time, our hearts were battered and bruised and we were spiritually exhausted. And so we held ourselves back from being as happy as perhaps we could have been otherwise. Every time I received results from one of my preliminary blood tests, the news was very good and we tentatively became a little more optimistic. I was put on partial bed rest for the duration of my first trimester because of some early bleeding, but other than that, everything was going amazingly well. For the first time, in a long time, we had hope for happiness in our future.

And we prayed. Oh, how we prayed. I received numerous blessings over the months and practically glued myself to my scriptures. I prayed scripture over my unborn baby and covered him in layer upon layer of prayers for his well-being and health.

"For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him." - 1 Samuel 1:27

He was born on April 20th, 2013, perfectly healthy and absolutely beautiful. His birth was uneventful as far as any kind of trauma goes (in fact, he was born with just one push!) and from the day he was born, everything was easy. He nursed beautifully (still does 16 months later!), rarely cried, slept like a dream, loves the car...he's been a blessing in every single way that I could imagine. He's handsome and loving, gives big hugs every chance he gets, and is learning to be a sweet-tempered, obedient child.

And we still felt that birth control was not for our family. We still felt the Lord's guiding, loving hand on our lives and live with the knowledge that we can trust Him to give us what we need. He knows best what our family should look like and what we need in spite of what our sinful nature might tempt us to think we want or what would be easy for us.

In the beginning of August of this year, we discovered to our delight that we were, again, pregnant. There had been enough time between our losses that the sting had been taken out of them somewhat, although you never, ever truly heal from the loss of a baby like we suffered with our Violet. There had been enough healing, however, that we were just overjoyed with the news that we would be welcoming a little sibling for our sweet boy! We decided to wait to announce the news to our friends and family until we knew for sure that things were progressing the way they were supposed to be, though, and I started my battery of blood tests the next day.

From that day, nothing was simple or straight forward. The results of our blood tests and ultrasounds were confusing, both to us and to the doctors at our OB practice. The only thing that everyone could agree on was that, at seven weeks pregnant, there should have been a baby in my uterus with a heartbeat that was visible on an ultrasound, and there wasn't. There was no baby. There was a gestational sac and my body was acting like there was a baby, but there just wasn't. It was over before it had even begun.

I ended up having to have surgery to remove a grape-sized cyst from one of my fallopian tubes, I had to have a section of that tube removed, my other tube was flushed, a D&C was performed to remove the empty gestational sac from my uterus, and blood was flushed from an area behind my uterus that had pooled there from the cyst in my tube causing a leakage because it was so swollen and damaged.

I have spent the last week or so healing and trying to once again heal my heart from the loss of the sweet life that I was already anticipating with such joy. Physically I've been trying to get back on track, but emotionally and spiritually I have been crying out in pain as well.

Because the thing is, when we think of families who allow the Lord to guide their family size, we immediately think of the Duggars (who I adore!) or of their friends the Bates Family. Our minds immediately jump to supersize families who have been blessed with a quiver so full that it's bulging! But there are other stories, too. There are families who put the exact same measure of trust in the Lord's goodness and timing who look like mine. You see, there's only one baby that you can see in my family, but there are five who are missing from our table. There are five sweet souls who never got the chance to celebrate Christmases with us or who never challenged me to figure out the logistics of going to the grocery store without going crazy in the process. There are five siblings that our Little Man will never get to run around the backyard with or homeschool with.

We trust the Lord implicitly with our family size. We trust His time and His plan. We trust that when we suffer these losses that there's a purpose for that and a plan for that, we believe that there is good that can come from this and that He will truly redeem the years that we've lost.

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified." - Isaiah 61:3