Joy for Mourning

I want to introduce you to my dear friend, Ruth, and to share her story with you. Ruth had been one of my high school teachers and was my cheerleading coach for a couple seasons. I never imagined that several years later, we would endure similar life challenges that would bring us together as friends.

Back when we lost our son, Andrew, I found myself in a very dark place. At that time, Bible verses weren’t a comfort to me, and (frankly) it frustrated me the more people kept sending me verses. I was trying so hard not to be angry with God, and though people meant well, that gesture just made me more angry. During that time, Ruth messaged me.

We hadn’t talked in years, so I was kind of surprised by hearing from her. What she said in her message helped me in so many ways. She shared her story with me. She too had lost a son through pregnancy loss, and she went on to describe the feelings that I was feeling at that very time. She related to me and reached out in the most tangible way she could. I truly think that her reaching out to me is what helped dispel my anger towards God.

Ruth has since become a great friend and dear mentor to me. She and her family have endured a lot of loss, but God continues to be faithful. I asked her if she would mind sharing her story on my blog. I feel like her story could help so many people. She obliged and took the time to write out the journey God has allowed their family to go through. Here is her (their) story . . .

“I often refer to my life as being in two periods: Before and After. The loss of my son was so traumatic for me that it seems to divide my life in two irreconcilable parts. For those who have never experienced something that traumatic, I liken it to an amputation. I am healed but will never be whole again this side of heaven. I will always walk with a limp, and the pain returns at odd times for surprising reasons, though the pain is never as severe as at first. I am much stronger than I was before, and I don’t think I would have been this strong if it weren’t for my experience, though I still don’t say it was inherently a good thing or something I would choose to go through. Rather, God is the Master Designer and has woven it in as an integral part of His masterpiece in my life. As Joseph said, He has taken something intended for evil and used it for good.

In the Before part of my life, if you had asked me about my pregnancies, I would probably have complained about the heartburn, the backaches, the varicose veins, the gestational diabetes, the days (yes, days) of hard labor, and the scary complications that threatened each child’s life at delivery. Yet, I had no idea how greatly I’d long for those relatively care-free days of pregnancy that preceded David’s death. In the two weeks preceding his death, my husband and I experienced two severe trials in our ministry, ones that had us on our knees for hours begging God to show Himself in our life. Little did we know that the worst trial was yet to come.

Looking back, I see clearly that we were under attack from Satan and that God would ultimately get the victory and the glory, but we really couldn’t see that at the time. We just begged God to show us if we were somehow to blame for any of this and to intervene on our behalf.

January 11, 2011 seemed like any other day as I took my three kids with me for my routine 18-week prenatal appointment, where they would once again have the joy of listening to the heartbeat. After an hour of trying to find the heartbeat, my heart began to sink, though I tried to remain hopeful, if only for my kids’ sake. My husband drove in to join me as we waited for our evening appointment for an ultrasound. At 9:30 that evening, with our exhausted kids in the waiting room, we found out that our baby had died and were sent home to sleep. I tried, but I’m not sure I slept for even five minutes that night or the next day, just cried.

People talk about feeling supernatural peace, but that did not happen for my husband or me, perhaps due to the supernatural attack we were under. We simply felt darkness, completely abandoned by God. It was a real test of our faith, to live by what God said in His Word or to believe these overwhelmingly powerful feelings that contradicted all God said. I tried to read the Bible, though quite honestly it was the last thing I wanted to do, but it brought no comfort, and neither did music.

I felt betrayed by my body and by God, and overwhelmed with grief. We were one week away from the ultrasound where we find out the gender, and were in sorrow when we should have been filled with anticipation. (Those “should have been’s” can destroy you when you experience a loss.)

The baby measured 16 weeks, though it’s hard to pinpoint when he had died, since he had growth issues we later discovered. The further along you are, the less likely you are to go into labor and the more likely that the dead baby can poison your body (which we later discovered was beginning to happen), so they offered to go ahead and induce me, which I gladly took them up on. I could not get an epidural since the poison had begun to spread, so I was in labor all night with little pain relief.

Worse than the labor pain was the pain in my heart. I had to be next door to a lady giving birth, and for hours I heard the beep of her baby’s heart monitor, as I begged God to tell me why I didn’t need a heart monitor on my little one.

Silence was my answer.

I have never felt so alone in all my life, even though my husband was by my side. How could a loving God allow me to go through such severe pain when I was desperately trying to serve Him, longing to be used of Him?  It was truly the worst night of my life. Little David was born in the morning on January 13, at 3.5 oz, 7 inches long. His umbilical cord was tightly twisted at his belly button, wrapped so tightly around his abdomen that he had begun to grow around it, and wrapped so tightly around his neck that he was discolored.

It was so traumatic for me that six weeks later, when I was still exhibiting all the symptoms of PTSD, my doctor advised me to get some counseling. A godly friend who had been through the same thing a few years earlier, as well as a fantastic book (When Trouble Comes by Jim Berg), finally got me the help I desperately needed. I could tell he had suffered, and that was so difficult for me to work through, as I felt it was my job to protect my son, and I had failed.

A real breakthrough moment for me was the day I recognized the gap between my reaction and what God had done for me. Here I was, unwilling to let go of my son for any reason (“no reason could justify God taking my son”), but thinking nothing of the fact that God gave His only Son to die for me, in my place. I spent hours and hours reading God’s Word. My friend counseled me to give thanks in everything, to even thank God for things surrounding my son’s death (“thank You for seeing me through”), operating on faith rather than feelings. It’s hard to put into words how immensely difficult that was, but how rewarding.

Slowly, very slowly, that elusive supernatural peace began to fill my heart, and just as slowly, joy began to creep back in, as God chipped away at my sinful responses. Who was I to tell God how best to use me? Why should having a baby be a right? Why not let God use me to show grace in suffering? I had started believing, like Job in the Bible, that God owed me the answers to my prayers because I loved Him, served Him, and prayed fervently, believing. I had believed God ought to consult me before He made plans for my life.

Five months later we were pregnant, and I began to battle fear. Three months later I had a D&C when, at the routine 14 week appointment, no heartbeat was found. The baby, “Sarah”, measured 12 weeks.

Four months later we were pregnant again, and the fear began. Three months later, at the routine 14 week appointment, no heartbeat. A D&C was performed on the baby that measured 12 weeks, and testing revealed a healthy baby girl, Hannah, had died.

In hopes that the problem was fibroids, I endured a scary and painful surgery to remove them.

Three months later I was pregnant, but more hopeful, as we added progesterone and were monitored closely. At the routine 11 week appointment, we discovered the baby had died the previous day, and another D&C was added to my medical history. Testing once again revealed a healthy baby girl, Elizabeth.

Each loss continued to teach me to depend on God, and though each child’s death was immensely painful, I emerged stronger each time. I was faced with many soul-searching questions. Is my soul’s desire for another child, or is it for God to purge and cleanse and purify me? Do I recognize that God’s desire is not to hurt me, but to erase the scars that sin has etched on my heart? That fear I battled was one of the impurities that God needed to cleanse from my heart, as well as that unwillingness to praise God for all the little problems that I really didn’t desire to face in my daily life. What really is my heart’s desire? Can I honestly say with the psalmist “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD…. When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek.'”

I was finally at peace with God, willing to take whatever He sent (or took from me), submitting like Job did at the end. One final round of tests revealed that my body attacks the placenta as it attaches, which is why the losses were all after the placenta takes over. Without treatment, my chances of having a baby are 5%.

With an experimental treatment (that of course isn’t covered by insurance), my chances rise to 50%. Not the best odds, but I needed to know God’s plan in all this, since God can rise above odds. We prayed, but God seemed to say no, as I still wasn’t pregnant seven months later, unheard of for me. I had finally accepted an answer of no when I was surprised with a pregnancy. There have been days of battling fear, but mostly just days of thanking God for each day He gives me with this little one. I don’t know the future, don’t even know how long I’ll get to hold my three older children, but I do know that God has answered so much prayer for me these past few months, and for that I rejoice.

This little one has made it further than all of them, and I’m now 38 weeks. I was surprised that the battle against fear increases the closer I’ve gotten to delivery. The more hopeful I get, the more frightening the chance of having my hopes crushed. If I could encourage any of you that identify with what I’ve written, it’s to focus on the future rather than the past.

Focus on doing the next right thing.

I wasted much time in blaming myself and blaming God or in worrying about things that truly were beyond my control. I can’t control whether this baby makes it, beyond praying fervently for the child, but I can do what God has called me to do: bring Him glory. Each moment that mission might involve different things, obeying Him, training my children, cleaning the house, singing songs of praise, etc., but my focus needs to be on loving Him and loving those around me.

I heard Joni Eareckson Tada say in response to a prayer for her to be healed that the healing she needed most was healing from her sinful heart that constantly pulled her to do wrong. What I need more than a living baby is to have God change me to be more like Christ. The true miracle of healing has been in my heart. I am a different person in this After period, and while some differences result in a painful limp, other differences are very good things.”

UPDATE: After a complicated labor, Ruth has since given birth to her beautiful baby boy! He is healthy and loved beyond comprehension!

Asher Jonathan
The story behind his name: God has allowed us to taste a tangible picture of the spiritual mission of the Messiah. As Isaiah 61:3 says, “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Our goal in all this is to bring glory to God, and that is our prayer for our young son’s life. Asher – “happiness”, Jacob’s 8th son, promised a life blessed with abundance, our 8th child. Jonathan – “Jehovah has given”, Saul’s son and David’s best friend, noted for manliness, generosity, and unselfishness, our first son since giving birth to David, the start of our time of mourning. Asher Jonathan has been used by God to bring joy for mourning in a small way, a picture of the joy Jesus brought to replace our mourning over our lost condition.
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