I remember too clearly, last June, sitting in a John Hopkins Urology doctor’s room, a catheter strapped to my leg and fear strapped to my heart. The urologist came in, briefly glanced at the computer, and then asked me, how did this happen?
In that moment so many scenes spun through my mind. The waking up to a wet bed, the too slow recovery from emergency surgery, all the ER trips- 4 in 6 weeks. Scenes of blood all over my bathroom, my laying in it, my children watching hysterically. I feel the tarp the EMTs put me in, feel the endless needle pricks for countless blood draws. Remember exhaustion from chemo.
I blink. How did this happen?
“I got pregnant,” I answered him.
One year ago today, I took a pregnancy test and watched it quickly turn positive. I had known I was late for several days, most of those of which I didn’t even tell my husband. There are many moments seared crystal clear in my memory, and one of those is the very second I realized I was late and I felt like God sucker punched me.
We had miscarried the year before, and it seemed to me that I had just finished crawling my way out of the pit of grief that had enveloped me for that year. When I realized I was late, I quickly found myself prostrate from sorrow on the bathroom rug, terrified tears steaming onto the floor, sobbing to God to please, please not allow me to go through this again. I could not miscarry again- I knew it would break me.
How could I have even begun to imagine that not only would I indeed miscarry, but I would soon find myself laying on that same rug while I bled the dreams of my baby and my fertility out, that this tear-stained rug would soon be saturated with red-dashed hopes.
And yes, it would break me.
When I finally told my husband I was late, he helped calm my fears and encourage me to take a pregnancy test. After it told us of the baby growing inside of me, I felt a whole mix of emotions- fear, hope, excitement. We were set to graduate our foster training class the next day. The thought of 2018 adding 2 more children to our home made me so happy and hope-filled. In many ways, it seemed like after a really rough 2017, 2018 could be a year of restoration to our home.
But that very next day, in the middle of our foster graduation, I went to the bathroom and had another first time of seeing blood. I can’t fully explain it, but the first thing I did was pray the Lord’s Prayer. Grace.
I went back out to the class celebrations, feeling the weight of holding my tears and hiding my heart. Once we were on the way home, I told my husband. Heavy defeat clouded us.
But instead of miscarrying, the next 6 weeks would be a continual roller coaster of unknowns. The bleeding would stop, HCG would go up, then more bleeding, repeat. We found ourselves unable to give in to healthy grief or heart-filled hopes. We lived in limbo as I went to the doctor every couple of days for blood draws. Just barely on the line of a viable pregnancy, we waited and I began living with physical restrictions that would not soon go away. We had an ultrasound at 8 weeks that was inconclusive- no heartbeat found, and measuring showed 6 weeks gestation. Could just be early, they said. The ultrasound tech seemed to think I was crazy for wanting a picture still.
I continued the endless trips to the doctor for blood draws. The HCG continued to climb, but the bleeding would come still. The psychological battle was in full swing, as I lived in constant tension of good news/bad news- between hope rising and then being dashed back down. My emotions began to turn off, as I had no idea if I was on the path to life or death, and I knew I was on one of the two.
Easter came in that time frame, the day before that first ultrasound, and with it another rise in the HCG. We enjoyed a beautiful weekend in New York with my in-laws. My mother in law helped us come up with an announcement picture so that if the next appointment went well, we could be ready to share the joy with the world.
When I look at pictures from that weekend, in many ways it’s like looking into another world. It’s amazing how quickly things can change.
We had a follow up ultrasound on April 26th. There was still no heartbeat, and the tech didn’t say much, but that part was normal. After the appointment, my husband returned to work and I returned home to wait for the doctor to call. I was sitting watching the boys play outside, wondering if I was about to find out for sure that we lost another baby. When the phone rang, I still had hope for better news. But it was worse.
“Is anyone with you?” the doctor said. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so confused.
“My two boys are.”
“But is another adult with you?” She seemed urgent.
“No.” So confused.
“You need to get someone with you right now. Your pregnancy is ectopic.”
My confusion melted and relief swept over me as I thought she had the wrong patient. “Oh, no,” I explained, “it’s not in the tubes.”
“No, it’s ectopic in your c-section scar tissue outside of your uterus lining. You are at high risk for uterine rupture and I need you to get someone with you right away and go to the ER.”
I guess that was one of the moments that broke me.
I got off the phone and tried calling my husband, but my phone froze, and my heart froze, and I lay on the kitchen floor wracked with sobs. Finally my phone worked to call my husband who walked out of work and I desperately called for a sitter and we ran off to the ER, beginning the chase for my health that would not soon end.
At the hospital, I endured yet more ultrasounds and pelvic exams. The ultrasounds that already reminded me of loss became something truly traumatizing. We found out that my type of ectopic pregnancies are phenomenally rare, and it would be the first of a few rare things to happen to me in this process. The doctors met for a very long time, and finally came back with their plan: chemo.
Praise the Lord, at this point my blood work showed that the HCG had plummeted and so no decision had to be made that would end the baby’s life. That had already happened. And in these same moments of finding that out, there was not time to stop and grieve, because now my life was on the line.
The chemo was to basically treat the gestational sac like a tumor- terrible, isn’t it?- and hopefully shrink it. I ended up having to go to the hospital every day for that first week- every other day was chemo, and every other day was to check my kidney and liver functions and get a vitamin booster. I remember during one of those chemo treatments, bending over for the shot, and sobbing to the nurse, “What a way to lose a baby.” And still, I look back and am so glad I didn’t know what was still coming.
My husband’s family sent tulips. I knew my mother in law was the one who had thought it up and ordered them. Tulips will always be so special.
In those days of being on bed rest, and feeling sick from chemo, with the grief of the loss of my baby that I still couldn’t stop to process, and endless doctor appointments and hospital visits, we got a message, a horrible message, from my father in law. My mother in law- my mama in law, as I prefer to say- could not be woken up that morning. The world continued to shatter. And I yet again fell to the floor in sobs and desperate prayers.
We had follow up ultrasounds to see if the sac was shrinking. At first it wasn’t, but then it did. The specialists were so pleased, and assured us I was fine. My husband explained that his mother was in Buffalo, New York in the ICU. Was it okay for him to travel to see her? Of course, the doctor assured. She looked at me and smiled and declared I was “good”.
One storm behind us we thought, on to the next.
But this one wasn’t over.
That next Sunday morning, with my husband 6 hours away in New York, I stood in my boys’ room recording a video of them on my phone to send my mother in law in ICU- they were singing “Jesus Loves Me” to message encouragement. I felt warm wet run down my legs, and looked down to see blood streaming down my ankles and feet.
There’s no adequate words to explain such terror.
Leaving bloody footprints behind me in a trail, I made it to the bathroom and texted my emergency contact that we had through this whole ordeal. “I’m gushing blood,” I told her. The amount of bleeding was beyond anything I could wrap my mind around. Towels soaked until there were no more. Within a couple minutes.
I called 911 and by God’s grace was able to be conscious and coherent on the call. I lay on that same bathroom rug, now blood-soaked, and looked at my 5 year old and 3 year old, who were present this whole time. My 5 year old was hysterical with sobs, and instead of being able to comfort him, I had to give him commands from the EMTs- lock up the dog, unlock the door. On his worst day of his little life, I could be of no help to him. Instead, he had to be a tiny man and come to my aid. He did everything I needed with strength and pose and I know God’s hand was on Him in a mighty way.
He came back from his duties wracking with sobs. “Who will my new mommy be?” he desperately asked me. How can I ever begin to communicate the slicing knife that went through my heart? I knew better than to tell him I would be okay. I couldn’t leave him with a lie. But then the boy-man looked at me and cried out, “Mommy, if you die you WILL rise again.” Theology from a 5 year old that I greatly needed.
The EMTs arrived and placed me in a trauma tarp. I’ll never forget feeling each stair edge slide down my back through the plastic.
And though I had had weeks of bed rest and of scheduling other adults to be with me 24/7, since I had just been “cleared”, this time, just like when that first phone call happened, no other adult was with me and my husband was 6 hours away. And yet in God’s providential care, he provided within minutes for a dear friend from church to make it to stay with the boys, and for my emergency contact and precious sister in Christ to make it right in time to jump into the ambulance with me before it took off.
The next few days are a weak blur, but through many more ultrasounds and unpleasant proddings, we found out that the uterus had not ruptured but was “window pane” close. I had a blood transfusion, iron transfusion, and then an emergency hysterectomy.
I had peace about the decision, but a peace that was under the umbrella of the circumstances that we were in. Yes, this was what I “wanted”, but in a situation of which I wanted nothing to do with. But something drastic would need to be done, and this was the “safest” option.
I remember when they discharged me from the hospital, how happy everyone was that I was going home. How happy I was supposed to be. But I was terrified. I didn’t want to see those stairs. I couldn’t see that bathroom. And what if something bad happened?
I thought I had anxiety, but over time and with the realization that “my mind broke” (as I told my husband one day), found out I had Complex Trauma Disorder: a type of PTSD. Of course.
After being home from the hospital for a few days, and in the rawer stages of recovery, I became ill, and due to concern for infection, I went again to the ER where they ran a host of more tests, examined me yet again, and then re-hospitalized me. After coming home from that a few days later, and feeling gripped with fear and an ominous waiting for the next bad thing to happen, my fears were again validated as I woke up to a wet bed. Back to the ER again. It turned out I had a bladder injury from the surgery, and would need to have a catheter for 6 weeks, and possibly another surgery.
At some point, the repeated trauma and inability to process anything before the next shoe dropped, made me feel like a crazed person stuck in some alter-reality prison. The doctor appointments, exams, and tests that came again and again and again made me break again and again and again. I would sob hysterically getting a wrist band at check in for the appointments. Shake and hyperventilate on exam tables. Feel an enormous weight of darkness at each imaging test.
Six weeks after the catheter was put in, Jehovah-Jireh began revealing His healing hand (which I know had been there all along, but not always able to be seen) as my bladder had healed “itself” and I did not need surgery. The first rare thing to happen to me that I was glad about.
After that, so many would greet me with celebrations that I was better.
And I remember wanting to cry out, but my baby died! How can we be relieved?
And while these physical complications are behind me, and I’d like to say I’m all better, I’m far from it. I wrestle deeply with Complex Trauma Disorder. Fear, depression and anxiety can be powerfully against me. The spirit in me seems slayed. I feel I’ve never been able to properly grieve the loss of our baby Elim. I wonder if I’ve missed the chance.
I’m alive- I made it, and I truly praise God. And His hand has been evident through all of this in so many ways and His nearness too. Yet I sit here thinking back on that initial pregnancy test and I can’t wrap my mind around it- that now I sit here typing missing half of my children who have died and I’m womb-less and my heart is broken and my head doesn’t work right any more. And in so many ways I’m still waiting for His healing. And I know it will come.
But I think of that picture, that picture that announced new life that died, that was taken with smiles and hopes and help by my mama in law who is now suffering ALS, and I think of it all. The weight of it all, the weight of what happened… what all happened.
And I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages through all of this, that declares,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
So when the weight of it all presses, by God’s grace, I choose hope, and believe in the eternal weight of glory. And I remember why we named our Baby Elim and I cling to that audacious hope, the hope we claimed before the storm kept slaying, and I declare He is trustworthy and He is good. And I’ll remind myself of that lesson, how quickly things can change, and think of 1 Corinthains 15:52:
“…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
The change to change all change is coming. It’s coming. And with it, an eternal weight of glory.