Trying to get more things right than we screw up

Woundedness as a Means to Grace

I’ve been thinking  a lot this week about a “Franger” of mine.  You know, a friend from high school that you really haven’t kept in contact with but because you see their posts on Facebook you have a pretty false sense of knowing.  Maybe I’m the only one with these friend-strangers in my life.  Recently he and his wife had a beautiful baby boy but, due to complications during childbirth, their son is in intensive care with struggles and many questions and a frightening unknown future…a parent’s nightmare. They have been so heavy on my heart and I’ve lifted little Jak and his mom and dad to the Lord many times in recent days, praying for healing and for peace and for the love of the Lord to draw them in.  I don’t know much about their faith.  It isn’t my job to know.  Yet, I must admit to a hesitancy to share my story.  I never want to push people away from the Lord by being preachy.  Yet, I’m compelled.  Here is what I would say to these beloved children of God in the midst of their struggles.

God is good.All the time. I know how hard this might be to swallow in this situation.  I cried when I read of your lovely wife going the store and felt her pain as she looked at all the babies around her and returned to the empty baby carrier in her backseat. How is that good?  How is that God’s purpose?  I don’t know but I believe and I have seen the goodness of God shine through in my darkest moments.  Sometimes God’s blessings are a mystery.

There are no guarantees. As heartbreaking as it is to acknowledge, physical miracles are sometimes absent in this world, no matter how great your faith. I don’t know the future for you and your baby. Yet, I’ve seen those miracles happen time and again.  God is a healer and I pray with faith that God will heal your sweet baby.

God can handle our anger and our anguish.  Cry out to Jesus. Seek him in these dark hours. Seek him for healing and for peace.  Seek him because he loves you extravagantly.  Your little Jak is a miracle and God numbers each hair on his head.

Three and a half years ago we lost our son. Oh, I was wounded.  I think I will always be wounded from that loss. But a very wise friend told me once that my woundedness could become a means to grace one day.  If I let God take my brokenness that He could paint a beautiful picture of His love. Every time I share this story, God redeems my pain and struggle for His good.  I share it with you in hope that God can speak to you in the shadows and redeem your pain and struggle as well.

Following is a note that I wrote nearly three years ago, reflecting on this loss. I hope that it is a means to grace for you today.

Time to remember. September 9, 2011.I need to write.  I’m not sure why.  Sadly, I don’t think anyone will ever really care to read this.  Baby books are for passing on to children and grandchildren.  They are for posterity.  Our little boy will not have any posterity.  He won’t ever ask questions about what we did while he was in my belly.  He won’t wonder about the only earthly experience he ever had – a silent birth and burial.
Nonetheless, I want to remember.  I want to record.  We had a third son… a fourth baby…a little one who looked like his daddy and oldest brother.  He…was.  He IS with the Lord.  He was ours, even if only for a breath of time.
He was a kicker.  At our 20-week sonogram, everything looked perfect but he was hard to measure because he moved all of the time.  Dr. Slotky typed “Very Active Baby” on the notes on the screen.  He would roll across my belly and kick.  I remember feeling so excited when he was big enough that I could feel him on both ends of my belly.  I was pretty sure he wasn’t head-down because of where I could feel him move…across my body.

He had no name.  We joked about it while I was pregnant.  I signed greeting cards “Ben, Lucinda, Max, Will, and He Who is Not Yet Named.”  Max was really excited about helping to name the baby.  Usually he suggested whatever was around us at the time and then laughed like crazy because he knew they were silly ideas.  While we were driving he suggested that we name the baby “Tree” and “Front door.”  The night before our sonogram where the world caved in, Nana brought us spaghetti for dinner and “Fazoli” was Max’s name suggestion that night.  Honestly, we waited to choose a name because we hadn’t found one that was just right…or that we both agreed was just right and neither of us were 100% convinced that he was a boy.  Mostly we just called him Baby Brother.  “What should we name your baby brother?  Are you going to help take care of your baby brother?  Are you excited for your baby brother?” Once we found out that he wouldn’t be coming home to us, there still wasn’t a name.  Even the process seemed different.  While he was in my belly, we spent so much time thinking about nicknames and how his name would fit into our family, how it would sound when we whispered it in a song or yelled when he was in trouble.  How do you pick a name for someone who would never hear it?  It seemed fake…wrong somehow.  Yet, I still regretted that he had no name.  I wished we had given him a name when he was still kicking me.  I could have called him that when I was irritated at the heartburn or bad sleep.  I could have sung it to him during our shower chats.  Then it would have been his name long before the horror.  But, as it was, he was just my baby boy.  Maybe we would have called him “Tres,” as we often referred to Max as “Uno” and Will as “Dos,” so they wouldn’t know we were talking about them.  My three sons.  The three muskateers.  The three amigos.  Oh, how I pictured them growing up loving each other and taking care of each other.

I complained too much while I was pregnant.  It was harder this time.  Starting in July it got really hot and I was so tired.  Maybe he was running out of oxygen by then and I could feel it.  I don’t know.  I couldn’t seem to recover from our trip to Disney World.  I was swollen.  I would go to the office to help Ben and I would leave after only a couple of hours to go home and sleep.  I was older this time…ancient at 31.  I was chasing a four-year-old and two-year-old.  Ben was working a lot.  Yet, I didn’t have any problems.  Aside from low iron, everything looked perfect.  I was so complacent that I even complained about the iron tablets I had to take.

The Sunday before the first day of school, that changed as I realized I hadn’t felt the baby move.  I drank orange juice, lay on my side, poked and prodded.  Nothing seemed to work.  I called Ben. I called my Doctor.  He said I could go to the emergency room or come first thing tomorrow.  I didn’t want to ruin Max’s first day of school by being out late.  Ben was gone and I didn’t want to go alone. We discussed the fact that if something really were wrong, there wouldn’t be much they could do anyway.  Silly. Oblivious. 

I was more nervous by morning because I still hadn’t felt movement.  I made it through the homeroom time, Max’s open house, and got to my prep time before I slipped out with Ben to go to the doctor.  I lay nervously on the table.  To our relief, the nurse found his heartbeat right away.  He even kicked the stethoscope.  I didn’t feel it…not even a little.  They explained that the placement of the placenta may be limiting my ability to feel him move.  I went back to school, relieved and thinking, “that little stinker.”

For the next nine days, I didn’t feel anything.  I accepted the explanation of the placenta.  I went on as normal.  It was a busy start of the school year.  I was hot, distracted, unworried.  I had a nasty summer cold that contributed to the restless sleep of a very pregnant woman. During those days Ben ordered me perhaps the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received…a fetal Doppler to record the baby’s heart rate.  It arrived but we were so busy that the first night we tried it was the night before we were scheduled to go in for a sonogram at my 32-week appointment.  Our doctor wanted to check the position of the baby.  I was worried about the possibility of having a C-Section because of the placenta placement.  The night before this doctor’s visit, I lay on our living room floor while Ben tried to pick up a heartbeat.  We were laughing hysterically at how funny we looked and how unsuccessful we were.  We joked that he should have gone with his gut and purchased the more expensive version.  We packed up the Doppler to take with us the next afternoon so the nurses could show us how it worked.

The next day was September the first.  I posted on Facebook about how excited I was to be able to say that our baby would arrive next month.  I could hardly wait to finish teaching that day.  I wanted to see our little one on the screen again.  I wanted to hear that I didn’t need a C-Section.  I wanted to verify his gender so we could finally pick his name.

They did the normal check up before the sonogram.  Pee in a cup. Weight.  Blood pressure. Belly measurement. Fetal heart rate.  I lay on the table, belly uncovered, gooped up and ready to go.  We joked.  We knew how this worked.  We had been here before.  The nurse moved the Doppler across my belly. Babump, babump…too slow.  It was mine.  Static. Swipe. Slow, lone heartbeat.  She brought in reinforcements.  A much more experienced nurse took over.  She turned me on my side.  She made a kind comment about the Doppler sometimes acting up.  She went to get the doctor. 

I looked at Ben. “I’m not sure it’s going to be alright.”  He said, “Me either.”  He prayed while we waited.

It only took a second in the dark glow of the sonogram machine to see the stillness in our baby’s silhouette.  Still, I waited for my trusted doctor’s word.  Maybe I was wrong.  My grip must have numbed Ben’s fingers.  I don’t remember what the doctor said.  I remember anguish.  I remember crying out to God in a voice I didn’t recognize.  It was a voice that must have brought terror and pity to the other women surely waiting in the small office.  “Why? Why?”

Somehow my belly was cleaned.  Somehow my clothes were back in order. Somehow I ended up in a room, an office that reminded me of the room where we went to hear the details after we lost our first baby…an early miscarriage.  I was still in shock.  It didn’t occur to us that I would still deliver this child.  I didn’t know I would still have wounds of childbirth. We hadn’t yet thought about burial.   
Could it still be a mistake? 

I don’t think I really cried until my doctor told me to drink some wine to help me sleep that night.  The thing he would never advise a pregnant woman to do was my prescription to manage the pain.  My baby boy was gone.

The Lord’s sweet presence is so obvious in retrospect.  I don’t even understand how I posted on Facebook that night, “God is good. All the time. Especially when we can’t see it.  Speaking from faith and not feeling tonight.”  That wasn’t me.  It was the Holy Spirit speaking Truth into my life in the midst of horror.  At any moment where I seemed strong throughout the next months, it was Christ and the prayers on our behalf that bolstered me rather than some superhuman faith on my part.

The next two days were a blur.  I went to school to mechanically make arrangements for my absence for the next four to six weeks.  Student council elections still had to happen even though I was gone.  The world couldn’t stop for my students like it seemed to have halted for me.  I’ll forever be in debt to April and Paula for picking up the slack without ever complaining or making me feel bad for it.

Thanks to good friends and colleagues, school arrangements were the easy ones. As the third little boy in the family, this baby only had one outfit of his own.  It was a brown striped pajama with a monkey on it, the one we bought the day we found out he was a boy.  It was a newborn size but Ben’s stepmom lovingly altered it to fit the much smaller frame that we now expected.  My sweet friend Terri took me to Target to buy a fuzzy blanket with a satin lining that could cradle him.  He had one little monkey “friend.”  These would become his shroud.

I made a call to the hospital and a kind nurse talked me through what to expect.  What would he look like?  How big would he be?  Would I be able to hold him?  Where would I stay while I healed?  Where would his little body go?

One of the worst moments was sharing the news with our boys.  Will didn’t understand but Max’s lip curled down in a textbook sad face.  He asked why God didn’t want us to bring his baby brother home.  I still don’t have a good answer for that, but his child-like faith brought him an acceptance that I took much longer to embrace.

I continued to feel him, not moving of his own volition but floating in my belly.  Sometimes it caught my breath because it almost felt like life.  But he only moved when I moved.  And I moved a lot.  I couldn’t sit still.  I did laundry.  I cleaned.  I washed all the sheets.  I packed for the boys.  I packed for me.  I checked Facebook constantly, held up by the prayers and encouragement of so many people, near and far. 

I got out of bed around 4:00am on Friday, September 3, 2010 after hardly sleeping.  I couldn’t eat or drink.  I didn’t want to anyway.  It was a beautiful morning and my hair looked awesome.  I spent an hour straightening it.  What else could I do?

We left for the hospital early.  Ben prayed for us in the parking lot.  The cool breeze dried our tears as we walked in.  I was a sad pregnant woman.  I went to the hospital without any sense of excitement or urgency.  I wonder if people thought I had pre-partum depression?  I wonder if they knew.

They weren’t ready for us when we arrived.  The business of birthing was still in full-swing.  Living babies took priority, just as they should.  I still had to call the insurance company to give them notice of my impending delivery.  Ben offered to do it but being busy was the way I coped.  I feel sorry for that poor kid in customer service that answered my call.  My sobbing explanation of what I was doing in the hospital could not have been one he was prepared to take.

Finally I was hooked up to all the correct machines and drips.  My travail was about to begin.  I think every piece of machinery in the room was attached to me in some way.  Of course, the baby monitor that was strapped across the expanse of my belly for the births of my other boys was noticeably absent.  It was unnecessary.  Our dear friends, Chris and Terri, came to pray with us and chat.  It is so good to have friends that can make you laugh even when everything seems to be caving in.

Soon the induction began, fiercely and with an unrelenting contraction that resembled a flat-line of pain more than the wave that I expected.  There wasn’t any ebbing and flowing or slowly growing intensity.  I made Terri come feel my belly, a hard mass of contracting muscles that wouldn’t let go.  I was angry. They told me they would make me comfortable.  They told me I wouldn’t have pain.  I was in so many levels of physical and mental pain that I could hardly breathe.  I had to lay flat on my back for an hour.  The cough from the “harmless” summer cold wracked my body.  I couldn’t drink.  I couldn’t clear my throat.  I gasped and coughed.  One of the medications took away my power of speech.  I couldn’t open my eyes.  I could hear them discussing that I looked like I was more comfortable.  I tried to wave my hands and scream that I needed help but nothing came out.  My heart and my body ached with such intensity that I begged for relief, silently at first but then with increasing willpower. 

Blood pooled on the floor as the anesthesiologist unsuccessfully tried to insert an epidural needle in my spine several times while I lay on my side in an attempt to honor the one-hour of prostration.  Finally a nurse and my mom hoisted my weak body to a sitting position so the needle could bring relief.  The pain finally dulled. I rested.  It was not to last though.  The medications I was given to induce labor so early were much stronger and different than the products given to full-term women in labor.  I spent hours with a high fever.  I vomited the contraband ice chips that Ben gave me to ease my raw throat.  My blood pressure dropped to dangerously low levels.  My husband looked scared.

The good news?  I was spending way too much time in delirium and survival-mode to consider or anticipate the sadness that I would face at the end of that day.

In the evening, as the third round of labor inducing drugs was about to be administered, our baby emerged after one push.  Silence.  We kept our eyes glued to one another.  We couldn’t look at our son.  We were afraid.

And I was so tired.  For what seemed like hours we waited for them to return with our baby.  The nurses promised to clean him and dress him in the little monkey outfit.  In retrospect I wish I had done it myself, a motherly service I could have done for my sweet son only once, but I didn’t know how long he had been gone. I didn’t know what he would look like.  I was afraid.  I remember asking if he was blue, after hearing the day before about that possibility, and our doctor responded that he was rather pink.
When they brought him to us, we cried. I can’t describe those precious, aching moments other than to say that he was ours.  He had ivory-pink skin. He had Ben’s fingers and toes, the pug nose that I have bequeathed to all our children, and blond hair that looked so much like Max’s when he was born that it took my breath away.  He was wounded from the way he was delivered, but he was beautiful and he was mine.  I am so thankful that he resembled Max so much.  I was able to look at newborn pictures of Max and see what he would have been, given a little more time to grow in that secret place.  Even with missing eight weeks, our small son was almost four pounds.  I can still feel the weight of that four pounds.  I can still feel how soft his hands and feet were.  My mom, who lost my infant sister after a few months of life, reminded me to give him a kiss.  I’ll never forget the soft, cool brow where I gave him the only kiss I ever could.

Our parents came to hold him.  My niece, Holly.  My friend, Dawn.  In that moment he belonged to all of us.  We told him we loved him. We said goodbye.

The anti-climax began.  They took him to the nursery overnight. Part of me wanted him back with me.  Part of me knew he was just a shell that couldn’t receive the love I ached to give him.  My baby’s soul had been with Jesus for a while already.

They put me in a room as far from the rest of the mothers and babies as they could.  Ben picked up Steak n’ Shake.  Dawn helped me get settled.  Ben told jokes during dinner.  I don’t remember what.  It felt good to laugh.  The time came for Ben to go.  We had decided that he needed to go home to start what would be a very difficult few days for him.  It was Labor Day weekend.  In the wedding business it was like Superbowl Sunday three times over.  He had to put on a happy face and help people celebrate one of the happiest days of their lives in the midst of his own personal tragedy.  While he went home to sleep before going to fulfill his obligations, my sweet friend, Dawn, pulled out the hospital couch and stayed with me.  It was so surreal that it almost made me giddy a few times.  I was having a slumber party with Dawn at the hospital after having a baby I didn’t get to keep.  Family came to visit the next day but I had no baby to share with them.  I felt I should at least offer food or something.

As odd as it was, even then the peace was amazing.  I really wanted to walk down and see the babies the next morning.  Dawn dubiously accompanied me.  I was truly happy for all of the mothers that I imagined were sleeping while they waited for their babies to wake.  I even saw an incubator in the hallway with a premature baby that was about to be transported to St. Francis for special care.  I can’t deny that I wished it had been my baby that still had hope for a life, but I was so thankful for that family that their baby was alive and getting the care he needed.  You can call it shock if you want, but I know it was the “peace that passes all understanding,” that the Bible promises.

I left the hospital that day without my baby.  The Keebler Elves came to pick him up.  (It was really Kibler-Smith Memorial Home but Ben kept calling them Keebler Elves and the image made me smile.  It still does.)

It was weird.  I carried that little guy around with me for a long time.  As a new mom, the first trip to the grocery store without the baby was strange.  I felt like I had forgotten something.  But then I came home to my sweet Max and all was right in the world.  This time I felt that I had not forgotten my baby so much as I had lost him or left him behind.  A few times in the coming months I parked in the lot at OSF with the ridiculous urge to return to the spot where I last saw him.  A little creepy, I know.  True, though.

Also weird and unexpected were all the things that came along with having just had a baby that I didn’t anticipate.  The most heartbreaking was the visceral need to have a baby to feed.  The pain was physical and emotionally striking for especially the next week or so.

While Ben worked hard and pushed the grief away that weekend, my friends and family met my needs in ways that can never be repaid.  Terri and Dawn took shifts to make sure I wasn’t alone. Chris took apart the crib and moved it downstairs. Jennifer brought me plastic tubs to put away clothes. Mandy sorted shoes.  Auntie Sharon and Grandma Eddy built a closet.  Grammy and Poppy and Nana took care of Max and Will.  My sisters and many friends and members of my Metcalf family filled our fridge with meals and our pockets with gift cards.  Dear friends shared similar stories of loss that encouraged us. 

People were gracious and kind and we knew we were loved and that the Lord would heal us.

Despite that supernatural faith in God’s goodness and mercy, I still cried myself to sleep for about a month.One day I just fell asleep without crying.  I thought about him constantly, until one day I found myself thinking about something else for a few minutes.  I questioned God’s wisdom and His purpose but at the end of the day, decided still to trust.  I still can’t say that I see a purpose in this that justifies the sorrow but I am glad that I’m not God and am not responsible for seeing the big picture.  I’ll gladly leave that responsibility to Him. 

After months of procrastinating, I finally read the book, Heaven is For Real.  Skeptic or not, it is worth reading.  It is the story of a little boy who experienced going to heaven.  There are all sorts of components to his story that made his parents and so many readers believe his experience.  However, the most profound one to me was his recognition of a drawing of Jesus that was painted by another little girl who also had an experience in heaven.  After rejecting every artist’s rendition of Jesus’ face, this little boy affirmed a painting of a strong, loving Jesus with a rougher look than most paintings.  The little boy said over and over how much Jesus loves the children.  I keep seeing that face of Jesus and imagining him loving on my son, telling him that he is valued and loved and sharing the purpose in his short life.  
Oh, I wish I could hold him.  I wish I could have taken care of him and been his family.  I wish I could change it.  But I still trust.  God is not done with me.

So, here we are.  September 9, 2011. It has been one year today since we buried our son on a sunny, windy fall day in our last service to him as parents.  We cried at his graveside and then laughed when a gust of wind dried those tears.  It took us a year to choose a gravestone and a year to choose a name.  Even now, I believe that Ben is right and he already has a name in heaven.  But I don’t think he’ll mind if I call him Bennett until I learn his true name some day.  He truly is our “little blessed one.”

Today I remember and give thanks.  Tomorrow I’ll work to live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice that Jesus made for me out of his great love.  And someday, I’ll sit at the foot of my Savior with my sons, my family and the saints who have gone before me, and I’ll worship.

The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. – Job 1:21

Thank you for remembering with me.

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