One day in January, I received a package in the mail that came all the way from Alaska, where Joey’s younger brother Jonathan and Jonathan’s wife, Lacey, live. A letter from my very domestic (and incredibly thoughtful) sister-in-law explained the contents. Lacey had begun crocheting a blanket for our baby before we found out about Anna’s sickness. After coming “home for the holidays,” Lacey decided to finish the blanket upon her return to Alaska. After she completed it, she mailed it to us.
The blanket is mint green, yellow, and white. It is very soft and the yarn has a pretty sheen to it. My favorite part of this precious gift is the scalloped edges. When Joey told Lacey that I especially loved the edging, Lacey said one reason she fashioned the edges like that is she struggled to keep the blanket straight. Those dainty scallops help mask that the whole piece may be slightly askew. (I studied it and couldn’t see that it was, though. Lacey is pretty talented.)
Wednesday was a rough day, and for some reason, that soft, warm blanket came to mind at the end of it. We had an ultrasound scheduled for 8:30 that morning. I woke up praying. Please, God, give us a miracle. Let this be the day that Anna is made well. Please remove those cysts–at least on one kidney. She could live with just one kidney, Father. Lord, please give her amniotic fluid. Just enough for her lungs to develop. I don’t have to be comfortable, Lord. Just give Anna enough amniotic fluid to live.
I got Abby ready for school and headed to Pensacola. On the way, I talked on the phone to my mother, who had kept Josiah overnight. Talk, talk, talk. Try not to think. Talk, talk, talk. Don’t get too worked up.
Joey and I talked in the waiting room. We made plans for spring break and talked through how much vacation time he had and where we would like to go and what we would like to do. Diversions.
Then the nurse called me back. She checked my blood pressure. She gave me my blood test results, telling me I was not a gestational diabetic and that my iron levels looked good. She weighed me (oh, my). Then she followed me back to the waiting room to call her next patient.
Next, Joey and I made our way to room 6, where the ultrasound machine is located. Our doctor came in and after a brief conversation began the ultrasound. Anna appeared on the screen. Her heart was beating 158 bpm. The picture was fuzzy because there’s just not enough amniotic fluid on which the waves of the ultrasound can bounce. But we could see her profile, her ribs, and yes, her kidneys. The black spots were still there. She weighs almost 3 pounds now and will probably weigh between 4 and 5 if we go full term.
Anna remains breech. She has not shifted since the January ultrasound. Dr. A said she will probably not turn because of the lack of amniotic fluid. I asked him how much fluid I had–10% of what a normal pregnant woman has? He said less than 1%. That’s why every time Anna shifts, I feel her. That’s why when Abby or Josiah hug my stomach tightly, I wince. That’s why we don’t get good pictures of her. And that’s why her lungs won’t develop and she won’t be able to breathe on her own. I took my amniotic fluid for granted in my healthy pregnancies.
My first two deliveries were relatively easy. I gave birth to Abby and Josiah naturally. Abby was born just over 2 hours after we made it the hospital. We went to the hospital sooner when I was in labor with Josiah, and he came about 8 hours after arrival. I have never been induced or had pitocin. I have “childbearing hips,” as some people say (thanks, Mama). My labors and deliveries have been smooth and as comfortable as possible (after the epidural, of course–yeah, I’m not that tough).
Honestly, the thought of a c-section weirds me out a bit. But now, due to Anna’s positioning, I am facing the probability of having one. I know it is almost routine now for OB physicians and that many women have had successful c-sections. It will be okay, but it just seems like one more thing. One more detail to turn over and over in my mind. It will take longer to heal, and I will still be in physical pain during the emotional torment of burying our daughter. It seems like this is something God could easily change. Why hasn’t He? What could be His purpose in this?
After the ultrasound, Joey walked me out to our van, and he prayed. I couldn’t close my eyes; I couldn’t bow my head. I tried but it seemed dishonest. I felt the anger welling up inside of me. Joey was praying this sweet prayer and I was wondering why God wouldn’t intervene. I know there have been hundreds of people who have visited this blog. I know so many have been bombarding Him with prayers. Why isn’t He changing things? At the very least, why didn’t He turn Anna so that we could have a natural birth?
I know this is is not the right way to handle bad news. I know I should be asking for God’s will to be done. I am not a skilled sufferer. I am in many ways a beginner, a novice at best. I had a great childhood, married a wonderful man, gave birth to two healthy children, and I have not ever had to go through anything like this. I know that God is shaping me and creating a new work in me through this terrible, horrible process. But, honestly, if I had a choice in the matter, I would say, “Thank you, God, for this opportunity, but you can stop now. I would like to quit.”
My faith is imperfect. I am weak. I get angry. There are moments when things are just blurry and scary. That’s not where I hunker down and camp out, but that’s definitely part of the path we are traveling. I don’t want to sugar-coat this journey. We are losing a child, and it stinks. It is rotten and pungent.
If Anna’s medical prognosis becomes reality, I will never quite grasp the why of our story. I will have the joyful memories of carrying Anna, feeling her kicks and twists, listening to my husband and children talk to her, dreaming about the day that my faith will be sight. I will have held her in my arms before this is all over. There will be parts of this experience that will make wonderful, extraordinary memories. But the story will remain fragile for me. I may know that God is in it, but it will never feel right to me that she’s gone. I will always wonder about the little girl we might have raised. I will, simply put, always ache for Anna.
But even when I’m not willing to say “Thy will be done,” faith remains. Sometimes I settle into my anger for a moment and let bitterness serve as a counterfeit substitute, soothing me self-righteously. But when I make the choice to turn to Him, I feel something change inside. The spark flickers, then flames, and it curls itself around me like a warm blanket, comforting me with a peace that passes all understanding. I have to choose it, and I have to lean into it. Sometimes I have to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me it’s there. Lord, you know I believe. But I don’t feel you now. I am so tired and I feel the bitterness taking root.
Then He reminds me in His Word, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a) He’s not talking about my power. He’s talking about His. I don’t have to be a tower of strength. He will stand for me. I can admit that my thoughts and emotions are not always in line with my theology, my own beliefs–with Truth. But I am not alone. The apostle Paul wrote, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 9b-10).
In the middle of the night, tears coming easily and emotions raging, I hold this blanket Lacey made for Anna. I think about how God lovingly shapes us. He accepts my sad little mustard seed of faith I offer Him and uses it to blanket me with comfort and peace. He softens my rough, gnarled edges, replacing them with lovely little scallops, sacred mountains and valleys. He fashions these graceful but strong edges and ties them off with the grasp of one who will not allow one of His sheep to be snatched from His hand (see John 10:27-29). His strength envelops my simple faith in such a way that I don’t come completely unraveled–a disheveled pile of yarn.
Then I wrap myself up in it and will myself to sleep. My children need their mother. My husband needs his wife. And I need to rest tonight in God’s strength, so that I can get through another new day.