Our Sweet Baby Anna Grace McMath

I want to share more of her story later, but for tonight, this is all I can do.  Below is Anna’s obituary.  Oh, how that word tastes so bitter when she was so, so sweet.  Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement during this unspeakably painful time.

ANNA GRACE MCMATH

Anna Grace McMath, newborn daughter of Amista Rowell McMath (Misty) and Joseph Leroy McMath III (Joey), and younger sister to Abriana Joy McMath (Abby) and Josiah Luker McMath (Josiah), went to the arms of her Heavenly Father on March 27, 2012, just five hours after her earthly family embraced her into theirs.  Her life was brief but so beautiful, and her family longs for the day when they will all be reunited.

Anna lived within her mother’s womb for 8 months, and during that time, she made a great impact on many who loved her and prayed for her.  She was born at Sacred Heart Hospital on March 27, at 10:18 a.m., weighing four pounds, eleven ounces.   Every treasured minute of her brief life was sacred and was filled with love and joy, and she passed peacefully while being cradled by her family.  Hers was a short but full life designed by her loving Creator.

Anna leaves behind her Mama, Daddy, big sister Abby and big brother Josiah of Pace, Florida, as well as grandparents Joy and Roger Rowell of Berrydale, grandparents Susan and Joe McMath, Jr., of Flomaton, great grandmother Virginia Boothe of Allentown, and great grandmother Mary McMath of Atmore.  She also leaves behind aunts, uncles, cousins, and many, many family members who will always miss sweet baby Anna.  Anna was preceded in death by a sibling miscarried a year before Anna’s passing as well as her great grandparents, Alex Boothe, Jr., of Allentown, Hazel and Pasco Rowell of Berrydale, Joe McMath of Atmore, and Inez and Clyde Northrop, Jr., of Flomaton.

A private family graveside service will be held in Flomaton, Alabama, at a later date.  Services will be provided by Flomaton Funeral Home.

If you wish to honor Anna Grace through a memorial gift, donations may be made to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton, 5736 Stewart Street, Milton, FL 32570; 850-983-2730. There is an established link entitled “In Honor of Anna” on the PRC website, www.prcofmilton.org.

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What’s in a Name?

 

Photo by shawnfarand.com

 

Abby and I had an important conversation earlier this week as we drove to Pensacola together.

A couple of weeks ago, while we all ate lunch together, Joey’s dad told Abby about a lady who had given her sister a kidney many years ago.  He talked about how well the recipient of the kidney was still doing, explaining that she must take anti-rejection drugs and giving general details about kidney transplants.  I wasn’t worried about it, but I knew this would come back up once Abby had processsed it.  I was correct.

As we drove down Scenic Highway headed to a doctor’s appointment in Pensacola, Abby began asking questions. 

“If both of those ladies can live with only one kidney, then couldn’t Anna live with only one kidney?” she asked.  I told her that Anna could live with only one kidney, but the ultrasounds show us that both of Anna’s kidneys are very sick.  “But what if God healed one of Anna’s kidneys–just one of them–and the other one was still sick?”  I explained to her what kidneys do in the body and how Anna really needed one well kidney the whole time she was in the womb so that everything would develop properly.  But God could do anything, and if He healed one kidney, He could heal Anna, too.  “So if God healed one kidney, then somebody could give Anna another kidney?” asked Abby.

I knew what question was coming next.  I felt the lump come up in my throat.

“Yes, Abby, someone could give Anna her kidney, but she would have to get a lot bigger before her body would accept a new kidney.  She’s too tiny to have a kidney transplant right now,” I said.

“But when she got bigger, she could have one,” Abby said.

I told Abby that if God healed one kidney, strengthened Anna’s lungs and other organs, helped her grow older, and provided a good match for Anna’s kidney, then yes, she could have a kidney transplant.

And then after a couple of follow-up questions, she posed the possibility that I knew she had been mulling over in her mind.

“Well, if that woman in Flomaton gave her sister a kidney, then I could, too.  You don’t have to have two kidneys, and I could give Anna one of mine,” Abby said.

I know that my six-year-old Abby has no idea what she’s really suggesting.  She has no idea how much of a sacrifice that really is.  She doesn’t understand the ramifications of major surgery or kidney transplants or long hospital stays and anti-rejection drugs.  But in that moment, I knew that she longed for her little sister to be well just as much as I did.  She was willing to give a part of herself if it meant that Anna could live.  And is there anything more precious to a mother than to see deep, sacrificial love between two of her children?

I let my tears flow as I sat in the driver’s seat.  Abby and I talked about how special Anna is.  I told her that sometimes what seems right to us just isn’t God’s plan.  I paraphrased a few verses–told her that His ways were not our ways, told her that God knew how long Anna would live before He even created her.  I told her that even though she may only live inside of me and just a few minutes outside of me, her life was still important.

Abby and I talked about the blog.  We talked about how God was using Anna’s life and her story to show people that He will be with us even when things seem so sad and hopeless.  Abby said our family was sort of being missionaries, and although I couldn’t put myself in that category exactly, I decided to let the Holy Spirit speak to her little heart and minister to her in a way that I knew I couldn’t.

As we drove on, headed for Sacred Heart Hospital for an appointment at the children’s clinic, I thought about how quickly we would find ourselves back there at that hospital to finally meet Anna face-to-face.  I thought about how our previous trips to labor and delivery had been filled with excitement–the bubbling over type of joy that comes with bringing a new life into the world mingled with all the happy expectations wrapped up in bringing home a new family member.  This time would be different.  But I do think that even in the intense sadness we are preparing to face, there will also be moments of joy.  Moments of hope.  Moments of grace.

A Bible promise that has assured me during this time has been Romans 5:20-21: “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin brought death. Jesus brought eternal life.  And guess what reigns?  Not sin.  Not death.  Not bitterness or doubt or faithlessness.  Not anger or questioning or fear.  Not sadness or grief or loss.  Not the grave.  Grace.  Grace reigns.  Unmerited favor.  A cloak of righteousness for those who accept Jesus as their redeemer.  An eternal life filled with peace and love and all those things that–if we’re honest–we really don’t deserve.

I want my children to understand grace.  I want them to get it.  I do not want my Abby and Josiah to be legalistic, thinking that a person who has messed up is beyond God’s reach or beneath theirs.  I do not want them to be the type of Christians who look down their noses at sinners and cannot reach beyond carefully built walls that separate them from “the outside.”  Oh, I hope they recognize sin and fight it head on.  But I want them to know that grace is an unearned gift and that they need it just as much as anyone else.  If grace reigns, we should begin practicing the art of it now.  We should get used to the idea that we should not only be recipients of it but givers of it, too.

Anna has reminded me just how much I need this gift.  As I have struggled against God’s will for my life, I have had to ask forgiveness and I have had to open my tightly clenched hands up to a God who reminds me His grace is sufficient for even me.  And when people have said things that seemed inappropriate, hurtful, or even downright strange, God has used Anna to remind me to give them grace because they are doing their best to minister to us.  No one speaks God’s balm into wounded lives perfectly.

And so, Anna Grace has seemed the perfect name.  As I hold our Anna in that hospital room, I want more than anything for her and for everyone who meets her to know that she is something pretty special. God has a purpose for her life and she is not just an anomaly, a genetic mishap, a child who is not viable. She is not just sadness, a terrible situation, something to be pitied.  She is loved and treasured and she has taught us so much.  She is just as much a part of our family as Abby and Josiah.  Even tonight, as I feel my body changing and I know our time is slipping away, I feel this overwhelming love for her. I want to keep her here so I can continue to feel these kicks and know that she’s still with me.  She matters.  Her life matters. She is a gift of grace, of undeserved favor.  If I had to choose between carrying Anna in this way and never carrying her at all, I would choose this.

Anna Grace, I told your daddy just tonight that I knew if you lived, you would just be the girliest girl.  I bet you would love tea parties and frilly dresses and big bows and painted toenails.  Or then again, maybe you wouldn’t, just to spite me for giving you such a lovely, feminine name.  Maybe you would tag along with your big brother and learn how to tackle, growl, and fight the bad guys.  I guess that would be okay, too.

I love you so.  I know that giving you up will be the hardest thing I will have ever had to do, but I am thankful that God chose me to carry you.  I am blessed to be your mommy.  Although I am in no rush for you to come out–stay as long as you like–I will treasure every second you are in my arms.  You are a fragile gift, but I accept you with gratitude.  Anna means “grace, favor.”  We didn’t even know that until after we had given you your middle name!  So your name means “Grace. Grace.” I think God wanted to make sure we got the point.  It’s just like when we realized after giving Abby the name Abriana Joy that her name means “A father’s joy. Joy.”  You girls!  You will just have so much fun together in heaven one day.  I wonder if God will just call you Grace and Joy. You have each lived up to your names already.  We love you, sweetheart.  I believe we will be seeing each other very soon.

A New (Temporary) Normal

Carrying Anna–and all the emotional challenges that come with that–has become a new normal.

I found myself on the phone with Joey one day this past week, practically chit-chatting about headstones and slabs.  I had just left Abby’s school after volunteering and eating lunch with her.  Sitting in my van, I was sipping on an oversized Sonic unsweet tea with peach flavoring (not that yummy, by the way), discussing the trends and traditions of gravesites.  After I hung up the phone, I thought, What is wrong with this picture?

After Josiah and I picked Abby up from school, we headed to Pensacola to pick up a few things we needed to complete our ensembles for family pictures.  While there, Abby told the saleslady at Belk that I was having a baby, it’s a girl, and her name is Anna.  The saleslady spoke animatedly, obviously excited for our family and for these two children standing in front of her who were going to get a baby sister.  Abby went on to tell her that she is a big sister already to Josiah and to another baby I had miscarried. 

Then Josiah said, “Can I tell you something sad?  Anna might live for a little while but then she’s probably going to die.”

The saleslady said, “Oh, no, baby!  She’s not gonna die!”  I had to make eye contact with her at this point.  “He’s telling you the truth.  His baby sister is very sick, and her doctors think that she probably won’t make it.  But we are praying for a miracle,” I said.  Silence.  Awkwardness.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I didn’t know he was going to say that.”

“That’s okay,” the kind lady behind the counter said.  “We needed to know. We will be praying for your Anna, too.”

Although my eyes filled up during the exchange, I was actually able to recover pretty quickly.  The kids were excited about riding the escalator, so we rode down and then up again and down again once more.  When we got to the car, Abby said, “Belk is a pretty fun store, isn’t it, Josiah?”  Escalators are rose-colored glasses for a six-year-old.

Little conversations like this happen quite frequently now.  My belly is my prominent feature now, prompting conversations and well-intended comments.  It’s usually not a problem.  I just answer questions (sex, due date, etc.), and typically those questions don’t dip into the part of the pregnancy that’s difficult to discuss.

Abby asked me one day last week, “What if God, the day before Anna is born, decides to heal her?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Wouldn’t you just praise God? I would.”

“Yes, Abby,” I said.  “I would praise God.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  But you know what?  God wants us to praise Him no matter what happens to Anna.”  I told her it was going to be very hard for Mama to do that but that I was going to try to praise Him for creating Anna and giving her to us for whatever length of time we get her.

Now that was a conversation from which I did not recover so quickly.  Whoever said faith is a crutch has never tried to have faith in difficult circumstances.  It’s a crutch only if that crutch is 10 feet tall and you have to get a good running jump off a trampoline to grab hold of it.  It is actually very exhausting to keep turning to God when He’s not doing what you want Him to do.  When you hear your 6-year-old and 3-year-old babies pray, believing, and He seems to keep saying no, turning to Him seems counterintuitive.  Yes, there is peace and joy and hope in Him.  But there is human in me.  And my need for control is very real.  Giving up that control and anger to the One you know could change the circumstances is sometimes very difficult.

Our new normal does have moments of trust and peace, moments of communion with Him.  It also has moments of taxing anxiety, ugly fear, and bitter pain. We teeter between dwelling on a terrible diagnosis and hoping for a miracle.  We are living somewhere between grief and hope. At times, thankfully, the two intersect.  When I stop fighting His will and rest in His promises, I feel my grief mingle with more than the hope of healing. It intertwines with my hope of an eternity with not only my Savior but also my daughter.  Through grace, our faith grants us an eternity to love Anna. 

For now, we are taking family photos, treasuring Anna’s kicks, twists, and hiccups, and we are trying to look toward One who is greater and bigger than us. That’s what I set out to do each day. Sometimes by His grace I succeed.  Sometimes I fail.  My misshapen faith, my mustard seed, is an imperfect offering.  But as I reach up and offer it to Him, I feel Him reminding me that His strength is perfect.  And although I wish it could be done some other way, He is at work in me and in our family, and Anna’s life is being lived just as He planned it at the beginning of time.

Doctors, Details, and Decisions: An Update

Earlier this week, we went to see our high-risk doctor, Dr.  D.  He was the doctor who gave us Anna’s diagnosis on December 1st.  We have not seen him since then.  We have been seeing my regular OB, Dr. A, who has given us ultrasounds at each visit to see if there is any change.  Dr. A asked if we would like to see Dr. D again, just to get another doctor’s perspective on the situation.  Although we did not expect Dr. D to see anything different, we agreed that it would be a good idea to get a second set of eyes looking at Anna.

In Dr. D’s office, an ultrasound technician performed a very thorough, 30-minute ultrasound, pushing Anna around until she got the best possible measurements and pictures.  As I’ve mentioned before, ultrasounds of Anna are not very clear.

Anna’s heart rate was at 153 bpm.  She has moved a little bit but in the wrong direction.   Her head is up and one leg is up near her head while the other one is bent downwards.  Because one leg is down, she is technically frank breech but her positioning actually looks more like a cross between frank and incomplete breech.   Here is a link to see a picture of what this might look like:

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.womenfitness.net/r_img1/types-of-bp.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.womenfitness.net/preg_breech_presentation.htm&h=148&w=219&sz=12&tbnid=uQEe9KCdCS4PRM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=133&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dincomplete%2Bfrank%2Bbreech%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=incomplete+frank+breech&docid=xFJutabn0RrcGM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VyZaT975Iszqtgf5z-iFDA&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQ9QEwAQ&dur=20125

That’s a really long link, huh?

Her weight is up to 4 pounds and 3 ounces, which is larger than we expected.  I am only 33 weeks, so if I make it to 40 weeks, Anna might weigh between 5 and 6 pounds.  This is higher than the 4 to 5 pounds we were told earlier.

When we were first given Anna’s prognosis, we were told that babies like Anna often pass  in utero between 30 and 34 weeks.  Another time we heard between 32 and 36 weeks.  Dr. D said that although this could still happen, there is really no reason she won’t make it to delivery because she’s getting everything she needs from me.  He also explained that ultrasounds do not typically give us clear pictures of lungs, so it is hard for him to predict whether or not Anna will survive for minutes or hours–or even a day–after her delivery.  His words: “Sometimes these little babies are just tough as nails.”

Dr. D also reassured us that the passing is normally very peaceful.  Abby desperately wants to see her baby sister, and we wanted to be as sure as we could be that she would not see Anna struggle.  I read about one baby with similar complications. Her big sister was actually holding her when she went to be with Jesus, and the older child didn’t even know.

Another thing we discussed was the delivery.  Dr. D said that he thought we could try the natural delivery.  Obviously, I would heal quicker with a natural delivery rather than a cesarean, but also I would be able to immediately hold Anna.  If she only survives for a few minutes, Joey and I would get to have her in our arms for that time.  This is something we still will discuss with our OB, Dr. A, who will be delivering Anna.  We are not sure what we are going to do yet.  Delivering naturally when the baby is breech has risks associated.  Of course, there are risks with a cesarean, too.

Although there was no change to Anna’s condition–always a difficult thing to hear–we felt that the appointment went well.  We are more hopeful than ever that we will get to hold Anna before she passes.  We are also hopeful that she may be able to rest in our arms a bit quicker after her birth.  We were encouraged that she weighs a bit more than we thought; this might mean that she would not be quite as fragile for the delivery.

We will see our regular OB, Dr. A, next Friday.   We thank each of you who is lifting up Anna, asking for a miracle. And we thank you for your prayers for peace, protection, and wisdom for our family.  We have felt peace and we know that God is with us.  We have taken solace in knowing that God created Anna, has a plan for her life, and if we do not get to keep her here, she will be loved perfectly by her Creator in heaven. We continue to covet your prayers as we make decisions for Anna and for our family.

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces . . . Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:8-9