Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton

I want to thank all of you who have prayed for our family.  I also want to thank those of you who have given a gift in memory of our Anna Grace to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton.  Altogether, almost $3,000.00 has been given to pregnancy resource centers in memory of our daughter.  Because of these donations, every woman who enters the PRC of Milton and has a positive pregnancy test leaves with a gift.  Her gift bag contains a Bible with a special introduction to help new mothers, a packet of information about adoption, a baby blanket, and a letter from me.  

As I wrote the letter, I felt overwhelmed by the importance of my task.  I felt that these young ladies–many of whom have just experienced the most devastating moment of their young lives–deserved honesty.  I decided to be as real as possible.  Though there may be some disappointed by what I admit in this letter, I felt that admitting how frail I felt was essential in connecting with these women.  When I tried to avoid it, the Holy Spirit reminded me that hiding truth is the same as lying.  After I accepted that, the letter came quickly for me.  I hope my words were as inspired as they felt at the time.  After some consideration, I decided to try to reach other women by posting the letter on the blog. Here is the letter those new mommies will receive:

A Letter to You, a New Mother

Congratulations.  Within your womb, a tiny little baby is taking shape.  A heart is beating.  A child—your child—is depending on you for every morsel of food and for protection from the elements outside your body. He’s also depending on you to make an important decision: Will you carry your child, safe in your womb, so that your child can live the life God has planned for him or her?

Let’s be honest.  All pregnancies are not equal and moms are not equally prepared.  Sometimes moms are praying for a child.  Sometimes moms are praying for a negative result.  If you are in the latter group,  you may be overwhelmed, afraid, unsure about your next step.

There was a day in my life when I had to make a difficult decision, a decision that may be a bit different from yours but similar, too.  I was pregnant with my fourth child.  I had a daughter, a son, a baby who had been miscarried, and I was expecting again.  Our family was so excited.  Then, in one day, our lives were forever changed.  We went to the doctor, looking forward to an ultrasound that would reveal the sex of our baby.  Instead, we found out our baby had a rare kidney disease and could not survive outside the womb.

I hate to admit this—it’s not something I usually share—but abortion went through my mind.  My two children had suffered the loss of a miscarried sibling already.  How would they survive watching my belly grow, all the while knowing that their brother or sister would not survive?  It was more than I could take.  I asked my doctor, “What are my options?” And while I have tried to tell myself that I was only asking this from a medical standpoint, that’s a lie—a  lie I have told myself and a few others.  I was thinking about those options.

But even as I asked the question, I knew I could not go through with it.  I had seen our baby’s heartbeat.  I knew there was a life inside me.  In Psalm 139, now one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, God’s heart for the unborn is shared. David, an imperfect man but a hero of the Bible, says, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them,” (Psalm 139:16).  He knew me before my body even began to take shape in my mother’s womb!  He had planned out my life before I was conceived!  If this was true for David and for me, it had to be true for my unborn child, too.  I knew that my child’s life was not mine to take.

We found out days later that our baby was a girl.  We named her Anna.  I began writing a blog, Carrying Anna, found at  www.carryinganna.wordpress.com. I shared honestly about our struggles and about our journey.  Many people started writing me, telling me how my sharing our raw emotions had helped them in some way.   Anna’s story was affecting people before she was even born.  God was using her mightily from inside my womb!

On Anna’s day, March 27, 2012, our family embraced our little girl. Anna Grace McMath, 4 lbs, 11 ounces, surprised doctors with her ability to cry (doctors had said she would probably not be able to take more than a breath) and with her fighting spirit.  But she was still a very sick little baby. We did not get to take her home.  We said goodbye after only five hours.  I wish with all of my heart that we could have had her longer, but five hours was a miracle, in itself.  The truth is that Anna’s life began long before March 27th.  Anna made and continues to make an impact in people’s lives that far exceeds what many 83-year-old adults ever make.  In fact, my prayer is that my other two children will live a life that impacts as many as our sweet little baby Anna.  Hers was a short life.  But it was an important one.

And your child’s life is important, too.  God created your child and gave him or her to youto carry.  Children are a gift from God.  Maybe you aren’t prepared to be a mother and you don’t think that will change over the next few months.  Maybe a very difficult situation—one you are not even responsible for—brought you to this day.  You may be in a terrifying situation—one that I cannot even begin to imagine. But your child is no less worthy of life because your circumstances are difficult.  Your child can be a gift to a mother who cannot have her own biological child.  Your child, full of potential and God-given attributes, can be a gift to the world.  Your child can impact people, and that impact can reach far beyond what you could ever imagine.  Through our blog, www.carryinganna.wordpress.com, people from every continent except Antarctica have read our Anna’s story.  Over 100,000 visits have been made to the blog.

The Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton is ready to stand with you.  They are ready to help you through your pregnancy and beyond.  You are not alone.  I am not saying it will be easy.  But choosing what seems to be the easy way out will only lead to heartache.  I cannot imagine the remorse and grief I would have felt had I chosen to abort our Anna.  Do what you hear in your heart you should do.  Take care of that baby growing inside. Choose life for your child.

There is someone else who is willing to walk through this with you.  God will not leave you alone.  After all, you are carrying a child He created.  And He knew, before He ever formed youin your mother’s womb, that this day was coming. He has a plan for you and for your child.  The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” That promise is for you and for your child, too.

I hope this small gift given in my daughter’s memory encourages you in some way.  You were chosen to be your child’s mother.  And whether you feel deserving or not, our Father in Heaven saw you as fit to carry this child.  I am praying for you.  I am praying that you will sense God’s purpose in this and that you will take care of yourself and that child who is depending on you.

Sincerely,

Misty McMath

P.S. If you are not a Christ follower but want to know more about who Christ is and how He can offer you an indescribable peace, please ask the kind staff of the Pregnancy Resource Center  to share the good news of Jesus Christ with you.  And please, always feel free to contact me through Anna’s blog.

The PRC of Milton is an incredible resource in our community.  They don’t just encourage women to carry their babies; they help prepare them to do so. Then they walk with them through the steps.  If a mother chooses adoption, the PRC helps them decide the best route and offers prenatal education.  If a mother chooses to keep her child, the PRC offers prenatal education courses and parenting courses to better equip these young mothers.  They help meet physical needs as well as spiritual ones.  It is an incredible ministry.  Those who work and volunteer their time at the PRC of Milton aren’t just encouraging women to choose life and then walking away.  They are there after a woman makes that decision and after that precious baby is born.  They are truly God’s servants, ministering to women in their greatest time of need, and I am so proud that our family has been able to be associated with this great organization.

You can find out more about all the good they do at their website: www.prcofmilton.org.

By the way, there is a song our family loves to rock out to, especially Josiah. I loved it before Anna, and I love it moreso now.  Here’s a link to “There’s a Life Inside You” by Matthew West: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMSs5WsYdsI.

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Almost Six Months

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It has been almost six months since we met, held and snuggled our precious little Anna. Since then, my heart has broken a hundred times.  Moments of incredible beauty, poignant reminders of God’s grace have been scattered throughout those days of crippling grief. Intense pain, anger, and confusion have blinded me at times. Numbness has tiptoed in; I find myself gazing at something and going cross-eyed, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing or what I was thinking before I found myself in the fog.

But I still know that every good and perfect gift is from Him. To live without gratitude for those gifts, including my Anna, is to live without hope and without purpose and without meaning.  I refuse to be a mother who passes on such a legacy to her children.

I still have days when getting out of the bed seems like too much to ask.  But my duty as mother and wife cause me to rise and meet the day. I still have moments when I find myself muffling my sobs and I don’t even know what triggered the cry.  But laundry and supper and homework still have to be done.  And my children still ask profound questions and share thoughts that break my heart. But it’s my job to help them process the emotions that are still bottled up inside of them, too.  And I am so thankful for those “interruptions,” those pieces of my life that call me to live.

I find myself longing for heaven in a way I never thought I would. I remember overhearing a grown-up conversation one time when I was a child.  I was walking back and forth across the edge of my Grandma Rowell’s front porch, arms stretched out to keep my balance. Grandma and Aunt Evelyn were talking about heaven. I didn’t really pay attention to the conversation until I sensed discomfort.  Aunt Evelyn was moved to tears as she shared that she didn’t want to go to heaven yet.  She wasn’t ready.  She wanted to see her brand new grandson, Jamie, grow up.  It was obvious that she felt guilt over this admission.  Grandma, who was not exactly a gentle woman but who was as good as gold, reassured her daughter very simply, saying,  “That’s only natural.”  She understood that her daughter’s desire aligned with the way God made mothers.  We want to raise our children and our grandchildren before we leave this earth.

But when one of your children leaves this world before you do, the natural balance is disturbed.  It’s not that I want to leave my family here behind; I don’t.  I want to be Joey’s wife, I want to see Abby and Josiah grow up, and I want to be a grandmother to their children one day. It’s just that half my heart is already there–with Anna and that tiny baby we lost before her.  My Grandma had also lost a newborn child, and I know that loss must have helped shape how she saw heaven, too.  I went to visit her baby’s grave when we were trying to decide where to bury our Anna.  I felt such a strong connection to my grandmother as I sat kneeling in front of the tiny grave, wondering how she had dealt with the loss and imagining her crying over this tomb.  She would have been younger than me, dealing with loss in a time when you just got up and got over it.  I thought about the pain she must have carried around her whole life–and how much sweeter the promise of heaven tasted to her as a result of this loss.

Recently, Abby and I were talking about heaven.  We actually got giddy about the thought that Anna has a sibling in heaven and that Abby has a sibling on earth.  In both places, there are two siblings.  And Abby realized that, unlike many of her friends, when she went to heaven, she would already have family there–even if she were the first to go.

Oh, the promise of heaven!  What does one do without that promise?  How does one cope with reality if this corrupt and broken world is the only reality in which they believe?  Though there is happiness in this life, there is no joy without the Father.  There is no peace without Him.  The difficult times will leave you hardened, empty, and cold.  I have visited that place within myself.  It is not a great place to camp out.  I have had to run away from it and toward Him every time I can muster up the strength to do it.  And if I can’t find the strength, I ask Him for it.

This past Friday, our family visited Anna’s grave.  The headstone had finally been placed. (My indecisiveness regarding the design caused the delay.) We all brought balloons and wrote messages on them.  We prayed, asking God to share these messages with Anna somehow.  Then we sent them up.

It was a beautiful moment.  We watched as the balloons went over the trees and toward the park.  Joey and I held our breath, hoping the helium would keep carrying them higher–or at least out of sight. After the balloons were gone, we walked to the van and drove to get some dinner at the local Pizza Hut, the place Joey and I first met as teenagers back in 1996.

We sat in the booth where Joey and I shared our first meal together–breadsticks. We were both too nervous to eat much that first night. Fast forward 16 years, and I happily devoured two big slices of veggie lover’s and part of a slice of sausage.  Both of the kids had snuggled up to Joey on his side of the booth, munching on their pizza. 

As we were reminiscing with the kids, telling them about the first time we met, Joey said, “Wow.  If we had only known.” He laughed out loud, nodding to Abby, Josiah, and then behind him, toward the cemetery.

“We had no idea, did we?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

And while there are things I would change, the knowing is not one of them.  I loved the carefree years of my life, years when I thought I was beyond the reach of tragedy.  Years when Joey and I came and went as we wanted, happily planning dates and getaways. Years when we thought all we had to do to get pregnant and have four children was make a family planning spreadsheet and, of course, act on those decisions.  Years when I would doodle my favorite names on the backs of church bulletins and plan play dates with friends. Years when anything seemed possible and my youth stretched out before me, seemingly endless.

I wouldn’t take back a day of my optimistic youth.  Sure, there were hard days back then.  I’m painting much too pretty of a picture.  There was loss.  There was deep pain.  There was ministry.  There was work.  But underlying all of those pains and difficulties was a sense that we were invincible.

In a sense, we were.  The God who lived within us always was.  In that sense, we remain so.  But now I know I can go to very dark places.  Dreams can shatter.  A car wreck can change the way you feel every morning when you get out of bed–if you can get out of bed.  A devastating loss can make you fragile at the most inopportune times.  I don’t look around and see “shiny, happy people” now.  I see broken, bewildered people.  And they don’t avoid me now.  They come to me; honestly, they seek me out.  And I understand.  I seek them out, too.

In our weakness, His power is made evident.  Those broken people somehow shine for Him in a unique, powerful way.  I don’t know that I’m there yet; I think I’m still too deep in the grief.  But I hope I can be one of them one day.

Father, you know the plans you have for me. Plans to give me a future and a hope.  I believe this promise.  Help me to live with that hope every single day.  Help me to embrace the pain fully; heal me in spite of it.  Help me to let the pain sink in and make me stronger, better.  Help me use the pain.  I don’t want to waste it.  I don’t want to be who I was before, Lord.  I want to be better.  I want joy and happiness, but I never want to overlook others in their pain again.  I never want to sidestep that pain because I am unsure about what to do with it; I have been so guilty of that in the past. Never again. Pain is pain, regardless of its source. Help me to be honest, authentic, open, and true. Help me to live the life you planned for me without apology and without regrets.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen. 

Rainbows

This post was written in June.  For some reason, I didn’t post it.  I feel comfortable doing so now.  I didn’t realize that I hadn’t posted it until I visited the site today to write a new post.  So I’ll post that new one tomorrow.

It has been a long while since I’ve posted.  It has amazed me to see how many are still “checking in.”  I know that life goes on and our attention is drawn to things more pressing, more personal to us.  That’s only natural.  That’s why I have been humbled by how many people still ask how we are doing or regularly check the blog.

For those of you who are still praying for our family and are still concerned about us, thank you.  Thank you so much for your encouragement and your prayers.  I know that “prayer talk” can be so confusing to some.  Our prayers, in many ways, were not answered the way we had hoped that they would be.  But there is not a single one that I would take back.  Every time I turned to God and offered a prayer, my spirit was lifted.  I was brought into His fellowship.  When I have witheld my prayers, it has only hurt me.

For those struggling with similar circumstances–those of you who are facing a poor prognosis for your child or are dealing with the loss of your precious baby–wrap yourself in this promise: One day, night will never fall again.  There will be no more tears or sickness or pain.  And while it may do little to assuage that horrible, deafening grief you feel in your soul right now, let that promise just massage its way into your broken heart.  Cling to it when you have nothing left to cling to.  Grab it and hold on.

It’s a strange, carpeted minefield I’m walking around in these days.  The children talk about Anna often.  They have not gotten over losing her and they have not forgotten a thing.  Not a thing.  They remember every detail that I remember.  I always stand close by, tentative, waiting to intervene, when they are together discussing their sister.

Yesterday morning, one such instance arose.  I was ironing clothes when I heard Josiah say, “Abby, why are you sad?  You look sad.  Are you sad about Anna?”  I sat with iron raised, listening, ready to swoop in to comfort if necessary. Abby sighed and responded, “Well, Josiah, I am sad about Anna.  But I’m also sad because Walmart didn’t have Life Cinnamon cereal, and now I’m having to eat this kind.”  I finished ironing the pants, laughing to myself.

It has been like this from the beginning.  Children grieve and then burst into laughter.  It is a balm of sorts.  Our kids played their first practice tball game the same night their sister was buried.  Joey and I did not go, but my parents filmed portions of it.  We connected the camera to our television that evening, and we laughed and laughed as we watched our Abby and Josiah excitedly hit the ball, run the bases, and field.  Even on one of the hardest days of my life, there was laughter.  Even on one of the darkest days, there was sunshine.  Pure sunshine.

As my milk came in over the next couple of days, my pain level increased.  As I popped pain medicine in my mouth and “embraced” cabbage leaves, I wondered why anyone would do this on purpose!  With every thought of Anna, I would feel a surge that just broke my heart.  Oh, how I wanted to nurse her!  To cuddle with her and hold her to me, smelling her sweet smell and watching her eyes lock onto mine.  The physical pain of drying up perfectly good milk was difficult.  The emotional pain was tormenting.

When Abby returned to school, she wanted everyone to know that she had a baby sister.  She wanted to bring pictures of Anna to show all her classmates–she wanted to show her off!  But she did not, however, want to tell them that Anna had died.

It continues to be a process.  Josiah’s anger that he felt while we were still in the hospital continues to occasionally play itself out in aggressive and intense behaviors.  Abby’s dashed hope and desire to make sense of her baby sister’s death is just as difficult to traverse. Through our journey with Anna, our children have learned much about death.  But we have also had the privilege of teaching them more about heaven, the final home for all who have accepted Christ.  Death has been conquered there. 

A couple of days after we lost Anna, Josiah said,  “Why couldn’t God just take all of us to heaven at one time?  If I was God, that’s what I would do.”  Doesn’t that make perfect sense?  Why couldn’t God just take us all at the same time?  But that’s not my decision to make.  We tried to tell Josiah that God had a different plan and that we were trusting Him.  Admittedly, it’s not easy.

We are still taking it one day at a time, and we are learning as we go.  The journey continues to be a difficult one, but we still have splashes of joy and moments where we feel very much protected. We cry together and we talk about tough things, and then we watch the sun come back out again.  We laugh, knowing that rain will come again, too, but that God’s grace is sufficient.

It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow. We are the composite of our experiences–experiences that bring both laughter and tears. Now, let’s be clear.  I’m not ready to shout, “Bring on the rain!”  But I am definitely awed at the rainbows I am seeing in my life and in the life of my children.   Losing Anna has made me more compassionate, more concerned about others, more empathetic to others’ pain, and, to put it simply, it has increased my depth. I am not as shallow as I once was. The beauty God brings from the ashes of our lives is truly beyond what we can comprehend.  But I get glimpses.  And I’m truly awed by these little snippets of rainbows–rainbows that I will see in all their glory one day in heaven, on display with the beginnings and ends clearly marked. And I will offer them up to the only One deserving of our worship, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

” . . .and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne . . .” Revelation 4:3-4