For the past few days, I have felt like a 500-pound person has been sitting on my chest.
Joey and I had looked forward to and dreaded today, sometimes in the same moment. We had to return to the same office where almost three years ago we heard news that would forever change our family. We went, knowing there was a solid chance that the baby I carried could have kidneys that looked as hopeless as Anna’s had. We went, wondering if we were crazy for having allowed ourselves to be in this position again. We went, fearing devastation and depression and heartbreak but hoping for reassurance and an end to the anxiety.
I will admit that I feared what this day might mean to my faith, a faith that is definitely more fragile than it was just three years ago. It has been forced to stretch and grow, earning a patina that I associate with a bit more wisdom but a bit more frailty, too. That probably makes little sense to some. But for those who have known heartbreak, maybe you know how it feels for your soul to limp at times, rather than soar.
I want to delicately write this, careful not to tear at tattered edges, sensitive to the hurt and pain of those trying to stay strong in the midst of their own living nightmares. I know about the dreams either given up or tucked away. Joey and I understand that we are the fortunate ones. We lost a child, but we have two others. And we have another one on the way. I am resistant to saying we have been blessed, for I know others feel they have been cursed. Nor do I want to ignore that any child is a blessing from our Father, for he or she certainly is. It is a tight rope on which we walk, trying to express our gratitude while also being mindful that others have sat in such offices–more than once–and received news that hurt to the core.
All I know is to tell the truth, though. I hate those blinding, sickening days. But today, today tasted like sunshine, open windows, easy breathing, joy. It was a beautiful day.
Nightmares and anxiety attacks had been my companion. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff will comfort me (Psalm 23:4). While I tried to give it all to Him and remember that He was with me, sometimes that led to push, push, pushing stuff down. Mamas can’t just sit around and cry. Suppressing your thoughts and emotions leads to ugly nights, nights when all those thoughts creep up and torment you in the misshapen forms of nightmares.
This morning, I woke sweaty and achy. As I got ready, my heart rate would soar to 120 bpm, my breathing short and shallow. Anxiety would overtake me. Then calm would settle in. I would feel excitement and then fear, soaring heights and then depressing depths. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).
Joey and I entered the doctor’s office, talking about schedules, devotions, books. I read in my Bible study book, Breathe by Priscilla Shirer, about the different ways we receive miracles in our lives. There was a quote by A.W. Tozer:
The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things.
I recognized myself in that quote. How often have I rationalized away God’s hand in my life? I committed to praise Him if we indeed received a miracle. I thought about how I should praise Him if we did not see one. I wanted to be that strong person of faith–that Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego in the face of a tyrant king and a fiery furnace–but you can’t exactly lie to God. He knew I would struggle with praise if we had to go through another loss. Maybe I would get there eventually, but He and I both knew it would not be today.
The ultrasound began. I quickly recognized that we could see images much more clearly than we could with Anna. I knew that meant there was more amniotic fluid. One of the first things the technician told us was the baby’s gender. Joey and I laughed out loud. Could I breathe? Could I fully relax? Not yet. I watched as the technician began to measure our child’s limbs, head, abdomen, heart. It was several minutes before she made it to the two little bean-shaped kidneys. She measured those. I knew they did not look swollen and angry like Anna’s had. But I did not know if they looked completely healthy, and the tech would not say.
She continued to note the palate, the orbits (eyes), the spine. Then she typed something on the screen that took my breath. I grabbed Joey’s hand and squeezed. She had captured a picture of the bladder and typed “bladder” on the screen. I couldn’t wait to tell Josiah that this baby, unlike Anna, had a bladder. A bladder! When Anna was born, she was doing so much better than doctors expected that the pediatric specialist wanted to do an ultrasound to see if she had a bladder. He had said if she had a bladder, there were things they could do to help her. If not, we would need to let nature take its course. Sadly, she did not have one. Josiah has asked us many, many times why God did not give Anna a bladder. I couldn’t wait to tell him that this baby had one.
The doctor entered the room. His air was so different from the doctor’s who entered after Anna’s ultrasound. That doctor knew he was walking into a room of death. The doctor today knew he was bringing news of life.
He assured us that our amniotic fluid looked great. He picked up the ultrasound wand and began to jostle the baby, finally getting the picture he wanted. He said the liquid in our baby’s kidneys was at 2 ml, and anything under 4 is normal. Of course, I asked was it too low. He assured me that it was completely normal. He could tell I was still not sure. He looked at me and said, “Your baby’s kidneys look beautiful.”
Beautiful kidneys. Have there ever been two kinder, more eloquent words spoken? Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones(Proverbs 16:24).
I breathed. I took a full, deep breath. I began to dream. I began to believe this pregnancy was going to proceed. I began to think about our names and our baby and our nursery and the new little one that would carry my heart. There was a tenderness, an ache for Anna, a wish that it had gone this way for her, a longing to get to have both. But there was an absolute need to express thanksgiving for this child who was literally leaping within me. The 500-pound person stood up and walked away. I could breathe again.
This journey is not over. As someone said to me tonight, when you have lost a baby, you don’t fully relax until that healthy baby is in your arms. We will return in four weeks to the high-risk doctor for him to look at kidney function and make sure that the baby is progressing as it should be, but it is our past history that commends that appointment, not anything that the doctor saw today. We will return again at 30 weeks, basically because I am “advanced maternal age.” Just can’t hear that phrase enough, right?
Whatever the road ahead might hold, tonight we are rejoicing. We are so thankful–thankful for your prayers, thankful for the encouragement of so many, and we are thankful that this baby looks okay. None of us knows what the future holds. We are not guaranteed one more day with our children or our parents, our spouses or our siblings. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, even for the healthiest among us.
But today, today is beautiful. And that’s enough for now.