Day 3: My Story, Part 2

In the months that followed Genna's birth and death, I suppressed so many feelings because I thought I knew all the right answers. I refused to let out my grief and anger at God, because according to the beliefs I was raised with, God had a plan. There must be a reason.

It was all meant to comfort, but it just felt like a knife twisting in my back.

I was ready to give up on having children, ever. I was ready to throw myself into my other passion: academia. I would get my masters, and then my PhD, and I would teach college and that would be that. No children to worry about, just a love of words and learning. That would fulfill me, right?

And I tried to start down that path. I tried desperately to throw myself into it. I started preparing for the GRE. But it kept fizzling out. I couldn't concentrate. I lost my motivation. I was scared to admit to myself that I still really wanted to have children.

I had to face the past before I could step into my future.

It took me four months after Genna died to get to a point where the grief finally overcame me. It was September, the month Genna should have been born. I went on a retreat, more just to go through the motions. I would not let myself crack. I would not.

And then, while browsing the bookshop, I saw it. A book on grieving the loss of a child. I felt tears stinging at my eyes, but I held them back. I picked up the book anyway. And then I saw another one. This one on miscarriage, loss after birth, and stillbirth.

And that’s when the grief capsized me.

I bought the books and hurried back to my room and cried and cried. The ugly, gut-wrenching, so-loud-you-know-your-neighbors-can-hear-you sobbing.

But I didn’t care.

I didn’t care.

Because this was catharsis. I railed against God. I shouted my anger. I drained out my grief through my tear ducts.

And then I started learning how to live broken.

In the months following that retreat, I threw myself into discovering the worldwide babyloss community. I became an advocate for mothers who had lost children and so dwelt in that in-between space of not-quite. Not quite fitting in with their friends with children, but not quite fitting in with those without children. Because the experience of losing a child changes you forever.

I joined websites and communities. I signed up for newsletters. And I read blogs.

One of the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful blogs I read on a first-hand child-loss experience was Angie Smith’s blog journey of discovering at her 20-week ultrasound that her daughter would not be able to live outside the womb, the pressing devastation of choosing whether to continue the pregnancy or terminate, and the knowledge that by continuing they would simultaneously be planning a birthday celebration and a funeral.

Her story resonated with me on so many levels, even though our experiences were different.

But one particular post stood out to me, more than any other. She wrote about a particular piece of pottery she owned—a pitcher. And that one night, she strongly felt like God told her to smash the pitcher on her front porch. It took her a while to get over the strangeness of the request, but eventually she did it. She went outside and, feeling silly, threw the pitcher on the ground. And then she felt God tell her to glue the pieces back together. So she sighed and painstakingly glued every piece back together, making a misshapen thing with holes all through it. And God’s lesson through this was that it is through the broken places in our lives that his love can be poured out through us.

I can’t not be broken. It’s not possible. I’ve already been smashed to pieces.  And so the only way for me to make peace with the brokenness is to try to see the beauty within it - to see God within the empty spaces. But what beauty can come of death? Of the death of a child who barely had the chance to live? What beauty and what hope? Where is God in that?

It’s been over seven years since we met our sweet little Genna. In that time, I have lost 3 other babies to miscarriage, and the two living children I do have are only here because of medical intervention. My body is so broken after such a journey, and my soul has cracks in it from all the losses I’ve experienced.

It is hard to see at first where God is in all that mess. But I've discovered that He's in every single piece. I have come to the conclusion through my journey of loss that God does not sit on some high throne in the sky and arbitrarily point to people and say things like, "You need to learn a lesson, so I'm going to strike your mother down with cancer," or "I'm punishing you because of these things you've done, so your baby is going to die." That is the most horrible picture of God (and yes, that is actually the kind of picture some people have of God, though I think they're mistaken). I would never want to serve a God who behaves like that.

No. I've learned through these last 7 1/2 yeas that God is next to me, mourning and weeping as I mourn and weep. My child is His child. And I think this is why Paul says in Romans, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  He truly makes beauty from ashes. He takes bad situations and molds them into beautiful outcomes.

We have always called Genna “our little missionary.” This is because in the wake of her birth and death, cards poured in, telling us that people were praying for us, that they were lifting us up. Many of these were cards that placed Gideon bibles around the world - in hotel rooms, prisons, hospitals, or personal testaments into people's hands - in Genna’s honor. Based on the number of bibles placed, we estimated that over the next five years, over 200,000 people would come into contact with the Word of God, just because Genna had lived for an hour a forty-three minutes.

In that tiny lifespan, she did more mission work than I ever have and probably ever will.

People from other countries – people I’d never met and never will meet – sent word through my sisters (who have both traveled outside the US) that they were praying for us. Genna’s story has literally been told around the world. I will never know how many people have heard it. I will never know how many people have prayed for us.

But I do know this: despite the pain and heartache, God’s love has blossomed gloriously through Genna’s life and death, both in the world and in my own heart. I've come a long way in the past 7 1/2 years. There are mountains and valleys behind me, and I know there are probably more before me. But I know that God walks with me in through the valleys. And the darkness of the shadows only serves to make the light that much brighter on the mountaintops.

Holding On While Letting Go: A 31-Day Journey Through Child Loss

Greetings! This month, I've decided to participate in this crazy thing called 31 Days of Blogging. So I'm basically going to go insane with writing this month and post something every day in October. 

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The thing is, the theme I'll be writing on is rather serious, and near & dear to my heart, as I've been through it. October is International SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (among other things, but this is the one I'll be focusing on). You may not have been aware 2 seconds ago that there is an International SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. You may be wondering, "What's the big deal? It's not that common to lose a baby, is it?" Because maybe you've never known anyone who lost a baby or suffered a miscarriage. 

Or maybe you have, they just never spoke about it.

For a long time, there's been this stigma around child loss. It's like, because that fetus isn't living and breathing outside the womb, its loss shouldn't upset the mother so much. She should get over it pretty quickly. 

But for a woman who loses a pregnancy, or a child shortly after birth, the grief can be devastating. Oftentimes, even if the woman didn't think she was particularly attached to the idea of having a baby -- even if the pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned -- there are real, physiological things that happen during pregnancy that forever bond a woman to her baby. Beyond the increasing levels of hormones that cause emotions to take off, scientists have actually discovered that fetal cells containing the baby's DNA can transfer into the mother's body, coming to rest in different places like the brain, the heart, and the blood, and they can live there for decades after the pregnancy. (Check out this article and this article for more information.) 

The loss of a pregnancy -- at any stage -- is more common than you might think. According to the March of Dimes, an organization that specifically researches the prevention of premature birth, at least 10-15% -- and as many as 50% -- of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Stillbirth occurs at a rate of 1 in 160 births -- in other words, approximately 23,600 babies die after 20 weeks in the womb each year. Neonatal death -- when a baby dies within the first 28 days after birth -- accounts for about 19,000 deaths per year. These are just a few of the ways a mother can experience loss. 

Over the next couple days, I'll be sharing my personal story of pregnancy and child loss, and then as we move further into the month, we'll talk about different types of loss, the stages of grief, resources if you or someone you know are going through (or have recently experienced) pregnancy or child loss, and I'll close out the month with a week of daily meditations, prayers, and journaling prompts to help you on your own journey through grief.

I hope you'll join me this month as we journey together in empathy and compassion.