The following entry is sad. It remembers the day we learned of Lily's death, and it isn't the most fun thing you will ever read. I write about things like this because it is an outlet for my grief. It helps me remember how far the Lord has carried me. It was really the first day on our road to adoption, though we didn't know it at the time. So while it doesn't really have anything to do with our adoption, it also has everything to do with it...
One year ago our world was shattered. Like most earth shattering days, it started out extremely ordinary.
It was VBS week at our church. It was a Thursday. The Thursday before Father's Day. We dropped the kids off in their classroom and headed to the doctor. I was 20 weeks pregnant with Lily and we were going to a routine ultrasound to peek in at her and make sure all was well. I barely got Josh to agree to go with me because I had just had an ultrasound and everything was fine. What could have changed in a week?
My sister was in Europe with friends on vacation. We had been emailing back and forth. I had just read her quick note on my phone telling me she was praying all was well and to email her as soon as the ultrasound was done. We had been told a few weeks earlier that Lily was definitely a girl, but Lisa and I were both hoping for confirmation at this ultrasound so we could start hoarding pink clothes and ribbons and buying out sections of Babies R Us. I worried that maybe the baby would be a boy after all...I wish now that was all there was to worry about.
I remember sitting in the waiting room with Josh. I remember every detail of that room, every article I read in the magazine I was holding. I remember debating about if I had time to use the restroom, and asking the nurse if I should just hold it. I remember talking to Josh about baby names. I remember loving the name Lily, and knowing her middle name would be Grace no matter what. I remember having one split second of panic that maybe the gender of this baby would not be the bombshell that would be dropped at that ultrasound. I remember wondering aloud to Josh if he thought everything would be okay, and wondering silently if it was normal that I hadn't felt the baby move yet. I remember them calling us back to the ultrasound room, and I remember my tummy doing flip flops in excitement that I was about to see my sweet baby again.
I remember the ultrasound tech, because she was the same ultrasound tech my friend Bo had when I went to one of her ultrasounds the previous year. I remember that she was really nice and gave Bo a ton of pictures and said, "I'm not supposed to give you this many, but your baby is just so dang cute!" I remember thinking to myself that I got lucky, because I'm sure she would do the same for me. She recognized me, and I told her that story.
I remember lying down on the table and feeling her squirt that gooey gel on my tummy. As she did, she asked me if I had felt the baby move yet. I said no, but it took me even longer to feel my twins, so I wasn't that concerned. As the words left my mouth, I watched as the screen changed from black to Lily. I saw her, and we all sat silently for one second.
Three seconds was all it took...
And in that moment, neither of my hearts were beating.
The tech knew. I knew. Even Josh knew. There was no flicker. There was just Lily, swimming silently inside me. Her long legs were still so long. Her hands were up by her face. But she didn't move. The tech told me what I knew she dreaded to say as much as I dreaded hearing it...
"I'm so sorry, but your baby doesn't have a heartbeat. I'm going to go get the doctor."
I nodded. I remember thinking, very clearly, "Well. That sounds about right." Bitter. Shocked, yet not as shocked as I should have been. So angry. So sad. Jake and Eisley...devastation at the thought of telling them, again, that they weren't going to have a baby sister after all. Why? Why? Why why why why why God why????
Josh and I were alone. My shirt was still hiked up and I still lay there, unable to move. I could not move, because if I moved I would die. I knew I would die if I moved an inch. The flood gates would open, and I would never, ever stop crying. So I did not move. Not one single inch.
Josh whispered to me, "She looks like a Lily." We hadn't officially decided on her name, so I knew what he was saying. We would name her Lily, even though she had already died. We stared silently at the screen that showed our still daughter. And neither of us spoke.
I had to call my sister. But I knew I couldn't. She was half a world away, and it was the middle of the night for her. I could not call my mother, because I was not emotionally strong enough to even dial her number, let alone tell her the baby had died. I called the first person I knew would tell me what I needed to hear. At that moment, I could not handle even one tear or cracked voice from someone else. I needed strength, I needed the facts, I needed someone I trusted completely and who could hold it together long enough to tell me exactly what questions to ask and what to do. I needed a doctor. My sister's best friend, Nicole, and her husband, Brent, just happen to be doctors. They are two people I rarely get to see, but I trust with my children's lives and I know care as much about me and my family as they do their own. I dialed Nicole's number, and left her a message I doubt she will ever forget.
"Nicole, this is Karen. I just had my ultrasound and the baby died. Please call me back, I don't know what to do."
I called Brent's phone and left a similar, possibly more jittery, message. And then we waited.
Minutes went by. So many minutes. They told us to wait. The doctor needed to finish the ultrasound and talk to us about what would happen next. But it took a really long time for him to come in. I laid there, my coffin of a belly out in the open, cold, empty, yet swollen with child. I began to get angry, panicked. I told Josh I could not wait one more minute in this damned room, and he needed to go right that instant and get the doctor because I was about to lose it. I had never been so close to losing it in all my life. Josh left and came back very shortly with a young, grim faced doctor whose job I did not envy. I kept thinking about how awful it must be for them to have me as a patient. How often did this happen? I wondered. How often did such a wonderful experience turn to utter tragedy in this office?
The tech came in with him and they both told us how very sorry they were. The doctor told me he needed to take a look at the baby again to see if he could determine what had happened. I was about to pray that God would show us what had happened, but then I realized that I wasn't speaking to God yet. I wondered if I ever would again.
The doctor scanned my belly for a really long time. He told me her legs and arms were perfect. Her skull was perfect. Her entire body looked perfect. All of her organs were there. He could tell she was a girl. He told me there was a lot of blood, and it was probable that she had died at least a few days ago. I wondered what day it had been? What had I been doing when her heart stopped beating? Was I doing the dishes? Was I playing dollhouse with Eisley? Was I driving to work listening to the radio when my child suddenly died? Had I been sleeping? Would I have felt it? Should I have felt it? What kind of mother was I? What kind of mother didn't realize her child had died? I felt sick.
I asked if they could please print some pictures of her. The tech gave me even more than she had given Bo. I found it ironic.
The doctor let me sit up and handed me a tissue box. I cried. It wasn't a sobbing cry. It was a steady, silent flow of tears that fell like a fountain, no break, no sound, just tears. He told me we had a couple of options. I needed to deliver the baby, so I could either go to the hospital and deliver her how I planned, or I could go to a clinic and "Have it taken care of". Those were his exact words. I fought the urge to smack him. I told him to stop talking, we would deliver her as we planned. He instantly switched gears and told me he would set it up. He told me I needed to have an amniocentesis. If we wanted to know what had happened, this was our best shot. He told me we would also want to consent to an autopsy of the baby, because I was so young and the baby was so far along, he recommended we "do everything possible to get the answers you want." I agreed.
We thanked him and walked out of that horrible, disgusting, heartbreaking room. I could tell that in the 90 minutes we had been back there, the entire office staff had been briefed on what had happened. They gave me sympathetic, understanding, teary looks. The secretary who helped me sign out and make my appointment for the amnio had obviously been crying. I appreciated that.
I was supposed to come back in three hours for the amnio. Josh and I needed to go pick up the kids from VBS, we had been at the office much longer than we planned. I remember walking to our car. I remember people looking at me as I passed them, pregnant and crying.
Josh and I talked, but I can't remember what about. We agreed we needed to tell the kids. We have always been very honest with them, and we knew they would know anyways. Josh let me wait in the car while he went to get them. I couldn't bear the thought of running into someone I knew at church and them asking about the baby. What on earth would I say? "Oh, yes, we just had an ultrasound this morning actually, and she died." No. I would wait in the car.
When I saw them coming, I went and sat under a tree in the secluded shade on the side of the church. Josh brought the kids over and sat them down. Eisley asked why we were sitting there, and I told her we needed to talk to them. Josh started, but he couldn't finish. I told them, "We went to see the baby this morning while you were at VBS. You know how we've been praying that her heart would keep beating? Well, I'm so sorry, but her heart stopped beating. She died, and she is in heaven with Gracie now."
I remember very distinctly how both the kids faces looked exactly as if we had just told them we couldn't have ice cream for dessert after all. Almost a fake pout kind of a look. I wondered if they understood. And then Eisley said, "Well, that's okay mommy, now Gracie has a sister to play with in Heaven!"
We told the kids the details we thought they needed to understand. That we named the baby Lily. That she was still in my tummy and I would have to go to the hospital so the doctor could take her out. That mommy would be crying a lot, but not to be scared, because eventually I would stop crying. It was only that last part that I felt dishonest about. I told the kids that we should pray, but I looked at Josh and silently told him to do it. I was still not speaking to God.
We drove home and Jake and Eisley chattered about how Gracie wouldn't be lonely now, how God must have taken Lily so she'd have a playmate, how it wasn't fair to Gracie that she had no brothers or sisters up there, and now everything was fair for everyone.
I could not disagree more. It wasn't fair to me.
But I was so proud of them and so touched that they were more concerned about Gracie's loneliness than their own disappointment at yet again not getting to be the Big Brother and Big Sister. I was so proud of my kids. It was then that I realized what a great job we were doing with them, and I broke my silent treatment with God to tell Him that if I was doing so well with Jake and Eisley, why did He continue to take my babies away? Wasn't I a good mommy? Couldn't He see that? What was I doing wrong? My silent treatments with the Lord never last very long. I simply cannot go long without letting Him in completely, letting Him blanket me with comfort and love and the peace that I so desperately need, even though I struggle so much with the anger I feel towards Him at times like those. Though I was feeling every emotion from anger to brokenness to dismay, the Lord was so completely close to me in those moments, I simply could not deny Him. Without the peace He was offering, I would have shattered into a million pieces.
"The Lord is close to the broken hearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Somewhere in there, Nicole called me back. She did exactly what I needed her to do. She gave me the facts, she was a rock, she told me everything I needed to know, and she did it without breaking down into a mess of tears. We discussed the delivery, how Lily would look, how big she would be, the possible reasons she had died, the process of delivering a stillborn, and many other details I wished so badly I didn't have to know.
And because I could not bear the thought of lying to my sister for the next week, I emailed Lisa. I was struggling so much with the fact that my best friend, my sister, was not anywhere to be found. Why did God time it this way? Why did we have to go through this when she was so impossibly far away? How was I supposed to do this without her? How could I possibly tell her the worst news she's ever gotten over an email that she would surely be reading on a laptop in a hotel room thousands of miles away? I momentarily considered not telling her. Who was I to ruin the trip of a lifetime with this news? Was there another way? But I knew there wasn't. If the situations were reversed, I would never forgive her for keeping something like that from me. So I wrote it...
Many months later, Lisa would give me a gift that answered the questions of why God allowed her to be so far away during a time like this. Over the course of the week that I learned of Lily's death, delivered her, and recovered from labor, Lisa and I wrote dozens of emails back and forth to each other. We couldn't talk on the phone hardly at all due to the time difference, cost, and the inability to speak two sentences without breaking down into tears. So we wrote. Back and forth, again and again, we sent letters to one another. I poured out my soul, and she poured out hers. As a gift to me, Lisa had all of those letters printed and bound into a book that I know I will treasure forever. Someday I hope to write a real book with it. For now I read it now and then when I find myself forgetting details I want to remember.
After I wrote the email, we knew we had to start making calls. Josh called his mom. I remember sitting on the couch next to him with my face in a pillow. I remember hearing her answer the phone and watching as Josh started bawling next to me. He couldn't get the words out. All he could say was, "The baby...the baby...the baby..."
My husband is the most level headed, steady, rock of a human being that I have ever known. He does not cry. He does not show emotion. He has maybe once in his life had trouble finishing a sentence, and it is not an easy thing for me to watch.
I remember hearing his mom try to understand what he was not saying. He simply could not finish the sentence, and it was torturing me. I almost ripped the phone from his hands and screamed into it "THE BABY DIED!" so I could finally put Josh's mother out of her misery.
But then I heard her, "Josh, did the baby die?" She said it through her tears in utter disbelief. He was able to mutter, "Yes" before he broke down and sobbed. And I sobbed. And his mother sobbed. And it was literally the most awful conversation I think I have ever witnessed, heard, or been a part of. And I could not fathom having it again with my own mother, and then again with anyone else. That one conversation that I didn't even participate in completely wiped me out emotionally.
But I had to call my mom, and somehow I did. It was interesting to me how calm I felt doing it, as if Josh and I had switched roles. I calmly told her that the baby had no heartbeat, that she had died, that I would be delivering her in the next couple of days. I don't remember much else, just that I was eerily calm.
The next few hours were a whirlwind of heartbreaking text messages to friends, phone calls with doctors, emails from the church setting up meals. We ended up scheduling the amnio and the process of starting my incredibly long induction for the following day. I simply had nothing left and could not force myself out of the house again that day.
I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I know that we played about eleven games of Uno with the kids, trying to pass the time and normalize things for them. I can't imagine they felt much was normal while I cried incessantly, even if I was throwing down wild cards and trying my best not to lose control.
As people learned of the news, they rallied around us and prayed for us. We could feel it. I knew people were praying, because I couldn't believe how peaceful I felt in the midst of such chaos. You never think you'll be able to handle things like that, because the thought of that kind of pain makes you crumble. If the thought of it makes you crumble, the actual experience certainly must end you. But it never does...and I am convinced it is only the peace and comfort that God poured all over us that day and the days following that got us through it.
The Thursday before Father's Day. One year ago. It was one of the worst days of my entire life. It was the beginning of a road I never expected to take. The road I am still on. It was painful to the tenth power.
As I write this, it is Thursday. The Thursday before Father's Day. The kids went to VBS just like they did last year. It was so very ordinary. And it was so very hard. I was flooded with memories I sometimes wish I could erase. God has brought me such a long way in this one year. He has taught me so much about trust, patience, and love. And if I'm being honest, I'm so glad for the memories I have of Lily, for though the events surrounding her death and birth were tragic, she was not a tragedy. She was a miracle.
We are expecting again. We are hopeful, cautiously optimistic. We have come a long way in a year. God has poured blessings on our family the past few weeks, and it has truly made this particularly difficult week so much easier to bear. My sister got engaged. My brother got married. We got the news that a birth mother chose us. And today, I got to sit with one of my dearest friends during her ultrasound and see her healthy, sweet little baby kick and squirm and wiggle around. It was amazing. It was incredibly painful for me, but I could not have been happier to share that with her, because it reminded me so sharply how far our family has come in this one year.
In a few days, we will be celebrating Lily's birthday. This is a tough week for me, but I imagine that day will be the hardest. On that same day, we have an appointment to meet the mother of the child we are hoping to adopt. How's that for full circle? God's timing amazes me. I don't try to understand it, but I have come to trust it fully.
I remember wondering, one year ago, if I would ever stop crying. If things would ever be normal again. If there would ever be a day where I didn't fall apart on a whim.
I was up at my sister's cabin this week with friends, and we were watching one of our favorite movies, "Sleepless in Seattle". That movie is full of pretty awesome quotes, but there is a particular quote that describes this past year of grieving Lily so perfectly...
"I'm gonna get out of bed every morning. Breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while, I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out all day long."
I don't have to remind myself to breathe anymore. And if you are or have ever been in the midst of deep grief, you can understand what a great milestone that is.
Here's to many more milestones.