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It's not that simple

There's something we need to talk about, and it's not going to be easy. It's a topic rarely discussed, probably because it comes with a lot of really hard emotions and, honestly, a degree of shame. But this is something I've been wrestling with and I know I'm not alone. I hope you'll read my heart in this.

Y'all, this subsequent pregnancy after a loss thing? It's hard. It's a type of hard impossible to understand completely without living it. I hope that by making the incredibly difficult decision to share something so vulnerable, I can help you understand why I seem a bit detached from the congratulatory hugs. That it might make some sense as to why I've not purchased a single baby item yet. That it might explain why I'm in a daze most of the time.

I have spent every single day since that positive pregnancy test in an internal battle with a fear so deep, I can feel it in my bones. I live with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach (and no, I don't mean morning sickness). I don't sleep too well these days. Worst of all? I have actually felt faith shamed for my fear, to the point where admitting what I'm dealing with has been really dang difficult. After all, I should just trust God. Just choose faith over fear. Just relax. Just. Just. Just.

It's not that simple.

I trusted God and praised Him with my first pregnancy. I had full faith that we'd be welcoming our first child on Nov. 19, 2017. My heart and world shattered that March day on the ultrasound table and I have never been the same. A part of our family is missing. That's no small thing. I have so many questions about why, but I also know that I have to accept that no answer would be good enough or simple enough for my human mind and heart to comprehend.

From the moment we found out that we're expecting a second time, my anxiety has been through the roof. It's a constant thought that if we lost one, we could lose another. You guys, I'm flat out exhausted.

Were you aware that research shows that 40 percent of women who suffer a miscarriage have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder three months after the loss? This stuff is no joke.

A subsequent healthy pregnancy doesn't cure the pain. A subsequent healthy pregnancy doesn't replace the child(ren) lost. A subsequent healthy pregnancy doesn't erase the past.

Every day, I give thanks for this new life growing. And every day I beg God to protect that life. To allow that life to grow and to flourish. To allow me the honor of earthly motherhood. I pray that the Lord would calm my heart and mind. I pray for bigger faith. I pray for the ability to let go of fear. I pray. And I pray. And I pray.

He has been faithful to send empathetic ears and the right words at the right times. And empathy is exactly what I've needed. My mom has it mastered. My closest friends have it mastered.

I'll never forget the day when a friend said this to me: "It's okay to be nervous. I'm praying for peace for you, but also not guilt if you feel nervous too."

Oh, sweet grace. The heavy weight of shame over my fears was suddenly a little bit lighter.

So what's my point here? It's simply to offer a glimpse at the emotions associated with loss and life. It's to ask that when you encounter a momma in a subsequent pregnancy, that you offer her empathy and grace. That rather than questioning her faith or telling her she "just needs to trust God," you pray fervently for her aching and anxious heart, and for her growing child. Trust me, she wants to feel joy. She doesn't want to be living this way. She wants to feel calm. She wants to enjoy everything about this pregnancy. She really, really does.

It's just not that simple.

The best birthday yet

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
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It was a chilly morning. I rolled out of bed somewhere around 5:15 am, stumbled through the dark and managed to find my gym clothes. By 6:05, I was at the local YMCA questioning my life decisions while a buff little fitness guru kicked my rear into smithereens. I'll admit it was miserable, but I was 34 now and this was hopefully my last round of high-intensity interval training for quite some time.

The nerves that morning were indescribable and continued in the days ahead. The birthday texts and Facebook posts flooded in as we drove the hour to Indianapolis. I knocked back my water, ate my Valium tablet and waited. And waited. And begged the nurse to let me go tinkle. Twice.

Speaking of Valium, why do they make you take that before you sign the consent forms? Nothing like signing your life away when you're high as a kite, am I right?

Finally, in came the doctor. "Are you ready?" she asked.

"Ready as I'll ever be," I said.

Into the procedure room we went. Up first: A stop at the embryology window. Name. Date of birth. Number of embryos. 

One. One little embryo. Our future as parents hinged on a microscopic group of cells we were already madly in love with. If I didn't know for certain that there's a God who holds my future, I'm not sure I would have had the guts to try this again after the nightmare of the first round of IVF. But I believed God had led us down this path after years and years of praying and asking Him to either grant us a natural miracle or show us what to do. He knows the desires of my heart. After all, He put them there. I believed that one way or another, He would fulfill this dream, whether via this embryo transfer or another journey He hadn't yet revealed. And so we proceeded, not knowing the plans He had for us, but knowing that He did have plans.

The embryo thawed perfectly and transfer was flawless.

Hurdle #1: Cleared.

The 10 days between transfer and beta #1 were painful. When my phone rang and the clinic number came up on caller ID, I felt like I couldn't breathe. Sweet nurse Janet on the other end of the line could hardly contain herself: 338! 

I'll be brutally honest here: I had to stop myself from blurting out a curse word in her ear. My first beta with my first pregnancy was only in the 70s. This 338 was huge! 

Hurdle #2: Cleared.

My second beta followed 48 hours later. The numbers needed to have doubled at that point. Well, at 892, they had done more than that. Praise God!

Hurdle #3: Cleared.

The fourth hurdle brought the most anxiety of all. The first ultrasound is the time when we found out that our first pregnancy wasn't viable and that I would miscarry. I went into the ultrasound this time around feeling as fearful as I can ever remember. Immediately, the doctor shouted, "HEARTBEAT!" I, of course, cried. Jake sat behind me in silence staring at the monitor. There was a baby in there! 

Hurdle #4: Cleared.

The first trimester has not been a walk in the park. Anxiety is a beast born of Satan. As any subsequent pregnancy momma will tell you, there's a fear that lives inside of you that reminds you of the past and makes you wonder if this one will slip through your fingers too (a topic for a different post). I've had to wrestle with a minor complication early on that did nothing to calm my fears. And, like most pregnant women, I have been walking around sporting a lovely shade of green and trying not to ralph everywhere. But, it's like I told a friend: I'm super happy to be feeling crappy! 

The pitter patter of tiny feet is on its way to our home. Now at 12 weeks, baby will be joining us sometime around late June.

It's hard to express just how faithful God has been throughout this entire journey. He was with me when we suffered our greatest loss back in April and He is with me now as we pray expectantly for the safe arrival of the most precious and miraculous gift we could have ever hoped for. 

It matters

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as
faithful stewards of God's grace in various forms." - 1 Peter 4:10

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It was a Friday. The family had gathered and we knew that the time Pops, my maternal grandfather, had left with us was short. Jesus would come for him soon. As the daylight faded to evening in that three-bedroom ranch house, Mamaw sat at his bedside, her hand in his. Quiet conversations among loved ones and the whir of the oxygen machine filled the air.

Hospice had already checked in for the day. Over the course of several days, loved ones who also call professional nursing their chosen vocation, had been rotating shifts, volunteering their time, hearts, talents and expertise to care for him. Their respectful and kind words and actions would prove comforting for the family at such a tender time.

[Serve others. It matters.]

Somewhere in the midst of the evening's confusing mix of both chaos and deafening silence, Mamaw's sisters hopped in the car and headed up the highway. They returned an hour later to fill the kitchen with groceries and make a pot of chili. Mamaw's brother had come earlier in the day with homemade cookies, and my paternal grandma came to drop off fresh baked goods and groceries of her own.

It might sound silly, but there's a certain level of comfort in a ham, cheese and potato chip sandwich with mustard on fresh Sunbeam, a bowl of chili and a warm brownie.

The next day's comfort was a pot of veggie soup. In the days to come it would be a casserole from a lifelong friend, groceries from a neighbor, a pulled pork and macaroni and cheese meal from Mom's fellow church member, and homemade desserts from my parents' friends. Not having to think about meals or eat another supper from a sack was priceless.

[Take the meal. It matters.]

Pops met Jesus in person in the early morning hours of a peaceful Sunday. I know every family member processed it differently, but for me it was an odd feeling of release knowing he was healed, coupled with grief over losing him and my thoughts of "What now?"

The days ahead felt surreal to me. The family had come together well to care for Pops in his final earthly moments and now we'd spend the week making arrangements to honor his life. My cousin, also Pops' granddaughter, works in the funeral industry and has experience guiding grieving families through the process of celebrating life. In her own grief, she led the family well. Each family member took on a role that week and the resulting service was a beautiful tribute to a life well lived.

[Love your family well. It matters.]

Pastor had visited with Pops just a week before his passing. With family gathered around from as far away as Arkansas, we spent the day sharing stories and enjoying what we all secretly knew but didn't want to accept was probably Pops' last good day.

He'd wanted to be in church so badly that day, but the pain had stolen that from him. He requested that the rest of us go and that the church hold hands while singing "Blest be the Tie that Binds." Sing they did. There wasn't a dry eye in the House of the Lord that day. I know I saw a tear in Pops' eye too as he watched the video.

Since it wasn't meant to be for Pops to see church that day, Pastor came down to the house to visit and pray with the family. His prayers, the prayers from the people of the congregation, and the prayers from loved ones were heard. God's grace would abound in the precious moments, the hard days and the grief. And it abounds still today.

[Sing the song. Pray the prayers. It matters.]

Overcast skies gave way to bright sunshine that crisp morning. Dressed in our best, we headed to that beautiful country church Pops and a few generations of my family have called home. A driver from the florist arrived carrying the most breathtaking bouquet. It was from my husband's mom, his siblings and our nieces and nephews.

Friends and family came to call, to say they cared and to pay their respects to a man who had impacted countless lives. Among the callers? My father-in-law and his beloved who drove an hour and a half to be there and who stayed for the entire service.

Loved ones sent cards with heartfelt notes. Many made donations to worthy causes in memory of Pops and his legacy. One friend sent a pot of zinnias knowing I'd mentioned them being his favorite flower, another sent a Grandfather Willow Tree figurine and yet another a bag of chocolates.

[Mail the card. Make the donation. Attend the service. Send the flowers. Give the gift. 

Honor the memory and acknowledge the grief however you can. It matters.]

In the last several weeks, I have learned so much from the kindness and compassion of others. Pops was a man who gave freely to those in need (but always so quietly and humbly), and every person who served him and our family in the last several weeks in any form or fashion has honored him in such a fitting way. You've also taught me so many lessons about how I can serve and acknowledge others in their times of need and grief.

So thank you. I sincerely mean it when I say it matters.


***
Please note that there are many, many people who served our family well over the last several weeks and this blog is nowhere near all-encompassing. The town I call home these days is 1.5 hours from my family, so there were too many days when I wasn't able to be there and didn't get to see all of the people who were pouring out kindness on my family. I also can't possibly list every individual floral arrangement, donation, prayer, or service attendee. But every one of you was noticed and every one of you has made a difference.

Please know that my heart's gratitude is for all of you. 
***