Wednesday, December 21, 2005

God's Handprints

People will often say that it's in the valleys, rather than the mountaintop times, that we grow the most; it's there in the trials of life that we see God's faithfulness. This was by all means true about 8 years back, when we lost a pregnancy at 6 months along. God was so close we could sense His presence and His handprints on every aspect. I actually started writing this long before I finished; in fact the part that kept me from finishing was the pain of remembering. I realize though that the publication of this might help someone else to get through an ordeal they are dealing with. I would strongly recommend that in the process of any trial, you pray that you will see the hand of God in every aspect. I did so with this and it redeemed it like nothing else could.
We had lost a twin pregnancy at the first trimester just a few months before we found that we were expecting again. Of course we were glad to start again, but our excitement was tempered with the sobering memory of the last.
I was feeling sicker than usual pretty early into the pregnancy, and incredibly sleepy. We as a family had committed to helping with a campaign for governor that was going on at the time; I was a doorbelling coordinator for two voting districts. (I'm always great at biting off more than I can chew!) I was homeschooling our daughter for 4th grade, though for this period of time I was not able to do anything well. I remember opening my eyes from sleep with effort once, only to see her running her finger along a dusty bookshelf in her boredom--a testimony to both my lack of housekeeping and lack of involvement in her education for that stretch of time. Thankfully she was already a good reader and we had a good supply of books in which she was interested!
People would ask eventually whether I'd felt the baby move yet. I had, only passively, but I just answered in the affirmative. I was starting to grow concerned. Toward Christmas, I called to see if I could schedule an early appointment. The answering machine told me that the office was closed until after the holidays.
On a Sunday in early January, we were at church. The song that I remember that day was It is Well With My Soul. The story behind that song was a sad one. The writer had lost first his son in the great Chicago fire, then his four daughters in a shipwreck, after which his wife had sent him a telegram, "Saved alone." I was pondering whether God was bracing me to get through a pregnancy loss and still praise Him. The next day, I was scheduled to go in for a doctor appointment.
This Sunday almost all the women of the church were at a retreat. There were only a handful left, and while the men met for a Sunday school class, these few remaining women joined together to talk. They forgot for the moment that I was visibly pregnant. The topic of conversation they started with, somehow, was how women they knew had glorified God when they had lost children, whether in pregnancy or otherwise.
Suddenly they remembered that I was pregnant; I told them my concerns and the fact that the next day I had a doctor appointment. They all stopped to pray for me.
When I told the doctor that I hadn't really felt any active movement from the baby, she looked concerned. She took the doppler and tried to hear a heartbeat. She heard none. She scheduled me for an ultrasound later that day. I told her that I'd tried scheduling an appointment before Christmas but that they were closed. She looked puzzled. She said they hadn't closed except for Christmas day. I guess God wanted me to get through to January before dealing with any of this!
I went home to wait for the ultrasound appointment. It had been a bleak time: Gary's aunt had died from a stroke; then within a short time his uncle died in a motorcycling accident. We had some of the flowers from the funeral at our house. I don't know why I didn't just throw them away, but rearranging them gave my nervous hands something to do.
We had some new friends from working on the campaign, and they watched our daughter during the appointment. The ultrasound revealed no movement. The doctor recommended inducing the delivery as soon as possible, scheduled it and gave us some prescriptions.

While my husband went into the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions, I sat in the car and slowly and painfully went through the words of the song It is Well With My Soul again. The song's full meaning can only be grasped in the full story behind it, and I knew that in the saddest of times, still, the soul that knows Christ is secure. Joy and the ability to praise God does not depend on outward circumstances, no matter how personal, painful or intense. There is no suffering, no pain that Jesus does not understand, has not felt Himself. The words of the song testify to it:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin--O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin--not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound,
And the Lord shall descend,
"Even so"--it is well with my soul.
--Horatio Gates Spafford, 1828-1888
When we returned to the house of the friends who were watching my daughter, we told them what was happening. They listened, but later called us. They thought maybe we were making it up--that perhaps we were intending to abort a viable pregnancy, or that we were advised to make the wrong decision by having the delivery induced. They made many poorly chosen comments, and it only added to the strain of the situation. In their defense, we hadn't known each other very long and perhaps they thought they ought to prevent a ghastly decision. I have to admire their courage, however badly it came across at the time. They asked me to talk to a midwife they knew, and I agreed.
I called the midwife, and she only affirmed what we had been told. If we waited to deliver naturally, I could have some very bad physical ramifications. In fact I was already having some, since the baby had actually died a month before. My short-term memory was practically nonexistent. I felt horrible in general. I don't know whether the sleepiness was also due to this or just an extreme pregnancy symptom.
That midwife though was a blessing. She had been through so many pregnancy losses of her own and understood very well what I was dealing with. I could not imagine having suffered this pain so many times, but it enabled her to be understanding of others in that same trial (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Without the referral of our mutual friends I wouldn't have had access to her assurance, and for that I was thankful.
Early the next day I was to be at the hospital to deliver. I set out to call a friend to watch our daughter; the first friend I called was going to be out that early in the morning already, to drop her husband off at work. I felt God's provision at work again here.
Ironically, I had to go through the maternity department to get to my room. I found that for this procedure, they made no hesitation to pump me full of pain-relieving drugs and who-knows-what else. I don't think I've ever had so many things going on in my system at one time.
They took many vials of blood for testing; during this, I remember a huge moan welling up from some mysterious place deep within me. I was stunned--I knew it had something to do with the grief process, but I'd never experienced it before, though I'd lost the twin pregnancy and various beloved family members. The woman drawing the blood must have seen such before. She looked compassionate and not at all shocked like I'd expect.

Because of all the drugs coursing through me, I delivered and didn't even know it. The young girl nurse who they assigned to me seemed ill-prepared to deal with this grim ordeal. She took the lifeless baby out of the room and since I had opted to see her, she brought her back to the room. Of course it wasn't the same as seeing a live baby, it was a moment I had dreaded but thought would bring closure and finality. We named her Mary Elizabeth because of the story of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb at the recognition that Mary approached with his Savior in hers. It testified to me regarding the spirit of the unborn, bringing me comfort that as David remarked upon the loss of the baby carried by Bathsheba, I would see her again in heaven someday, alive and well--in fact, she had beaten me there already.
Perhaps the worst part was signing the death certificate. I knew the irony that existed here: I wanted that baby alive, and she had died; those who abort wouldn't be required to sign such a document. Later I sent that thought to a legislator I know, and she presented this thought in a bill that she was working on...though I don't believe it helped the bill to receive approval, perhaps it brought someone to think on those things. A social worker came into the hospital room and helped us with various decisions that seemed to add insult to the injury we'd sustained: Burial or cremation was one of them. I talked to our pastor and he didn't see any biblical requirement either way. We decided for cremation, and afterward had to go to a funeral home to make the arrangements. The hospital wasn't the last stop in this trial. Still, at the funeral home the staff there were believers and that made the experience much easier than it would have been otherwise.
I remember for one ghastly moment on my arrival home thinking that I wanted another god, one who wouldn't put me through such a thing--and then I realized my unfaithfulness, my unthankfulness, my fickleness. God is good and loving, He did even this in love, and the verse that Peter said to Christ came to mind: "To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). It was true. God is the only One through whom we can expect any good.
I was sick for quite a while afterward; had to undergo another surgery to repair some problems that occurred connected with this pregnancy; and my mind took months to get back to anything like normal. I still have forgetful times, sometimes mixing days up inexplicably; less often forgetting or switching people's names that I have no reason to forget. These memory lapses are distinct from the everyday lapses that everyone deals with, they are unique enough and stubborn enough that I recognize them as still remaining from that dark period. Perhaps that short-term memory loss was a blessing, enabling me to get through the pain of it. God had His reasons for every aspect of that loss, I know, and I can now thank Him for the many ways that He showed His presence in my life. I thank Him also for His sovereignty, that His purposes that we can't understand will prevail, according to His plan, His wisdom...even though we would never choose them on our own. Better His will than mine.

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