Two little lines. That’s all it took to turn my world upside down. Two little lines that told me that my symptoms were not that of perimenopause and anemia but rather, of pregnancy.
As I held that shocking test in my hands my heart began to palpitate, my throat constricted, light-headedness set in and nausea overwhelmed. These were the classic symptoms of an anxiety attack that I had experienced several times before, but this attack was sure to not pass quickly according to the results of the test.
Here I was, a woman half-way through her 42nd year of life, married for almost 20 years and had been told by fertility doctors 13 years prior that there was a 99.9% chance of never getting pregnant naturally. But I held in my hands a test that defied the odds. One that was completely unexpected and not exactly welcome. With a nearly 12-year-old daughter knee-deep in school, sports and church activities, I could barely fathom how to start this journey all over again.
Within days we sat in our doctor’s office where the tests results were confirmed. Noticing my anxiety about the situation and the fact that I was experiencing a “geriatric pregnancy”, we were told about our option to discontinue the pregnancy. Even in my extremely anxious state and the fact that it didn’t seem like a good time to bring another child into our family, we would not consider ending this unexpected life that was apparently growing like a parasite inside of me (the doctor’s wording) and would continue to do so until on or about December 17th, 2019.
In all honesty, looking back on this many months later, I know I was in a complete daze. The fact that I was being told that we were pregnant was beyond comprehension. Having journeyed so painfully through infertility for so many years and then being given the gift of a child through adoption, I had never even considered revisiting the heartbreaking time of thinking about getting pregnant. I was quite content with where I was at in life and would remain content for it to stay unchanged.
But God doesn’t work that way, does He? God doesn’t desire that I remain in my present state, unchanged and not growing to be more Christ-like. He allows circumstances – the good and the difficult – to arise in my life to continue the sanctification process. I have found that the times I grow most in my understanding of God and His great grace and love towards me are the times that I struggle the most.
Romans 8:28 - And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
To be a good patient, we scheduled all the doctor appointments and ultrasounds that I needed. I gave all the blood and urine samples that they asked of me. But, I could barely breathe. I was shocked at the situation we were in. If I’m being honest, I was even a bit angry that I had to experience this ‘blessing’ at this point in my life. I was able to reach out to a couple of trusted friends to share what was going on and they responded with joy. Joy! I don’t think I could express any emotion because I was still in a state of shock. I knew that for some reason, God wanted me to go through this experience. I figured given time I would come around but those first few weeks were extremely difficult.
Even in my distress, I knew that if this baby was meant to be, I had to follow the directions of my doctor and eliminate certain ‘dangerous’ foods and activities. I am well-versed in food elimination because of my severe dairy intolerance but adding more foods I had to avoid onto my ever-growing list of what not to eat became daunting once again. We began to think about changes we would have to make in our home to prepare for a baby. We hadn’t even begun how to prepare our daughter for this change and decided to wait to tell her until a couple of days before an upcoming ultrasound so she could share in the journey of becoming a big sister at that appointment.
During all of this ‘excitement’, Ray and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary by taking a week-long trip to Iceland. By God’s grace alone, I was able to fly to and from Iceland without anxiety medication which I have relied upon for the past number of years. By God’s grace alone, I was able to rest during our road trips (I typically can’t sleep in any moving vehicle) and assimilated to the time change easily. By God’s grace alone, I had no food related issues – even when I accidentally consumed a small amount of dairy – and all of the places we ate at were very accommodating to my food intolerances. I was surprised by the stamina I had on our many hikes and excursions through the beautiful country of Iceland. Before our trip I was constantly exhausted and frequently nauseous. While I was certainly exhausted and nauseated on our trip, I was able to not miss out on anything I had hoped to see or do. I started to begin to believe that we may actually be able to have another child and I might even have the energy to enjoy it.
Isaiah 41:10 - Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
And then 11 weeks and 4 days into my pregnancy I woke up early to find that I was bleeding. As shocked as I had been to learn that I was pregnant, this sight was also quite jarring. I knew that this little life inside of me was gone and I was convinced that it was all my fault. I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant at this stage in my life and had been unhappy about it, and now it was gone. The anguished cries that escaped my body were filled with grief and guilt.
After waiting a few hours in denial and praying that the bleeding would stop so I wouldn’t have to deal with the guilt and perceived blame that I caused the baby to die, we finally went to the hospital. After waiting another few hours, we saw the ultrasound that showed I had indeed been pregnant, but the baby was no longer viable. The doctor was quick to tell me multiple times that this was not my fault and none of my actions in preceding days had caused the miscarriage. This reassurance was the healing balm I need to hear at the time. This traumatic experience was over – or so I thought.
Just before midnight on June 1st, my physical pain ended when the tiny human being —that had only shortly before been growing inside of me —left my body. I don’t know what I expected to see but I was taken aback to see a perfectly forming body of a baby – our baby – that would remain suspended in development and forever only in my memory. The moment my physical pain ended, John 16:21 came to mind:
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Unfortunately, my anguish had only begun. I had nothing to show for my pain. Since only a limited number of people knew that I had ever been pregnant, I didn’t know how to really share my pain. I couldn’t even begin to explain my emotions. I struggled with fulfilling my daily tasks and pretending that everything was fine. If during my pregnancy my anxiety was at an all-time high, my miscarriage brought on a depression so deep that I began to fear I would never be able to get out of the darkness.
I felt a consuming isolation following my miscarriage. Because we had been secretive about our pregnancy, no one was the wiser as to what was going on in our lives. And for a while that worked for me. But as the grief and depression grew, I realized that in not telling anyone about our unexpected pregnancy I could also not tell anyone about our unexpected loss. I have always felt that talking about a problem with another person can help in the healing process but in my miscarriage, I felt so very alone.
My isolation even began to overflow into my relationship with God because I was so confused as to why He would allow me to get pregnant in the first place knowing we would eventually lose the baby. I spent many hours praying for relief from the mental anguish, the depression, and the desire to flee from anything that reminded me that I had miscarried. I was exhausted from the constant replaying of the events of the days leading up to the loss of our baby. I was exhausted from seeing the baby’s tiny body every time I closed my eyes. I was exhausted from trying to figure out what I could learn from this time of suffering and coming up empty handed.
Isaiah 57:15 - For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
I took comfort in the fact that God promised to be near to the broken-hearted and I was indeed feeling quite broken. The only thing that held the depression at bay was when I would read the Word of God. It was helpful to do things that got my eyes off my circumstances and onto other things. My life and responsibilities are such that I was left with a lot of time alone. This did nothing for the state of my mental health.
I am grateful to God for His merciful timing in the loss of our pregnancy. Our miscarriage happened the day before we were going to tell our daughter about her new sibling and three days before the ultrasound that we were going to attend as a family. I can only image how traumatizing it would have been to find out at that ultrasound the baby was gone and having to explain that to our precious 12-year-old daughter. While difficult, I know God was ever present, merciful and gracious toward us during our time of upheaval and grief. I am also very grateful for the few that knew of our circumstances and prayed for us. These prayers certainly kept me buoyed even in the times that I felt the darkness would overcome me. I am also convinced that I am not alone in this loss. Even though my mental health struggles and natural personality quirks aided in my isolation, I know that there are a multitude of others that have experienced the loss of a pregnancy. It’s a silent kinship that we share.
Six months after losing the baby and now, arriving at the due date that the doctors gave me earlier this spring, I have only recently begun to see the hope of a better day ahead. The depression and grief no longer overwhelm me but are more of a dull roar. I know that when God calls me to be with Himself, I will get to hold our child that I never got the chance to here on earth. I am still unsure as to why God would allow this traumatic event to occur, but I find myself in the good company of Job who also received no reason as to why he suffered so deeply in his life. I do know that God rewarded Job for his faithfulness so I will cling to the hope that I have in a fully sovereign God who, whether my reward is on this earth or in heaven, knows the plans He has for me. Each and every trial and triumph I experience is part of His plan to shape me into the woman He wants me to be. And I know that in sharing our sufferings with others, we can be encouraged to know we are not alone. For this reason, I can say with Job:
Job 1:21b – The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.