Chapter 40. Marriage & Grief

Chapter 40. Marriage & Grief

“How are you doing? How is Rick? How are the two of you managing?”

“We’re okay,” I’d answer, and it was the truth. I began to realize people were watching the two of us. Would our marriage survive this tragedy, or would we, as sometimes happens, be torn apart?

Years later I was able to look back and put this period into better perspective, but at the time, it made me uncomfortable. People thought we were amazing. Conversations went this way. “Rick and Bobbi were there for each other the whole time. Tragic as it was, it brought them closer together.”

Often, a story about some other couple would follow, going something like this. “He just couldn’t handle it. It drove them apart.” (Usually the blame landed on the father. I mean, how can you judge a mother who’s just lost her baby? Anything is forgivable for her.)

But were we really so virtuous? To be honest, we weren’t. The simple fact was that our grieving was compatible, a matter of personality, not effort.

Rick and I are quiet as a rule. Both of us. Quiet and private.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed our baby’s death, both of us had to find our own way of processing what had happened. We had no choice but to handle our sorrow according to our personalities, our individual history, and our experiences before, during and after Wendy’s death.

And we survived, marriage intact.

Were we doing something right where others had done something wrong?

Or were our individual grieving experiences able to exist side by side without conflict?

Rick worked full time. I ran a small home day-care along with caring for Andrea.

On a typical evening, Rick might come home from work to find me standing at the sink, washing dishes as tears streamed down my face. I’d acknowledge him and maybe comment, “It’s one of those days.” Rick would nod and carry on to the bedroom to change from his coveralls.

I was okay with that. Rick coming home at the expected time, being in proximity to my sorrow met my need. But what if that hadn’t been enough? What if I had craved physical contact, needed him to hold me, drop everything and sit by me while I sobbed? Would I have become bitter at his apparent lack of compassion?

What if I’d needed to talk and talk and talk? Would I have condemned him for not providing that listening ear?

What if he’d needed to drown himself in work, coming home at late hours? Would I have been justified in accusing him of abandoning me in my hour of need?

What if… what if… But for us, there was no ‘what if’. We each needed space with proximity. I didn’t need to talk with him about my grief. I had many around me who were willing and able to listen. Rick didn’t need to escape the intensity of my sorrow to be able to cope with his own.

We did need to know we were walking the same path. We needed to honour each other’s sorrow. And Rick, thank God, was able to stay close to me in my pain, even when he felt he had nothing to offer. For me, it was enough.

For another Mom, would it have been?

I expect that for some couples, the grieving of the mother isn’t compatible with the grieving of the father. In such situations, observers might translate this to mean the death of their child drove them apart.

My opinion is experiential at best. Still, I think there are ways to help. When friends and family see what might appear to be an incompatibility in the grieving of a momma and poppa, they can step in and try to fill the gap. Because of the extreme vulnerability, women for the momma, men for the poppa, would be wise.

Be the listening ear for the one who needs to talk.

Be the arms to hold for the one who needs a shoulder.

Be the companion at the gym, or on the jogging trail for the one who needs distraction.

Be the beer-drinking buddy who carries the car keys and brings everyone home a little buzzed, but not inebriated.

Be the one, when the spouse cannot.

Maybe that would help.

 

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 41. Another Baby Gone
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Chapter 39. Giving Birth

Chapter 39. Giving Birth

God may have given me assurance that the baby developing within me was fine, but he didn’t let the medical community in on it. No Holy Spirit hugs for them! I now had to endure their compulsion to perform ultrasounds, tests, and any other screening they could think of to determine if anything untoward was brewing.

For the most part, I indulged them. I could afford to be magnanimous. I knew, this baby would be fine.

The day my water broke, Rick took me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where our current OB-GYN had his practice. As labour progressed, Dr. Bob came to discuss his plans.

“Everything is looking good, Mr. And Mrs. Junior. Still, given your history, we’re going to take precautions. I’ve ordered a fetal monitor for the baby. A nurse will come and insert that shortly. We also have a team of specialists on call should they be needed. Are you doing alright?”

Rick and I looked at each other and smiled. We knew precautions were unnecessary, but we’d comply if it made the delivery team feel better.

Still, I did not want our baby to have to experience a fetal monitor. Inserted through the birth canal, a small screw-shaped wire would be twisted into the baby’s scalp and attached to a wire connected to an external machine that would monitor the baby’s vitals.

“Lord,” Rick and I prayed. “Can you please not let this happen? Our baby doesn’t need to experience that intrusion, and neither do we.”

Simultaneously three things happened. Rick said, “Amen,” a nurse entered the room, fetal monitor in hand, and my body exploded in a massive push. Rick said the groan that came out of me sounded as though I was being turned inside out.

The nurse stopped in her tracks. “Well, that’s that, Mrs. Junior. You’ve progressed too far for this to be used.” And with that, she put the equipment aside. A quick check showed we needed to head to the delivery room. Now.

Fifteen minutes later, Luke Daniel made his appearance. With a prophetic entrance, our little boy’s left arm was delivered first, followed by his head. Luke emerged Superman style, fist extended—our own little super hero. His strength would be a huge heart for caring and helping others.

With two living children and one in heaven, our family was now complete.

Still, sometimes the mind can’t help but wonder, what if?

What if Wendy had survived? I certainly wouldn’t have been pregnant again within a few months. If Wendy had remained in this life, would our Luke have ever been?

It’s something we can never know, and not a trade-off that could be weighed by human wisdom. God gave us Wendy for a very short time and then took her back. God then gave us Luke and here he remained.

Our baby in heaven complemented our living children. The three of them together completed our family. We couldn’t imagine it any other way, and so no other way should ever be imagined.

Conceiving and giving birth to a child after the loss of a baby is a unique experience – so much so that these live-babies-after-a-death have come to be known as Rainbow Babies. For more information on this topic, check out this link.

 Death of a Baby

 

Join me next week for Ch. 40. Marriage & Grief
Missed a chapter, or want to start at the beginning?
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Chapter 38. I’m What?

Chapter 38. I’m What?

On discharge from the hospital, I’d been told to see my doctor in a month for a routine check-up.

I didn’t get around to making that appointment for quite a while. I might not have made it at all had I begun menstruating, as I should have. But four months later there was no sign of my period. I wasn’t looking forward to a physical exam, but I knew it was prudent to pay attention to my body. I reluctantly booked an appointment.

My family doctor did a simple exam, checking my vitals and asking the usual questions. When I told her I hadn’t had a period yet, she wrote out a prescription that would get things back in order.

“I’ll just do a quick pregnancy test first though. It’s routine when we prescribe to get your period going.”

I took the little cup with me to the rest room and gathered the required specimen, then sat in the waiting room until it was tested.

“Mrs. Junior,” the receptionist called. “The doctor will see you now.”

Back in her office, I sat in the chair waiting to be released. So many hoops to jump through, I thought. Will this ever end?

“Mrs. Junior,” she said, smiling. “You’re pregnant.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re pregnant.”

“But … but … it’s only been four months.”

“And one of those months was a fertile one,” she laughed.

A sudden thought struck me. Grabbed by an unreasonable panic, I tore open my purse, yanked the prescription from my wallet and quickly tore it up, as though its presence would be enough to make me lose this new baby.

“You may book your first pre-natal appointment on your way out. I’ll see you soon.”

The pregnancy, my third in as many years, progressed normally. I, however, did not. By the fourth month, I was spiralling downward. I couldn’t manage my housework. I quit the few volunteer tasks I had at the church. Andrea was parenting herself more than I was.

It took some time to realize what was wrong. One day, as panic overtook me yet again, I cried out to Jesus. “What’s the matter with me? Help me, why don’t you? I have a little girl to care for. I’m a mess.”

Without warning, and in such a supernatural way that words cannot describe it, I was enveloped in a powerful sense of peace. I could literally feel spirit-arms wrap my soul in love. “This baby will be fine.” The absolute knowledge filled my heart and soul and mind so completely that nothing else existed for the next few moments.

“This baby will be fine.”

I hadn’t even known the cause of my distress. How natural, though, to be afraid that this pregnancy could end in loss as well.

In an instantaneous answer to my prayer, I had both revelation and assurance.

All was well.

 Death of a Baby

 

Join me next week for Ch. 39. Giving Birth
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Chapter 37. Normal Redefined

Chapter 37. Normal Redefined

I began to tell Wendy’s story to anyone who asked. I told it again and again. Those first recountings were of an event so extraordinary I could barely comprehend it. But with each telling, the story moved from extraordinary down the scale towards ordinary. It became not something that had happened to me, but something that was mine.

It was my story, mine and Wendy’s story, mine and Rick’s and Andrea’s story.

Telling began to take the place of holding. I drew Wendy into me with words, and I was thankful for those who listened. Again. And again.

Gradually I re-entered my everyday activities. Was this a betrayal of Wendy’s memory? Was I leaving her behind? No. Through telling her story, absorbing our loss into my heart, Wendy was now a part of me. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping, play group for Andrea and planning a summer vacation were not carried out apart from Wendy. Every aspect was shaded with the hue of Wendy’s existence. This daughter, this second child, wasn’t gone. She was firmly entrenched in our hearts and joined us as we moved along day by day.

My grief-carrying strength increased, and as it did, I became aware of a shift. Instead of pushing away what at times felt like an agony of sorrow, now I embraced it, feeling the loss and accepting it as the weight that would have been Wendy in my arms. Without realizing it, I was allowing myself to absorb the pain. I was growing in a strength born from understanding a depth of heartache I could never have grasped before.

With this new maturity, my trust in life and living began to fire tiny sparks in my soul. Hope had existed once. It would exist again.

It took years to knit the pain together, piece by ragged piece, into a new garment, a new normal. A time came when I realized I no longer wore that harsh, chain-metal shroud. Wendy’s memory was now a second heart nestled beside my own. Together we were stronger than I had been without her.

As I took note of this, I became aware of a third heart, one that had been close to me before, during, and all along our marathon trail.

Now I told people that God knew what it was like to lose a child. As I had crawled, then stumbled on my journey of pain, as I had allowed him to draw near, God, in his mercy, brought me the kind of comfort that only a parent who has experienced such a loss can bring.

One day I came across a scripture verse, and realized I now qualified for a new position.

God, the father of Jesus Christ, is the father of all compassion, all comfort, who comforts us so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our sorrow as a family would not go to waste. We had experienced, and now could share, God’s comfort. 

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 38. I’m What?
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Chapter 36. Burden

Chapter 36. Burden

 

Grief is a weight. Building enough strength to carry it takes time. Arriving at the point where it can be carried effortlessly, takes even longer.

Being released from a state of grieving does not come by “getting on with things”. It doesn’t come through platitudes or words, no matter how well intentioned.

It doesn’t come from knowing the loved one is free from suffering.

And it doesn’t come from knowing this was God’s plan.

I don’t believe one is ever relieved of grieving. Instead, grief, pain, loss, sorrowall those emotions that we’d do anything to refuseare gradually absorbed into our being. Cautiously, carefully, day after day, we carry our grief, all the while building emotional muscles that are able to bear its burden.

But it doesn’t start that way.

Grief landed on my spirit like a chain-mail shroud, a rough and weighty burden thrown without ceremony over my being.

In the beginning, it was all I could do to drag myself under its weight, minute by minute by minute. Each measure was evidence that time was passing, but I had no inkling of the old adage, “Time heals all wounds”. There was no healing going on that I could feel.

Grief was so heavy I felt I was crawling under its weight. Emotions were frozen, tears had a life of their own. I had no ability and barely any desire to check them.

Sometimes, if I was distracted, I felt a small reprieve, but even in that, I learned to be cautious. Grief was constant, waiting to ambush me when least expected.

I was shopping at the mall one day, and walked into Zellers. My path took me beside the baby department. My eyes drifted to a display of infant sleepers, and grief roared in so powerfully it nearly drove me to my knees. Through tears I couldn’t quell, I found my way to the door and stumbled to my car in the parking lot. By now I had learned to wait for the blast of sorrow to abate. It’s not safe to drive when you’re crying.

Grief weighed down every spark of life I had once possessed. This state of being, overwhelming and ceaseless, was unprecedented. Did others feel such a depth of sorrow? They must. Why had I not been told? For a little while I felt betrayed, angry that no one had warned me. But then it came to me that perhaps they had. I simply could not relate.

The weight of that shroud was greater than gravity. I knew there was an expectation that I move forward, but how could I, dragging the shroud everywhere I went? The truth was, for a long time I couldn’t.

But then, occasionally, I did.

Gradually, like an athlete training for a race, my emotional muscles became accustomed to the weight, built up a slow, measured strength as I learned to function under its burden. In awkward fits and starts, the pain moved from external to internal as I absorbed it into my heart.

Tentatively I began to stand under the weight of sorrow. I braced myself against a wall, a shoulder, a faith, and peered at the world through red-rimmed eyes, processing what I saw with a mind that now knew what it couldn’t have known until it had happened.

Did things go back to normal? They did not. The normal of the past was no more.

Was I changed? Yes. Was it right that I was changed? Absolutely.

Like any child conceived and carried, Wendy impacted our world in a careening, life- altering explosion, and we would never be the same. How could we be? Why would we want to be?

I’d had the privilege of knowing this wee human being for nine months in my womb, and then for her lifetime of thirty-seven hours. It tore the fabric of my being when she was wrenched from arms ready to hold her, from breasts ready to nurse her. She was snatched from her father, her sister, all of our family who’d been ready along with us to embrace and love a precious new being.

Expectation and anticipation were destroyed in a way for which we could never have been prepared.

Yes, we should be changed.

‘Normal’ had been redefined.

Some thought I should go on as I had before. Prior to Wendy, I might have thought that too.

Now I knew without a doubt that this was both impossible and wrong.

Going on as before would devalue the tiny life God sent to this earth, a life as important as my own, as my husband’s, as my other children’s lives.

I did not go on as before. I went on as a mother who had birthed her second daughter, loved her, held her as she died, and buried her.

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 37. Normal Redefined
Missed a chapter, or want to start at the beginning?
Go to the When The Bough Breaks page for a link to each post.