Yesterday at church, Mark talked about Romans 9-11. This is a hard section of scripture that many theologians and philosophers have debated on for centuries. Mark started at the very end (with 11:33-36) and asked us to keep that in mind as we went through the rest of the sections. The verse say...
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his path beyond tracing out!
Who has know the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
And then Mark dove into the hard stuff. Into how God fashions some for good purpose and some for evil. How He chooses one over another. In our human brains that seems unfair. But Mark's question and his challenge were "Do you believe that God is in control?"
And what is funny--and why the long story is included--is I was faced with this question 5 years ago, and it changed my life forever. It was right around this time 5 years ago, that I found out I was pregnant. And then I found out that there were complications.It is the story of Libby. She was and is a miracle baby. But fewer people know what the pregnancy with Libby was really like. I wrote this down the other day, fully prepared to keep it personal and share it with only a few friends. But then Mark spoke at church and I realized how important it is to share. So here is my long story...
February may be my least favorite month of the year. Being a native West Virginian, Februaries are cold and gray and bitter. Right now a cold rain is falling. It is yucky. But February really became the month I hated 5 years ago.
Most people who know me, know the story of my daughter Libby. She is a miracle. Every July, we get to celebrate the fact that she was born alive and with relatively few problems. In July, I praise God for all that He has blessed me with through her. But it was in February that I found out things were wrong. It was in February that the doctors told me I had no chance of having a healthy baby-or a baby at all. It was in February that I was asked to have an abortion for the first time. And the second time. And the third time.
I have never really recorded what I was feeling at the time. It is so easy in retrospect to focus on the miracle, the joy, the amazing grace. I have never really allowed myself to process the loss--the loss of excitement, the loss of planning, the loss of nesting, the loss of expectation.
I found out I was pregnant at the end of January. I immediately scheduled a doctors appointment, eager to begin this next stage of life. I didn't have a regular doctor, so I just let the receptionist put me with the one who had the soonest availability. I still had to wait 3 weeks. I had 3 weeks of a normal pregnancy. We tried not to tell people (it was still early), but we failed. I gave up coffee, started drinking OJ and eating things with folic acid.
When my first appointment came up, I went in bright eyed and bushy tailed. Since I was "unsure" of how far along I was, the doc ordered a quick ultrasound to measure my progress. He could never be a poker player. His face told me everything. He should have been smiling and showing me the head and rump. Instead he was frowning and closely scrutinizing the scan. I got scared.
He asked us to go in a room and wait until he could speak to us. I stared at the table as he said that my pictures didn't look right. There was not enough amniotic fluid. I would need to come in for more tests. Corey spoke up and asked the question--"What does it mean if there is no amniotic fluid? What are our chances?" Being foreign and speaking very broken English, the doc replied, "No chance, there's no chance." I continued to stare at the table, willing myself to not cry. We still had to do more tests--maybe they were wrong. Maybe it was just a bad ultrasound.
But a week later, the additional tests only confirmed the original prognosis. I had very low (dangerously low) amniotic fluid. It was needed for lung development, movement, and protection of the baby. The lack of fluid could be caused by un-developed kidneys or a whole host of genetic disorders. The new doctors (from the high-risk group) communicated to me in very plain English that my best option was to terminate and try again. And I remember thinking--this isn't a rough draft that I can just scrap. This is my baby. Corey and I kindly asked if I was in danger if I continued the pregnancy. The doctors said not right now. So we said, no abortion.
The next few months are a blur. I had doctors appointments every couple of weeks. Ultrasounds that revealed no improvement in my fluid levels. We started keeping tissues in the glove box so I could cry on the way home. I kept an ultrasound picture with me all the time. And the doctors kept recommending termination, and we kept nicely saying "No
thank you." I went on bed rest without any change. I went off bed rest. I remember sitting on my bed talking to my mom. Suddenly I looked at her and said, "Corey and I can't afford a funeral." She assured me that it would be taken care of while I cried on her shoulder and let her rock me.
All this time, Corey and I were learning that God is in control. I wish my story was that I believed from the very beginning that God would do a miracle. I didn't. But Corey and I made a decision at the very beginning that He was in control. He could do a miracle - or He could not do a miracle. And we had to be ok with either scenario. And as the weeks went on, we came to realize that our test was whether we were willing to praise Him and proclaim Him even if the end was not what we wanted. Could we say, whether this baby lived or died, that we are His? We wrestled with it, we hurt. But we found that He was in control. All we could do was wait.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
I had my first miscarriage scare in May. Corey was at work, so my mom had to come and get me to take me to the hospital. The heartbeat was still good. The fluid was still low. And now my placenta was tearing. More bed rest. (and bed rest without cable, so I ate skittles all day and watched Days of Our Lives).
A month went by and things were looking up. I had a sudden increase in fluid (it was still low, but bordering on acceptable). I felt good. I was almost optimistic. And then I started bleeding. Not just a little. And it was a Sunday, so we had to go to the ER. I was admitted. My placenta had torn further and I was going to be on bed rest (probably in the hospital) for the rest of the pregnancy. That night I was taken care of by a really wonderful nurse who I can't remember her name and I never saw again. She washed me and smoothed my hair all through the night as the bleeding continued. She cared for me like I was her child, and I appreciate her so much whoever she is. At that time I was 26 weeks pregnant.
So I sat in a hospital bed; Corey gave me sponge-baths. I drank decaf coffee and read the newspaper everyday. I did crossword puzzles and sudoku. I did not plan for a baby. We had our names picked out from those first 3 carefree weeks (Elizabeth Marie for a girl and John Michael if it was a boy). The only other baby things we had were 4 or 5 presents that Corey's aunt got us early on. They were tucked in the back corner of the spare bedroom, except for a figurine of an angel holding a baby that I kept by my bed. (It is now on Libby's dresser). I was there for 2 weeks when the doctors decided I could go home and spend the rest of the pregnancy on bed-rest in the comfort of my own home (I remember that one one of the docs was opposed-worried). The catch was that I had to come in the next week to make sure everything was ok.
So I spent 4 or 5 nights at my moms house. She took care of me while Corey was at work or at school. She would scold me if I got up to much. The day of our appointment came. Another ultrasound (I was over these by this point). And the look was back on the doctor's face. The baby hadn't grown since the last scan. That was bad. So I was immediately readmitted. It was a Thursday. July 6.
I settled in thinking I would take up the same routine as before. The first day I had a conversation with my doctor that I will never forget. She came in with forms for me to sign. I had to consent to a classical C-section. It meant no natural births ever. It meant not having more than 1 or 2 more babies, with the possibility of no more babies at all. And she sat down beside me and asked "Why are you doing this for a baby we don't think can survive?" She looked me in the eye-searching for rationale. I don't think I responded. I just signed the papers. By the next day, the doctors started coming in and looking at my
charts with concerned faces. They started asking the nurses to gather urine samples. I don't remember if they told me why they were concerned. But I was freaking out. Which did not help my blood pressure at all.
Monday came and I was still being closely monitored. My dad stopped by after work. He stopped by everyday to make sure that I was ok. He would normally only stay a minute before heading to dinner. But not a moment after he said hello, the doctor walked in. She asked "when was the last time you ate something." I said that I had a piece of cake around 3. She looked at her watch. "We can do the C-section at 11 then." And all the color drained out of my dad's face. And I am sure all the color drained out of mine too.
The diagnosis? Pre-eclampsia. I needed to have the baby immediately or I was very susceptible to stroke or seizure. The doctor started telling me that the NICU team was on the way to answer questions. I called Corey (who was working on the floor below). But it was my dad held my hand as the NICU team came to talk to me about what it was like to have a 29 week baby--what to expect. Tubes and monitors. It was July 10, they were telling me that the best case scenario, the baby would be in the hospital until the due date September 25. And my poor dad, who is not great with illness anyway, held my hand until Corey got downstairs. I love him so much for that.
The doctors kept coming in and out. My mom arrived. They decided I was ok for now, and we could wait until the morning to do the surgery. We took some time to call people and tell them the news. I called my best friend Shawna (9 months pregnant at the time) and when she answered I said "I win." She said that wasn't funny-I knew it wasn't, but I needed to make light. (SIDE NOTE: she had her son Elliott 10 days later--he and Libby are best friends). I called my friend Melissa-all I said was "I'm having the baby soon" she hung up and came to sit with me. She didn't speak. My friend Lindsay stopped by unexpectedly. She walked in all bubbly and asked what was going on. I told her I was having the baby tomorrow. She sat in the chair and stayed too. Everyone was scared.
I couldn't sleep that night. I woke up and had to tell Corey that the names weren't right. It had to be Elizabeth Grace and John Harold (after my dad). He was in a haze. He told me that was fine. I made him get in the bed with me and hold me. When the nurses arrived at 8, I had barely slept an hour.
The morning of the surgery was a blur. But when they took her out, she cried.
She weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces.
All the loss melted. She was alive. She was a miracle.
It's easy to say now that God was in control. It is easy to say it when things turn out the way we want. But I learned that God was in control that very cold and bitter February day.
"For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen."