Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mercies in the Valley

I have been gone. This blog will explain why. I hope it will also encourage all who read it in their own journeys through the valley of the shadow of death.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It is a deep numbness marked by frequent flashes of pain. To describe it is very difficult. To experience it is excruciating. In an instant giddiness turned to profound grief. One has to wonder about all the capability of modern medicine and its machinery.

We were at an optional (you pay extra) ultrasound to “see” our grandson now almost five months along in utero. Our kids were pretty sure the baby was a boy, but this image would be definitive at five months. We had seen the DVD of the last ultrasound done a month earlier. The technicians can enhance the sonogram image and make it 3-D. They put the whole thing to music and even watching the DVD was quite emotional for me. This little baby, my grandson, not yet five inches in length, was exercising his arms and legs. But it was just a DVD.

Now our daughter and her husband invited us to come with them for this amazing experience in real time. The anticipation was palpable. This technology would allow us to see this little life still in our daughter’s womb. We were all in the room as the technician projected the ultrasound image on the wall larger than life. Almost immediately I sensed something was wrong. The heartbeat we heard was slow, not the rapid heartbeat of an unborn little boy. And the little guy was not moving. It looked like he was sleeping. I wondered, “Do babies sleep in the womb?” I could not remember. The technician had our daughter roll on her side to see if perhaps she could arouse the little man and get a better sound. It did not take long to see this produced nothing more. And then the fateful words came. “Guys, I cannot find a heartbeat. You need to go to the hospital,” she said. And then silence and she left the room. She was just a technician after all, and obviously not trained professionally to deliver such news. No matter the words or how they were delivered, we were all in shock. It happened so quickly. One second we were waiting to see this precious child squirm and to hear that unmistakable sound of life—his rapid heartbeat. The next second we were in grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression—all at once overwhelming our consciousness. I thought I might pass out. Our dear daughter and son-in-law, these wonderful and anxious young parents were suddenly slammed down into the deepest fear and grief. You have to wonder about the capability of modern medicine and its machinery.

It was later confirmed at the hospital. We had lost our dear little December baby. We were not prepared for this. We thought we were past “the time” when these things happen. The following day our daughter’s wonderful doctor confirmed the technicians words but with extraordinary bedside manners. He explained in detail to us all that had likely happened and all that lay ahead of them. He kept apologizing. Regularly, he stopped and said, “I am so sorry I have to tell you these things. “ It was profoundly comforting because he was sincerely communicating that he had some clue about how very difficult this must be for them. Still through it all, now 20 hours later, the numbness was profound. And the occasional flashes of pain seemed to be going deeper. I felt somehow like I was drowning, submerged and unable to get to the surface for air. I was hoping it was a dream and that any moment I might wake up.

It was not a dream. The grief and pain was real. The next day our precious daughter and son-in-law were admitted to the family center to be induced to give birth to their son who the doctor estimated had died sometime in the past week. The sight and sound of live babies were everywhere. The doctor apologized for this, too, but explained the concern now was for our daughter’s health, and her best care could be provided in this place.

The sadness is too deep and raw for me to write much more detail about all that transpired after she was admitted. But in the midst of all the sorrow and pain the mercies of God were scattered all around. We had prayed for two things: as quick a delivery as possible (the doctor had said it could take anywhere from 8-30 hours!), and safety for our daughter. Of course we prayed for strength to make it through, too, but we were certain God would provide this. We had no guarantee of the other requests. Though we know we will need much more of God’s mercies in the days and months ahead, we are profoundly grateful for God’s mercy shown to us. The body of my grandson was delivered just under eight hours after our daughter was induced. And 72 hours after the tragedy began, our daughter was home and resting comfortably with every indication that physically she will heal well.

Our daughter and son-in-law named him Elijah Evan. It means “My God is the Lord.” Our God is Lord. And the Lord’s mercies were all around us. We are profoundly thankful for family close enough to gather together. We cried a lot, but there were also moments of laughter--one of God’s greatest creative medicines. We have been blessed with top of the line adult children who have chosen top of the line life partners—a priceless mercy. Immense mercies in the prayers of family and friends near and far poured over us like fresh rain and the wonders of modern communication meant that we knew of these mercies moment my moment. Throughout the ordeal, the Word of God dwelling in us richly and called to mind by God’s ever present Spirit reminded us regularly of God’s promises. All of these mercies will continue to accompany us in the days ahead.

This is not the blog I had planned to write about my grandson that was due in December. It is the blog that has come. Written through tears I am reminded that the Psalmist says that God stores our tears up in a bottle—valuing each one (56:8). And I am reminded that Jesus loves the little children and the Lord knows us by name before we are ever formed in our mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5). Though we will wait a very long time to hold Elijah Evan, we are confident that he is in the arms of his heavenly father. A dear friend reminded me of another mercy. My father who passed away five years ago and was absolutely baby-crazy, has surely found him and will likely be holding and rocking Elijah Evan for us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Worth Waiting For

I waited a long time for a grandchild. Our son married right out of college nine years ago. I think I was discreet about it—the waiting, that is. They knew how much I love babies. But I knew how much they had in their plans that made having children right away not practical. I just did not know how hard it would be to wait. All my friends sending me their Christmas cards with their couches and laps overflowing with grandchildren seriously tested my patience! It was cute at first. Then, year by year, it became torturous! I think my discretion weakened these last couple of years and I probably not so subtly expressed my longing—if not with my actual words, my face around babies probably said it all! Or maybe it was two Christmas Eves ago at church when I brought a little baby over to my son to show him what one looked like!?

I confess. I had my own selfish expectations. I got married young and when my son married younger, also, I just planned on being a very young grandmother. I am still young, relatively speaking, but not as young as I had planned. I did tell the kids I just hoped they would have children while I could still get up and down off the floor to play! And I guess I did warn them recently that if someone did not have a baby soon I may end up in jail for stealing a small child.

But finally the day came. Last Thanksgiving our son and his wife announced during the Thanksgiving meal that they were expecting a baby! Wow! What a great context for that announcement! And, true to my anxious grandparent’s heart, I already had a baby gift waiting! I immediately went into my little hope closet and got the soft little blanket square with a critter in the middle and gave it to them. I had purchased it two years earlier when I just could not help myself anymore. I had passed by so many sweet baby things. This one I refused to pass by. I bought it and put it away. It could wait with me for the time when my hope became substance!

But in November of 2010 July 4th of 2011, the due date, seemed so far away! I had waited over eight years. I told myself I could wait another few months. I did. It was so worth the wait! She was three days late, but Laurel Ana was born at 9 p.m. July 7th. All fingers and toes accounted for. Healthy lungs to announce her arrival. Though I could not be there, my son sent me the audio of her screaming she was here. Beautiful dark hair. No conehead and no visible marks or swelling from the long hard 24 hours of labor she extracted from her beautiful mother. She is perfect! Really! I know every grandparent says that, but Laurel really is. And she has already shown signs of inner beauty to match her outward gorgeous looks. She is as sweet as any baby I have ever been around and I have been around a lot of them. She has been so alert and observant. Though I know their little eyes do not focus clearly for several weeks, Laurel is sure looking intently at every face and everything put in her line of sight. You can see that she is searching for meaning in her environment and from those who care for her. Her little mouth already trying to make the shapes that make sounds. She rarely cries or fusses. She is pure sweetness.

Her inner beauty was really tested when she was only three weeks old and dragged to her Auntie Anne’s wedding on the 30th of July. Such a trooper! She made it to every party and celebration and was passed around to relatives, young and old, and friends too numerous to count. And rarely a peep out of her! She just searched faces intently, thrilled us with smiles occasionally (you can call it gas if you want, but the timing in response to people smiling at her makes me stick to my story—she was smiling at three weeks!). Then she would close her searching eyes to rest from all the hard work of exploring her new world and all these crazy people called relatives. And I just want to say, her mom and dad deserve a medal for their gracious and generous attitude in sharing this precious young life with so many folks without proof of hands properly cleansed with antiseptic wash or Red Cross training for child care.

Dear little Laurel was definitely worth waiting for. Did I say she is the most beautiful and personable little baby girl I have ever met? Ok. So I am over the top. All discretion aside, being a grandmother who has waited so long there is not time for such silliness. Oh! And I have another grandchild coming in December! This one a little boy. No doubt he will be the most handsome and charming young grandson to ever arrive on planet earth. I bet you can hardly wait for that post!