Day 2-3: Walking On in the Ugly Beautiful Bitter Sweet

The sun went down on our first day home and pain blindsided me in a moment I didn’t expect. You might wonder how it blindsided me when it had been the only constant, but some happy moments were even sadder than the sorrowful ones. I glanced outside as the sun went down to see Leslee pushing our girls on the swings.

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It was a sweet moment, but I felt the bitter start to build inside me. He was smiling, they were giggling…laughing, and I was having a hard time with the image of happiness this scene was portraying. It was surreal…standing there fully aware that this was my life and yet I was so far removed from it. In my mind, I was wherever Leif was. That’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be witnessing a happy family. I didn’t belong there.

I remember a conversation I had with my mom before I left the hospital. A conversation about how life goes on in spite of you. I told her I didn’t know how in the world I was going to move forward. That I had no desire to. I can’t remember everything she said, but one line stuck with me. “That’s the hard, but somewhat merciful thing about life…Whether we want to move forward or not, as life moves forward, it tends to drag us along with it.”

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I stood there looking out the window and realized this was one of those moments. This beautiful, ugly, golden, bitter moment where I first experienced that she was right. I was going to be dragged along whether I liked it or not. It was happening as I stood there. My family was going to drag me along.  I might as well find the beauty over the ugly. The sweet over the bitter. I got my camera. It occurred to me that I might want to remember this. This…the moment  life started to move on. The moment life looked like nothing horrible had happened to us.  A normal, happy family playing in the yard.

I saw Leslee pushing the girls and I wanted to embrace his strength. This was a joy-filled moment. For him. I was sincerely thankful for that. He found solace in two little girls. I took pictures. Someday, we’ll all get back to this, right, Father? I have to believe that.

**

My head hit the pillow that night and I passed out. But not before I cried some more. For as I had gone to turn out the light under our cabinets, there lay the pacifiers I had bought last week.

**

I woke up the next morning feeling a lot more rested. A little stronger. I moved through the fog that surrounded me and prayed a thousand prayers. Every moment, I need You. I need You. Give me the strength to get out of this bed. Give me the strength to make breakfast. Give me the strength to plan my son’s funeral today. Let me feel you, Lord. Heal my broken heart. Give Leif a hug and a kiss from me (I love you, sweet boy). I need You. Please comfort me.

If my own prayers weren’t enough, I was covered.  In prayers and love. I could feel it. A warm embrace. Prayers went up…the Lord’s presence intensified. So tangibly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced and it’s difficult to put into words. He was there…through a loving, specific, well-timed word from Leslee. Through a heart-felt message from friends or family.  Through hugs. Through generosity. Through meals. Through His Word. Through tears. Lots and lots of tears. When I broke down, He carried. When I leaned into the pain and the flood broke forth, His strength could handle the storm. When I whispered, He whispered back.

However, that day was a hard day. We met with the funeral home and made the arrangements for Leif’s service. I sat there and could hardly speak. I was grateful that Leslee did all the talking. We wanted a little handout for people to have at the service. I was frustrated that I didn’t have full control over the design, the font, the colors, the EVERYTHING about it. Amidst my gratitude that the funeral home was willing to do an infant service for very little cost, it worried me that it might not be our idea of perfect. I just wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to control the details because I couldn’t control anything else.

And then I found out I had to write the obituary. I guess I assumed they would have kind of a fill-in-the-blank template for us.  Yeah, something mindless would be best for me right now. I don’t want to think. However, in my current state, I’m certain I would have wanted to hijack that, too. I needed something to give me purpose. Something to throw myself into. I couldn’t be pleased. And the responsibility of writing my baby’s obituary left me feeling overwhelmed.

The ride home was long. There was silence, but feelings and thoughts filled the car.  I stared up out the window, blue sky, white cotton clouds, trying to draw near to those heights. Trying to lose myself…hear God…find my son. Tears were ready and then Leslee grabbed my hand and squeezed intuitively.

“What are you thinking right now?”

Floodgates opened as I turned my head to look at him. “I miss my son!” I wailed. As I cried, he squeezed harder and continued to hold on as tears brimmed in his own eyes. No words were necessary. He missed him, too. His generosity in asking me time and time again to share my thoughts was not lost on me. Giving me permission to unload on him is what he’s always done, but it’s easier to hear when you’re not in it. When you’re not the one unpacking the baggage. We were sharing a suitcase on this journey.

“I love you, Breauna. I miss him, too.” A phrase he uttered countless times never grew old. It grounded me.

When we arrived home, he went to take care of some chores and I sat down at my computer, wrote the first line of Leif’s obituary, and sobbed. I wrote another line and had to stop because I couldn’t even see the screen. Another line. And another…until I had reached 8 lines that I absolutely hated. If ever anger presented itself, it was in that moment. I was angry at myself for not being able to articulate what I wanted to say about my baby. A baby I had only known through little kicks and twists and rolls in my belly. A baby that knew me so much better than I knew him…or would ever get the chance to.   I should have been able to DO this, but it sounded so flat. I looked up and said, “Father, You’re going to have to help me with this. Give me inspiration. Give me the words. I need You.”

 

I decided to leave it for a while. Walk away and put it off. I needed to message a friend and tell her I was using her poem in the ceremony. Little did I know she would help me finish the hard part of his obituary with her response. Her words were perfect.  Yet again, and as always… there He was.

 

Leslee

I finished up my chores and went for a little drive around the farm to clear my head. I had gotten upset upon arriving at the funeral home to find my son was still at the hospital. I beat myself up. I should have brought him there myself. I left him thinking they would pick him up that day. He spent another night at the hospital alone. The thought cut me to the core. I know I was somewhat irrational, but just because he wasn’t living didn’t make me any less his parent. It didn’t make me love or care for him any less. It’s not a switch I can turn off. The funeral director assured me someone was on their way to get him as we spoke, but I was visibly frazzled. These woods and hills brought me peace.

I decided checking my cameras would be a nice distraction. I enjoy tracking the deer population on the farm, hunting sheds…hunting, period. I like to watch the little bucks grow and ponder what they might mature into. I had had my eye on one in particular. I had watched him grow. I had held onto his sheds. He was on my list. I loved how symmetrical he was. The best way I can explain it…He was just my kind of deer. And we had a history. He was stealthy, though, which made him even more of a challenge.

I drove up to one of my cameras, scrolled through a few photos, and there he was. Front and center. His face and his antlers filled the screen. Yes! I thought. What day was this?

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I looked down and it suddenly hit me. 8/27/17. I’ll admit I’ve always been more a believer in coincidence when it comes to details. Small things. This feeling that washed over me was more up Breauna’s alley. I always just kind of grinned and let her tell me a story about details she saw God’s hand in and thought, Well, maybe…But I’ve never felt or experienced anything like that personally.

God wasn’t going to let me write this one off. There stood my special buck—the one I’d hardly talked to anyone about—on my camera on the day we said hello and goodbye to our son. The photo sent a message straight through me. I know you. I know all of the little details. Things you don’t share with everyone. And I know this moment because I know this buck is special to you. Hear Me: It’s going to be ok. If this photo says anything to you, let it be this. If I can work about this tiny thing that speaks volumes to you, I can work about the big things. Start trusting I do indeed speak and work in the details.

I hopped in my side-by-side and ran home to show Breauna my picture and the date. She would know. She would understand what it meant to me and I understood her even better now. I had a story—an encounter of my own—about how God reaches us and how very resourceful He is.

I named the buck Leif’s Buck. Never had I wanted to see a deer live so bad in my life. As long as he stayed on the farm, he was safe. And that day was a turning point for me. God had my back and all the little details in between. He orchestrated them and there was a peaceful blessing in being able to see. I simply had to put the right glasses on when I scrolled through the camera.

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The Current Happenings: Doctor’s Visits, Blood Tests,and Birthday Gifts

If you’ve been following my blog, I have been writing about the hours after we had Leif of late,  but today I’m flashing forward to around the 3 week mark of our journey and how it corresponds with some news I received yesterday.

 Leslee and I sat there in the waiting area of my OB’s office. It had been a little over 3 weeks since we had lost Leif and I had been doing better, but this was tough. I sat there staring a hole into the wall, quiet. I couldn’t talk. I had to focus on the wall or I might think too much about how HGTV was on…just like it had been every time I’d been here with Leif. How the chair felt underneath me…just like it had felt every time I’d been here with Leif. How the receptionist looked at me. I was a lot skinnier this time…but they didn’t ask about my baby. Did they know? I sat there and stared a hole in the wall because if I didn’t, this scene and the memories would unravel what resembled a weak amount of composure.

Leslee was quiet, but intuitive. “You doing ok?” I didn’t look at him. I just shook my head as tears welled up in my eyes. I didn’t have to explain myself. He knew. His arm came around me and he softly said, “I’m having a little trouble myself.”

We were here to see my doctor. At the hospital, she had told me it wasn’t necessary for her to see me this soon after, but she wanted to. Women who have a stillborn are at a high risk for postpartum depression and she wanted to check me over emotionally, physically, and mentally. She also thought she might have a few more answers for us by that time regarding what went wrong with Leif. I can honestly say I didn’t care to know. I felt like a scientific explanation would somehow alter the closure I’d already come to: For reasons unknown to me, God gave me a baby boy and then decided to go ahead and welcome him into Heaven early. I didn’t need to know anything other than that. Didn’t want to.

The door opened and the nurse called us back. Leslee and I chatted about other things. He made me laugh so when my doctor walked in, I was smiling. There was a bit of small talk involved before she got down to business.

“So, we knew there was an abnormal amount of clotting in the umbilical cord when we last talked at the hospital. We sent your placenta off after that to see if they could detect what caused that. What they found were lots of infarcts. Simply put, your placenta had a stroke and that’s what killed him.”

My placenta had a stroke? I had never heard of such a thing.

“Would I have had any indication of that? I mean, I felt fine! Would something like that have had any effect on me or my body? Should there have been any tell-tale signs I just wasn’t aware to look for?” I asked.

She solemnly shook her head. “It happened on a microvascular level over time. The blood clots slowly caused your placenta to not be as effective. The easiest way I can explain it is—a diabetic and their eyesight. That macular degeneration doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process and so blindness happens over time going mostly undetected until it’s too late. In the last month, your placenta was having to work so hard to sustain him and his needs at the time he needed it most. Beforehand, he could still survive because his needs weren’t as great, but at that point, the blood supply to your placenta was so small that it gave out.”

I was in shock. All I could think was, My body killed my baby. My body killed my baby. It got worse.

“All of that being said, I have several tests I want to run on you,” she said. Words like “lupus” came into the conversation. Autoimmune issues. Bloodclotting disorder. She was concerned about me having an underlying issue that caused this.

My mind was reeling. “But, I’ve already been tested for a bloodclotting disorder.” It was a family issue. My mom had Factor V Lieden and it had landed her in the hospital for 2 weeks when I was in high school. A few people in my family had actually died from blood clots. “They said I didn’t have it.”

“Well, that was then,” she explained. “I do have those results in your file. And yes, it was not detected in your blood, but a disorder like that can actually develop over time. Kind of like rheumatoid arthritis. A child shows no symptoms or sign, but it’s there. By the time someone reaches their 40s and 50s, it’s making its presence known. You’re in your 30s now and it’s possible it has developed.”

I was ready to discuss some “what ifs” then in regards to “What if I have one of the things you’re testing for? What does my future look like? Will I be able to have more children? Will I have to be on medication for the rest of my life? What will my quality of life be like if, for instance, I have lupus? Or something else? Ignorance would be bliss. Do I want to know? If I know, will I live my life in fear? Would knowing what was once unknown alter the steps I have taken in faith thus far?” So many questions, so little peace. She answered all of my questions one by one and said, “Breauna, it’s also possible that none of this is the problem. It’s possible each of the tests are going to come back perfectly fine. It’s possible that we won’t know what exactly caused this. That happens.”

“Was this bloodclotting something we could have seen in an ultrasound?”

Her mouth turned into a grim line as she nodded. “We simply didn’t know to look. You had gone through 2 healthy, normal, uneventful pregnancies. You’re in excellent shape. Your blood pressure was always great. His heart beat was within normal range every time you were here.  On the outside, there were no indicators that we should have been worried.” Her honesty with no defensiveness or excuses endeared her to me even more. I didn’t blame her at all for any of this. We were all flying blind.

I remembered how she had met with us at the hospital before we left. She sat with us. She cried with us. She advised us. She told us we were at the very top of her prayer list. I wholeheartedly believed this particular doctor—this woman—was special. I had been nervous upon switching networks when our insurance changed  and being blessed with one of the most beloved doctors in our city was no coincidence. It was God’s handiwork…for such a time as this.

We all talked more about my physical healing and my emotional healing. She asked me about my grief and was so pleased to know that we were leaning on God and leaning into each other. She wanted to know about our children. How was I doing with our friends, Taylor and Mallory, who were having a baby boy right at the same time? Mallory and I had talked so much about how excited we were that our boys were going to grow up together. Big, exciting, fun plans. My doctor knew about this situation. At that point, I was still really struggling. We had just gone back to our home congregation the Sunday prior to this visit. We knew our friends would certainly be feeling as uncomfortable about their joy as we were feeling about our grief when we were around each other. I was ready to be back. I thought I was strong enough. But, I was wrong. Our whole church family was happy and heartbroken at the same time. Such a confusing mess of emotion…how Leslee and I were truly happy for our friends in our grief and their hearts were truly broken for us in their joy. I couldn’t bring myself to go up to Mallory and congratulate her on the arrival of Tyce. I didn’t want my tears to make her uncomfortable.  It was way, way too much. All I could think about was Leif. So, I hid in the basement. Mallory came and found me, pulled me into a hug, and we cried. No words were necessary. Hearts understood.

In hindsight, there was nothing that would have made that easier. Sometimes when things are hard, you simply have to force yourself through it. That’s what starts the journey back to good. And I was so grateful for the gift of her empathy and understanding. I’m blessed to have sweet friends.  And as I write this, I’ll have you know that I can now hold and love on little Tyce with only joy. He does make me think of Leif—a constant reminder, really, but not with sadness or loss, which is a gift from God. I enjoy holding him because he’s tangible. And my heart swells with some displaced love that needed a baby boy to pour into.

My doctor continued on with our appointment. “I still need to wait a couple weeks for your body to rid itself of some pregnancy hormones. I know everything I need to know about your pregnant body. What I’m wondering about has to do with your normal, not pregnant state because pregnancy tends to exacerbate issues. So, we’ll get that labwork ordered and compare. It’s going to take at least 2 weeks for those results to come back. So, I’m going to have you come see me again before Thanksgiving to go over the results and discuss what our next plan of action will be.”

We finished up our appointment and I walked out of there feeling a mess. My labwork was scheduled for October 17th and my visit with my doctor was another month after that. Two months felt like two years. I prayed. I prayed so hard about those blood tests coming up. I prayed for weeks. I cried. I begged. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. Leslee and I had this little hope amidst everything we’d been through. This one little hope that might be as much of a happy ending to this chapter of our lives that we could think of. These test results might dash our hope to smithereens. I took a setback. My grief took a little jaunt backwards. It was all I could think about. All I could talk about. I talked to God so much about it that I worried he would get sick of me. And then just a week ago, I finally reached a point where I wasn’t sure if my fervency had led to peace or whether I had just become complacent, but I wasn’t praying for that quite as much. I simply felt, “It will be what it will be. And no matter what, I’m ok with it…for the most part. And I’ll do my best to live my life fully whether my diagnosis is bad or good. If my hope is lost here, it’s not lost in Heaven. Nothing is ever really lost when God has it.”

So yesterday, on my birthday, as I sat at a corner table in an alcove at the mall with my coffee at my left, a notebook on the table, a pen in my hand, and a good book in front of me, my reading was interrupted by a phone call.

“Hello?” I said.

“Yes, is this Breauna?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Hi, Breauna, this is _________. I’m Dr. _______’s nurse.” I can’t remember her name because I knew the number. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. Nerves were already prepared. There could only be one reason they were calling me so much in advance. Doctors only call when there’s something wrong.

“Yes?”

“Dr. _______ wanted me to call you because she has your lab results back. She wanted you to know that everything came back within the normal range. You’re just fine, Breauna. Everything is completely fine. She still does want to see you in November so she can explain to you why she ordered the specific tests she did and to discuss your next move, but she didn’t want you fretting about it until then, so here we are.”

I was borderline speechless.  What a sweet, sweet woman my doctor was, but what a GOOD, GOOD God my Lord was. He gave me the most special birthday gift. The magnitude of that little detail was not lost on me. I cried. I cried happy, happy tears. I cried because He loves me that much—to orchestrate that particular phone call on that particular day…of all days. I’m still blown away. How in this HUGE world with all its demands, God remembered my 32nd birthday and gave me the gift of peace, more hope, and even more validation of His goodness and love. I’m still uncertain of the path He has me on, but He continues to guide me. And even when I feel like He’s backed off and watching me try to walk on my own two feet, He still lets me know He’s right there. Even in the smallest of details. And that gives me hope, as well. No matter what my 33rd year holds, He’s right there. And maybe…just maybe things are about to get good.