Yesterday was the due date for our twins, Joshua and Caleb. Somehow, five months has come and gone since they were born and died. I’ve tried countless times to sit down and write about my boys, desperately hoping that writing it out would take away the pain. But I couldn’t do it. Every time I tried, my mind would go numb. Facing the pain and writing about it just brought it to the forefront and made it hurt more.
It still feels like it happened last week. We had just finished moving across country and were starting to figure out what life would look like here in New York. One 7 month old son and two more boys on the way meant we needed all the family help we could get, so it made sense to up and leave before I would get put on bedrest. They were conjoined at the stomach, but both were moving and healthy every time we saw them through ultrasound (which was weekly because of my past with miscarriages and because of their condition). We saw specialist after specialist who would try to give us more insight into the life of surgeries for our boys, but God gave us a peace from the start that they were going to be OK. I actually remember the appointment where she told me they were conjoined. I was about 9 weeks pregnant, Andrew was at work that morning so I was there alone. The peace that I had was unexplainable as she told me this hard news. I wasn’t reacting, so naturally, she thought I was in shock. She told me how the boys wouldn’t make it past 12 weeks, if they even made it that far. She told me all the negatives, all the downsides, all the statistics. But God was speaking so much louder in my mind saying, “I’ve got this. These boys are going to be OK.” So why would I care what this stranger thought when my God says they will be fine?
We had more ultrasounds and more specialist appointments before moving, and every time with every new doctor, the boys were moving around, getting stronger and growing bigger. Two healthy heartbeats, two rambunctious little boys. We were grateful. Twelve weeks came and went and we sighed a little bit of relief that our boys were still fine.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and we are all moved in with family. Andrew was still in the job search while we moved, but he left his job in faith. As we prayed about it, we decided that being together as a family was more important than money. We trusted that the Lord would provide a job once we moved, hopefully sometime before the boys were born. Our first specialist appointment was 6 days after we moved, and I was now four months pregnant. We weren’t nervous at all, we had nothing to be scared of. We were just going to meet our new doctors, and get to see our boys on screen again. But that wasn’t what happened.
Within two seconds, we both knew something was wrong. Neither child was moving, which had never happened before. Andrew slowly grabbed my hand as we waited for the silence to break. Please say something. Anything. The seconds felt like hours as she moved around, trying to find a heart beat. She put her head down to the ground, she couldn’t look me in the eye. “I’m going to go get a doctor, just to get a second opinion.” She left the room, and we held our breath. No. No this isn’t happening, I thought. She just must be new, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. The doctor came in the room, introduced himself, and again tried to find the boys’ heartbeats. Again, seconds felt like hours. I held my breathe in that cold, stark room, waiting for someone to break the silence. Finally he opened his mouth. “I’m so sorry, but…” the tears flooded my face before he could even finish his sentence, “but your babies are dead.” The next hour just felt like a nightmare. They talked at us, explained some things, asked if we had questions, and we were left alone to cry or talk. All of a sudden we had to make these big decisions. Labor or surgery? Induction or wait for your body to figure out that your babies you are carrying are actually dead? Cremation or burial? I snapped at someone with that question. “You expect me to decide how to bury my sons right now?” Cue more tears. Ugly tears. A grieving mother’s tears, crying on the cold tile floor of the doctor’s room. I couldn’t do it. They left us alone again to talk more. The only thing I knew was that I needed to be able to hold my boys and get a picture of them. Knowing other mamas who have had still births gives you this kind of information, unfortunately, including from my own mama. While I hated that other women have had those experiences, I didn’t know one day I would need that advice for myself. So from that wisdom, I chose labor. I had to be able to hold my boys. And I chose induction. I couldn’t stand the thought of walking around pregnant for months before my body realized they were dead. So they gave me some pills to help induce labor and they sent me home to wait it out.
24 hours later, I was starting labor and we drove to the hospital. Oh how I wish I could just forget it all. But I know I never will. The staff was mostly very helpful and considerate of our reason for being on the delivery floor. They tried to keep us separate from all of the newly crying babies. They put a butterfly on our door to signal to the staff that our situation was that of infant loss. I was not emotionally prepared for labor. Our oldest son came home through adoption, and since the twins were conjoined, we expected they would be delivered by c-section. But we didn’t make it far enough to find out. Labor is no joke. There is nothing to compare it to. The pain is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. And to go through that kind of pain and to be robbed of the joy of baby cries afterwards, it is unjust. Instead, doctors handed my boys to me, covered in blood, too fragile to try to clean them up. The room went silent. Doctors put their heads down and slowly walked out. There we were, 2:30 am, in a dark, cold delivery room. Just Andrew, myself, and Caleb and Joshua. More tears. More anger. More hurt. To get to hold them and examine their little faces and touch them brought some healing. Once they were in my arms, we could see that they actually were not conjoined. But they were sharing one very small umbilical chord, which is what led to their death. The blood was flowing through Joshua’s body before it could get to Caleb’s body. So Caleb looked like a “normal” baby. He actually looked a lot like his daddy, which I will treasure always. Joshua has some physical disfiguration, because his heart had to work twice as hard to keep up with pumping the blood. His heart gave out from exhaustion. And when one baby dies, it sends the placenta out of whack, and eventually killed Caleb also.
I read somewhere from another mama of stillbirth that a mother knows her children because they are hers. Let that sink in for a minute. You know your child because he/she is YOURS! They are living and breathing inside of you. Even before they are born, you know them. Every time I got to watch my boys move around on an ultrasound, or every time I felt them move inside of me, I knew them. And I got to see more of their personalities after their death, like the fact that Caleb died hugging Joshua, and was delivered with arms lovingly wrapped around his brother and a smile on his face. I think part of the battle for mothers of stillbirth is trying to validate this huge void that is in your life. You know your baby like no one else. You have felt their life inside of your body. But their life and their personality was not tangible to anyone else. Unfortunately, your baby died before anyone else got to meet them and see that personality. So as mothers of stillbirth, I think we constantly feel the tension of trying to keep our baby’s memory alive, trying to validate why we daily feel such great loss, trying to grieve and yet somehow function with some normalcy. The world around us mostly just has no clue how to acknowledge such deep grief. It comes off as ether people don’t care, or everyone is telling us to move on and be done grieving already. I don’t believe people mean that at all. But I felt that constantly for months after my boys died.
I don’t really have a pretty way to sum this all up like I thought I would. My brain is kind of swirling with so many different things I want to say and so many directions I want to go. Because honestly, that’s just how my brain functions now. Thoughts are harder to get out. Conversation feels painful sometimes when it used to come so easily to me. The number of stupid things I have said to people the last 5 months? I’ve lost count. I am still a grieving mama who lost her two babies. Grief changes you. Loss changes you. And the world unfairly just keeps going when you feel like you’re drowning. Sure the pain will get a little less everyday, but it’s never going to vanish. It’s a part of my identity now. A mother of stillbirth. I have wrestled with (and am still wrestling with) some of the hardest questions I have ever asked God. I hated him. I wanted nothing to do with him when my boys died. This God who told me that my boys were going to be OK, and then He just took them from me. I felt like I couldn’t trust Him anymore. I felt like He wasn’t good. Like He had let me down. I remember the first Sunday we went to church, two weeks after the boys died, and I stood there, arms crossed, tears streaming down my face as everyone around me was worshipping. It felt so foreign. It felt so wrong. And I am a worship leader, so it was a very disorienting space to be in! I am not there anymore. But I had to be there to face the anger in my heart. It is ok to not have all the answers. It is ok to hate God for that hurt. But don’t stay there. Fight through it. Yell at God. Tell him about it. I guarantee He will prove himself trustworthy and good. God isn’t sitting at a distance while you are off hurting alone. He is right with you, hugging you, crying and suffering with you while you beat on his chest in anger. That is an image I never want to forget.
“While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Hebrews 5:7-8