We’ve lost our baby.
I felt her kick for the first time on Wednesday night around 1:00am when I couldn’t sleep. It had been a really rough day and feeling those first flutters of movement felt like a little kiss from heaven. A few hours later at 7:30am on Thursday morning I rushed off to a regularly scheduled exam at the birth centre. They couldn’t find a heartbeat and several rounds of ultrasounds confirmed she had passed away. It all happened so fast and, truthfully, I didn’t believe them at first. Did they not hear me? I felt her alive a few hours ago. I’m sure of it. Didn’t they hear me?
Last weekend for the first time I bought a few maternity items and some baby girl clothes. All was progressing as it should and I thought a (late) Mother’s Day shopping trip was in order. With delight we had begun to let the reality sink in that we were actually going to have a daughter that comes to full term as we finish creating our family. (Yes, our scans a month ago showed the baby was a girl, though we hadn’t shared that publicly yet.) I feel like it’s all I’ve wanted my whole life and this was my last chance. We felt so complete. So grateful. And not that it should matter, but this wasn’t a “surprise” baby. This was a baby we longed for and prayed for and tried for over many long, tearful months of waiting and hoping and wondering if I was “too old” for the gift of one last child. Of course we know too much to assume any stage of pregnancy is “safe,” but at nearly half way through the pregnancy we had a deep sense of belief that this baby would live and thrive, and everything so far had proven that right.
So we’re stunned. Like—surely this is all a mistake. But it’s not. It’s real and our baby is dead. There’s no plainer or truer way to say it.
We’re taking the weekend to try and rest and I’ll be admitted next week to have an induction and hospital labor and delivery—the best option for this stage of pregnancy. The thought of laboring a dead baby repulses me but it is what it is. I don’t expect I’ll want to talk about it any time soon, which is why I’m sharing all of this now. (Then again no one really knows what they’ll need in grief until they need it.) We feel like we need so much right now, but don’t know what or how to ask for it.
These last few years have been brutal and we’ve grown battle weary. There’s not a significant milestone in our lives in six years that wasn’t also marked with some sort of pain or suffering or deep sense of challenge.
In the last few months alone we’ve had our roof collapse, major hail damage on our car which has diminished its value and made it unsellable just before we were going to trade it in for a larger one, then went thousands of dollars into debt to repair the mechanics of that same car after it mysteriously had a string of unrelated things going wrong with it out of the blue (our mechanic has warned us that we should be prepared for it to die beyond repair any day), we lost major financial support, had people take advantage of our generosity which sent us into more personal debt, had several others backflip on an array of different ministry-related commitments they had made, had major appliances and expensive electronics we depend on for work suddenly breaking, and many other smaller (but still difficult) things. These events in isolation are just a normal part of “life happens,” but when they are piled on top of each other for months on end (and years on end), you begin to wonder if you might be going crazy. Or if this is the price we’re required to pay to continue in vocational ministry. (Our first miscarriage happened two days after deciding we would pioneer a new YWAM ministry in Sydney, and every single one since has correlated with a major ministry decision we’ve made within days of making it.)
If it sounds like we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, that’s right. We are. We’re tired of life being hard and we’re way beyond faking fine. We’ve got no time for platitudes and “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and “God is in control” one liners so please don’t throw any out-of-context Christian cliches at us, however well meaning they might be. As much as we can we’ve been putting one foot in front of the other, choosing to trust God, choosing to not be overcome. We’ve done this for years. But for how long? When do we get to wave the white flag? (Jesus, are you sleeping?)
Through these particularly difficult months that seemed to come to a head early this year, our baby has been the shining joy in the midst of our personal hardship and ministry pressures and financial-related stress. With getting pregnant and then having a miraculous influx of staff join the ministry we felt like things were perhaps turning a corner. And now this. Losing this baby feels like too much. Can you break more when you’re already broken?
I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel sorry for us or to elicit pity (we have enough of our own already), but simply to say that life can be so damn hard sometimes (we’ve all been there—you too, no doubt). And it’s in these times things sometimes feel like they keep getting worse. Not better. So how do we cope when we’re walking around with already-tender hearts? What then when they seem on the verge of breaking completely? Is this a desperate cry for help? Of course it is. And yet we’re not even sure of the exact help we need. The grief makes things feel messier and louder and more urgent than they might actually be. We know that.
Obviously we’re left stunned and totally heartbroken by losing this child. This really is the main thing. The injustice of untimely death is so confronting. We’ve already been giving everything we have to keep our heads above the surface and continue to look for God’s goodness and practice gratitude for the many, many things going “right” in our lives. But we’re also tired. Tired of fighting and tired of what feels like losing.
You may think writing Grace Like Scarlett has made us “experts” in dealing with grief. And in some ways, sure, we are well equipped with some of the tools we need and to some degree we have learned how to hang on to hope when life feels hopeless. (This is the grace of God at work in ways unseen but somehow felt, enabling this miracle.) And yes, we sense the freedom we need to feel how we feel and walk straight into our grief as best we know how. But we certainly aren’t “experts.” Experience or wisdom softens nothing. Pain is pain and grief is grief. It just hurts. If anything we’re surrounded even more by the heartache of it all since messages land in my inbox daily from families seeking support or a listening ear after their own loss and heartbreak. Some days it feels like our whole world revolves around pain—ours and others. We could have never seen this coming.
For those who know us personally, you know that we’re also in the crucial period of trying to recruit students to our first discipleship training school (DTS) beginning in September at YWAM Sydney Newtown. The burden of communications and marketing to get students is mine and now this. How can I keep doing my job? I’m supposed to be organizing a speaking tour for a few weeks July and August to share the message of Grace Like Scarlett and help offer hope to people who are hurting, but how can I proceed when I’ve got so little left to give? Maybe this all seems unrelated but I assure you it’s not. Our lives are whole, integrated, complex—just as yours. So is this one more example of the enemy of our soul employing every means possible to derail what God has spoken? Because the one thing that seems consistent in our lives recently is that every time we step out in obedience to what we believe God has shown us we get hit. The timing is uncanny and also very confusing. It’s maddening.
Being blindsided again with loss feels like an assault on so many levels: personal and ministry and spiritual. Well wishes are fine, but the reality is we need miracles on so many fronts—miracles that sustain. The miracle of grace to endure suffering is one way we sustain and I’m thankful for it. The miracle of God’s presence even while we’re at our lowest is another way we sustain and we’re grateful for that too. But we also need the miracle of actual breakthrough—breakthrough that lasts and is not aborted before it fully takes root.
As you pray for our family, please keep all of this in mind. We simply don’t feel capable of carrying all that we’re surrounded by and we need God’s grace and the help of his Church and our community to support us as we navigate. Our staff members arrive mostly in August. Our dearest friends are miles away. And we can’t put our lives or work on hold until things are easier, because what if they never are?
If you’ve read this far, thank you for not staying away from our pain. I’ll likely post this in all the places, turn autoresponder on for my emails, and then back away for a little while to nurse my giant vulnerability hangover and wonder why I shared so much so broadly. But here’s the thing: if we can’t be honest about our pain, how can we be honest about our hope? If we can’t be honest about our despair, how can we be honest about our joy? The human heart is a paradox, we intrinsically know that. I appreciate your understanding if I don’t respond much at this time. I won’t speak for Ryan, but although I’m typically the one with all the words, I will say that he’s in immense pain too. He’s articulated it well to me and I’m thankful these last several years have at least taught us how to use language to name our heartache. We’re in this together and all of our burdens (and joys) are shared. We’re devastated and hanging on to hope by a thread.
Finally, I want to close with some thoughts about how God enters into our suffering. I spent years forming a book around this very thing and I still believe it to be true:
Our humanity is the very thing that keeps us tethered to God. It’s our humanity—our lack, our pain, our weakness, our recognition that the world contains injustice and tragedy and suffering, our need for a Rescuer, our longing for Eden and the restoration of all things—that helps us to see our need for the Divine. Today, we can see that need so clearly. With all that’s gone wrong, this ability to “see” is both a gift and an invitation. And that, my friends, is nothing but the grace of God that never quits loving and pursuing and extending into our lives even in the dark when we struggle and squint to see it. As I’ve written in Grace Like Scarlett, “The spectacle of heaven is that it’s birthed into low places… He never stops creating life out of dust.”
I still believe it, even if I can’t yet see it.
Or, perhaps more accurately: I believe, Lord. Help me in my unbelief.