(Read the first half of the story on yesterday’s post, entitled, ‘Before’)
While Rob went to get Helen to stay with the kids, I stood on a towel in our closet, looking for pants I was willing to throw away later. For some odd reason, my most vivid memory of that night was the awkward feeling of clenching my knees together as I bent to kiss the children goodbye. Consciously, I was trying to stem the flow of blood long enough to get out of their sight. Looking back, I think I was also trying to hold on to as many of my children as I could in that moment. As we hurried out of the house I realized I was about to ruin the car upholstery (our brains are never far from Mom-mode, are they?) so I grabbed a black trash bag from the shelf in the garage and threw it over the seat.
We lived out on the eastern plains of Colorado, where the land gradually rises to meet the front range of the Rockies. The closest hospital was thirty minutes away, in the city of Colorado Springs. We drove in near-silence, both worried that maybe we should have called an ambulance. About halfway across the dark, flat prairieland, Rob said the only sentence spoken on that ride. Reaching over to squeeze my hand, he simply said, “I’m grateful we’ve kept a short list.”
That was counselor-speak, but I knew what he meant. He was saying he was glad we had worked through our differences as they came up instead of filing away a list of grievances to deal with later. We had left nothing important unsaid. I nodded. Sitting on the crinkly plastic, halfway wondering if I would see my kids again, it really was a comfort.
Rob let me out at the automatic sliding doors of the ER and sped off to park the car. I’d always wondered what you have to say to the receptionist to get sent straight through. Apparently, “I’m so sorry, I’ve messed up your floor,” does the trick. By the time Rob got back from the parking tower, the nurses had me gowned with an IV line established. They hung a bag of medicine that the doc explained would cause strong contractions to make my uterus clamp down and stop bleeding. This is nothing like having a baby, I thought. As the flurry of activity buzzed around me, suddenly, my only job was to lay there and remember.
When I was pregnant with Robert, our firstborn, I read everything I could find on the topic of labor and delivery. Everything. I even typed up one of those natural birth plans that make nurses roll their eyes. On the morning of his due date I woke up in labor, which they say almost never happens. I later teased my Type A son by telling him he came here with a day planner in his back pocket.
Excited family members beat us to the hospital on that beautiful spring day. Their photos show me waddling into the women’s hospital in a cute maternity outfit, makeup fixed, carrying my favorite pillow and beaming with excitement. Both sets of grandparents came and joined hands with us to form a small circle in the labor suite. We thanked God for this precious new life and asked Him for a safe delivery.
Although it was his first experience with childbirth, Rob had proven to be uniquely equipped as a labor coach. Teaching people to use their breathing to reduce pain perception, muscle tension, and heart rate was the basis of his early specialty in anxiety disorders. As my labor progressed, he calmly and methodically reminded me of the relaxation techniques he had begun teaching me when we were dating. (Offering biofeedback tips is one of the ways psychologists court potential mates.)
On that happy day, each contraction arrived right when the stopwatch said it would, with gradually-building frequency and intensity. I refused all pain medicine and labored naturally, until the obstetrician finally announced our eleven-pound boy just wasn’t coming out that way. It didn’t really matter to me how it happened, though, because a beautiful reward awaited us at the end. When they placed Robert in my arms, it was to the sound of a lullaby mix tape his father had made especially for the occasion.
Nine years later, I wrung my husband’s hand and screamed as he watched in terror, completely helpless. Constant, powerful waves of artificially-induced contractions rolled through my body with almost no rest in between. I delivered fist-sized clots of blood and tissue, which the doctor examined, looking for the ‘products of conception.’ Underneath the pain and fear, we grieved the precious life being emptied from my womb. There was no beautiful reward waiting to encourage me this time.
But in the middle of this nightmare of grief and pain and fear, I cried out to God, and He was with me. He delivered me, not from it, but through it. With every push, more fear left and more peace entered. The nurse offered me narcotics and I answered without opening my eyes, “No. This is the cleanest pain I’ve ever felt.” As I settled into the unrelenting rhythm and power of the contractions, our little delivery room became a holy place. Even the ER doc was calm. I don’t mean just a ‘confident and experienced’ kind of calm, I’m talking supernaturally peaceful. As each wave built, I no longer cried out, but silently rode it higher and further into God.
The next morning, when it was all over, and I was safe, the doc pulled a chair up beside my bed and held my hand, and we talked about the most important things in life, starting with our common faith. He remarked that Rob’s and my partnership through this ordeal reminded him of the one he enjoyed now with the love of his life, whom he had met about a year ago. His eyes emanated peace and joy, and I remember thinking, Maybe I’m dazed by blood loss or high on adrenaline, but this scrawny-looking guy might be an angel.
We went back home very different people than the ones who had left in such a panic the night before. Grief for our babies in heaven was now balanced by gratitude that our two here still had a mom. The fear that God would take my baby and me to be with Him was now replaced with complete assurance. I knew that, whether my children or I live or die, we are completely safe in His hands. He is always with us and He is always good.
My spiritual euphoria remained and deepened gradually into a faith I previously didn’t even known was possible. For the next seven years I was ravenously hungry for God’s truth and spent hours every day reading and memorizing scripture and studying philosophy, theoretical physics, literature, language, and every other subject I could cram into my brain. I still look forward to heaven like other people anticipate their wedding day or a dream vacation.
That night also permanently changed how I view God, this world, and other people. I felt connected to everyone, as if our perceived differences are merely an illusion. The more quirky and broken and different from me they were, the more intriguing they were. The best description of this enlightenment I can offer is that I realized the entire universe and every person, fact, moment, and molecule in it are purposefully designed to point us back to God. For a period of months I was basically stunned by the world around me.
A few weeks after the miscarriage I happened to pick up a copy of the local newspaper. Suddenly, I saw my doctor’s kind eyes smiling at me again, from a photo in the obituaries. “After an extended illness… survived by a special friend…donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.” No wonder he’d been so focused on what truly mattered – he knew he was on his way to see God! I couldn’t really grieve for him, because Heaven had become so present to me in that little room where he ministered to us. So instead, I just cried for joy that his eyes now beheld the Savior who had shone through them so clearly on that long night that changed our lives forever.
photo credit: Back of Beyond the NT