Pregnancies are measured in weeks, and Kayla Aimee had only ticked off 24 when she unexpectedly went into labor. She thought her church upbringing had prepared her for every circumstance, but with the life of her newborn daughter at risk, it felt as though once solid ground had turned to glass beneath her feet, threatening to shatter everything she held sacred.
With everything feeling as fragile as her one-and-a-half-pound daughter Scarlette, Kayla found herself asking the question—“Where is God in this?”—as she faced her greatest fear: that she may have finally become a mother just to lose her only child.
* * * * *
I tried to pray, I really did. Every day I asked God for wisdom and guidance, but in the crying out, my prayers always took a sharp turn into the why. Why had this happened? Why should my daughter suffer? One day I looked at the collection of vases on the dining room table and lost it. Every square inch of the surface was covered in flowers, and I couldn’t decide if it looked like a celebration or a funeral. I had the distinct thought that the bouquets were only going to bloom for a short amount of time and then they would wither and die. I could not bear coming home to the sight of life fading in my living room and so I preemptively attacked the flowers.
I carefully cut each stem and hung them with long ribbons from the doorframe to dry. I picked up an empty vase and washed it, submerging it in the suds and wiping it dry. Then I carried it gingerly out onto the porch and hurled it against the wall as hard as I could. (Like I said, I am very spiritual.) Afterward I immediately worried that my dog would cut her paws on the glass and spent the next hour painstakingly picking shards of glass off of the ground, so I do not recommend following suit. I mean, unless maybe you put down some sort of tarp or something first. It is always good to plan out these sorts of angry outbursts in advance.
The splinters of glass caught the light like fireflies in the darkness. Broken they sparkled, and if I could have caught a handful and tossed them into the night sky they would have looked like stars—my heartbreak splayed against the heavens, glittering like the first day of creation. “Let there be light,” He spoke into darkness and from that burst forth all of the beauty.
“Let there be light,” I whispered into the darkness, fingers bleeding and begging for beauty to come from these ashes. I did not see how there could be any light in the darkness of this despair. My soul was swallowed up in sorrow.
There was fuel for this fury, an anguish that burned like a bright ball of fire. I was used to living out of an overflow of emotion, but this was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I was unable to shake the simultaneous seething and sorrow, so intertwined that when asked how I was feeling I was left speechless because I truly did not know.
So I did not go gentle. For all of my defenses of faith I was utterly, utterly human. I did not bow my head reverently toward the holy but instead pushed back, pouring out my pain in both defiance and desperation. I did not understand any of it but I still believed in grace and decided that if God was sovereign then He could hold my hurt. I could fake praise (after all I knew the verses), or I could lay out my heart at its most vulnerable and rest in the knowledge that I was loved regardless of my reaction. Maybe some people call that irreverent. Or maybe we all need to know that our broken hearts are acceptable in any form.
We were allowed to play soothing music for Scarlette, and so after my little vase-smashing incident, my husband spent several hours in front of the computer compiling the perfect selection of songs for her. I did not know which songs he had chosen until I pressed play the next morning, settling deep into the recliner as a nurse draped the ventilator cords across my shoulders and nestled her against my chest. I turned my face to keep the tears from dripping down onto my daughter as I heard the words of The Normals’ “Survivor” drift over us: “In all of my power this is all I can offer and it’s broken. … But somewhere the good King has been claiming His victory and it’s offered, it’s offered … to me.”
It was all broken. My body, my dreams, my heart. My recently amassed collection of decorative vases. Even she was broken; her bones, brittle from the intravenous feeds, had splintered and her wrists were bandaged around tongue depressors in a tiny, makeshift cast that rested against my chest. I listened to the refrain on repeat and knew that I could not offer any more than a desperate, broken heart because these were my lamentations.
* * * * *
I think I could search the world over for an answer and never get one to satisfy me this side of heaven. It does not make sense that people suffer. It does not make sense that babies die. I could never hold another mother’s hand in a hospital and give them an answer that makes sense. I thought, though, that I ought to try if for nothing else but my own sanity.
I took the tension and turned it into thanksgiving. It did not wash away the bitter, but it did ease the ache of anger and placed hope alongside my heartache. It was not a hallelujah; but as I breathed thanks for each next heartbeat counted on a monitor, it was a step toward healing. In the midst of my mothering I had missed that maybe my hurting needing healing, too.
“Through prayer and petition with thanksgiving,” the verse in Philippians said, and I could not bring myself to give thanks for these circumstances, but I could be thankful in them, for 10 tiny toes and wide eyes that roamed the room to find my voice. It did not feel brave or faithful. It felt like survival. But it also felt sacred.
I thought back to those days when I had prayed like Hannah, how I had looked at an ultrasound photo and said, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him” (1 Sam. 1:27 NKJV). It struck me then that there was no more than that. It wasn’t that I prayed for a child. I prayed for this child, for her, our Scarlette. Every bit of want that had gone into those prayers was wrapped up here and now, swaddled in an incubator. It did not look anything like what I had asked for, and yet it was everything I had hoped for. All of it was completely unexpected, but as I gazed at her I knew that I would do it over for the privilege of loving her.
All of a sudden I was Hannah again and all of motherhood was love and all of love was a prayer. This was where the thanksgiving preceded the miracle. I was just so grateful to get to love her. It felt so simple. Maybe that was the answer all along.