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When my husband and I arrived for our 20-week ultrasound, our only fear was that the sonographer might mistakenly reveal the gender of our firstborn child. We wanted to be surprised.
Instead we received a different surprise, one that filled our hearts with pain, confusion and heartache. We learned that our baby had a fatal disease. Our child would continue to grow in my womb, but could not survive outside it.
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Just eight months into our marriage, we had no foundation for how to navigate the tragic news about our daughter. (We found out that we were having a girl.) But what we did know in those early days and months of pregnancy was that God would sustain and equip us for the journey. In fact, it’s a promise.
Throughout God’s Word, He promises His people that He will be with them (Isaiah 41:10). He addresses those words to His people in the very heart of the storm. And we were indeed in the heart of our own storm.
Yet the feelings of connection and oneness that Kevin and I experienced in those initial weeks of shock eventually took a disorienting turn. While tears, depression and sadness continued to be the overriding theme of my heart, Kevin began to take charge, protect and do.
I truly appreciated and needed him to engage in these new ways, but I was confused. Was he not sad anymore? How was he able to put one foot in front of the other and I still couldn’t find my balance? We began to discover what many couples who have navigated grief together have learned: that each person grieves differently. And we could still be one, even if our individual expressions of grief look different.
Freedom to grieve differently
I wanted that shared feeling of oneness in our tears to remain the same. Somehow I thought that sameness meant oneness – that the only way to grieve was how I was grieving. But I learned that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, as I saw how Kevin experienced grief and He did the same, we were able to encourage the other in far richer ways.
Kevin helped me find my feet and do things that brought hope and healing to my heart. And I helped Kevin with the emotions that were stirring in him and become more connected to his child still growing inside of me. Together, we named our daughter Sophie. Indeed, we were a team on this journey, even as we began to realize that neither one of us could fully bear the weight of what the other was experiencing.
Our marriage could not survive as an island
We quickly told friends and family about our daughters’ condition. When others asked how they could help, we simply said, “We want to celebrate her life for as long as she is with us.”
That simple request turned into celebrations – both extravagant and simple – of Sophie’s life each week as our friends and loved ones rallied around us. Not only did our community help strengthen us to walk this journey; they also gave us experiences that we simply did not have the energy or forethought to come up with on our own. From tea parties to meeting Disney princesses to being serenaded by a “boy band,” our community enabled us to create lasting memories etched with joy and laughter amid our tears.
We invited our closest family and friends to our wedding because we needed our community to be a part of the sustaining of our marriage covenant. We knew we didn’t want to do marriage alone, and we realized that even more as we endured the loss of a child.
Grief is still lonely, and it isn’t easy to invite others into the raw and broken places of your heart. This became increasingly difficult for us when, just nine months after saying goodbye to Sophie, we learned that our second child (another girl) carried a similar medical condition and would also not survive once born.
Medically speaking, the doctors had told us that there was no reason to believe that this condition would appear again, thus our shock in the medical office that day was palpable. Our anguish felt deeper than what we had already experienced, and our hopes for how our family would form were crushed.
We knew that we would once more carry our daughter to term and cherish every moment together God gave us, but I wondered how our marriage – and I – could survive a second loss. Friends, family and even strangers once again rallied around us, supporting us in new and meaningful ways. People sent encouraging notes and gifts, friends helped us build family memories and our closest friends simply sat and cried with us. We felt depleted, still grieving the loss of our first daughter while already anticipating the loss of our second.
It’s God who sustains our marriage
The Lord was our refuge and our place of comfort as we walked through the loss of Sophie, but the news that we would also lose our second child shattered our understanding of how we thought God worked and who He was. Whereas God’s Word had felt “living and active” during my first pregnancy, it began to feel empty and void of power as I wrestled with new questions and fears.
As much as we appreciated the prayers and support of friends and family, Kevin and I recognized we were now on a journey that we could not navigate without professional help. Good counselors gave us the tools we needed to cope with our new reality of loss upon loss. And we learned how to cling to God even when we didn’t feel like it.
As we opened our hands to receive His grace, God was faithful to guide us each step along the road of grief. In learning to grieve together, we have also learned to trust God and surrender our hopes and dreams for our family to Him.
Four precious gifts
Nearly 14 months after we lost our second daughter, Dasah, we joyfully welcomed our son, Jaden, into our family through adoption. Two years later, we decided to ask God whether He would have us trust Him for another pregnancy.
After countless blood tests and research, we had no medical reason to believe the unthinkable could happen again. But I was still filled with fear and anxiety, wondering if I could endure yet another loss. Kevin was willing and ready to step into that uncertainty much sooner than I was, but he also understood what the prospect of another pregnancy meant to me, so he patiently waited as I processed my fears with God, him and others.
I didn’t know if or when I would be ready to open that door again, but God reminded me of His sustaining power and the reality that I had no regrets in carrying our first two daughters to term. I was reminded that, though those days were filled with so much sadness and loss, they were also filled with joy and hope.
It was a privilege to know and love my first two daughters for even the brief time they were outside the womb. It was an honor to be Sophie and Dasah’s mother. And I knew that, should God ask us to walk the road of loss again, I would not regret carrying another child to term. Instead, I wondered if I would regret not trying again for fear of what might unfold.
So Kevin and I began to trust the Lord for our fourth child. And as I write this, my now-13-month old baby girl is taking a nap while her big brother, Jaden resists his. Her name is Briella Dawn, who arrived in my arms on July 2, 2018.
Our story is not the one I would have ever imagined. It’s certainly not the story I thought would unfold when I said my vows to my husband more than seven years ago. But it is the story God has given us – one that included deep loss, great joy, intense conflict and even deeper intimacy with each other and with God. And it is a story that has included, so far, the gracious gift to be the parents of four beautiful children.
It has certainly not been an easy road. Grief still rears its head in my heart and in our marriage, and we continue to deal with the effects of losing two children. But I am thankful for how God has taught us to cling to Him, to invite others into our lives, and that it is OK to process grief differently. Infant loss does not have to destroy a marriage. Enduring tragedy as a couple can be the very place where we learn to trust Christ to sustain us in what feels like impossible circumstances.
We were devastated. In those initial days of shock and sadness, Kevin and I held on to each other for dear life. We wept as one, we prayed as one and we clung to God’s Word as one. I had never felt closer to him and I had never felt more known by him. And we were still just newlyweds.