Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013: The Year from Hell

Many of you know that this year has been difficult for us. Many of you know that this year we found out that our older son has Autism and you might assume that his diagnosis was the reason for our difficult year. That's only a small part of the story.

We lost two children this year.

In December, 2012, when Nathan was at Urbana, I started to think that I might be ready to have another baby. At the time, James was 3 and Liam was about 1 1/2. I thought we might wait a few months but that we might have a baby in 2013. When Nathan returned from Urbana I was surprised to learn that he had started to consider growing our family as well. We even took it as a sign of the Lord's leading that we had both begun to think of it at the same time. We weren't sure if we had a solid plan as far as childcare and finances go, but we also knew that we hadn't had plans for James or Liam and that the Lord had provided. This would be the first time that we intentionally "tried" to get pregnant and we were excited to see how the Lord would provide and lead our family.

We got pregnant quickly, I found out in March 20th that I was pregnant, due November 30th. We were in the midst of the Daniel Fast at the church we attend (a 3-week partial food fast). The church was preparing for Easter. March 27th I began bleeding. I knew something was wrong and went in to my OB office as soon as it opened. Their pregnancy test was negative but they drew blood to see what the hormone levels were in my bloodstream (it's important after a miscarriage to make sure the hormone levels return to normal). My levels were higher than the midwife expected and she wanted to test them again to determine if this was a "miscarriage or an abnormal pregnancy." They typically need 48 hours between blood tests in order to track the hormone levels. The 27th was a Wednesday and the 29th was Good Friday and the office was closed. We would need to wait until Monday before we could have the follow-up test. I knew the chance of a pregnancy that would lead to a live birth was slim to none. It would take a miracle, one could call it a raising from the dead... As we entered into Easter weekend I couldn't help but hope. The disciples didn't have any reason to hope that they'd ever see Jesus again. He was dead. And yet... he was raised from the dead. The sermon series during that month highlighted the power of prayer. There were so many stories of God coming through at the Eleventh Hour with a miracle, some sign that he's there and he cares for us and he's powerful. I thought to myself, what if as a result of this baby living we have a new understanding of the miracle of Easter, how special would that be?!

Unfortunately that would not be the case. On Monday the pregnancy hormone level in my blood was down considerably. It confirmed a miscarriage. We were assured that just because it happened once, it doesn't mean it'll happen again. We could try to get pregnant again in a month or so and we should have no reason to be overly concerned that it'd happen again. In the week that we knew about this child we had discussed baby names; we both felt in our guts that this child was a boy. In my mind, I had kept coming back to the name "Samuel". For a middle name, I thought. My prayer for my children is that they would hear the word of the Lord and obey it, as Samuel in the Bible had done from the time he was a child. When our world was crashing down around us we had a small measure of comfort know that our baby is in Heaven, with our Lord. And so we chose to name him Samuel because, just like Samuel from the Bible, our baby will spend his whole life in service to the Lord.

During that month we got a referral for James from our pediatrician and in April he received a pre-screen from Pitt County Schools and determined that he should receive a full evaluation to determine if he had any delays or disabilities that would require services from the State to help prepare him for Kindergarten.

In July, just after Liam turned 2, we received a referral for Liam to be evaluated by the CDSA for his speech delay (when a child is 3 or older he is referred to the school system, if he is younger than 3 he is referred to the CDSA, a different department in the State's infrastructure).

Also in June, about 3 months after losing Samuel, we decided to try again for a baby. We felt like fear was the only thing holding us back from trying again. Again, we got pregnant right away. We found out July 8th, while Nathan was traveling for work, that we were expecting again, due March 18th. We scheduled a doctor's appointment right away. The test they did was positive and they gave us the choice of waiting to have our next appointment at 9 weeks, when they typically start prenatal appointments, or doing some blood work to test my hormone levels and scheduling an ultrasound at 7 weeks to determine if there was a heartbeat. We decided to go ahead with blood work and the ultrasound, the tension was thick and we couldn't help but be fearful.

The rule of thumb for typically developing baby is that the hormone levels double every 48 hours. So we entered the waiting game. Test 1: 400. Test 2: 700, it was going up but not doubling so they ordered another test. Again, it went up but didn't double, so we needed another test. We did a total of 5 blood tests. Most of my correspondence with the OBGYN was messages sent through the nurses so I really had no idea what was going on. Finally, I was told to come in for an ultrasound at about 5 weeks. They wanted to confirm that the pregnancy wasn't ectopic, which was pretty much my worst fear. I couldn't stand the thought of choosing for this baby to die, even if there was no chance of her reaching full-term. Thankfully, the ultrasound revealed a fetal sac in my uterus. There was not a heartbeat yet, so they scheduled another ultrasound for the following week. Still no heartbeat but the sac had grown so they weren't "ready to call it" yet. We scheduled a third ultrasound for the next week, just before Nathan would have to leave town for about 4 days for work. Two days after my 2nd ultrasound I began to cramp and bleed heavily. It was July 31st.

I knew there was nothing the doctor could do and we had plans to spend the day with my parents, my sister, and my sister's children in Raleigh. My parents are missionaries in Nigeria and they were stateside for a few weeks. This would be our one day to gather the grandchildren and enjoy each others' company. I had hoped to reveal to my parents that day that we were pregnant. We would've heard the baby's heartbeat by then and we could rejoice together at this new life. Instead, I had to break the news to them, over dinner at Moe's, that we were in the midst of losing another baby. I went to work the next few days, broken; experiencing pain emotionally and physically. The cramps were awful. I should've just stayed home, but there was no one to cover my duties and I knew that missing work would hurt their business and that staying home wouldn't change our situation. Nathan and I had both felt in our guts, that this baby was a girl. In my mind and heart, she was always "Cora", a family name from my side of the family, which means "maiden".

In August we found out that Liam was speaking at an 8mo level (he was then 26mos) and that he has difficulty regulating how his body responds to sensory input. He began Speech therapy and Occupational Therapy. In October, James received his evaluation from the school system and we learned that he has High-Functioning Autism and many of the same sensory issues that Liam has. He began to receive one-on-one help from the state at his preschool and occupational therapy. Unfortunately the preschool that the boys were at had a difficult time accommodating their special needs and director made an abrupt decision at Thanksgiving that the boys could stay at their school until Christmas but that we would need to find a different school after that. Knowing that we would be traveling a lot during December, we decided to keep them home in December with the hope of finding a new school for them in January.

And so ended 2013: the year from hell.

Not surprisingly, I've had a hard time processing the blow after blow. Healing is still a long way off. I've recently decided that I need to take a break from church in order to intentionally process and redefine my relationship with God. Sometimes the things that I hear at church make my heart contract. I feel wounded and shut down and it's been pushing me away from God. (The pastor recently said something to the effect of "Don't you ever wonder why God's blessing just seem to come down on certain people? It's because they're being faithful")

I've declared this 2014: the year of restoration. I started reading "Hind's Feet on High Places"; I read it once about 5 years ago and I loved it. I also started reading "Streams in the Desert", a daily devotional recommended by a friend. My jury is still out on this one... some of the entries I've glanced through almost have that "claim your victory" mindset that makes me cringe. Finally, I'm reading "In Search of Deep Faith." I'm really excited about this one. It's the story of a father who took his family on a pilgrimage through Europe to visit important landmarks of Christianity, over-lain with the history of those men and women, many of whom gave their lives for their faith in Christ. It's the kind of book that doesn't gloss or sugar coat the suffering that Christians experience; and it calls the audience to deeper faith, which is exactly what I need right now.

Here's to meeting the Lord this year.

FAQ's: 1) Were we trying? um, yes. Firstly, if we had been surprised by a pregnancy that we lost, we would probably make damn sure not to get pregnant "accidentally" a second time. Secondly, consider the subtext of this question before you ask it of someone who is suffering after a miscarriage. It communicates that you're attempting to categorize their suffering. As in, if I wasn't "trying" to have this baby, maybe I won't miss her. (Sorry, when this is the first question I'm asked after sharing that I've had a miscarriage, it makes me feel like, instead of mourning with me, you're attempting to categorize my hurt, it's a sore point for me)
2) Do we know why? The answer is no. We don't know why we had two miscarriages. We don't know why James has autism. There's no strong family history of miscarriage or autism. Sometimes things happen and we don't know why. According to the Doctor at the OBGYN, "25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth and [I'm] just on the wrong end of that percentage". I'm pursuing some theories with my Primary Care Physician but the OBGYN is currently not interested in running any tests because I already have 2 kids so we know I "can have babies" as the Doctor said.

This is a hard thing to share. Our culture doesn't know how to mourn well. Or how to comfort those who are mourning. Sometimes when people attempt to make me feel better they just hurt me more. It's been easier to keep this loss private than to open myself up to the ways people try to explain away suffering. But I need to share. As part of my own healing, I need so share our story and make our grief public. These two children need to be mourned. Our family will never be complete this side of heaven. We will always miss Samuel and Cora. I also need to share because people don't realize how often this happens and how many other women are going through what they're going through. We need support and it's hard to get when we don't let other people in.

If you're wondering what an appropriate response is, here are some excellent options: "I'm so sorry to hear that", "I'm broken hearted with you and for your family", "thank you for sharing this, I'll be praying for your family".


  1. My heart breaks for you guys. Thank you for your beautifully written, honest words, Michal.

  2. Michal, I've been seeing your FB comments about this being the year or restoration but wasn't exactly sure why that was until I finally took the time to read your post today. I'm so sorry to hear about your two miscarriages. I, too, suffered a miscarriage (before my firstborn, Ethan) so I know a bit of the mental and physical anguish you've experienced and my heart truly goes out to you and Nathan. You're right that it is often easier to keep quiet and private to avoid the painful FAQ's but I'm glad you have finally spoken up about Samuel and Cora so we can "mourn with those who mourn" (Rom. 12:15) and that you can begin to heal. Aren't you so glad we have the hope of Heaven and know we will get to see our beautiful babies again one day! I will be praying that this year truly is a year of restoration for your family and that you will be able to redefine your relationship with God.