Mourning into Joy

Mourning into Joy

On March 14, 2017, I stared at two dark pink lines with joy and trepidation. I didn’t have the best track record with pregnancy: out of four pregnancies, I only had one living child.  Not even 6 weeks earlier, I had lost our baby January. So for me, seeing a positive pregnancy test did not necessarily equal a child. It just meant that I would get to carry this baby for a short time and then probably say goodbye. That may sound negative or morbid, but for those of us who have endured pregnancy after loss, it’s reality.    

 I immediately went in for tests, and the doctors discovered I had a thyroid imbalance. I was started on medicine immediately and referred to a specialist. At my first ultrasound, memories of my losses flooded my mind: the picture of her heart up on the screen, still and void of life...the whispers of the doctors...the screams and the tears. I began to cry silently, trying to hold it together. The tech couldn’t see anything at first, and I braced myself for the ax to fall. But then she tried a vaginal ultrasound, and not only was there a gestational sac, a yolk sac, and a fetal pole...there was a heartbeat! I was only 5 weeks and 5 days, but miracle of miracles, we got to see our baby’s heartbeat. I felt a flash of hope; could this baby really survive?    

 The specialist said I would have to be monitored closely and would endure many lab tests, scans, and appointments. But I didn’t mind because that meant more peace of mind for me! A few days after we saw the heartbeat, the nausea came and encamped inside of me until I was 20 weeks along. I could not hold down food and was losing weight. I couldn’t take care of our son or do the household chores. It was a really difficult few months for us. But despite my poor health, the baby continued to thrive! At 13 weeks, the baby was checked for neural tube defects and chromosomal abnormalities. The scan came back clear and we were able to breathe; it felt like this baby might make it! At 19 weeks, we had our anatomy scan, and it was also perfect. We also found out that the baby was a boy!   

 At 24 weeks, I was diagnosed with my fifth UTI of the pregnancy, so the doctor thought it was time to try a more aggressive treatment than oral antibiotics: IV antibiotics at home. It was very uncomfortable to live with a tube in your arm for a week! But we made it through, and it seemed like the worst was behind us. At 27 weeks, we had another growth scan. As the tech looked at his brain, she paused for about 5 minutes. She then went to get the doctor, who immediately moved the ultrasound wand to his brain and also paused for several minutes. I was so scared; the silence was crushing. Finally, the doctor told me that my baby boy was missing a small part of his brain.   

 She said the words “septo-optic dysplasia” and told me that at worst, my baby could be blind and have severe disabilities, or at best, have mild problems with his vision. There was no way to know how bad it was until birth. I went to my car and sobbed; it felt like I had lost another baby. My anxiety kicked into high gear, and I imagined my baby not being able to see or walk or talk. I felt absolutely gutted; how could God do this to me again? Over the next two days, I wallowed in my misery and anxiety. But then, my grandma called. She told me to stop thinking so negatively; who was I going to trust, God or the ultrasound? Didn’t I know that my whole family would love this baby, no matter what disability he might have? Right then and there, I chose to stop thinking the worst. I prayed over my baby dozens of times a day, believing that God was bigger than a diagnosis. I realized that it didn’t matter if my baby had severe disabilities as long as he was alive.    

 The night before the follow up ultrasound, our pastor and church elders placed their hands on my growing belly and anointed my head with oil. That may sound strange to some of you, but James 5:14 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So we chose to obey this verse, and those men prayed for our baby with great hope and confidence that God would answer. The next day, the doctor looked at his brain and said that it still didn’t look normal, but she was hopeful that it was a normal variant, something unique but not dangerous. I was very relieved and beginning to relax for the first time in weeks, when the doctor paused while looking at the baby’s heart. She said he was having abnormal palpitations and I would need to start coming in weekly for even closer monitoring.    

 At this point, it was almost laughable how many things had gone wrong, but I tried to keep trusting that God would protect my baby. Every week, we had growth scans and non-stress tests. He passed all his tests with flying colors despite his erratic heart beat. Around 34 weeks, during one of our weekly scans, the doctor was able to see the piece of his brain that was previously missing! I was ecstatic, and I truly believe God heard and answered our prayers for healing. As we entered the 36th week, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. That was the same gestational week that Hope was stillborn, so I was extremely on edge. We were scheduled for a 37 week induction, so I knew I just had to make it a few more days. Since Hope’s cause of death was unknown, the doctors felt an early induction was the safest route for this baby.    

 At my last appointment, the doctor asked if I would like to be induced that night instead of the next day! I said, “Yes!” with tears in my eyes; I was so ready to have him safely out of my womb. I felt that if I could just get him out alive, then everything would be okay. My womb felt like the most dangerous place in the world for him since it was the place where my other babies had died. We went in that night, and the nurses started me on low doses of pitocin. I didn’t sleep at all that night; I was constantly asking if his heart was still beating.  The next morning, they increased the pitocin, gave me an epidural, and broke my water. After a few hours, I was beginning to feel some pressure, and it was time to push! I pushed for several minutes, but the doctor couldn’t figure out why the baby was coming so slowly. Then she realized that she could feel his nose, which meant that he was sunny-side up! She told me that it would be a harder delivery, but that we could do this. After every push, I asked if his heart was still beating. They would say, “Yes, yes, he is doing great.” And then I would bear down and push again. Finally, at 2:24 pm on October 26th, Samuel entered the world.   

 The joy and relief of that moment was incredible. It felt like a wave of healing rushed over my body and soul; all of a sudden, pregnancy and birth were not just terms of agony and loss but also included redemption and new life. Every moment of anxiety, pain, sickness, and sorrow was worth it when I saw Sammy for the first time. As the NICU team came to take care of Sammy, the doctor told me that my placenta was extremely calcified, which meant that it would have probably only lasted 1-2 more days. When I heard that, I was amazed and so grateful to God that Sammy was alive. 

 We chose the name Samuel because it means “The Lord has heard my prayer.” Through every trial and hardship, God had heard our prayers and protected Sammy’s life. He is truly my miracle baby, and I am often brought to tears when I kiss his chubby cheeks and see his smile. He is now 7 months old and the absolute joy of our lives.   

 “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:13 

Lauren Young is a wife to Will and mom to two beautiful boys on earth (Matti and Sammy) and three precious babies in heaven (Hope, Jonah, and January).  She is a stay-at-home mom who enjoys writing, reading good books, cooking new recipes, and playing piano.  She lives in central Texas now but was born and raised in Georgia.  She and her husband are now in the adoption process and can't wait to see what God has in store for their family.  

Catherine Hartel

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