Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Time to be Born, A Time to Die

My mom shared with my sister and I the loss of our older siblings when we were young girls.  She wanted us to know HOW MUCH we were loved and wanted.  My parents made sure to tell us that we were gifts from God.  They loved us as much as any parents could.  The story of their loss before my sister and I is not something I share lightly.  I am sharing because I know there are people out there who have lost children and while I haven't gone through a loss, my dear mother's words strike a chord with me.  All life is precious. ~ Beth

A Time to be Born, A Time to Die ~ by Missy

Psalm 116.15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord [is] the death of his saints”

It has taken me 28 years to find the wherewithal to chronicle this chapter in our lives. Some details I’ve newly remembered. Some I could never forget as they have been in my mind almost every day since they occurred.  I’m sharing from my heart. I hope that when you have read this, your faith will be strengthened. There are no coincidences in God’s plan. As long as Jesus is Lord, and God is on His Throne, then everything is as it should be.  This was, and still is, our confession of faith. 

Dan and I had been married a little less than one year when we discovered that I was pregnant. While we had intended to wait about 5 years before having children, we embraced this “good news” at first, apprehensively, and then with great joy and anticipation. I enjoyed a wonderful pregnancy. Each day as the baby grew within my womb, Dan and I experienced a tremendous sense of awe at this miracle of God’s creation.
We made all the necessary preparations to ensure that we were ready for our first child’s arrival. We transformed a spare bedroom in our home into the baby’s nursery, complete with a Jenny Lind crib and changing table. Yellow Gingham curtains, & crib furnishings made the nursery bright & cheery. Dan & I attended Lamaze Classes one night a week for six weeks, so that I could attempt natural childbirth. Dan went with me to every appointment we had with our obstetrician, Dr. B. at St. Mary’s Hospital.

There were a total of 5 women pregnant at that time attending our church, all of us patients of Dr. B.. The women of our church had 5 baby showers scheduled for the first half of the year, mine being the second. We received many wonderful, needed gifts at the shower for our baby, and were truly grateful for all the love, help & blessings we’d received.

About one month before the delivery date, I attended a Ladies Luncheon and sat with Kathi, my pastor’s wife. She shared Psalm 116:15 with me, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”, and confided that the Lord had laid this particular verse on her heart, & had given her a prayer burden that was somehow related to that scripture that would not go away. There was no way I could have known that Kathi was praying for me & my husband Dan, and the trial we would soon be facing. Who can know the ways of the Lord? He was preparing a way for us in the wilderness.
Anna Michelle, our first child, was born the same night that Franco Zefferelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” premiered on TV. Dan & I did not own a TV & had been invited to watch the movie with our Pastor Gary & his wife Kathi at their home on that Palm Sunday evening, April 8, 1979. We munched on popcorn, ice cream and sprite and enjoyed the movie and their hospitality greatly. After the movie, we returned home & retired to bed.

At 1am, Monday April 9th, I awoke in great pain, with the realization that I was unquestionably in labor! Dan called Dr. B, and we speedily drove to St Mary’s hospital, obtaining one police escort to the Interstate, and then another the rest of the way to the hospital. We arrived in plenty of time. Dan told me later he thought the Police escort actually slowed us down.

I was admitted to the hospital, where the nurses checked me & established that I was dilated to 7 cm. When Dr. B. arrived, he checked the baby’s position. He thought the baby felt breech and that a C-section was necessary. The nurses prepped me for the surgery, and had Dan wash up & put on a surgical gown & mask so that he would be allowed into the delivery room. I remember feeling nauseated after the anesthetist had administered a spinal, and throwing up the snacks I had eaten earlier that evening. Dr. B. began the C-section. After that, everything became a blur of events. I recall none of what happened the next few minutes.

Dan was waiting with camera in hand to take the first picture of the baby, as well as for the news, “It’s a Boy/Girl” Instead he was told, “No pictures - The baby’s abnormal”. I was given something to induce unconsciousness. Dan was sent out of the room. He found the nearest pay phone and called Pastor Gary. When the phone rang, Kathi sat bolt upright in bed and declared. “It’s Dan, something’s wrong with the baby”. She was right. Now she finally knew who the prayer burden had been for. They immediately got ready and came on to the Hospital to be with Dan.
When I awoke in my hospital room the next morning, it was with a vague uneasiness that something was “off”. Dan & Dr. B. were in the room. Dan was sitting in the chair next to my bed, and he gently took my hand and shared with me, “The Bible tells us that ‘there is a time to be born, and a time to die.’ God has chosen for Anna’s time to be born & die to be close together.” My heart felt crushed, as if the breath had been knocked out of me. In my spirit, I knew I had a choice - to “curse God & die”, or to praise and trust Him & even when my own heart’s desire had not been fulfilled. The Word of God came to my mind, and I confessed the words of Job, “Even if He slays me, I will still love Him”. Immediately I felt the peace that passes all understanding, even as Dan & I held each other and wept together for the child that God had temporarily placed in our care that would soon go on to be in His loving heavenly care forever.

Dr. B. explained to me that Anna was anencephalic. Her brain had only formed halfway, and the part that had formed had no skull over it - just skin. Because the part of the brain that operated the sucking & eating reflex was missing, Anna would only live a short time – Three to five days at the most.

Anencephaly is a neural tube birth defect that, at that time, had no known cause. Now we know it can be caused by a folic acid deficiency in the mother’s diet which was not included in the pre-natal vitamins at the time. It is amazing that something so seemingly small can have such a devastating affect.

Pastor Gary, Dr. B., and Dr. Bill the pediatrician who was monitoring Anna, all thought it would be best if I never saw or held Anna Michelle. It was the well meaning advice of the times, but to this day, it haunts me that I never held her & told her I loved her and how much I wanted her! However, Dan went each day to the hospital nursery and held her and loved on her for both of us.

As a Christian who believes in the healing power of the Lord, I asked God to either heal Anna, or take her home to be with Him on Easter Sunday. That would be my confirmation, even though Anna was not supposed to live that long, that this was His will.

The days that followed were bittersweet. As Dan & I faced this hardship together, our love for each other deepened through the pain we shared. Dan stayed with me Monday night, sleeping on the fold out cot that the hospital provided. Love is a 6’4” man sleeping on a lumpy cot that was probably designed for a child. He brought me 3 yellow rose buds in a vase. Two bloomed to fullness. One did not. In my mind this symbolized Dan & I living to maturity, and Anna as a life that would never bloom. This may have been an interesting coincidence, but I saw it as a message from God that He saw our pain, and He would bring us through this “storm”. It brought us comfort.

Dr. Bill came by on Tuesday and asked me if I had any questions. I asked him if Anna felt any pain. He told me, “No - that part of her brain was missing”. I asked him if she knew I loved her. He told me I had lovingly carried her and nurtured her for nine months, and of course, she knew I loved her. That was reassuring for me. He told me that each day when he visited her, he would pray over her. 

Tuesday night, Dan & I both had unusual experiences where we sensed the physical presence of the Lord.

Dan needed to go to take care of a few details. He stayed with me at the hospital till I fell asleep around 11:00pm, and then left. I awoke around midnight, feeling very alone, and the enormity of all that was going on overwhelmed me. As I began to weep, I felt a very gentle touch on my left cheek, as if the tears were being brushed away, and then a reassuring squeeze on my left shoulder. Then I drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

About the same time, Dan was driving home toward Gatlinburg. He too was feeling low. Then, he felt a Presence sitting next to him in the car. And then it disappeared. NOTE TO THE READER: I can just hear the “Twilight Zone” theme playing in your head as you are reading this!

On Wednesday morning, the stark realization came that Dan & I were going to have many expenses that we were not financially prepared for. I had no idea how we would pay for the c-section, extra time in the hospital for me & for Anna, and a funeral. As soon as he arrived Wednesday, I asked him, how we were going to pay all of these bills. With great relief, he informed me that our church had taken up the largest offering that had ever been collected to date, and that every hospital bill would be paid in full. My parents had let him know that there was room for Anna to be buried in the family cemetery plot, and that they would take care of paying for all the funeral costs. I began to cry with relief, as I saw, once again how the Lord had provided for our financial needs through the love & generosity our parents, and our church family.

Many people came by to visit, offer comfort, give hugs and consolation. My cousin Mindy (who was 15) & her Father were returning from a visit to Atlanta, and on their way back to Indiana, stopped by to see me. Kathi, the always encouraging Pastor's wife, came by on Wednesday, and for therapy we watched an episode of “Laverne & Shirley”. It hurt to laugh, because of the c-section incision, but it was an emotional release that Kathi in her wisdom, knew I needed.

I was released from the hospital on Thursday. Leaving Anna at the hospital was the hardest thing I had ever done. Even though I had not seen her, I wanted to be, at least, in near proximity. As we drove home, Dan & I saw two doves flying over the river. Seeing them reminded us that God always keeps His promises & this brought hope.

I arrived home to find that the nursery I had taken such care to prepare had been turned back into a spare bedroom. The ladies from church had kindly taken that burden from me. The next couple of days, I slept, rested, prayed, rested some more & practiced the piano for Sunday’s Easter Service.

Even though I had just had a C-section, I was determined to go to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. As the church accompanist, this was the most important Sunday of the year for me to attend, besides Christmas.

Easter Sunday we joined with Christians all over the world worshipping Jesus the Savior whom even Death could not hold! When the service was over, we received the news that Anna had gone to be with Jesus even as we had been worshipping Him that morning. We cried tears of sadness for the loss we felt, but tears of joy as well, for now Anna was released from this earthly body.

The Lord had answered my prayer – He had taken her home & healed her on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1979. In my minds eye, I could see our Savior tenderly holding Anna in His arms, & cooing to her as He welcomed her into His Kingdom. She was perfect & whole in every way, and if I never got to hold her here on this earth, she was now in the arms of the One who could love her the most.  

The grave side service was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon April 17th. I did NOT want to go for fear that I could not handle it emotionally. Dan and Kathi convinced me that if I did not go, it would hinder the grieving process. So, I forced myself to go. When we arrived at the grave site, we were greeted by almost the entire church membership who had taken the time to travel 100 miles to my home town to stand in support with us. Many of my dear relatives traveled there as well to share in this time of grief.  

Dan & I were seated under the funeral canopy next to my sweet parents, John & Betty. It was then that I saw for the first time the tiny casket covered with a spray of roses & baby’s breath. The body of our baby was in there, and it was almost too much to stand. I broke down & wept. I felt Dan’s arm around my shoulder, and I leaned into his strong arms for physical as well as emotional support.

As Pastor Gary opened the service with prayer, I regained my composure. I do not remember all he said, but I remember being calmed and strengthened as he quoted God’s Word, and reminded us that Anna was not in that casket - she is in Heaven with our Lord. She is perfect & whole and has no pain or sorrow, and we will get to see her and be with her when we get to Heaven.

Before we left the cemetery, my Uncle Homer sought me out and gave me a hug. He shared that he and his first wife, now deceased, had lost their first child, and that God had been their strength & a refuge in that time of trouble. His heartfelt confession brought hope that “this too shall pass”. 

The funeral director, a true gentleman whose son I had gone to school with since grade school, let me know that he had personally made the trip to the hospital 100 miles away to pick up the body of our Daughter, Anna, and bring her back for the funeral to assure she was treated with the utmost care. This was a kindness I will never forget.

We returned to the shelter of our home. The next few months were an emotional roller coaster. There were still 3 pregnant women due in the church. Three baby showers to attend. I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I had not attended, but I was truly happy for my friends and wanted to be there to support and encourage them. 

One of them, pregnant with her third child, was not too thrilled with the thought of having another child. I overheard her expressing this, and wanted to shake her! How could she not know how blessed she was to have 2 healthy children, and a third on the way!

Mother’s Day was the toughest, though. Pastor Gary had all the Mothers stand as he prayed for them. I was a mother, yet I had no child, so I was not truly a mother, and therefore could not stand with them. The exclusion cut deep. I held back tears during the service, but cried at home that afternoon. 

My parents were also greatly affected by this loss. Mother told me that Dad cried almost every day for a year after Anna died. I know she cried too, and ached for Dan & I and the grief we all felt. Anna would have been their first grandchild.

Even though our arms held each other, Dan and I now longed to have children to hold as well. Dr. B. gave us the medical go ahead to try & conceive, and I became pregnant in July with our second child.

This pregnancy did not go as smoothly. The nausea I had escaped the last pregnancy, became a daily companion with this one. Even brushing my teeth would set off the gag reflex.

Dr. B. encouraged us to have an amniocentesis done in the third month of the pregnancy to determine whether or not this second child had the same birth defect as Anna. While this held some risks, we also would know the sex of the baby if we had this test. I’ll admit I did it partly to know the sex of the baby. Mid October, we had the amniocentesis. Two weeks later, on October 31st, I started bleeding. I miscarried two days later.

We were devastated. Dan & I quoted Psalm 23 together at the Hospital as we mourned the loss of our second child. The Doctor on call performed a D & C. They sent the remains to be autopsied to see what had caused me to miscarry. The examiners could not determine whether or not the same birth defect was present, due to the stage of decomposition, however, they could tell that it was a son I had been carrying. We named him John Michael.

Several months had passed before Dan and I were ready to try again. In July 1980, a visiting Minister from Canada, Rev. Max, had finished his sermon and asked if anyone needed prayer. I went up front for prayer for my back, which had been bothering me. He looked at me, not knowing anything about what we’d been through and said, “You know, I have prayed for women who have had problems with their back, and their womb was healed.”

As he prayed, I did not feel any different, but in my heart I knew I had been healed.

 I experienced two difficult but worthwhile and productive pregnancies - Praise the Lord!

Elizabeth was conceived on our third anniversary, September 10, 1980, and was born on June 4th. We rejoiced that our arms, once empty, had now been filled with this beautiful, healthy baby girl. When Dan & I took Beth to Dr. Bill for her first pediatric check up, he shared a revelation with us. While he had been praying over Anna, the Lord had given him a vision of a perfect and healthy baby. Elizabeth, the baby he now held in his arms, was the baby he had seen in his vision. Dr. Bill “retired” to his Heavenly mansion later that year. I am sure that he found Anna & gave her a hug from us.

Meridith, was conceived on Elizabeth’s 2nd Birthday, June 4 and joined our family on March 5th the following year. Again, our hearts were joyful for another beautiful, healthy daughter. With the addition of marvelous Meridith, our family was now complete, and we praised our Heavenly Father for the “fruit of the womb” He had rewarded us with.

My parents, shared our hopes and our joy with the completion of our family. Their continued love, prayed and support helped see us through many difficult times. My Father, went to be with the Lord on August 28, 1997. He was buried next to Anna, and I am sure she greeted him elatedly as he entered into eternity.

Dan & I have seen our daughters grow up into bright, talented, lovely, Christian women. Their lives have filled us with tremendous joy. Every day has been an adventure. Our home has been filled with much laughter & love. We have overcome many hardships as a family. The Lord has been faithful & always provided for every need we have had.

Elizabeth was Married on June 15, 2001 to Darren, whom we love dearly . They surprised us in September 2001 with the announcement that we would soon be Grandparents. Our first grandchild, Jonathan was born on April 15th the same date that Anna had gone to be with the Lord. Now this date brought a new occasion to celebrate! Elizabeth presented us with another grandson, Jordan on May 14th. 

Our joys multiplied even further when Meridith gave birth to our first granddaughter, Medan on February 6th Dan & I were privileged to be allowed into the delivery room as Meridith gave birth to Medan.

On April 15, 2007 Dan & I had the joy & honor of standing with Meridith as she dedicated Medan to the Lord. 

Dan & I live a very blessed life. Our children and grandchildren are the very heart of our lives. When we name our children we include Anna Michelle & John Michael with Beth & Meridith. We are grateful that God has been our Rock & our Fortress, a very present help in times of trouble.

Jesus is Lord & God is still on His Throne. Everything is as it should be!

Praise the Name of the Lord!

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