Thursday, August 8, 2013

Charlotte's Story

Our daughter, Charlotte Faith was stillborn at one day shy of 38 weeks in utero.  This is her story...

It was February 7, 2013 and we waited in the waiting room of my doctors with a bit of fear.  We nervously chatted.  We never could have imagined how much our life would change in the next few minutes.  That morning I sat down purposefully to feel Charlotte move in my stomach.  Zoe stood next to me and we both had our hands on my tummy.  We chatted about her baby sister and how Zoe could help mommy with her sister.  We talked about how much we loved her and how Zoe could hold her.  Zoe talked to Charlotte.  She said, "I love you baby Charlotte."  I was certain, or so I thought, that we both felt her move.  We both smiled, satisfied.  We may not have really felt her.  I guess we will never know.

It gives me a huge pit in my stomach to write about what happened next.  When the nurse called me back to a room, I told her I had been feeling less movement of the baby.  She said the doctor would probably put me on the monitor, which I also assumed would happen.  I really thought it would all be okay.  The doctor came in and I told him about lack of big movements.  He came over with his doppler to find her heartbeat.  Every other time, its been there the second they put the doppler on my stomach.  This time it was silent.  UGH!  He poked and searched, and searched, and searched.  The expression on his face kept falling.  I think we all knew.  He said we would go across the hallway for a sonogram, but that he wanted us to be prepared because it didn't look good.  I went to the bathroom quickly and prayed, "Help me, God!"  It was a desperate plea.

Trista did my sonogram and as soon as she put it on my stomach, I saw a straight line along the bottom of the picture where the heartbeat should be and there was more silence.  We knew our baby was gone.  She was inside of me with no life in her.  Trista and the doctor continued with the sonogram looking for some sort of explanation as to what could have happened to our sweet Charlotte.  They could find absolutely nothing wrong.  So, why?  It filled our heads.  How does something like this happen?  What went wrong?  We sat there thinking we were just ordinary people and things like this don't happen to people like us.  They told us we may never know why.   What we do know is that this didn't surprise God.  Even before He formed Charlotte inside of me, He knew every day He had planned for her before any came to be.  He who began a good work in Charlotte will be faithful to complete it.  We believed this that day and we still believe it today.

After a few minutes Trista left, leaving us alone weeping with my doctor.  He was just as surprised and hurt as we were.  He stood shaking his head.  I don't really remember what he said.  I think he prayed with us.  Steve later told me my doctor was praying for us through the sonogram.  I didn't remember that.  Then he too left us.  Steve and I sobbed and held each other.  I was shaking.  I ran to the bathroom and threw up.  This was all real, although it didn't seem real at all.  We sat in that room and cried for what seemed like forever.  Trista came back in the room and gave me a hug saying how sorry she was.  It began with Trista and for the next days and months friends and family would look at us with a longing to help ease some of our hurt and knowing they couldn't.

I didn't want to leave the office because it meant this was real and that I had to move on and I didn't want to move on.  I didn't want to take the next steps I knew we would have to take in the next few days.  I was scared.  How could I do this...all I would have to do in the next hours, days, and weeks.  How could I move on from this office?

The car ride home was the longest, quietest drive ever as we tried to process all we had just learned.  I think we both couldn't really believe what we now had to face.  In a matter of a few hours, our life as we knew it changed forever.  Now we faced telling our children, parents, siblings, friends and church of our great loss.  We faced labor and delivery only to deliver our lifeless daughter.  We faced planning a funeral for our daughter.  We faced still being parents and moving on, with empty arms where our daughter should be, when we felt life should just stop.

When we arrived home, the house was silent.  My mom had Nate and Zoe at her house.  One thing I didn't mention about the day is that it was a gray, gloomy, rainy day.  It wouldn't be sunny again until the day before Charlotte's funeral.  A prayer that God answered "yes" to.  Steve and I sat and cried.  After a few minutes of being home, my mom came with Nate and Zoe to put Zoe down for her nap.  As she walked in, she could tell by the look on my face something was wrong.  I cried as I told her, barely able to get the words out.  She sat down with me and cried.  I think Steve called his dad and told him.  He didn't want to call his mom while she was at work.  Then we sat down and waited for the kids to get home from school.  Time that day moved so slowly.  It almost stood still.  After the kids got home, they wondered why dad was home.  We had them all sit with us and we told them Charlotte had died.  We held each other and cried and cried.  We texted our closest friends and small group members and called the doctors office to make arrangements for induction.  It was decided because of scheduling and so I wouldn't keep getting pushed back that I would go to the hospital for 10 p.m. that night.

We spent the rest of the afternoon snuggling with our kids, calling and texting our family and friends with what was going on.  I mostly just laid on the couch crying and resting on and off.  Andrew, our oldest, was already planning on going on a retreat with his youth group the next day for the weekend.  We talked it over with him, giving him the option of staying home or going.  He said he still wanted to go.  So, for a bit that afternoon, I tuned back to my mom reality and helped him pack for his trip.  Late in the afternoon I talked with our pastor's wife.  I remember telling her that I needed Jesus to carry me through the days ahead, because I couldn't do any of it on my own.  She prayed with me.  Little would I know that my request would be answered many times over.  My mom finished up our dinner and by that time Steve's parents and friends were here with us.  I really don't remember much of what we talked about.  I just remember that time that day went so slowly.  I do remember giving instructions to our moms on getting the kids to school, picking up Andrew the next day and getting him to church to leave for his retreat.  At some point, I gathered everything I would need for the hospital.  I choked out tears as I packed a sleeper, hat, onsie and the blanket I made for Charlotte.  These were all things I had planned to bring Charlotte home from the hospital in.  Now I would bury her in them.

That night I also talked or rather cried with my sister on the phone.  I also talked with a friend that experienced the same sort of loss twelve years earlier.  She encouraged me and helped me to understand a little of what to expect.  Putting the kids to bed that night was really rough.  We all cried.  Everything was so scary for all of us.  I even wondered if I would be here to ever put my kids to bed another night.  Our moms decided that they would both stay the night with the kids and that they would do something fun with the kids the next day, Friday.  We had already decided to keep all of them, except for Andrew,  home from school.  After the little kids were in bed, we left final instructions with our moms, they prayed with us and we left for the hospital.

It was the weirdest feeling to pull in the parking garage and walk up to labor and delivery.  We had been anticipating this moment for weeks.  This should be a happy time, instead we were filled with sorrow and fear.  So many questions and fears filled our minds.

Just like in the past with all of my labors, we walked directly up to the labor and delivery floor.  I walked up to the nurses desk and told them my name.  The doctors office had already called them and scheduled me, so they were expecting me.  They walked me over to a room toward the end of the ward, probably so I would be away from the rest of the laboring moms and to shelter me.  I don't think the floor was very busy, and I don't remember hearing even one baby cry.  I am so grateful because I think that may have pushed me over the edge.  Again, God prepared the way.  I went through the motions I was used to doing when being admitted; using the restroom, changing and climbing into bed.  Being that this was still a room in the labor and delivery ward, my room had everything in it they would need for a healthy delivery and baby.  In the corner was the baby bed with the lights and the scale over from that.  Steve and I commented on why that would be in there, since we wouldn't need it.  Another thing in the room were the monitors.  This time I wasn't strapped up to any monitors.  There was no heartbeat to be monitoring.  Although, a brief thought went through my mind to ask them for a sonogram just to see if they had missed something earlier in the day and maybe I could wake up from this dream.   Deep down I knew the truth and so I didn't ask.  A little while later my nurse came in.  Her name was Taylor and she was a Godsend.  I had prayed earlier in the day for just the right nurse to care for me.  I prayed a compassionate, kind and caring nurse.  Taylor was exactly that.  She lead us through the paper work like normal, except this time the paperwork wasn't normal.  She asked us questions about autopsies, taking photos of Charlotte, funeral homes, chaplains, etc.  In the middle of the paperwork, Taylor asked the baby's name to which we replied, "Charlotte Faith."  Taylor gasped and I remember looking at her questioningly.  She was trying to hold back tears and she then explained that Charlotte was the name of her niece that passed away.  Wow!  I knew that very second that God had answered another prayer.  He put Taylor in our room for a reason.  She finished up with us and left the room to call my doctor to find out what the next steps would be.

Just after she left, our good friends Jason and Tina walked into our room.  It was around 10:45 at night and we didn't expect them.  We were so grateful.  They held us and cried with us.  It was so sacrificial for them to come to us.  Next, I think the nurse came in to start my IV and to draw blood.  Man, did they ever have to draw blood.  She drew about 15 vials of blood.  For my normal deliveries they only draw about 3-4.  She said they do all the extras to look for reasons as to why we lost Charlotte.  At about 11:30pm one of our pastors came in to pray with us.  Again, we couldn't believe that people would love us so much to come out after normal bedtimes.  Later we would find out that many people were up praying for us all night long.  God has blessed us so much with His body!

It was around 12:30 a.m. when they gave me medicine to help soften my cervix and to help start contractions.  Steve made up a cot and we both tried to get some sleep.  I was able to rest well for about an hour and then contractions woke me up about every 4 or so minutes.  I tried to sleep for another hour only to be interrupted every 4 minutes.  At around 2:30, my nurse and the resident came back in to check my progress.  They decided now it was time to start pitocin.  I knew I wanted an epidural before they did that, so they called for the anesthetist.  As with all of my other labors, I hate the thought of and actually getting epidurals, but I do love the benefit.  I start to panic each and every time.  It is just not nice having a needle pierce into your spine.  The nurse told Steve he would have to leave the room while I got my epidural.  I began to freak out a bit.  This happened one other labor.  Steve and Jesus are my strength to get me through the process of getting epidurals.  When the anesthetist came in, Steve asked her if he could stay, explaining to her that he had been present for six other epidurals and had been fine.  She agreed and had him sit in a chair about 4 feet from me.  My nurse, Taylor, stood in front of me letting me squeeze her hands.  I just remember breathing deep and saying, "Jesus, help me, Jesus, help me" over and over again.  It took her quiet a while to get the epidural in the right spot and eventually Steve stood and took over holding my hands and encouraging me.  The anesthetist was the greatest as well.  She was so kind and compassionate toward me.  She talked with gentleness and soothing words.  She sort of mothered me.  Even after I delivered Charlotte she went and got me warm blankets.

After I had the epidural, Steve and I were both able to sleep for about an hour.  My doctor came in around five o'clock and broke my water.  He and I both knew that once he did that it wouldn't take long.  We are so blessed to be friends with my doctor and his family.  When he was in our room, I asked him if he thought his wife, Lynette would come.  He asked if I wanted her there and I said yes.  He was happy and said that she wanted to come.  He left the room to call her.  It helped me to know that she was coming.  I just didn't know what the next hours would hold and who or what I would need.  I'm guessing it took about a half an hour and then I started to feel the baby move down and feel the urge to push.  We called the nurses and the doctor back in.  Just like all my other deliveries, the room filled with people preparing for what was to happen next.

My delivery with Charlotte was easy, thankfully.  With all of my other deliveries, I have great anticipation leading up to the delivery of my babies and I just push with that anticipation.  With Charlotte's delivery, I didn't even sit up.  They weren't calling for me to push.  I just did it all in my own time.  I think I probably pushed about three times and she was out.  I sobbed.  The work was over and this was real.  Steve once again cut the cord.  The room was so silent.  The doctor and the nurses were silent.  We were silent.  The baby was silent.  The nurse asked if I wanted Charlotte up on my chest.  I wasn't prepared to see her yet.  She then said she would take her and clean her up for me.  Lynette came in around that time.  She came in and held me as I cried.  I had the hardest time looking over at Charlotte.  As the minutes went on, I gained courage and I would glance toward the bed where they were cleaning her.  She was so still and quiet.  Finally, the nurse brought her over to me.  It took the most courage I have ever had to have to reach out to hold her, but once I did I fell in love.

Charlotte was so beautiful.  Her hair was dark brown and it looked like it had swirls in it, like little curls.  Everyone asks who she looked like.  Did she look like one of her sisters or brothers?  I always struggle with that question, because to me she looked like Charlotte.  She is her own individual.  She may have had a few characteristics from a sibling, but she was unique.  She is my Charlotte.

For the next couple hours, we held her, kissed her and rocked her.  Our nurse took her to give her a bath and dressed her in the sleeper I bought for her months earlier.  It was so tiny and white with little pink heart on it and the feet looked like ballet slippers.  She also wrapped her in the blanket I had made for her.  Our dear friend Jacque (a photographer) came to take photos of Charlotte.  Jacque photographed her after the nurse bathed her.  She photographed her getting her footprints.  Jacque then came back to my room and photographed us while we held Charlotte, while we wept over her, while we smiled over her and explored her.  The night before we went into the hospital a friend called and asked if we wanted photos taken of Charlotte.  I wasn't sure I did.  So many things filled my mind.  I wondered if it was wrong to photograph the dead.  If it would be weird.  I even wondered if I would want to have pictures of Charlotte.  About 11:30pm after we were admitted in the hospital and after Steve and I discussed it, I texted Jacque to see if she would come once Charlotte was born to photograph her.  She said yes!  The biggest thing that lead to my decision to have Charlotte photographed is that I didn't want to regret anything.  I knew we would only have a few hours with her here on earth.  Now that I look back, I am extremely grateful I chose to do it.  As time goes by, my memories may fade on what Charlotte looked like, but now I have some gorgeous photos of her.  Whenever I miss Charlotte, I can pull out her photos and gaze at her beauty.

Steve held her a lot.  He just walked around the room with her talking to anyone who was with us.  It seemed normal...just like when we had our other babies.  Steve remarked later that he probably freaked people out how he just casually walked around with her in his arms.  It felt natural to him.  We cherish those hours we had with her.

Around 9 a.m. or so, we knew it was time to say good-bye.  It was growing obvious death was taking over and we knew we had to let her go before we ruined the good thoughts we had of her.  We held her and cried over her again.  I don't really remember what was said or if we even prayed.  I kissed her head, told her I loved her and we called the nurse to come get her.

That was it.  The hardest part was over.  Now we had to begin our journey of living our life without our daughter.  I was moved to a room in antepartum.  I'm sure to spare me the happiness in the mother/baby ward.  I had a tiny private room once again with a leaf and a tear drop on the door to alert people coming into the room of our sadness.  We asked the nurse to put a sign on the door for no visitors.  We ordered breakfast and ate.  Then we spent the rest of the day sleeping, crying, talking, and holding each other in bed together.  Steve met a friend out in the hall while I was sleeping.  The only other visitors we had were our pastor and his wife.  I am so thankful they came.  We prayed together and God was honored.  We decided we would go home that evening.  My doctor said it was okay.  There was no need to spend the night in the hospital and sleep in an uncomfortable bed (especially for Steve).  We just wanted to be home with our kids.  We left the hospital at around eight o'clock and grabbed some dinner to take home.  My friend Christy stopped by when we got home and we sat with her and shared our story.

I slept well.  It was great to be home again.  We spent the morning just relaxing with the kids.  Friends brought us breakfast and we just sat with them and talked and cried as the kids played.  That afternoon the director of the funeral home came and we started the arrangements for Charlotte's service.  Steve and I both felt like we were so young and so inexperienced at the whole death/funeral thing.  We joked that the director probably laughed later on at our silly, naive questions and comments.

In the days that followed our release from the hospital, I slept great.  Sleep is a way I shut out the world around me and God blessed me with incredible rest.  For about a week or so, I would wake really early weeping.  It would hit me all over again...another day to live without my baby.  Steve would just reach over in bed and pull me into his arms.  And I cried.  And I prayed.  I would eventually get up and I would write.  Writing became my release.  It brought me and still brings me healing.

Those days up until her funeral were kind of blurry.  We just went about getting arrangements made and trying to still be parents to our other seven kids.  My dad, sister, her husband and their kids from Michigan all came.  I am so grateful for their presence.  The kids were happy to see their cousins, which was a good distraction for them.  My sister and I work really well together.  She has the ability to step right in and do what needs to be done.  She even took the girls shopping for dresses for the funeral which proved to be no easy task :)

We had scheduled Charlotte's funeral for Tuesday, February 12.  On Monday my sister looked after our kids while Steve and I made final arrangements at the funeral home, ordered flowers, and ran errands.  We stopped for lunch while we were out and at about the same time, we both noticed the sun. It was a gorgeous day.  It was the first time we had seen the sun since the day before we lost Charlotte. We thanked God for the blessing of the sun and also prayed that the next day, as grim as it would be for us, would also be sunny.

The next morning we had our usual challenge of getting the nine of us plus my sister's six all out of the house early.  Just as we were getting ready to leave, Steve's mom stopped by and said she was taking Steve's dad to the hospital due to some severe abdominal pain he had been having for a couple of days.  This added a bit more stress to an already stressful situation, especially for Steve.  All through the loss of Charlotte, we felt God had blessed us because when one of us would feel so weak, the other would be strong and carry the weak one.  This morning on the way to the funeral, I made up my mind.  Today it would be me.  When we arrived at the funeral home, our pastor met us there and prayed with us before we went in.  We really weren't sure how the kids would respond upon seeing Charlotte's casket. Steve and I had already seen it (empty) the day before and I got my emotions all out then.  It was so tiny; too tiny.  Well, the kids really surprised us.  They just walked in and we explained what would happen to them.  We walked around with them and read all the flower cards.  Then they looked at us and asked if they could go to the playroom to play.  Once again we are amazed at the resilience of kids.

Once the visitation began, we lined up.  Steve, myself, my dad, my mom, Andrew (which totally surprised us, as we never told him he had to stand with us.  He chose to.  Such a brave thing to do as an almost 13 year old), and my sister and her husband.  For the most part we held it together, we were surprised at how many of Steve's co-workers showed us.  The occasional close personal friend had me breaking down momentarily.  We were blown away by the support we felt from friends, the church (both past and present), neighbors, and co-workers.  During this whole time since losing Charlotte, we wondered who we were that people would love and support us so.

The funeral began as soon as the visitation ended.  Our immediate family took up the entire front row of  elegant chairs.  Two of our pastors shared from their hearts and from the Word of God.  I was surprised at how often they would look directly into my eyes and talk to me.  They knew the hurt I was feeling and they were speaking to my heart.

We were sitting with our whole family including the youngest children.  As you can imagine, it is hard to keep little ones quiet in a serious service, even if it is their sister's funeral.  Steve and I found ourselves wrestling and shushing them during the service.  At one point, while one of the pastors was sharing, Zoe stood up and walked straight up to the front, past the pastor to the picture of her sister Charlotte.  We had set our scrapbook pages earlier for people to write notes or scripture on.  Before the visitation began we let the kids all write a message or draw a picture to Charlotte.  Zoe wrote her name. As she marched to the front, she was asking, "where my name?"

After the funeral service, we drove to the cemetery.  Our kids thought it was cool we could drive through red lights.  We had a lot of discussion over that.  We had only immediate family to the cemetery.  At the cemetery, Pastor Tim said a few words and prayed.  Then I sat.  I felt frozen.  Before me sat my daughter's coffin and the hole where they would bury her.  How could I leave her?  Steve held me as I I sobbed.  Everyone eventually left, leaving Steve and me alone.  I still felt frozen.  Steve prayed for us.  Eventually, I was able to walk away.

We drove home where our small group and friends had prepared lunch for us.  Once again so thankful and so blessed.  I loved having everyone around, but I also felt like I wanted to run and hide.  All this socializing felt like a cover-up for what we just experienced.  I think that is something I have learned about grief.  Life goes on.  For example, we had to eat and I certainly wasn't in any state to feed us all.  But with all the life moving on, it feels as though it tries to hide the fact that there was a loss.. a very real loss.  As you can see from some of my other writings, I have struggled with this the entire time.

After everyone left, I just laid on the couch in my own little world.  I decided a nap would be a good idea.  And honestly, I don't remember the rest of the evening.

The next day began our new normal.  My sister, her family and my dad left.  For the first time, we were alone since we lost Charlotte days before.  We kept the kids home from school for one more day, just to have some family time.  This was a really hard day.  The high from making all the arrangements and preparation was over.  We were now left with not being as naive as we once were.  We were now left learning how to live the dance of lives filled with grief.  It may seem like the end, but for us it was just the beginning.

Six Months

Well, here we are.  Today has been six months since we lost Charlotte.  As I sit here this morning, I struggle with what to write.  I decided to go back and read Her Story.  I haven't read it all the way through since I've written it.  It brought up so many memories and pains.  So, instead of struggling with words today, because sometimes there aren't any.  I will leave you with her story.  Just for warning, it is quiet long.  So grab a cup of coffee and a box of tissues.

I will also leave you with the prayer I prayed this morning.

"Lord, Thank you for Charlotte - that today we can celebrate her and her being safe with you for six months.  I miss her, but am comforted in the fact I will see her again.  Use her and our story to bring you glory and honor.  Amen"  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still Holding on to Faith

So I know its been ages since I've written.  I can blame it on a couple of reasons.  Number one the kids have been home from school for the summer and I can't seem to find time to write.  Number two, I've been struggling to write.  I haven't known what to write about.  Frankly, the last six months have been the roughest period in my life, ever.  I have not only been learning how to grieve the loss of our daughter, but I have also been dealing with some chronic health issues.  In the last three months, my life has been completely overwhelming.  Its been dark and cold and lonely.

I think when we lost Charlotte I thought that would be the hardest thing we would ever have to bear, at least for a little while.  In dealing with my health that kept getting worse, I cried out to God.  "Didn't I bring you glory in my response to the loss of Charlotte?  Why this?  Please heal me."

In the midst of our grief and my health issues, Steve and I seemed to drift from each other.  I felt as though God had abandoned me and now I felt as though Steve had as well.  I can truly say that the reason Steve and I drifted apart was because we were both learning how to grieve.  Neither one of us had experienced grief or loss before.  We both grieved in different ways.  Each of us not knowing what to do or say to the other.

Before I scare any of you, we are doing well now.  We talked to a pastor at church, who encouraged us that what we were going through was normal for marriages and escalated by our loss.  From that point, things began to turn around.

In mid-June, we also found out some exciting news.  We are expecting another baby.  We are ecstatic.  But this news, in itself has thrown a few curve balls.  Now we were not only dealing with grief, health issues and marriage issues, but we have a new baby.  This opens wounds and leaves lots and lots of opportunity for fear to creep in.

So needless to say, these are some of the reasons I haven't been writing much.  Right after we lost Charlotte, I began writing our story.  A few months ago I decided I wanted to have it done by six months.  Next week it will be six months since we lost our baby girl.  I am almost ready to publish her story.  I sat and worked on it today and am still amazed at the emotion that fills me as I write.  Here I am sitting in a loud coffee shop typing as fast as I can type with tears rolling down my cheeks.  I truly pray that our story will help and encourage others in their own losses.

As for us now,  we continue to walk in FAITH.  Having faith that God will heal me, faith our marriage will continue to grow stronger,  faith we will hold our new baby in our arms in January, faith we will know God more from the experiences we have here on this earth, and most of all we have faith in the hope we have that this life is temporary.

"So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."  2 Corinthians 4:16-18