I have to confess that I’ve wondered something ever since suffering a miscarriage between my two girls.
Is a miscarriage any easier the second time, like after you’ve had a healthy baby to redeem that season of pain? Essentially, once you’ve walked through that grief before, if you are unlucky enough to one day face it again, is the anguish as gut-wrenching, severe? Or just to get right down to it: If, say, we tried for number three and I got pregnant and miscarried the baby, would I be as heartbroken as I was the first time that happened to me, more than three-and-a-half years ago?
Even though God gave me Hadley after that horrible loss, and she is my dream boat?
Even though His plans are always the best?
Even though I believe He is good?
I don’t have to wonder any more, friends, because I know.
I can tell you it’s not any easier.
It doesn’t hurt any less.
The pain is every bit as gut-wrenching, severe.
Is it worse? Hard to say.
But head knowledge that things will work out has not kept my heart from shattering to pieces all over again.
Loss is loss, every time.
Several weeks ago, I released a second angel baby into the hands of God.
The memory stays with me, every hour.
We didn’t always know that we wanted more kids. In fact, for quite some time, two felt like four and one heck of a holy handful. Let’s take a breather, we said. Let’s not even speak of babies until after the Summer of Love, we said. What is the Summer of Love, you ask? The random summer in which we first found ourselves in Tahiti kid-free for 10 days to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary—and later in Hawaii with my whole family to stay in the prettiest island mansion I’ve ever seen. With tons of general fun and smaller trips sprinkled into these sunshine months, too.
Leading up to this recent dream season, we prayed, and chilled, enjoying the girls. Our children grew, our minds cleared, and we finally felt like we had our old selves back. We were sleeping plenty, going out often, and marveling at our cool kids. Naturally, then, time to ruin it! JK, JK. But somewhere between our bungalow hovering over Bora Bora’s bright turquoise water and riding ATVs through the Big Island jungle lands, we decided officially that we would be crazy. After concluding our summer in paradise that put every Bachelor show setting to shame—comparisons brought to you by the franchise’s Chief Fangirl—we would start trying for one more baby. We would make our momentary insanity into something permanent.
As fertility would have it, Doug glanced my way and I became pregnant. On September 13, 2017, two First Response and two Clearblue pregnancy tests later (does anyone ever take fewer than four?!) we were elated by all the plus signs and double-lines scattered atop our kitchen counter (which is actually gross and I should delete that part, but whatever, #vulnerability). We told my parents. We told my siblings. We started telling our closest friends as we saw them or it made sense, wanting them to share in our joy, and also keeping in mind the scary first-trimester stats should they also end up sharing our sorrow. Fifteen to twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly within the first seven weeks. For the vast majority, causes are simply unknown, leaving every newly pregnant woman, ever, at possible risk.
But come on, that wouldn’t happen! I paid my miscarriage dues ages ago.
We were having a baby!!!
Minor business item, though—because I did miscarry in 2014 and my OB-GYN is extremely conservative, she starts monitoring my pregnancy hormones from the moment I get my BFP (slang for “big fat positive” on pregnancy chat boards, not that I’ve ever spent late-night hours descending those rabbit holes like an NSA agent hunting for intel).
On Thursday, September 14, I went in for blood work. On Friday, I got the results. They were… not the best… but not dismal. My hCG and progesterone—two essential pregnancy hormones required for a baby to thrive—were both on the low side. But it was still so, so, early, Stephanie, no need to worry. Just in case, though, they put me on a high dose of daily progesterone supplements and explained they wanted to monitor my hormone levels every two days, to make sure they were rising properly. Hmmm. All I could think was: Needles and vials. This sounded like a whole lot of hassle, but okay! I’d do anything for my babe. I quit the gym (darn) and caffeine (HELP) immediately.
My levels began to rise “beautifully” and I even made a new friend. Over the course of the next two weeks, I gave blood seven times, so the phlebotomist (blood taker) at my local lab and I became well-acquainted. Silver-haired, tan, middle-aged and quite tall, but in more of a friendly polar bear way than a fox way, George soon learned which of my veins were the most temperamental and that I grew up going to Big Calvary Chapel, right down the street. We talked about kids, and work, and eventually, God. He explained that he sometimes wondered what happened to him; he used to know God, but his church growing up was so strict that it messed with his head. I was touched by his honesty and told him how much I understood, how sometimes the church gets it so wrong. How Jesus was pure love, grace and mercy; still is.
George was always rooting for me and my family.
“We’re seeing you an awful lot,” he said. “I’m crossing my fingers for this little guy!”
Unlike the first time I miscarried, I began to feel pregnant, gratefully. Foods disgusted me. Exhaustion eclipsed me. Nausea began to creep in. The progesterone likely contributed, but still. I was feeling that tiny bun in the oven. I ordered some cute spring maternity dresses and a prenatal barre workout DVD. I put the BabyCenter app on my phone.
During the Summer of Love, the best one of my whole life, I took up an all-new habit that I gladly carried into fall and my pregnancy. Inspired by my new-ish large walk-in closet (!!!) and brand-new theme of ‘rest’ in my life, with seemingly constant reminders to be still, meditate and learn in the silence, I started keeping a yoga mat in this little room of mine. Nearly every day, I roll it out, I listen, I pray. Sometimes I light a candle or play some music. This new spiritual practice is one of my favorites, and I don’t even care that it’s weird. Jesus constantly fled the crowds to seek moments of solitude, and it is there where He gathered His strength.
Mostly on my knees or Indian style, I filled the air with prayers for my baby. For fortitude, health, and a great personality. I prayed hard that he’d be a boy because I shamelessly need one! I lifted up the life in my womb. When anxiety flooded my soul over all of the blood tests, when darkness threatened my joy, God’s peace descended to ward off my demons. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
On Wednesday night, September 27, our Life Group gathered together in our cozy family room to kick off a new Bible study in James, a video series by Francis Chan. The first session focused on James 1:1-12 and suffering, especially verses 2-4:
Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Our circle of friends unpacked these gems, examining what they mean and sharing stories of trial. I listened to my very wise friends and for the millionth time marveled at their huge souls and inspiring faith journeys. I also shared a story myself. On that day, I was actually in the middle of writing one of the most deeply honest blog posts I’d ever written, about my battle with postpartum depression following Hadley’s birth. How I descended, how I got help, how I rose up. (Just a little light reading, guys!) I shared genuinely and joyfully about the infinite things God revealed to me during that time. (And I can’t wait to share it with you all someday because I will!)
I also shared that this past year of joy, weirdly, was the Year of Stephanie Reading Sad Books. Memoirs and spiritual guides that drew me in with either their author or powerful story or bestseller status. And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick, Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf, The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, to name a few.
I explained that these writers, these saints, all talk similarly and unanimously about the inner sanctum of suffering as a sacred place of intimacy with Jesus, resulting in sainthood and power that can’t be achieved elsewhere. You have to hurt. You have to weep. You have to ask the hard questions. This is where God heals your soul. In His ICU, I heard someone say once. It’s where He holds you most closely and equips you most effectively before sending you to go save the world.
Wow. Emo. Right?
Lastly I threw in my two cents about how I didn’t think “count it all joy” meant to paint on a silly fake happy face while going through anguish, but rather to cultivate a deep, enduring, unshakeable faith that weathers great storms with grace and gratitude amid tragedy.
We all agreed that it sounded pretty great to be “perfect and complete” and that perhaps we should strive to embrace trials a little more readily.
I thought I picked up those books randomly, out of happenstance or popularity.
I would soon learn that God picked them for me.
The next morning: Thursday. I prepared to drop off the girls at my mom’s house before heading to MOPS, then writing at Starbucks. But I went to the restroom and everything changed.
Just breathe. It would be fine. A little spotting is perfectly natural.
Fine. Right? Please.
I called my obstetrician’s office. Dr. Conservative confirmed she’d like to see me for an ultrasound ASAP. I raced to her right after MOPS. But not before an early morning of Doug steadying me in our bedroom as I struggled to stand.
“This is how my miscarriage started,” I whispered, terrified. “I would not survive another one.”
MOPS was amazing and calmed me. The hot breakfast and adult conversation pulled me out of my head and into the day. The spotting ceased. And no cramping, yet.
But I soon sat reclined on the ultrasound bed while the tech struggled to find her target. She squinted at the screen, so quiet.
Finally, at last, there it was.
I didn’t even realize I’d been holding my breath.
Exhaling, I saw the tiny gestational sack and even tinier speck of a baby.
“You’re supposed to be six weeks, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“Well, you’re measuring smaller than that.”
“Like a few days smaller?”
“Two weeks smaller.”
The emotional roller coaster of torturous agony continued in the face-to-face with my doctor. She wasn’t concerned in the least. “Spotting is normal. I think you ovulated late. I see nothing here that alarms me. Your levels looked great last time. Get some more blood taken today, though, just to be sure your hormones are still on the rise. I’ll call you with the results tomorrow.”
The longest tomorrow of my freaking life!
I hardly slept that night. The spotting continued, as did my stomach’s slow ascension into my throat. I did everything possible to distract me on Friday—directed the landscapers installing our new front yard-scape, had lunch with a beautiful friend.
I rolled home around 1 p.m. My housekeeper, Blanca, was there. She’s really more like a family member. She’s worked for my family since I was six and she was my age. As I prepared to lay Hadley down for her nap, my phone rang on the other side of the house.
I ran. Blanca scooped little Hadley from me and nodded, confirming she’d handle the girls. Like any sane mother would do, I locked myself in the playroom and crouched in the teepee. Yes, this is Stephanie. I heard only the words that mattered. I don’t recall what else I said.
Levels should be at 3,000.
They’re at 600.
Not a viable pregnancy.
Not your fault.
We’ll keep your 8-week ultrasound scheduled, but…
I have to be honest with you.
Want you to be ready.
If the bleeding doesn’t stop.
You’ve been through this before, so…
I dropped the phone. I couldn’t breathe, speak, or cry. In a stupor, I walked out of the room. Made sure Hadley was sleeping. Gave Emmy some ice cream and turned on Netflix with not one flash of mom guilt. Heard Blanca in the garage doing some laundry. I locked myself in our bathroom and called Douglas. I could finally breathe, speak and cry, and unfortunately for him, attempted all three at once. Disastrous, but he got the message. I relayed the same to my mom.
Next. What next. What do I do?
I ran to my closet. Rolled out the yoga mat. Threw myself into child’s pose and let the tears flow. My body wouldn’t stop shaking.
You’re taking my baby, God. You’re taking him. You’re taking another baby from me. I don’t understand. I thought you met me here when I prayed. I thought you… heard me. I’m so hurt. Confused? Why would you put me through this?
That was the end of my words for a while. I crawled into my bed and under the covers. I cried until I had no more tears.
Tap tap tap. The bedroom door. Must be Blanca.
There’s no one to comfort you in your second miscarriage like someone who’s experienced four.
Especially when she’s your mama.
She climbed into bed with me, held me, and both of us cried. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like such a helpless daughter in need. Probably when I was her baby. My mom said a lot of beautiful and profound things to me in that moment, but one of them mattered the most.
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m sorry. I wish I could take your pain.”
Doug and I were super quiet that night, both of us still pretty stunned. He held me as tightly as he could in our bed until I was ready to go to sleep. At 7:45 p.m. “We’ll get through this together, babe,” he said, kissing my soaking cheeks, embracing me in my very rock bottom as great love does. I drifted off to the faint hum of him zoning out to the USC football game in the next room. Men cope differently than we women do.
I’m still so sad for him that they lost.
[Continued in Part 2]