Weeping at night, joy in the morning

by Heather Walton

May 20 passed without me realizing it. How did it happen? I did think about it that day, but I didn’t make the connection that it was an anniversary.

Three years ago, on May 20, I had life-saving surgery for me, and life-ending surgery for my precious little one. I had an ectopic pregnancy, and was hemorrhaging. It was such a difficult thing to go through, such a loss. The grief that followed was thick, intense, pervasive, and destructive.

Yet here I am. Life has gone on. Life has been good, fruitful, purposeful, and even joyful. A big part of that is that God granted us our rainbow baby, Emma Noelle, who is 17 months old now.

On May 20 this year, I shared a story during a special song service at church. One of the songs was Because He Lives. I related how that song had been sung in church the week after we lost our baby. The second verse goes like this:

How sweet to hold our newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain day, because He lives

For many months to follow, I could not sing that song without crying tears of sadness and loss. But now, by God’s grace, I can sing that song. I still cry at times, but the tears are different. As I sing, “How sweet to hold our newborn baby and feel the pride and joy she gives,” I feel bittersweet tears of loss overpowered by tears of gratitude that the Creator has given us a second chance at parenting.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NLT)

The Scar is Almost Gone

broken heart with bandaidToday I realized that the scar is almost gone. I hadn’t paid attention in awhile, and the fact that my memory has faded surprised me even more than the fact that the physical reminder has diminished. I’m thankful to God that He heals all kinds of pain — physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Almost exactly three years ago, I got pregnant. I wasn’t expecting to have any more children, because I thought I was too old. I was newly remarried, and though I love children, it wasn’t in my plan to have another child at that time. I had a demanding career and was in the midst of blending a family. I remember looking at the two pink lines on the test in absolute disbelief. This was the only time I had ever not been thrilled to see a positive reaction on a pregnancy test.

My husband, however, was ecstatic. And it didn’t take long for me to catch his enthusiasm. We started discussing names and making plans. On Mother’s Day, we shared the news. A couple weeks later, though, I started bleeding. I called the doctor’s office and they reassured me that this could be perfectly normal, and they advised me to wait till my first appointment, which was still a couple weeks away. I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right, so they set up an appointment for me to come in that day.

I’ll never forget seeing the ultrasound. The tech was looking around, saying she didn’t see anything in my uterus. But I saw something, something I knew was a baby, and I asked her about it.

“Where is that?” I asked, expectantly.

“In you right tube,” she responded.

I had an ectopic pregnancy. A precious little one, nestled in my womb, just in the wrong location. I was advised that I would have to terminate the pregnancy, because this was a life-threatening situation. They planned to give me a substance that would expel the fertilized egg from my body.

I had worked for several years in the pro-life movement and this did not sit well with me. My husband and I, along with family, friends, and church members, prayed that God would move the baby to the uterus. Our miracle did not take place. The day was approaching for the procedure, and I knew I couldn’t do it. I prayed I wouldn’t have to.

On May 20, 2015, two days after I got the dreadful news, I started having terrible cramping. We went to the ER and found out that I was in danger of having the tube rupture, and that it was too late for the planned procedure because my baby had a heartbeat. I would have to have surgery. As the hours progressed, I began to have worse symptoms and was rushed into surgery to potentially save my life, while at the same time ending the life of my unborn child.

The grief that followed was more powerful than any I have experienced before or since. It impacted every area of my life. To escape, I poured myself into my work, which distanced me from my family and friends. Grief can be consuming, destructive, and relentless, especially if you keep God and your support system at a distance.

What pulled me out of my grief? About a year later, I took another pregnancy test and saw a second faint line. I’ll never forget the euphoria and thankfulness I felt, and the assurance that God was granting me a second chance. I knew deep down that this baby would be healthy.

Finding out I was pregnant and experiencing the joys of each new milestone did not completely alleviate the grief. And there was some sadness attached to this pregnancy, as during the pregnancy, I miscarried Emma’s twin.

Our little rainbow baby could not replace her older sibling whom we had lost, but she sure has brought us so much joy! Having lost a child before having her has made us appreciate her even more than we would have otherwise. Every once in awhile, I still have the twinges of grief, as Emma could have had a sibling a year older and a twin. But it has greatly diminished, just as the ugly physical scar that used to greet me regularly in the mirror, has also faded.

If you’re grieving, please give yourself permission to be real, and please draw close to the Lord, instead of holding Him at a distance or pushing Him away. And remember that the scars of grief never go away, because you have lost someone or something of great value. However, one day you may just wake up and realize that the pain has diminished and that the scars have faded, serving as a gentle memorial to something precious.

Feelings: An Unforeseen Gift

 

Smileys on boxesBy Heather Walton

In the past few years, I have had to let go of quite a few people and things. Some of the things I let go of were for the best, because they were toxic parts of my old life. I made many decisions over the first four decades of my life that were more reactionary than thought out. I did things that I thought would please others, that would keep the peace, that I thought I “should” do, or that I felt trapped into doing.

For decades, I didn’t allow myself to feel much of anything. I simply pressed forward. I spent much of my time stressed and anxious, but I can’t say I had many true highs or lows emotionally. I didn’t get happy or sad much. I didn’t get elated or angry. I did what I could to alleviate the ever-present stress and anxiety. Mostly I stayed really, really busy doing things that distracted me from the pain of toxic living. And I did whatever I felt would keep the peace with everyone else. Trouble was, I didn’t have much peace for myself.

In the past several years, I have gone down the path of codependency recovery, and it has brought inner peace, confidence, and independence. It’s also brought something I didn’t expect, and I couldn’t have planned for–deep feelings. I have learned how to love. To really, deeply, passionately love. I have experienced true happiness and true intimacy. I have learned what it really means to trust and to be vulnerable. I have learned to feel good about decisions, even when everyone else doesn’t approve.

However, I don’t believe it’s possible to have deep positive feelings without also having deep negative feelings. For most of my life, I viewed negative feelings, such as anger and sadness, as bad. I was good at looking good, putting on a happy face, and presenting a mask to the world. But just as the good feelings weren’t real, I also never gave myself permission to have any negative feelings.

Just as I have learned to love, to be happy, and to enjoy life, I also have experienced anger and sadness over the past five years, literally for the first time in my life. Anger gave me the ability to set boundaries in the first place. This was productive. I understand that there is such a thing as sinful anger, and trust me, I have felt that too–more often than I would like to admit. But anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we deal with it properly.

But the biggest surprise is sadness. My dad died when I was 8 years old. No sadness. I moved and left friends behind too many times to count. No sadness. I spent many years in a loveless marriage. No sadness. I simply didn’t know how to be sad. I didn’t cry for many, many years. Not even for a death. The well of tears was dry.

However, going through a separation and a divorce brought many tears over a three year period. I spent many hours crying out to God in prayer or crying myself to sleep in loneliness. When I remarried, the joy of new love soon brought the news that we had conceived a child. But three weeks later, we were devastated to find out that I was losing the baby. This has furnished me more tears than I knew existed, and it has brought a steady supply of sadness.

It has been nearly a year since that child was conceived, and most of the time I don’t think about her. But sometimes, seeing a baby, an expectant mom, or walking past the diaper section of a store will bring that grief right back to the forefront. Other times, that familiar sadness will just materialize out of nowhere with no explanation. I’ve been told you never get over losing a child, even an unborn one, and I’m starting to believe it.

So, about these feelings, I never understood how intense they could be. I had been emotionally numb for so long that I couldn’t have imagined the potency of raw emotion. Don’t misunderstand: I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There are few things more tragic in life than a life void of true feelings. Sadness and grief hurt like nothing I’ve ever known, but these are the price of true humanness. And there would be no depth of love, no rejoicing in victory, no real happiness, no true fellowship, without the inverse feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, and loneliness. I have passion and feeling in my life that didn’t exist before, and it’s worth every tear I’ve shed along the way.

 

Holidays have a gift for the grieving

By Heather Walton

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am gong there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going.” John 14: 1-4

Christmas Tree 2015

 

It’s almost Christmas—the “most wonderful time of the year.” However, for many people, this is a time when grief is highlighted. That special loved one is conspicuously absent in the midst of all the cheer. Perhaps this is the first Christmas without someone special, or perhaps it’s one in a string of many, but that may not lessen the pain. Whether the loved one was lost through death or a falling out, whether that loved one was human or a furry friend, whether a child had been born, unborn, or maybe just longed for, the holiday season can be less merry for you than for those around you.

A few Christmases ago I had just started going through the divorce process, and my kids had to leave to be with their dad’s side of the family at 2 p.m. Christmas Day. Some family and good friends invited me over, because they didn’t want me to be alone. It was so nice of them to include me, but I remember just being miserable and wanting to go home. Here I was, hanging out with families, but I was all alone. I really wasn’t in the Christmas spirit that year, and I was relieved when New Year’s came and went.

 

This year is not like that one for me. This year I am very happily married and I’m looking forward to Christmas. But there is still the heaviness of grief as my would-have-been due date approaches in early January. Honestly, I’m tired of grieving. I keep thinking I’ve turned a corner. But as I wrapped a baby gift for a friend this morning, the heaviness returned. This time of year, there is much to remind me that our baby is gone. We are celebrating the Savior’s birth, and there are a lot of songs about the “Baby” Jesus. Our little girl’s middle name would have been Noelle, and Noel is a popular word at Christmas.

 

But in both of these situations, and in anyone’s situation during a time of grief, the above Scriptures, which I read this morning in my Bible study, apply. In John 14, Jesus was addressing His disciples at the last supper, after He had told them that He would be betrayed and that He was going someplace where they couldn’t follow. Jesus comforted them, telling them that they should trust in Him and that He was going away to prepare a place for them.

 

Heaven is the place to which He referred. In heaven, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). In heaven, there is no death, no divorce, no disease, no miscarriage, no ectopic pregnancy, no separation, no falling out, no sadness, no anger, no bitterness, no grief. In heaven, we will be reunited with many of the loved ones we have lost if they were followers of Christ or if they were children. In heaven, we will not feel the pain of separation or loss. The heaviness I feel over the loss of a child, the loneliness I felt over the loss of a marriage, and whatever grief you may feel over your losses will simply not be there anymore.

 

Jesus has asked us to trust Him on this. Since I have trusted Him with my life and my eternity, this really isn’t asking too much. And just because I choose to trust Him on this, that doesn’t mean that the heaviness is gone.

 

And even if this Christmas is hard for you because you have lost someone precious to you, remember that without Christmas, there would be no Easter. And Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is what makes eternal life possible for us and for our loved ones. Without Christmas, there would be no hope to recover our losses or to heal from them. Even through great trials and grief, Christmas is a gift.

Dear Jellybean: In Honor of My Children in Heaven on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

1 in 4 is not statisticDear Jellybean,

It’s been five months since we lost you. We are not even at your due date yet, and I suspect the grief I feel is going to intensify as we approach the first week of January, when you were due. Usually when people grieve, the grief diminishes over time, but when a person loses an unborn child, I think that the grief has to get worse as the due date approaches, and then perhaps it can become less intense. I really won’t know how that goes for me for awhile.

Even though it’s been five months, losing you is still fresh. In July, you were joined by your younger sibling, and that was heartbreaking for us as well. You got to welcome that child into heaven, and someday you will welcome your daddy and me too. In the meantime, I believe Abba has called me to share our story here, to help others who are grieving the loss of their babies. God has promised to work everything for good, and this is one of the ways He’s doing that. If our sadness can be used to help others grow closer to God, then I will be grateful that it hasn’t been for nothing.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, the first one I’ve “celebrated.” I never even knew such a day existed before. But I’m glad that President Reagan and others thought that it was important to celebrate the lives of those who never got a chance to be born, or who died soon after birth. It really is important to do that, because their lives matter, and your life matters, my sweet child, and your younger sibling’s life matters. I say that in the present tense–not the past tense–because you’re really more alive than I am or that any of us on earth are, because you are in the world God created us for. We think we see clearly here on earth, but we really live in the Shadowlands, as the Apostle Paul and C.S. Lewis referred to this world.

I’ll be honest and tell you that, for a few months, I really tried my best to forget. I would never want to forget my own child, but really, it was just too painful to remember. So I got really busy with other things. I didn’t do it on purpose, but deep down, I knew what I was doing. I think a lot of people do that. And, really, I don’t have any memories of you, aside from the effect you had on my body and one ultrasound image that only exists in my mind, since we never got any printouts. I remember finding out I was pregnant. I remember telling Daddy. I remember him praying for you, talking to you, and kissing my tummy each day. We had only a few short weeks when we actually knew you existed, before the devastating news came that you would never be born in this world.

It’s going to be okay though. We know that we will get to be with you for eternity. We don’t ever have to question whether you will spend your eternity with Jesus. Though living without you seems like a tragedy, it’s really a tragedy for Christian parents to spend eternity without their children, because they chose to live a life contrary to their parents’ faith. We don’t have to worry about that with you, though, and for that we can be thankful.

One of these days, we will be there with you. Until then, know that we love you.

Love,

Mommy

A tribute to five fathers who have shaped my journey

By Heather Walton

Cate graduation family

Terry, me, and three of our seven children on my oldest daughter’s high school graduation day.

Dictionary.com defines “father” in the following way:

Father
noun
1. a male parent.
2. a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.
3. any male ancestor, especially the founder of family or line; progenitor.
4. a man who exercises paternal care over other persons; paternal protector or provider:
a father to the poor.
Throughout my life I have learned that the only perfect father is our Heavenly Father. Regardless, all of the fathers in our lives shape us into who we are.
The first father I knew was, of course, my biological father. I’m told that he was essentially a good man and that he adored me. I wish I could remember him that way. However, children often remember people by the strongest impressions made on them. My dad died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 29. Unfortunately, my memories of him are scarier than they are tender, but I have to trust that he was a man who wanted to love me, but who put his alcohol first.
I went 7 years without any kind of father in my life, as both of my grandfathers died within a year of my dad. When I was 15, my mom remarried, giving me a step-father. By this time, I had an active life. Between school, a part-time job, friends, and a serious boyfriend, I didn’t spend much time at home. I left for the military at 17, right after graduation. Because of my age and a full life, I didn’t form much of an attachment to my stepdad at that point.
At 18, I eloped with that serious boyfriend, who also was a soldier. Six years later, he became the third father in my life–the father of my children. We had two daughters and two sons together before our 23-year marriage broke up. Because of those children, he is still in my life as a co-parent.
During the divorce process, my stepdad and I became closer, as he began giving me fatherly advice and helping the kids and me out in ways that we’ve needed and appreciated.
My stepdad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

My stepdad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

Six months ago, he got to walk me down the aisle, as I married the fourth father in my life.

I have seen my precious husband lead his biological children and my biological children in a Godly way. Together, we have seven children. Like each of the fathers in my life, except my Heavenly Father, Terry is not perfect, but he is committed to being the father God has called him to be. I never expected that my children would have a stepfather, but I’m so glad that they have the example of this kind, patient man who exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13. He hasn’t had an easy road with his kids or with mine, but God is blessing the fruit of his labor, and I can see it happening day by day.
Not only is Terry my children’s stepfather, but he is the biological father of our child, a child we will not meet here on earth. I suffered an ectopic pregnancy a month ago, and the grief is real as I consider that today is Father’s Day. I believe we would have been great parents to this child, because we have about 40 years parenting experience between us. Much of what we have learned about being good parents was discovered through making mistakes. Often that’s the most effective way to gain wisdom. However, we will not get the chance to parent the precious child we lost–the child we both were so excited about. We simply have to trust that our little one is being raised by the only perfect Father there ever was.
No father compares to our Abba in Heaven, but I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without all five of the fathers I’ve had in my life, from my biological father to my Creator. To dads everywhere, however imperfect, I say, “Happy Father’s Day!”
Our whole family at our wedding. Our children were the wedding party.

Our whole family at our wedding. Our children were the wedding party.

Being “Strong”

Rosie the RiviterSince I have been dealing with the loss of my unborn child over the past week, I have heard from several people that I am one of the strongest people they know. Interestingly enough, I have said to myself recently, “I’m tired of being strong all the time.”

I have been strong through many difficult circumstances over the course of my life. I think I learned to be strong from my mother, who raised me by herself after my dad died. I appreciate that she didn’t let circumstances get her down, but raised me with consistency and love. We didn’t always have as much as “everyone else,” but we always had enough, and she made my life fun and educational.

So what about being strong today? What does it mean to be strong? Does it mean to keep going on–business as usual? Does it mean not to cry, at least not in front of anyone? Does it mean not to question God? Does it mean not to get angry? Does it mean not to talk about my grief on social media?

No, it doesn’t mean any of those things. Jesus wept, and there was not a stronger man in history. Jesus changed his plans to accommodate special circumstances. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to spare his life. Jesus got angry with the Pharisees. OK, so Jesus didn’t have social media, but His life was documented in the Bible, which is the number one bestselling book in history.

After Job lost everything, he grieved in front of his friends and he questioned God. Though God reminded Job that He knows what He is doing, and that Job wasn’t there when He formed the world and Job didn’t know nearly as much as he thought he did, God understood Job’s suffering. In fact, He didn’t punish him for being “weak.” He rewarded Job for keeping the faith. The Lord restored everything to Job two-fold.

We can be strong and shed tears, ask questions, get angry, and share our burdens with others. We can let go of some of our responsibilities for a bit, in order to grieve, in order to honor something precious that has been lost. We can do this even if others tell us that we shouldn’t, or that they’re counting on us for whatever reason. Not only can we do this, but we should do this. It brings healing to our souls.

It takes a strong person to grieve properly–to not fall apart completely, but to pause and recognize the need to take care of ourselves, to say no to less important things, to say no to urgent things, in order to take care of what truly matters. To cry. To weep. To question. To rest. To journal. To hike. To do whatever we need to do in order to process the loss completely. Because if we don’t process it completely, we will become bitter, angry, depressed, or ineffective.

It takes a strong person to admit his weakness and his need for God to be his strength. As another strong man, the Apostle Paul, said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV)

According to Solomon, the wisest man in history (besides Jesus),

“There is a time for everything,

 and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance …” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 NIV)

For my husband and me, this is a time to heal, to weep, and to mourn. I pray that, if it is a time like that for you, you will give yourself permission to grieve, that you may be strengthened by our Lord.

A Different Kind of Grief

infantloss-1Losing an unborn child is a different kind of grief than losing one that has been born. That may seem like an obvious statement, but honestly, it’s a thought I never even considered before last week. I had worked in the pro-life movement, trying to rescue the unborn from abortion. I knew that an unborn child is no less a child than one that had been born. Yet I have been insensitive to friends and family members who have suffered miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. I didn’t look at it as the same thing. For that, I apologize.

Don’t get me wrong–I always felt sad for those who lost unborn children. But I know I didn’t see it as the same thing, because I didn’t do the things I would have done if they had lost an already born child. I didn’t send them a note of sympathy. I didn’t offer to bring a meal. I didn’t sit with them for an extended amount of time and grieve with them. I didn’t visit them in the hospital. I didn’t check back to see how they were doing weeks later. I didn’t ask what I could do to help. I didn’t offer to watch their other children. I didn’t send flowers. I didn’t cry for them. Why not? Because I didn’t view it the same–pure and simple.

Now I do realize that, in some ways, it’s not the same. You don’t know that child. You haven’t held that child, heard her cry, watched her take her first steps, held her tiny hand, nursed her at your breast. In short, you haven’t had a relationship with that child, at least not the same kind of relationship that you would have had with a child who had been born.

I’ve loved each of my children as soon as I knew of their conception. But there is something different about holding that child in your arms for the first time. But I do know this: Even though I never held my little Jellybean (Emma or Isaac) in my arms, I miss her terribly. I am grieving for her. I am grieving the fact that I will never hold her, hear her cry, watch her take her first steps, hold her tiny hand, or nurse her at my breast. Never. At least not in this life. And some of those things will never happen at all. I will meet her in heaven, and I rejoice in that, but some of the things I will never do with her are earthly things.

I have learned much from the experience of losing a child, and I am sure there is more to be learned. I have learned a new compassion for those who have lost their children. I hope that compassion will extend to other types of loss–types that I haven’t experienced. I also have learned that, even though I have always believed that an unborn child is as much a person as a born child, I didn’t believe it as thoroughly as I had thought. I’m sure there are other blind spots in my thinking, and I pray that I can recognize those without having to go through tragedy.

I pray that all believers can see things the way our Lord does, rather than the way the world does. If we could, the world would be a much different place, because we would be much more compassionate, and that would make a profound difference.

Letter to my Jellybean: To My Little One in Heaven

May 21, 2015

My Dear Sweet Jellybean,

Just a few hours ago, your tiny heart was beating within my body. Now you are in the presence of Jesus. This is wonderful for you, my precious child, because you will never feel any of the pain and sorrow of this world, and you get to take your first steps in the midst of perfect beauty. Your first word won’t be to your earthly father, but to your Heavenly Abba.

I have asked Abba to please let my Nana be the first to rock you. Nana died a few days after your big sister, Cate, was born, and she never got to hold her, or any of my other children. But now that has changed!

You may wonder what kind of a name “Jellybean” is. Your Daddy picked it out. He has a good sense of humor (Well, your siblings don’t really think so, but I do–most of the time–that’s one of the many things that attracted me to him.) Anyway, I guess you were about the size of a jellybean when they removed you from my body. I take it that you’re bigger than that in your heavenly form.

The nice thing about a name like “Jellybean” is that it suits you whether you’re a boy or a girl. I feel that you are a girl, so I refer to you as “she” to others. If you’re a boy, I hope you will forgive my mistake. (Since you’re in heaven, I’m pretty sure you will.)

Though I’m happy for you that you get to grow up in the presence of the King of the Universe, I have to let you know how devastated your Daddy and I are. We have loved and protected you since May 1, when I took the first positive pregnancy test. We were so excited about having you. SO EXCITED! We announced it to the world, and so many people were excited right along with us.

I could almost feel you in my arms as I imagined rocking and nursing you. I envisioned going to a different part of the hospital than the ER and the OR. I thought with eager anticipation about going into the “Labor and Delivery” entrance, being in the Delivery Room with your Daddy, holding you in my arms for the first time, and seeing your Daddy’s smile when you were born. I am so sorry that your earthly life had to end in the OR, rather than you entering the world in the Delivery Room, my precious child.

I really don’t understand why you had to be taken from us. I know that, in a way, I am being selfish. Is it selfish, though, to love someone and to want a relationship with that person? I really don’t know the answer. Someone said that you were taken early because you were too beautiful for this world. Perhaps. But, in truth, this world could use more beauty.

My precious child, how I want to wake up and realize that this has all been a bad dream–the worst nightmare of my life. However, I know that’s not going to happen. As King David said of his and Bathsheba’s first born, “He will not return to me, but I will go to him someday.” Yes, my child, I will be there eventually. Please be watching for me. Show me around the place of perfect beauty. Be ready to share the stories of your perfect childhood with me. I’m looking forward to the day when I am born into heaven, and you are waiting for me in the delivery room.

Love Forever,

Mommy

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