Charlotte was our first child. We found out we were expecting in January 2012 and could not have been more excited for her arrival! About twelve weeks into the pregnancy, we discovered that Charlotte had a rare disease called gastroschesis, (where her intestines were growing outside of stomach wall). We spent months praying for our baby and we were certain that God would protect her. We were transferred from my standard OB to a specialist for closer observation and everything continued to progress normally. We discussed the various birth options as well as their risks and planned to have her immediately taken for surgery to correct the issues once she was born.
At 20 weeks, our doctor noticed that Charlotte was about a week behind in her growth. We were cautious, but not too concerned. I was instructed to take it easy to encourage her growth. Three weeks later, she was charting two weeks behind schedule. The doctor ordered me onto bed rest. The doctor told us that if she didn’t start growing, we would deliver her immediately and she would have a 50/50 chance of survival. So, we followed the doctor’s orders and I was imprisoned to my bed. Two weeks later, we went to check on our baby’s progress. I didn’t notice a lot of movement the week prior and had assumed that she had not grown much while I was on bed rest. We walked into the doctor’s office fully expecting to deliver a living baby that day. It was like a scene from the movies; the nurse started the ultrasound and then excused herself to get the doctor. Charlotte’s heart had stopped beating and she was gone. We were completely shocked and devastated. How could this happen? We are Christians. We had been praying for her. We truly believed that God would heal her. Our world was rocked.
We spent the next two days in shock. On July 5th, we arrived at the hospital to deliver our baby. After 12 hours of forced labor, Charlotte was stillborn. We got to hold our baby girl at 7 that evening, weighing 10 ounces and measuring 10 ½ inches long. The funeral home took her a little before midnight that night. There are no words that I could say to describe the level of pain that you feel when you give your baby to a funeral home, knowing you will never see her again, at least not on this earth. And then we went home, home to a house filled with baby things and a room ready and waiting for her.
And while I can’t tell you much about Charlotte’s personality, I can tell you about God’s. And, let me tell you what I have learned about God through this tragedy. We live in a fallen world. Bad things do happen to good people. Bad things do happen to Christians. But, nothing touches my life without first coming through my Father, whether that is by divine plan or divine consent. God knows our future; he knows what we need more than we do. And through this journey, I am constantly reminded that despite all of the pain and sorrow, my God is good! He loves us. He weeps with us, he grieves with us and he comforts us. I don’t understand why, but I know that God IS sovereign and He IS in control. And we have felt His love, and grace in ways we have never experienced before.
We are so thankful for the time that God gave us with Charlotte! I love that she used to dance around in my belly when I was praising and worshipping in church. We believe that she knew all along that her real home was heaven and she was glimpsing her future while she was with us. We rejoice because our daughter is in Christ’s arms, united with our loved ones who have gone before us. And we rejoice because we know that God is always good and he will continue to carry us through. And I cannot wait to be reunited with our daughter in heaven one day.
For anyone reading this who is suffering or has suffered the same loss, please know my heart is with you. And it will get easier. You will never forget your baby, but one day you will make it through the day without it hurting so badly. I don't know why these things happen. It's not right and it's not fair. But I do know is that God does have a plan -- for your and for your child. He knows what our children need more than we ever could. God loves your baby more than you could ever imagine and he/she is being held in His perfect arms now, away from pain or suffering. There was nothing that you did or did not do that could have saved your baby. It's so easy to go down the path of "what ifs", but don't. It's a slippery slope and can so easily turn into a consuming guilt or blame. Try to focus on the time that you had together. Your baby was a person, cherish the memories and cling to the day when you will meet again.
One thing that really helped me during that time was a book by Angie Smith called "I Will Carry You" (http://www.amazon.com/Will-Carry-You-Sacred-Dance/dp/080546428X). It hits close to home, but was great. There is also a song by the same name, written by her husband, which I still listen to almost weekly (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLuaGiu73jc). Hearing this song was almost an "aha" moment for me. Shortly after losing Charlotte, I remember standing at the Grand Canyon and thinking how much more amazing this would be from Charlotte's vantage point. (That will probably make more sense if you listen to the song). Please also remember that most people don’t know how to deal with such a loss. They often say the wrong thing or nothing at all. Please be gracious with them. Their hearts are in a place of love for you.
For anyone reading this who knows someone suffering the loss of a baby, please know that there is no “right thing” to say. Listen, if your loved one wants to talk. People are afraid of saying the wrong thing or afraid of reminding the parents of their loss, so they don't say anything at all. It's a lot easier for friends and family to pretend like it never happened. I don't know if your loved one is the same way, but that was really hard for me. I want to talk about Charlotte. I want to tell my birth story, about the plans and dreams we had for her. Yes, it's painful, but it makes it more real. Avoiding the topic feels like it diminishes her life in some way. But, please avoid saying things like: you can have more kids; at least he/she died before you got really attached; etc. While well-intentioned, those comments usually come out hurtfully.
Help your loved one do things that she might not be able to do. That can be really hard, especially if she's not being open with you about how much pain she is in. Believe me, she's in a lot of pain, whether she will admit to it or not. When we were planning Charlotte's memorial service, I told a friend that I wanted to get a remembrance item for her. So, this friend (forcefully) offered to go to garden centers, funeral homes, etc. and bring us a final list of options. We tried to tell her it was not necessary, but I am so glad she insisted. I would not have been able to handle those visits. We ended up getting a small bench to put into the garden for her.
And lastly, remember your loved one’s loss. It seems obvious, but it means so much when a friend remembers Charlotte’s due date or her "birth" day. Send flowers, a card, something.