“Life is Beautiful” – A Sermon for Stillbirth

To all my fellow babyloss friends.

End of the Rainbow

After the stillbirth of our twin sons, the church where Patrick serves as a pastor gifted him several weeks of bereavement leave – to recover, to mourn, to comfort his grief-stricken family, and to commune with God. At the same time, the church too was grieving for these two lost boys as well as for the pain of their pastor.

On the first Sunday of Patrick’s return to the church, this grief hovered like a dark cloud over him and over the entire congregation. It was at the forefront of every thought. Courageously, Patrick chose to name this heartache aloud and to vulnerably share his grief with the church, thus robbing the pain of some of its power. And in turn, he hoped that his grief would touch the grief of others, and together they would heal.

This is the sermon that he so bravely preached on this Sunday morning.

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Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, in common parlance)? Me neither, until I received an email from a creative writing studio here in Chicago, where I had taken a one-day “get yourself started” class a month or so ago. Of course, after filling pages with writing during the hours in the class, I hadn’t really written again since. I managed to follow step #1: put a paper and pen in a convenient, uncluttered location, ready to write. At least, it stayed there and uncluttered for a day, maybe two, before my work papers took over. To be honest, I’m not even sure where that notebook ended up at this point.

When my wife told me of a writing accountability group to which she belongs, I signed up. I affiliated myself with my last university (it’s geared towards professors engaged in academic writing), and thus, here I am on day two, plugging away on a new blog post (I wrote by hand yesterday, and I did the full 30 minutes in 15-min increments!). Since I’m here by obligation, though (okay, that’s disingenuous – I did sign up because I ultimately wanted to write more), I don’t really know what to write about today. And since I just wasted so much of your time explaining why I’m even writing at all, I’ll save the actual very good and relevant story of my friend’s baby loss – and her turning to me, and how I was able to provide some support – for another day. Look at me, promising another day of writing!

Today, if you’re bothering to stick with me, I’ll tell you a bit about how I’m feeling today. It’s November 8, 2016. The US is on the precipice of a very unusual and important national election, one in which one candidate claimed women “ripped babies out of them” at 9 months pregnant. I can’t even begin to tell you how horrifying that statement was, how harmful to women suffering the very real loss of their children in the third trimester. Of how, because I am part of so many loss mom groups, it meant that woman after woman shared their horrifying, tragic story of having to choose to deliver in the third trimester because if they did not, they would die, or because their baby was “incompatible with life.”

In fact, the friend who came to me had just that trauma – a fatal diagnosis, a burgeoning health crisis, a choice between delivery and the hopes of seeing her daughter alive, albeit briefly, or carrying until her daughter became stillborn inside of her, daily putting her own health and life at risk. How dare anyone vilify and even criminalize women and men who have to make these choices, every day? These are people choosing life, ironically – choosing a life of as little suffering as possible for their precious children. Choosing their own life. They have enough grief without public figures saying they should be punished, and graphically commenting, with derision, on what is for most the saddest and most heartbreaking thing they will ever go through in their lives.

I hate that he is even one of our choices. I hate that people have such a narrow concept of pro-life (and even of abortion, though that’s not even the topic here, despite his attempt to conflate the two). I hate that families making the hardest choices are being used as political fodder to stir up anger and hatred. We deserve so much better. We need to be so much better. Tonight, we will find out if we are, in fact, so much better than this. Please vote, Americans. The world is counting on you.

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In case you needed to see this today…

Why You Didn’t Fail As A Mother, by Angela Miller. 

You may even wish to buy her beautiful book – you won’t regret it!

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“Everything doesn’t happen for a reason”

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: “Everything happens for a reason” is a harmful platitude that is simply untrue. Things happen, yes. Some people feel compelled to assign “reasons” as to why these things happen – fair enough. But this platitude is damaging and cruel, and here’s someone who says why far more eloquently than I could.

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Two “miracles,” and my response

Below is a post from a friend of mine on FB, and my response. How did I do? I wanted to say so much more…

The post (slightly edited for confidentiality):

“Let me tell you a story about miracles, Gods grace, and the power of prayer. On Monday, March 7th (husband) and I welcomed our twin girls into this world at just 33 weeks gestation. (A and E) were born strong, mighty, and loved. They were also two of the most prayed for babies I’ve ever known. At just 16 weeks gestation these two survivors underwent in utero laser ablation surgery at (hospital) to correct their twin to twin transfusion syndrome — a disease with a mortality rate of 90% for one twin and 80% for both if left untreated. These little angels have fought for their lives from day one and we feel so blessed that after they had to spend 3 weeks in the NICU we are all home together and starting our life as a family of five. This last year has been filled with some of the scariest and trying days of our lives but we are so grateful for our family and friends who have supported us through this journey. We are forever indebted to the amazing doctors at Hopkins fetal center for saving our sweet babies and for all the other medical professionals who helped ensure our babies safe delivery. Mostly though we are grateful that God has entrusted us with the lives of these sweet miracles. During some of the darkest days this past year Laura Story‘s song Blessings helped get me through so before the onset of baby pictures begins I’ll leave this post with some of her lyrics

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise”

My response:

“Iam SO happy that your baby girls were saved and made it home with you safely! I did want to privately let you know, though, that the way you phrased it on FB was a bit hurtful. I know several babies who have died due to TTTS, and they were also very loved and very prayed for. When my son died, who was also very much wanted, very, very prayed for, very cared for by doctors, I struggled a lot with my faith. When the survival of some babies is attributed to God’s favor and trust, it again challenges the faith of those of us whose babies didn’t make it – and I don’t think they died because God loved them any less or was punishing us as parents. I KNOW that wasn’t your intent and I’m sure you feel blessed by God’s grace and favor… just…. a thought.”

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He’s doing well

Recently, friends of mine had 24-week twins. One died shortly after birth. The other is doing well at almost 7 weeks old. I was so scared for them when I heard the twins were born so early. My heart sunk when they lost one of their beautiful little boys so soon, before even really getting to know him.

My heart continued to sink when their surviving twin had issues so similar to Anderson’s, at first. Lots of desats. Bradys, which Ander didn’t even have. He was smaller, fragile.

Yet. He has now lived more than twice as long. He’s gained nearly two pounds (!). He’s off the vent. He’s thriving, and he’s surviving, and on one hand, I am so relieved and so happy for them. They already lost one son; it would be so cruel for such deserving, loving parents to lose their remaining little boy. They fight for him every day, keep vigil, cheer him on with a good team of doctors.

On the other hand…. I’m… jealous? Bitter? Of course, I don’t want anything but happiness for them and their son. But on the other, it just feels so unfair. Why is he living while Ander died? Are the doctors better? Did they do something mine didn’t? Why, in such similar situations with such similar cases, did my son have to die?

It’s not easy to read about this little boy. But I do, and I will, because he deserves it.

Even if Ander did too.

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Sharing Hope

I think it’s an indication of how lackluster I’ve felt lately about writing that this post is about the season of Advent, and it’s currently Lent. The good news for my few remaining followers out there is that I’ve joined a Facebook group that will be encouraging me to write each day for a 30-day period for healing and renewal, so hopefully I’ll actually have the motivation to stick with that. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with work and life lately, and of course the first things to drop off my daily plans are the things that help restore balance and energy in my soul: exercise, writing, time outside (well, the latter most is due partly to winter in Chicago). Isn’t that the irony.

Anywho, I had the wonderful opportunity this past Advent to take part in my church’s novel approach to a seasonal meditation. One of our pastors conceptualized a podcast-style reflection of the season, with each week leading to Christmas having a theme: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. My wife and I were asked to interview each other (StoryCorps style, if you listen to NPR) about hope, and we agreed, knowing it would provide us a wonderful opportunity to share Anderson’s story and speak to hope after loss.

Here is our podcast, and our story (it’s the one at the bottom of the page, “Hope.”) Even if you’re not Christian, I think you will enjoy this (it’s not particularly religious). We loved being able to talk about Anderson; any day we can share his story is a good day.

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