Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Love and Loss ~ A Perfect Pearl

The first song that popped into my mind Monday morning... the day after two big concerts at church was:

"We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord,
And we offer up to You the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And we offer up to You the sacrifices of joy."

I don't know that I have completely felt the sting of those words, any more than I have over the last few days.  This is a quite "cheery" sounding song.  The sentiment behind it all, however, is very demanding.  Yes... I just said that.  Demanding.  Would I have it any other way?  Absolutely not.  I did want this past weekend to be different.  I really wanted to feel differently than I had to feel.  I did want to sing my little heart out, but I didn't know how much it would cost me.  

By this past weekend I had hoped that everyone would already know we were expecting a baby.  The baby was due on July 6th!  We were so excited.  I had the announcement blog-post already written.  We were just waiting on the perfect ultrasound picture, which we were hoping to have on Tuesday (the 9th).  We usually like to wait until week 10 to announce such exciting news.  A week and a half ago (the 8th), I would have been 10 weeks pregnant, so waiting one more day for the sonogram picture would have been perfect.  Anyone who has been through the sting of miscarriage before usually feels the same way that I do about waiting to tell the broad public pregnancy news.  Not everyone feels this way, but I bet I have friends nodding their heads with me right now.  It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you are excited or whether or not you have faith that your pregnancy will be fine.  It's that you don't walk through miscarriage (or other fertility issues) feeling the same way about pregnancy ever again.  You thought you didn't take it for granted, but then find yourself realizing you might have.  It becomes more of a sacred gift, than it really ever could have been before.  Waiting means at least I won't be possibly having to tell everyone in my small town grocery store every time that I go in there that... well... actually I'm not expecting a baby anymore.  "Hey, how are you?  When is your baby due again?"  ... "Uhm, well actually..."  I just think that would be extra hard.  Some of you might think that's not much different than what I'm doing right now.  To me it is.  Writing is very often a pathway for me to pray, to celebrate, to encourage and to share with others.  Today it is my pathway to sift through details and grief.  You may not want to do this with me, and I totally understand if you don't!  I think that I do have friends though who are genuinely curious but afraid, perhaps, to ask me about what happened.  This will be my source for remembrance later and it is a way to say thank you to my God and to say thank you to many of you all at the same time.  Sharing helps me dry up my tears and bring closure.

We found out I was pregnant on October 28th... just weeks after an extremely early miscarriage (my 2nd one up until this point.. there was also one at 7 & 1/2 weeks in 2008).  This time though I was already beginning to feel all the symptoms of what an early pregnancy is supposed to feel like.  Because of the previous one though, I asked for a quantitative hCG test to be run, which looked good.  About a month later (Thanksgiving week) when I was 8 weeks pregnant I had my first OB appointment.  My doctor tried to find the baby on an ultrasound machine, but we couldn't see anything.  He didn't jump to any conclusions, so I tried to not jump to any conclusions either.  He said that the best thing would be to have a sonographer take a look and to look at my hCG again.  I had my initial OB panel for lab work that day, and my hCG was promising!  I even did the math, which showed I had averaged doubling in that hormone every 24 hours, which is great.  HCG is supposed to double every 24-48 hours, and this showed that I was doing that.  My concern dissipated and I just looked forward to the next ultrasound.  That week I also was finally feeling some nausea mostly in the evening.  It seemed rather mild compared to my other successful pregnancies, but hey... who wants to be really sick, right?  "I'll take it!" I thought.

A week later (December 1st- week 9) I got out my heart doppler.  A sweet friend gave it to me during my pregnancy with Timothy after finding out I wouldn't have an OB appointment until long after I normally do.  (That's another story!)  I was sort of getting concerned as the nausea had started dissipating, but we usually can get heart tones at 9 weeks so I thought I'd try.  (By the way, this part of the story is where I start getting really confused!)  I guess it is possible that I didn't really hear what I heard, but I'm only saying what I saw on the monitor and what I heard.  The heart-rate I found was anywhere from 145-155.  Mine was like 75-80.  I felt so relieved!  What?  I can have a healthy pregnancy without hugging the toilet all day?  WOW!  I was pretty excited and told a couple of friends who knew I was pregnant, who also knew that we didn't get to see anything during the OB appointment.  We were all really happy!  However, I never heard it like that again.  I got something that was in the low 120s the next day.  The day after that, I didn't hear anything that sounded remotely like baby heart tones again.  I didn't freak out, but I just felt really confused.  Maybe I didn't really find it when I thought I did?  Maybe I'm just not good at finding it, after all...  I still feel really confused about this part.

The following Saturday I started spotting and on Sunday, the 7th, we got up and went to church.  I was not about to miss my daddy singing his solo that morning!  I was and am so proud of him!  After church, I sent a message to my doctor giving him a "heads-up" that I was thinking of coming to the ER.  He told me to skip the ER and meet him at the clinic.  At this moment, I'm seriously pausing for the first tears of this post.  I hate sad things.  I do.  -But if I'm going to have to go through something that requires this kind of attention, there's just no other doctor on the planet we'd rather go through them with.  We've been through all kinds of things together over the last 11+ years of OB appointments, and births, well-baby checks, babies that just won't seem to grow like other babies, miscarriage, a type I diabetes diagnosis, numerous house calls and text-message-medicine, etc.  I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out.  I have the kind of doctor who would meet us at the back door of the clinic on a Sunday afternoon and then proceed to spend as long as comfortably possible searching for hope on an ultrasound machine.  Who does that??  Bob Rakov.  He does.  He then personally walked us over to the hospital's outpatient desk, on his way to check on another patient.  He wanted to make sure that the orders for my quantitative hCG made it.  The test ended up confirming the demise of our pregnancy.  My hCG had cut in half in a very short amount of time.  That evening we went to the communion service at church.  It was hard, but it was right where our family needed to be.  Before we left for the service, Whitley stated that even when Job of the Bible lost everything, he still praised the Lord!  Whitley was asked to lead a prayer that evening, but in the midst of his pain (because daddies feel it too), there stood my husband with his very powerful speaking voice and a powerful knowledge and recognition of the full sacrifice that Christ made for us.  When we got home that evening, because it was Pearl Harbor Day, Whitley named the baby Pearl.  

I went about the next few days just fine.  I was oh, so painfully aware that there are people in this life who do not get to come home to sweet children after the knowledge of such loss.  I was too incredibly grateful for what I do have than to dare focus on what I did not have.  I recognized I have every reason to be thankful, and so I felt guilty at any hint of a sad thought.  I savored every 2 year old kiss on the cheek, every single chubby-armed hug.  My 3 year old came to my bed every morning at 6:00 a.m. somehow knowing I needed extra snuggles.  My oldest children helped my youngest a lot even though they didn't know about what was going on with their mom.  The very next day (Monday) I was supposed to be at a rehearsal for a concert in Abilene on Saturday (the 13th).  I had every intention of going to the rehearsal, even though I felt tired.  My sweet sister-in-law was bringing a meal over though, and somewhere around the time that we were supposed to be receiving food and I was supposed to be leaving for the rehearsal... it at least hit me that someone was bringing a meal over for me because I had lost a BABY.  And because I was really TIRED.  DUH!  Don't go to rehearsal!!!!  I'm so weird!  Wednesday I had a rehearsal for our concerts at church.  I went.  I got hugs from three people who knew anything about it.  I tried not to really feel those hugs just in case it would make me cry and I just went about the evening trying to be as tough and brave and normal (?) as possible.  I forgot one thing though.  The rehearsal before a performance we usually try to stand as long as we are going to stand for the real deal.  That was excruciating.  I found myself sitting a lot between songs and during narration, and wondering if that was weird and if anyone even noticed.  "Probably not," I reasoned.  I sang my solo.  It hurt, but I was satisfied with how it sounded.  Standing and singing involves a lot of pressure.  -So does loosing a pregnancy at 10 weeks, apparently.  I began the inner dialogue that made me feel really frustrated.  It wasn't supposed to be this way!  I have to sing this music!  How am I going to sing this music?  Will all of this be over before the weekend??

It takes a while for things to truly set in for me.  It generally takes a week for me to cry after a funeral, for instance.  I do eventually display great grief over any kind of loss or bad experience a friend is going through, but not usually when most people would expect it.  It's usually going to happen when no one is even near me!  Wednesday night when I got home after a full hour and a half of faking that I was ok, I just lost it.  I didn't loose it until everyone else had gone to bed, of course, but I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until I didn't think I could sob anymore.  The next morning I started having more pain and passed a bit of tissue.  (If you are a guy and are still reading this by now... I'm sorry that I just said something "gross" and it won't get worse than that, I promise.  I'm impressed that you are still reading!)  Part of me thought, "That's probably all there is."  Part of me thought, "Uhm... this is Thursday.  This very well might not be over until next week."  The next few hours had me discussing things with friends and my physician that I never, ever thought I would discuss.  I don't really know how to explain this to someone who doesn't think like I do, but even if you don't think like me...  I think you'll "get" me.  I'm extremely pro-life.  The mere idea that conception is even possible, is so wonderful and miraculous to me that I would have a hard time being okay with most forms of birth control.  Duh... like you haven't figured out that we're some of THOSE people yet.  (Hello!  This was pregnancy number 9 for me!)  I don't feel like everyone on Earth is supposed to have 10 or 12 or 20 kids.  I also don't know that I will have babies clear until menopause.  We just take these things one day and prayer and baby at a time.  God has completely affirmed these very personal convictions in very personal ways.  I don't ask you to understand that part exactly, but I think it helps me explain that the idea of choosing to very quickly eliminate any evidence that life once existed inside of me seemed really harsh, regardless of the fact that I did not have a viable pregnancy.  I'd rather go through the pain slowly and naturally than have a d&c procedure but reality was staring me in the face.  This was not ending soon... It might even be just beginning?  I wasn't really sure of anything, except that I was beginning to have a lot of pain.  My family really needed their mom to be somewhat normal soon, too.  I'm also very committed to the choirs I'm involved in.  Not only am I committed to them, but my family and church family have made big commitments for me to be involved with them too.  There are the precious helpers who take time to keep my kids while I rehearse with the church choir.  There is the traveling I was doing at least every other week to be at the Abilene rehearsals.  There were thoughts of the preparations I had been making just to be able to leave my 7 family members for that long to rehearse with an Abilene choir.  The reality that I might not get to be there for any of the three concerts I had scheduled for the weekend just didn't seem right to me either.  I mean of course everyone would understand me not singing once they found out why but I began to prefer the idea of the sacrifice of praise and joy, to me moping around in miserable pain.

There is a time for everything!  I completely, utterly folded on being "brave and tough" on Thursday afternoon.  I asked Whitley if he could please come home from work.  Whitley's boss who is such a blessing to us let him off of work.  Before he came home, Whitley's co-worker, Lane Whitefield, said a tender prayer that meant a lot to him.  When he got home, Whitley called our children to the dining room table and explained why things had been a little strange around here lately and that Mama was going to go to the hospital for a little while.  I sent a message to my dear friend and church music minister and asked him to put me on the prayer board at church because I knew that regardless of whether or not I was able to be in the concerts it would really help me for others to know what was going on.  More prayer warriors were going to be aware of our needs and to be able to express those intercessions on our behalf.  Up until Thursday evening, I wasn't sure that I was making the right decision to have a D&C.  But when I woke up after the surgery, I woke to my doctor saying that my uterus was inverted and that there was so much tissue that I would have had a very difficult time passing it all on my own.  The next day while I was in the middle of mourning, my doctor called to check on me.  I sort of rambled trying to tell him how I felt, but when it came right down to it, I just really had to have him say all of that to me again so that I could make sure I wasn't dreaming it.  He explained (again) that I actually made the best choice to prevent infection and for my future fertility.

About 24 hours after the surgery I decided to try to see if I could get my vocal chords to phonate that soon after being intubated.  OH. DEAR.  Not. good.  On Saturday I had to make my next difficult decision.  In order for me to sing the music at church on Sunday for both the morning and evening concerts, there was absolutely no way I had any business singing the first movement of the John Rutter Gloria in Abilene on Saturday night.  I was really sad about that, but I figured that if I just went one more day without singing, that Sunday would probably go fairly well.  Dr. Mike (my voice teacher for 19 years AND the conductor of that Abilene choir) agreed that at least my solos on Sunday would probably be fine if I just didn't sing Saturday.

There were some really raw emotions and some hard words that I had to sing on Sunday, but by the end of the day I had confirmation that it was exactly where I needed to be.  The sacrifice of praise in the midst of mourning may be one of the most audacious things anyone could ever do.  As a person of faith, singing the words that day:

The love that we have longed for, the peace we've searched to find, 
the hope that we have hungered for, the joy that's joy divine.
We bow before a manger beneath a shining star,
Saying 'Jesus, all we need is all you are.' 

There's a hole the shape of heaven nothing here on earth can fill, 
there's an aching deep inside us; we are restless until 
we realize the reason for the hollow in our hearts.  
Jesus, all we need is all you are.  
 At last our souls are satisfied, 
Our deepest needs, 
Jesus, you provide. 

Well, it was convicting, sweet, tender and brutal all at the same time.  ...And... something else...  I was created to sing these words.  God is my Creator.  The only Creator, God, who knew baby Pearl more completely than I ever could have.  He knows baby Pearl more completely than any doctor or sonographer could and he completely knew what was best for all of us.  I know that despite my deep sadness and my frustrations about bad things happening to anyone, that Jesus provides the only source of peace that could ever exist.  He is my only hope and source of true joy in this completely messed up world.  He is the only way for me to be strong enough to not only sing these words, but believe them.  He is my strength, my song, and my salvation.

-The sacrifice of thanksgiving and joy.  Yet what very little I have to offer my Lord, who gave me so much. He is my everything.  He is the reason for this season that many Christians celebrate His coming as a baby.   Though sad I may be, He has also brought a season of life where I truly look around and realize how much people love and care for our family.  He is the reason for all of it. 
I am thankful...

I don't know how anyone gets through any sort of loss all alone.  I'm so thankful for the Body of Christ who reached out to us (even though we are that weird "color" of "big-family crazy"). I'm thankful for the strength and support of medical professionals.  I'm thankful to have my amazing family right here to help.  Whitley has been an absolute rock.  My children have been as helpful and sweet as kids could possibly be.  My parents and Amber took shifts during a busy time, helping by keeping my kids for the trip to Lamesa on the 7th and again on the 11th and other days too, just to give me some time.  My mom went to the laundromat and spent hours getting us caught up.  I was way behind before all of that started!  To all of my dear friends who brought a meal, offered hugs, sent a card and/or said a prayer at what could have been an extremely nerve-wracking time, thank you.  We felt every bit of your kindness and prayers. Maybe I didn't express tears of thanksgiving until a few hours later, but by now you know that's just me!  

Love from our family to you and yours,


  1. Oh Shelly. My heart hurts on your behalf for the loss of your sweet Pearl. But I am incredibly thankful that you have the Comforter with you and in you as you grieve with hope, knowing that one day you will meet your precious children in heaven. And oh what a day of rejoicing that will be!

  2. My dear friend. I love you. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. And as I cry with you as we think of your little Pearl, I am spurred on and encouraged to lift up with you this sacrifice of praise. I wish I could hug you. I wish I could wash your dishes. And I praise our God for those who are stepping in to do these things.