2 months ago yesterday, we were cruising along. Our perfect, drama-free, comedy-filled pregnancy was coasting right along. To quote our doctor, “You guys are my model patients. Always happy and smiling. You ask good questions, and there’s never been a hint of any problems with this pregnancy.” That said, next time, I almost hope he makes up problems, just to play it safe. Since there was never a hint of any problems, we were coasting merrily along.
2 months ago today, that all changed. If you’ve read the first entry on this blog, you’ve seen the story, so this is just an excerpt. We went to the doctor’s office for our regularly-scheduled appointment. This was our “welcome to full term” appointment. We chuckled in the lobby, had a great and funny time with the doctor, shared lots of laughs and joy, and coasted along. The came the ultrasound of silence, and our coasting crashed right into the wall. Playtime was over. No more jokes, just a quiet desperation in a situation that we all knew couldn’t end well. Our wonderful, joy-filled coasting was turning into an out-of-control ride. We were going to crash right into the wall, and nothing could prevent it from happening. Hello, wall. Try not to hurt too much, if that’s all right.
Well, most of us knew. If you know me, you know how I hate giving up and quitting. This doesn’t mean that Becky or the doctor are quitters. I just tend to take stubborn to strange new places. In this case, Becky knew instantly that it was over. The doctor knew. I knew logically, but apparently took the longest to get there. So I tried to protect my wife and reassure her that the game wasn’t over yet. We hang on until it really is over. When they took us down the hall (very stealthily) for the big ultrasound machine, to confirm what all of us knew, I was still hanging on to that desperate hope. I held on right until we saw the pictures up on the wall. Since I’d heard the silence of Doria’s heartbeat already, I didn’t need the sound anymore. I knew that. As we looked at Doria’s ribcage on that HD screen, there was no motion behind those ribs. Like we already knew, Doria’s heart had stopped. No more hanging on.
I still feel for that nurse. I prize direct communication. I hate beating around the bush when it isn’t necessary. That poor nurse was trying to ease us into the news, but it was time to hear it. With that in mind, I did what I do with students to get a response when things are quiet: I asked a question that was outright stupid. I was kind of hanging on to that last thread of hope for Doria, too, but mostly just wanted to hear the full truth. I asked her, “What are her chances when we go over to the hospital?” Feel free to pause and shake your head. This is how a shocked, robotic, logical mind works.
The nurse was visibly baffled with that stupid question. She struggled to find a polite answer while she tried to figure out just what I didn’t understand. She looked at me, and I gave her a look intended to say, “YOU KNOW THE TRUTH. I KNOW THE TRUTH. JUST TELL ME THE TRUTH RIGHT NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW.” Patience really wasn’t the virtue I had in mind at the moment. I was much more prepared for a drill sergeant moment. She read the look correctly, and calmly (as possible) said, “I’m so sorry. Your baby is dead.”
Right into the wall. Can’t hang on at that point. Can’t stop. There’s the crash. Can’t avoid it. She let us get Becky cleaned up and we went back to see the doctor. As a planning guy, trying to be the man in this picture, I was wargaming the discussion and preparing my next comments. It’s all about preparation. I asked him if he was going to call ahead to the hospital, and of course, he was already planning to do that as soon as we got through the door. That was great! The last thing I wanted was to get over there and have to explain our situation. I wanted someone else to take care of those details so I could take care of my wife. We’re both still grateful for our calm and caring doctor. I wish he could have had a chance to save Doria. I know he would have, but there was no chance.
So we took that slow walk of shame across the parking lot to the hospital. Thankfully, they had stalled a little bit, making sure that the waiting room was empty. Nobody wanted to see that. We strolled into the hospital, avoided eye contact with everybody, and went right to the elevator. We got up to the maternity ward, they quietly took us right to the room, and we settled in to start a brand new reality. We settled in for the crash. Can’t avoid that wall now. Reality is too real for that. Just brace for impact.
We got situated into the room and spent some time sitting there and crying together. The nurses were wonderful, and subtly customized the room for the stillbirth situation. At our hospital here in Ames, it turns out that this happens once each year. Yay, winning. In that little room, we started into our new reality. We didn’t know much of what was to happen, just that my wife was going to deliver a stillborn baby. We didn’t know what would happen afterwards. We still don’t know, really. It’s only been two months. We’re learning how to get up and start each day, and then start the next.
One thing I read in my devotional time this morning that served as a great reminder was Matthew 5:4—“Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.” It’s a nice promise from Jesus. He didn’t say that it was possible. He simply says, matter-of-factly, that it will happen. So I embrace the mourning thing as much as I know how. I want that comfort. Jesus didn’t say what form that comfort would always take in this verse, but I don’t need to know what form it will take. I just need to know that it will happen, and He promised that it will. I’ll go with that.
Still hit the wall. I can’t deny that. It’s very real every hour, every day. It’s our new real. That wall leaves a mark, and I’ve been assured by many people from around the world that it never really leaves. Doria was part of our lives, she is part of our lives, and she always will be. I still treasure our little gift of grace (check out the Greek J), and that’s not going to change. I’ll still have the marks from that wall for a long, long time, and that’s OK. Once you hit the wall, there’s no turning back.