Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Shaun!

I was so proud of Shaun as we went through the day last Sunday...the first of many Father's Days that will feel incomplete, like missing. I bought him a Father's Day card, and just couldn't bring myself to write in it. It hurt too much. But I'm so impressed, to say the least, at how Shaun has walked through the past 5 weeks with a balance of courage and vulnerability. And I'm even more impressed with how Shaun loved me and loved our son through the 9 short months that we got to know Zachary as I carried him. He is such a wonderful husband and an awesome daddy! So, here's my belated 'thanks' to him:

Shaun, thank you for being so excited when that pregnancy test (well, all 20+ of them) came back positive! Your joy made my selfish feelings of being too young and unprepared to be a parent dissipate in the days to follow. You were so thrilled to be a dad right from the start!

Thank you for caring for me through 5 months straight of being so sick...getting me water after I puked, doing the dishes and cooking for yourself when I couldn't walk into the kitchen, buying me special 'mommy' candies for my birthday to help settle my stomach. Thank you for reminding me daily through those months that the discomfort, sickness, and fatigue were all going to be worth it. You were truly was worth it.

Thank you for being so fascinated with how big our baby boy was each month of my pregnancy...and giving me weekly updates comparing the size of his growing body to fruit...week 8 - blueberry, week 14 - lemon, week 20 - banana. :-) You certainly know a lot about pregnancy now!

Thank you for playing music to Zachary with your iPhone on my belly! :-)

Thank you for giving our son to God in prayer every night while I was pregnant. It means more than I can express to know that our son has a father who knows and trusts
His heavenly Father. Your faith helps me to continually release Zachary to the Lord, moment by moment. You are an incredible source of strength for me.

And for the hours and hours you spent researching strollers and preparing Zachary's room for his arrival, I am so grateful. You were more than ready to be a parent.

And thank you for carting me around in that last month that I was pregnant and not working, letting me run work errands with you so that I didn't go completely stir-crazy at home. Those instances that you would reach over in the car to feel our little wild-child do karate moves in my belly are so, very precious to me now.

In the triage room the night we found out that we had lost our sweet baby, your unwavering hope as the nurses and midwives searched and searched for a heartbeat made me realize just how badly you wanted to be a dad to our son. And when it was finally confirmed that his heart really wasn't beating, the profound sadness that shook you made it clear to me just how much your heart had grown in those 9 months.

And when it was finally time to push our big boy out, you coached me through it all with such joyful anticipation. A stranger in that delivery room would never have known that the baby I was delivering wasn't alive. You were more than awesome, and I thank you so much for your strong love for your son and for me through those minutes...I don't know if I would have made it through them without you.

Thank you for letting Zachary into your heart completely in the hours after his birth. I can still hear you cry, "My son," over and over as you cradled him in your arms. You were such a proud dad! And as we sat together in that hospital room, just the three of us...examining his perfect body, holding his big hands, tracing the outline of his adorable face with our fingers...those memories are frozen in my mind and I will treasure them for the rest of my life.

Thank you for the hours you have spent missing Zachary with me...reminding me exactly what he looked like, just how sweet it was to hold him, and the peace that God poured on us on that day, even in the sadness. Thank you for the cherry blossom tree you planted in the backyard in Zachary's memory - what a perfect reminder of the new life that our son is experiencing in heaven...and the new life that God has in store for us, both here and in heaven with Zachary for all of eternity. Thank you for the gentle wisdom you have spoken to my heart time and again when I've felt like I couldn't take one more breath. Shaun, your love for Zachary is incredible...words seem extremely inadequate right now to express how in awe I was of you the day that he was born...and every day since.

Happy Father's Day to the man of my dreams and an extraordinary daddy. I love you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yesterday Shaun and I went to the cemetery to remember our little man one month after we had to say good-bye to him. I can't believe it's been an entire month. It feels like just yesterday that I learned that the diapers Shaun had so carefully stacked in the dresser drawer would never be worn by my son, yet like a lifetime ago that I had the privilege of experiencing Zachary's life. We didn't stay at the cemetery for long, but it was a good time to reflect on the past month. We just leaned against the railing side-by-side, arms around each other, quietly staring at the words engraved into the stone.

Zachary Michael De Yager
May 17, 2009 Ps. 116

At some point, I broke the silence and said, "What a great name!" Shaun grinned at me, and then, out of the blue, a wave of sorrow swept over me. "I was supposed to be spelling that name out on birth announcements, not a gravestone," I cried. The tears flowed down my face as I thought about the injustice of our situation. Why does a 16-year-old girl who makes one wrong choice after another give birth to a perfectly healthy baby while we were forced to leave the hospital empty-handed on May 17th? What did we do to deserve this? Why us? These were not new thoughts or questions...just all-too-familiar pain and anger resurfacing.

But it wasn't more than 10 seconds later that I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit stirring the deepest part of my soul, and for the first time, I contemplated this question: 'Why
not me?'. I know that sounds kind of fatalistic, and I am not, so let me explain. I know that losing Zachary was in no way something Shaun and I "deserved." No parents should ever have to walk through the fire that we're walking through. No mom should ever have to deliver a baby that isn't breathing and hold the lifeless, but perfect body of the child she has carried and dreamed of holding for 9 months. No, no one deserves to walk this road, no matter what they have or haven't done.

But I don't deserve the grace I've been given, either! I'm a messed-up 22-year-old woman living in a fallen, broken world. I deserve
nothing good from God, and He still loves me immeasurably - even to the point of giving His son as a ransom for my heart! There is NOTHING about His grace that any of us deserve!

And I desperately want to live in that grace every day. I want to be overcome with hope. I want to trust God to fill the void in my heart, because only He can. And not only is He able to satisfy the emptiness and longing in my heart, He
wants to! And He is more than enough.

This pain and agony are not something that Shaun and I will ever "recover" from. We will never "get over" Zachary's death and the death of our dreams of being his parents. That's not how it goes. I want to accept this pain and let it become a part of who I am, and I want it to change me. The past month has been the darkest season of my life to this point, but I have also been blessed with an awesome clarity as I reside in the pit of this grief. I'm learning more and more everyday that it's not the "what if's," it's the "what now's"...that it's not about me...that life on this earth is fleeting...that this world is not home...that God is with me, even when I don't feel like it...that He is good
no matter what. And, most importantly, that the grace of God really is more than enough.

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him...Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love."
Lamentations 3:19-25, 32

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This week has been really difficult. It was one month ago today that I heard the haunting words from my midwife as she choked back tears: "I'm so sorry, Courtney. Your baby is dead."

I feel like the acute sting of Zachary’s death is starting to wear off, and it’s being replaced with an even more horrific pain that I have no idea how to handle. It feels like a decay of my heart has set in. In the beginning, I had no choice but to let the tears flow. I could do nothing to restrain my grief. There was no distraction from the pain. Now I find myself working hard to ‘be normal’ – to swallow the lump in my throat, blink back the tears before they fall, to focus my mind on the tasks I have at work and at home. I’m not intentionally avoiding my pain altogether, but the whole world didn’t stop spinning when I lost my baby boy – it was only my world that came to a standstill for awhile. At some point life has to go on, and so do I. This hurt is almost unbearable at times, though. It's eating at me, and I feel trapped in my desperate attempt to grieve and live simultaneously.

So tonight all bets of ‘being normal’ are off. The tears are free to flow, the sobs can escape from my throat, and my fragmented heart can break a little bit more. Tonight I just want to miss my baby boy and remember his life.

So I will.

I remember the first time I felt Zachary move…how incredible!! I just desperately wanted Shaun to be able to feel those tiny bursts of life, too. So night after night, we would sit together on the couch with Shaun’s hands placed on either side of my belly and just wait for him to be able to feel those little kicks. Every time I would feel Zachary move, I would immediately look up at Shaun and ask, “Did you feel that?” until one night, our little boy kicked so hard, that Shaun pulled his hands back in surprise!

I remember sitting in the bleachers at the gym during basketball season, my belly growing bigger every day. Zachary was never very still, but when the Pep Band starting blaring ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ he would go CRAZY! The same was true when I would sit at the piano to play and sing. He loved music, especially loud music.

And every night that I had a bowl of ice cream after dinner (which was most nights), Zachary would flail wildly for a good 20 minutes afterward. Shaun thought it was hilarious!

Shaun also thought it was funny when, after Zachary settled down and I could fall asleep at night, he would gently jostle by belly around, as if he were wrestling with his son, and wake him up again. Shaun was such a good daddy, and he took every opportunity to experience the life growing inside me. I would do anything for Shaun to have the chance to celebrate this Father’s Day with his son in his arms!

And I remember Shaun’s prayer as we lay together in bed each night…the lights out, Shaun’s hand on my belly, Zachary shifting around, as if to get comfortable before falling asleep - a perfectly content family…“Lord, thank you for this life. Thank you for the chance to be parents. We give this child to you. May this baby know the One who created him, and may his life bring you glory. Amen.”

I will never get the opportunity take care of Zachary on earth. I will never rock my precious baby boy to sleep or put a band-aid on my 5-year-old son’s scratched knee or cheer in the stands at his high school sporting events. But I’m still really, really proud to be Zachary’s mommy! And I just love to talk about him and show off his pictures! This is such a sweet sorrow because it comes from a heart that has known a greater capacity to love. There really is nothing like the love of a mom for her child.

And even in this darkness, I recognize that the prayer Shaun and I prayed night after night has been answered in many ways. Zachary not only knows the One who created him, but he has seen His face. And our son's life is bringing glory to God in ways we would have never imagined. This road was definitely not what we had in mind when we prayed that prayer, and it doesn’t lessen the pain we feel in any way, but we are truly blessed to be chosen to be Zachary’s parents.
I miss him so much.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I found this on my work computer this morning. It's a quote that I read about three months before Zachary was born, and I found it strangely valuable at the time. I'm beginning to see now that God was preparing me months ago for this journey.

"Pruning means cutting, reshaping, removing what diminishes vitality. When we look at a pruned vineyard, we can hardly believe it will bear fruit. But when the harvest comes, we realize that the pruning allowed the vines to concentrate their energy and produce more grapes. Grateful people learn to celebrate even amid life's hard and harrowing memories because they know that pruning is no mere punishment, but preparation.

When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for the future can likewise never be full. But our submitting to God's pruning work will not ultimately leave us sad, but hopeful for what can happen in us and through us. Harvesttime will bring its own blessings"

(Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's been quite a day.

I have been overcome with waves of disappointment and a deep longing for Zachary over and over again since the alarm clock went off this morning. It's just when I say to myself, "I'm doing pretty well today," that the walls come crashing down around me once more.

C.S. Lewis described these feelings in his book, A Grief Observed, after the death of his wife: "Grief is like a long and winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape...[But] sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences but the sequence doesn't repeat."

So I guess it's just three steps forward, two steps back on this journey. And even though it feels like it many times, I am not trudging around a circular valley...I'm still moving forward. And, more importantly, I'm becoming more of the person God intended for me to be. It's not fun, but it's worth it.

I went back to the clinic where I work today to say 'hi' to all of my wonderful co-workers before actually starting work later this week - it was good, and it felt like one big step forward. As I was leaving, I saw the man who works in the cafeteria downstairs in our building. For the last couple of months before Zachary was born, he saw me on a fairly regular basis (what can I say?...I was a hungry, pregnant lady!). He would ask me all of the standard questions...when was my due date, did we know if we were having a boy or girl, had we picked a name yet, etc. When he saw me downstairs today, he got a huge grin on his face and yelled excitedly across the walkway, "You had your baby!!".

Ugh...not again.

As I gave him the short version of our story, his face just dropped and his eyes filled with tears. He said that he was so sorry...sorry that we had to go through this and sorry that it was so hard on my body. But then he looked me straight in the eye and said very gently, "It's okay to try again." I was taken back for a moment, but for some reason, I was genuinely comforted. I said a quiet 'thank you' and walked out to my car.

But as I got into my car, I began to sob. I thought back to last time that I had driven out of that parking lot...39 weeks pregnant, and I thought I was just so agony waiting for our baby to arrive. How I wish I could go back! I have a feeling that I wouldn't be wincing after being kicked in the ribs or whining to Shaun about my swollen feet.

Then I started to think about the future and being pregnant again...the cafeteria man's words echoed in my mind...and suddenly I was overcome with the most gut-wrenching fear. Was it really okay to try again? Would I be "allowed" to bring my baby home from the hospital? What if I had to leave empty-handed one more time? Would I be crazy to take that risk? It was a fear that gripped my heart and would not let go. I was utterly terrified...and still sitting in the parking lot. It took everything in me to ask God to bind up that fear that had overtaken my mind and heart and give me the strength to start my car. I knew, even as my mind was racing, that those thoughts were not from God, but it was truly paralyzing. I called Shaun as I drove away, and he spoke truth and wisdom into my thoughts and prayed for me. Unfortunately, I would be naive to think that I will not revisit this 'country' as C.S. Lewis refers to it, though. Fear...definitely a few steps back.

But I know that God is faithful, and I know that His promises are true, and I know that He will give us the desire of our hearts soon enough. Growing up, my mom used to quote Jim Elliot and say to me, "Courtney, don't doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light." So I will keep walking in faith, trusting the same God who created light out of nothing to bring light into our situation. Three steps forward, two steps back. It's still progress...and healing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Three weeks ago my biggest dilemma was how my son would spell the shortened version of his name when he went to kindergarten...would it be Zac, Zack, Zach? It feels like so long ago. I often catch myself these days wondering if my baby boy would be a good he would respond to the sound of my voice...which size clothes would fit him best...what it would feel like to rock him and sing to him at night...

I miss him SO MUCH! I wake up every morning and have to realize so brutally once again that he's not here...that he'll never be here again. It's still so raw.

And life has gone on for everyone. The cards in the mail have slowed down, Shaun's schedule has picked up, and the house is so, very quiet. But in that deafening silence, God's doing a work in me. I still would not choose this journey, to be honest, but I'm more dependent on the Lord and His strength than I've ever been. I have a genuine compassion for others like I've never had, a stronger marriage, a closer family. And throughout my whole life I've had to work on letting the big stuff be big stuff and the little stuff remain doesn't take a whole lot of work anymore...the little inconveniences of life are just that.

And I've started to accept that I don't get to pick and choose what I walk through in life. In Scripture, Job says at the beginning of all of his trials, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10b). Who am I to receive all of God's gifts, but then resent Him for the opportunities He brings into my life to teach me,
even if it's painful? Before we had even left the hospital after Zachary was born, my dad said to me that if I blame God for the loss of my son, then I can't give Him the credit for all of the blessings in my life and everything good that is going to come out of our story. He's right. So, not to sound sadistic, but if this incredible hurt points others in the direction of Christ, then bring it on!!! Lord, cover me in Your mercy, but please use this pain for Your glory!!!

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

(Bring the Rain, Mercy Me)

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in my, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Psalm 139:23

Monday, June 1, 2009

My heart is so broken tonight. I would give anything just to snuggle my baby boy against my chest one more time, even for a touch his soft cheek, feel his tiny fingers wrapped around mine, kiss his forehead. The ache is almost nauseating. I try to close my eyes and remember what it was like to hold his little body in my arms, but it feels so distant already. I have never known heartache like this...I didn't realize it was possible to hurt this intensely.

And yet I know that I have to walk through this excruciating pain...there's no way around it or over it...just through. Oh, that God would give me just a glimpse of His purpose in all of this! The longing in my heart for my child is almost unbearable! I feel so incomplete, so robbed, so beat down.

These lyrics have been playing over and over in my mind for the past few days, and they're a bittersweet comfort right now.

Mercy Me

You're in a better place, I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord cause I don't understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
Cause I'm still here so far away from home

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

In Christ, there are no goodbye
And in Christ, there is no end
So I'll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
To see you again
To see you again

And I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow

I've never been more homesick than now.

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."
Psalm 27:13-14