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Flutters and faith

Faith and Flutters

I have three tinies and this is my eighth pregnancy. Those kinds of odds can mess with a woman.

As I said a few weeks ago when I first told you about this baby, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I spent the first four months of this pregnancy convinced that it wasn’t viable, unable to muster up any hope that Tiny #4 would actually be in my arms in February.

I spent those days waiting for a sign, just one sign, to demonstrate to me that this baby had half a chance. I prayed for it. (I never had a single sign.) Then came no heartbeat and then another non-heartbeat and then finally, crazily, 173 beats a minute and the assurance that so far, so good.

I had a heartbeat confirmation. And that was it.

You name the pregnancy “symptom” of your choice – morning sickness, sore breasts, exhaustion, mood swings, food sensitivities or aversions, whatever – and I had it with the three babies I carried to term. More tellingly, I did not experience them with all of my losses. That was always my first indicator that something wasn’t quite right with the pregnancy – my body quietly returned to normal and so I quietly began to grieve.

Tiny #4 continues to defy my script.

I have longed for morning sickness in a way that must baffle and offend women who are severely struck down during pregnancy. I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer in this way. But I went through my days perfectly fine, bright and energetic – and I hated every minute of it. My body still felt, well, not pregnant.

Come on, I would bargain with my body. Let me be sick today. It would sure help my anxiety.

When I carried Anne and Joe and Evelynn, I leaned heavily on those little indicators like morning sickness or migraines, swollen feet and exhaustion because they meant that something was still happening. Someone was still there. Someone was taking up space in my body and making their presence known. With Tiny #4, I have not had those reassurances.

My last rung of the hope ladder was this one: feeling the baby move. I always feel my babies moving very early, perhaps because I’m paying such close attention. As I passed day after day of this pregnancy without a single indicator to justify any hope, I waited expectantly for week 14. (I felt Anne at 16 weeks, both Joe and Evelynn as early as 14 weeks. This is uncommonly early but it’s usual for me.) This is a sure one, I thought, soon I’ll know I can relax and just enjoy this pregnancy instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surely, surely, surely with a fourth baby, I would be feeling this one move at the same time, possibly even earlier. Then I would know what to expect, then I would be bold enough to pray with assurance.

Week 14 passed, no movement.

Week 15, then 16. I voiced some concern to my family.

Then we passed week 17, then 18, then 19 weeks.

Still no movement within me, still no flutters, still no someone making their presence known.

As Week 20 drew near, it seemed that I was even being denied this milestone. The books and my midwife all said it wasn’t time to panic yet and so I waited (not-so) patiently for my next ultrasound appointment, this deviation from my expected script sent me reeling. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, to me it meant everything.

Every small thing that I have used to justify my faith and confidence and hope during a pregnancy has been denied to me during this pregnancy. I don’t know why.

The days are a bit long when you’re waiting without assurance.  I think I used to confuse faith with my longing for control, particularly of outcomes. Even now, it’s a lame sort of faith, mine, the kind that waits for a sign before taking the risk. Faith feels like a release to me, it’s safer to put my confidence in my abilities or in hard work or proper behaviours or whatever new thing I’m using to wrest control in my life.

Like so many aspects of my spirituality, I am still a bit in-between, figuring out what I reclaim and what I relinquish, living with a few unanswered questions while relying heavily on the few things I do know – and almost all of those can be summed up in my complete and utter confidence in Love. God is for us, who can be against us?

Over these weeks, I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.

One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death, you name it, I’d claim it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.

And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with words. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.

I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith, I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time. Yet as the days of my waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappling with my questions and my doubt, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God and the very real reality of our fallen world.

Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.

And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe for life and for health for a small person. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang on for dear life, who else but her mother? this is what we do, we stay even when it would make more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.

I felt more like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, she who stood outside the door of a judge pestering his life out until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith, I call her my only hope.

I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I was laying in bed alone (a rarity) when the baby finally made her presence known: I’m here. She shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart throbbed. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you.

Then she moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, what? you were worried?

I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me, like faith, a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Still I wonder about faith and the nature of prayer, I still hold my understandings loosely. Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. Faith is a risk and it’s gorgeous to let go into the free fall.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her book, Animal Dreams, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

These days, that sounds a lot like Hebrews 11 to me. So right now I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.

It’s been a couple of weeks since that Saturday. As I write these words, this baby within me moves and kicks and pokes mercilessly, stretching and growing, I still nearly exhale with relief every time. Our baby is alive and well and growing stronger still – I take no credit and I am still wary of proclaiming anything definitive.

After all, if I say that God performed a miracle this time, what does that mean for my other babies, the ones I never got to hold except in my folded-up tea towels? I can’t forget them. Yet if I say that it’s just a happy coincidence, am I taking away from the miracle and the glory for God’s mighty act for a seemingly small and ordinary woman and her unborn child? It’s both and it’s neither, it’s holy ground for that very reason, for the uncertainty and the praise, one in each hand. I can only say that fearless prayer did what it always does: it changed me.

I still pray and will always pray like that one thing is true: God is for us. And it’s worthwhile to keep knocking.

That’s about all I know about faith for sure.

Just a couple of days later, we had our ultrasounds. It confirmed what I already knew well by now: our wee one is healthy and whole, all is well. The technician might as well have hung a big neon sign up that said: Chill Out, Sarah. And Congratulations.

Because, didn’t I mention? …. we’re having a girl.

photo by Rachel Barkman Photography (from back when I was VERY pregnant with Evelynn) 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, fearless, journey · 51

The Best Laid Plans :: On finding out the sex of our new baby

With our first three tinies, we have always waited until the day of the birth for the epic “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” announcement.

There are so few surprises left in our lives these days, right?I have always been quite content to wait for the big day’s announcement. It made it even more exciting. Plus I personally know two women who had been told they were having a boy, bonded quite thoroughly with that baby, and then came home with a baby girl – turns out that ultrasounds aren’t quite as reliable as we would like.

But with Tiny #4, we’ve decided we’ve had all the surprises we can handle. For the first time, we decided to find out the sex of our baby before he or she is born. It took a lot of discussion between us. Brian really wanted to find out this time and I was ambivalent, even leaning towards keeping with our little tradition of remaining in the dark. But in the end, after all that back-and-forth, since this much-beloved baby was a bit of a surprise to all of us, we decided that NOW is a good time to finally do a bit of planning.

And that “sneak peek” was today.

We did decide against doing any big “reveal party” or making a big fuss about it publicly. We think it would be too much for our tinies. So rather than get them all keyed up at a party with friends and family present, and then perhaps disappointing one or two of them in front of an audience, we decided to keep the announcement low-key, private, and family-centric at first in order to help them process both their elation or disappointment.

We’ve been setting the stage by talking a lot about how “God has given this baby to us” and “we’ll all be happy with our baby, no matter if it is a boy or a girl.” The tinies “get” that, but I know each of them has a preference deep down in their hearts, too. And that’s okay. We just want to help them navigate those feelings well if it doesn’t turn out as they desire.

We also decided to hold off on naming the baby even if we knew the sex, just in case there was an error. Plus, in our experience, in Joseph’s case, we had another boy name picked out entirely. But when he was born, we took one look at that beautiful boy and we just knew that the name we had picked was wrong for this kid. He was our Joe right from the start, and we wouldn’t have known that until we held him. But once we did, it was so clear. Even if we know the sex, we do want to leave a little room for surprises.

Once the baby is here all those preferences often disappear anyway, every one is just so happy at a little freshie finally safely earthside. We all know that our priority here is a healthy baby to term. Yet the novelty of finding out ahead of time if a tiny is a boy or a girl has become exciting and new for all of us.

Going into the appointment, I was excited but also a bit nervous. This is our mid-point appointment and we won’t have another ultrasound until very near the due date. So this was it – our chance to not only find out all the important things that actually matter like health and development but also to find out the sex of the baby. I drank my big glass of orange juice an hour ahead of time to hedge my bets for an active baby during the exam. Tinies at school, Evelynn with my mother, Brian met me at the ultrasound office – let’s do this.

After nearly forty minutes of scanning, we had a final verdict: inconclusive.

Yep. Inconclusive.

All that angst and discussion about whether or not to find out the sex of the baby and …. no answer.

The baby is growing perfectly and beautifully. There is nothing quite like being able to ‘see’ their profile and watch someone no bigger than an heirloom tomato peddling their feet and grabbing their own hands. Such a little person already! It was a wonderful appointment, complete with a strong heartbeat, a beautiful spine, and all other important development milestones being met. Check out this beauty:

Bessey 0003

But our Tiny #4 stubbornly kept his or her legs together and refused to budge, no matter what we did.

So that’s that. No answers. The mystery remains.

We had to laugh. Served us right.

Of course, then we promptly called a private ultrasound clinic right from the parking lot to set up an appointment within the next week to try again.

No shame in my game, people.

So now I’m curious: if you have had children, did you find out the sex of the baby ahead of time? Or did you wait?

 

If you subscribe to my e-newsletter, some portions of this news won’t come as a surprise – subscribers often find out announcements ahead of time.

Continue Reading · baby, family · 72

173 beats a minute: On one surprising little baby and the possibility of tiny miracles

FiveFamilyPlusOne

It was an early summer morning when I realized that we might need a pregnancy test. This was hilarious to me.  I mentioned it to my husband and we laughed about it – of course, it wouldn’t be positive, of course.

We were done having babies. We had made the decision to move into a new season of life more than two years ago – after a lot of prayer and conversation and waiting. The reasons for our decision were our own but we knew we had made the right decision. We were a “five-family,” as the tinies called us, and I was content. I was even learning to make peace with The Ache. I loved the baby season of our life and I will always miss it. But I loved our new season of life, too, and we had begun to orient our life to school-age kids. I began to “lean in” to my own vocation as a writer and even an occasional preacher with joy.

So when I picked up that early-result test really it was just to put my mind at ease. I couldn’t be pregnant, no way.

***

One early Saturday morning in June, Brian sat on our bed waiting for me to emerge with the expected news. Instead, I walked out of that washroom and simply looked him dead in the eye. “No way,” he said, “no. way.”

And we began to laugh – a little hysterically, I admit.

We laughed every time we looked at each other for the next three weeks.

***

We told the tinies that very day. We made the tactical error of taking them out to dinner at a non-kid-friendly establishment. Evelynn had not had a nap that day and she was ferocious in her exhaustion. I ended up spending most of the meal walking her out of the restaurant for her behaviour. When Brian finally blurted into a brief quiet moment that we were having a new baby, I was feeling frazzled and exhausted, Evelynn was still on the brink of a melt-down, the other two tinies were starving, and we looked like a three-ring circus to everyone else within range.

The serving girl looked overwhelmed for us when we told her why we were there “to celebrate! a new baby!” And then the tinies cheered and I cried because I was nonsensically happy with my circus. And then Evelynn and Joe got into a yelling match about whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and I decided to pull the plug on the dinner. For pity’s sake, let’s just go home, I like all of you people better when we’re at home and properly rested.

A new baby, of course, Lord, because life isn’t crazy enough already.

***

We told our families and closest friends that day, too. I think we needed the moral support. I think we needed someone to say, “it’s okay, you’re going to do great, you can totally do this.”

Because in those early days, all I could think about was how my life was being completely reoriented and I hadn’t planned for this and my life was going to have to run to catch up to this news.

I felt scared and overwhelmed, grateful and disoriented.

And yet I was so happy.

***

We told the tinies not to tell anyone. We made a great show on the Sunday morning about keeping secrets. But the very first thing that the tinies did when they walked in to church was to inform everyone: “Mummy’s having a BABY!”

PSA: Tinies are crap at keeping secrets. We only managed to keep this pregnancy a secret from Facebook. Everyone in our real life found out within 2 minutes of running into the tinies.

***

But it didn’t take long for the fear to set in. This is my eighth pregnancy even though I only have three children. We seem to be able to get pregnant easily – it’s holding onto the babies that is the trouble. And now I am considered “an older mother” – my risk factors in early pregnancy are high.

And so my primary job in early pregnancy seems to be fighting the fear and the anxiety, trying to choose hope and faith on a near daily basis.

With every baby I have lost, I have had zero pregnancy “symptoms” – no morning sickness, nothing. But with my three tinies that we have earthside, I was sick as a dog and grateful for it. Perhaps the only women who rejoice over morning sickness are those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and early/mid pregnancy loss. Every bout of sickness, every day of exhaustion, every ache, it all testifies that someone is still there, still growing. It’s when your body goes quietly “back to normal” that you start to fear.

But with this pregnancy, I have not been sick. I have not been overly tired, nothing.

I go through my days and there isn’t a single indicator that I’m pregnant. And that has terrified me.

***

Finally I went to have the initial checks. And it only seemed to confirm my worst fears: there was no heartbeat.

I drove home from my doctor, numb. I pulled over on the side of the road to call people. I called Brian, I called my mum, I called my sister, I called my dad. And I called a couple of friend who I know are prayer warriors.

I wasn’t ready go give up. Not yet. I was still hopeful. For that day, anyway.

***

We went to our regular midwife a few days later. This was the one that was supposed to find out the truth once and for all.

Again, no heartbeat.

And I think that was the point when I gave up. Brian still continued to hope and pray, he agreed with our midwife that there could be any number of reasons why the heartbeat wasn’t showing up. I wasn’t there anymore.

Hope was too hard for me. 

My family and my friends decided that since I could not hope that they would hope for me, they would have faith for me.

We were scheduled for a final ultrasound check. I began to make my plans for how to handle this. As in times of great sorrow in my life, I went very deeply within myself. I stopped talking and completely withdrew. My family all knows this about me and they gave me the space I needed, my soul felt like it was in survival, shut down to just the basic functions.

How could we be here again? I felt like I could not bear this loss. We had done this so many times already – this was part of the reason why we decided to stop with our three. I felt like I should be grateful for the little ones we have in our home and that it was too much to expect more. And sure enough, here we were again. I began to make plans, figure out schedules for medical procedures.

My sister had bought the new baby a little white and grey sleeper in soft cotton the day after she heard our news. But on that day, I stood in my bedroom, looking at that hopeful little sleeper hanging in the closet, and I folded it up and put it away mechanically.

On the morning of the final ultrasound check, I went to the coffee shop and I wrote an entire blog post telling the world about how we had lost another baby and how the sorrow was swallowing me whole this time. I scheduled it to post the next morning. Then I drove to the doctor’s office to meet my husband.

***

I lay on the table, numb. And we explained why we were there and so thankfully no one was happy or excited, wounding us further with their blind hope.

Our tech quietly went about her business and the minutes passed, so slowly. Then in a tone of complete shock she said, “173 beats a minute.”

“What?” my entire body woke up. What? What? What? What?

“173 beats a minute!” she crowed. “There’s one little baby here and … it’s alive!”

Brian started to cry and I started to laugh, this is what we do when babies come to us. He broke all the rules and texted from the room: “173 beats a minute! We are having a baby!” over and over and over again. Little arms and legs were moving, a heart was beating, life!

I called my friends and they almost couldn’t believe it. Sometimes we get so used to our prayers feeling unanswered that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the miracle happens. This baby has a lot of people longing for his or her life now.

Later that night, I went to my blog dashboard and sat looking at that post I had written just a few hours ago. My great act of faith was to not only unschedule it, to not only put it back into Drafts, but to entirely and irrevocably delete it.

***

I still don’t know if that was a miracle or not. It feels like one. It’s entirely possible that the doctor and the midwife simply didn’t get the heartbeat for whatever reason. But all I know is that there was no heartbeat and then there was – 173 beats a minute of a little heart still hanging in there.

There was nothing there and now there is precious life.

***

“This one might be your desire-of-the-heart baby,” Brian told me one day this summer.

He said that because, even though I made my peace with The Ache, even though I was in complete agreement that we were done with our three, even though I was ready for this new season of life without any babies in my arms, there was still that part of me that longed for one more. Perhaps it was the desire of my heart broke through all the expectations and plans somehow.

I don’t know why Tiny #4 came to being – even that part feels like a miracle, to be honest. But I know that Tiny #4 was so longed for, deep in my heart far from articulation.

***

I’d be lying if I said that was the end of my fear, that since then I have walked in total assurance. It has still felt like a roller coaster all summer. I go through days when I feel sure we’re destined for sorrow still.  Even now, I don’t “feel” pregnant which makes it hard to keep the fear at bay.

It is still my daily battle: faith over fear, hope over despair, over and over and over again.

(I certainly look pregnant though – hello, fourth baby, my abdomen muscles have given up any pretence.)

I had another appointment just last week with our midwife and again, trouble finding the heartbeat. Finally on the third check – 160 beats a minute, so faint but unmistakably there. Still there.

Now we have crossed 14 weeks and I have decided to be hopeful anyway. Every day that passes feels like a victory somehow.

I bought a baby name book this week.

 

 

photos by michelle cervo

Continue Reading · baby, family · 139

Surprise!

Remember how I mentioned that there were a few reasons why I needed to take the summer off from blogging? Well…..I’m just going to go ahead and leave these family pictures here and then walk away whistling with a grin, okay?

Anne

JosephEvelynn

FiveFamilyPlusOne

(I have a story to tell you, believe me. This is might just be our miracle baby.)

photos by michelle cervo

Continue Reading · baby, family · 126