This evening after work, Pete and I were tidying up the house. There were some random boxes that had been sitting at the top of the steps for awhile now and we finally decided to get to it today. How is it that the attic feels like miles away? It seems like so much work to pull down the attic ladder and lug boxes up there. That’s funny to me.
Anyways, I ventured up the narrow pull-down stairs and Peter carefully handed me all the bins. I had gone up there totally without thinking of the piles of baby things that were in black bags up there. It really hadn’t crossed my mind until I got my bearings up there and out of my peripheral vision, I spotted the sea of bags. The sight of them knocked the wind out of me. Honestly, it was like I couldn’t breathe. And I was surprised by how this all affected me. It caught me off guard and I didn’t feel ready for yet another wave of sadness.
When we packed up Charlotte’s nursery over a month ago now, Peter and I placed all the organized bags of baby things in the back of the attic. The bags are back a ways, tucked back if you will. Each bag is labeled and all the items are categorized but at the end of the day, it’s still a pile of trash bags. I hate it. It feels like such a waste to me. But Peter reminds me that those pretty things will go to lots of good use one day and I know he’s right. I just hate it right now.
I contemplated if I’d go over to the grouping of bags or not. It felt a little more safe to look at it all from afar but given I was already up in our attic, I thought I might as well fully embrace it. I went back and forth in my mind. Finally, I chose to walk over there. I shimmied myself over the ductwork and found myself stuck in the middle of all the baby things we had thought would be somewhere very different right now.
I started to sob. The tears wouldn’t stop. And then I found myself on my knees. I brushed my hand over the plastic bags, trying to feel what was inside each. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to be reminded that this loss was real. Life is going on but the loss of our daughter, Charlotte, is as real as ever – it’s not going anywhere.
When I was on the ground on my knees in my attic, I kept thinking how we had so much stuff yet didn’t have her. The lacking is so painful. It hurts. My arms feel so EMPTY. I feel burdened with this emptiness. While up there, I muttered in my tears, “This is so wrong!” I prayed to Jesus for His comfort. I told Him how much pain I was feeling. And He reminded me that He allows me to feel and it’s okay. He was with me.
I then moped down the attic stairs and told Peter how desperately sad I was. He held me. And lovingly listened. I then read Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert & Chuck Deklyen. A sweet friend had recently mailed me this book. I had read this book before; however, I never read it through my bereaved perspective. It’s such a reassuring read. I cried as I read about crying. It was kind of comical. But not, too. Grief is like that – such a mixed bag. As I read the book, these little confetti hearts fell out of the pages. This friend of mine had placed little paper heart cut-outs. It was so touching and thoughtful to me.
Like my friend, Megan, had told me when we met up for the first time after Charlotte died, Jesus loves me! I was telling Megan how much I love Charlotte and saying how much I know God loves Charlotte too and then she said, “And God loves you!” That really struck me. God loves me? Really? Yes – REALLY!
Sometimes, the fact that Jesus loves me sounds so rudimentary. It’s like I get use to it. But the glorious truth that God loves me and loves you is the most powerful statement out there! Jesus, keep washing that truth over me. Thank You that You love me, that You love Peter, that You love Charlotte – that You love the world. Those little hearts kept reminding me how much Jesus loves me and is for me. There’s nothing like it.
During my time off from work, I started taking Annie to a park near our place. It’s this huge, open chunk of the forest by a gorgeous reservoir in the middle of suburbia. I love it there. It’s become one of my happy places.
One of my favorite parts of going there is letting Annie off leash. Our backyard is great but it’s not like she can just run and run there. At the park, she weaves through the trees and travels deep into the woods but I can always hear the jingle of her collar. She gets to gallivant through the twists and turns of the woods, chasing squirrels and exploring the terrain. I love that for her. It’s like what dogs were made to do. Run free! There’s just something about watching her through the camouflaging of the greenery with the sun peeking through the shade of leaves that makes me glad. I think it’s because I feel like she is doing what she was made to do (in addition to love on us, of course, which she also does so well).
For us humans, I feel like worshipping God is what we were made for. Countless times in the Bible, God exhorts His people to praise Him, to bring Him glory. Sometimes, when walking through the woods, these church bells start to play. It’s the craziest thing. I don’t know where they come from, but the hymns travel over the water and resound through the trees. It’s happened twice now and each time, I stop and just lift my hands. It’s me and the Lord in His awesome creation and He plays me a song. He’s so big, so loving.
But, I don’t mean only worshipping God through song but also through our everyday living. I remember at the end of Charlotte’s memorial, I was talking to someone very dear to me and to Charlotte. She told me she grew up in the Presbyterian Church, as did I. She reminded me of the Westminister Shorter Catechism; this states that the chief end of man is to glory God and enjoy Him forever. Now, that’s worship. Then, she continued in saying that Charlotte did this! She brought and keeps bringing God glory. That comforts me.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness. Psalm 96:11-13
When I walk the trails with Annie, sometimes I think, sometimes I don’t. Other times, I’ll pray, and sometimes, I won’t. Sometimes my mind wonders, other times, it doesn’t. This one morning, it did. I was thinking about what it’s like to grieve my daughter, really grieve her. The journey feels daunting. Life feels long. I started thinking about how when I first started walking these unknown trails with Annie, the trek seemed quite long. Not knowing the path ahead made the time feel longer, almost drag. I was a bit nervous even of getting lost. But, as I kept coming to the park and I kept walking the trails, getting more familiar with them, the time went by much faster. I identified landmarks along the way that helped me feel more comfortable. Occasionally, when I would venture into new offshoots of the trail, I’d get uneasy. But then, I’d keep going and what was unknown eventually became known.
I think grief is a little bit like this. Analogies help me make some sense of this whole process. Grief is such a journey and has its own seasons. Seasons are inevitable. You know each of the four seasons is going to eventually come, right? However, you don’t know the intensity or necessarily the duration of each season. Similarly, grief is predictably unpredictable. I know I’m going to have times of being sad, other times of being angry, sometimes confused, fearful, and sometimes, fine -and all in one day. But I also know that as I keep bringing every season into the strong and reassuring arms of Jesus, the grief doesn’t go away but it becomes redeemed. Jesus speaks His life to me and reminds me that Charlotte is safe, and more alive and well than I’ll ever be before encountering my Savior.
I was thinking about all of this while crunching over the leaves in the park another afternoon with Annie. As the leaves were starting to change and I was watching them fall to the ground, I thought, too, how seasons are not only inevitable, they are also sensory and visual. Those yellow and brown leaves weren’t there a few days before. I now was having to bundle up a bit more for the walk. When winter comes along, I’ll see the snow and feel the tip of my nose get all chilly and red. When the anniversary of her death comes, and it will, Peter and I will feel a whole new set of emotions, I’m sure. When other kids come, and I trust they will, we’ll miss Charlotte in a different way. Holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the list in my head goes on and on…
Not to get ahead of myself too much here, but I am realizing how change is not an option on this side of heaven. But, I pray that by walking through the trails and trials of the loss of our little girl, we will be changed to look more like Jesus. Walking is intentional, one foot in front of the other, literally one step and one day at a time. Those sayings seemed more cliche to me until now. Oddly enough, I was watching TV one morning before I went back to work and this car commercial came on and said something like, “What good is change if it doesn’t make you better.” I was like, wow, that’s so true. Jesus, keep changing and making me and Peter more like You.
Not only in grief, but through every season of life, I’m continuing to see how much we need buddies to walk the paths with. As silly as it may seem, I like that my sweet pup walks with me. I also like when my husband joins me for a walk or run through the park. I’m seeing too that there are times I have to walk through grieving alone, wrestling it out with just me and God, leaning on Him, trusting Him. And that’s the thing, He’s always there with me. Jesus always walks beside His kids. Thank you, Jesus, for never leaving my side. You are always good, always faithful, always there.
When people ask me how I’m doing, the only word I can seem to find is: “Okay.” It’s not that what happened to our daughter is okay. It is wrong. It’s not like our life will ever be the same. And how could it be? I don’t ever want to be the same after losing a part of myself. But, Peter and I really are doing okay. The Lord has never left our side.
A week after Charlotte died, I remember this specific conversation Peter and I had. Peter had taken that week off. Like I said in a previous blog, it was a sacred week for the two of us. We slept in, cried, ran errands, did house projects, prayed. While talking, he said, “This past week has been the hardest week of my life.” I thought that was the end of his sentence but he proceeded with the smile of a father, concluding, “But it’s also been the proudest week of my life.”
Dichotomy has been a word I keep thinking about. Peter was pained yet proud. There are moments of extreme grief mixed with confident hope. One minute I am crying and the next, singing. It’s funny like that. My mom and I were talking about this sentiment and I said, “Grief is weird.” It really is. I don’t mean that insensitively. I simply mean grief is unpredictable and raw. It is one day at a time, a lifelong journey I am sure. Like Megan said to my mother-in-law at Charlotte’s memorial, “This will be a journey for them.” It is and that’s comforting and heart-wrenching all at once.
Because of the living power of Jesus, I am far from hopeless! I am a broken, wrecked woman. But He is my great reward. As Paul explains, God brings beauty from ashes:
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” ( 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NLT ).
Peter and I have such assurance in Jesus. We know now more then ever that we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know Jesus holds it all.
As my Poppa Knabe said to me and Peter on the phone the morning of Charlotte’s memorial, “The sun will come up again. You know where she is and she is safe. We have hope, faith, & trust. But it’s just hard to do.”
Today was my six-week follow up appointment with Dr. Denney. I pushed myself to walk through those hospital doors. Frankly, it sucked. But there is something about doing hard things throughout this experience. A loving lady at our small group, after hearing our news, kindly said, “We have this saying in our house: We can do hard.” As believers in the One who conquered the grave, we can do hard! There is an odd, rewarding aspect of checking off a challenging task.
Pete and I have talked about this, especially as it related to when we went into the funeral home after having Charlotte’s earthly body cremated. The pain was wrenching. I can’t even put it into words. But there was something healing about going through that experience together. In faith, when I choose to fully walk through my grief, though I did not choose this path, there is healing.
At today’s appointment, Dr. Denney was therapeutic for me. She told me that at this point, it is unlikely that we will ever know how/why Charlotte died, at least medically. Everything was coming back negative. The placenta pathology didn’t show anything, there was no known issue with the cord and the preliminary report of sweet Charlotte’s autopsy was answerless. Dr. Denney expressed how she longed to give me some sort of answer but that she will walk this journey with me. Despite the agony of the unknown, there is peace from people simply being with us through this.
For me, the most comforting people to talk to are those who don’t try and say something neat and tidy but rather just be with me and welcome any emotion I bring to the table. When I hear, “I am just so sorry. There are no words. I am here,” I feel loved. And that’s what my doctor did for me today. She was Jesus for me today.
Though my time with Dr. Denney went well, I was obviously devastated. Unintentionally, some people at the hospital had said things like, “How’s your baby?” Not to mention, just being back at the hospital was hard for me. So, I left there in tears. Talking about Charlotte medically and in the place I delivered her, stirs me up. By the time I reached the parking lot attendant, my eyes must have been beet red because she said to me, “Honey, you look sad. What’s wrong?” I couldn’t get anything out except, “I’m just sad.” And then this complete stranger said with assurance, “Just pray.” Her courage and vulnerability to recognize my tears and not simply take my money and open the gate in monotony struck me. God uses all things to minister to His children.
I called Peter and he came home from work early to be with me. I loved that. For the first time since Charlotte passed away, I felt the urge to go through all of the things we had collected since leaving the hospital (her blankets, ultrasounds, footprints, handprints, pictures of her after she was born, countless cards …). Out of love, Peter kindly said, “You sure you want to do that now, Han?” I replied, “Yep, I’m sure.” So, I carefully took each piece out and laid them all out on our bed. I cried holding the blanket they wrapped her in. I re-read some cards and God comforted me in new ways.
The blanket Charlotte was wrapped in. Soft & lovely.
One card that fell through to my attention was in a blank envelope. Curious, I opened it and it was from Megan. Megan is married to one of Peter’s co-workers. They lost their daughter, Emily, in a very similar way to how we lost our Charlotte. God gave me Megan. She and her husband came to Charlotte’s memorial and she has sent me such sweet texts and grabbed coffee with me. She’s just been with me. It’s like Peter and I are now apart of this super sucky club that we never imagined being a part of. But in all of it, He keeps showing us that we are known and that He is with us always.
I read Megan’s card again. In it, she shared that after Emily died, a dear friend told her and her husband “that she knows no words can take away our tears and she wouldn’t want to because our tears are our outward expression of our extreme love for our daughter.” In my tears today, Jesus knew I needed to read Megan’s letter. He also knew I needed to read about this revelation of Hope:
Revelation 21:3-5 NIV And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Today was the day the doctors told me my Charlotte was “suppose” to be born. But that didn’t happen. This day was meant to be different. Instead, today is the 23rd day after I delivered my sweet Charlotte, who had already been born into heaven, immediately into the presence of God. So, today, Pete worked from home, I rearranged a bookshelf, made lunch, ran errands, cleaned up the house, read sympathy cards, received a bouquet of flowers from kind co-workers, and cried…a lot. These co-workers from my previous job knew the situation but were unaware that the 15th was Charlotte’s due date. No detail is too insignificant for my God. He sent me flowers that day.
Sometimes I wrestle with the “what ifs” and “would have beens.” I don’t think it’s healthy to go there too much but I know it can be apart of the grieving process. Charlotte never got to nurse from me, she never got to hear me read her books, she never got that. But really, I am the one who misses out. She gets to be fed by glorious Jesus; He holds her, speaks life to her and somehow, I just have to believe that He raises her. I don’t know for sure what age or maturity my daughter will be when I get to hold her and part of me cares but part of me doesn’t. I just want to hold her. I just want to hold her. I just want to hold her. Jesus, hold her for me until I get there, okay? Please. I trust You already are.
Tonight, we also went to a Bible study potluck with a friend of ours. We only knew him. During the prayer requests, I struggled to know if I should speak up. Pete nudged me and told me if I wanted to say something, I could. So, I did. And it felt kind of awkward to be the “trump card” prayer request. I’m not used to that and I wasn’t sure what to make of all of it. But, I shared that we recently lost our child and that we needed prayer. They were all in shock and so kind.
One of the group members asked if we had any “immediate needs,” such as financial costs, food and so on. I explained that our freezer was full and that God fully met our financial needs. All I could think of was for prayer. Prayer is our immediate need. And I just keep thinking about that – immediate need. Prayer should always be my immediate need. Whether we are venturing through the crushing loss of our daughter or trudging through the ordinary and mundane days –prayer is my immediate need even if I don’t recognize that.
And really, what is prayer. Well, it’s praise, supplication, thanks, stillness, listening, confession, repenting…and all of that boils down to being WITH GOD. I can be really bad at prayer. Through losing my firstborn child, I have realized this more fully. But really, in my weakness, I have seen God be strong. My prayers are weeps, mutterings, fits of yelling, thanks, and I just have this deep sense that the Holy Spirit is making supplications on our behalf. I just know it. Romans 8:26-28 NLT has never ringed so true for me: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” With that, I will rest.
The week after Charlotte’s death, our home was filled with our closest family members. It was comforting to me that we weren’t alone. Yet, I longed for us to all be gathering for a fun holiday or vacation or something. Something else, just anything else but this. I wanted to close my eyes, shake my head and snap out of the nightmare. But the new reality wasn’t going anywhere and it still isn’t.
Having both of our families under the same roof for a prolonged period of time was a first for us, let alone under these circumstances. I really wasn’t anxious about it, though. It went so beautifully. God knit us all together and I think it all really glorified Him. Everyone weathered that stormy week so well. Everyone just did it. It wasn’t by our own strength; it was of His. God used each person’s giftings to minister to Pete and me in incredible ways. With vulnerability, some explained that they didn’t know what to say/not say, or what to do/not do. But by being WITH us, they were and did just what Pete and I needed. I can’t quite adequately express my gratitude.
I learned that though it felt uncomfortable at first, it was good for me to provide jobs for our family members to do. That may sound odd but we could only talk and cry so much. There’s this human phenomenon to it; it’s like we all want to do something to make it all better but no one can. Instead, God provides us comfort through doing accomplishable assignments. Peter and I found that there was something healing about having tasks to do and it was no different for our family members.
My dad has always been a “fixer.” I knew he ached to fix the pain and loss we were experiencing. But he couldn’t. But he was so present. He asked me if there was anything tangible he could do for us. Knowing my dad was always a great painter, I hesitantly asked him if he wanted to paint our master bathroom. His face lit up. Mind you, this was after my parents came up just that weekend before to help us paint our bedroom before the baby arrived. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep helping us. He did an amazing job and blessed us beyond words.
Our master bath my dad painted
Our updated vanity. I love our bathroom, now!
My mom spent time with me and took me shopping for some new outfits. We also shopped for bedding for the nursery that Peter and I were planning to eventually convert into another guest bedroom. We strolled through Marshalls and SteinMart. We didn’t always say much but we were just together. She listened. She was present. That was the best gift of all.
I remember this certain song came on while we were shopping. It was Rise Up by Andra Day. I really like the lyrics. Here are some of them: “And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up. … In spite of the ache. I will rise a thousand times again.” (Rise Up by Andra Day) I realize this isn’t a Christian song. But I think of how with Jesus and because of Jesus, I am an overcomer. It’s not because I am so strong but because He is. A verse many people have referenced shares this sentiment that, “…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV
Music has a way of triggering my emotions. After hearing the song while shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks, trying to catch my breath, and then broke down in tears. My mom held me. She told me how deeply sorry she was. I needed that. I needed her.
I asked my mother-in-law and Holly to take care of the decorations for Charlotte’s memorial. I gave them my vision that I wanted all white accents with soft lighting from candles and sweet, little bouquets throughout our home. I knew they’d get it. Boy, did they ever. They nailed it. The memorial looked even better than I’d hoped. They even weeded in the front of the house (something I hadn’t done being pregnant in 90 degree, Virginia weather) spread some mulch there and put a hanging basket of white and pink flowers in the front garden bed. Our home looked warm and inviting for our kind guests that’d be arriving soon for Charlotte’s memorial.
Over dinner one evening, I asked Danny if he would be willing to lead worship at Charlotte’s memorial. Danny has this incredible voice and plays the guitar like it’s second nature to him. Peter and I thought it’d be so meaningful if he’d play. Danny accepted the invitation with great humility and honor.
During the hospitalization, I had the song, “It is well” stuck in my head. I grew up singing that song in church and it kept playing as if on repeat in my mind. God did that, I know. Peter told me that he had the song, “How He Loves” playing over and over in his head when we were at the hospital. Thus, we thought it made sense to have those two songs at her memorial. We also wanted to affirm our trust in Jesus, so we added, “Great is Thy faithfulness” to the list, too.
I remember one day, I want to say it was that Thursday before her memorial but I may be getting my days mixed up, but I hadn’t seen Danny for awhile. He and Holly were almost always at our place that week. Holly told me that he was back home in Williamsburg practicing for the memorial. He practiced for like eight hours! I was so honored and humbled by that. Holly practiced a lot with him too, I later found out. She even sang with Danny at the memorial. I’d never heard her sing before but Danny told me she had a good voice. He was right. Wow. Later hearing the two of them together at her memorial was amazing.
My father-in-law drove three hours to pick up Lizzie at college. She had just started her first week of classes at Iowa State when this all happened. He, Lizzie and Caleb then turned around and drove another seventeen hours to Richmond, all in one go. They arrived at our place first thing the Friday of Charlotte’s memorial, August 26th. Their selflessness and devotion to family were amazing. Again, just having then WITH us was so comforting.
After taking a little nap, Caleb mowed our lawn in the sweltering heat. Josh blew the leaves, cleaned off the deck, and made Peter food (Peter isn’t the best at remembering to eat). They were all so thoughtful.
Funny enough, Peter and I bought a new bed for the guest bedroom that week. Crazy, for sure. He really wanted to have a bed for his parents to sleep on instead of an air mattress. And we were working to convert the nursery into another guest bedroom, so we figured, why not. The bed arrived the morning of Charlotte’s memorial and all the guys helped out with that.
My father-in-law also helped troubleshoot our fridge that conveniently stopped making ice. My dad helped Peter build shelves in the garage. Everyone was so great. And our house never looked better. On the other hand, it had never looked worse to me.
My cousin, Todd, flew in from Colorado to be at the memorial. He arrived Friday afternoon. Pete and I were blown way. Todd has always been a special influence in my life. We’ve always been close, even though we don’t live close to one another. It was just so unbelievably kind for him to fly so far on such short notice to be with us. Words really don’t do this justice.
Mike and Morgan came back down to Richmond after just being with us when I delivered Charlotte three days earlier. It was amazing of them. Mike and Todd helped string these cute, bistro lights on our back porch that I had wanted to be done for awhile now. They did this all in the oppressive, Virginia humidity. Gosh, it was so hot.
My Aunt Missy came down from Ohio and was so loving. She brought all these delicious pastries and cared for me and Pete so well. She and my mom, Morgan, my mother-in-law, Lizzie and Holly did such a great job getting our place reading for Charlotte’s memorial. Everyone did. Morgan gave me this sweet plaque in honor of Charlotte that I hung up before our guests arrived. I loved that. I know there are countless labors of love our family did for us that I am sure I am forgetting and countless more than I’ll never know about. There just really is nothing like family. Thank you, Jesus, for family.
My next nurse, Stephania, then took us back to the delivery room, where we would spend the rest of our time. She was so kind and soothing to me. She got me all situated, started my IV beautifully and prayed with me and Peter on my hospital bed. I honestly don’t remember what led to that prayer, but it happened so naturally. I also don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was good and was a reassuring start to know that a believer would be with us until 7 pm that night, until change of shift. They started to induce me with Pitocin around 3 pm that day. Due to this horrific situation, I was immediately transitioned from the care of my midwives to the physicians. Yet, my kind midwifes checked on me throughout the entire hospital stay and kept me informed and comforted. One of my midwives told me that at the very best, from the start of induction to delivery, would be at least 12 hours but to brace for 24 hours. I was preparing for the worst, even though “worst” seemed irrelevant given the news we received hours earlier.
Our daytime doctor checked me and said that amazingly, at 36 weeks and 4 days, I was already 3 cm dilated and 70% effaced.Because I was already dilated, they could skip the initial induction drug and go straight to Pitocin. Stephania, standing by my side, looked at me and said, “See, God is looking out for you. This may go quicker than we thought.” She was right. God was looking out for us.
I felt God with me. He was with us.
By this time, some of our siblings were also with us. Josh, Peter’s brother, had arrived first, and I was so glad he was there, especially for Peter. Holly was in DC at the time we had called her with the news of Charlotte, visiting a dear friend. We later found out that she literally ran a mile from the capitol to her car and drove back to Richmond in record time to be with us. Danny, Holly’s husband, came so quickly from Williamsburg, which was such a blessing. They all brought us food (Chick fil a of course), went to our place to feed our dog, Annie, and to get us some clothes and toiletries. Then, they all just stayed in the hospital room with us. What courage for each of them to linger in that room, in that darkest of moments. That’s family.
My parents were already on their way from Pittsburgh on the six hour drive. I also found out later that some of my mom’s friends were with her when we broke the news to her. Her friend’s helped her pack a bag before jumping in the car to drive to Richmond to be with us. I was so glad to know she wasn’t alone after hearing the news. My mother-in-law was at work when we tried calling her. When we talked to Peter’s dad, the first who heard the news and prayed with us on the phone, he told us Pete’s mom was at work. Pete looked at the find my friends app a little later and saw that his dad went right away to pick up his mom. She then caught a flight from Iowa to Virginia and would get in around 10 am that next morning. Caleb, Peter’s youngest brother, was starting school the next day and thus, neither Caleb nor Peter’s dad were able to come right away. I really felt for them and missed them. But gosh, how they were with us in spirit. I remember sitting in the hospital room when Peter’s phone rang. It was Caleb. Caleb is 16. Peter answered the phone, “Hey Cabe.” “Hey Pete,” he said. Then there was a pause. “I love you.” That was all Caleb could get out. “I love you too, Caleb. Thanks for calling,” Peter said, struggling to get out the words. It was this raw, sincere moment that spoke volumes of Caleb’s heart and maturity.
Pete and I sent out texts to our closest friends, informing them of the news and asking them to pray for us. My really good friend, Abby, who lives in town, came right to the hospital after receiving the news. Abby had texted me and Peter if she could come and be with us but I didn’t see the text until later nor did I respond. Yet, she still came. I loved that she came without me having to answer or ask.
Me and Abby (with Annie, too!)
Meeting Nora Jane!
Abby’s one of those types of friends that come by once in a special while. Her husband, Steve, came home from work to watch their daughter, Nora, so Abby could come be with us. When they had Nora about a year earlier, I remember I was at work that day and knew Abby was in labor. I had this funny feeling that she had had the baby so on my lunch break, without asking her or Steve, I walked right on up to the labor and delivery unit (the same one I was currently on) and saw beautiful Nora, who had just been born. We still laugh about how I barged in that day. I loved that despite the difference in circumstances, Abby barged right in on our grief. It takes a special friend to enter into your darkest moments. I remember she crawled into the hospital bed with me and sobbed by my side. As Peter explained, it was good for me to have a friend there like that for me to let loose on. Abby told me how sorry she was and how she wished she could take it all away. And she just stayed around. Her presence was so comforting.
What felt like soon after, my parents arrived from Pittsburgh. Instead of coming to the hospital to meet their alive and active granddaughter, they were coming to console and support me in Peter as we delivered our lifeless little girl. I can’t imagine what their drive must have been like. Having my parents there to witness it all pained me as I wished it was just so different, like I know everyone was feeling. But it was also overwhelmingly uniting to have them present with us as they shared in our devastation.
Then, we all just waited. My contractions were noticeable but nothing worse than bad menstrual cramps. I was able to walk around (mostly to the bathroom), talk (though I didn’t have much to say) and eat (though I had zero appetite but forced myself to eat and drink). The feeling in the hospital room was odd. The room was full of family, love and support yet also full of anguish, earthly death and confusion. But through it all, I knew our Savior was undoubtedly present. He was the most present of all. Gosh, if I could only explain better with words how gracious the Holy Spirit was to us in the hospital, if I could only put this on paper. Just like in prayer when we had nothing to utter except our groans of agony, I know He was interceding for us. Our words don’t cut it but He gets it.
Time ticked along, faster at times and slower at others. Then, Dr. Layson Denney came in. She had taken over for our daytime doctor, both who were incredible and handpicked, I know, for our Charlotte and for us. She listened and talked with us. She thought to speed things along, it was time to break my water. We agreed.
So around 10:45 pm, we did so. That experience was less than pleasant. I’ll spare you the details. Peter comforted me through every intervention and was beyond strong. He was my biggest fan, a tower of strength for me. I remember hearing his mom through the phone when he was first sharing the news with her earlier that day, saying, “Peter, be strong for Hannah.” And was he ever. Truthfully, of all of the pain I was experiencing, physically, emotionally, spiritually, the most excruciating was witnessing the brokenness of my husband. In these moments, God knit us together in ways that I don’t think any other experience could have. It’s not that I would ever in a zillion years wish this experience on us or anyone again, but it was humbling to experience how God wastes nothing, as my mom so wisely said. Our God wastes nothing. He can even use the death of a child.
What seemed like immediately after my water was broken, I began having strong contractions, very strong contractions. I had 10-12 excruciating contractions. We had been informed that my contractions would likely be even more intense due to the Pitocin I had onboard. Peter coached me through each one perfectly. He breathed with me, rocked with me and told me every step of the way that I was doing great and that yes, this would be okay. Though nothing was “okay” and losing our unborn child and it all was beyond messed up and just wrong, Peter and I really had this sense that “Yes, Lord, it is okay.” This was His grace alone, we know that in full.
Because my pain had been very manageable prior to them breaking my water, and because I wanted to be mobile as long as possible and free from a foley catheter, I did not yet have an epidural. Ever since my leg surgeries as a kid, my parents always told me I had a high tolerance for pain. But after those contractions started, I had wished my threshold for pain had been a lot lower so that I would have already had that epidural placed! In my head, after hearing the news that Charlotte’s physical life was extinguished, I made the mental shift that every hope and plan we had made for our birthing experience was out the window. I now wanted to be as medicated as possible so that I would not experience additional pain and suffering to the pain and suffering I was already enduring. One doctor had said to me, “Time is not an issue any more…” See, in a “normal” birth, time is of the essence when it comes to pushing and alleviating any fetal distress. But in our case, time too was out the window. We could decide when to push, how much pain medication. Essentially, all the doctors kept saying that Peter and I called the shots.
On one hand, this was slightly comforting but on the other, it felt so wrong and I felt guilty by it. I felt like I was hurting her and being an inconsiderate, selfish mother. Peter kept reminding me that her earthly body was simply a vessel, a shell, and that her whole self was dancing with Jesus. The little body inside of me was her, but only partly. While writing this, I thought of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (NIV) So much of this is a mystery to me. How could an all-loving God allow me to carry my daughter to 36 weeks and 4 days? How could this all be? Yet, though I question and though I doubt, I trust Jesus and I believe in the goodness of God. Truly I do not believe my God took life from Charlotte. My God is a God of LIFE, not death. We all face death, it’s just timing. Her time was sadly short, way too short. Jesus conquered death for everyone who believes in Him over 3,000 years ago on the rugged Cross. “It is finished!” Jesus said. Right? Like how Jesus said, “In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish” Matthew 18:14 NLT. Right, Lord? Right?
I know my God can take my venting. I know he SEES me in my pain and meets me there. Just like how He saw Hagar in the wilderness, who had fled from Sarai. After hearing from the Lord, Hagar declared, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16: 13b) Thank you God, that you look after me and thank You for looking after our baby girl, Charlotte. (Other verses God gave me on how HE SEES me in our anguish – Jeremiah 23:23-24, Psalm 139:7-10). I can’t even count the number of times I have read and memorized Psalm 139, for example for my eighth grade confirmation. However, verses 7-16 never struck me like they did when I read them after losing Charlotte. I have never been so aware that God chooses to seek me out in my darkest hours. Never have I been so honored to be the vessel that carried Charlotte Raye, where God formed her frame and that her life “will forever alter heaven and earth” as my husband beautifully said days following her delivery.
So, after battling through the 10-12 contractions, the anesthesiologist came to administer my epidural. The pain was severe and I knew full well that I needed to hold still, very very still. My nurse mind went to having a CSF leak if I jerked and the needle went in too deep or something, but my non-nurse mind certainly did not stay there. The physician was so calm and comforting. He treated me like any other woman in labor. I didn’t feel like a spectacle. God gave me this supernatural strength to be still. It was incredible. I just knew it was not of my own doing –it was all Him. And He used the anesthesiologist, my husband and my night nurse, Susanna, to help me.
When I first met Susanna a few hours earlier, my head was turned and I was talking to Peter or someone and I didn’t see her walk into our hospital room. I then heard her say, “You’re Hannah. I have heard so much about you.” I turned my head and saw a lovely, young nurse with braided hair, whom I had never met. She continued to explain that her friend, Hallel, from nursing school at VCU, whom I discipled a few years prior, had told her all about me. Again, God was showing me that I was known, and He deeply cared for every detail. Susanna would walk through the entire birthing experience with me and Peter. She was like an oasis of comfort for me, this reassuring symbol that no detail is too small for my God and that even though this was the worst case scenario of our lives, our God was there. His Spirit was alive in that room. And Charlotte was alive with Him.
After the epidural was placed, it took about 20 minutes for it to take full effect. I was now confined to the bed because my legs were numb, as was part of my lower abdomen. My right side was more numb feeling than my left side, but they told me that was normal and to position on my left side if need be to disperse the anesthetic, or something like that. That seemed funny to me. Soon after, Susanna put a foley catheter in. It was pretty amazing not feeling a thing for that. Having inserted quite a few foleys myself as a nurse, I was grateful to not feel a thing.
As time ticked on and Susanna titrated up my Pitocin by increments of 2, family trickled out so that I could “sleep.” Somewhere along the lines, I was told that it would be good for me to get some sleep. “Who sleeps during labor?” I thought. How could I rest? Again, this went against every thing I wanted for our labor. I ended up sleeping (I wouldn’t call it resting) for about 2 and a half hours but my husband did not. Instead, he later told me that he went to the lobby and journaled about the day so far. One entry was more objective; with a chronological order of events and his other entry was more subjective and expressive. The fact that my husband was journaling struck me and moved me to tears. He tried to read the entries to me but couldn’t get through them. I read them and just sobbed. How I love my husband.
Around 4 am on August 23rd, 2016, I woke up from that odd nap during labor and had a heavy, vaginal pressure feeling. Susanna told me this was normal. Soon after, sharp pains on the left side of my abdomen emerged. These contractions kept increasing in intensity. And to boot, I was imprisoned to the hospital bed. I was rocking side to side trying to distract myself but too abrupt of movements hurt even worse. Peter woke up and coached me through about 10-15 of these contractions until our kind anesthesiologist came and “topped me off” through the epidural.
Around 4:15 or 4:30 am, Dr. Denney came in to check me and told me that at any time, I could go ahead and push because the timing was up to us. That was just so strange but again, the Charlotte who was still inside of me was a shell, her soul was already reunited with our sweet and strong Jesus. I told Dr. Denney that Pete and I wanted about 15 minutes to call our families and to pray. Susanna set up the room for delivery quietly so that whenever we were ready, the room would be, too. We then called Pete’s parents, who were already awake and praying. We then called my parents, who said they would come right away to the hospital as they were at our house about 20 minutes away. Pete and I then prayed together. The prayers were more like inconsolable weeps to God, but we were comforted that He knew our need before we could even try to utter a word.
As soon as we said, “Amen,” I felt a type of pressure I had not yet felt and said to Peter, “She’s here.” Even saying that was odd, because she really wasn’t, her soul was not here, but her physical body was. I reached my hand down and felt her bottom. Then, I immediately hit the call bell. Dr. Denney and Susanna came right in. Dr. Denney checked me and I saw her eyes get bigger for a second, seemingly surprised by how delivered Charlotte already was, or at least that was my impression. I mean, she was frank breach. Dr. Denney then paged the important looking doctor to come assist with the delivery. She then proceeded to tell me I could push whenever I was ready. She intentionally kept the lights dimmed and spoke to me softly, kindly.
During every moment of the pushing, Peter was right there with me. He kept telling me what a good job I was doing and how proud he was of me. How could he be proud of me? I was delivering our lifeless daughter. But, he was proud and I could see how much he meant it. I just wished he would have been telling me, “Hannah, you can do it. You get to meet your daughter soon!” But instead, with tears streaming down his face, he told me to push and that it was almost over. This nightmare, or at least this part of it, was almost over. How I wish I was delivering a crying, healthy baby into my husband’s arms. How I wish I could take away his pain.
I’ll always remember her earthly delivery; the details are vivid. I was so appreciative of how Dr. Denney led the delivery. The moment was so devastating, so quiet without any cries from my baby girl, so surreal, yet so sacred, so peaceful. Jesus was right there the whole time. Jesus was so present, so WITH us during every second of this experience. Never in my life had I felt the presence of God like I did during the hardest day of my life. By the time the important looking doctor came into the room, Charlotte had already been delivered. I was relieved that it had only been Peter, Dr. Denney, Susanna, Charlotte, and me. The dichotomy of emotions that day and onward is hard to explain.
After four pushes in less than 10 minutes, Charlotte was delivered. At the moment she was born, I happened to look at Dr. Denney’s pager, which was hooked on her scrubs. Her pager was lit up with the time: 4:55 am. Peter then cut the cord. I could tell he was both pained and proud to do so. In “normal” births, you cut the cord to distinguish the baby’s life from the mother’s, to initiate independent living from the womb. But Charlotte’s cord had already been cut in a sense. She was already released into the freedom of Heaven. As a dear friend of ours had later said, “Charlotte wins.” She wins! She was spared from this world. When I later talked to my mother-in-law, she said she had been working through that word, stillborn. Stillborn but STILL BORN. Charlotte has still been born! And it was so neat because when I later spoke to my mom, she too had that same type of revelation, that though the word stillborn is the only verbiage we can muster up in the medical world, Charlotte was born into the presence of God; she was born into Heaven. How comforting! And for a short while longer until my earthly life is extinguished, I lose, Peter and I lose, our families and friends lose. We all miss out. But I have heard God tell me, “It’s not over yet! Remember, Hannah, I get the last word! I am the Judge. Very soon, because I have already been victorious through Jesus, you too will win! It’s not over yet!”
I was open to Charlotte coming right away to my chest depending on the state of her skin. Susanna informed us that depending on how long Charlotte had been in utero after being delivered into heaven, her skin might have deteriorated, which it had. Looking back, I am so grateful for the words of my friend, Anna, just 24 hours earlier. God used her to prompt me to act. I wonder a lot of things and know that not all of the wonderings are healthy. I know that the “what ifs” serve no good purpose, but rather, are a tactic of Satan. Nevertheless, I do wonder how much more of Charlotte’s skin could have been deteriorated if I had waited to be evaluated. We were able to see all of her sweet facial features and I forever hold the picture of her beautiful face in my mind. I’m thankful for that. How I love my stunning little girl.
Susanna wrapped Charlotte in blankets and then brought her to us. Peter kept saying how perfect she was and that she was the most beautiful little girl he had ever seen. I told Charlotte how much mommy loved her and how beautiful she was. I told her how sorry mommy was. I told her that Jesus was the One really holding her. I mean, I was holding her bodily shell, but she had already been delivered into the arms of the Good Father. He was holding her in the most beautiful nursery and she was wrapped in the loveliest blankets, drinking the most nourishing milk. She was free.
Looking back, God knew how perfect Charlotte’s name was for her, given that one meaning for Charlotte is free. It comforts me to know how intentional God was and is. It comforts me to know that my child is free from the sadness of this world. She is forever free in the presence of the Lord. Perfectly said, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). I’ve listened to quite a few songs that talk about how wherever the Spirit is, wherever our God is, there is freedom.(Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher, Freedom by Bethel , and Thank you Jesus, for sparing our daughter.
All of the hospital staff told us that we could keep Charlotte in the room with us for as much or as little time as we wished. I did not think I would want her to be in the room with us too long; I just thought it would be too painful. But in fact, I felt the opposite. And isn’t that how this grieving is? Unpredictable, dynamic, unexpected. I loved having her in the room with us. It comforted me. Holding her was harder for me though. There was just something about holding a dead baby that felt so wrong to me. And it wasn’t just any baby, it was our baby, our firstborn. I hated that she wasn’t breathing. I hated that after the entire 36 weeks and 4 days, we would walk out of the hospital empty handed. Part of me feels so selfish to say that but honestly, it just feels so wrong. I feel robbed. I can’t help but think of how Jesus identifies for us who the true thief is, the prince of this broken world, Satan. Like God’s Word states in John 10:10 (NET), “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” The word, life, has taken on such a fuller meaning for me now. I always knew this verse did not just mean life on earth but how much more I understand this now.