Due Date

Today was the big day. Or it should have been the big day.

Ryder’s official due date.

I have been anxious leading up to today. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. But it has actually been a pretty good day. Sam kept busy at work while I had a guitar lesson and ran errands. Tonight, we just spent time together cooking dinner and watching movies. Two ladies on a Facebook loss group lit candles in his memory today. It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture.

Ryder Hudson Marshall

Monday the 15th was Ryder’s two month “angelversary”. The day came and went with little to show for it. At the end of the day, I was feeling partially relieved and partially guilty that it had felt like any ordinary day.

The very next day, I found a pamphlet in my purse titled “Handling the Heartbreak When a Baby Dies.” I have no memory of receiving the pamphlet and I had just cleaned out my purse the week before, so surely I would remember someone giving it to me…. right? (If you are the person who gave this to me, let me know so I don’t feel so crazy. Ok? Thanks!) Anyways… The pamphlet contained an article written by Jane Marie Lamb, the founder of SHARE, a group for bereaved parents. Here is the opening quote, which she attributes to a SHARE parent:

“One day you feel together and the next couldn’t be worse. It comes and goes–the shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, emptiness, and aching arms. I crave privacy, yet I can’t tolerate being alone. I often feel angry that society doesn’t seem to accept any grieving that takes more than six weeks… The pain subsides, only to come flooding back again. At times, I even relish it–after all, it is part of my baby[…]”

I felt like I was reading all the things I’ve felt but haven’t had the words to say. Extreme emotions are what typically drive my writing–whether it be an extreme high or an extreme low–so when I’m having a rather “normal” day, it’s hard to find much worth writing about. If I’m not grieving with tears or rejoicing through laughter, I mostly just feel numb. And I don’t like that feeling… or lack of feeling, I guess.

One emotion running rampant in my head these days is apathy. It’s not intentional, but it’s there.

I’m sorry I didn’t sign up on your care calendar to bring a meal after you had your baby. I wanted to, but we were at home having meals brought to us.

I’m sorry for scrolling past your pictures on Facebook or Instagram of your baby’s monthly milestones. I really do want to celebrate with you, but it’s just too difficult to think about. They are milestones I’ll never get to celebrate with Ryder.

I’m sorry that I haven’t asked you how your son/daughter is liking the new sport/activity they are participating in or how summer camp went. I’m too busy wondering if I’ll ever get to spend a summer with children of my own.

I’m sorry I haven’t asked how you’re doing. My mind is running in a million directions and I forget to ask about your struggles sometimes. Just know that I do think of you. I wonder how you are and I say prayers for you each day.

I read quite often about friendships that are lost after the loss of a child. At first I couldn’t believe it. How could friends abandon you in your greatest time of need? But now I understand. I don’t think I’ve lost any “friends” on Facebook, but there are friends who have stopped interacting with me. I guess they’ve either gotten tired of reading my posts about loss or they just don’t know how to talk to me. Either way, it’s sad. I often feel very isolated–like I’m on the outside looking in. But I’ve come to learn who my true friends are and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.

In Sunday School this week, we were asked to watch for blessings in the everyday. Friendship is one of the blessings I’ve put on my list. I have a few very close friends and I cherish them deeply.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” – John 1:16

With hope and love,
Kristen

Ryder’s Daddy

I want to introduce you to my husband.

{Isn't he handsome???} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

{Isn’t he handsome???}
Photo by Erica Mae Photography

His name is Samuel and I love him dearly. He is my complete opposite in every way. He is funny, he is loud, he is outgoing, he is athletic, he has musical talent, he loves being surrounded by big groups of people, and he seems to be completely fearless.

My handsome 2

We met in 2009 when I came back home to Tyler after college graduation. A new student ministry was getting started and I was asked to lend a hand to help get it off the ground. Our first event was a city-wide scavenger hunt. (You know, one of those where you’re given little assignments and you have to snap a picture as proof.) Well, there was this guy. And he was cute, he was nice, and he was just so silly!

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{“Get your wackiest team member to do something crazy with a celebrity.” His interpretation: propose to a news reporter. Because of course!}

The moment this picture was snapped, I knew I’d marry him one day! He claims it took him a little longer to realize it because he thought I was too old for him and figured I wouldn’t give him the time of day. Boy, was he wrong!

A few days ago, my devotional talked about transformations, and the reflection question instructed me to think about a transformation that I have witnessed. My mind immediately went to Sam.

Watching him transform into a daddy over the six months of my pregnancy was fascinating. He has always loved me well, but adding a baby into the mix created subtle changes in him.

He insisted that he attend each and every doctor’s appointment. At first I felt bad that he would need to take off work to go with me, but I am so very glad he insisted!

He was there to celebrate with me when my pregnancy was confirmed. He was there when we heard the heartbeat for the first time. He was there when the sonogram showed our boy’s sweet face. He was there to hold my hand when we first found out about the CHD diagnosis. And he was there to cry with me when we were told that Ryder wouldn’t make it.

After the diagnosis, he persistently asked questions to better understand all of our options and plans. And he insisted that we seek a second opinion when my hope started to fade.

In the weeks leading up to Ryder’s birth, he talked to him, read to him, and prayed over him. On the day Ryder was born, he held him, kissed him, and cried for him. He was a wonderful coach through all 28 exhausting hours of labor.

I have heard and read many stories of men having a difficult time bonding with their babies before they are born. After a stillbirth, many men have no way of connecting emotionally. Sam didn’t seem to have any trouble bonding with Ryder. I’m sure it helped that we talked about him every day, we felt his kicks and movements as Sam spoke to him in my belly, and we saw his face almost weekly through our numerous appointments. We knew him well.

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

Father’s Day was tough. It was almost harder for me than Mother’s Day. Not only was I dealing with a myriad of emotions, but I watched Sam ride an emotional rollercoaster of his own. He wasn’t just mourning the loss of Ryder–he was grieving the loss of so many possibilities. The games of catch they won’t get to play, the fish they won’t get to catch, the driving lessons he won’t get to teach. So many hopes and dreams that seem to have vanished.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own grief that I wonder if I’m failing him. Was I a good wife today? Did I love him well today? Was I attentive to his needs today? What more could I have done to help him today?

He is so patient with me. And so forgiving. He has been my rock and he has kept me sane. I couldn’t imagine doing life with anyone else.

With hope and love,
Kristen

The Dreaded Returns

Last night, I finally felt like I was ready to return Ryder’s stroller and some clothes to the store. The idea of returning them really wasn’t the hard part. (Having them out of my eyesight is, honestly, what I needed.) The hardest part was just walking into the store — being in the very place where Sam and I had excitedly made the perfect registry, seeing other mommas toting their bright-eyed babies from one aisle to the next.

It was a big step. I was so proud of myself. My sweet mom came with me since she had been the one to purchase them in the first place. I knew better than try to do it alone. Sam had offered to do it, but I was determined I could handle it. (Yeah, I’m stubborn like that.)

When they asked why I was returning it, I simply said I didn’t need it and they were satisfied with that answer. I thought, “Well, that was easy!” and let out a sigh of relief.

But then they realized the clothes were past their return date since they weren’t a part of the registry. They told us we could still return them as a “no receipt” option, but I know that’s not worth it since you only get the lowest price of sale. My mom asked me what I wanted to do. I broke down. I started crying and all I could get out was “I don’t know but I don’t want to keep them.

The cashiers immediately understood that something was wrong. All I had to say was “I don’t have a baby” and it clicked. They started apologizing profusely, saying they could easily override it and get us our money back. They were apologizing and I was apologizing right back because I felt terrible for making them feel bad that they made me cry. And, of course, my mom was in tears, too.

They could only give me store credit, which really doesn’t do me any good, but…. I quickly realized that I needed to buy a gift for a soon-to-be-three-year-old little princess’ birthday. Perfect!

So it all worked out. Maybe not as smoothly as I had hoped. But it worked out. And I feel better now that it’s done. Whew!

* * *

If you haven’t been through a similar situation, you may think a task as simple as returning things to a store shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is. It is a very big deal. It’s an event that I never once thought about, even after learning that Ryder wouldn’t make it. I was so stuck in the moment that I wasn’t prepared for the future, even the near future.

There has been a constant battle in my head since I came home from the hospital empty-handed. Part of me says, “Get everything baby-related out of the house. I can’t possibly look at it for one more second.” But the other part says, “No! Keep everything! I NEED it! ALL of it!” My brain doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of compromise right now.

When I posted a snippet of this story on a baby-loss group on Facebook, I was told by a couple of mommas that I was very brave. I think I am much more stubborn than brave. As a matter of fact, I consider myself to be quite cowardly. I would most definitely play the part of the Cowardly Lion if I were traipsing through Oz. But, like I’ve said before, life will go on with or without me. So I might as well put on my mask of bravery and fake it till I make it.

{Joshua 1:9}

{Joshua 1:9}

With hope and love,
Kristen

[Side Note:  I’ve heard from many sources that Target is a nightmare when dealing with registry returns. Apparently they don’t extend many mercies in this particular situation either. I haven’t had personal experience with this, though. We had set up a registry there, but hadn’t yet had a baby shower. I just want other loss mommas to be aware and prepared. Never be afraid to contact management or the corporate office if you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly by a place of business.]

Forgiving God When He Disappoints

image

As I was driving around town today, Matthew West’s Forgiveness was playing on the radio. For some reason, the thought of forgiving God immediately popped into my head. And then I thought… “Is that even a thing???

Maybe it should be a thing. I mentioned here that I’m not really angry at God right now… but I do blame Him.

Job 14:5 says, “A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set.

Ryder’s days were numbered before his conception. God knew he wasn’t going to live here on earth with his mom and dad, but that he would instead live with his Father in Heaven.

God is to blame.

I’m not sad on Ryder’s behalf. I actually feel joy for him because he never had to suffer here. God took him Home before his illness could cause him pain. He’s livin’ it up, partying with Jesus on the streets of gold. What’s better than that?!

What I’m sad about is me.

I’m sad I only got to enjoy my first pregnancy for six months instead of nine. I’m sad I don’t get to feel baby kicks anymore. I’m sad I don’t get to hold my baby boy and watch him grow up. I’m sad I’ll never have his drawings hung on our fridge. I’m sad I’ll never get to embarrass him by kissing him on the cheek as I drop him off for school. I’m sad I’ll never get to dance with him at his wedding.

God is to blame for my sadness, my heartbreak.

And while I trust Him with my life, my soul… I know I need to work on forgiving Him. He let me down. He didn’t live up to my expectations. I need to learn how to forgive Him – not for His sake, but for mine. I have no idea what that will look like, but if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

With hope and love,
Kristen

One Month

It’s been one month. Ryder would have turned one month old on Friday, the 15th.

I spent the day running errands, helping my mom get my grandmother settled into the nursing home where she’s getting rehab therapy, and spending time with friends late into the night. I was thankful to have the distractions, but it didn’t stop the thoughts from flooding my mind every time I got still and quiet.

If Ryder were here, he’d most likely be healing from his first heart surgery and I’d be taking his one month photos with the pretty, wooden count-up blocks we bought.

I realized this week that many of you may not know how we got here. I met some of you after Ryder left us, and some of you may not have followed our CaringBridge journal.

On January 28th, at our 18 week ultrasound, Ryder’s heart didn’t look quite right. We were referred to Dr. Blalock, a pediatric cardiologist, who confirmed that Ryder had a congenital heart defect. On February 11th, at 20 weeks, we went to the Fetal Care Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. There, Dr. Eapen, another pediatric cardiologist, diagnosed Ryder with an AV canal defect (the bottom two chambers are not separated as they should be), Heterotaxy Syndrome (organs are not in their correct place), and a little fluid around his lungs. On March 12th, at 24 weeks, I was placed on hospital bed rest due to a shortened cervix. My body was starting the labor process way too early. I spent a week in the hospital and then moved in with my aunt, who lives near Baylor UMC, so I would be near the specialists. On March 27th, at 26 weeks, a sonogram showed that my cervix had shortened drastically and that the fluid around Ryder’s lungs had increased so much so that his heart could no longer grow or pump blood appropriately. We were sent home with the knowledge that Ryder would not survive.

We were completely devastated. How could this be? Up until that point, everything had been manageable. We knew Ryder would have to go through multiple surgeries, but we had a plan and the doctors had been optimistic. Suddenly, there was no hope left.

{After hearing the devastating news, we chose to do a 3D/4D ultrasound so we would have more pictures of Ryder}

{After hearing the devastating news, we chose to do a 3D/4D ultrasound so we would have more pictures of Ryder}

We prayed and prayed and prayed for a miracle. There were many, many prayer warriors that also interceded for us. On Easter Sunday, our church family prayed over us and annointed us with oil. But healing Ryder here on earth was not in God’s will.

Ryder hung on for two and half more weeks. He was such a fighter. As the fluid built up, he had gotten so still. But during his last week with us, he kicked and rolled around more than he ever had before. I’m grateful that his daddy got to feel him moving. He always got more active as Sam read to him each night.

On Monday, April 13th, at 28 weeks, I started having regular contractions late in the evening. I was scared, but I thought it might give me the chance to meet Ryder face-to-face while his tiny, broken heart was still beating.

We went to the ER around 1:30 am. Around 8:00 am on Tuesday, an ultrasound showed that Ryder’s heart had stopped. Our worst fears became reality.

I labored for almost 24 hours in the hospital. Family and friends came to be with us. They prayed with us, encouraged us, distracted us from our grief. I’m so glad we chose not to do it alone! It would have been a very different day without our loved ones being there with us. The day is a bit of a blur for me, but I remember that I wasn’t scared or anxious or upset. I’m not sure if it was the prayer or the pain meds, but other than the contractions, I mostly just felt peace.

Labor went smoothly and Ryder was born at 12:45 am on Wednesday, April 15th. He weighed 2 lbs, 1.8 oz, and was 13.75 inches long. We held him and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over his tiny hands and feet. He had my nose and chubby cheeks, and Sam’s lips and long, skinny feet.

{Prints of Ryder's hands and feet}

{Prints of Ryder’s hands and feet}

He never suffered. All he knew was love and comfort. His heart was healed… but not here. There is no doubt in my mind that Ryder is in Heaven. We will see him again one day!

And though I grieve his loss, for the most part I’m not angry at God. I’ve quickly realized that life is too short to be angry. We’ve been grieving since we first heard Ryder’s diagnosis. I try to thank God for the time we did get with our son. I even thank God that we knew losing him was a possibility. Many stillbirths are spontaneous and have unknown causes, even after autopsy. I can’t imagine not knowing why. My heart aches for the parents who are left with more questions than answers.

In 2 Samuel 12, David’s son fell ill. David fasted and could not be consoled. When the child died, he got up, dusted himself off, and went to eat. His servants were very confused, thinking that he should now grieve the child’s death. David’s response shows the certainty in which he believed in eternal life in Heaven:

David said, “While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought ‘Who knows? Maybe the Lord will feel sorry for me and let the baby live.’ But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life. Someday I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:22-23

I know I will see Ryder again. I will be sad. And I may get angry sometimes. But I survive by my faith and hope in the Lord.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. – Romans 12:12

{Photo by Erica Mae Photography}

{Photo by Erica Mae Photography}

With hope and love,
Kristen

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

I was a bit anxious last week leading up to Mother’s Day. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel on the “big day.” Would I be overcome with grief? Which would make me more upset — being acknowledged or ignored?

I’ve joined a few groups for grieving mothers on Facebook and I’ve noticed a recurring theme. Many women are never acknowledged on Mother’s Day, even by their own spouses. It just breaks my heart.

Did you know that Mother’s Day was originally created to honor a mother who had lost multiple children?

Franchesca Cox, founder of Still Standing Magazine says, “A mother is not defined by the number of children you can see, but by the love she holds in her heart.” Oh, how very right she is! There are so many types of moms… moms who have children, moms who yearn for children, moms who have lost children, moms who foster children, moms who adopt children, moms who parent stepchildren, moms who care for others’ children, moms who are distant from their children, and so many more!

A year and a half ago, God lead us to a new church home. We’ve been so happy there, and this chapter in our lives has only solidified my belief that we were brought there purposefully.

On Sunday morning as we approached the front door, I was handed a little bag of candy and a flower by a sweet little girl. I had never met her before and I highly doubt she knew our story. You see, she was giving Mother’s Day treats to all women, not just those who appeared to be mothers to the naked eye.

And when it came time for our pastor to take the stage, mothers weren’t singled out by asking them to stand. Instead, we were prayed over. All of us. The joyful, the grieving, the content, the yearning, the strong, the weary.

Many ministries in our church revolve around fostering and adoption. This allows for quite a bit of conversation about misscariage, stillbirth, infant loss, and infertility. It can be a tough subject to dive into for many people, but I’m so very thankful that these conversations occur.

As I have grieved, my church family has grieved with me. And I don’t just mean my friends and acquaintances. As I said in a previous post, several strangers have approached me letting me know they’re praying for us. And I have learned of many more through Facebook and mutual friends. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 says, “This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

The first words out of my husband’s mouth that morning were “Happy Mother’s Day!“, friends at church hugged me and told me the same, and I received many messages and texts throughout the day with sweet Mother’s Day wishes. I wish I could express what it means to me that others acknowledge Ryder’s life and my motherhood. Each day, a fear tries to creep in, saying that Ryder will be forgotten. I shoo it away with all my might. He will not be forgotten. Not by God and not by the body of Christ.

I got through the day with very few tears, and those were not of grief but of joy and thankfulness. I am incredibly thankful that Ryder made me a mommy. I will always be his mommy.

{My Mother's Day gift from Samuel}

{My Mother’s Day gift from Samuel}

It may not have been the Mother’s Day I imagined it should be, but it was still a good day and I rejoice.

“For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.” Psalms 33:21

With hope and love,
Kristen

Nurses Day

Today I went to the hospital, to the labor and delivery floor, to pick up pictures of Ryder. I’m not sure what brought on the initial confidence in thinking that I could do that by myself… But I did. And I survived!

I was a bit nervous as I walked across the skyway and into the main hospital, but today just happens to be National Nurses Day, so I went to the hospital bearing gifts. A dozen bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Yum! The nurses ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the cakes and sweetly asked how we are holding up. I smiled and let them know we’re doing ok, they gave me the pictures, and I got the heck outta there.

In the elevator on the way up to the fourth floor, I chit-chatted with a doctor. On hearing that I was headed to the L&D floor, he cheerfully asked, “Boy or girl?” With only a minor hesitation and a smile on my face, I replied, “I had a baby boy and I’m headed to pick up his pictures.” As the doors opened, he said his congratulations and that was that.

I didn’t panic. I didn’t cry. I didn’t run.

But I did give myself a pat on the back and a few “attagirls“. I’m sure it is only the first of a million times I’ll be confronted with questions like that. I’ve already made up my mind that if/when I’m asked “Do you have children?” I’ll say “Yes, one angel baby named Ryder.” It will probably satisfy most curious strangers, but for those who really wonder about the “angel” part, I’ll get to share the story of my precious boy.

I know that loved ones have shied away from asking too many questions for fear that will upset me. The thing is, I love talking about him and our journey. I may not have him here to hold in my arms, but I do have him on my mind and in my heart and I don’t want the world to ever forget about him.

So if you want to know more about our story, or see pictures of him, just ask. I may shed a few tears, but I’d love share!

{Ryder on his birthday}

{Ryder on his birthday} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

With hope and love, Kristen