Crashing Waves

2 Thessalonians 4:13

They say drowning is very peaceful. Many who are saved don’t remember the experience.

My life, until recently, has been smooth sailing. (Hindsight is 20/20, after all.) But just as I saw land on the horizon, I was met by a colossal, crashing wave. It pounded my tiny boat until only pieces remained, floating in the water that is once again still.

From the day of Ryder’s birth up to today, I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I do still feel the pangs of grief, but I know that my anxieties, anger, and fears have subsided much more quickly than is “typical” when loss is experienced.

At first the peace felt terribly out of place. I remember thinking to myself I must be drowning in my grief–losing grip with reality. There is no way this feeling can be healthy. I need to snap out of it.

But eventually I remembered the countless prayers that had been lifted up on our behalf–prayers said for us and by us.

Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And that is exactly what I have experienced. True peace–not drowning.

Praise God!

If you have experienced loss, I know that it is very difficult to put your hope and your faith in God. It feels like he has abandoned you. But I promise he hasn’t. Remember that poem “Footprints in the Sand“? He hasn’t abandoned you; He is carrying you. When you feel like you can’t take another step, let him carry you. When you feel like you are drowning, let him rescue you.

The LORD is close to the broken-hearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” – Psalm 34:18

With hope and love,
Kristen

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

New Normal

Life looks a little different these days as we try to navigate our “new normal.” Sam went back to work the Monday following Ryder’s birth, but I haven’t returned to work since school let out for Spring Break and I was put on hospital bedrest in March. I do miss work, but I’m glad I took the time off. My brain needed some time to shut off and reboot. I’ll return to my job full-time in the Fall when school starts up again.

My days in the “before” period consisted mostly of work, errands, meals, and sleep. And now? Now I’m getting to do all the things I used to put off until “some day.”

Some day, I’ll start reading morning devotionals while I sip my coffee. – check!

Some day, I’ll have time to read all those pretty books sitting on my bookshelves. – check!

Some day, I’ll make time to work out three days a week. – check!

Some day, I’ll learn how to play that guitar I got in college. – check!

Some day, I’ll get to meet my husband or my friends for lunch during the week. – check!

Well, “some day” has arrived. I finally have the chance to do all these things I’ve put off for so long. And it’s so refreshing!

But there are also activities that I never planned would be part of my life. Like support groups. Last Tuesday, I went to my second Glory Babies meeting. This time I took Sam with me. I think he was nervous about going, but in the end he said he wouldn’t mind going again next month. I thank God daily for such a supportive husband. And if we have to walk this path, I’m glad we are making new friends along the way.

I’ve had the chance to spend the last two Saturdays in the Dallas area with my best friend and her family. This Saturday, we celebrated her daughter’s third birthday. Princess-themed, of course! As soon as we arrived for the party, she pulled me in to a bedroom to see her new dollhouse and castle. Last time I saw her, she was just starting to put three words together. This time, she was ordering me around and even using different voices for all the dolls as we played. It’s been so fun to watch her grow! She calls us Kwi-ten and Uncle Sam. It’s pretty adorable. The previous weekend, we attended a Phi Psi fraternity alumni event at TopGolf. We’d never been before and it was a blast! Can’t wait to go again.

It’s odd how four hours of round-trip travel and an exhausting day can actually feel like a breath of fresh air. Besides my blood relatives, my best friend and her family are one of the few things that have been consistently part of my life over the past seven years. She took me in when I needed a place to live during grad school, she stood by my side while I said my vows to Sam, she was there for Ryder’s birth, and she always seems to know when I need some words of encouragement. She’s my person.

I wrote here about getting guitar lessons for my birthday, and I had my first lesson last week! I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible student. It takes me forever to learn a new concept, I always forget to practice, and then I forget things easily. But my teacher is also my friend and she was really good about teaching to my level and explaining things simply. (Stevie, if you’re reading this, I promise I’m practicing!!! Even though my fingers really hurt…) I’ll probably never be a songwriter or a worship leader, but I’m very excited to learn something new. I’ve always felt an emotional connection to music, so I think this will be good for my soul.

Tomorrow, I’ll have my morning coffee, read my devotional, have lunch with a friend, practice my guitar, and probably do some yoga. It’s all new to me. But it’s my new normal. And I could get used to it!

image

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

The Dirty Thirty

Yesterday (Wednesday) was my 30th birthday. Thirty! I don’t feel thirty. Or maybe I do. I can’t handle all-nighters anymore or more than two glasses of wine… but otherwise, I feel so young!

My wonderful husband pulled off a fabulous surprise party! He’s tried surprises before, but I usually figure it out or at least have a hunch. But this time I was genuinely surprised!

I’ve been so busy/distracted/depressed lately that I didn’t feel much like planning anything, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t celebrate somehow. Sam eventually came up with the plan that we could have a nice quiet dinner by ourselves on Wednesday and that he would take care of planning something for Saturday with friends. It’s hard for a planner like myself to turn over control to a non-planner like Sam. But I just couldn’t fathom trying to do it myself. Too exhausting a task for right now.

So we went to dinner in the rain, and lo and behold… my friends and family were there waiting for us! There was confetti and balloons and sushi and wine and cupcakes and it was fantastic! We had a great time and I’m so glad I got to celebrate. I got some genuinely thoughtful gifts and I think I’m most excited about guitar lessons. It will be so much fun to try something new this summer. I need a hobby other than watching Fixer Upper reruns and reading blogs all day long.

Hubby bought a ukulele this week and my guitar came out of hiding, so we joke about starting a band. Can you imagine?! Ha!

{Birthday celebrations at Cork}

{Birthday celebrations at Cork}

I’ve always wanted to do something big for the “Dirty Thirty“. In the past, my birthday hasn’t always been the greatest day. For many years I had tests and finals, and since college I’ve typically been in meetings or under work-related stress. I was thinking that the big 3-0 may be an end to my un-happy birthday streak. But a few short months ago it dawned on me that I would be very pregnant on the big day. This meant no sushi, no wine, and most likely no energy. I selfishly whined about it…

But, OH, what I wouldn’t give to still be pregnant! I would be 33 weeks along today. In three more weeks, I would have to be in Dallas per Doctors’ orders so they could keep an eye on me. I would most likely be induced at 37 or 38 weeks.

I miss my Ryder. So. Much.

I had a great day yesterday. I almost feel guilty about it now. How could I have so much fun? I’m supposed to be grieving, right? Not laughing and enjoying myself. I know it’s normal to feel that way and I keep telling myself that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I spent the afternoon shopping for myself, mostly for post-pregnancy clothes since barely anything fits me these days. I also went to a Christian bookstore in town and bought a children’s book. The day Ryder arrived we had gone there looking for a book of Bible stories to read to him at night. We found one, but I also found a book called God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergen. I cried as I flipped through the pages in the middle of the store. In the end we put it back, deciding we’d get it another time. Yesterday, I decided I had to go back for it.

One page says, “‘We went to the doctor and heard your heartbeat,’ she said. ‘I cried happy tears then.'” We had been to see the doctor earlier that day. Ryder’s heartbeat had been so weak. But it was there. And I cried.

Another page says, “‘Umm, Mama? I was wondering… Did you ever want a different baby? One like Samuel the seal or Fredrika the fox?'” And the mama says, “Never, ever, ever. Your papa and I wouldn’t trade you for the world.” And we certainly wouldn’t. God gave us Ryder and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

I just wish he could have been here to celebrate with me.

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