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

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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

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