Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Three Years

I wish I had something profound to say, but I really don't. Three years ago Sunday we found out that our baby had died. Three years ago yesterday my first labor was induced. Three years ago today I gave birth for the first time. Three years ago today I held my oldest child for the only time.

It's hard to believe it's been three years since we lost Faith. I still feel incredibly sad thinking about her. I still miss her terribly. I'm always aware at birthdays and holidays and random times in between that someone is missing from our family, that there's a hole in me and in our life where a special little girl should be.

At the same time, I can breathe. I can wake up each day and function. I can feel joy and happiness and love.

There's a strange thing that happens over time as we heal. We learn to accept life the way it is now. We learn to appreciate what we have in new ways. We become more intentional in our living. We move on. We never forget. We never truly say goodbye. We carry our missing loved one with us but we learn to live through the grief.

N is two now and soon he will start to form the memories that will stay with him the rest of his life. Soon he will begin to remember our trips to Faith' s grave. Next year when we go I will want to explain to him where we are and why we're there. I will want him to begin to understand that Faith is part of his story too. As we say goodbye again today to our oldest child I will also be thinking of ways to include her in our family, to make her story part of our journey in ways that will help both of my boys understand that grief and loss are a part of life and give them the courage to find healthy ways to experience those emotions.

Three  years ago today I became a parent. Three years ago today I was at the beginning of a journey I never wanted to take. Three years ago today. In three years I have learned much, loved much, cried much, and laughed much. Thanks be to God for walking with me through the darkness and brokenness of this day three years ago and for bringing me to this time and place of being able to remember with peace in my heart.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nearing the End

(Just a side note. As I write this, I have a very angry toddler throwing a temper tantrum all over the house who I am trying to ignore, so bear with me if my thoughts are more garbled than they would be with just pregnancy brain.)

We made it again. Today marks 37 weeks, the point at which doctors won't stop labor if it starts naturally. Baby Graber #2 can now come at any time, however, my c-section isn't scheduled until two weeks from today. That means we have at most two weeks until his arrival. M thinks (or maybe I should say, hopes) he's coming early. I think he'll wait until my c-section, but who knows. We are mostly ready for his arrival. His bassinet still needs to be cleaned and hauled up from the basement, but his clothes and blankets are clean, we have diapers, and the car seat is clean and ready to be installed in the car.

We've also been working hard on some sleep training with N to get him into a better routine before #2 arrives. I have to say I am officially a fan of the Sleep Lady Shuffle. If you are looking for a book that can help you with sleep issues from birth through age five, check out this book The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight. It's been a huge help for us. N had such reflux that the only way we felt safe sleeping early on was to co-sleep so that we'd be right there if he needed us, but that evolved into many frustrations with a growing toddler continuing to think he needed to sleep some or all of the night in bed with us. Not cool. Think two adults, one with a giant, miniature furnace in her pregnant belly, and a very mobile toddler sharing a bed in the summer. No amount of moving air could solve the problems of heat and poor sleep for mom and dad!

Two weeks into sleep training, we are able to put N in bed say goodnight and have minimal tears (10 seconds or less) before he gets quiet and puts himself to sleep. I will admit that it has not been the easiest journey to this point. There have been plenty of tears, but the best thing about this method for us has been the more gradual transition. This method gradually moves parents out of the child's bedroom in three day increments rather than simply putting the child in bed and letting them "cry it out" immediately, something I just couldn't bring myself to do. It's more about teaching the child to put themselves to sleep by building on bonds of trust between the parent and child and for that to happen your presence is a must.

N is now actually able to tell us when he's ready to be put in the crib and he seems to understand the routine. He's sleeping for eleven hours straight (from 7:30 or 7:45 to 6:30 or 6:45!) and we're able to put him down for naps without having to take a drive in the car and hope we can get him into the crib without waking him! Given that we were aiming for a 9 o'clock bedtime with about the same wake up time, we're amazed at having a significant portion of our evenings child free without having to be up before the sun. I am grateful for the ability to have some quiet at the end of the day and especially for being able to sleep all night, but there is a part of me that misses holding N until he fell asleep every night. And, I have to admit that part of me wanted to cry last night when I got a "bye" after I tucked him under his blanket and realized that my baby isn't a baby anymore and doesn't need me in the same way.

N is now 21 months and the next few weeks are going to force him to grow up a lot. I have moments when I can't help but feel sad thinking about how much is going to change. Don't get me wrong. I am super excited to meet #2 and for my boys to grow up with playmates so close to their own ages, but N has been a rather pampered little guy up to this point (part of the reason he needs a sibling) and I know the adjustment will be a hard one for him. The fact that love expands as more children join a family doesn't mean that time also expands. It just means that both children have less undivided attention. N is a pretty independent guy most of the time, but I know that I won't be able to take advantage of the times he just wants to sit and snuggle in the same way once the new baby is here. It will definitely be a big change for all of us. Sleep training with N has been one way of helping prepare him for the changes ahead.

So here we are in the last weeks of another pregnancy. It's been pretty uneventful, normal even, despite having weekly non-stress tests for the last nine weeks (as a result of being high risk). My feet, ankles and hands feel swollen to their limit and the bowling ball in my belly is getting quite heavy, but otherwise I feel fine. A little emotional from all the hormones and such, tired and hot, but all that is normal, a very welcome word. Baby G is running out of room and moving less because of it, but he still manages to be a busy little guy when he wants to be and kicks hard enough cause my belly to look like an alien is trying to get out. We're headed in to preregister at the hospital this afternoon and I know people wonder when they look at me if I am going to go into labor right before their eyes (we celebrated communion on Sunday and the deacons were joking that if I went into labor while serving communion it would be okay because we have both multiple EMTs and an obstetrician in our church). Even my doctor made sure to tell us that she's not going anywhere in the next two weeks so she's all set to come in and do my c-section early if I go into labor, so we've officially entered the "anytime" stage. Hopefully, my next post will be a baby announcement from the hospital!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

And, again...

I believe it's been more than six months since I felt the need to add to this blog. Grieving for a baby changes over time especially when you have a busy toddler running around the house reminding you that God is good. There are so many, many people who experience loss after loss without the joy and distraction of another child. We know that we have been blessed. Our story has become one of hope just as I desired when Faith was born.

And for us, that hope continues to grow. We have reached the twenty week mark with a new little one. Baby Boy Graber #2 will be joining our family in early August. We took a lovely look at our little one yesterday via sonogram and everything looks great. I have to say that there is very little that is more beautiful than seeing a fast little heartbeat on the screen.

So, if you've followed this blog over the last two years or have been part of our story, you may be wondering about how this pregnancy is different from the last one. First, the anxiety of this pregnancy has been significantly less. Knowing that my body is able to carry a baby to full term and seeing the evidence of that every day makes it much easier to let go of the anxiety. Listening to Baby's heartbeat on our home doppler nearly every day is also very much of a worry-reducer. To be perfectly honest, I think both M and I are more anxious about having two little boys less than twenty-two months apart!

Second, I've been much busier than I was during either of my previous two pregnancies. Running after a (currently) seventeen-month-old and trying to keep my meals down was an overwhelming job for many weeks. I managed to only make one trip to the hospital for IVs earlier this month, for which I am immensely grateful. Baby survived my inability to keep food down much better than I did. Who knew that my worst morning sickness would come at seventeen weeks rather than in the first trimester!

Third, because I have had one pregnancy to term, my schedule of doctor's visits has been significantly less. We went in at seven weeks to check via sono for a heartbeat which was followed by visits at eleven weeks, fifteen weeks, and a full sono at twenty weeks. This schedule of visits is much like it would be for someone who is not high risk due to previous late term pregnancy loss. The frequency of my visits will likely change some as we get further along and I'm still not allowed to travel during the third trimester, but for the most part this third pregnancy is being treated as a normal pregnancy. And, for someone who has lost a baby in pregnancy, there's not a better word than to be told everything looks "normal."

As I've said on this blog countless times before, your prayers are very much desired as we face this new change in family life. We are so blessed to have a wonderful community behind us and we couldn't do any of this without the knowledge that people are praying for us. It not only takes a village to raise a child but to be a family. We are deeply indebted to the village that surrounds us and lifts us up, who blesses us with their presence in our lives, who cares for our weary spirits and encourages us with their love. Many thanks and much love!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Two Years

Family picture

Two years ago today, Faith joined our family. One year and 10 days ago Niko joined our family. One child in our arms. One child in heaven. Two special miracles that have changed me and continue to shape every day.

Yesterday I preached about grief. For me, preaching about a subject that is largely taboo in our culture today, a subject that continues to be close to my heart, is part of my grieving process. It is how I articulate my theology of grief and grieving. It is one of the ways I open myself to my grief and where I give myself permission to grieve. It is one of the ways I give purpose to my grief.

Today I have heard from several people how meaningful it was for them to share in my story and to be given permission to grieve their own losses. I have talked to those for whom miscarriage is part of their story. I have heard from those for whom the loss is an inability to conceive. I have heard from those who grieve the loss of a dream, who have never before been given permission to grieve for what never was.

Two years...and perhaps the legacy of my daughter is a legacy of listening, of opening space for grief, of learning to recognize grief in its many forms. Perhaps her legacy is in naming grief as part of our journey as followers of Jesus, in making space for the darkness in our faith, in helping us to understand that our anger and pain are not to be feared or hidden away but brought to the foot of the cross as offerings in all their messiness, because the God of Love desires to be welcomed into our hearts even when our hearts seem to us to be the least welcoming place imaginable. It is when our hearts are in pieces or drowning in chaos or darker than the darkest night that we become malleable clay that can be molded into the image of Christ. 

I don't know what the next years will hold but I do know that I want them to hold opportunities for me to continue to hear the stories of others' grief and a vision for how the church can become a more welcoming place for healthy grieving. How do we make space for people to grieve all types of loss? How do we help each other to realize that death is not the only cause of grief? How do we make space for people to grieve for the wishes and dreams and "never was" parts of our lives, because often these are as painful as losing a loved one since these are the things we hold closest to our hearts. And, how do we find the grace to give ourselves permission to grieve with all the messiness and ugliness we need and welcome Jesus into our grief? Because until we find safe ways to grieve and allow others to grieve, we will never fully be able to be the church, God's kingdom on earth.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001

It was Spiritual Life Emphasis week at my private, Christian high school. I was one month shy of my seventeenth birthday. We sat in the chapel listening to a speaker. As he finished, the principal of the school got up on the platform unexpectedly and shared that one of the towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. She explained that they were not yet sure if this was just a tragic accident or if it was an intentional attack, but it seemed increasingly likely that this was intentional.

I walked to my next class, senior honors English. It was eerily quiet. Everyone was silently digesting what had happened wondering what was to come. I arrived at class and sat at my desk. My teacher turned on his radio in the classroom and we listened in shock as it was reported that a plane had hit the second tower, as first one tower collapsed and then the second. The rest of the day was spent in classes watching or listening to coverage of the events of the day. At lunch we quickly ate our food and then gathered in a common area to continue watch the news.

As the day progressed, I listened as my classmates processed what all this meant, as some tried to contact family members who were airline pilots, as they talked of retaliation, of "killing all the Muslims." After three years of feeling alone in my desire to embrace the pacifism of the tradition in which many of us had grown up, I was devastated by what I heard.

I was disillusioned with the world, with the attitudes of people, with the lack of love and understanding in the world in which I was rapidly nearing adulthood. In my adolescent mind, I could not see a way through this tragedy. I knew that the world as I'd always known it had changed forever, and I was terrified of what that would mean. Hope seemed far away.

As soon as school dismissed for the day, I got in my car and drove to the elementary school where my mother was a teacher. I sat in her office and told her that I couldn't imagine what was to come in our world. I couldn't imagine ever wanting to bring a child into the mess that our world was rapidly becoming. She reminded me that I born during a time of world conflict at the tail end of the Cold War era. My name, she said, was a reminder of the hope that we have in Jesus no matter what the world around us looks like.

That night I purchased a necklace. The pendant was a dime sized dove with an olive branch in its mouth. I put it on and didn't take it off for years. Sometime during my senior year of college I realized that the promise, peace, and hope that that necklace represented for me were deeply embedded in my heart, mind and soul. It no longer felt necessary to wear the outward symbol. I still occasionally wear the necklace, but I no longer need the constant reminder.

September 11, 2013

Twelve years have passed since the destruction of the World Trade Centers. Today, I sat in a rocking chair in my living room holding my son who is eleven months old today. As I rocked him to sleep we listened to Adele sing "Make You Feel My Love," and I was struck by how much has happened in the last 12 years. The world around me is still violent and messy. It feels as though we continue to be on edge of self-destruction, as though we're one moment, one decision away from our own end.

In the last 12 years, I have learned and continue to learn many things, but by far the most important thing I continue to learn each day is what it means to live in the present reality of the kingdom of heaven. As I sat rocking my son, I was overwhelmed with the realization that each new generation must learn this lesson for the time in which they live and the realities they encounter. For my parents, my name was a reminder of this lesson. It was a reminder and a challenge to raise children that live as members first of the kingdom of heaven and second as members of this world, who speak the good news of God's kingdom on earth to the rulers of this world.

Just as my parents did for me, N's name was chosen because of what it means and represents. His first name means "victory of the people." This was significant for me because in some ways he feels like our own personal victory, but it's also significant because true victory of the people can only come through our faith in the God of miracles. His middle name is given to him in honor of his great-grandfather who was part of the Nazi resistance in the Netherlands during World War II to remind N (and us, too) of just how important it is to choose the kingdom of heaven no matter how great the personal risk.

Today, on the 12th anniversary of a horrible day in the history of my country, I recommit myself to the love and kingdom of Jesus. I commit myself to raising my son to know the God of love and peace, to introducing him to Jesus who showed that love and sacrifice of self are more powerful than hate and revenge, to modeling for him what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. I commit myself to love him with all that I have and all that I am and to give him the space to grow into the person God calls him to be, to choose for himself the kingdom to which he will belong, to giving him the tools to make that decision, and to allow him the free will that God gives to all of humanity. I commit myself to continue to fall and make mistakes so that I can grow, and I commit myself to allowing my son to do the same.

I can't make promises about making the world a better place or raising a child who will do that. I can hope and dream that my life and his will in some small way contribute to a better future, but I realize I cannot control the world around me. All I can do is continue to pray as Jesus taught me, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." May this be the prayer of many hearts today, not just mine alone.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

An apology to my son...

Dear N,

Your first Mother's Day was a big day for all of us. It was not only your first Mother's Day, but it was also your dedication at church, the day that we as parents commit to raise you to know and love Jesus and when the congregation commits to helping and supporting all of us as we do that. It was a wonderful day, a day to celebrate the gift that you are to us and be reminded of the privilege and responsibility it is to be your parents and raise you.

After spending years looking forward to celebrating the dedication of our child, I was ready for the day to be spectacular, joyful, and it was! But, I was unprepared for just how bittersweet it would also be. Standing on the stage with you and Daddy and the other families whose children were being dedicated, I suddenly realized that every milestone we celebrate with you will mark a milestone we didn't get to celebrate with your sister, a milestone which she is not here celebrating with us. Every birthday of your life, your first day of school, your graduations, your baptism, wedding, children (should you choose these things for your life), I will cry. They will be tears of joy for the momentous occasions in your life and tears of sadness for the missing member of our family.

I promise today to make sure that you grow up knowing all about the sister you never met, knowing that my tears are not to be feared or a sign of my displeasure or my unhappiness. Because as much as I wish we could have celebrated these moments in  your sister's life and celebrated the ones in yours with her, I realize that you would not be here if Faith was here. In and ideal world, you would both be here, but in the real world in which we live there is physically no possible way for that to be. I will never for a second regret that you are here and your sister is not, and I will tell you that every time we talk about Faith. I will always have a hole in my life and heart that only your sister can fill, but your smiles and hugs remind me that that hole is only part of the whole. There is a space in my life and heart that is uniquely yours which only you can fill and each day that I spend with you that space is filled with overflowing love for you.

So I apologize to you now for the weepy mother I will be throughout all the important moments of your life. I will try to help you understand my tears, and I will use them as an opportunity to teach you about empathy. I will use them to teach you about grief and loss and brokenness, that no matter how many bad days there are the good ones are worth all the bad ones, that by relying on God through the brokenness of life will help us grieve gracefully, that family and friends will give you the love and support to see you through anything tat comes in life.

I love you always,


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dancing With God: What I've Learned from Each of my Children

This past Saturday was our church's annual women's Christmas brunch. We were joined by ten women from our sister church in Dallas, Texas. Each year we invite someone to come and speak at this brunch, and this year we invited one of the women from our sister church to offer the message. She spoke from her personal journey. She shared stories, and she challenged us to dance with God. It was one of the most challenging and beautiful messages I've heard in a while. She spoke about dancing with God in all of life's circumstances, and I had to wonder, have I danced with God to the best of my ability over the past thirteen and a half months? This question got me thinking about what I've learned from both of my babies, and whether or not it's possible for the dance to be different depending on the point in the journey.

Dancing with God: My first pregnancy
My first pregnancy started out with much joy tempered by the discovery that we needed to say goodbye to our first cat, Anje (pronounced An-ya). Within the first week of my pregnancy, we also had the first of two major scares. I started spotting right at five weeks, and made my first visit to my doctor much earlier than we were expecting for an ultrasound. I continued to spot off and on through week eight. During week seven, I spent a day in the emergency room with a more major bleeding issue. I started off my pregnancy with Faith plagued by anxiety because of these events. I have to wonder when I look back now if some of my anxiety wasn't my body's way of letting me know that something was wrong. I think during these weeks the dance was a cautiously joyful dance. I was incredibly grateful for the gift of the child we were expecting.

I think the dance became increasingly joyful over the weeks. By the time we reached the last days of my pregnancy with Faith, I was wholeheartedly dancing. The dance faltered and stuttered when we found out that we'd lost our baby girl. It never stopped, but the tone of the dance completely changed. It slowed down and became a melancholy sway. It was the dance of one who has no choice but to fully lean on the One who is leading. Over the months, this was the dance that taught me about grief and loss.

Through this dance and the beautiful experience of knowing my daughter for even a few short months, I learned about myself. I learned about grief. I learned about what it means to be vulnerable. I learned lessons that have changed me as a ministering person. I learned that ministering to the hurting and grieving is about listening, but not just listening to what is said. It is about hearing what is not said, what the heart of the grieving person wordlessly needs.

 I learned about joy. I learned about the joy of new life, about doing your utmost to enjoy every moment of every life that blesses our world. I learned about gratitude, about finding gratitude no matter your circumstance. I learned so much from my daughter and the experience of losing her, but more than anything, I learned to know myself in unexpected ways. God used my daughter to show me what it means to rely on God fully, to show me that God has shaped me into a woman whose strength comes from the Spirit within her.

Dancing with God: My second pregnancy
My pregnancy with N was truly a roller coaster of emotions. Looking back, I know the end of my first pregnancy left me feeling like I was midway through an unfinished race. We wanted a child so much. There were less than three full months between the end of my pregnancy with Faith and my pregnancy with N. In so many ways, the grief was still very fresh when we found out we were again expecting. The first weeks were weeks of ecstatic dancing. There was so much joy and peace. I think I a part of me knew that this second pregnancy was different right from the start. Holding on to that feeling was more of a challenge.

As the months passed, the physical pressures of the pregnancy combined with the grieving process to slow the dance from its initial ecstatic pace. It became a slow and steady dance, moving forward day by day, never stopping the motion, sometimes moving more joyously, other times moving hesitantly.

My second pregnancy taught me even more about relying on God. It taught me about the power of prayer in ways I never expected. Those were months of learning to accept my own personal miracles, learning to trust in the good gifts of God.

Dancing with God: Motherhood
I've been a mother for over a year, but it is only within the last eight weeks that I fully entered motherhood. My miracle arrived early, and our journey together has been a joyous and challenging one. The dance during his arrival and our first few weeks together was one of learning to adjust. It was all about learning to accept that even though our path was not what I had planned it was still good.

Over the weeks since N's arrival the dance has become increasingly joyful. It is a dance that reflects the goodness of God. It is a dance that longs to welcome others to join in. Taking N to church each week, singing to him songs of God's love, telling him stories, reading to him from God's Word, these are all new parts of the dance.

Advent has begun, and we are in waiting once again. Last year, Advent was one of darkness for me. This year, Advent is all about the Light. The Light felt far away and distant last year. This year, the Light has grown and expanded within me. It is spilling out (seriously, it's spilling out in excessive decorating, wearing silly Christmas socks, listening to Pandora's Jazz Holiday station incessantly, and making a variety of Christmas projects!!). This year, the dance is growing more and more exuberant each day. The anticipation of welcoming the Christ child and the joy of the wait are things I haven't experienced in quite this way before.

If your Advent is one of darkness, may you feel the presence of God as you journey through the waiting. May you have patience with yourself and your darkness. May your dance continue even if it is just a slow and melancholy sway.

If your Advent is one of Light, may you shine brightly. May your Light give hope to those in darkness. May you hold in the Light those around you who journey through their darkest days. May you dance exuberantly even if people are watching.

Whether your Advent is one of darkness or Light, whether you are dancing with joy or moving to the beat of grief and sadness, whether you are marking off the days on the calendar in anticipation or as signs that you have survived another day, may we all feel the Presence of the Spirit journeying with us as we wait this Advent season.