About two and a half years ago I gave a testimony at Church. I was asked to write it and given 15 minutes as a guidance time. It was incredibly hard to write, even harder to cut down and I had no idea how I was going to get through actually saying it all. But God steps in when you start putting a foot out of the boat.
Since then the Church has started producing a magazine to distribute as a source of encouragement and helping people maybe start looking for God in all that is going on in their lives. The latest edition has just come out and the testimony I gave before included.
Except it’s not. It’s been edited. In my opinion, badly. In places, very badly.
And that can cause a lot of pain.
When someone gives you their story and you need to shorten it for something like that, let them be the ones to edit it. Or at least let them see the edits before sending it to the printers. Yes, this means building in time to allow them to do so and not contacting them at the last minute.
I get that the original was way too long. It was written for a different media. But one of the things cut was a child. My child.
Other bits are just edited down to the point where they’re wrong. I don’t like it, but I can live with it.
The painful bit is cutting out a child.
In some ways society has come a long way in how it approaches miscarriages, it’s no longer something to never mention. In other ways, I think society will only ever understand the pain if they have been there. I think with miscarriages the only approach you can take, is to take your lead from the person who’s been through it. And that will be different for every single one. But for me, those two children were real, part of our family. They may not be in our family photos but that doesn’t mean they never existed.
When I hear someone talk of their own miscarriage my heart still breaks, the tears still well up. For them. For me. I have battled through the grief twice and still don’t know what to say to people.
I can do nothing about what is already printed. But below is the real story.
A few months ago I was talking with someone and it brought back the intense isolation I’d felt and not knowing who to talk to that would really get it. I’d been trying to think of how to put into words what I’m about to say without leaving people embarrassed, and then I realised that in doing that I was adding to the problem. There are so so many Biblical figures that struggled with fertility and yet even in Church the subject seems taboo.
For me a skipped period was nothing unusual, even two not that alarming. After three, and a negative pregnancy test, we were rather confused. But what followed was haemorrhaging on a scale that is hard to describe; there were days I needed a change of clothes on getting to work, ones when my line manager sent me home and times when although I set out for work I turned round before getting there. It was the start of an emotional and physical roller coaster where my body just seemed to go into a free fall that no one could really explain. Often tackling a whole day was too much, either physically or emotionally, so I’d break it up and tell myself just to get to a few hours time. Seemingly endless blood tests, hospital referrals, scans and examinations filled the diary but never seemed to find anything that answered the puzzle. At one point I was put on a short course of HRT purely to give me a physical respite. It lasted ten days and the following five were a fairly horrific way to spend Christmas.
At a particularly low point, I got out my journal and a large sheet of paper. Every Bible verse written in there that told of God keeping His promises or walking through darkness with His people got copied on to that sheet and I stuck it above the bed in the spare room. That bed saw so many tears on days when I hadn’t got words to pray but also the strength drawn from new scriptures speaking to me getting written up there. One that I often focused on was 2 Kings 20v5 where the message to Hezekiah is ” I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”. I struggled to believe that God would, or was interested in, stopping the bleeding, let alone giving me a family, but I could grasp that He saw my tears. Other times I couldn’t see any way through any of it and just tossed between grief, despair and simply finding a way to get through each day.
I came to dread family and friend gatherings with their on-the-spot questions about did we want children or when we would have them, trying to be discreet about just how many times I’d excused myself to go to the toilet to deal with the haemorrhaging and watching my husband with other people’s children wondering if we’d ever have our own.
I threw many questions at God through the year and on one memorable occasion sat on the bed saying “I can’t do this anymore, and You can’t make me”. I wouldn’t say I lost my faith but it was certainly God holding on to me and not me holding on to Him. Arguments at home were common as emotions spilled over and sometimes I’d just take off, either walking until the anger and frustration gave way to exhaustion or, particularly at night, drive out to the Peak District and find a layby to just sit and stare at the stars.
A follow-up appointment at the hospital came in May 2013, still nothing had changed and I just couldn’t keep going, but we were sent on our way to continue keeping a diary. I came home feeling crushed, like no one was really listening, including God. It seemed like every time I thought I’d found rock bottom a trap door would open and I’d fall lower. But the following day I got a phone call from the hospital saying the consultant wanted to see us later that week, he’d had a nagging feeling that something had been missed and it meant he’d gone back over all my notes later that day. It turned out that in spite of my doubts and rantings at Him, God was at work through people who didn’t even know Him. An investigative operation was scheduled a few weeks later.
After nine gruelling months I finally got an answer to the cause of the bleeding; two growths were removed from my womb. I was told that recovery from the operation could take a couple of weeks but I can measure that in days, with bleeding far lighter than had been expected. God may not have changed the route but he’d certainly smoothed it out. The standard cancer check came back clear. The calmness and timing of it all could only be God’s though. We had two weeks away already booked starting the following week, which gave some much needed rest, and by the time I returned to work I had some colour back in my face!
We read everything we could find, from medical journals to support group websites, it all seemed to point to one problem and we agreed that we needed to talk to someone other than our GP; I wasn’t fitting typical case profiles and our suspicions were being largely dismissed. I still clearly remember the phone call, sitting in the sunshine on a fairly secluded wall where I’d spent so many quiet times through the summer months at work, hanging up and bursting into tears that the appointment was needed. Looking back I was still so emotionally drained from nine months of haemorrhaging. Only a fortnight later, we sat in another consultant’s office being told that we’d almost certainly identified the remaining problem and that the growths would have prevented a successful pregnancy anyway. Fertility treatment would be easier to navigate if there weren’t so many different options but there was no reason not to start simple, and so I started on a couple of tablets that left me feeling quite ill but did result in ovulation.
A few months later we finally got a positive pregnancy test. It seemed like a fog lifted.
We had a weekend with parents planned and decided to wait and tell them in person, only what we ended up saying was we thought I was losing the baby. By the Saturday morning, after little to no sleep, we knew I had and I just wanted my own bed so we came home and went to see some close friends that evening who cried and prayed with us. I have never been as violently sick as I was that night.
It was a week of extreme emotions. I couldn’t understand why God would bring us so far and then take it all away again and stopped wanting to go to Church. I stopped properly talking to God but finished a cot quilt I’d been working on for most of a year. I was signed off work for a month but whilst the physical recovery was quite quick, in every other sense I was a mess. It would take a long time before I could get past having flushed the baby I wanted so much down the toilet. I only started sleeping again after an unorthodox evening with a friend. But we made the decision to be open about all we’d been through and how it had affected us no matter what happened next; so much of my emotional problem came down to a feeling of isolation. As I put together an e-mail to my immediate colleagues to let them know I wouldn’t be there for a few weeks and why, I did not expect to have a response from one of them sharing what they did. It was to be the start of people responding with variations of “that happened to me too but I didn’t say anything to anyone”. As I’d struggled through days at work, two people I worked with had both been through miscarriages and fertility issues themselves.
As it had become apparent that I couldn’t face another Christmas at home and all that that entailed, we booked to go away. I refused to have the Christmas tree up, didn’t want to associate all the pain with Christmas and the only tinsel we encountered in Gran Canaria was put there for the tourists and looked very out of place! What we did find was some very large nativity scenes, some models, some sand sculptures. Photographs don’t really do them justice. But it was there that God found a way to reach me that I’d let Him in; one of the scenes took in the whole story and included the slaughter of baby boys. It was like it just clicked inside me that He did understand my grief, everything I’d endured and I didn’t have to deal with it on my own. We got home in the very early hours of the Sunday morning and I wanted to go to Church that evening for the first time in almost two months. A video clip was shown of that same part of the story and whilst I wept through most of the service it was the beginning of healing.
We started 2014 finding out that I was pregnant again, a surprise to us, but not to those who’d continued praying! I wouldn’t even look at working out a due date but instead worked out at what point I’d lost the first baby. I needed to get past that date before I could think any further and wouldn’t allow myself to hope. The date came and went and then I started bleeding. It was late, I was at home on my own and I was scared. All I could see was flashbacks of the miscarriage. I remember sitting on the bed half praying, half pleading to not have to go through that again. We ended up ringing an out of hours number and being sent up to A&E, it was only once there I realised they were trying to rule out the pregnancy being ectopic in addition to the miscarriage risk. I don’t have any other explanation than God’s peace for how we got through that night or that when sent home from the hospital at 2am to rest, with no real indication of how baby was, we both slept through until the alarm went off to go back in for a scan at 8:30. I do know that there were two others who didn’t sleep that night but were interceding for us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing that tiny heartbeat for the first time, at that stage in a pregnancy it is all you can see.
We had another two scans but the night before the 20 week scan was scheduled I sat in bed asking what we’d actually see. I’d sat in awe through Easter that God had sent His Son to die not just for me but for this baby I was carrying and yet I still doubted any of it was real. Our son’s Godparents reckon I was about six months into the pregnancy before it really had sunk in that I was pregnant.
Our son (whose name means God is a gracious judge) arrived healthy and whole and even now I sometimes look at him and can’t quite believe it’s all real. Everything I questioned, challenged and doubted about God and His response is to entrust me with this little one’s care. Grace seems such an inadequate word sometimes.
The fertility consultant had told us that there was no way of telling what the situation would be after our son was born. So we decided to just see what happened, and I was pregnant in month one!
It was to be another rocky start with two separate points where I thought I’d lost the baby. It was to be a pregnancy filled with scans and extra appointments and sustained not through anything I did but by God. At 28 weeks I discovered blood, not much but enough to make me panic. It was a strange calm that got me through a number of phone calls, but walking through the hospital doors and seeing a family leaving with their newborn brought human reality crashing through the calm as I stopped focusing on who was in control and started thinking about what I could lose.
Heartbeat traces, various tests on me, and an ultrasound so I could see baby oblivious to all the worry, left us with the knowledge that baby seemed fine, but the doctors still weren’t sure what my body might do. I was given steroids and kept in overnight. It was later I found out that neonatal had been on standby. I knew there were people praying for us, I knew God already knew so much more about this baby than I did but I also knew every day counted, baby only weighed an estimated 4lb. Some days were easier to leave it in His hands than others but the four weeks to the review passed without any further issue and I was discharged back to midwife led care.
Our eldest daughter (her names means my God is abundance) arrived a day overdue, at home as planned, with her big brother the first to know she’d arrived. Her safe arrival was such a demonstration of God’s abundant answer to our prayers and grace in her life before she was even born.
Sometimes God asks us to re-visit places we’ve been before. At the end of March 2017 I lost another baby. I cannot say that it is any easier the second time round, it still hurts; but it has been so very different, in part because of the gift of two amazing toddlers, and in part because God has used everything that has happened to change me. We had a prayer at both their dedications that includes the words “There is no way to predict what the years hold for our family, so we must walk each day in total surrender to Your plan and Your purpose. We take every step assuming that You have already supplied the courage and resources we’ll need. We dream and hope for the future, expecting that You’re already there.” and God has proved in our lives yet again that He does and He is. Once again, He has heard my prayer and seen my tears, and even though the answer is not the one I wanted, given me a strength to continue I wouldn’t have believed possible the first time round.
As I prayed about a third child in our family I left it with God, asking Him to either say yes without more complications, or no and to enjoy the two I had. My next pregnancy was very different, no scares, no bleeding, nothing to cause alarm. Our younger daughter (whose name is another reference to God’s abundance and that joy comes in the morning) arrived safely, with the only drama being whether her or the midwife would make it first to another planned home birth! God really has done exceedingly more than I could ever have imagined. So many years on from the start of this journey I still look on it all with awe.
Along a road that no one asks to travel, I’ve learnt first-hand what it means to be carried in the Father’s hands and have also been reminded of just how faithful and gracious He is in spite of my doubts and questions. In fact I get a daily reminder quite early each morning! The Church I grew up in was neither family nor home but here I’ve experienced how Church can truly be both. Without family close by, it is friends from Church that have been our family and when I’ve picked up the phone been at the door 10 minutes later. I have lost track of the number of people who have held me whilst I’ve cried. Friendships that have given space to voice the pain, questions and doubts without judgement have been so valuable to us and we are so grateful for a Church that we call home.