*Again, just a reminder these events occurred in November, 2005.*
We were banner-making on a Saturday afternoon. I had a new theater friend – you know, the one other person in twenty that loves community theater and will go see every tortured production with no arm twisting required – and we were heading to the Cape Fear production of Steel Magnolias. I scribbled love notes to Husband from Baby H all over the Christmas banner we were sending to the boys and girls down range.
(We had a fake name picked out already …. Hasselhof Uribe Huggins. As in the Hoff. David Hasselhof. It’s a long boring story that involved Husband and his baby brother using their combined intellectual might to come up with a name resulting in the initials H.U.H. so they could walk around saying, “Huh? Huh?” Suffice to say that since that moment, choosing fake baby name is, without a doubt, priority number one on our pregnancy to do lists. I created a little personality who emailed his dad and wrote messages on the banner, signing off as Baby H. In the weave of our family he is ever and always Baby H.)
Saturday night, somewhere between syrupy southern accents dripping with fake molasses and some serious overacting, the warning signs came. Along with the first frisson of fear. I sat in a musty velvet bathroom for hour-long minutes, frozen. At intermission, my sweet theater friend offered to drive me to the emergency room. I said yes like a drowning woman. I did not want to be alone. And so, a lifelong friendship was born out of hours of waiting in the emergency room, only to be told by a cold cadaver of a man to go home and wait. If Baby H. was dying, or already dead, there was nothing I could do. No ultrasound, no reassurance, no answers.
And wait I did. I moved with exaggerated care, convinced that if I moved slowly enough he would stay in, he would live. I circled our little nest, smoothing blankets, tidying small spaces, hovering, waiting. Sunday night I spent time-stretched minutes in our tiny old-house-smelling future nursery marveling over in-utero photos of wee ones at eleven weeks. The photos were aching, delicate perfection, and I saw, I did, my H. I pleaded with the Lord, begged for this not to be happening.
Even in that moment, unrecognized by me, He was pouring out His grace. Preparing my heart. I wrote in my journal this prayer: “I’ve never wanted anything more in my entire life. Grant me the grace to accept your answer. I’m going to need it.” In the intervening years, that prayer, the desiring of His will, the recognition that I can’t surrender without Him, has become like breath, life-giving resuscitation to my oft-paralyzed heart.
I willed myself to lie perfectly still, even as the pain came with increasing length and intensity. If I didn’t move, nothing bad could happen. I slept in fits until six am, the earliest possible moment I felt I could call for help.
In the weave of our life, I can see beautiful threads, lives intertwined, people woven in time and place to minister to us, to hold our breaking hearts in their hands, to carry us when we are crumbling, to cry out to the Father on our behalf, to be the hands and feet of Christ. One such person is a nurse, and another a twenty-year army wife and battle-scarred veteran of many Army-mandated separations. Both were my employers in North Carolina: I, the erstwhile English major, hired to help them with homeschooling their combined ten children
I did call for help. I called the Nurse at six am, still clinging to a shred of belief that this was in the bounds of normal and some pain medicine and bed rest would magically make it all better. She gently affirmed my decision to take the pain medicine, put down the phone with me, and called the Army Wife. My no-nonsense, truth-telling savior called immediately and spoke the hard truth, followed by the words, “I’m coming over.”
And she did. I maneuvered into the narrow purple bathroom, waiting, light too bright at six am, forcing reality on my pain-hazed brain and eyes tight-shut against the truth. I called my mom, my poor mom on the phone, who was listening when my body failed my firstborn. A great rush of heaving sobs came out at once, in concert with the life ebbing out, my first-time-mommy dreams dying, my head against the wall, my heart pouring out.
Army Wife came: she came and carried me while I was crumbling. Carried me to her home. Carried me between bed and bathroom. Held my hand, wiped my forehead, held my heart while it was breaking. I cried, chest heaving, stomach clenching sobs. I stood in the shower for an eternity, desperate to be done, to un-see what I was seeing. I leaned my head against the hard wet wall, eyes closed tight, the ethereal photos just marveled over painted on my eyelids. My only defense against the moment.
It was clear early on that it was not an ordinary situation, and a trip to the emergency room was imminent. Army Wife did it all – called ahead, sent the Red Cross message to the Husband, cleaned me up, got me to the car (still sobbing). Nurse took care of all ten children, ages 14 to 2, that day, no small feat in itself. I still have torn edged child drawings glued in the back of my journal, colored by the children as they all interceded for me in prayer. A cheerful array of rainbows, a reminder of promises kept.
I waited in the emergency room alone for thirty minutes, due to a now-nonexistent policy that no one could accompany me beyond the counter until I had been checked and seen initially. I was in a small windowless room, an all-the-way-walled-in room in the Womack ER, face-to-face with reality, laboring with no birth, no pain medicine, and no Husband to hold my hand, comfort my shattered heart. It was dark, and airless, and closing in on me, choking my breath and stealing even my tears. I was raging. Being alone severed the razor-thin hold I had on my composure as I was wheeled in to the emergency room. I wanted my baby. I wanted my husband. I wanted to erase what was happening. I wanted to lash out. In the moment, I was yelling, cursing, demanding drugs to blot out the immediate pain of the moment, to numb the occurring loss. It was the only moment I was literally shouting at God. Fortunately, I serve a God who grieves with me, who hears my pain, who bears my burdens, and can take a little yelling and the occasional curse word …