Breathtaking Grace: Grief to Glory // Part Four
If you are pregnant or are sensitive to solemn topics about birth and death please do not continue reading. We do not want to place any anxious thoughts or images in your mind as we share openly about the grief of baby loss.
Jessica and Paul's baby Grace
Grace's story was long written even before her daddy and I knew we were expecting her. I fully believe that God saw her unformed body and had this miraculous plan for her short life long ago. Grace was and is such a wonderful blessing and I am so proud to be her mama!
I had been praying about Grace before Paul and I started trying to have another baby. I was scared after our first baby loss in miscarriage, but trusted that He would provide if that was His will.
Paul took the morning off to attend our 18th week appointment. I remember so vividly, walking into my doctor's office with a smile beaming on my face, on top of the world, and ready to find out what gender we were having. The ultrasound tech called us in and began performing the scan. She kept saying "Everything looks great." She showed us almost every inch of her body, confirmed Grace was a girl, checked her heart, blood flow, etc. After, she moved up to Grace's head and couldn't seem to get a good picture. The tech proceeded to help me up and said that she'd be right back because she wanted to go share the images with the doctor.
I looked at Paul and my eyes began to swell with tears. The doctor came in, looked at us with a stone cold face, and said, "I'm very sorry to have to share this with you, but your daughter has a fatal birth defect called Anencephaly." Paul looked at her confused and said, "She has what?" That is when she began to share what the birth defect was in her doctor lingo. Anencephaly occurs prior to even knowing one is pregnant, between the 24-28 day of pregnancy, the top portion of a baby's neural tube fails to close properly. This results in partial or the complete absence of the cerebellum part of her brain and the top part of her skull.
The days following Grace's diagnosis left me in a very dark place. I felt crushed, defeated, and hopeless. Those words simply do not do justice after hearing, "incompatible with life" come out of your doctor's mouth. We had great things planned for our growing family and we were eager for our child to surpass all of the hopes and dreams we envisioned. During the same conversation with our doctor, we were presented with three options as to how we wanted to move forward with our pregnancy (terminate, induce at 27 weeks, or carry full term). My husband confidently felt the Holy Spirit enter his mindset and knew our only way to move forward was to carry our precious daughter to term. It still pains me to this day that there was hesitation to my decision as to how we were going to proceed. As the days slowly crept by, God worked in insurmountable ways.
His love and grace were felt by the people He precisely placed in my life to illuminate the truth behind His Word. Psalm 139:13-16 took on a new meaning to me as I studied each verse and what that meant for my child. I felt led to research termination and induction and viewed images and began to understand the reality of what I was considering. God continues to work remarkable ways and through our entire pregnancy and after Grace's passing, I felt His sweet embrace more than ever before.
Our pastor was one of the first individuals we contacted after we found out about Grace's diagnosis. We wanted to find out the Biblical perspective in moving forward in our pregnancy and felt that he was the best person to pass on his knowledge. He was distraught when he first learned about her diagnosis and immediately comforted us with scripture. He offered counseling and suggested we connect with similar couples who have already walked our path.
My pregnancy with Grace went very well for the most part. Grace was taking in amniotic fluid, but was behind in her growth as I became further along in my pregnancy. You can read more about Grace's birth story here.
Grace Annmarie Morris entered this world on May 18, 2012 at 12:18pm and she was alive! The nurses rushed her over to clean her up, put a hat on her, and set her in my arms. She was beautiful and so unbelievably precious.
My heart melted and in an instant I felt like I understood, even though I really don't, how much God loved me. This child that God entrusted us with was laying on my chest, gazing up at me with her beautiful blue eyes. She was everything I longed for and here she was... absolutely breathtaking!
Our Pastor was there in the waiting room with his Bible in hand. He entered the room, prayed over us, and blessed our sweet child. He stayed the enter time she was alive. Grace lived for two hours and seven minutes in the presence of her grandparents, uncles, aunties, great aunties, our Pastor, and Kelly - our wonderful photographer that has become like family to us. Much of that time spent with Grace was holding onto her tightly, kissing her, and admiring the beauty that radiated from her. She looked like her daddy... her sweet little lips, cheeks, chin, etc. She was perfect and she stole my heart!
I will never ever forget the time when Paul and I were taken upstairs into our postpartum room. My parents said goodbye to Grace with tears pouring down their faces. And there we were, alone, just the three of us.
Paul had to head downstairs to get us something to eat before the cafeteria closed. He left Grace and I alone together for a good twenty minutes. That time I spent with her will forever be ingrained in my heart. Even though she wasn't alive at the time, I could still feel the warmth of her body, my heart and mouth poured out all my feelings. My tears fell onto her face and I kissed them away. I sang "You Are My Sunshine" to her like I did when she was in my tummy. I told her of all the things I longed to do with her when I get to heaven, the things I wished I could have done with her here on earth. I am so thankful for that time with her... It was my only Mommy and daughter time I would ever get to spend with her.
The days following her death were hard on us emotionally, but we sought comfort from the greatest source, our Heavenly Father. Our alone time with the Lord allowed the both of us to see and to come to terms with the fact that His ways are not always our ways. We clung to many verses that provided us hope for our future and comfort as we journeyed through great despair. There wasn't a moment that passed where I felt forsaken. We experienced His love and hand in EVERY aspect of her life. Our Pastor continues to ask us how we are doing and makes it a point to reach out whenever he can. We feel incredibly blessed to have such a loving and compassionate Pastor. Our church family learned of Grace's diagnosis from our Pastor and through fellowship. They were a great support system throughout the entire process and huge prayer warriors. Our church family means the world to us.
I share how God is and has moved in our lives in my blog, Blessed by Grace Morris, where I talk openly about Grace in every entry. I felt like the topic of loss, especially miscarriage and child loss is not talked about. It pains me to know that some women never open up about their loss, and in turn end up deeply hurting inside. I wanted to open up about my journey to bring awareness about Anencephaly, but also to help those loss mamas that needed to know they were not alone in their journey. Creating this blog has been such a blessing and because of it, I have come in contact with many mothers who are currently walking a similar path.
I love talking about Grace openly with others. There is something about sharing that brings me so much healing. I think most women can relate when they talk about their children. There is a joy that radiates out because they bring their mamas so much happiness. Grace does that for me too, even if she's not alive. However, she is seldom brought up and many people have stopped asking how I am doing. That hurts a lot. I'm sure it is uncomfortable and puts them in weird position and I get that to a certain degree. In turn, I've learned a lot about how to treat another loss mama, which I am thankful for.
When the question of whether we have children is brought up from strangers, there is always a slight hesitation. We feel like we may burden them with our loss and we don't want the uncomfortable pause and awkward silence. As a result of being asked this, I've come to say, "Yes, we were blessed with a girl named Grace, however, she rests in heaven with Jesus. We were extremely blessed by her and thank God for allowing us to be her parents." It seems as though when strangers think that we appear to be doing "well," there is less awkwardness and the conversation moves on seamlessly. I'm sure as time goes on it will get easier and we won't worry so much about what others are thinking.
Do you grieve differently than your spouse?
Paul: Because I believed that this journey was always in His hands, I was only truly saddened while Grace was in our physical presence at the hospital. Don't get me wrong, I was very crushed when we learned of her diagnosis, but the wave of emotion didn't truly hit until her arrival. Jessica had a stronger emotional and physical connection with Grace while she was carrying her and that is something I was never able to experience, obviously. I never developed that relationship with my girl and I needed a physical and visual connection with Grace to grow deeper, which in turn helped my emotional connection. I hope that doesn't sound like I don't love my first born, but I think the connection with a child really hits a man when he or she has entered this world and in his arms. I felt like I had to be more of support to Jessica while she was carrying Grace and after her passing. I didn't need much grieving time due to the fact that I felt like my job was to support Jessica through her grieving, even though I didn't feel what she was feeling. It hurt to see Jessica mourn and cry, but I never felt her side and always listened and tried to comfort her.
Jessica: I believe I started grieving the passing of Grace shortly after her diagnosis. Even though I knew and trusted God could heal her at any moment, I guarded my heart though my entire pregnancy. I was an emotional roller coaster while carrying her and Paul was always there to console, pray, and point me to God's Word all the time. I was very outward about my emotions during my pregnancy and after her passing, and although Paul didn't understand why I'd cry at any given moment, he was still there for me. He would often be very straightforward and express that he couldn't grasp how I was feeling inside and that he was rejoicing over the fact that she was healed and with Jesus. While I knew she was made whole and complete in His presence, that still didn't fill the void of Grace not being in my arms. It has been almost ten months after her birth and there are still things I like to purchase in remembrance of her and Paul just doesn't get how it makes me feel closer to her. Even though he doesn't "get" my feelings or emotions, he has never left my side.
If you don't mind, please share any hard consequences that followed the loss of your children.
Jessica: After our miscarriage in 2010, I learned to quickly guard and protect my heart. I clung onto Proverbs 4:23 which states, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." When we found out we were pregnant again, there was always this fear of "what if" that lurked in the back of my mind. Don't get me wrong, I was elated to discover I was pregnant again, but I truly protected my heart from getting hurt again early on in our pregnancy.
I remember one evening specifically, Paul and I were shopping at Target when I was close to 18 weeks. He wandered over to the baby section and stayed close by, but tried to distract myself with the books that were close by. He yelled for me to come over, and so reluctantly, I walked over to his side. He said, "Jess, we need to get an idea of a price point for a crib and dresser. What are you thinking you'd like the baby to sleep in?" In a perfect world, I would have been jumping up and down that he was actually interested in something like this, but there was something in the pit of my stomach that told me to guard my heart. I smiled and said, "I'm really not up for looking at baby stuff right now. Let's do this another time when I'm not so worn down." We made our way home and he gently grabbed my arm in the kitchen. He looked deep into my eyes and said, " You have to trust in Him. You have not enjoyed this pregnancy because you are fearful that something is going to happen. Stop and trust!" I did trust in His plan for our lives with this good gift growing inside of me, but I was literally tired of being hurt and beaten down.
Paul and I are in the season of life where many of our friends have children or are expecting one on the way. As a result of the passing of Grace, it has been very difficult for me to be around other couples that have newborns. It's not because I am jealous or bitter for their blessing that has been bestowed to them. In fact, Romans 12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn," is always at the forefront of my mind. I praise the One who fearfully and wonderfully creates my friends' and family's precious blessings. However, it's very difficult for me to be in the presence of these children. My greatest fear is that I'd be asked to hold the baby and a large part of me doesn't want to. This is normally unlike me and I'd typically be busting through their doors at the hospital to hold their children, but Grace was the last baby I held and I'm holding onto that. Perhaps that is very selfish of me, but I don't want another child to be in my arms and begin crying when their birth is supposed to be something celebrated.
What are some blessings because of your two children?
Paul: It has been a remarkable journey to see my wife's faith transform. She has been awakened to a more alive relationship with Christ than she had in the past. This enabled us to not stay in a state of darkness because we found hope in Jesus Christ together. Many walls were broken down and I felt like we were able to connect emotionally on a different level. I was left in awe to see my wife endure labor with such a joyful heart knowing the outcome. This whole process allowed my heart to appreciate her more and reconfirmed what a wonderfully selfless individual she is.
Paul and Jessica: We have grown considerably closer through both of our losses. It really stinks to have to walk down such hurtful paths, but we are choosing to look for the positives of our situation instead of dwelling on the sadness and hurt. We realized that life is extremely fragile and all of our days are numbered here on Earth, which has allowed us to live in the moment and praise Him for very breath we take.
Our love for each other has grown leaps and bounds after our miscarriage and the death of Grace. We will often revisit our vows to allow us to remember that through any and every situation we will face it together while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and praising Him in the process. We fully believe the lyrics of Dave Barn's song God Gave Me You, where it says, "God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt" couldn't be more true.
Do you have any advice for others trying to comfort couples with loss?
This is always such a hard question because as individuals, we grieve so differently. What may bring comfort to one couple, may not console another. What has helped me during this journey is when people ask how I'm doing and speak of Grace. People may think that by bringing this up it will bring hurt to the person or couple, however, it's the complete opposite. It allows me to see that they care and want to know how I am REALLY doing. When others speak of Grace it shows me that they haven't forgotten her. My heart leaps for joy when family members or friends send me messages or pictures of things that remind them of her. It's so sweet when her heavenly anniversary is remembered or when my niece will write Grace cards. There is healing behind all those gestures.
What is hard is when people try to encourage you, but only make things more difficult. I remember when we first found out about Grace's diagnosis, I already had people telling me they were sorry for our loss. She wasn't dead yet and that hurt. Or comments such as: "God will provide you another child, it will get easier, or there's a reason for everything" only brought more hurt to my soul. I know very well that every person that said these things were only trying to console me, however, they don't know God's will for our lives and they had no idea if we were going to be blessed with another gift from above.
I would tell couples to cling to His Word. Jesus Christ went through so much suffering as He roamed this earth and the Bible provides great insight for healing and making it through the battle. I studied particular stories of individuals in the Bible that faced hardships and tried to use them as examples while I was walking my path. Staying in the Word provides me great hope and heals my broken heart. I sought support from other loss mamas that have a faith and that has helped me to know that I'm not abnormal for feeling certain ways. The women that I have met have become dear friends of mine and are always there when I need someone to listen. I also loved reading books by Angie Smith because she walked a similar path and has such great words of encouragement and faithfulness to her Heavenly Father. Grief goes in stages and I'd tell couples to be patient with how they are feeling. They need allow themselves to cry and know it's perfectly okay. Baby loss parents need to surround themselves with people that will support them in all times during this process. It's a truly difficult journey to walk through and the support from other individuals is huge.
Did you commemorate the life of your babies in anyway?
We chose not to commemorate the life of our miscarriage. At the time, I was flooded with emotion and was constantly told that it happens to many women and that I needed to move on from feeling hurt. After having Grace, I realized that our first baby was just as important as she was. Although we didn't give him/her a name, I hung an angel in my car in honor of that little life. I like to go on many miscarriage and infant walks to remember our children in Heaven.
We chose to honor Grace by honoring God and choosing to bless her with life, no matter how long that may have been. We felt that we could not take her life, even though the doctors had incompatible with life stamped on her, before He intended. We treated her like we would have any other child. We named her, bought her clothes for the hospital, and loved her to no end.
While I was carrying her, I was listening to Like an Avalanche by Hillsong United and Divine Romance by Phil Wickham, and she literally would bounce around every time I played those songs. I always told her daddy that she and I liked to praise our Lord even in the midst of the storm. Those songs always remind me of my walk with the Lord during the time of carrying her and how she and I bonded over such amazing songs.
I also commemorate Grace's life by blogging on the internet. When I write about her life and the impact she has had on my life, I feel closer to her. God has worked in marvelous ways through her life and I try to bring all the glory and honor back to Him when I write. I also love to collect dandelions and dandelion art because the seeds blowing in the wind remind me of her and having hope in Jesus Christ because having hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5). My friends and students at school will often draw or take pictures and send them to0, that always brings a smile to my face.
For Grace's first heavenly birthday we will be having a gathering at our home to celebrate her first year of eternal life in heaven. We will be inviting family, close friends, and our Pastor to praise and worship the One that created our sweet pea. It will be themed with dandelions and centered on Romans 5:5. We are looking forward to honoring our baby girl on May 18th with joyful hearts.
Grace was in our arms for a moment, but will live forever in our hearts. She is and will always be apart of us. We cannot thank God more for this unbelievable blessing of our sweet Grace. Our loving Savior and Grace has forever changed us.
___________________________________ Today concludes the Grief to Glory baby loss series. If you have miscarried a baby you may find comfort by reading Part Two // Carried Through Miscarriage. Also, the story of baby Simeon's life is shared in Part Three // Lifted through Baby Loss.
Please know that we at Holy Hen House understand the solemness of the content we are sharing. It is our intention to have an open and honest telling of a Christian couple’s response to grief.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4