I remember being a person of faith as young as four years old, begging my parents to allow me to be baptized in the big pool at the front of the Baptist church my dad was serving at the time. (I was raised a church staff kid. Slightly less demanding than being a preacher’s kid but still in that realm.) They were skeptical that I could be ready to make such an important decision at such a young age and I remember them carefully asking me questions about faith that would ascertain my level of understanding at four years old. I remember them telling me that they were concerned I was too young and that perhaps I should wait until I got older. My mom tells me I then began to cry and said “Jesus won’t let me be a Christian because I’m too young?!” I’m proud to say that I won that argument that day and I was baptized that year and never questioned my faith, or the bible for the matter, throughout my youth. It was an absolute. It was a certainty. There was nothing that could shake my faith; until there was. What happens to your faith when you have to hold onto it by your fingernails, amongst the rubble that you used to call your life?
“I’m sorry, Kim… there’s no heartbeat.” Six words that changed my life; changed me, forever. Four separate doctors, four different times I’ve been told those same words. “I’m sorry, Kim… there’s no heartbeat”. One in four women will experience the loss of a pregnancy and I am one of those women. When we lost our first child, Jackson, I remember feeling so lost in my grief, so empty. I couldn’t understand why God would allow me to get pregnant only to have the baby taken away so suddenly. I loved him desperately; all six weeks four days gestation of him. I had dreams for him, a life to live with him. People would tell me that God had a plan and He must have needed another angel. They told me that something must have been wrong, so God spared him a life of pain. Did I mention these were my friends, my family, my fellow people of faith who said these things to me? They searched for meaning, for a reason, as to why this had happened. They urged me to move on, to forget about Jackson, and to look ahead because I was young- I could have another baby.
About five months later we were delighted to learn we were pregnant again and, although scared out of my mind, I was so very excited to be pregnant again. At our five-week appointment, the sonographer grew quiet and sent the doctor in to deliver the grim news- they didn’t see a heartbeat, but there was discrepancy as to how far along I was so it could be just too early. They didn’t believe our baby was viable and pushed us to end the pregnancy, despite there being a small chance of hope that it was simply too early to hear the heartbeat. Without question, my husband and I decided to fight for our baby and refused to give up hope until we could confirm that there was no heartbeat when there should be one in another week and a half. The doctors pitied us and were exasperated at our choice. They made that quite clear. But we clung to hope, and to our faith, that God would provide. He would see us through, and surely, the doctors were wrong and our baby would be fine. “I’m sorry, Kim… there is no heartbeat” were the six words that were said to us a week and a half later. We lost our daughter, Grace, later that week.
I didn’t understand. For the first time in my life I was ANGRY at God. Genuinely enraged. I couldn’t figure out why He would allow me to get pregnant two times and lose both babies. WHY??? I would scream at Him, embarrassed and uncomfortable with my rage. Are you allowed to be that angry with God, I would wonder? Is that allowed? Is that a thing? It was for me.
Six months later I would learn I was carrying our daughter, Reagan, only to find out several days later that I would lose her as well at only five weeks along. People told me to stop telling people I was pregnant so early because we weren’t the only people who hurt when we lost the baby. We were told to just keep trying. Keep believing that God has a plan and that there was something obviously wrong with our babies and that’s why God kept calling them home. It was a dark, bleak time for me.
Three pregnancy losses in one year. February, August, February. I was angry all the time. I hated every pregnant person, every pregnancy announcement, and every ultrasound. I didn’t know there was help for people who had miscarriages because according to everyone I knew (who had never actually experienced one themselves) they were oh so very common. They swatted away my grief because it made them uncomfortable. And I let them. I allowed other people to tell me how long and in what ways I was allowed to grieve the three babies I had lost. I allowed people to bully me and minimize my grief because I didn’t know how to stand up for it then.
At the time, we attended a different church then we do now and the weekend I knew I was going to lose Reagan our pastor played a video about a little boy who was born despite a genetic issue that would surely take his life. He was a fighter, that baby, and his parents made him a video diary of every day of his life, called “Dear Elliot”- 99 balloons (see video link but I warn you- grab the tissues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th6Njr-qkq0). Elliot lived for 99 days and they celebrated each and every one of them, knowing that there would come a time they would have to say goodbye to their sweet boy. “The Lord Giveth, the Lord Taketh away- the Lord’s name be blessed.” That verse flooded the screen on that video and it knocked the wind out of me with God-like force. Other people had lost, and would continue to lose, babies and even in the darkest of circumstances, God was still there. He was still worthy of praise. It took a lot of fighting through the anger and sadness to continue to praise Him. To continue to pray to Him, begging him to give us a living baby.
A little over a year later we found out we were pregnant again and by this time my level of skepticism was at an all-time high. When we went to the doctor for our first ultrasound I didn’t even want to look at the screen. I had stared intently the last three times, willing my babies to be alive and to see that beautiful heartbeat only to be crushed each and every time. When I heard our baby’s heartbeat come through the monitor I thought I was hearing things, still willing the monitors to cooperate. I looked up at my husband and when we locked eyes, we knew that our baby was still alive and God had just granted us the most precious gift- the sound of a heartbeat.
As each appointment came and went I held onto that verse- “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. The Lord’s name be praised.” I wore it like armor, making sure that I praised the Lord as often as possible as a bargain- if I was grateful enough, He would let us keep our baby. Our baby grew and grew and although I was never fully comfortable in my pregnancy, I begin to relax a little at a time. By the end of my pregnancy I even allowed myself to give into the thoughts “normal” pregnant women think sometimes about our bodies or discomfort. At our second to last doctor’s appointment we set the date for my C-Section which would be five days away. For the first time, I fully believed that everything was going to be ok. I let down my guard and allowed myself to feel what I was terrified for nine months to feel- pure joy. My doctor had scheduled one final test the day before my C-Section and I remember sitting in the waiting room being the happiest I had ever been in my life. I was in the waiting room of a high-risk doctor who would ensure all was well and then the very next day, a mere 24 hours later, the love of my life and I would welcome our son into the world. Thirty minutes later, the sonographer was peppering me with questions as she used the ultrasound wand on my belly and then abruptly left the room. “Something’s wrong,” I told my husband. “Everything is fine,” he told me. The doctor came into the room and silently used the wand over my belly. After a lengthy, unbearable silence she placed the wand down, took my arm, looked me deep in the eyes and told me “I’m sorry, Kim. There’s no heartbeat.” I felt like a nuclear bomb had detonated next to my head. I couldn’t process her words. I looked at the ultrasound screen with my baby boy’s still image on it and couldn’t begin to comprehend that he had died. She left the room to allow us some time and so she could call my regular doctor. My husband called his boss to tell him he wouldn’t be back to work today and why. I called my sister frantically but she didn’t answer so I called my folks. I’ll never forget the sound of my dad’s voice when he answered, so excited to see a call from me knowing we were coming out of a doctor’s appointment. “Daddy, Caleb died!” were the only words I could get out. I’ll never forget my father screaming as he took my words in.
What happens to your faith when you have to hold onto it by your fingernails, amongst the rubble that you used to call your life? At first, I was in so much shock that my faith seemed to be the only thing I understood. I remember waiting to have my C-Section and thinking that the doctors had it wrong and that God would come through. He would make everything ok and Caleb would be fine. He had to. I had lost three babies already, there is NO WAY that MY God, the God of mercy and grace and raising people from the dead would allow this to happen to us. Again. At the very end of my pregnancy. I remember being in the Operating Room and hearing my husband ask the nurse to please check his heartbeat again. We were praying for a miracle. After our beautiful boy was born, the nurse looked at us and shook her head sadly – “We checked again. I’m so sorry.”
I was scared to see him, I didn’t know what he would look like or feel like. Everything inside of me was horrified that I had just given birth to death; the silence of the OR was deafening. On December 12, 2011 at 4:59pm, our angel, Caleb Calvin Woods, was born silently into this world. He was perfect. He was beautiful. When they laid him on my chest I feel more madly in love with him than I ever thought possible. He looked peaceful, just like a normal sleeping baby. Only with dark purple lips and no heartbeat. Most of my “friends” on Facebook began flooding my page with congratulatory remarks because they knew Caleb would be born the next morning. We had only managed to text or call a few people, our closest friends and family, to tell them the news. I couldn’t take the “ding!” of the notifications any longer so in the wee morning hours on December 13th, the day Caleb was supposed to have been born, I took to my Facebook page to share the heartbreaking news that our son had died the day before he was to be born and was stillborn. While writing the gut wrenching news announcing to the world Caleb had died, I held onto those words: “The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. The Lord’s name be praised.”
It’s been seven years and 43 days since that day; ten years of being a grieving parent. My fingernails have become strong, adept at holding on to my faith while gritting my teeth and not seeing a way forward. My faith has seen better days; it’s not the blind faith that I had as a four-year-old child. It’s been through the ringer. God and I have been through the ringer. More times than I can count at this point. My faith has been banged up and challenged. I’ve leaned into during some very dark days and have pulled away from it during others. I no longer allow people to bully me on how I grieve or in what state my faith is at any given time. My journey, in grief and in faith, isn’t pretty. It isn’t tied up with a bow at the end. My sometimes expletive-filled talks with my Creator would horrify the church ladies, of this I am sure. But it’s real. It’s true. And while I will never reconcile the loss of my babies on this side of heaven, someday God and I will have a face to face conversation about all of it and I plan to bring the heat, Y’all. Until then, however: the Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. The Lord’s name be praised.