I have to tell you, I’m hesitant to tell my story. It’s sad. And long. And I don’t have a nice neat bow to wrap it up with. But…I feel the need to share my “mom story,” ’cause it’s the only one I have…for now. So fair warning, I’m about to get a bit emotional.
I’d like to meet my two children: Samuel Stringfellow, and Joy Stringfellow. These are really the only pictures I have of them.
Samuel at 8 weeks
Joy at 6 weeks
In June of 2009, Clint and I celebrated our five year wedding anniversary. I had had the baby bug for a while, but was willing to wait until Clint decided he was ready to take the plunge. On our anniversary, Clint surprised me by telling me that he was ready to give it a shot. Hurrah! My baby craziness was officially sanctioned!
But six months later, I realized that I might have a problem. I wasn’t getting my periods, which normally when you are trying to get pregnant = success. But I wasn’t pregnant. Something was wrong with my body.
My doctor was a joke. I actually walked out of her office in tears after one particularly rude and insensitive statement. I realized that she wasn’t really interested in figuring out what was wrong. “Wait another six months. And keep trying.” Gee, that’s helpful. We can “try” all day long, but if I’m not having cycles, there will be no baby magic. Hate to break it to ya, but contrary to popular belief, babies do NOT come by stork. But she just stood in the corner of her office and nodded her head at the appropriated times in the conversation. No blood was drawn, no test were done. Heck, I didn’t even have to take off my clothes. When I got a bill from her a few days later for $200, I went through the roof.
So I got a new doctor.
He was much more helpful. He quickly diagnosis me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which turns out to be a very common infertility problem. Basically, my body has problems processing sugar the right away, with one of the side affects being, I stop ovulating. He put me on a drug that is used to treat diabetes, but also helps women who have PCOS. And what do you know, 30 days later, Ms. Mother Nature had returned.
Really, was that so hard?
February/March 2010. I’ve noticed that the milestone moments in my life lately tend to happen around holidays. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Well, no, that’s not true. I hate this. Because when those milestones happen to be bad, it tends to ruin those holidays for me. The first example isn’t one of those bad ones though. It’s just funny. We got pregnant on Saint Patty’s Day. That’s right. Saint Patrick’s Day. Must be the Irish in me. Or the Car Bombs. Either way, two weeks later, I brought Clint breakfast in bed, and surprised him with the news. The Champ took it really well, there was no freaking out at all! Only excitement.
We told our folks a few days later (there was much squealing of delight, since we had kept our trying to get pregnant a secret from them), but decided that we wouldn’t tell the general world yet. My mother went through three miscarriages while having my two sisters and I, and we had recently stood by my sister-in-law as she went though her miscarriage. So there was always that tiny fear in the back of my mind. We would wait until after my first doctor’s appointment.
Clint and I are BIG about avoiding spoilers. We don’t want to know how the movie ends, or whats going to happen in next week’s episode. So it only makes sense that we decided that we would wait to find out the sex of the baby until it was born. But right away, we both felt like it was going to be a boy. And the Chinese birth calendar agreed.
I had my first scare at six weeks, when I had some spotting. I wasn’t really too freaked out because of how common that is in early pregnancy. But just to make sure everything was okay, my OB set me to get an ultrasound. I waited nervously while the tech did her thing. And then there he was. A tiny little thing, that looked nothing like a human, but totally like a kidney bean. And flickering away at the center of this strange little bean was a strong heartbeat.
Words escape me.
I think that is the moment, in my heart, when I became a mom. It wasn’t just a chemical reaction on a stick anymore. I was looking at something that was alive and completely dependent on me for its continued existence. My body had suddenly become someone’s home.
About a week or so later, I got to take Clint with me to my first prenatal appointment. The doctor wheeled in the ultra sound machine, and Clint got to see our little bean for the first time. And then she turned on the speakers…thump thump thump… there was the sound of his heartbeat.
The next day we “came out of the closet” and made the public announcement that we would be having another little Stringfellow come December.
Mother’s Day 2010. I was ten weeks along. Clint and I were driving back from Arizona, having spent the weekend with my mom and I noticed I had a bit of spotting. Just a little, not enough to worry. But Tuesday, it was back, and was more. I put a call into my doctor, and got the call back Wednesday afternoon that she would squeeze me ASAP. I called Clint to meet me at the office. I just have to take a moment to say that I love this doctor. She has been awesome with us from the very beginning. She quickly got us in, and pulled out the ultra sound machine.
“Bleeding is so normal during pregnancy. But lets just check to make sure everything’s okay. Lets see. Okay, see this, that is Baby and the sack….” She trailed off. Silence filled the room for the next minute as she moved the wand around. Clint clenched my hand. Finally, she pulled back and looked at us.
“I’m so sorry. There is no heart beat. And Baby is only measuring eight weeks.”
How do you respond to that? Some how we stumbled through the process of going to the hospital to get it confirmed. And scheduling my D&C. And then calling our family.
The next day, Clint and I arrived at the Kasier surgery center in Tustin to have a D&C. They had given me drugs to help prepare me for the D&C, which unfortunately started really working just as I stepped into the elevator. They had to rush me into the pre-op area.
You know those moments in life that stay in your memory with crystal clarity? This was one of those moments. A pristine white tiled bathroom, trying to change into the hospital gown, while standing in a puddle of blood. And having the absurd panic attack that I need to clean it up. Despite the horrific start, the surgery itself went well, and I was on my feet the next day.
“Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life’…And in due time she conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord.'”
A week later, Clint and I stood at the ocean’s edge, at the tip of the Baja Mexico, as the sun slid below the horizon. In my hand was a tiny wreath made from flowers I’d gather around the resort. Behind us on the dune stood his mother and father, his sister and her husband, and their two year old daughter Clara. Samuel wreath disappeared into the waves as we walked back to our family. As we trudged through the sand, Clara reached up and grabbed Clint’s hand. It was the first time she had ever reached for him, but they walked hand in hand all the way back to the resort.
“Count it all Joy…”
We were heartbroken from losing Samuel. Adding to the pain was getting to relive it every time we saw someone who had heard we were pregnant, and having to explain to them. But we agreed that we wanted to try again right away. So we did. I struggled with a feeling of desperation to get pregnant again right away, but I didn’t want to become consumed by it. It was hard to find balance. Four months passed, and I was starting to feel a little more like myself again. We decided to take a break from obsessing, and just give it up to God and His timing.
So of course I got pregnant. I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I was. I woke Clint up with the news. We laid curled up together in bed that morning, and prayed. “Dear God, thank you for this miracle. Thank you for giving this child to us, for however long you choose to give it to us.” I remember choking on those words, because it was so different this time. The naivety was gone. And there was a lot of fear. We knew how short that time could be.
This time, we weren’t going to tell anyone until the end of the first trimester. It was too hard having to UN-tell so many people last time. When it came time for my first appointment, Clint was out of town. I was sad he wouldn’t be able to be there, and nervous about what the doctor would find. So I brought one of my dear friends with me, to hold my hand. We sat nervously in the room, as the doctor got the ultra-sound machine set up.
“Okay…here we go. There is the baby, and the egg sack.” And there she was, a tiny little thing. And she turned on the speakers…and the sound of her heartbeat filled the room. I took a picture of the ultrasound with my phone and texted to Clint so he would be the second person in the world to see her.
Thanksgiving 2010. The day before Thanksgiving I started bleeding. Immediately, my heart sank. This had happened before. I called my doctor. I called Clint. I left work, and drove to the office.
My heart was racing as I got settled into the room, and the doctor wasted no time in wheeling in ultra sound machine. She turned it on, and we got a look at the screen.
I immediately knew it was wrong. The baby should have been nine weeks old. But it was much too small. And I couldn’t see that precious flicker of the heart. She didn’t say anything as she examined me, but finally she turned off the machine and turned to us.
“I’m so sorry…”
Our church’s vision is “To encourage people to enjoy God together.” Our first principle is “More joy in Jesus.” Over and over through the years, our pastor has preached that our goal should be to find more joy in God. That our joy should always be in Him, that pursuing Him is the only thing that will bring us the most joy. We recently went through the book of James and the verse that has stuck with me is, “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Our pastor talked about how we can have joy in the MIDST of our trials. The joy can be had not only afterward–looking back in hindsight–but in the middle of it, because the trial means that He is working in us, now, that He loves us, and has brought this trial into our live to produce steadfast faith. That should bring us joy, even while we are crying in pain.
Thanksgiving morning, I lay in bed curled on my side. Clint lay with me, his head resting on my hip.
“I always thought she was a girl,” I whispered.
“I never got to see her,” he whispered sadly.
We lay in silence together for a while until he said softly: “I think we should name her Joy.”
Related post: The Art of Grieving