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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

To the Child I Carried After A Loss

I remember the moment so clearly.

We were driving down the mountain on Governors Drive, just my daddy and me. It was just a few weeks after Melissa had died. Ann Catherine was still in the NICU. Chris had gone back to work and loneliness had started to creep in. My dad had talked me into “getting out of the house” one day and we were driving around and talking, when he gently asked the question.

“Do you think you’ll ever have more children?”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I really want Ann Catherine to have a brother or sister. Maybe we’ll adopt, because I know one thing for sure: I never want to be pregnant again.”

And I meant it.

I had suffered a traumatic pregnancy full of unknowns and what ifs. After seven weeks of hospital bed rest with my twin girls, full of hundreds of moments to ponder whether they were going to live or die, I found myself in a terrifying situation. Melissa was in trouble and they had to deliver both she and Ann Catherine on a dark and rainy June morning. I can’t tell you how many nurses ran into my hospital room that morning and worked frantically to prep me for surgery, while trying to save my daughters’ lives. After those scary and chaotic moments, I was rushed to the operating room where I delivered my girls via emergency C-section. They were 14 weeks early. 

Trust me, a situation like that changes everything.

It was always in the back of my mind after Melissa passed away: my desire for another child, but my absolute panic over the possibility of ever living through that nightmare again.

After 68 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Ann Catherine finally came home. I put all of my energy into taking care of this premature infant, one who required more care than a healthy full-term baby.

My favorite time of day was when I would rock her to sleep for her morning nap. During this time, there was a show on television about adoption that I loved to watch. Each episode told the story of a family adopting a child, whether in the United States or overseas. The storyteller inside of me loved watching these stories unfold. I often cried at the end as the family finally met the child they had been waiting for.

I began to believe that adoption was the road we were going to walk down. After all, I had no desire to be pregnant. Maybe this was what God intended for our lives?

On one particular morning, as I watched another couple’s story unfold, I realized I couldn’t try to control this any longer. I closed my eyes and prayed as I held Ann Catherine in my arms. I remember the words more than 11 years later.

“Lord, please allow a child to find its way into our lives. I don’t care the path that child takes. I don't care how that child gets to our family. Just please let a child find its way to us.”

I immediately had a peace that I can’t explain. To this day, I remember the feeling I had after I prayed that prayer. It was a prayer of total surrender. I hadn’t experienced that often. You see, I would often pray for something and claim I was turning it over to God, but when He didn’t act quickly enough or in the way that I thought He should act, I would grab it and take it back. Not this time. This time was different. Amy was no longer going to try and pull the strings (because up until now, Amy was pretty obsessed about pulling the strings). At this point, I was at total peace. I was going to let God be God and work it all out.

A month later, I was pregnant.


At this point, I really believed that adoption was our next step. I was preparing my heart for it. Then, as is often the case in life, once I truly turned it over to God, He took us down another path.

I was elated.

And I was terrified.

If you’ve ever carried a child after a devastating loss, you know the feelings. Worry. Fear. Doubt. They all crept in.

What if this pregnancy ended like the last one? What if we had to say goodbye to another child? What if we ended up back in the NICU for months with an uncertain future?

I cannot go through that pain again, Lord. I cannot walk down this road for it to end in sadness again. I won’t survive it this time.

How can elation and trepidation be so intertwined? How can you be so excited about something, while completely fearing the worst? How can what should be the most joyous news of your life, carry so much anxiety and dread?

These feelings were the beginning of a faith journey that God would carry me on over the next nine months. It’s as if He said, “Okay, Amy. You’re going to have to learn to trust me. Not just say that you trust me, but truly trust me.”

I would love to tell you that I did. I would love to tell you that I jumped in and said, “Alright, let’s go!” and held on for the ride. I would love to tell you that I didn’t doubt. I would love to tell you that I didn’t worry. I would love to tell you that I didn’t have fear.

I would be lying if I told you those things.

I was scared to death.

I was scared to bond with this child for the first half of my pregnancy, because I was so sure that something was going to happen to her. I was afraid to buy things. I was afraid to decorate her room. I was afraid to give her a name. I just couldn’t go through the pain of losing a child again. Maybe if I just go on with my life, I thought, the pain won’t hurt so badly when she’s gone.

It may seem irrational, but fear isn’t rational.  And I was so afraid.

It was a bumpy journey. God teaching me how to trust, and me trying to learn exactly what that meant. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe Him. It’s just that I knew that sometimes you could have all of the faith in the world, and life still didn’t turn out as you had planned. I just couldn’t go through it again.

I was like the man in Mark, Chapter 9, who asked Jesus to help his son “if you can.” When Jesus reminded him that anything is possible for those who believe, he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That was me. I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief. 

As the days moved on and turned into months, I began to learn more about faith. Faith isn’t believing that I’ll receive what I pray for. It's believing that my God is big enough to take my fears and love me through them. Faith doesn’t mean I’ll get the outcome I’m praying for. It means believing that my God hears my prayers, especially when my heart is breaking. I didn’t suddenly stop being afraid. I just learned how to slowly give that fear to Him.

Over those nine months, I began to learn what it means to truly trust God, to realize that my only hope is in Him. Sometimes, I failed at it miserably. In fact, I still do. I'm grateful that my God isn't just a God of second chances, but a God of endless chances. His mercy and grace cover me, even in my weakest moments. 

Faith is a journey. A never-ending, scary, exhilarating, frightening, joyous, hold-on-tight journey that leads us to the most amazing moments. It has led me down the road of saying goodbye to my firstborn, and it has led me down the road of welcoming the child I never thought I would have. Ten years later, I can look back and see how He was shaping me as her life grew inside of me. So to her I say:

To the child I carried after a loss,
You are a picture of God’s unending grace.
You are proof of God’s unwavering mercy and his absolute sovereignty.
You were carried by an imperfect mother who was afraid to believe, but who believed anyway the best that she could.
Your faith will be shaped by many circumstances during your lifetime.
Some of those will be devastating.
Others will be breathtaking.
You, in turn, will be shaped by these events, but they won’t define you.
Instead, how you react to them and what you learn from them will shape your journey.
Will doubt creep in?
Will you worry about the things you can’t control.
Most definitely.
Will you fear the things that seem insurmountable?
Without question.
And when those things happen (because they will), hold tight to what you know about God.
He is trustworthy.
He is faithful.
He is strong.
He loves you more than you can imagine.
He is big enough to take that doubt, that worry, and that fear and turn it into something breathtakingly beautiful.
You, my child, are proof of that.
In my weakness, He is strong.
And I can be strong for you, because His strength lives in me.
You are loved by a God who makes all things new, in His perfect timing.
It won’t always make sense.
It won’t always be the way you would have planned it.
But during those magical moments in life, when he allows you a glimpse into what he is doing, you’ll “see.”

And that, my child, is the most beautiful gift of all.

My Rainbow 

Friday, March 11, 2016

She Called Me Melissa

It happened again.

It was an honest mistake.  And over the last ten years, it's been a common occurrence.

"Hi, Melissa," the woman began. "I just want to introduce myself." And she launched into a conversation that eventually thanked us for creating the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund because it had recently helped someone she loved.

It happens all the time. At the grocery store. At sporting events. At the mall. 

"Hi, Melissa!"

I never correct them, unless they ask, "Aren't you Melissa George?" to which I always answer, "Actually, I'm her mom, Amy."

The look on their faces says it all. They are embarrassed. They are worried they've upset me. They can't believe they just called me by my daughter's name, the daughter who passed away ten years ago. 

If they only knew. 

In reality, they paid me the greatest compliment in the world. Not because they called me Melissa, but because they said her name. 

You have no idea what a gift that is to parents who have lost children.

My daughter was a living, breathing person. She had a body. She had a mind. She had a soul. She was my first born. She was named after me and my sister. She was the child that Chris and I had dreamed about and prayed for. 

And she had a name. Melissa Suzanne George.

Grief is such a tricky thing. No one ever knows what to say. And sometimes we dance around the name of the person who died.

If I say it, will I upset the parents? Will I dredge up painful memories? Isn't it better to not say it at all?

No. Absolutely not.

I often receive phone calls and emails from friends of people who have lost children. They never know what to say and want to know if I can give them any insight. 

I wish I had a road map of how to travel the road of grief and loss, but there isn't one. There is no instruction manual on how to reach out to a person who has lost a child. But there are three things I know in my heart.

First, don't feel compelled to say anything at all. Just hug them. Love them. Let them cry on your shoulder. And when you do speak, just tell them how sorry you are. And let them know you are there for them. 

Never, ever tell them you know how they feel. Did you hold your child as they took their last breath and slipped from your arms into the arms of their Heavenly Father? If not, then you have no idea. Please don't act like you do.

Lastly, say their child's name. By doing so, you are acknowledging their child's existence. That name, the one they probably spent months choosing, belongs to their baby. The child they created, the child they miss with every fiber of their being. Use that name. Say it out loud.

I can't tell you what that means to a grieving parent. And not just in the days or months after the child's death, but even years later. When people speak my daughter's name, it heals my soul. 

And what about those who accidentally call me Melissa? They often profusely apologize and as I assure them it's okay, I often tell them, "Please, don't be sorry. You've actually paid me the greatest compliment you could pay me." I am honored to be associated with her. She was the bravest, strongest person I ever knew. 

Our words have power. Names mean something. For those who have lost children, that name carries a meaning that you can't even imagine. It's a lasting reminder of who their child was. 

Don't be afraid to say it out loud. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I Carry the Scars

It's funny what the mind remembers.

I was working out this morning and the song "100 Years" by Five for Fighting came through my headphones. That song always takes me back to my hospital room in the spring of 2005. It was part of a Capital One commercial and it played over and over again on the television. I was a captive audience because I was on bed rest at Huntsville Hospital awaiting the birth of my twins. Every time I hear that song, I flash back to my hospital room.

I was lifting weights when it came on today and as I thought back to the girl in that hospital room, my first thought was "Well, Amy, you made it. You survived." As I looked in the mirror at this body that I'm trying to get back into shape, I thought, "But, you still bear the scars."

I bear the physical scars of having children. The actual physical scar of having two c-sections. The scar of having a stomach that no matter how many sit-ups I do, just won't go back to it's "pre-baby" stage.

Those are the scars I can see. But they don't even compare to the scars I carry inside.

I carry the scars of trying for almost two years to get pregnant, always ending in disappointment.

I carry the scars of my doctor looking me in the eye during my 18th week of pregnancy and saying, "I'm not going to lie to you, Amy. This is as bad as it gets."

I carry the scars of being moved to a hospital room and being told, "You aren't leaving here until those babies are born." They weren't due for 22 more weeks.

I carry the scars of being wheeled into an emergency procedure on that very day to try and save Melissa's life.

I carry the scars of being told that even though that procedure was successful, they had no way of telling me if Melissa would live or die.

I carry the scars of being told that if Melissa did start to struggle, and they had to take her, they would have to take Ann Catherine, too. And she wouldn't survive either.

I carry the scars of a nurse coming in my hospital room each morning to do an ultrasound on Melissa just to "make sure her heart was still beating."

I carry the scars of laying in a hospital room all day and wondering if this was the day it would stop beating.

I carry the scars of waking up one morning - after seven weeks of bed rest - to find that Melissa was in grave danger.

I carry the scars of nurses flooding my room that morning, and telling me they had to get me to the OR immediately.

I carry the scars of thinking, "This must be it."

I carry the scars of promising both of my girls that if they would just continue to fight, that I would spend the rest of my life fighting for them.

I carry the scars of being told that Melissa just couldn't fight anymore.

I carry the scars of holding my firstborn child as she slipped from the arms of her mother into the arms of her heavenly Father.

I carry the scars of sitting next to Ann Catherine's bedside, and begging her to fight. All one pound, 15 ounces of her.

I carry the scars of waiting for the results of brain scans, heart scans, hearing tests and eye scans - and just holding my breath.

I carry the scars of falling to my knees in my closet and asking God, "Where are you?? I'm down here drowning and I feel like you left me!"

I carry the scars of feeling like my faith had been shaken.

I carry the scars of knowing all of my daughter's earthly belongings fit in one small box. A box that contains all I physically have left of her.

I carry the scars of guilt and years of wondering, "Was there anything I could have done differently to save her?"

I carry the scars of becoming pregnant again, and begging God not to take this child, too.

I carry the scars of being afraid to bond with that child over those nine months, because I was so sure she was going to die.

I carry the scars of knowing that someone is missing from our family.

I carry the scars of knowing that Ann Catherine lost a part of her the day her twin sister died.

I carry the scars of knowing I have a daughter who I will never see grow up. I'll never see her graduate from high school or drive away to college. I'll never watch her get married. I'll never watch her have children of her own.

I carry the scars of learning what it means to truly trust Him when everything you believe in and love has been stripped away.

These scars will never go away. I will never be truly healed in this lifetime.

But, we can live with scars. We can take that pain and we can use it to help others. We can take the worst thing that ever happened to us, and we can use that pain to love others who are also hurting.

Those scars have made me who I am. I have an empathy for those who could never have children. I hurt for those who get pregnant, and then it all goes wrong. I ache for those mothers who won't hold their babies again until they see Heaven. I mourn with them, I hurt for them, I pray for them.

We have something in common. Our scars.

More than anything, I want Ann Catherine and Lily Baker to see my scars. I want them to know that bringing them into this world wasn't easy, but nothing worth having ever is. I don't want to create some fake version of the "perfect mom" who just accepted every bad thing that came her way. I want them to know I was devastated. I want them to know I had it out with God several times. I want them to know that I asked "why me?" I want them to know that sometimes - even 10 years later - it still doesn't make sense to me. I want them to know that I will never be the same person I was before I was wheeled into that hospital on April 15, 2005.

And do you know why I can have those feelings? Those questions that still tear my heart apart?

It's because Jesus had scars, too.

And because of his scars, I can carry mine. I can live with them. I can bear them as a symbol of what it means to love and to lose and to grieve and to cry and to, ultimately, be happy again. And I can do that because the one who holds my future - and the one who holds my daughter - had scars, too.

And because of his scars, I will hold her again.

His redemptive work at the cross makes it all possible. The same cross where he received his scars. For us.

My favorite verse is 1 Peter 5:10: "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." I cling to that promise.

Listen to how the Message describes it: "Keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ - eternal and glorious plans they are! - will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does."

I am so thankful for a God who gets the last word. He is still "putting me together" and I have no idea how long that will take. Until I see him, maybe? I have no idea, but until that day, I'll carry these scars as a sign of his love, his mercy and his grace.

Because these scars have made me who I am.