Sunday, March 5, 2017

All of it

Lately, I've been challenged to consider how much I trust God. It's easy for me to say that he is in control. It's easy to encourage others to put their trust in him when things begin to fall apart. The words roll off my tongue so effortlessly--put your trust in him. But how much do I really, truly trust him when the rubber meets the road and the unimaginable begins to unfold? 

Losing Ethan challenged my trust in God. When the doctors told us that our son may not survive, I knew that God had a plan. Yes, I was so afraid. Yes, my heart was filled with questions. Yes, I knew that God was sovereign. After years of unexplained infertility, we had miraculously conceived--I saw God's hand in every aspect of Ethan's existence. Despite my absent menstrual cycles and taking a break from "trying", he was given to us. Despite my fears, I trusted that God was intricately forming each piece of Ethan's body and held each heartbeat in his hands. I knew that God was sovereign in both life and death. As Ethan breathed his last breath, cradled in our arms, my broken heart knew that God was sovereign in each of the 93 minutes our son was on this earth and would continue to be sovereign as we grappled with his death. Not saying it was easy--but deep down I knew it. And that added to my questioning--I never doubted God's sovereignty, I only questioned his love for us. Through my groaning, searching, and seeking, he drew near to me and began to reveal just how deep his love is. I began to see how much he loves us--enough to send his Son to die in my place, to abolish death, pain, and suffering once and for all. 

It may be easy to assume that I was completely placing my trust in God. Yes, our journey with Ethan strengthened my trust in God--but there were corners of my life I still held with a tight grip. If we're honest, I think many of us find ourselves there. We fully surrender certain areas of our lives, while clinging fiercely to other precious pieces. This is my safe space, we say. I trust you with the other stuff, but this is mine. 

In the following year, we lost two more babies. Several months later, a doctor officially diagnosed me with an endocrine disorder that threatened the possibility of carrying more children. With each compounding loss, I struggled to trust. I cried out to God to help me to trust in him with my dreams. Help me to surrender the part of my life I've held the most dear. Help me to give it all to you. 

Sometimes trust grows through kicking, screaming, and wrestling--there was a lot of that. It wasn't perfected by any means, but it did grow somewhat. It's easy for us to think we have it all figured out when that happens. 

I lost three children and was diagnosed with frustrating, and sometimes physically painful, condition--I've proven my faithfulness. I look at those words and they sound ridiculous. Of course I didn't have it figured out--and I knew that then. But it's easy to subconsciously think we're doing OK. It's easy to subconsciously think we've paid our dues. 

Last Christmas, my husband was rushed to the hospital after what was supposed to be a quick Urgent Care visit resulted in an abnormal EKG. Before I proceed, I want to add (especially for those of you who know him)--He is fine. He had a bad flu the week before, which caused some inflammation around his heart...which caused his EKG to appear as if he were having a heart attack. He wasn't--but in that moment, we had no idea what was really happening.  

As you can imagine, I was a wreck. I held it together until my husband was safely in the ambulance and then I fell apart. I was terrified for my husband. I was terrified of what may happen next. On top of my fears, I felt the PTSD-like response begin to creep in--the noises, the doctors, the smells all attempt to drag me back to the moment the medical team attempted to revive our son. I couldn't let the anxiety creep in right now. 

I wasn't allowed to ride in the ambulance with him, so I followed in my car. I probably shouldn't have been driving, but I refused to let anyone drive me. I didn't want to wait for them to get to the Urgent Care clinic to pick me up. I needed to be with my husband. 

I screamed and cried the whole way to the hospital. "GOD. Why? Please, please don't take my husband from me. Please, please, please. GOD. I trusted you with our infertility. I trusted you when Ethan was sick, and even after he died! I trusted you when you took our second baby. And our third. GOD. I've trusted you in my diagnosis. I've trusted you with our future family. I trust you with my barrenness. HAVEN'T I SHOWN YOU THAT I TRUST YOU ENOUGH?"

I didn't hear a clear voice and I didn't see a sign from heaven. There wasn't a billboard on the freeway or a song on the radio. But in that moment, I felt a peace wash over me. The questions, the anxiety, and the panic all cleared away and I felt God clearly press this message onto my heart. 

Enough? Kristin, I want you to trust me with all of it. I don't want you to trust me with just some of it. Trust me with everything. Give me all of it. 

We do that, don't we? We give God pieces of our lives and think we've done our duty. We say, "Here God, take my possessions and my career, but don't touch my health. I trust you with my marriage, but not with my children. I give you my past, but let me determine my future. I give you my future, but let me cling to my past."

When we refuse to surrender certain pieces of our lives, are we truly trusting God? Even if we trust him with 95% of our life, can we truly say that we trust him if we are clinging to the other 5%? If we believe that God is who he says he is--that He is good, loving, just, perfect, infinite, all-powerful, merciful, holy, almighty, I AM, faithful--we should trust him with every piece of our lives. If we withhold even just one piece from him, are we truly believing that he is everything that he says he is? 

This probably goes without saying, but I am by no means trying to imply that I have this all figured out. Trust is a daily choice--easier on some days than others. Completely surrender is scary and sometimes even incredibly painful. But the pain is temporary--the process is beautifully refining, and often paves the way toward growth and intimacy.  The process is difficult, yet worth it. 

Haven't I trusted you enough? Part of the problem lies in the question itself. In putting perimeters on trust, I was implying that God could only be trusted with specific parts of my life. I was implying that other areas of my life were mine, not his. I've been challenged to consider what areas of my life aren't included in the "enough". What areas am I clinging to that I don't want to let go?

If we're honestly with ourselves, I'd guess that many of us have those areas--those corners of our lives that we don't want to let go of. Yet, God lovingly calls out to us--I want you to trust me with all of it. 

Psalm 139: 23 "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rethinking Comfort

(Long Beach Lighthouse, Feb. 18, 2017, the day after one of the largest storms in California history.)

It really scares me to admit this. Perhaps it is because saying it out loud invites others to hold me accountable. Maybe it’s because it’s just downright terrifying. In all honesty, a piece of me is afraid to completely embrace the terrifying unknown.

I am beginning to feel dissatisfied with my plans for the life I always envisioned. I am beginning to feel uncomfortable with my desire for comfort and predictability.

Phew. That is terrifying to admit because I love plans, predictability, and order. The unknown makes me uncomfortable.

When I was 18, I had a smooth path laid out for me. I had spent high school building up a good resume of extracurricular activities and graduated with scholarships to a private college. My future was set. I would earn my degree, be rooted into a community of deep friendships, and graduate with the skills and knowledge I needed to land a comfortable job and help support a family. When I was 22, I graduated with a degree and an engagement ring. My husband and I were married the following fall and moved into a cute one-bedroom apartment down the street from a fulltime job that I loved. We both were eager to expand our family and began to save up to by a house. We were set for the future.

My husband has always been more comfortable with the unpredictable that I have been and he held our plans loosely. I don’t think he’d even refer to them as our “plans”—they were always more like flexible goals to him. He is one of the most adaptable people I know and can face almost any challenge that life throws at him with a clear head. He is calm under pressure and lives each day with a true understanding that each day is a gift and some things are out of our control. He takes what life throws at him and makes something good out of it.

There couldn’t be a better match to balance me out. I aspire to be more like that. 

I’m resistant to change and I hold plans in a clenched fist. When life throws unexpected curveballs at me, I cringe and dig my heels in as life tries to nudge me in a direction that I don’t want to go. I’ve always admired my husband’s outlook on life—he is the perfect balance of optimism and realism, despite what happens. Me?—I try to fight change.

Over the next few months, my plans slowly started to derail. For three years, we struggled to conceive. Something was wrong with my health and the doctors couldn’t pinpoint it, despite dozens of blood tests and ultrasounds. A doctor finally told me that they had examined every possibility and gave me a referral to an infertility specialist. At the time, my heart was broken. I wanted so badly to be a mother and to experience pregnancy. Yet despite my desires, I was so tired of blood tests and medical visits. My husband and I decided to wait until after the holidays before calling to make an appointment.

We never made that first appointment because we unexpectedly became pregnant at a time when we least expected it. We were shocked and completely ecstatic. It seemed as if my plans were finally starting to come together.

And then the unthinkable happened. When I was 19-weeks pregnant, we discovered that our baby had major defects in his heart and brain. We were told that our miracle child might not survive and the following weeks were filled with regular visits to meet with specialists, detailed ultrasounds, and fetal echocardiograms. On August 16, 2015, our son Ethan entered the world and we were given 93 minutes with him before he passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus. Losing Ethan was the greatest pain we’ve ever experienced. When I was 26 years old, I became a bereaved mother.

Losing a baby is hard. The months that followed were hard. Depression is hard. Sorting through all of the emotions, heartache, and secondary losses is hard. Asking hard questions and entering into the intimacy of wrestling with God is painful and hard--yet worth it. The process is painful and refining.

I felt as if my plans were slipping through my hands like fine grains of sand. I couldn’t stop them being ripped away in the wind of the circumstances that swirled around us. I couldn’t hold onto what I had held onto so tightly for so long.

A few months later, we lost another baby at 6-weeks. We grieved, added another layer to the complicated un-linear process of grief, and decided to give it another try. I found out that I was pregnant with our third child on Ethan’s first birthday. We lost that child a month later when I was 8-weeks pregnant.

Our doctor offered testing, in an attempt to learn why we had lost three children. Each test came back normal. Each result brought a strange mixture of relief and sorrow—relief that there was nothing wrong with us, and sorrow that good results would not reverse the devastation that had already swept through.

In December, after years of looking for answers, a specialist diagnosed me with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome—for more on PCOS, click here) without any question. All it took was a few blood tests and an ultrasound to confirm what I had suspected for years, but had never been tested for because I didn’t fit the “typical” appearance. My tests results each screamed PCOS (and pre-diabetes) and I suddenly understood many of the symptoms I had lived with for years. The diagnosis surprisingly brought quite a lot of peace, along with some expected grief and frustration.

Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for what I have been given because I most definitely have so many things that I am grateful for. God had been so generous to me with things that I was never promised and I don’t want to lose sight of that. I wasn’t promised a husband, a job, medical care, and the luxury of buying groceries. Earlier this week I was punched in the gut with the realization that none of these things were ever promised to me and that I have much more than I deserve. We were never promised an easy life. We were never promised that our plans would unfold without a hitch. But in our humanness it is so easy to focus on all that we long for yet do not have.  

At 28 years old, I’ve found myself at the edge of a wide-open expanse of what I once thought were my perfectly laid plans. Ten years ago, I could envision what was coming down the road. At the time I knew that I could not predict the future and I knew that some things would be out of my control, but I could at least imagine what the next ten years held. Sure, I was completely wrong—but in that moment, I rested in the comfort of the illusion of my “perfect” plans for my life.

Someone recently asked me where I picture myself ten years from now and I had no idea what to say. It is not that I don’t have hope. It is that I finally realize that I am ultimately not in control, no matter how tightly I hold on to my plans. It is that I am beginning to feel the call toward adventure and toward the unknown. Yes, the terrifying unknown is starting to sound appealing. What is happening to me? I never thought I’d feel that way.  Hope has begun to spring up in me like a soothing balm and I’ve felt an unexplainable peace radiate through my heart. But I can’t envision the future. I try and try and all I see is a wild, vast expanse, filled with things that I don’t understand.

I think back on the life that I envisioned when I was 18. All I wanted in this life was a good marriage, 2 ½ kids, a comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood, good friends, and to contentedly coast on autopilot for the next 70 years. Oddly, despite all we’ve faced, that doesn’t sound appealing to me anymore. Sure, I still desire to be a mother. It is a desire that has always been there and I don’t know if it will ever be gone, and that is okay—I do hope, God willing, that one day we will raise our children. Biological or not—they will be ours. But I’m starting to feel a stirring in my heart for much more than comfortable existence and it is both exhilarating and terrifying. The safe, quiet, conventional part of me is being broken, like a wild horse that needs to be tamed. Or perhaps, the opposite of “taming” is happening here. The part of me that once desired comfort is slowly being broken and refined through the fire of the trial. That part of me has been exposed to the reality of pain in the world and the need for compassion and hope. That tame part of me has had its eyes opened to the ministry that can rise from your deepest hurts.

The process is painful. It hurts to be broken from the familiar. There is still a part of me that grieves all we have lost and always will until we reach heaven. Yet simultaneously, that part of me has begun to rejoice over all that I have gained. A small glimmer of thankfulness is beginning to arise—there is a tiny spark of gratefulness over all we have been through. Yes, a tiny part of me is thankful for all we have faced, including the pain. It has opened my eyes to such beauty, such darkness, and—ultimately—the need for Hope.  

Now, I'm not downplaying pain here. If you are facing pain, I am so sorry. I know that it is hard. I know that you feel as if your life has been shattered. I know what it feels like to lose all hope and to literally not care what happens tomorrow. Tears fill my eyes typing this because I can vividly remember, and I still have days where I slip back into that place. I am not trivializing your pain--It is real and you don't need cliche answers. But please know that there is hope, even when the world feels so cruel.  

My broken heart is beginning to long for more than a comfortable existence. The part of me that longs for comfort has seen lives changed when all is stripped away and has felt the peace that comes when I lost the illusion of safeness and had nowhere left to go but to the feet of Christ. The part of me that once desired comfort has begun to realize the briefness of life and has begun to see the greater picture of our lives in the span of eternity.

I’m sure I’ll lose sight of this at times—each day is a battle, and the joy does not negate the realness of pain. My hope is that I keep my eyes fixed on eternity as I run into the wild expanse before me and hold my plans with an open palm.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When you don't even know which way is forward

I'm always blindsided by New Years day. 

Sure, I've come to expect Christmas to feel bittersweet. We spend the autumn months anticipating the hubbub of the holidays. We brace ourselves for the social gatherings, reminders to be happy, unfulfilled traditions, and the constant feeling that someone is missing. Over the last two holiday seasons, I've discovered just how much joy and sorrow intermingle at Christmas--and have gained a better understanding of why that little babe in the manger came to offer hope to a world in darkness. 

Then comes New Year's. The holiday most of us don't prepare for. I've said it myself and heard the same thought echoed by many of my fellow mamas-in-loss this year; entering a new year was unexpectedly harder than Christmas. 

Perhaps it's because entering a new year makes us feel even further from the day that we last held our child. Part of it for me was the loss of the ability to say, "Last year..." With that, perhaps I feel the societal pressure to be okay with everything that happened now that the story begins with "Two years ago..." 

For me, the biggest struggle has been the realization of how fast time is moving forward and how out of control I feel. I love a well crafted plan. I love timelines and the way that everything points toward a specific goal. I love seeing a good plan come together. Yet, I don't know what 2017 will hold. I see the announcements all across social media of what 2017 will bring: a wedding, a big move, a new career, a new family member, a new lifestyle, an education. I try to imagine my own big plans for 2017 and I can't even begin to predict it.  

The world is moving full speed ahead, while I'm still trying to figure out which way is forward. 

About a week ago I told my husband, "I feel so out of control." He said something so wise and so encouraging; something I've always known, but wasn't truly grasping before that moment. 

"We've always been out of control--We just realize it now."

Wow. Talk about truth hitting you when you really needed to hear it. 

I've never been in control. Sure, we can make plans. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it's wise to count the cost of a decision and make preparations toward attaining a goal. Go ahead and set goals, and make steps to reach those goals! (Luke 14:28 "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?"-Jesus) 

Yet at the same time, I also think that it's wise to hold our plans with an open palm. Ultimately, we aren't the ones in control. Sometimes, our plans are thwarted in ways that are beyond our control. Sometimes we can have the most well thought out, beautifully crafted plan, all wrapped up in a pretty gold bow...and then life happens and throws us off track. Sometimes we face hurdles toward achieving our goals. Sometimes we sit down to count the cost and realize that we don't have the means at this time. Sometimes it's our health. Sometimes it's our finances. Sometimes it's an unforeseen emergency. 

So back to 2017. I'm hopeful for a year that terrifies me. I know that each of us on this earth are still here for a purpose and that each day is a gift that wasn't promised. 

Lately, God has been reminding me of just how much He is in control and just how little I am in control, and it's been a comforting realization to rest in that truth. Again, not saying I'm going to sit back and eat bonbons all year and wait to things to just fall in my lap--but I am saying that we have the privilege of resting in the knowledge that it's okay if we don't know where to go from here. It's okay if our plans fall apart. We're more valuable than our best laid plans. 

2016 has been a year of tears. In it, I've said goodbye to two more babies. I've struggled to find the good. I've searched and questioned. We faced a few health scares. I was diagnosed with PCOS. I've continued to miss the tiny one who left the biggest imprint on my heart--my Ethan.

2016 has also been a year of healing. Of growth. Of laughter. Of letting go. Of being vulnerable and open, when it was scary. Of friendships. Of love made stronger through fire. Of refining. Of encouragement. Of surrender (and still working on it). Of hope. Of realizing that I don't know what tomorrow holds--but I do know the one who holds tomorrow.

May we all rest in the assurance that God holds us in his hand and each of our days have been written in his book. 

Proverbs 16:9 "The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

James 4:13-15 "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you out to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sunlight in December

I absolutely love the way rays of sunlight peak through the clouds after a rainstorm. I’m a So Cal girl, so rain has been a novelty in my life, but whenever it comes I look forward to the spectacular view after the storm. I love the picture of the light bursting through the darkness and shining down upon the earth below. It always looks as if the heavens have opened and as if love and warmth are being poured down. To me, it looks like hope.

Last winter was cold. I don’t remember the temperatures, the weather, or really much about that entire season. Looking back, most of it is blurry and hard to recall. But I do remember the cold—perhaps not a physical coolness, but an overall feeling of coldness. The earth felt cold. The sky looked cold. The world was cold.

The trees were finally stripped bare of their leaves, after weeks of drifting to the ground like tears. Questions, confusion, and defeat whirled around me like harsh winter winds, as I struggled to stand beneath the force of it all.

Yet even in the coldest winter, the sun continued to rise each day and warm the earth. Rays of sunlight stretched across the sky each morning, and served as a reminder of God’s continual grace and mercy in my life.  Sunlight pierced through the cold and the darkness daily, despite the coldness of winter.

Even when the storm rages on, the sun will shine. Even when the winds howl, the earth is barren, and the world feels so cold, the sun continues to shine. There is still sunlight in December. There is joy coming. There is hope because of Christ.

Even when my heart feels heavy. Even when the worries of the world try to capture my heart. Even when I feel so empty and barren. The joy of the Lord pierces through the darkness and warms my heart.  

John 1:5  "Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

Psalm 30:5b “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
 all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

*Fun Fact: When I was in college, I started a blog called Sunshine in December. I can’t help but think about how perfect that choice was. At the time, I had no idea how fitting the name would become—I simply liked how hopeful it sounded (and I am one of the “lucky” ones with a December birthday). Since then, the Sunshine in December domain had been snatched up, which lead me here to my new home at Sunlight in December.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

But what if not?

To my mamas with empty arms, my sisters who long to be loved, and to anyone with unfulfilled dreams, this one is for you—for us.

I’ve longed for someone to come alongside me, to take my hand, and to speak this truth to me. Let’s face it. We don’t need more empty phrases, even though they are often uttered with the purest of intentions. We need truth and we need love.

Some of us may not get what we so desperately long for. Some of us may not ever get the “happy ending” that we had once envisioned. Some of us may never receive the things we think we always wanted—but no matter what happens, our arms will not be empty. We may end up with so much more than we ever would have dreamed up for ourselves.

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. I’ve never had elaborate career aspirations. I went to college with the intent of studying something that I enjoyed so that one day I could help support my family—as a mother.

I never expected infertility to be a part of my story. I never expected to struggle for years to conceive. I never expected to lose my firstborn only 93 minutes after his birth. I never expected to have had three pregnancies, yet no living children at home. I never expected that our three-bedroom house would still have two empty rooms after all this time.

One month into our first attempt at an infertility therapy, I found myself staring at a negative pregnancy test and feeling incredibly defeated. I needed encouragement so I went to the place where almost any millennial would go to find it—Google.

I searched and searched for words from someone who was infertile, yet satisfied. Someone who longed for children, never had them, yet had hope to offer. In today’s society, surely someone had blogged about this.

I cried even harder when I couldn’t find it. Almost every person who shared their story of infertility shared it from the other side of the vast canyon—every story I found was written by someone who now held a living child in their arms.

 Okay, now hear me out. There is nothing wrong with their ending. I rejoice each time that I hear that anyone--especially a barren womb or a sister-in-loss--is expecting a child. Children are a blessing. Fulfilled dreams are a blessing.

 I don’t know where my story will end. My prayer for myself, and for you, is that one day our desires will be fulfilled. My hope is that one day our home is filled with the sounds of children laughing, and even screaming. But right now, I’m not there—which is why I needed to write this now. For all of us. For the one who never gets their “rainbow”. Because some of us may not receive the thing we always longed for and I can’t let you walk away feeling as if your life is less valuable because of it.

 Do I believe that God can open my womb? Yes. Do I believe that He will? I don’t know. I know that He can—and that He has my best interest in mind. I know that He will not leave me with empty arms—I just don’t know exactly what He will fill them with.

 For you, it may not be children. Maybe it’s healing from an illness. Maybe it’s a desire to be married. Maybe it’s a longing for something different.

 For years, people have been telling me that it will happen when the time was right. Maybe you’ve heard similar sayings. People say a lot of empty phrases, laced with the purest intentions.

 Give it time—it’ll happen.

 You’ll have more children.

 Just wait—the right guy will come along.

 But what if not?

 What if I never have a living child?

 What if my life doesn’t ever end up looking anything like I imagined it?

 What if my story is different?

 Am I less valuable because of it?

 My dear friend—I know it may feel as if your value died with your dreams. I know that these phrases can often hurt, despite the caring intent behind them, because they place a pressure that the world expects your life to look a certain way too. I know you may feel so lost and so broken. Please hear me when I say that you are so precious, so loved, and so valuable, despite the things that you do or do not have. Despite how empty your arms may feel.

 You have the potential to leave an outstanding impact on this world, despite what you are lacking—despite your weaknesses and your hurts. You have so much to offer. You are valuable in spite of your pain. You are valuable in spite of your loss. You are valuable in spite of it all.

 Psalm 107:9 says, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”

A woman in my church that I admire told me something once that I will always cling to. She said, “No matter what happens, I promise you that God will not leave you empty handed.” This was the truth that I needed to hear. Not an empty promise that my dreams would come true. I needed to be reminded that in this world, I may have nothing—but if I have Christ, I have everything.   

Matthew 7:11, Jesus says,  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Our Heavenly Father loves us. Like a loving Father, He will provide. He will satisfy. He will fill our arms with good things.

I don’t have this all figured out yet—I’m still in the trenches with you. We’re in this battle together. It’s hard. Oh man, it’s so hard to surrender our dreams. But I do have hope that our Father sees all things, and He cares more than I know. And in that, I find peace.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who I was and who I am

Photo by Lexi Danielle Photography

The following is a summary of session that I wrote for the On Coming Alive Bereaved Parent’s Workshops this past weekend, in the Midwest. The topic came to me after weeks of wrestling with that to say—with what to offer these families, when I’m still walking this road myself. So, with days to spare, I decided to simply share my heart—to address the very thing that I’ve been learning so much about in these last few months, and to lead others in an interactive discussion about our identities. 

Grief and devastation can shake you at the very core. It is heart-wrenching. Confusing. Disorienting. Challenging. Crushing.

Nothing shakes your reality quite like losing a child does. After I lost my son, Ethan, I found myself questioning so many things that I had once been so confident in. It wasn’t only the world around me that suddenly felt so foreign—I had changed.

Who am I? I asked myself this I’ve asked myself this question so many times since the day the doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that my son may die. Since the day I held my sweet baby boy as his soul passed into heaven. Since that trying season in between his diagnosis and death that pushed me toward change—that season I walked into with such naivety and walked out of feeling 30 years older.

I remember the first few times I had the courage to return to places that had once felt so safe and familiar—the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, my church, and even my own home. I was lost and out of place, though nothing around me had changed. I was not the same person anymore and felt like a stranger to everyone around me, including myself.
A child who loses their parents is called an orphan and a person who loses their spouse is called a widow or a widower, but no one knows what to call a person who has lost a child. Just as we have no title, our identities are left in shambles. I didn’t fit anywhere. I don’t know many 28-year-old empty nesters. The world doesn’t know what to do with a childless mother.

One of the things I grieved after losing Ethan was the person that I was before. It’s hard to explain this to someone until they’ve experienced it themselves, but I think anyone who has faced any devastating circumstance can relate. Sure, the most profound and obvious loss that I grieved was the loss of my son. I grieved that he was no longer in my arms. I grieved that we had to say goodbye. I grieved the two babies that I lost after him. I grieved that I never may have children. But in addition to these obvious losses, I grieved myself. I mourned over the parts of myself that died with my son, and with each subsequent loss.

I missed the optimist. I missed living in a world where loss felt rare. I missed the girl who didn’t have anxiety. The girl who didn’t feel everything so deeply. Who watched the news without sobbing. The girl who could focus on tasks for hours on end. The girl who could actually remember what she did last Christmas—the girl who didn’t have spots of post-traumatic memory loss. The girl who loved small talk. The girl who thought you could have anything you wanted in life if you just worked hard enough. 

RIP to the old me.

In the last few months, I’ve begun to see the beauty in this transformation. I’ve taken steps toward embracing the pre-loss Kristin and the after-loss Kristin, and how both can operate together to form a “me” that I am proud of. There is such beauty in allowing goodness to grow from the darkness.

I am more than a childless parent. I am more than infant loss. I am more than recurrent miscarriage. I am more than infertility. My children have added so much to who I am, but there is still so much more that defines me. There is more to my story.

I like the realist—the girl who hopes, but knows that pain is real and empathizes with the broken hearts of this world. I like the girl who feels everything so deeply. I love the girl who has learned to slow down and stray from the task for the sake of caring for others. I love the girl who is learning not to sweat the small stuff so much. I love the girl who loves deeper. I love the girl who realizes her weakness. I love the girl who isn’t afraid to question and to seek answers. I love the girl who knows that she is not in control—being out of control can be terrifying, but is also so very freeing. I love the girl who has been given the gift of suffering.

There are parts of me that have been lost, parts that have been gained, and parts that will always be a part of me. Some things will never change.

Finding those constant, unmovable things has been reassuring and comforting. Those things that I can cling to with confidence, despite what other changes may come. My love for my children will never change. The love that God has for me will never change.

So, who am I? I am a wife and a mother to 3 children—one that I held in my arms, two that I never met, and all who now live in heaven. I’m a friend, a sister, a believer. I am broken, yet full of hope.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It is a time to remember and honor the babies that were lost before, during, and after birth and to bring awareness and support for those who have experienced such a life-changing loss.
1 in 4 pregnancies ends with a loss. At first, that statistic seemed impossible--until I started to share my story, and so many others began to share theirs.
When people ask me how many children I have, I usually say 1. Sometimes, depending on the person, I choose to elaborate. Every now and then, I may talk about the other two. But sometimes, "one" is a complicated enough answer as it is without adding more to it. 
I've carried three children. 
The first was Ethan. Ethan left the biggest impact on my heart, filled my life with the most love, and shattered me the hardest when he left. We spent months together, while he moved, kicked, and literally did flips inside the womb. I sang to him during the day, Chris read to him at night. I carried him for months until that night when my water broke and we rushed to the hospital. We threw our birth plan out the window, as we didn't have time to make it to the original hospital for our extensive high-risk delivery. I labored Ethan for hours before I was rushed into an emergency c-section. And then he came. Our tiny little fighter, who defied all odds to meet us. I like to think that he was just like his daddy. He was sweet, active, full of joy and always ready to face the next challenge. We spent 93 precious minutes with our Ethan before he drifted asleep and into the arms of Jesus. 
Ethan made me a mommy. He is the one that people hear stories about and see pictures of. There are pictures of him and stories about him, which make him feel more "real" to people who haven't met him. 
After Ethan came two more precious babies. There are no pictures. No names. No time to feel flutters and kicks. Just two lines on a pregnancy test and lots of love. 
The second baby left almost as soon as he or she came. Saying goodbye ripped open the wound that had been created when we said goodbye to Ethan. I grieved what never was. I grieved a dream. I grieved Ethan. 
I learned about the third baby on Ethan's birthday. Talk about emotional. This little one stayed longer and I started to feel hopeful. To push my fears aside. To dream. And then my pregnancy became complicated. Only a few weeks into the pregnancy, I was fast-tracked to weekly ultrasounds, regularly blood tests, and, eventually, our third goodbye. 
As I've opened up and shared my story, more and more people have held my hand and have uttered two of the most powerful words. "Me too."
The barista in the coffee shop. 
The car salesman who rode along on our test drive. 
The 80 year old woman who never talked about it. 
The contractor who installed our kitchen countertops. 
The friend who never told anyone. 
The family member who never told anyone. 
The new friends I meet multiple times a week. So many people who have said goodbye. 

My name is Kristin and I am the face of infant loss and recurrent miscarriage. Let's join hands, hold each other up, and break the silence.

Graphic by my dear friend Jessi, over at Luminous Light Studio.