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.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sometimes, it's just bad--and that's okay

Most of the time, I try to see the good in things--The reason behind why things happen. The silver lining behind every cloud. The good within the bad. 

Recently I realized something. It shook me up a little at first, but ultimately left me feeling as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I don't mean to sound depressing, but I'll just be frank. 

Sometimes bad things are just that--bad. 

Try to stick with me until the end, because I promise you that there is redemption in all of this. Good is coming. There is hope. Hold on tight to those promises. 

Recently, I've spoken with several friends who have been led through unimaginable trials. Sickness. Depression. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Death. Together, we wrestled through the questions of suffering, of redemption, of finding the good in the struggle. In a devastating loss. In a diagnosis. In broken dreams. In sin. In abandonment. In suffering. As we spoke, I was reminded of a somewhat disappointing, yet incredibly encouraging truth--some things are just utterly horrible and bad. 

But wait, there's more. I was reminded of another truth and relief washed over me.  

God is entirely, irrevocably good in spite of that bad. 

In a weird way, the realization that some things are just plain bad brought comfort. I no longer felt the pressure to make sense of it all--God could see the bigger picture and was holding every detail in his hands all along. 

God is life. He is anti-death. God sent Jesus Christ to conquer death. To completely destroy it. To provide hope to the hopeless. To give us an opportunity to spend eternity in paradise with Christ. To give life. 

The prisoner, tortured for their beliefs. The orphan, dying of starvation. The infant, writhing in pain as they battle a terminal illness. These things are utterly heartbreaking and may not hold any ounce of good--yet, Christ is coming to make all things right. To destroy the bad for eternity. To take the bad and make it into something good. 

Romans 8:28 is a passage that is often used to provide comfort in suffering, and to help as we search for the silver lining. It says, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Sometimes we misinterpret this to mean that all the bad things that happen to us are good; that pain, and sin, and death are ultimately good. But perhaps some of the things that we face are entirely bad. Regardless, the words ring true-- God will work all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The good things. The bad things. No circumstance is beyond his reach and his redemption. 

A friend of mine shared a quote from "Holding on to Hope" by Nancy Guthrie. In it, she shared Philippians 3:8-11: "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him.... As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead!"

II Corinthians 5:1-2 says, "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling." 

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to who I was three years ago--before things got hard. Before struggling to conceive. Before watching my precious, long-awaited child die in my arms. Before miscarrying our second child. And our third. Back to when I thought the world was all good and life would be easy. 

Yet, I don't think I would ever want to go back there. For in my suffering is where I've felt the closest to Christ. It's where I've seen the world for what it is--and Heaven for the promise that it is. 

And strangely, it's where I've found the most joy. The most good. The most hope. 

Please understand--I'm not saying that there is nothing good in the world. There is. Oh, there is so much joy and goodness that we've been given, despite the bad. There are reasons to smile, and to laugh, and to celebrate. (I attached a photo from our recent trip to the mountains as proof--There is most definitely beauty in the world that God has given us. He called creation "good"--and it is.)

There is hope and opportunity and joy, and I implore you to hang on tight and keep moving forward. Don't give up. Don't lose hope. 

But when the bad comes--and it will--don't beat yourself up trying to find the good in something that is completely bad. Give it to God. He knows just how bad the bad is--better than we even do. He will redeem the bad and turn around for good. 

Romans 8: 26-30

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he alsopredestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Friday, September 9, 2016

You Hold it All

I've found myself singing this song over and over and over in these last few weeks.
It's been a hard season. Overwhelming at times. Peaceful in moments.
Two weeks ago, this song started to play in my car as I was about to step into a place that terrifies me. A place that makes me panicked and breathless. Where the past tries to haunt me. I sat in the car and I cried. And let the truth wash over me.
You hold it all.
In the days after, I found myself singing this to myself each time I felt terrified. Joyful. Devastated. Hopeful. Heartbroken. Sometimes I didn't realize I was even doing it. Sometimes I woke up with the words in my head.
Even when I battled doubts. When fear tried to knock me back into the depths of depression that I had battled.
You hold it all.
Every tear drop.
Every heartbeat is yours.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Celebrating Ethan: Days #362-365

Day #362: Dakota//
I know she's "just a dog". But, let me tell you why this one is so special to us. 

Before I even knew I was pregnant with Ethan, Dakota became very protective of me. She followed me throughout the house. She cried when I closed a door, separating us. She growled at strangers who got too close. She began to act in ways that were uncharacteristic for her. 
Throughout my pregnancy with Ethan, she was my shadow. She barked at anything that dared to get too close to me-- from strangers to spider webs. She'd lay her head on my growing belly. She'd lay outside Ethan's room because she knew she wasn't allowed inside, but wanted to be nearby. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 
I wish you could have seen her reaction when we went to take her home, after Ethan was born. After we came home without him. The dog who had been glued to my side for 7 months stared at me with big brown eyes and refused to come to me when I called her. She looked at Chris, as if to ask, "What happened?" and then took two steps back from me, and laid herself on the floor. 
She ignored me for a week, before everything changed again. 
I was laying face down, sobbing, when I felt one paw touch my shoulder. Then another paw touched my other shoulder. Next, I felt two hind legs climb onto my back. She curled up onto a tight ball, on top of my back, while I cried. She stayed with me. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for.

I was laying face down, sobbing, when I felt one paw touch my shoulder. Then another paw touched my other shoulder. Next, I felt two hind legs climb onto my back. She curled up onto a tight ball, on top of my back, while I cried. She stayed with me. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 
In the following weeks, she continued to protect. She could tell when I was starting to feel breathless. She would bolt across the room and crawl up into my lap, and enthusiastically begin to lick my face. 
I suddenly understood while dogs are often brought into hospitals and given to veterans. 
She may be "just a dog", but this little pup loved Ethan. She wanted to be his best friend. And, now, she does everything she can to be mine.

Day #363: Motherhood//

My entire world changed the day that I learned about you.  I adjusted my entire life, pushing things to the side to make room for you. We did it gladly--elaborate vacations, late nights, and rollercoasters just didn't seem as appealing anymore. I completely cut out caffeine, sushi, and deli meats. I swore off beauty products containing harsh chemicals. I cut back on my mileage and stopped caring about my mile time. We baby proofed our house. We adjusted our vacation time. We adjusted our budget. 

I worried about labor sometimes. I knew that, no matter what, it would be worth it.  When the time came, I laid awake all night, unable to sleep with all of the beeps, alarms, and strange sounds. Instead, I listed to your heartbeat on the fetal monitor. I laid awake and listened as you reminded me that you were still there. 

I felt my heart swell with joy the first time that I laid my eyes on you. My breath was taken away by the intensity of love that I felt for you. You completely changed me once again.  I smiled at how much you looked like your dad. And like me.  I would have done anything for you. 

I was terrified to leave the hospital. I had no idea how I would going to survive through the coming days, weeks, months, years.

I hardly slept in those first few months. On some nights, I didn't sleep at all. People had warned me that the first few months would be like that--I just expected that you would be in my arms.  As time goes on, I can't help but feel so proud of you. My love for you continues to grow each and every day. 

The day I first learned of you, I had hoped for each of these things. I never in a million years would have expected my motherhood to look like this; yet at the same time, I'm so thankful for every single way that you have impacted my heart and completely changed my life.  I wouldn't trade you for the world. I'm so proud to be your mom. 

Day #364: Lullaby //"Float down
Like autumn leaves
And hush now
Close your eyes before the sleep
And you're miles away
And yesterday 
you were here with me Ooh how I miss you My symphony played the song that carried you out Ooh how I miss you And I, I miss you and I wish you'd stay Do you ever wonder if the stars shine out for you?
 Float down Like autumn leaves And hush now Close your eyes before the sleep And you're miles away And yesterday 
you were here with me." 
-Ed Sheeran, Autumn Leaves

Day #365 The night before//(The # is accurate--Thanks leap day) 

On the morning of August 15, 2015, I woke up feeling incredibly exhausted. My back was aching horribly, just as it had been for the entire week. I remember laying in bed, tears in my eyes, because I was so uncomfortable! I finally forced myself to get up and to tackle my to-do list. (Chris told me he'd take care of it, but I was determined to help out!) It took me nearly two hours to simply shower, get dressed, and brush my teeth, but I finally made it out the door and to the grocery store. I pushed through and we were able to run errands until about dinnertime.
  That evening, Chris and I made mini pizzas on English muffins and watched and Adam Sandler movie. Chris gave me a back massage, to help ease the pain. Overall, it was one of those productive, yet relaxing Saturdays. 

Around 11:30 p.m. I woke up to my water breaking. It was obvious.  We quickly grabbed our things and headed to the hospital. Upon arrival, a doctor conducted an ultrasound to see how Ethan was doing. As she was rolling the probe over my belly, she asked if I was in pain. I shook my head and told her that I wasn't...other than my back of course, which had been killing me all week. "Well you are having a huge contraction right now," she said with a smile. Apparently, in the words of the medical team, I have an iron-woman pain tolerance. 

We were checked into a room. I laid in bed and rested my eyes, listening to the beating of Ethan’s heart on the monitor. His heart rate was strong and it brought me such comfort to hear. Every now and then he’d get the hiccups and the monitor would pick up the sweet sound.  The night before.