Melissa F. – Before & After
Short Stories By Jesus Series
Our fall worship series was entitled Short Stories By Jesus, in which we were looking at Jesus’ parables, especially some of the most problematic ones. We enlisted the congregation to write Before & After stories. Each Sunday one member shared a story in which there was a before and an after, and after which, many things in his or her life changed dramatically. Here is one of those stories.
Melissa F. – Before & After
When my first marriage blew up in my face and I found myself living alone with my four year old son and not a few negative emotions, I found a painting of a fairy princess with a castle in the background. She was cartoony and blissful; the whole picture oozed “and they lived happily ever after.” It appealed to me instantly, maybe I wasn’t going to get one of these legendary endings, but, by God, they still exist and I wanted to remember that at all times, lest my pain harden into something cold and unyielding.
After the divorce was final and much personal healing and work, I found myself madly in love with a friend from my Sunday school class. My kid had picked him out when I mentioned I’d probably never get married again unless it was someone “really sweet and kind.” He promptly threw out the name from church and, well, he was right!
We scheduled our wedding for late October 2010 and were delighted when we learned we were pregnant. It just seemed like I was living the painting. Things were downright luminous as we thought of names, and heard the heartbeat. We had just finished the honeymoon, and passed the first trimester when we decided to let the world know our son would be a big brother.
Then it all fell apart. On the ultrasound table with the cold gel on my stomach I noticed the radiologist’s furrowed brow and averted eyes. My heart wilted. My husband was blissfully unaware as we waited what seemed an extra long time to go over tests with the doctor. “I don’t have good news for you,” she said in her soothing French-Canadian accent. The baby showed markers for genetic disorders, specifically the trisomies. It had something called a cystic hygroma which was some kind of fluid-filled growth that covered most of the spine. She was sending us to a high-risk specialist and then for CVS, an uncomfortable, awkward procedure where the actual cells around the baby are genetically tested. She said she had never seen test results like ours which resulted in a healthy baby.
We went home and looked at the internet at Trisomies and cystic hygromas and we were horrified. At the high resolution ultrasound they added another diagnosis, hydrops, where the baby had fluid under it’s skin and this indicated it was failing and had some type of severe cardiac defect. They sent us that same afternoon to Charlotte for the CVS. I watched as my sweet husband said “thank you” as the stranger in front of us held the door for us exiting the hospital and I was so comforted by his civility even in catastrophe. It would be okay I told myself. With a special needs child already, I thought, I know what to expect if there is indeed something very wrong. It is our baby I said to myself. We went home to wait for test results.
The baby continued to move and we fell more in love with it everyday. Then the clinic called to say that the baby did have a genetic disorder, Down Syndrome, and it was a boy. The genetic counselor said she couldn’t find any statistics on survival with hydrops and Down Syndrome but that it was less than 10% for the baby. Then she went on to warn me of a dangerous mirroring syndrome Mom’s with in utero hydrops babies can develop.
My adamantly pro-life mother started calling to tell me to schedule a termination. She said, your husband and son need you. This is different from abortion, she said. Feeling very muddled, I scheduled an appointment to talk with my OB. She said, “So you are here to schedule a termination?” and was stunned when I said “No, I just want to talk about the baby’s chances.” She told me “This baby will not make it to term.” She went on to say that the risks to me were also high and that if I chose to go on with the pregnancy, while she would be my doctor through it, she believed it would be my last pregnancy due to age, risks, and the need for a c-section since the baby could live until the 6 or 7 month in utero. She softly asked me would I be interested in scheduling the termination today (at this point I was about 14 weeks pregnant) and then “could always cancel.” I said no. She said, “How about I just walk you down to the scheduler’s office?” I allowed myself to be steered, she had her hand on my back the whole walk down the hall. In retrospect her tenacity was a concrete act of love on her part that I desperately needed in the moment.
I scheduled it. Then I went home to sit with my husband and cry, to talk to my sisters and my church family and my mother. Reluctantly we planned for the surgery. I prayed that I would miscarry before the date. The reality that I would knowingly be stopping this baby’s heart weighed heavily on me. In truth, it still does. The days felt so bleak leading up to the surgery and I feared my happy ending; that I had only just begun to trust, was crumbling underneath my feet. It’s hard to convey this feeling but it is the crux of my story-this temptation to despair finally, once and for all. I had learned to live with such pain and bleakness in my first marriage that the idea that I could be at peace and filled with joy (and be married!) was thrilling. Now it seemed the despair demon was there again, chuckling, “you thought you could get away, but you are mine.” The magic sunshine of the painting was blotted out by an ugly fierce dragon who seemed back in town for good.
I woke up from the anesthesia and heard someone moaning and crying. I gradually realized it was me; I started yelling from deep down in my body, “My poor dead baby, God forgive me.” Over and over. The doctor let them bring in my husband right before they sent me into oblivion with a sedative. When I woke up I was calmer and quiet but that ululating cry was more honest. We decided to get the ashes; I couldn’t bear the idea of the body in some incineration pile, so we had to meet with the funeral director and pick out a name. Ezra Floyd Pickard.
My milk came in and there was no baby to feed. It was tragic but also comforting evidence that he had existed. The postpartum period was very difficult with anxiety and depression and I feared the sun had dimmed permanently and this would somehow doom my new marriage that had been so promising. It did mark us, but it deepened us as well. It has not marred us irreparably.
My church family was so comforting to us, though the baby dedications that season were hard to witness for me and I will never hear the words to Silent Night, “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” and not think about Ezra. When we became pregnant with our “rainbow baby,” a term for a baby born after a loss, we chose the name Iris, before we even knew it meant light and rainbow. I am so grateful for the church member who sat with me and a one day old Iris and cried with me while I missed my baby Ezra, who I would never hold, even as my heart overflowed with love for my sweet daughter.
I still have the princess painting you know, it is in Iris’s room now and it comforts me that she will grow up with it there. It is my symbol for resilience, not in the hopes of some elusive 100% happy ending that only happens in cartoons anyway, but the promise that with the love of my family, both the one I live with, the one I grew up with and the one I worship with; I can go on. It is about grace, unfailing, perennial, replenishable Grace, and it has saved me from despair.
Melissa F., October 2015