Over the past few weeks, God has been putting it on my heart to blog about our little Johanna. I have never blogged about Johanna before, and very few people who know me even know her story. God confirmed this tonight when out of the blue a customer emailed me telling me that she had just gone through a late miscarriage...she had no idea that I could relate so well to what she is going through....but God knew...
I Corinthians 1:4 speaks of this - "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
The story of Johanna takes me back over 19 years ago, yet at times it seems only yesterday. We found out that we were expecting the week we broke ground to build our first home through self help homes...we had committed to working 35 hours a week doing construction work to help build 7 homes...Daryl worked full-time and then some, so really it was a commitment that I would be working the bulk of those hours. The due date coincided with the expected finish date of the house...."how in the world can I do this" was my first reaction to the positive pregnancy test...not exactly a positive reaction...
So I started working on the house...forcing myself to put in long hours when I was dog tired...and then there was the repeated stomach flu...over and over again - not just me, but the kids too. I asked the landlord to test the well water, but she assured me that it had been tested just that year, and it was fine...
Work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep....11 weeks - everything looked fine....15 weeks, again, everything going fine...then at my 19 week appointment, the doctor had trouble finding the heartbeat...then we hear about 2 faint heartbeats...very faint..."have you been feeling movement"...my heart drops to the floor...think...think....think....nothing...sinking lower - I really had not been feeling movement for a while, but then again, I was so busy working, working, sleeping that maybe I just hadn't paid attention....he sent me home with an appointment for Friday to check again.
Those were two of the longest days of my life...trying so hard to feel something, anything...hoping, praying... desperately praying...this baby that had seemed to be an inconvenience was now someone I wanted so very much....I even laid on the couch on my stomach, hoping to feel that wonderful little flutter again....but nothing....absolutely nothing...tears, fear....this just could not be happening. I felt so guilty for no wanting this little one.
Friday finally came, and the doctor could not find a heartbeat at all. He said I needed to have an ultrasound - I had never had one before. He thought maybe the baby was just lying in a bad position so he couldn't hear the heart beat, but he wanted to check things out to be sure. Wow - an ultrasound! So exciting - I had never had one of those before. Daryl got the afternoon off and we showed up...bladder busting and all.
We got all set up in the quiet ultrasound room and the attendant came in and started...there was our baby...clear as day - the head, the body, the little legs and arms...it all seemed perfect....but the attendant wasn't saying anything...she was very quiet....she got up and said she would be back in a minute...then another person came back in with a KIeanex box...then I knew....I just knew....he was going to tell me what I so did not want to hear. There was no heart beat. I had never seen an ultrasound, so until that point I really had not known that we should have heard/seen a heart beat.
My heart broke, just a little then, as I went into some kind of shock or something...I just couldn't take it in. This doesn't happen - I'd never heard of such a thing...you get pregnant, you have a baby...that's just how it works. Oh yes, I knew of women, my mother to be sure, who had miscarriages, but that was early in pregnancy, right? Not after you are wearing maternity clothes and everyone knows you are expecting!
I was told to go back to the doctor's office. I really don't remember much of that, but he told me that to carry the baby after it was no longer living could be harmful for my health. That they should send me to the hospital to induce labor. So I agreed to go along with that plan. I was sent home to make arrangements for the children and was to show up at the hospital in the morning. I don't believe I slept at all that night...I was numb.
The next morning we check into the hospital, and a doctor I never met before shows up and begins to explain the process to me...but I interrupt "is there any possibility that this baby is still living...we can not do this if there is any possibility". He tells me that the ultrasound was conclusive, and that the baby was severely underdeveloped....measuring just 14 weeks gestation when I was actually 20 weeks along (and measuring 20 weeks...). He then goes back to explaining things...I don't hear everything...something about anti nausea meds, pain meds...different method of inducing since there is no worry as to the effects on the baby...weird, but, whatever.
They induced with a suppository applied to the cervix...whatever...about 30 minutes later I am so chilled I am shaking the bed...fever...nurse reassures me this is normal...shaking, shaking, shaking....headache, stomach ache, so cold....4 hours of this...unrelenting pain and shaking...this was nothing like labor, I'd take labor any day over this...then he checks me and says I'm dilated enough to break my waters...as the water comes out so does our little one. She slips into the doctors hand. His hand...she is smaller than his hand...he asks if I want to hold her....her....her....she was a little girl...so tiny...of course I wanted to hold her.
He lays her in my hand....not my arms, my hand. I look at her hands - they are so tiny, you can not imagine how tiny. Her entire hand was smaller than my pinky fingernail. 5 fingers on each hand, 5 tiny little toes on each foot. Her head is out of proportion, large, and strangely soft...the doctor quietly tells me that the skull bones are still soft...as are most of her bones...pliable, soft, but her face is perfect...but so tiny...so tiny.
The nurse came to weigh and measure her - she weigh 5 oz, and was 7 inches long...I still remember that after all these years...if she had been a fully developed baby at 20 weeks, she would have weighed close to a pound, and been closer to 12 inches long....this was a baby that was normally never seen outside the womb...at 14 weeks, they are normally removed via D&C and there is nothing left to see...we had the opportunity of seeing and holding a baby so small...the nurse asked what her name was to be. Funny, we had already selected a name - Johanna Marie - a combination of both our grandmother's middle names (mine had recently passed away, and Daryl's had just been diagnosed with lung cancer). We had not picked out a boys name yet...God knew we didn't need one yet....such a big name for such a little girl.
I was amazed...sorrow was held at bay as I admired God's handy work. So tiny, yet so complete, perfect, and I knew, I knew that God loved her more than I did, that she was His to do with as He saw fit. After a time, the nurse had to ask what had to be a very hard question to ask..."what do you want us to do with her?''What???? Oh God, how do I answer this question. "What is normally done" "Well...this isn't quite normal - they usually aren't this small...I guess she'd be medical waste".....my mind shrank in horror...this precious life, this little loved by God and us, medical waste???? "There much be some other option" "we can arrange for a funeral home to take care of this"...yes, please do...and she said they needed to put her in a secure place for now...so I took one last look and released her into the nurses hand.
Then our pastor showed up soon after that and talked with us about funeral options, and that he had already worked to arrange to have financial help with everything. I was then moved up to the surgical floor out of kindness, so I would not have to continue hearing other healthy babies crying in the other labor and delivery rooms. Another long night...nurses that were not used to post partum moms...crazy people walking the halls...alone, so alone...so alone.
I got to go home the next day. Daryl and I went shopping for something to use as a casket. I was sure that the funeral home would not have anything suitable in size. We found the perfect thing - a jewelry box. For our jewel. For God's jewel. Then I went home and started crocheting. For each of our children, I have crocheted a layette...I hadn't even started one for Johanna, but I was going to make her one. A little one.
We met with the funeral director and showed him the jewelry box and "blanket" I had for Johanna...he looked all uncomfortable and said he didn't understand - wasn't it too small. I asked him if he had seen her, and he said no and left the room....he came back looking a little bewildered...I had to explain to him the circumstances of Johanna's birth, and then he said it would be fine to use the box we had.
We came back the day of the graveside service for the final viewing...I went in alone to say goodbye to Johanna. There she lay in the jewelry box, on some plastic..."to protect the doily" the director had said...how thoughtless...I carefully removed the plastic and placed her on the soft blanket...and cried, oh I cried...and then I had to leave her...forever...or what seemed like forever.
A few hours later we went to the cemetery, sat with close loved ones and heard about how Johanna was God's child, loved and know before we ever knew her. Never to experience pain, sadness, sin, aloneness, rejection, or loss. She was in heaven with her Lord, my Lord. Waiting for us.
Then we went home...to our other children...to our busy life...but the questions remained...the pain so great. I didn't want to talk about it - no one would understand. But then the letters and cards came..so many other women had experienced loss, some further in pregnancy like mine, some full term...so much loss that I had never heard about. But they comforted me in the way only someone who had experienced this kind of loss could. One very thoughtful woman who had experienced a still born baby gave me a copy of the book "I'll hold you in Heaven" - that book was such a comfort to me and helped me to understand that children of believers are holy unto the Lord, and that they are with God when they die before they are able to make a choice...read the story of David as he dealt with the loss of his firstborn son with Bathsheba and what he said after the child had died... Another woman gave me a rhododendron to plant in memory of her...that was especially thoughtful! Another gift I received was a plaque with a little girl running through a field, with Jesus watching over her, and a poem/bedtime prayer...
Days turns to week, weeks turned to months...the pain lessened...turned to years, and then God began to use it for His purposes. I found answers to my questions...I found God to be good and His plan for my best and His glory.
I have learned many things. I have learned that God's ways are not our ways. I have learned to trust Him in everything. I know without a shadow of a doubt that Johanna's life was not snatched away but pesticides in the well (later I found this out), that her life was not cut short, but that she had lived exactly the number of days that God had ordained for her (Psalm 139:3 and others). I have learned that nothing is wasted in God's economy - that what we experience, and the comfort we receive from God and others, is used by God to comfort others who experience similar things. He is truly the God of all comfort. But the most important lesson I learned is that God is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18). I searched the Psalms for comfort while I grieved for Johanna. And I found God to be real, so real I felt His presence like I had never felt before.
Once in a while, we stop by the Lynden cemetery to see her little grave. It only has her name and a date - Johanna Marie Einfeld February 22, 1992. But when I go there, I do not only look at her grave, but at all the other graves in the baby section. So many babies, some with just one date like Johanna, but others with months and years between birth and death...so many stories I haven't heard, but I can feel in my heart the pain. It helps put things in perspective. My loss seems so small in comparison. And then there's the new graves...they are all in rows according to the time of death...recent ones, old ones...some with flowers, some with fresh remembrances (toys, stuffed animals), and others long unattended, but not forgotten, I am sure.
I still remember my grandmother, well into her 90s, relating the story of her little sister's death from burning, and her little brother death from failure to thrive and she still cried over it....some things stay with you for life....she I share about Johanna, I still cry, but not in despair and overwhelming grief, but just seeing God in everything and experiencing those emotions once again. I wonder what she looks like. She would have turned 19 this summer (her due date was in July).
Sometime after her death, I do remember that I had a dream...of a little girl with brown curls, and a fluffy dress, running through a meadow...I have treasured that dream, knowing that she is at peace, in God's presence, waiting to meet me someday.
If you have experienced the loss of a baby, I hope God has used what I have shared here to help you in some way. I'd love to hear your story - email me if you are uncomfortable sharing it in the comments.
I have also blogged about pregnancy loss and fear on this post: