Our birth story (part two)

I was reluctant to post this because honestly, it’s not my favorite work. I wanted this to sound much more poetic than it actually is — but I guess it makes sense because this is my least favorite part. All I could do is retell it and invite you to join along.

So here is the continuation of our birth story. If you’re just jumping in, check out part one here. For those who have been following, I’ll continue…

Things were stalling out, but I had just switched positions in the effort to help Joshua down the birth canal. Around 2:30-3ish the doctor informed me he would be breaking my water soon if it didn’t happen naturally. My mom and husband excitedly started getting into their surgical gear. I thought, ‘how weird to see this boy who had been held at a distance at one point, to see him grafted into the family, getting ready for the arrival of the newest family member with his mother-in-law.’ What a weird yet beautiful scene — it made my heart so happy.

The nurses (who are the real heroes let me just say) switched shifts and the newest nurse went to check Joshua’s heartbeat before they’d break my water. She was not finding it as easily and I thought to myself, ‘Don’t panic Bri. She is new and she’s just getting used to where Joshua is positioned now.’ Enough silence went by before a doctor was brought into the room with an ultrasound machine.

Joshua at 26 weeks

All I could do was pray that my nurse had been wrong. I didn’t know whether to watch the doctor’s face or the scan. What would give it away more? The stillness of the monitor, or the creased lines in my doctor’s face?

“So here is where his heart is… as you can see, his heart is not beating anymore.” Who knows what was actually said? I felt like I was in a different realm, watching this happen to a different family. That couldn’t be me who just lost her baby.

I don’t know if the squeeze from my husband’s hand woke me up, or the doctor’s empathetic, “I’m so sorry.” As my husband let out a guttural cry and choked on his tears, I realized, ‘Oh this us. If Michael’s crying, this is happening. This is real.’ My mom held him.

The thing is… I knew this was a possibility. I had heard the doctors’ vague speeches over and over. I had read the Trisomy 18 testimonies on support group pages. I knew the potential outcomes. And even then, I knew Joshua was already in a better place… but nothing ever really prepares you for a tragic reality.

There was a muted acceptance. A morbid sense of peace. God you heard our prayers, and this was your answer. It just wasn’t your will. I had the slightest of smiles, if you could call it that, because surely, we couldn’t both be breaking down. Eventually I said to my husband, “Hey. We know God can do anything, even now. If he wants to confound us all, he can raise Joshua up just like he rose up Lazarus and the little girl. But if he doesn’t… we know he is in the presence of Jesus right now.” I squeezed him and probably cried too.

The doctor gave us at least 30 minutes alone and then came in to break my water because even though my womb was now lifeless, it wasn’t yet empty. I began to push, and Joshua came out within the next 15 or so mins. And with a room of people, what should have been noise and life buzzing about, there was mostly silence. Who knew what to say?

Our first child, a son, Joshua Jeremiah Ulasi was born at 4:02 pm on July 22nd 3 lbs and 6 oz, 14 inches long.. No heartbeat.

The first words that came out of my mouth as the doctor pulled him out was, “Birth is so weird.” It is and yet it makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like, “I just did that!” Honestly, I wanted to do it all over right then and there. If only this time I’d get to hold my son alive. My husband was a champ too for standing right by my side and watching it all up close.

The nurses swaddled little Joshua and put a hat on his head before they handed him to me. His eyes were slightly open which was a little weird, but also what I grieve even now: he was so close. My heart nearly stopped when I saw him. His face looked exactly how my husband’s does when he gets his serious look going. He had my head shape with my husband’s specific features. I originally had no idea how our baby would look with Trisomy. When I saw Joshua though, my heart was glad to see him look just like his mommy & daddy.

We took turns holding him. I can’t even say my heart was full in these moments because it was too conflicting. How joyous to see my husband holding our first child, or my mom now a grandmother. While these things were true, they were incomplete. He would have to cover his son’s casket with dirt a week later. She wouldn’t get to spoil her grandson for years to come.

I remember feeling devastated for everyone else… how would they all feel when they were expecting a new title, too? A grandfather or great-grandmother. Our siblings now uncles and aunts. Michael and I now parents. My heart weighed heavy. I remember calling Michael’s grandmother who was so happy to hear our voices. When we broke the news to her, that all turned to sobbing.

Why Lord did it have to look this way?

Joshua stayed with us for a little while until the nurses silently whisked him away. We took pictures with him. I cried on and off. We laughed on and off. We tried. I almost didn’t want to fall asleep because I knew I wouldn’t wake to see his sweet face. The next morning, I arose and sat at the window until it hit me like a ton of bricks. We just had a baby… he should be here.

The delivering doctor came in not too long after and had confirmed some of the findings he shared with me the previous day. He had said my placenta came out right after Joshua which was a little unusual. There was a blood clot on the back of it and he explained to me that it had abrupted which was likely why I went into early labor. There is no known cause for why these things happen… it wouldn’t be unlikely if something traumatic like a severe fall or accident occurred, but that wasn’t the case.

Our parents wondered, what went wrong? Why didn’t the doctors do something sooner? I think my mom went out into the hall demanding answers. I get it. When something heartbreaking occurs that we truly don’t have the words for, we try our best to find some sort of explanation. If we can find some answer, or a scapegoat to blame, then perhaps we won’t have to face this sort of pain the future. We try to gain some sort of control.

Trust me, we considered an autopsy. We saw our son get healed from seven abnormalities to just one—we wanted to know what happened, too. We wondered if it was our fault. Should we have just gotten the c-section? What would happen if we had continuously monitored him? But it honestly doesn’t matter what these answers are. Because remember? Control is not peace.  

The only thing that could take away the guilt and anger from potentially gnawing at us was trusting God’s sovereignty, albeit as weakly as we could. That and the reality that our son was now fully healed and whole in the arms of our Savior.

Though he bawled like a baby at first, my husband has seemed to be at peace ever since. He shared with me how that day in the hospital room, he saw this image burning into his heart: Joshua walking with Jesus. He was at peace knowing that.

People may think Christianity is a crutch, a distorted perception we blind ourselves with to explain away hard things like this. ‘God had to have a plan to allow this hellish thing to happen…’ right? I for one don’t see that plan in action right now and frankly I don’t know if I ever will on this side of eternity. But I’m learning to be honest with God as much as I can, and cling to him in the gap between the now and not yet.

There is a lot I don’t know or that I even still question… but there is an absolute assurance that for those who trust in God, they will meet him face to face. Death is not just the end for them, but it is a doorway. Jesus, through the cross, has built a bridge for us to enter into eternity with him. Not everyone will go to heaven because not everyone knows Jesus; they cannot get there on their own.

It’s not about how good you are on earth – or even bad. You can be Mr. Rogers, the Dalai Lama, heck Ted Bundy… but unless you know Jesus and believe that He died for your sins on the cross in order to bring forgiveness and relationship between you and God, then you will be eternally separated from God and let’s just say heaven ain’t your home.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

There is good news though for those who have lost an infant like myself because I too wondered, how could Joshua be in heaven if he didn’t have the chance to know Jesus? For someone emotionally and intellectually incompetent, like an infant, it is believed that they, too, will go to heaven because they haven’t even had the chance yet to learn of who Jesus is and what he has done for them. But we know that on the cross, Jesus was looking at every unborn child and dying for their sins too, making a way for them to enter into eternal security.

Though I may not fully be able to grasp it myself yet, there is no wishful thinking or doubt that Joshua is safe, healed and whole in the presence of Love himself. There is full assurance. But I want you to know that the pain of it is still real. I mourn the loss of every moment I haven’t gotten to have with Joshua while my friends move on with their babies. It’s still heavy from time to time — thankfully my Savior carries the weight for me.

I ask God to give me the faith to believe in the following truth and hope for it with all my heart… and I want to invite those who have experienced the brokenness of this world, but don’t know the hope there is in Jesus Christ to join me:

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:4)

As we wait for the fulfillment of this promise, we still experience the loss and pain here on this side of eternity. We wait in between the tension of the now and not yet. We wait with God’s loving heart comforting us in our affliction, so that we may comfort others in their affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Perhaps this is the part of my story where I’m not quite on the other side, yet I write my way through. I pray for you who may be feeling the weight of this broken world, that our story would remind you: You’re not alone. And there is a greater hope. Let’s (not so) patiently await Him together.

 "If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:25

Our birth story (part one)

September 13th was supposed to be the big day. If all had gone according to plan, either our first-born child would be here by now or shortly on his way. But life doesn’t always go according to plan, does it?

In honor of what would have been his due date, I thought I would share our Joshua’s birth story who went to heaven on July 22nd.

A little backstory… at 18 weeks our son was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, usually a life limiting chromosomal abnormality where every cell in the body contains an extra copy of chromosome 18. For reference, the average human being is born with 46 chromosomes: 23 from each parent. From diagnosis, an ultrasound detected between 5-7 abnormalities in Joshua. His last ultrasound was a week before birth where miraculously only ONE abnormality remained: a ventricular septal defect meaning there was a hole in the ventricle of his heart. Depending on the circumstance, the hole could potentially heal on its own, or most commonly would be surgically corrected months after birth.

There was so much hope.

How do we live in the tension of what faith tells us God can do versus the reality of a fatal diagnosis?

It felt like I was going to the doctor every week at some point and not just your typical routine prenatal appointment. One week there’d be an ultrasound, the next an appointment with the cardio department, or the next with the neonatologists. All of them looking to us to make decisions we couldn’t begin to fathom.

Our birth plan needed to consist of, “would you like to meet your baby alive?” Huh? “What degree of medical intervention would you want? Would you like to hold your baby asap, or have us whisk him off to tend to any emergencies?” It was hard to give an answer to any of these questions. We knew the reality of the medical possibilities and were fully considering them in all our decisions. But how do we live in the tension of what our faith tells us our God can do versus the reality of a fatal diagnosis?

No matter how many doctors we had seen, or how much progress had been made, no one could tell us the outcome or give us a definitive answer about anything. With every kick, I knew our sweet Joshua was there… yet he also remained an elusive idea in my mind that I had no clue if I’d ever get to actually come face to face with. It was the weirdest experience— to be pregnant with possibility, only to give birth to a deathbed of hopes and dreams. It’s odd because birth and death don’t usually cohabitate the same sentence.

I thought we’d make it farther than 32 weeks, but around 4 A.M. the morning of July 22nd, I awoke to increasingly sharp abdominal pains. My back started to hurt, and I thought perhaps it was because I was sleeping on the couch. Changing position, using the bathroom, laying on the floor… nothing was making the pain decease. My husband Michael woke, realizing something was off when I lay on the hardwood floor.

In typical millennial fashion, we consulted the internet guru: Google. As we both searched signs of labor (because we honestly just didn’t think to prep that early on) we decided to time my contractions and call the hospital we were originally set to deliver at. I was experiencing vaginal bleeding, and the doctor on call was not getting back to us. I don’t think anyone actually called until two hours later…. at that point we had arrived at the closest hospital with a reputable NICU to see if they could examine me. We thought we’d just get checked out and be on our way home, but little did we know our baby boy was coming into the world HOT!

We arrived at the hospital probably around 7 A.M. Within an hour of being in triage, doctors had said I appeared to be in labor, but my cervix was too far back to determine dilation. Within an hour they checked again and to my surprise I was at 6cm already! This baby was coming.

It was the weirdest experience – to be pregnant with possibility, only to give birth to a deathbed of hopes and dreams… Birth and death don’t usually cohabitate the same sentence.

Michael and I both asked if we should get to the hospital we were intended to deliver at, and as I kept writhing in pain from the increasingly frequent contractions, the nurses asked him if he was prepared to take me on the highway in that kind of shape. ‘Ha, we’ll stay here,’ we thought.

Since we were not at our planned hospital, doctors kept coming in to ask about our birth plan and preferences, fully aware that an infant with Trisomy 18 may not even make it through labor. Though it’s worth noting that I truly thought he would. It was somewhere along that point I made the decision to get an epidural. I was not prepared and had not done much research for labor techniques at that point. If I was going to be dealing with the emotional stress of everyone speaking worst case scenarios, I needed some sort of reprieve somewhere.

All throughout the pregnancy I had told our doctors we want to meet our son alive, and I was prepared to undergo whatever would make that possible including a c-section even if it was not ideal. As Michael and I talked though, it didn’t seem like it was needed since Joshua was coming in on his own so quickly. We decided we would vaginally deliver and forego continuous fetal monitoring of his heartbeat since we would not have a c-section — I did not want to stress even more along the way.

They would check his heartbeat intermittently, almost every half hour. By 11 A.M. (give or take) I was going on 8cm and progressing well. Joshua’s heartbeat was strong. All was going well as we mentally prepared for the early arrival of our first baby. My mom had just gotten to the hospital and while I was not expecting that in our original birth plan, I was so thankful to have her there. Sometimes a girl just needs her mommy.

The next two hours things kind of stalled out. I wasn’t really feeling the contractions at this point courtesy of the epidural, but I was wondering if I should switch positions to help Joshua make his way down. I’ve only read some natural birth posts on Instagram, so I didn’t know too much. Of course, the doctors discouraged me from getting up and didn’t think it’d be beneficial. It didn’t sound right to me, so I at least asked my lovely nurse to help me lay on my side. At that point I began to feel movement and contractions slightly again, as Joshua made his way down the canal. His heart was still strong.

(to be continued)

Control is not Peace

Well, today’s a fun one. September 9th marks a year that our sweet Selah passed away. She was my husband and I’s first dog together, two months into our marriage with a house under renovation as “newly independent” adults. I remember the excitement of driving five hours to pick her up and finally getting to meet her as she ran out as happy as could be. That was my first glimpse of her… and in a way, also the last. A year ago, during our evening routine, she ran in the opposite direction and into ongoing traffic. The scene still haunts me to this day.

I wish I could say I’ve moved on, but with one loss after another pulling at my heart, the effects of grief have lingered in a different way. Since the loss of our first child, Joshua, seven weeks ago now, I have felt paralyzed by fear like never before. I can’t stop worrying that I will lose yet another loved one. Ultimately, I believe that God would strengthen me to get through it, but it doesn’t mean I want to handle loss all the more.

Maybe the real question is, do I really believe I will make it through even the most devastating of circumstances? Will Christ truly be enough? And will I trust him in the midst of it?

I suppose this debilitating fear of another loss is the indirect result of grief: a poisonous, festering symptom that aims to keep me paralyzed to go out and live… that keeps me from trusting that God is good and in control, and that I’ll be okay only because He is.

I’ve seen this fear manifest in the face of control. For me that’s looked like obsessing over the state of my current dogs and naturally, I’m anxious. Desiring control is a natural response to seek security in the face of uncertainty. But as my lovely husband likes to remind me of this gut-punching one-liner of a lyric, “control is not peace,” no matter how much I try to make it so. (Song link at bottom!)

Control is a funny thing. I wish I could make up some sort of clever analogy about it, but do I have to? One day you’re skipping along the path of life until boom! your brother dies. Whoa, where’d that come from?! Let’s keep walking… frolicking on down the road, perhaps taking a left turn eventually and bam! you have cancer. What!? That sign was NOT back there. Then next thing you know, the rest of the world comes crashing down around you too. My lengthy point is: we literally have no control in this life so why do we continuously act like we do? Control is morbidly funny in the sense that we frantically grasp at straws only to have the wind blow them back out of our hand.

Our sweet Selah

When life throws you for a loop, isn’t it best to find some sort of sense of control, if nothing else but to stay sane? Isn’t that what I’m doing by obsessing over my dogs, in hopes that they’ll be satisfied and obedient enough not to try to run away? I mean, that’s what I fear since Selah ran out and got hit. I’m obsessing over factors that I simply cannot control all of the time.  Let me be the first to tell you if no one else has… obsessing does not bring me an ounce of peace. Not the everlasting kind anyways, but the counterfeit kind that quickly shrivels up when I am triggered. And yet again I will try to control something else, and on the cycle goes.

So how does one stop this? How do I not worry over the unknown? How do I enjoy my life in the here and now? Or go into my next pregnancy not fearing every single thing I do or don’t do will affect the life of my baby? How do I, even now, not worry about bringing these words to light for fear that God would take away the source of obsession? How do I give up my control for true, everlasting peace?

Well, bringing these thoughts to the light is actually a really good first step. For me, that looks like being honest with God. When I kneeled down to pray, I waited a good five minutes because I simply couldn’t find the words to say… until I realized I was actually too scared to say them aloud. God has full authority of all the universe and everything within it, so who am I to question him? Or plead that nothing else would be taken from me?

But as soon as the words left my lips, my guard dropped. The emotions poured out. The waterworks were rolling. I could not bear the weight of this debilitating fear alone, or this curious anger of why things happen the way they do. I simply wasn’t meant to. Debilitating is defined as “tending to weaken” meaning that it literally weakens our souls. Thankfully, we can call on the one who will strengthen us. (Isaiah 41:10)

If control is not peace, then what is?

For some, this also means talking to trusted friends about our honest thoughts and that is so needed too. We were created to be in community. Whether that looks like family, friends, a counselor, whichever emotionally healthy individual you can trust, may we step outside the dark, crippling thoughts of fear together and expose them to the light.

My own therapist asked me, “If control is not peace, then what is?” And I thought of how control makes you want to hold a tight grip onto something. If that is the case, then the opposite of that looks like surrender… letting go of that thing. For me, it looks like letting go and trusting God with it. With that being said…

A good next step (that probably won’t be a favorite) is to acknowledge that you’re simply not in control — BUT you can look at who is. This may trigger more fear at first because frankly, well, it’s scary to think about! I thought over the losses I’ve faced in just the span of two years and really, they are like knives to the heart. It hurts, and it’s okay to mourn that. If all that has happened so far, what happens next?

Well, God is so good that he would never let us suffer alone. I thought of how Jesus left his throne in heaven to walk with us in the throes of life, knowing that he would be brutally tortured and that he would die. Let me say that again for the reader in the back… Jesus KNEW he would be beaten, spat upon and face the worst form of torture of his time. Nails driven into sides, he knew death was imminent and that the people he died for could read that and feel absolutely nothing.

He lived 30 something years of life knowing his fate and did not stop his mission. He did not run away from the pain. He did not let fear paralyze him. Though he prayed to God the Father pleading with him for a different way, he ultimately surrendered every ounce of control and said, “not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus could only do this as a meek human because he kept looking to God and did two simple things: trusted and obeyed. So simple, right? Ha! He never stopped communicating with the Father in prayer though. He brought his thoughts to the light. He trusted God’s character and plan and humbly followed. His character is sovereignly just, his heart is good, and his steadfast love abounds forever. He holds the world together and all things in it.

Because I know who is in control, I can have lasting peace.

We’re not meant to understand everything because we’d live in a constant state of anxiety trying to figure it out anyways. But he has promised to work out all things for good for those who love him, according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) And that’s the true meaning of the verse (ahem Manifest writers)!

Lastly, but not least importantly, is that He doesn’t leave us alone. The verse that God spoke to us at the beginning of our pregnancy was Deuteronomy 31:6… the charge to be strong and courageous. The context is that the people of Israel were venturing into unknown territory with enemy nations surrounding them, occupying the land they were looking to move into.

How can one be strong or courageous when all they’ve heard

is that the road ahead will be hard?

God commanded the Israelites not to fear because He was going with them, and he wasn’t leaving. Ever. He gives us peace as he walks with us in the uncertainties of life. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

We can trust that no matter what we face, God is not leaving the people that trust him. And he won’t just let our lives fall apart without working it out for our good and his glory. Because I know who is in control, I can have lasting peace.