A few years ago I journeyed with one of my dearest friends through the loss of her baby. Janine’s precious baby boy was diagnosed as being “incompatible with life” in the womb. It was inspiring and humbling to watch her family embrace their loss and their pain with such grace and courage–while clinging to their God who’s glory shines so brightly in the valley of the shadow of death. I had never lost a baby before. I had never had a scary diagnosis while one of my boys were in my womb. God used Janine’s journey to impact my heart and my life in such a beautiful way. That, and adopting children who have special needs, have taught me the value of human life in such a deeper way.
Life…is valuable and to be cherished.
Life…no matter what it looks like.
Life…however long God allows us to carry it inside of the womb–and hold it tightly outside of the womb.
ALL life is precious.
At the end of last year I prayed for another friend as they walked a very similar journey to Janine and her family. Oh, the things that God can do and the stories that He can write when we just surrender and whisper the words, “Have your way, Lord Jesus!” I asked Shannon if I could share their testimony with you all. It’s one of unimaginable loss, pain that my heart has never understood, and the ability of our Father to reach down from heaven and give peace that passes all understanding in any valley.
Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your Rebecca with us. And thank you for showing me once again that life is to be treasured–no matter how long we have it for.
Meet the Hazleton family.
I can hardly believe we are already embarking on yet another new year. (And yet again, I’ll be sending out New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards- oops!) For the past few years, I have enjoyed praying for God to give me a new “word” for the upcoming year – something that would reveal what He would like our lives to be centered around… maybe something that needed to be refined in my own heart for the next 12 months. In January I revealed on my blog that my word for the year was ‘seek’. In my heart the Lord seemed to be urging me to draw closer, to be stiller and seek a deeper, more meaningful walk with Him. I had no idea just how much the events of this year would have me seeking Him – His peace and presence, mostly.
A few months into the new year I found myself coming to terms with the fact that perhaps our last baby was our last baby. She was about to turn two and was beginning to wean and my mama-heart was aching. With six kids, our cup was certainly full, yet I resigned myself to the fact that maybe I would always want another baby, but that would be okay. I could choose to want what God wants for us, and be happy with what He has blessed us with already.
But then I saw something I never expected: another plus sign on a pregnancy test. Although we were thrilled and a little overwhelmed, something inside me quietly said to hold this pregnancy with open hands. Anything can happen, I thought. After all, I was approaching forty!
The weeks went by and I remained cautiously excited, and soon the date had come for our first ultrasound. It was my Mom’s birthday, and since she had come to town for a few days, she stayed home with our kids while they all anxiously awaited to find out if they had a new brother or sister on the way. I was certain we were having a boy, and if I was right, then Jeff owed me a sno-cone. If I was wrong, then I owed all the kids an ice cream cone.
Several minutes into the ultrasound I could tell that something was wrong. The technician was quiet. She continued to probe my belly for a long time, going back again and again to look at my baby’s head. Baby was moving a little; heartbeat was strong. But something wasn’t right. Finally, a radiologist was called in, and we were told that there were some abnormalities, mostly that there was “fluid on the brain” and that our Dr. would tell us more. Because of the low amniotic fluid, we couldn’t even see Baby’s gender. I had hoped at least we could have something happy to tell the kids, but we would have longer to wait. I hadn’t even been given a print-out of the ultrasound image to show them.
We walked out of that appointment feeling a bit numb, wondering what had just happened.
For several days I waffled between feeling hopeful and falling into despair. The not-knowing was the worst. We would have no answers until we saw a specialist in Houston. God was so near during that time. Again and again He would point out Scripture to me, and often that same day a friend would text me the very same Scripture. I wrote all these verses down on notecards and carried them with me in my purse. One morning I looked – really looked – at all my children and realized that I had begun to take these blessings for granted. I decided that even if we didn’t know what was happening with our baby, I could choose joy every day, and remind myself of all the good the Lord has shown us. I folded a bunch of notecards in half and wrote “Choose Joy” on each one and placed them all around the house. I needed the constant reminder to not give in to despair.
Finally, the day came for our appointment in Houston. We drove through the rain to get there and felt peace the whole way. I was only nervous for a few minutes right before we were called into the ultrasound, and I pulled out my scripture notecards. Jeff sweetly rubbed my back, while I read, helping me feel more calm.
Once I was on the ultrasound table, we had our answer within two minutes. “The main problem is this,” the specialist said in a thick accent, pointing at the black and white screen where the image of our wiggling baby was displayed.
“This space in your baby’s head.”
We learned that our baby had not developed a brain. There was really only a brain stem. This alone would be fatal. Slight abnormalities of the heart and other organs, he said, likely pointed to a Trisomy condition. Only blood work would give us the “diagnosis”, but the outcome would be the same. If our baby was born alive, he/she would not survive.
I was devastated. It felt like someone was pushing on my chest, making it hard to breathe. The Dr. asked if we had any questions, and wanted to know what we planned to do – in other words, did we want to continue with the pregnancy?
Of course we did.
I stared at our baby on the screen, willing my tears not to fall, but they came anyway.
Again, we could not see the gender of the baby. Again, we walked out with no ultrasound picture to show the kids. We walked back out through the full waiting room, a sea of faces, which I felt were all looking at my tear-stained face. We finally escaped out into the hallway and I ducked into a restroom, where I locked myself in the last stall. A Mom and little girl were in the stall next to me and I buried my face in tissue and tried to sob silently. I paced the stall and sobbed until I caught my breath and finally mouthed a silent prayer: “God, this is not what I want… but I will still walk this road if you want me to. And I will still say that you are good.”
My heart was utterly broken. All I wanted was my baby to take home and hold and nurse.
Two nights later, we gathered the kids together after family worship time and told them the news: something was wrong with our baby, and he/she probably would not live after being born. They cried and asked questions and cried some more. I was amazed at the peace God gave us right there in our living room, and the closeness we felt to Him and each other. In our suffering He was drawing near.
In the days that followed, we all continued to pray that God would heal baby, but always reminded the kids that God might not heal our baby, and that would be okay.
About a week after the visit to the specialist, my nurse called with news; she had the results of our blood work.
“Okay, I’m ready,” I said, leaning over the kitchen counter, picking at crumbs.
“I wanted him to be wrong,” she started.
Our unborn baby was diagnosed with Trisomy 13. The blow wasn’t so harsh. God had been sheltering my heart with peace. Before I hung up the phone I blurted out, “what about gender?”
“Female!” she said.
I was stunned. Really stunned. I had been 100% sure I was carrying a boy. What a little mystery this baby girl was. I texted Jeff at work: “Trisomy 13. And I owe all the kids ice cream cones!”
That evening we took everyone to Dairy Queen to celebrate. Someone had told me early on in our journey that we shouldn’t mourn our loss too early – but to celebrate every day we still had our baby. So that’s just what we tried to do.
A few days after it settled in that we were having a girl, we decided to name her. We already had our boy name picked out, so we hadn’t even thought of girl names. But God was beginning to piece together a meaningful name for our daughter in our hearts and one evening Jeff and I sat down and made the final decision. We named our little daughter Rebecca Faith Hosanna.
Weeks flew by. Sometimes I really struggled. Without warning I would suddenly feel overwhelmed with grief and trapped inside my own body. I wanted to run away from this journey but I couldn’t escape. I had recurring dreams that I was surrounded by Mamas with new babies and I cried and cried because my empty arms had no baby to nurse. The worst moments were when I would give into the haunting thought that I was “wasting” my last pregnancy on a baby we would never take home from the hospital.
But most of the time we were blessed by God, filled with His joy and peace. The body of Christ was so sweet, rallying behind us, bringing us meals, sending us gifts, and covering us with prayer. We felt immensely blessed. I felt blessed and honored to be Rebecca’s mama. I would smile at her kicks, and noticed that she moved a lot more when I played the piano or ran the vacuum cleaner – which I thought strange since technically, without a brain, she shouldn’t be able to hear anything. And every time a store clerk or stranger would smile at my growing belly and offer a hearty “congratulations,” I was surprised that I could genuinely smile back and say “thank you” and actually feel grateful and happy, instead of bitterly disappointed. I know this was only possible through God’s hand on us.
I was blogging through this journey and sharing here and there on Facebook. Since we had her first ultrasound on a Tuesday and saw the specialist in Houston on a Tuesday, then I began asking friends on Facebook to pray and sometimes fast with me each Tuesday.
I continued appointments as usual and my doctor had his own ultrasound tech give me another sonogram and print out several images for us. For the first time, little Rebecca turned her face toward the “camera” and also cooperated so we confirmed she was a girl. The tech stayed with me a long time I saw Rebecca put her hands up to her face and even grab her own ankles. We treasured the images, and we kept our eyes on the second week of December as the time our Dr. would schedule a c-section and we would meet her face-to-face. (Unfortunately, all five of my biological children have been born via c-section.)
And then September came.
We celebrated my daughter’s seventh birthday on September 14th, and were planning a trip to Galveston with my parents and sister and nephew the weekend of the 26th, as a farewell to summer, and a celebration of September birthdays. But on the 21st I began to have severe headaches and a lot of swelling in my hands and feet and face. My blood pressure, which is always normal to low, was shooting higher and higher. Over the weekend I was in and out of the labor & delivery unit at our hospital as they monitored my blood pressure. It would always go back down, but even with medication, it wouldn’t stay down. On Tuesday, September 23rd, the day before my 40th birthday, I went in to see my Dr. and not only was my blood pressure up again, but there was also a significant amount of protein in my urine. The nurse shook her head sadly and double checked my blood pressure before going to get my doctor. He came into the room and took one look at my swollen face and shook his head sadly as well. I knew what it meant. Toxemia. Preeclampsia.
If we had caught it earlier there may have been time to try other measures to reverse the syndrome or hold it off longer. But the protein in my urine had reached a level where we could be looking at dangerous, lasting effects on my body if I carried sweet Rebecca any longer. The only thing we could do was prep for a c-section.
I called Jeff and told him, through tears, to meet me at the hospital. I texted my best friend who had our kids at her house. Everything started to happen really fast.
The next few hours were a whirlwind. I was wheeled over to the hospital, which was attached to the large office building where my Dr.’s office was located. Jeff was there within a few minutes and I was prepped with an enormous, hideous hospital gown and equally obnoxious amount of magnesium. This was to help my body against the effects of the preeclampsia, but for the first 30 minutes it was administered, it gave me awful hot flashes.
Ironically, during those last few hours before Rebecca was born, she moved about constantly in my belling, kicking against those annoying monitors strapped around me, as if to say, “I’m still here!”
As the time for surgery approached, the NICU nurses and doctor came to talk to us about what to expect when Rebecca was born. They were so compassionate and one of the nurses was in tears as she greeted us. Rebecca was coming 11 weeks early and with all the complications, we knew that without a miracle she would only live a few minutes to a few hours.
Too soon, it was time to be wheeled back to the OR. The shaking began on the inside of me. Fear and nerves and immense sadness. As my bed was pushed out of the room, toward the ER, I knew I was experiencing the last few minutes of having Rebecca safe in my womb. Hours later, when they would wheel me back into this room, I would no longer be pregnant. My heart was breaking.
My Dr. is wonderful, compassionate, gentle, and kind. He talked me through the surgery, just as he had two years earlier with my other daughter’s birth. A minute after they began the surgery I was looking up toward the ceiling and noticed that in the big lights over the operating table I could see the reflection of what they were doing to my abdomen. I started to look away, not sure I really wanted to witness what actually happens during a c-section. But at that very second, I clearly saw the reflection of my Dr. pulling tiny Rebecca out into the world. She was red all over and her arms and legs were flailing about. I silently watched him gently wipe her forehead and look at her a second before handing her off to the nurse. In the four previous c-sections I’ve had, not once have I ever had that experience of being able to see the reflection of what was happening. It was a moment that stood still in time and I am still so grateful to have “seen” her be born alive.
Minutes later, she was wiped clean and bundled up. The nurses handed her to Jeff and he laid her on my chest, which is something I never got to experience with any of my other babies. I thought she had already passed away; she had never made a sound. But Jeff said, “She’s wiggling.” I kissed her and then she was whisked away to the NICU for oxygen to help make her more comfortable.
As she was being taken back to the nursery, our friends arrived with my other children, and they were able to see their sister alive. Two other friends who are photographers captured all these moments for me to see later. I was still finishing up in surgery.
Once I was in recovery they returned Rebecca to me. She was still alive, but not moving. I kissed her very soft skin and tiniest lips, and whispered over and over again how sorry I was that I couldn’t keep her safe in my womb. She had a furrowed brow and a long, funny nose, where only one nostril had formed. She had perfect fingers and toes. A beautiful complexion and dark hair matted to her head. I unwrapped her to see the longest little legs and we joked that she had her Daddy’s big feet. Within a few minutes the nurse checked her breathing again, and she was gone. She had never made a sound or opened her eyes. One by one, each of her siblings were able to kiss her and hold her. We talked about how Rebecca is with Jesus now, and will never be sick again. She was so very loved. She is loved still.
In the months leading up to Rebecca’s birth, I searched a lot on the internet, reading about Trisomy babies, as well as babies born without a brain, and babies with anacephaly. I encountered so many stories of mamas who, like me, were shocked to discover around their 20-week appointment that their baby had a condition that was labeled “incompatible with life.” Sadly, so many – SO MANY – of these babies were aborted before they ever had a chance. I read testimony after testimony of mamas who deeply regretted the decision to end their pregnancy. How heartbreaking.
There are many things we endured on this journey. Shock, despair, brokenness. During my pregnancy I was exhausted, my hair was turning more gray and my stretch marks were getting stretch marks. My vericose veins in my ankles hurt, causing me to have to wear compression hose in the hottest months of the year in Texas. We encountered many extra medical expenses. And then there were expenses for Rebecca’s funeral, burial, and headstone. I went through the risk of having a 5th c-section, possibly using up my “last chance.” And I spent my 40th birthday in a hospital bed, recovering from major surgery, mourning the death of my baby, and still fighting for my health as I battled lingering effects of toxemia.
I remember the specialist in Houston shaking his head, saying what a shame it was that I would have to go through a c-section for this baby.
This baby. She brought joy to so many even before she was born. Our children were able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not fear evil – and come out still believing that God is sovereign and good. I had strangers contact me to say they had “happened” upon my story and that God had used Rebecca to bring them closer to Him, because they were really praying again for the first time in a long time. Or people telling me they were touched and drawn closer to God because of our faith in Him – because we believed that no matter the outcome, He is still good. I had a Mama tell me that because I rallied friends to pray for Rebecca on Tuesdays, it inspired her to pray more for her own children. I could go on and on and on.
Rebecca Faith Hosanna, my little one-and-a-half pound treasure lived on this earth only about an hour, outside of the womb. She never opened her eyes or made a sound. Yet God used her, and is using her still. It was a road I never wanted to walk down, but every step was worth it.