Abortion, Death, And A Call To Love

“Paula” was raised in a conservative church. When she wound up pregnant out of wedlock, fear of judgment from the church drove her to a dark secret place where her baby was killed and discarded as medical waste. Paula is a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Betty” was raised in a prestigious home, so becoming pregnant as a teenager was a “stain” on the family’s image. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. Betty is now a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Carly” became pregnant after being raped by a trusted family member. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. They were leaders in their faith community and regardless of how the pregnancy came to be, a pregnant teenager would not reflect well on their image. After turning to substance abuse and years of shame, Carly is now clean, makes a daily choice to forgive herself, and works to help others heal from trauma.

“Barbara” was surprised to find out she was pregnant. Although she was married, they hadn’t necessarily planned on having more children. She’d had several miscarriages early on, a stillbirth, and a preemie. When she went to the doctor for her first prenatal appointment he said, “You don’t have to go through with this you know.” She refused to see that doctor again and delivered another preemie, who today is a thriving beautiful child.

“Joy” had a miscarriage at six weeks pregnant. She grieved her baby’s death as deeply as I’ve ever seen anyone grieve their child. Her doctor said miscarriages happen all the time and made her feel like her grief wasn’t vaild. Her family and friends struggled to relate to the depth of her loss.

“Tara” called me when she had her first miscarriage, unable to flush the obvious baby who was unrecognized by the medical community as a “life” so therefore didn’t have the right to ritual and burial. Together we were able to secure a proper resting place for the baby she loved deeply. She had several more miscarriages to follow before going on to have surviving children. With each loss, the pain and bitterness and anger grew because so few people recognized her losses as real babies.

“Tammy” was told her baby had a lethal diagnosis and would never survive outside of the womb. Even while desparately wanting her baby, she chose to terminate. She carries her baby’s memory and the “what ifs” with her every day.

“Sue’s” baby was terminally diagnosed during pregnancy, but she chose to continue to carry. While her child has special needs and life hasn’t been easy for them, this beautiful soul is now a young adult and has taught all of us much more about the meaing of life than any formal education ever could.

And during a stillbirth I attended, I tapped out the following message on my phone to ask a few friends for prayer.

“It is sacred and peaceful in this space now. After the initial shock of the silent ultrasound machine, the doctors saying there’s no heartbeat, and as compassionately and matter-of-factly as possible, plans made to induce labor at just less than 5 months pregnant.

We’ve sat through hours of intake process at the hospital, nurses coming and going, the IV specialist searching for a suitable vein. There was even another ultrasound just to be sure…

No silence screams louder than a quiet monitor from that big machine that confirms for us hope and life or stillness and death.

Now, now we are waiting for the doctor to induce her, but in this space, husband and wife have both moved beyond exhaustion and surrendered to some moments of sleep. My heart breaks, hurts so deeply for their pain, for the unanswered questions, for the ways they feel abandoned by God.

Lines from a favorite song keep replaying in my mind. “One day soon we’ll see his face. And every tear he’ll wipe away. No more pain and suffering. Oh praise him for the mercy tree. Death has died, love has won. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.”

But here, there are tears. Lots of tears. Suffering beyond the ability to articulate. Words seem wasted trying to describe the intensity of the pain. There is fear. Fear of physical pain and knowing that after the physical pain is the most intense heart pain. To know this physical pain when there is hope for new life makes everything bearable. To know this physical pain will just bring you closer to the reality of death, for that, there are no words.

There is anger. Anger that this dream would “dangle in front of them” just to be jerked away. Anger for bodies that seem to fail us. Anger that a God who is good and for whom nothing is impossible still allowed death to call once more.

These emotions are normal. They are a part of the questions and grief. Yet God is still good. He is the bestower of peace and comfort in the midst of our hardest hard. He is the kind and gentle Shepherd, loving in spite of questions, fear, anger, and pain. 

The hardest pain is yet to come. The pain of delivery and the anguish of a quiet birthing room. The physical pain of empty arms that hang heavy by your side when every part of your body is reminding you that your arms should be cradling hope, new life, joy.

We need your prayers. We need your petitions that God would be our very present help in this time of trouble. May the presence of Jesus, the risen Christ, be with us in this time. While for us, death still holds a sting, may we cling to the hope of the Mercy Tree where death has died and LOVE has won. May we hold with a steadfast hope, the promise that our present suffering cannot be compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. Amen.”

These are all women I know personally. Theirs and many other personal stories I could share about abortion, pregnancy loss, family and community reactions, society’s view of the unborn and the challenges that creates for those grieving pregnancy and early infant loss.

Our own firstborn daughter was a dwarf, a “little person.” During our appointments with the prenatal specialists they offered to “terminate” the pregnancy even though there was no indication that her diagnosis was lethal and there was never any concern that hers or my life was in danger. My husband and I could not even entertain the thought of intentionally ending the life of our baby that had such a vibrant personailty in my womb. She died nearly seventeen hours after birth, but I wouldn’t trade those precious hours for anything. Ever.

Years earlier though, I was in a toxic relationship and thought I was pregnant. (Turned out I wasn’t.) While I had always wanted children, I was ashamed, horrified, and surprised at how quickly the thought of abortion entered my mind out of fear for myself, the baby, and judgement from family and church. I didn’t have to wrestle further, because I wasn’t pregnant, but it humbled me to think of the women who truly face that situation.

With New York’s newest laws passed and a bill introduced and tabled in my own state regarding third trimester abortion, these conversations have become front and center on social media, in our homes, Bible studies, and especially among our child-loss support group.

There is no question internally where I stand on the issue of sanctity of life for the unborn, but my heart simultaneously hurts for those who already live in judgement and regret. While there might certainly be those who’ve chosen abortion without carrying their judgment, I don’t personally know one single woman whose post-abortive regret and sorrow hasn’t consumed her in one way or another. As the church, we must provide space for these women, and men, to grieve, to talk, to call on the grace of our Savior whose kindness leads us to repentance and healing. (Romans 2:4)

As righteous indignation rises up in me regarding these bills, I have been repeatedly challenged by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13.

As radical as it sounds, I keep thinking, “If I post my oppositon to this legistalture with memes and Scripture, but have not love, I am nothing. If I protest at the local, state, and national level, but have not love, I am nothing. Even if I gave my own body for the sake of the unborn for which I profoundly and fundamentally believe are sacred and worthy of that level of my commitment, but have not love, I have gained nothing.”

Love doesn’t mean inaction. Love doesn’t mean silence. Love doesn’t mean not standing up for the most vulnerable among us. But Love does call us to operate in a spirit of love. 

Colossians 4:2-6 says to pray steadfastly, that God may open the door for us to declare the mysteries of Christ, to walk in wisdom toward those who do not believe. That our speech be gracious so that we might know how to answer everyone. (Paraphrased.)

It is from this perspective that I prayerfully measure my words toward all. What if I could sit with those who propose and support these bills I oppose? Would they hear me as a individual, or chalk me up as one more obscure number to defeat? What approach might help them listen? I will call. I will advocate. But I will also offer the invitation for conversation, praying that God might open a door for me to share the mysteries (and love) of Christ. Because only when hearts are opened to the Truth, can lasting change occur.

Lovingly signed, a mother of four including one in heaven and one by adoption.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals. 

 

 

 

 

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Risking love and loss… Again

Emotions swirl like a whirlpool in my gut. Thoughts circulate my head like a tornado. We have found ourselves at a place we never really thought we’d be. As foster parents, we knew that any number of circumstances were possible, but subconsciously I think we really only saw two outcomes; adoption or return home.

But now we have this precious little human that has been with us for several months. Home is not ready at this time, but we must let them go. We never anticipated a pet allergy severe enough to become unmangeable. We never saw ourselves too busy to give all that some little ones might need, but that is also the case.

There is relief on one side, that this little pumpkin will no longer have to suffer ongoing severe allergy symptoms. There is hope that a new home will be able to provide them more attention than what our already busy schedules allowed. But there is sadness, a deep sense of loss, and absolutely no regret for saying yes to the initial placement call. I can’t see through the tears to type these words. Writing them makes it all that much more real.

We can only pray that our time together has been productive, fruitful, and life-giving and affirming.  Releasing a child I’ve grown to love into the system, outside of the perimeters of my mothering heart, is requiring more faith and trust than I ever dreamed. My heart feels broken and fragile.

If you are so inclined, please breathe a prayer of blessing over this little person, unknown by most of the world, but created and deeply loved by God, and for the new home. Pray for the biological family as well, and for our own dear children who will grieve this loss deeply.

Our hearts will need time, our souls, reflection.

“I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.” ― Alyson Noel, Evermore

 

Foster Parenting Interview

What I said (and didn’t say but wanted to) that you should know! 

Our local social services agency called me this week and asked if I would consider being interviewed on TV as a foster parent. These interviews are the bane of my existence, but when I really believe in a cause, I feel it is my responsibility to help raise awareness. 

The TV station had contacted them because our state was ranked number one  nationally for having the lowest number of children in foster care. This came as a surprise to our specific locality since we are a relatively small community and currently have 172 children in care!

Anyone who has ever been interviewed for a media interview knows the anxiety of entrusting your story to a reporter. As a former staff-writer for a community newspaper, I also relate to the responsibility of the reporter to capture the true angle and emotion of the story. This is no small task. 

I truly appreciate the TV station’s effort to help raise awareness and the kindness of the reporter, but understandably they only have a limited thirty seconds or so to devote to what I believe deserves much more time and attention. 

What I said was that “We had the same concerns many people have. Would we be able to love a child as we love our biological children? What if we got too attached and they returned home? What if our house is too small? What about our busy schedules? What if we try and it doesn’t work out?” 

These are all valid logical concerns so I’d like to address them individually. Before I do, I want to state that I’m no expert on foster care. We were approved as a foster family exactly one year ago and have had (still have) one placement since last fall. These are just observations and thoughts from our very limited experience. 

The concern of loving someone else’s child as your own was huge for us since we do have biological children and we would never want to be unfair to another child. We had family and friends who have done foster care/adoption and they modeled for us that no matter how the children come to you, you love them as your own. 

I knew I loved our foster child when I got the phone call to pick her up at the social services office. 

In my mother’s heart, it was like seeing the positive pregnancy test and being beside myself with love and joy and anticipation. 

My husband confirmed his own feelings weeks later when I overheard him telling someone he felt no different about our foster daughter than our own children we brought home from the hospital. 

For us, loving her has been easy, natural, and without reserve. 

Which leads me to the next concern. What if we get too attached and they return home? 

This one will keep you up at night! We’ve had family and friends to whom this has happened. We saw their hearts shatter and their world crumble. We see how they continue to carry this love for a child now far removed from them and how the child (and concern for the child) lives on in their hearts. 

But more often, we’ve seen those who hope to adopt through foster care be able to do so. (Just this week my brother and his wife officially adopted two brothers through foster care!) For this concern though, it should be broken into two parts.

First, if someone goes into this process open to foster care without the intention of adoption, the attachment part is different. You can love and nurture the child knowing it is just for a season. That helps prepare for the outcome. From what I’ve been told by foster families who provide care in this way, the releasing back to biological family or into an adoptive home is difficult, but easier, because it was expected and planned for. There is a great need for foster families to provide care in this way. 

For us, as with many, our hope is to adopt. To love a child as your own and want to be their forever family, adds a different component to the process. We were honest up front that this was our goal, knowing that the ultimate goal of social services would be to strengthen and support the biological family so that the child returns home or with a relative. 

Holding these two goals in tension as a foster/hopeful adoptive family has been one of the most stretching parts of this journey. 

There have been moments where the thought of this precious child being anywhere but with us literally takes my breath away, brings me to my knees, leaves my heart vulnerable, exposed, bleeding on the floor, and feeling completely helpless about every single part of it and you realize the biological families must feel the same way. 

In our specific situation, we have already had to release a child back to heaven. Our precious first-born daughter, Sadie Rose, whom we loved with our very breath and being, died as a newborn from hypochondrogenesis. Now we have WILLINGLY risked love again with two more biological children and a foster child. 

We have told ourselves often, we never thought we could live through the death of a child, and yet the amazing love and grace of God carried (and continues to carry) us through that dark night of the soul. We cannot imagine or lives without our foster baby being a forever part of our family, but should that be the case we are fully confident that we will be met with that same unchanging unwavering love and grace. 

But that’s easier said than lived. And in those moments when fear of loss overwhelms, friends have sent beautiful messages of reassurance. 

One day I received the most timely text that read, “You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but you have her now. Love her now. Cherish her now. Pour your heart into her now, and believe that whatever her future holds, what you give her now will have an eternal impact.” 

Isn’t that the risk we all take to love anyway? We are never promised tomorrow, not even our next breath, LOVE NOW! 

But back to the interview, what I wanted to say but didn’t.

Fostering is an emotional roller coaster ride. You will feel love, fulfillment, joy, but you will also feel anger. You will be expected to support people who, for whatever horrible life circumstances, traps, or addictions, (and sometimes completely helpless situations) they find themselves in, cannot seem to find their grounding in life. While you rejoice when it looks like a child you desperately love and want may stay with you, you will be sad for the brokenness that brings them to you, sad for the person(s) whose lives seem to continue spiraling out of control. Your heart breaks for all the people involved and you find yourself hoping the best for everyone. There is no way to prepare for these emotions in advance except to expect them. 

I wanted to say, “Be prepared to say no.” We received a placement call within weeks of our approval, but it was for a situation beyond what we believed we were prepared to take on. Saying no to children in need made me feel like a horrible human, but if it wasn’t right for us it would not have been right for them either and we wanted them to be where they needed to be. We’ve said no to additional placement calls since, but may eventually say yes again when we believe it is the right fit. Just know it is okay to say no and be prepared to do so when necessary. 

I wanted to say, “People can say ridiculous and hurtful things about foster children.” Sometimes you are left speechless by their thoughtlessness and other times you defend your foster child with the tenacity of mama and papa bear. Just be prepared, because as with many situations, people share their unsolicited thoughts and opinions freely.

I wanted to say, “Be prepared to love more deeply and profoundly than you ever dreamed possible!” This is a redemptive life-changing love. We needed our foster child as much as she needed us. We are eternally grateful for this opportunity to have our hearts opened and transformed in this way whatever the outcome of this experience may be. 

If you have been one of those families considering foster care, or if something in this post stirs your heart to the possibilities, I urge you, please contact your local agency to start the process. You may find during the process that it isn’t a fit and that’s okay too! Fostering/adoption may not be right for everyone, but for us it has been one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever shared as a family. 

Because she is not officially adopted at this point and we do not know if or when that will ever happen, we cannot share photos. Instead, here is a picture of the beautiful sunrise from my walk this morning and a field of sunflowers from yesterday. 


If you take nothing more from this post, whoever the important people are in your life, LOVE NOW!