Nine years ago this month I found out a baby that was growing so powerfully inside me was dying. The room I was lying in the crisp fall day the doctor delivered the devastating news to Alan and me, it was a pale color of bone white and mustard yellow. An unforgiving ceiling had tiles with stains on them from cries I’m sure of women who had such verdicts read to them. Their tears had nowhere else to go but to try and climb away up to heaven so God could embrace them and take a bit of the gut-wrenching sorrow away. But they never reached that far and they were now forever splattered one on top of another, like a handkerchief drained with lament after cry, bellow after the plea for a pardon that wasn’t ours to keep. Thousands of tear stains lined the ceiling tiles and mine joined them, wet, raw and unapologetically drenched with ache.
We named him Zachary and buried him next to his brother Jaden who we had said goodbye to only a year and a half earlier under a similar plot line. I got pregnant, peace and joy surrounded us -love-hope-gifts abound. Tragedy stroke as the magic wand of life showed its power across my stomach. ‘Your baby is too sick for life.’ The light turned dark, perfection tainted, and joy flipped into the emotional counterpoint of the most intense part of the human heart we have to face. Loss.
The cold earth enveloped him and took him as its own. A dark grey sky that day told me I’d have to wage again to somehow piece back again the fragmented puzzle my heart had become after losing Jaden only a year earlier. Anger found me as the small amount of sunlight couldn’t even begin to try to thaw out bitter questions as to WHY? I would have taken such good care of those babies, I had proven before with my three sons that went before them that I am a mother who can and will give them more of myself than actually exists. My soul is the sum total of all it’s ever carried within itself. My children are mine and I am them. So why would they be taken away from me?
When Zac breathed his last breath in a way so did I. Or so it felt that way on that night where his delicate body was expelled from mine. Having no idea how I’d breath again, I begged God for an answer as to how I could make amends to both myself and Him again. I was angry, spite ridden and determined to somehow forge a way out of bed into the life I knew I had to live.
I took up the intense sport and art of figure skating at the age of thirty-years-old. Dreaming of being a skater my whole life, I finally was given the opportunity as the Pleasant Prairie Iceplex formed in September of 2004. I watched with anticipation as it was built from the ground up and trained hard so when the final sheets of ice were solidified that I’d learn a child’s sport as a woman.
My muscles ached and my pride was run over by a bulldozer as I couldn’t even skate forward or backward, but I didn’t give up not once. I didn’t cave when I looked completely ridiculous to the world-class skaters who used the cutting edge rink to train for the elite competitions in our area, the nation and eventually the Olympic Games in 2018. I stayed, I trained and I ended up making it! I was invited to skate in ice show after ice show as my forward moment transpired into spins, then jumps and finally into these things called dances across the ice that I put to music making my heart play out in front of thousands of people.
When Jaden died I skated a program that was a goodbye that healed my mind body and soul. When Zac passed I knew I needed to do the same, but this time my poetic expression seemed more forced and angry. I yelled out to my husband, “I don’t want to be doing this again! Skating a tribute to another dead baby. I don’t want this for my life again!” Yet, I knew it was deeply important for me to allow my heartache to flow from me onto the fertile ice that had the ability to grow me back together again.
In my pursuit to catch the wind of that healing at record speed, I found myself pushing deeper and more muscular than I should have ever been doing. I was producing 50 military style pushups in less than a minute. I wanted my arms to help me fly off the ice into such a height jump I could soar to heaven to drop off all the tears I just knew God wanted to take from me. My body followed, my arms chased and then it all came crashing down.
A pectoral muscle tear on the left side. You know the muscle that covers your heart, the one that holds it all in so you don’t bleed your big beating heart all over the place. That one. I had ripped right through it in my pursuit to not waste a moment to fight hard for my survival. To heal. To make myself feel awake and alive-an emotion that seemed to have a strong return on investment compared to the gut-wrenching grief that was overlooking my every waking moment. Terrorizing through the protection of my heart through that muscle, I left the room to my heart with an open view to the world that it was unequivocally broken.
After charging through the strong heart covering muscle I sat in the ER convinced I was having a heart attack, going over in my mind my eulogy. A powerful goodbye to my kids. It was without a shadow of a doubt that I was next to be buried under the tree with my babies in the frozen dirt, the pain was that intense. Making eye contact with my husband Alan, I told him I loved him and that I was so so sorry. That I couldn’t bring him our two boys we lost, but moreover that I was going to join them. He needed me-the ones on earth needed me-but I was chasing on the curtails of death. I’d be with them soon.
Quickly the doctor dispelled my believe I was dying as she simply stated I had a chest wall strain and although it felt like I was dying, I was in fact not and would have many more days to fight through the grief of losing two infant babies. But more importantly, years later, to come into eventual joy in welcoming a healthy baby girl into our lives who would forever change the course of what we knew of life and mold all of our brokenness back together again.
This past week an injury I’ve been battling for over 9 years now reared its ugly head in my life again, bringing me to my knees with its torture that is like a soaring hot iron on my pectoral muscle. The searing ache has brought me back to not only the physical pain of where this originated from but also the emotional wreckage of saying goodbye to another child I wasn’t meant to keep. I can’t sleep, I can’t breathe, I can’t eat. I only crawl up into a little ball knowing that just like it has in the past it will let up and I will be able to cover my heart again with my hand and couple it to cradle a different kind of ache. The ache of loss that the anniversary of losing Zachary can bring year after year.
My physical manifestation of an emotional pain has followed me now for short of a decade. When the leaves begin to fall and the crisp cool air of seasons changing reminds me of a time in my life where my whole world seemed like it was crumbling apart and couldn’t be put back together again, sometimes I can’t help but reside here. Living in the brilliance of the shadows of light for so long now, I know this seeming death sentence isn’t mine to keep. My lost babies are in heaven and they are dancing with Jesus. My pec muscle will heal, soon the unbearable pain will turn to a dull ache as the barrier of my heart will become stronger and it will hurt less.
Life will often give us these reminders that the things in our past that once seemed as if they were going to wreck us… didn’t! The loss that seemed inconceivable eventually dissipated into a beautiful story I can now share as a memory, share as a part of my beautiful life story.
Today, I guard my heart muscle that hurts with the ache of yesterday, I hold it deep in the expectation that it will heal soon. As have many different areas of my soul since that cool fall day I knew I didn’t get to keep my sweet Zachary Joseph, just like I didn’t get to keep my darling Jaden Hope, it all eventually healed. I now ride on the tides of my sights on what I do have. Four AMAZING children, the most loving and supportive husband I could have ever conjured up and a God beautiful life that has fulfilled so many promises to me that I can’t even count them all.
Tonight, I sit with a physical pain that has plagued me for almost a decade. But I reside in a place that despite great discomfort, I have more love and God-given joy that blankets all of life’s trials. It forms a magnificent heart muscle around my vulnerable parts that exist but doesn’t own me, that doesn’t define me, yet gives me the will to fight the good fight to find my way back into a sea of gratitude that is more vast than any pain life may bring my way.