October: Hope in the Darkness

Last year I was asked to speak at a holiday women’s event at my church. The theme was “Hope in the Darkness” and I was specifically asked to share my story of miscarriage. October is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month and this is simply the transcript of what I wrote in preparation to speak at that event, with a few headings added.

Welcome and Intro

Good evening, ladies. Thank you for being here with us tonight.

I’m Rebekah, daughter of Pastor Andrew and his wife Becki. I’m wife to Tyler, mom to Colter and Abram.

I always feel that with each of my babies God’s given me a special gift, that their presence has been almost a tangible embodiment of that special gift given in extra measure. 

Colter is my joy baby. And if you know Colter, you can probably understand why I say that. He’s busy and curious and thoughtful and affectionate. Colter loves life and he seems to exude that love of life everywhere he goes. 

Abram is my grace baby. He came at a time filled with stress and uncertainty. The week before I found out I was pregnant with him I think we had like three stressful things happen. As a newborn he was so easy, just calm and happy, and in the midst of that stressful time I felt his presence as such a gift, such a grace in my life. 

I’m not pregnant, but I’ve known for almost two years that the next one will be my faith baby. 

But our first baby, the one before Colter, was my hope baby.

Tonight our theme is the light and hope of Christ. I’ve been asked to share my story, and my prayer is that it points us all, both those who know Jesus and those who don’t know him yet, toward the hope that can only can be found in him. So I’ll be sharing my story, but also weave it in with a couple characters in the Bible who also experienced darkness and hope.

Me

When my husband and I first got married I was very excited about the possibility of becoming a mother. Most of the women in my family have big families, not because they’re careless or irresponsible, but because they love children and they value the mission of motherhood. 

I knew that I had some health issues that had potential to make it harder to get pregnant. But you don’t know until you try, right? So I tried not to worry too much and I was hopeful that all my fears of infertility and childlessness would be invalidated and that I would be pregnant within a few months of my wedding.

Well, that didn’t happen. Over a year went by and the uncertainty of whether or not I would ever be a mother was a deep sadness and anxiety in my soul. I wanted to be like the other women in my family, and I felt so defective, like I couldn’t accomplish this basic task that the female body is so clearly designed for. 

Finally, a year and a half after we got married I found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled, thankful, hopeful. Though I was exhausted and throwing up constantly, the brief time I got to mother that baby was filled with joy. 

At ten weeks we found out our hope baby was no longer alive. Not only that, but rare complications put me at risk for an aggressive cancer, and for several months I had to do weekly blood draws to monitor that risk. 

Though being able to get pregnant had given me hope and been such a joyful time while it lasted, the months that followed were some of the darkest of my life, and it’s not like I’d never done anything hard. 

I was sad, depressed, pessimistic about the future, and fear became my constant companion. I was nervous to stay alone in my house at night. I startled at my own reflection in glass doors. By the time I left the hospital after the blood draws each week, I would be shaking and often vomiting. I had nightmares for well over a year. I was far from home, and most of the time I felt completely terrorized in the immediate aftermath of miscarriage. All those feelings of being defective as a woman overwhelmed me again.

I wasn’t usually angry with God, but I asked Him why a lot.

David

In the midst of all that darkness a verse from 2 Samuel 12 was a great comfort to me. When David’s baby son dies, he says, “He will not return to me, but I will go to him.” My one comfort was that someday I would die and see my baby in heaven.

A few months later Tyler’s enlistment in the Navy was complete and we moved home to Michigan. The fog was beginning to lift, though I still felt very fragile. A few more months went by and we were expecting again. This time, despite all my anxiety, all was well, and our oldest son Colter arrived safely. Every moment with him has been a gift, and he and Abram have filled my life with incredible joy.

Over the months and years that followed, often when I felt sad about losing my first baby, I would go back and find comfort again in those words from King David – “He won’t come back to me, but I will go to him.”

But one day I started reading earlier in the chapter, the part where the prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin. David’s immediate response is confession. He says, “I’ve sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan says, “The Lord also has put away your sin. You shall not die.” And that is the greatest source of hope. That is our light in the darkness, that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus.

You know, David didn’t have the whole Bible like we do. He had a limited knowledge of exactly how God would save His people. But he had faith to believe everything God had revealed to him, everything from being able to see his baby again, to his sins being forgiven, to the hope of a coming Messiah. We don’t have to have all the details figured out to believe what God has clearly revealed in His Word.

Well, David died, and hundreds of years went by. Prophets came and went. God’s people went into exile, came home, and came under foreign rule again. God’s people sat in darkness, and for hundreds of years God was silent.

Jesus

And then the Messiah that David had hoped for came. As a real baby, to a real mother, in a real world with all its hurt and brokenness. 

And He came as the Son of God. I think sometimes we forget about the fatherhood of God, how our own imperfect but powerful love for our children is part of being made in His image. It’s part of reflecting His character back into the world, but it’s just a dim reflection of the love God the Father has for God the Son. And even in all the love the Father has for Jesus, He still sent Him to us. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. 

Baby Jesus, the Messiah, grew up. He lived a perfect life of obedience. He loved God with all His heart and mind and soul and strength and His neighbor as Himself. He kept the law of God that we broke.

And then He gave Himself for us.

Bartimaeus

In those weeks leading up to His crucifixion, as He traveled toward Jerusalem, Jesus encountered someone who sat quite helpless in both physical and spiritual darkness. This someone was Bling Bartimaeus, a lonely beggar, apparently with no friends or family to help or care for him.

Jesus was leaving Jericho and Bartimaeus could hear the crowd with Him. And then he hears someone say, “It’s Jesus of Nazareth!” So he begins calling out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” Mark 10 tells us the people rebuked him and told him to be quiet. “Sit down! Shut up! Jesus doesn’t have time for you.”

We don’t really know how much Bartimaeus knew about Jesus at this point. But he knows who He is, he knows He’s his only hope, and he believes He can heal him. So he calls out all the more!

And through the din of the crowd Jesus hears him. He stops and says, “Call him.” His voice is soft enough that Bartimaeus can’t hear it. The crowd has to relay the message to him. They say, “Get up! Take heart! He is calling you!”

And Bartimaeus springs up! There’s no hesitating! You can almost see him running, stumbling through what’s still darkness to him, reaching out for Jesus. 

He reaches him and Jesus asks him a simple question – “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “Teacher, let me recover my sight.” Jesus says, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” And immediately Bartimaeus is healed. The first thing he sees is the face of Christ. He follows Jesus and Luke’s gospel tells us he glorified Him and that the people who were there to witness his healing praises God. 

This is the last healing miracle Mark records before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is on the road to the cross. He’s just taken away Bartimaeus’s darkness, but he’s about to face the darkest suffering a human being has ever experienced. He’s on His way to the cross knowing the suffering He will face for Bartimaeus, for David, for you, for me.

He loves Bartimaeus enough to stop and heal him, but what’s even more amazing is that He loves him enough to suffer for his sins.

You

The hope that David had in the midst of his darkness, the hope I have in the midst of suffering and grief is that Jesus suffered for me and that He conquered death in His resurrection.

If you’re a believer in the midst of a dark time, remember Jesus knows suffering. He’s there with you in your darkness. This pain is temporary, but life with Him is eternal and completely incomparable to the suffering that’s present now.

He’s coming again, not as a little baby, but as a triumphant King. And when He comes He will destroy death and sin and suffering, and He’ll cast Satan into Hell. Remember, Satan wants your soul. He wants to take you with him. 

So if you’re here tonight and you’re not a believer, I urge you to seek the Lord while He may be found. Turn away from loving your so and to loving Jesus. If you don’t understand, ask Him to take the blinders off your eyes, just like Bartimaeus did. Ask Him to give you eyes to see Him as He truly is, faith to trust Him. If you just can’t seem to accept His forgiveness as a gift you can’t buy or earn, ask Him to burn your pride away.

And when you’re stumbling through the darkness of sin or suffering, when life is completely overwhelming and you’re wallowing in despair, know you desperately need Jesus and that if you come to Him, He will never cast you out. 

Remember Blind Bartimaeus, how he boldly and humbly asked Jesus for mercy, and how Jesus freely and lovingly gave it. There is hope for you in Jesus, not just for this brief life, but for eternity.

So get up, take heart, He is calling you!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray. 

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus, our Redeemer, Healer, Hope in the darkness. Please let Your Word do it’s work in the hearts here tonight. If there are unbelievers here, don’t let them rest until they are at peace with You. To you be the honor and the power and the glory forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Thank you.

October: Trauma

Terrorized

The lights.

The smells.

The wide hallway.

I walk down

To jab a needle in my arm

Again.

Watch the numbers fall.

Unrelenting reminder

Of what almost was.

Everywhere

Is fear.

I wasn’t always this way.

A car –

It’s not where I expected.

I jump.

I see

My reflection

In a glass door.

My heart races

And then calms.

It is only me.

– Rebekah Miklusicak

I wrote those words a few years after my miscarriage in 2013. The memory, and the trauma, was still fresh. It isn’t so much now. But miscarriage is common, and trauma following a miscarriage is common too.

Different sources say that between 10% and 25% of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage.

A UK study that examined PTSD, anxiety, and depression following a miscarriage showed that the prevalence of these symptoms has been previously underestimated with miscarriage trauma lasting “longer than we realized.”

Those of us who experienced the trauma are probably not surprised by the statistics.

One month following a first trimester miscarriage, 29% of women had symptoms of PTSD, 24% had anxiety, and 11% had moderate to severe depression. A year later 1 in 6 still carried PTSD symptoms.

In miscarriage, we’re met with our own helplessness and often with feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. We labor on our own with no support or knowledge of what to expect. Future pregnancies are met with fear. Our grief is often invalidated, so we are quiet.

Medical professionals tell us we have to have three miscarriages to do any tests, and they’ll let us miscarry “as a diagnostic tool” and refuse to test our progesterone. They refer to our babies as fetal tissue, biowaste, products of conception, and say things like, “Why were you even pregnant?”

Why am I sharing this?

Because the experience is lonely. If this is you, you’re not alone. Talk to someone who’s gone through it too. Even those of us who have experienced miscarriage won’t always have the right words to say, but sometimes we need to share the story and hear someone else’s just so we know we’re not crazy.

Because people are unaware. If this isn’t you, you almost undoubtedly know someone who has had this experience, and a friend to be present and patient in the midst of it all can be invaluable.

Because the terminology and the medical care should change. Care providers, take your cues from the parents. Talk about the baby and the loss the way the mother does. Save your clinical talk for other clinicians. You might not be able to make it better and that’s ok, but please try not to make it worse. Talk to mothers about their mental health. If you can’t help them or give them the care they’re requesting (like testing progesterone) send them to someone who can.

For so many women, their motherhood had traumatic beginnings, traumatic chapters, and holds lingering trauma. Please be gentle with us.

We might not ever go back to “normal”. Sometimes that’s a hard truth, but it’s because our babies mattered enough to change us.

Note: Because I know a lot of people who follow me know me in real life, I’m ok. I’m just sharing this, because some mothers aren’t.

Resources:

Still Birthday

For those who want to try again:

NaPro Technology

NaPro in West Michigan

FEMM Health

Journey of A Homebirth Mama

I am not a medical professional. The experience shared here is my own. Please research your options to make your own well-informed decision. See full disclosure here.

Dear mother and father exploring homebirth for the first time,

I see you

I see you desiring a natural, undisturbed birth, hoping for a meeting with your baby that’s sacred and joyful and unhurried.

I see you nervous and anxious about giving birth in a hospital setting with its bright lights and policies and no guarantee of being attended by a professional you know and trust, by the one you’re perhaps building a relationship with right now.

And I see you nervous and anxious about giving birth at home too, with all the unknowns and what-ifs and wondering what your people will think.

I see your careful questions and cautious exploration, your conflicting fears and desires, and the anxiety that comes with the responsibility of choosing.

And I’ve been right where you are

I have given birth to two babies at home. I loved having my babies at home. I am now a committed advocate of homebirths for women who want them. But the journey to get here was long and arduous.

I first heard about homebirth in college when I watched the documentary, “The Business of Being Born”. At the time it seemed like such a brave and beautiful way to bring a baby into the world, yet fear and lack of knowledge kept it like a lovely trinket in a little box, something kept high on a shelf and left unopened for fear of breaking it.

I thought that birth was too risky and too complicated to safely do at home.

Fast forward several years and I was married, hoping to soon start a family. I was nannying for a doula who became a dear friend, and as she was spending nights supporting mamas birthing their babies, I was spending nights on her couch, voraciously reading her library of birth-related books.

Fascinated by birth since childhood, I devoured every bit of information I could about homebirth, evidence-based care, and the physiology of labor. I watched all the documentaries and read all the Ina May. It’s always interesting to me to see how my interests as an adult have just been a continuation of what fascinated me as a child.

With Megan’s encouragement I soon trained as a doula. I attended births, and was on the board for the local birth network. As I learned more and more about normal, physiologic birth, I became more comfortable with the idea of giving birth at home. The lower risk of interventions, c-sections especially, along with the relative safety for low-risk mothers, was very appealing, yet I still had a nagging fear.

I was perhaps most afraid of making a selfish decision that would ultimately put my baby at risk.

I always say Megan “pre-doulaed” me through my fears around birth in general and homebirth in particular.

She met me where I was at, asked me the hard questions, and helped me figure out what was really valuable to me.

I was all about research and statistics and evidence-based care back then. And I still am, but now with a solid dose of valuing my own intuition and heart desires as well.

First Trimester Birth

About a year into my birth obsession, and after a PCOS diagnosis and a year and a half of hoping, I was thrilled to find out I was pregnant. I started researching care providers right away. I would be six months along when my husband was supposed to get out of the military and we would move back home to Michigan, so I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to find someone before my baby arrived.

At ten weeks, I went to the urgent care on base due to the light but constant spotting I had been experiencing. Follow-up appointments determined that I was experiencing a molar pregnancy and a d&c was scheduled immediately.

I was devastated.

After the procedure, while I was in recovery, the obgyn came back and told me that though the ultrasound the day before had shown a complete molar pregnancy with no developing baby, the ultrasound they had performed after administering general anesthetic showed a fetus with no heartbeat, measuring 7 weeks and 5 days

In a way I felt more at peace. The debilitating nausea and vomiting I had been experiencing for the last two months had at least been for a baby, not just an abnormal mass of fast-growing, possibly cancerous, placental tissue.

But on the other hand I felt robbed. I hadn’t been able to see my baby. No one had thought to take a photo. If I had known an ultrasound could be so wrong I would have asked them to wake me up, to let me see my baby, heartbeat or not, to have a chance to have something to keep of that baby besides an old faded pregnancy test and a handful of photos of me while I was pregnant.

But I was asleep and unaware and unable to advocate for myself.

I know medical professionals have to make a call in that sort of situation, that it was probably just a standard procedure and that for some women it would have been best. But it wasn’t for me. And I’m the one that has to live with it for the rest of my life.

The first trimester birth of that first baby had a powerful and unavoidable impact on my future births. It felt so violent, and I now know that at some level I processed it as sexual trauma.

I knew that in the future I would do everything I could to never be that powerless again.

With my first baby’s birth my general discomfort in hospitals became complete terror. Every week I returned for bloodwork to ensure my hCG levels were dropping appropriately, and by the time I left I was shaking, nauseated, and vomiting. I jumped at my own reflection in the glass doors. I had nightmares for well over a year.

While I became more afraid of hospitals, I also became increasingly concerned for safety in future births. In the wake of intense grief following that baby’s birth, I knew without a doubt that I would have taken all the unnecessary interventions and their accompanying risks to be able to hold that baby for a minute. I had never doubted that I would do anything to protect the life of my child, but now I was on the other side of loss, knowing firsthand the value of skilled medical help along with the potential for harm even with the best intentions, and the ultimate powerlessness we sometimes have to sustain life in a world of sickness and death and babies born too soon.

Rainbow Baby

Fast forward another eight months and I was pregnant again. I was shocked, ecstatic, hopeful, and full of anxiety all at once. We had recently moved home, and initially I saw an obgyn resident practice. They were the first ones I could find who would accept my insurance, and I was eager to know everything was alright. They didn’t do an ultrasound until 20 weeks, so I was in constant worry until our ultrasound showed a healthy baby boy.

Although I still knew in my heart that I wanted a homebirth, I had set my desire aside because there was simply no way it was possible financially. But as I drew close to my third trimester, my husband got a new job, and a cautious hope started to take root. If I could find a midwife who would take payment plans, maybe a homebirth would be in reach.

Meanwhile, red flags in my care at my obgyn practice made my desire for a homebirth even stronger.

One particular incident sticks out in my mind. I had been slowly going through the items on my birth plan that were most important to me, trying to simultaneously be honest about my hopes and also feel out a realistic idea of what to expect in a situation I knew wouldn’t be quite ideal. When I came to birthing positions I indicated that I wanted to be upright unless there was a medical necessity to do otherwise.

“Oh you can push in whatever position you want.” The ob said. “But when you actually give birth you’ll be on your back with your feet in stirrups.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary if everything is going well.” I said.

“It’s necessary so that we can help you get the baby out.” He said.

“And if you want to do something different you should go somewhere else, but don’t do a homebirth.”

“I don’t think I’m going to need your help.” I thought, but didn’t say aloud.

His mind seemed made up, and I decided against offering to bring in some studies to support my rather bold assertion. I would probably never see him again anyway.

Though that interaction was quite distressing at the time, I now appreciate his blunt honesty, his indirect observation that the care providers I was seeing simply wouldn’t be able to support the birth that was best for me.

At seven months pregnant, I hired my midwife.

Her calm and confident presence immediately inspired trust and even made my husband feel more comfortable with having our baby at home. All the evidence-based practices that I had to fight for in the hospital – delayed cord clamping, intermittent auscultation, upright birth positions – were standard for her. She had been practicing for over 30 years and had attended over 3,000 births. I felt completely confident in her knowledge, experience, and ability to facilitate a safe birth for me and my baby.

Right away my midwife recommended supplements and nutritional changes along with exercises to prepare for birth. I immediately had more energy and less stress. We talked about the things that were really important to me, the things about birth and motherhood I wasn’t confident in, the things I was scared of.

Every week she shared little snippets from a birth she had attended that week. Every story boosted my confidence, and I approached my due date with eager expectation. Even if I ever ended up needing to transfer to the hospital during birth, I believe the cost of a homebirth midwife is totally worthwhile simply in the value of the prenatal care.

My Friend Fear

Though overall I was excited to give birth, I still carried some fears as I approached my due date. I trusted the physiology of the process, but my history of PCOS and miscarriage had undermined confidence in my own physiology.

I had seen birth up close, had supported other women through it, and I knew it would require everything of me. I knew it would be incredibly challenging, and I believed I was strong enough to do it. Not because I was unusually strong, but because women have been doing it for thousands of years.

The strength to give birth, and to do so awake and present to the process, is a common and God-given strength, one that women today often see no need to access, but one that has been vital to the survival and sustenance of life for all of history.

I was confident in that, that women were designed to give birth. And when I doubted that I was designed to give birth, when my fears started running amok, no one fed the fears. My midwife sensibly confronted them with truth and then let them be. They became a means to a safer and better birth, not a facilitator of disengagement and helpless anxiety. Should the fears require action we had a good plan, but no one used my fears against me. I trained them for my own purposes.

And then I gave birth to my son. And the fears didn’t come with me. They stayed outside the sacred space of giving birth, like well-armed knights around a castle, ready to protect in danger. I was not only able to feel safe, but BE safe, because of their presence with me as I carried my baby.

Birth that Heals

I labored gently for a day and half the night. I ate and slept and spent time with my husband. In the wee hours of the morning I knew this was real and I would be meeting my baby soon.

We drove to my parents home where, due to various circumstances, we had chosen to have our baby. The car ride was miserable and I had a moment of weakness as we neared the hospital exit.

“Homebirth isn’t for everyone. I could just go to the hospital and get an epidural right now.”

Then we passed the exit, and I was committed.

We arrived at my parents’ home, and soon my doula and midwife arrived too. My mother, father, sisters, and brother were all there with me and my husband. I groaned and growled and laughed and cried my way through labor.

He was born shortly after sunrise, on a frosty November morning. My midwife passed him between my legs and lay him on the bed in front of me. “I did it!” I thought. I had a moment to look at him before I scooped him into my arms and held him, kneeling there on my parents’ bed.

The healing birth of my oldest son was intensely challenging, yet intensely joyful, just like he is. His birth was treated as the everyday miracle that it was. It was treated as the unfolding of a trustworthy process, not a volatile experiment to be managed and controlled.

Moments after my son was born, joyfully and safely.

I hold this decision of where I birth my babies dear because I think it was the first time in my life that I truly felt I had agency to not only make the best decisions for myself, but to feel confident in those decisions.

I was willing to fight for what was good for me and my baby when just going a conventional route would have in many ways been easier and certainly would have been more comfortable for the people around me.

Having a beautiful, transformative, empowering birth wasn’t because I was just “lucky”. Yes, in birth there are things outside our control, but what we do have control over is the way we prepare and the decisions we make. My decisions mattered.

And your decisions matter too.

The way you prepare matters. The stories you listen to matter. The values you take hold of and the values you reject matter. The hard work you do before birth, the decisions you make, before conception even – it all matters.

You don’t have to have your baby at home to have a good birth, and a few women will end up with a great birth even without much preparation. But approaching giving birth in a thoughtfully engaged manner, knowing what you want and making decisions accordingly will always be good for you and your family.

So dear mama and father, keep learning, keep searching, keep exploring.

If you’re afraid, train your fears to serve you. Treat them with care and respect, lest they use their power to defeat you instead of protect you.

Learn about evidence-based care. Learn about the physiology of birth, how labor unfolds when it’s undisturbed.

Listen to women who have had good births. Talk to women who have had homebirths.

Find out what’s available in your community. Find a care provider you can really trust.

Know what you really want. Don’t be afraid to state it clearly to yourself and to others.

And then make your decisions about where to give birth based on what YOU know is best for yourself and for your baby

You call the shots. The power to make thoughtful decisions that positively affect your birth experience, your baby, your motherhood and fatherhood, and your whole life as a family – that power is yours. Whether you choose to exercise it is up to you.

You’re the only one who can empower you.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information or unsure of how to make the best decisions for you and your baby, please seek out support from a local birth professional or contact me. I offer very individualized support and education for expectant parents with varying levels designed to accommodate any budget and need. This is a brief, precious, and sometimes scary stage of life, and the decisions you make now can impact your family for years to come.

With hopes of a joyful birth,

Rebekah