Bitter-Sweet Valentine’s Day

Do you ever feel perplexed by the fact that good and bad, happy and sad, and highs and lows can actually happen at the same time?

Take the holidays for example.  Valentine’s Day to be specific.  I look around and see love, romance, and celebrating.  

While at the same time…I see grief, loss, and resentment.

Have you ever felt opposing forces at the very same time? Yes. Well, that goes for all of us.

This exact dichotomy basically sums up my current experience. 

Don’t let my smile fool you… Like Valentine’s day chocolate, this pregnancy is bitter-sweet. I’m more fearful about this pregnancy than ever before.

Not just because my bossy baby bump appears to be housing full-term twins at only 25 weeks, but because my heart still aches and my mind still remembers…

Before you continue, please be warned that this is not a lighthearted story, and maybe you’re not in a space for it today, or perhaps you need to protect your mindset. Or maybe it’s just not for you. And that’s all OK.

But, if you’re in the midst of loss, confusion, or struggle, maybe just knowing you’re not alone, and you’ll make it, can be comforting to you. If so, I invite you in to hear my story, at least one part of it that broke my heart into pieces and made me redefine my understanding of many things I had thought to be true. My intent of sharing is that you may find peace to accept the bitter and the hope to continue toward the sweet in your beautifully unpredictable life.

I’m currently 25 weeks into my 5th pregnancy, and along with with my husband (& very best friend), raising 3 wild and amazing boys. Our 4th baby boy is expected to join soon. Our previous pregnancy, also a baby boy, did not go as planned and why our hearts will forever be scarred.

Just one year ago this month, we’d finally made it to the 2nd trimester. A sigh of relief and a wave of excitement came over me as we soon would learn the gender of our baby and finally, get to tell everyone (not just family) about our bundle of joy. It would be our last baby who we had planned and prayed for. And I was thrilled to never have to endure the arduous mission of growing a human ever again (pregnancy is indeed the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced)

Let’s say I was overconfident. Up to this point, I’d never experienced complications, loss, or infertility in my journey toward motherhood. I don’t even want to say I was blessed… To me, being “blessed,” might imply that God’s hand was in my good fortune and perhaps not in someone else’s misfortune. 

Right or wrong, I prefer to say I was tremendously lucky. I am a believer in God’s part in ALL things, as well as responsible for my own choices and consequences. However, I can’t deny luck or chance exists. Now…Can God meet me in that luck– good or bad? My belief is YES! Of course, If I allow and invite that to happen, God can meet us anywhere.

So, the way I see it, I’d been lucky to this point. And I am thankful to God for that luck, but I am also grateful for what happened next, believe it or not.

I never expected the look on the sonographer’s face, though now it’s imprinted on my mind forever. 

The sonographer’s look was followed by these words, which echo even today… “Mrs. Ryal, would you like your son to wait outside while I get the Doctor?” My son was 8 at the time, and my husband and I agreed it would be fun and meaningful for our little guy to tag along that day to see his baby brother on the ultrasound…. Like I said, overconfident.

That day was the longest day of my life. And would lead to the longest and most painful months of my life. We were told that our baby had a lethal diagnosis and would not survive. And that my body was acting as life support and keeping him alive and growing. If we were lucky enough to sustain this through birth, he would not make it on his own. 

And, our birth plan would need to include perinatal hospice and palliative care. I paraphrase to some degree, as I am sure there was a specific language used due to compliance and medical liability. Still, it all sounded horrifically blurred to me. I knew when my OB hugged me and told us she was so sorry, the reality we were faced with was devastating, and we needed to fight for clarity.

When we finally made it home that night after our long meeting with the neonatal specialists. I didn’t know how to wrestle with God or my thoughts and emotions. Why couldn’t I just have miscarried early on? How was I supposed to go through each day knowing the tragic ending that could happen at any second? How was I supposed to talk to our son growing inside of my body knowing that instead of it being his beginning, it would now be an ending? It just didn’t seem possible.  As the days went by, there was no way I could talk to anyone about this.  Very few people, other than my husband and doctors and counselors, really knew how to handle a situation so rare, tragic, & personal.  I couldn’t set my loved ones up for failure, and I didn’t trust anyone to not make it worse.

I mean, how would I respond to someone if they told me this was happening? I even have graduate-level counseling experience.  And I still don’t know how I would meet someone in this space (at least at that time) when I’d never experienced such a tragedy. Even in someone’s best intentions, this type of empathy and support takes training and practice. And so my husband and I held onto each other tightly. We had a mutual understanding that this was sacred, and even if we felt alone, God was with us, and we had each other. We would utilize trusted counselors and keep our reality private during that time.

In the midst of our pain, the world kept turning, our other young children still needed loved and cared for. We still had everyday responsibilities like paying the bills, feeding our kids, and cleaning the house. It was like I was living a nightmare everyday strangely combined with the most overwhelming love, gratitude, and compassion growing in my soul. How could this be happening at the same time?

Fast forward to today, I am different, my husband is different, our relationship and our faith is stronger. And though our son is in Heaven, we are forever united with his spirit. However, my human mind and body are still vulnerable to fear.

This vulnerability especially shows up in this beautiful time of pregnancy. As I grow our son (some people refer to as our rainbow baby), my heart still aches, and my mind still remembers this pain. I’m fully aware of just how fragile the miracle of life is now more than ever.

Every doctor’s appointment and ultrasound is flooded with fear and anxiousness, and with that comes a desire for solitude, which quickly turns to isolation if I don’t manage it intentionally and prayerfully. Then, once we find out the good news, my relief is immediately followed by resurfaced grief and extreme sadness for what our other son could not experience. To say its bitter-sweet doesn’t do it justice.

Here’s what I believe now amid both sorrow and abundant joy…. suffering is part of humanity. While it hurts like hell, it has the power to bring the love of Heaven.

Beyond my fears and pain, I love in a way that I couldn’t have before.

This level of love is so scary-big.

The way I love God, my husband, my children…

Others who have suffered or are now suffering…

Others who haven’t had the gift of suffering and take things for granted…

Others who have suffered and lack the courage to face it head-on and instead hold on to their toxic anger…

The way I love all of these people now is different; it’s with greater understanding and compassion.

Overall, I love on another level because I have lost.

My husband and I love our child in Heaven as much as we do our children on this earth. We love deeper and stronger and more altruistically because of our experience.

God is near the brokenhearted. Tho, not just the brokenhearted, God is near the healing hearts and joy-filled hearts. Wherever we may be.  

On this Valentine’s Day, I choose to focus on the light and peace and the eternal power of love. I hope the same for you wherever you are on your journey. Wishing you all of the love and sweetness this life brings. And if you are supporting someone else who is in a hard place, there’s no rush to force the healing.  Love them in the pain, and if there are no words, sacred silence can be healing too.

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