I had a friend tell me one time that every experience we have is a new opportunity to learn to trust God. I have hung on to this for a few years now – tried to remember in all the hard and good experiences of my life. It helps me to reframe them in this way. Similarly, I read a tweet from Adam Ramsey recently that said,
“The more I realize that my trials are nothing more than servants of my sanctification, the more I enter into a wonderful freedom: honesty about my weakness, marked by hope rather than morbidity.”
What a beautiful thought — a wonderful promise to hang on to. I’ve written before that pregnancy after miscarriage carries a specific weight with it – a certain degree of anxiety with a new level of trust required. But I feel the freedom now to tell you this story. The story about learning a new opportunity to trust the Lord. I want to tell you the story of a photograph. It’s a picture of my son’s hand at 19 weeks old, safely tucked away inside my body. It is so precious to me and Aaron. Let me tell you why.
I was seeing a midwife when we were in Hawaii. We both really loved her. She was the sweetest woman and made everything about this pregnancy experience comforting and exciting, which was exactly what we needed after our first loss. At our 18 week appointment she mentioned the option to do what is called a quad-serum screen. From what I understand, it tests the mother’s blood for different hormones and levels that may indicate there is something wrong with the baby. In this case, it checks for Down Syndrome, neural tube defects (like Spina Bifida) and Trisomy 18. Aaron and I decided to do the testing solely for the purpose of being more prepared and having the right resources in place should our baby be born with special needs.
The blood test took a single minute and my midwife said she would call me and let me know the results before we went in the following week for the baby’s anatomy scan. Well, the day for our scan came and I never got a call. I tried to take this as a “no news is good news” kind of situation. We let the excitement of finally knowing the gender of our baby outweigh any possibility of there being a problem.
At the hospital, I laid down on the bed and the sonographer quickly pulled up a beautiful picture of our baby on the screen. She began taking measurements and photos but hardly said anything during the entire process. She mentioned that she was trying to get pictures of his brain, his heart, the in/out flow of blood through his umbilical cord, his hands and feet. All of this is normal – it’s exactly what they’re looking for – but it seemed to take a really long time, as if she were looking for something specific. As she moved the wand around on my belly, I asked a couple of times if the baby looked good and she only answered vaguely. Finally she finished and as she walked out to get the doctor, she left my chart on the chair. I tried to glance over at it because I saw in big, highlighted yellow letters ‘FYI’. FYI what?
Before I could see anything else on the chart, the perinatologist came in and introduced himself. I didn’t even know what a perinatologist was or why we were meeting with him but it quickly became clear. He sat down with my chart in hand and said,
“So last week you took the quad-serum screen, and this test checks for several different things...”
It was in that moment that I thought, “Something’s wrong.” I squeezed Aaron’s hand.
He went on, “The serum screen is not diagnostic, it simply identifies possible risk factors. Your risk factor for Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida came back low risk. However, the results did come back high risk for Trisomy 18.”
I think I blacked out after that. I mean, I didn’t, but I could hardly focus as I felt overwhelmed at this blindsiding news. Our doctor continued to talk about exactly what Trisomy 18 was, which is also called Edwards Syndrome, and the mortality rate of infants born with this condition. These precious babies have severe physical abnormalities and are usually miscarried or stillborn.
Often you’ll hear the idea that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. You especially hear it when you’re going through something difficult. I don’t know who really believes that because let me tell you something – this felt like entirely more than I could handle. Our miscarriage last year was more than I could handle. Spotting at 13 weeks with this baby and going in for an emergency ultrasound was more than I could handle (have I ever mentioned that this happened the same week our car was broken into and my purse was stolen? Yeah, more than I could handle). And now at 19 weeks, we were being told that our baby may have an abnormality. I simply could not handle it. As I explained it to my mom on the phone later, I cried and said, “It’s just too much!”
I think everyone will find at some point in their life that the trials feel like too much. Too much weight to carry – a burden too heavy. For one reason or another we’ll feel our knees buckling under the load we’ve been asked to carry. I think that’s by design. We’re not meant to do it ourselves. God may give us more than we can handle so that we’ll give it to him and let him handle it. It’s never more than He can handle. The weight is never too much for him. And whatever trial you are facing can be used, if you allow it, to make you more like Him. So, will you surrender the burden to Him? Let it draw you back to Him in new ways? Recognize that this trial is simply sanctifying you and bringing you closer to His heart?
Dr. Goh, our perinatalogist, went on to say he looked at the photos the sonographer took of our baby but that he was going to do the scan again. He wanted to look for specifics that she was unable to capture.
I laid back down, practically holding my breath as he pulled a new picture of our baby up on the screen. He went through each physical marker and explained the way it would look if our baby had Trisomy 18 and the way it looked to him as he scanned over our little one. The baby’s head would measure small and be abnormally shaped, but our baby’s was normal. The heart wouldn’t be developed correctly, but ours was normal. Aaron and I started to breathe a little easier as he looked for all the physical markers that suggested our baby was sick, but none of them were showing up. Finally, one of the indicators that an unborn baby has Trisomy 18 is that these babies can’t open their hands – they’re always in a closed fist and have overlapping fingers. As he explained this, I remembered that when the sonographer was in the room, she was trying to get a good picture of his hands and count his fingers, but she never got one.
Then, as Dr. Goh was explaining that baby wouldn’t be able to open his hand, our baby, by the sweetest grace of the Lord, showed us this on the screen at just the right moment.
Five perfect little fingers. Open hand. The most precious sight I simply cannot get over. None of the physical markers of Trisomy 18 were present in our little boy. Dr. Goh later said that Edwards babies always measure small but ours wasn’t. “You have a big kid,” he said with a smile.
Because the quad-serum screen is not diagnostic and even ultrasound photos aren’t a guarantee of baby’s health, our doctor suggested an additional blood test called the Harmony test. This test would draw my blood and look for pieces of baby’s DNA floating around in my bloodstream. Generally they can find enough of baby’s DNA to make a more certain diagnosis. I said okay because it was non-invasive, unlike other tests offered, such as amniocentesis.
So, after my blood draw, Aaron and I left the hospital a little shell-shocked. What was supposed to be a fun day of finding out the gender of our baby turned into a three hour hospital visit with a doctor who specialized in high-risk pregnancy. That’s not really how we envisioned the day going.
For the next week, I held on to the pictures of our baby. We announced to everyone that we were expecting a boy, amidst lingering fears that he might be sick. I journaled. I prayed. I cried out to God, really. Several days later I wrote in my journal, “We will find out the result of his blood test this week but I feel very calm about it - just giving it over to Jesus, who already knows. So I can rest.”
And later that morning, I received an email.
I sent a screenshot to Aaron and then sat on the floor and cried big, thankful tears. We didn’t realize how tightly we had been holding our breath for the entire week until this very moment when we could finally exhale.
So, as far as all testing can tell, our precious boy is just fine - growing and kicking me at all hours, and last week we watched on ultrasound as he practiced his breathing. Oh, it was so cute! But, I know this isn’t the story for everyone. I know the story turns out differently – you get the news you most certainly didn’t want. Your baby is sick. You endure the pain and bewilderment of miscarriage. The test results aren’t positive. You get let go from your job. Your relationships aren’t fixed. Your depression lingers. There are trials in life that don’t turn around into good news immediately. You can’t see the point and your “why?” goes unanswered. I’m not forgetting you in this moment - I have been you before.
But I am saying that in all circumstances the only thing I know how to do is lean on the Lord to get me through. I don’t know what other option we have. Where do you turn if not to the One who can carry it all? Is it your pride that says, “I can carry this. I am strong enough to handle this”? Because I would imagine the moment will come when you can no longer handle it. You’ll turn somewhere — to someone or something else to get you through. The thing is, the only One who can handle it is the very One who created you. Would you give it to Him today? Let Him carry you on all the good and bad days - the ones you didn’t see coming and certainly didn’t plan for?
For the week we waited for the results, I prayed that our baby would be okay and even if he wasn’t, that we would have God’s hand of mercy to walk us through whatever was next. I have to say that my heart and mind were covered in a supernatural peace – unexplainable given the circumstances. I was given new measures of compassion, an extra dose of strength, and put myself at the feet of Jesus again and again. This is what he wants anyway, in all our days. In the ordinary days that we would call boring. In the scary and unknown. On the days we want to shout from the rooftops because the joy is too immense and on the days we just cannot get out of bed for the weight of grief. Let each new day be a new opportunity to learn to trust God and remember that our trials are simply to be used in our sanctification to help us look more like Him.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121: 1-2