Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Stillbirth Is Not the Same as Miscarriage ~ by Lori Esteve

This post was written by the founder of S.O.B.B.S. (Stories of Babies Born Still), a group on Facebook that I am a part of. She discusses how stillbirths are different than miscarriages. It has always bothered me when people refer to the loss of Lily as a "pregnancy loss" or when they have compared their miscarriage to losing Lily. They are not the same and Lori describes the differences respectfully. Each loss is devastating and each life is precious, however they are still not the same. 

I also feel as if people think my loss was not as great a loss as someone whose child lived outside the womb (for however long). Though I do not know how it feels to lose a child in that way, it doesn't mean I love Lily any less or that my loss is not valid. Having a child who was stillborn brings an entirely different road of grief. I grieve that I never once got to look at my child in the eyes, among a thousand other things that other parents who have not been through this will not understand. Instead of grieving what Lily's life held, I am grieving everything it could have held and everything I will never experience with her. 

Lori reminds us that though losses are all different, we should not compare, but rather support one another in our grief. Let's extend grace and love. I think she speaks for all stillbirth families by describing what we all think/feel/experience so acutely.

Can I just start by saying my heart goes out to each and every single person who has lost a child regardless of age, stage or circumstance. It truly is a pain deeper than the ocean and wider than the sea. However, I must confess, I take issue with those who say to me I had a miscarriage and I know how you feel. Sadly, people just do not realize how such statements diminish each other's unique and individual experiences. So, If you would extend to me a moment of your time I would like to explain to you why miscarriage is NOT the same as stillbirth.

First, try to imagine the baby you have spent many months in constant company with, the one you have felt grow, move, turn and even hiccup, is suddenly gone. You feel so blindsided. As women we are educated early on about the possibility of miscarriage. But not this thing called stillbirth. And while the soul is gone the physical body remains. This body still has to be birthed. The body does not just disappear because the heart has ceased to beat. To come to the realization that you will be giving birth to death is something beyond compare. Now imagine laboring for hours fearful of what that birth may reveal. Maybe horrible birth defects or causes so terrible you can't even bring yourself to think about or even worse, no known cause at all. And somehow you can't help but feel by birthing your child you are contributing to their very death. Then after hours of hard labor your little miracle is delivered to your arms, silent. Wrapped in tiny blankets. The sweetest face you have ever seen. The face of an angel. You unwrap the blankets and marvel at 10 little fingers and 10 little toes. Maybe he has your nose or maybe she has his chin. There are handprints, footprints and a lock of hair for keepsakes. The name that took you months to choose is recorded for the stillbirth "birth" certificate, the death certificate, the marble slab. A name that whenever you hear it, even in casual acquaintances, in the days, months and years to come will pierce your heart with an ache that will take your breathe away. Then you are asked to make decisions about burials, cremations, caskets, services, obituaries, all the things that mark the end of an earthly life, and you feel like the breath is being choked from your very lungs. You attend a memorial service with engorged breasts and aching arms. They say your body will heal in 6 weeks but you know your soul never will.

Having a stillbirth means you will always feel panic when your friends, sister, or co-workers announce their happy news. Especially when they start off with “now that we are past the risk of miscarriage stage..” You feel like the dark shadow of experience has robbed you of the joy surrounding any impending births for the rest of your life. You feel like you owe it to other women to educate them but you don’t want them to look at you like you are the grim reaper.

This is the reality of stillbirth. And while miscarriage has it's own tragedies that I can not even begin to understand, they are not the same thing...they just aren’t. I can’t imagine the heart of a mother who never even got to know the sex of her child, their face, or to cradle that child in her arms. One who had to send that child to Heaven without a name, or one robbed the memories of those first gentle flutters that every woman cherishes. My heart aches for these mothers in ways you can not imagine. But still they are not the same. You don’t know how I feel any more than I could possibly know how you feel. Anymore than I know how a mother feels who had her child at home for hours, days, months or years.

As women we need not diminish each other experiences but uplift and support each other in the face of these unimaginable tragedies. As women we must educate each other for potential signs, risk factors, or causes. We must strengthen our sex by uniting, no matter what the experience, not weaken it by comparison. In care, concern, and in the name of healing ~ Lori 


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Beautiful

There is an azalea garden in Raleigh that my family and I like to visit multiple times each April when the azaleas are blooming beautifully and vibrantly.

This garden is a popular spot for photography sessions. A few weeks ago when we went, I saw a young couple there for a maternity photo shoot. As we walked past them, I noticed that one of the props they had for their photos was a lily... my heart sank. Was this because they were having a baby girl named Lily? Her name is one of the only things I have that's hers. One of the only things I have left of her. And it stings hearing other children with that name.

As we walked through the garden, I kept thinking of this young couple and how I wished I could go back in time and have a professional photo shoot with a lily, especially since I won't get all the pictures that most parents get of/with their child.

I was also thinking about how this couple (though I don't know their story and am assuming this) is probably blissfully pregnant and unaware of what can go wrong. I hope they never have to know this ache.

I can never go back to who I was before losing Lily. To be honest with you, before Lily was born still, I had no idea that perfectly healthy babies died at full term for no reason. I don't even remember knowing the words stillbirth or stillborn. Truly, I don't. I was naive. And sometimes I think it's better to be that way.

Never again will I go into a pregnancy completely carefree, excited, and naive. Well, truth be told, I never had that pregnancy to begin with. I have been pregnant twice and both pregnancies have ended completely differently, however, both were unplanned and full of fears, anxiety, and questions. Now, when I hopefully have more children in the future, the pregnancies will be prayed and hoped for within marriage, so that aspect will be different, however I won't have the belief that pregnancy inevitably ends with a healthy baby that you get to take home.

Never in my life will I experience a completely happy pregnancy. And that makes me very sad.

I think about future pregnancies and get a knot in my stomach as I think of all that can go wrong. I feel that I simply could not go through losing another baby. I know there is no "safe zone," as so many people believe. Babies die at 40 weeks gestation... for no reason. Will I be on edge for the duration of any future pregnancy I have? Will I be able to enjoy pregnancy at all ever again? Or will I always wonder between appointments whether I will go in and see the precious flicker of life on the ultrasound screen has ceased? Like Lily's perfect little heart just stopped. For no reason. I am afraid of seeing life and death, all before birth. And even after birth, there are no guarantees. Will I always be a hypochondriac, worry wart, "helicopter-mom"?

I don't know what the future holds, nor do I know what future pregnancies will be like for me. What I do know is that the Lord holds the world in His hands. He holds all of my children in His hands and has a good plan. Maybe that seems like an oversimplified belief, but the Bible tells us that we are to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). I think adults make things much more complicated than they should be.

God will give me what I need the moment I need it. I don't think pregnancy will ever be what it could have been had I not lost Lily. But I know it will be a different kind of beautiful. Because I serve a God who delights to redeem and restore. He gives grace when there is none and strength where there's weakness. He gives peace that passes all understanding. Even though I am not married and don't know if or when I will ever be pregnant again, He is giving me the gentle assurance that everything is going to be alright. I am to trust Him like a little child.

Because He has shown me the value and sanctity of each life in a way that I never would have understood had I not had an abortion, or lost Lily, I believe that pregnancy for me will be a treasured time... a time more precious than any words could begin to describe. I will cherish whatever time I am given with my future children and will rejoice over the gift of being able to carry a life at all. I will love my children more deeply than I ever could have if I'd walked a different path. The Lord is using all the things I've been through to shape me into the person He is calling me to be in Him. I am not meant to be someone else. I am not meant to have someone else's life or experiences. He has a unique plan and purpose for my life and it's okay if it doesn't look like everyone else's.

I will trust that His strength, His grace, and His peace will meet me wherever I am... just as it always has.


Monday, May 19, 2014

The Age of 20

My "little" sister Emma turns 20 today. The baby of my family is now in her twenties. Our twin older brothers turn 30 in July. I turn 25 in August.

I have been thinking of Lily, knowing that Bub (my sister's nickname) is now 20. I keep thinking about how 20 was the age I was when I gave birth to my sweet baby girl. How can my little sister now be that same age?! Seriously, time flies.

It is hard feeling like I am moving more and more away from my girl as the years pass by. Next month, it will be five years since I got pregnant with Lily. Five years. Just soak in that number for a moment.

I have been thinking about how on my 20th birthday, I was pregnant with Lily. It seems so young, now that I am a few years past that age. I have been thinking about how the month that I turned 20 was the month the Lord turned my world upside down and rescued me from my life of sin and rebellion. The month that I almost had an abortion on August 15th, 2009. I never could have imagined on my 20th birthday all that God had planned for Lily's life and legacy and how much I would grow to love her. How He would give me a mother's heart.

I pray this year brings something beautiful and life-changing for my sister like it did for me.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lily in Return to Zero!

It was so special to see my sweet Lily Katherine Allen-Ball's beautiful name on television tonight during the ending credits of Return to Zero, a movie about stillbirth! Right at the end of the movie, it said "This film is dedicated in loving memory to..." and then Lily's name is fourth down on the left (in alphabetical order). I will be sharing my thoughts on the movie on my blog soon. :)


'Return to Zero' Premiers Tonight!

Return to Zero premieres TONIGHT, May 17th, at 8 p.m. on Lifetime! It is the first movie ever with stillbirth as the main subject matter.

I have been waiting for this movie to come out for over a year. It was originally going to be released in theaters, but they decided to have it on television instead because of limited funding and so more people would see it.

This movie will help babyloss families feel validated and will hopefully give others who have not lost a baby through stillbirth a glimpse into how it forever changes those affected by it. I hope it gives others more understanding and empathy.

There is a section at the end during the credits that is in honor and memory of baby's lost to stillbirth. My sweet girl will be included, so look for Lily Katherine Allen-Ball's beautiful name. The names will be listed alphabetically, so hers should be towards the beginning. I will definitely be taking a picture of her name in the credits to share on my blog. :)

Watch this video about Return to Zero. There has been a lot of coverage about the movie on many different shows and websites, so that is super exciting!

Here is the official movie trailer:

These are several interesting reviews and articles that I have read about the movie:

-Return to Zero - Film Review (from Carly Marie)
-Who would want to talk about dead babies? 'Return to Zero' movie director hopes for healing conversations
-Brilliant, Funny, Deeply Moving: Return to Zero Premieres Saturday, May 17 on Lifetime
-Minnie Driver says stillbirth movie 'Return to Zero' is heartbreaking but needed
-Return to Zero
-Minnie Driver on the 'Hardest Thing She's Ever Done' and Why Awards Matter
-Minnie Driver goes through a parent's worst nightmare in 'Return to Zero'

Thank you for breaking the silence, Sean and Kiley Hanish! My mom and I will be watching the movie together tonight. I am looking forward to it so much!

Follow along on the Return to Zero Facebook page. There will be events in the babyloss community leading up to the premiere tonight.

You can pre-order Return to Zero on Amazon.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Through Laughter and Tears

My friend Heather wrote me a song in honor of Lily for her birthday this year. It is a gift that I will treasure forever - the words, her voice, and the melody are hauntingly beautiful.

The part that I think may get to me the most in the entire song is the part that says, "through laughter and tears, I will not forget sweet Lily, my beautiful girl."

These words take my breath away and bring me to my knees in thanking the Lord for her life, as well as missing her beyond description.

Every time I hear this part, it's almost like my future flashes before my eyes and I think of all the beauty that I believe God has in store, from marriage to more babies, and everything that comes with a full life lived out for Jesus.

Through the laughter and tears that will make up the rest of my years, I will never forget sweet Lily, my beautiful girl. The little girl who altered my existence. It will be because of how the Lord changed me through her that I believe I will have many future blessings.

Even when I am 80-years-old, with grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren, I will never, could never, ever forget my precious first baby girl, my Lily Katherine. If it weren't for her, I truly believe my life would be on a completely different path at this time.

Through laughter and tears... oh, how this captures life without her. There is much joy to be found on this side of Heaven, even without Lily. But she is always on my heart, always in the back of my mind, through the ups and downs of life. And she will never be forgotten, when I'm smiling or when I'm crying.

I honor her life by laughing. By living. By rejoicing. And celebrating. By thanking the Lord for the transformation that occurred in me through her.

You can listen to Lily's song below or by clicking HERE.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Everything Changes When People Meet Jesus

I saw a blog posted on Facebook that caught my attention. The title is My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel (seriously read this post before continuing reading here). As I read this profoundly beautiful testimony and love story, I couldn't stop the tears that were streaming down my cheeks.
Today is the day of my wedding. And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.
If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.
You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated. I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.
This isn’t my dream – it’s better.
I see myself in Spencer's wife, Taylor. I see my story of darkness to light, rescue and redemption. I don't have any tattoos and never experienced with drugs, but my past is one of drinking, partying, and promiscuity.

Spencer talks about how he never thought he'd marry a "complicated" girl and I realized that is how I feel about myself. I am complicated. I have a "tainted" past, I've had an abortion, and a baby out of wedlock, and a grief over the loss of her that I will carry with me forever. For the past few years, I have struggled so much with my past mistakes and choices. I know that I am washed white as snow by the precious blood of Christ, however I have felt so undeserving of finding a godly man to marry. I have wondered how anybody would want someone so, well, complicated. I have wondered if a man will be able to see me the way I know Jesus does. I have beat myself up, thinking that I will never find a godly man to marry because why would someone choose me when he could have an uncomplicated girl with a spotless past? I have dealt with feelings of condemnation, guilt, and sadness over the choices that I wish could be undone. I have wished countless times that I could go back and do things over, knowing all I know now without the scars, sadness, and regretful memories.

I have confided in friends and family the feelings, thoughts, and struggles I have dealt with in regards to this and they are all encouraging and kind, yet so often it feels like what they say just leaves me feeling more alone because they haven't walked the road I have. Reading Spencer's perspective has given me hope. Hope that guys like this do exist. The God of the Universe is perfectly capable of crafting a man for me, to compliment me in my complicated mess. My identity is not in who I once was, but who I am now in Christ, and I know that my future husband will see me this way. I pray that my future love story will be a reflection of the Gospel and the restoring, redeeming work Jesus does in hearts and lives. As Spencer says, "everything changes when people meet Jesus."
But everything changes when people meet Jesus. Jesus takes people like rebellious teenage partiers, and goody-two-shoe homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own hand-crafted, perfectly planned love-story. Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life, and she believed in him and he transformed her. The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires, and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasured Jesus Christ above all other pleasure. And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean. This is not because she became a part of a helpful program, or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her as white as snow. He took all of her sins on placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfect white wedding dress.
I have no idea the man that God is preparing for me to marry (if He even has marriage in my future at all). But what I do know is that I want to love him like Jesus has loved me... no matter what his past is like, whether it be "tainted" or "spotless." Because in God's eyes, we are all the same, we are all sinners who need the saving grace and mercy of Christ. I pray that I will love my husband well, when we meet and even now, before we meet. I pray God prepares me to be a godly wife. As my favorite Scripture says, "to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." I see how much I have been forgiven of by the Lord and how much I will be forgiven by my future husband, so I know that I have the ability to love much.

For anyone who struggles with their past, wondering if they've ruined God's plans for their lives and all chances of finding a godly man/woman to marry, please read this post and realize that it is not about getting what we deserve. I realize now that what I deserve is death. But, Christ in His infinite love and mercy has made me white as snow and clothed me in His righteousness. He can do the same for you. I pray that you (and I) will see ourselves the way Christ sees us and not continue to beat ourselves up over things we cannot change now.

I saw a picture of Taylor on her and Spencer's wedding day in a lovely white wedding dress and it brought me to tears as I thought of how Jesus washes us white as snow. The white is not simply covering up the crimson stains, but is white because of being made pure in Christ!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Walk for Life Fundraiser!

Hello friends and family! As some of you know, I volunteer at a local pro-life pregnancy center. They depend upon donations. One of their major fundraisers of the year is the annual Walk for Life, which will be held tomorrow, May 4th. I am raising some money for the center because I fully believe in the heart of this ministry. They are in the front lines of the battle for LIFE and they love moms, dads, and babies in a selfless, beautiful way. I am honored and blessed to volunteer at this center. I see firsthand the lives that are impacted.

If you are able, please consider contributing to help me reach my fundraising goal. Any amount helps! This is an awesome way to truly stand for LIFE!

I will be sharing more later about the walk. You can donate online or make a pledge on my fundraising page by clicking HERE. Everything is safe and confidential. Thank you so much!

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