Friday morning I was supposed to go get my blood drawn to make sure an ectopic pregnancy was showing itself the proverbial door, and then I was going to meet a friend at Costco. Three days before I had been given two shots of Methotrexate in order to get the embryo out of my fallopian tube. That morning, though, I woke up with the same pain in my side I'd felt for three weeks. It still just felt like a pulled muscle. I thought I had a hernia on my c-section scar.
I said a prayer in the shower: God, help me know what to do today. I want this drama to end. I don't understand what this pain is; guide my steps today, because I want to be OK.
I kept getting ready to go but was so light-headed and at one point had a sharp pain so intense that I curled up into the fetal position on my bed. We were running late (yes, I know. shocker of the century) so I considered skipping the blood draw and just going to meet my friend Rachel at Costco. I figured I could always do the blood draw later on in the day.
The pain intensified as I drove, and by the time I was getting the kids out of the car, I couldn't stand upright. I was having trouble focusing on Asher's belt buckle and didn't quite understand what was going on. The pain seemed to be coming from that one specific area, but at the same time seemed to be in other areas of my body as well: shoulder, hip, down my leg.
It was odd.
Fair warning: mentioning the word "ectopic" in an obstetrician's office is much like standing in the Northwest Airlines baggage line and telling the man next to you that you're dating Bin Laden. Things start to HAPPEN, and people start to move.
So I mentioned eptopic, and the receptionist told me to leave a urine sample and she'd talk to the doctor. The pain was so intense that I walked over near the women's restrom and huddled in a corner, just waiting to give my sample and sit down somewhere. I do remember that Asher was carrying a rock inside one of his toy cars and Lucy was saying, "Mama, WHEN are you going to let me paint my nails purple? I've been waiting sooooooo long!" Some women were watching them and saying how cute Lucy's hair bow was, but I was really in too much pain to respond.
After I left the urine, things happened quickly. I was escorted into the sonographer's room and the sonographer saw that my abdomen was packed with blood and the tube was nearly bursting. A nurse came to take me back to the doctor. Even through all of this, I felt an odd calm.
The doctor came into the room immediately after I arrived: "We have an emergent situation here. You have a rupturing ectopic pregnancy and you need immediate surgery."
She was already on the phone talking to the people in the ER; telling them to get ready for me and not to waste any time. She was using words like "internal hemmorhage" and "stat" and "maternal death" and suddenly I couldn't find any air.
Asher is clutching his rock and looking back and forth between the doctor and me with big eyes, and Lucy starts saying, "Mama, what's going on? What is going on?"
I realized I'd better pull it together or I'd scar my kids for life, so I kneel down and whisper, "You know how you have to be brave and have surgeries?" She nods, eyes a doleful liquid brown. "Well, now it's my turn, baby. Mommy has something in her tummy that is making her sick and she needs to get it out. Now I have to be brave, Lu, and I'm a little scared."
The doctor is talking again: "OK, I know you are scared, but we really need to get moving. You need to call whoever needs to come and get your babies."
I call Scott, and to my recollection, our conversation went something like this:
Hello, this is Scott!
me, whispering, trying not to cry: That ectopic pregnancy is rupturing. They have to operate right away or I could die.
Where are you?
Somewhere, like, oh, I don't know. Somewhere, like, you remember where I had Lucy? It's the building next to that building. And it's women's healthcare is the name of it...something like that. Women's Group Obstretics? They all sound the same, you know. Do you know that place?
Um, sort of. Where will the kids be when they are operating on you?
I don't know. But they have to get this out of me, honey, she did say we don't have a whole lot of time.
OK, so will the kids just be wandering around the ER? How will I find them?
I don't know. Just come here, please? Just come here and someone will bring them to you.
At this point the doctor is tapping me on the shoulder and telling me we need to get moving. Scott later told me that his friend at work was wondering if everything was all right. He heard, "Where will I find the kids?" and didn't think that sounded like a real productive phone conversation. :)
At this point, I feel like maybe this is someone else's life, and I slipped into her skin somewhere between the highway and the side street.
A lady with wildly colored crocs is waiting with a wheelchair, and she comments on how well-behaved the kids are. I think they were scared into submission a little bit; they did whatever she told them and their eyes were huge the whole time. Some woman was waiting at the ER with a note pad, and the nurse told her we didn't have time for pre-admission. She said she'd have to do all of that stuff while they were hooking me up to IV's, or just not do it at all.
Some nurse named Kristen came in and saw the kiddos huddled into a corner, me crying, and said, "Hey, Kids! How would you like to have some pudding and watch Sponge Bob? Do you like grape juice? We're going to have a really fun time in here!"
I will tell you this: If Scott's mutant sperm and my rejected gonads ever happen to make another child that oh, you know, has a butt hole and doesn't explode my remaining fallopian tube, we will be forced to name that child Kristen. Kristen was a rock star, and the kids knew it.
Soon my mother in law arrived, armed with Suzy's Zoo stickers for such a day as this. She and the kiddos busied themselves putting stickers all over each other while nurses stuck me with needles and took my blood pressure every 20 seconds.
Scott arrived, and the first thing out of Lucy's mouth was, "Hey, Daddy! Did you know what I love most about you? I love that you wear striped shirts. That looks great on you!" *sniff* The girl always knows just what to say. Lucy needs to be catheterized, so my mother in law and Scott situate her on the bed so I can cath her.
Scott leans over and says, "Hey, bet this isn't exactly how you planned for your day to go, huh?" He also adds, "I'm pretty sure we're going to be getting a letter from our insurance company, imploring us to stop having s*ex."
Best thing about our relationship: we have matching senses of humor.
Here is the part that I was going to leave out, because I almost don't believe it myself. I've been trying to figure out how to convey it to people, because words will never do this moment justice. They just won't.
I heard a voice speak, but it wasn't audible. I could feel the vibration of the voice in my heart, and it rattled my bones. This is the best way I can describe it. I don't know how else to, really. It shook the core of me. Here is what it said:
Rachel, you work and try so hard to keep bad things from happening. You try to keep it all within your control. You fight what I want to change in you. STOP. Stop fighting, stop fighting against me. Let me guide your steps and I will guide them where I want you to go. You knew everything about ectopic pregnancy symptoms and yet here you were, on the brink of death. Nothing you do can save you. Stop trying so hard, and lean on me.
It was crazy. I know that it was God speaking to me, I know it, like I know that I have ten fingers and the sky rains water.
By this time the doctors said they were ready, and I was fighting hard to keep the tears at bay. I made sure I held each of those little hands, the hands of my children. I grabbed Scott and hugged him hard. It was one of those moments that you never forget; the kind of moment you tell your grandchild about. The kind of moment where the earth shifts a little bit; maybe for your benefit, maybe not. Maybe it was just always tilted that way, and you hadn't noticed until now.
My family walks down the corridor, leaving me alone, and I think my heart might split in two. What if I never, ever see them again? What if this is it? What if it all comes down to this, and I don't raise my children?
The panic starts to swell, and that same presence I felt before comes back:
I will carry you. I am holding you. I am with you to the ends of the earth.
The panic subsides and this amazing, speech-stopping calm takes hold of me. I want to experience that again. I know who is talking to me. You can think I'm crazy, but I know it. I knew I was in His presence, or that He was in mine. That He cared, and that He wasn't letting me go.
The prep nurse gave me a sedative and told me she'd bring Scott back again. I told him how much I love him and how much he means to me, of course. And then I told him those things we don't tell each other when it's just another rainy Monday and he's late for work and sad the weekend's over and I'm wondering how I'm going to survive another morning of "Wow Wow Wubbzy" with my sanity intact enough to clean the toilets.
He's holding the bag that contains my clothing and the packet from the admissions people. I comment that I'm not leaving this damn place without a pretty note pad on which to write letters to my friends, and he produces it. We're both nervous as you know what, but we pretend we're not.
The nurse tells Scott it's time and tells him to say his "goodbyes".
I woke up with a mask on my face and asked the nurse if there was a clown car in the room. The doctor came back and said, "Rachel, you are a very, very lucky girl today. There was a lot of blood and we had to take the tube."
Scott told me later that both doctors, knowing I wanted dearly to keep the tube, looked at this tube full of dried blood and wasted embryo, and then at each other. They both nodded their heads and one of them removed it. She later explained that they both discussed and agreed that if this were their body, they wouldn't want that tube in there for this to just happen again. It wasn't healthy. The other one looked good, and so did my uterus, they say. Who knows.
Scott is gathered from the waiting room, and he is led to the wrong bed, where I hear him exclaim, "That's not my wife!" I start calling, "Honey! I'm over here!" and everyone is laughing.
I hug him, eat him up, breathe him in. He helps me into my clothing, kisses me, we drive off.
I guess I could sit here and tell you that I've been crying so hard and so shocked that this happened and just devastated and wanting to try again and desperately aching for another child to fill this longing in my heart. I have to tell you that that is not true. I have every assurance in my heart that what took place on that day was God-ordained, and that God did heed my call to Him that morning, that call to guide my steps. The doctor told me afterward that had I chosen to go to Costco instead, I probably would have simply collapsed there. I woke up a few nights ago, in a panic about losing the tube. Again, that same calm came over me, and I took a deep, quiet breath and fell back into a dreamless sleep.
I don't cry, because I'm not afraid any more.
If you've read anything I've written for any length of time, you will fully know that much of what I do is based in fear. I research and read and wonder and pray and time things so that nothing "bad" will happen, so that the "worst" can be avoided, so that I can be "spared" some pain or another.
I am still trying to process what happened in that surgery waiting room and beyond, I am. Maybe God needed that surrender from me. Maybe he needed me to fall into His arms and tell Him, "You are enough. Nothing more than you will ever make me happy. Not another child, not another car or a better friend, not a smaller jeans size or fewer wrinkles. Not praise from my husband, not a successful pregnancy. Nothing. Nothing but you is what I need."
We all do it, it's human tendency. Wrap yourself up in something you can control. Throw yourself into having children, acquiring things, volunteering time at church, working, making anything BUT God your idol.
And God longs for our surrender. He loves us. I heard an amazing quote once: "If God stopped thinking of you, He would cease to exist."
It's all wrapped up in a nice little bow of cliche and Christian book stores and WWJD bracelets, but at the core of it, that is what it is. I can't change the package: it's surrender. God offers us the grace, that coccoon in the palm of His hand. Then, it's our turn: will we accept? Or will we go our own way? We have to take that step off the ledge, that freefall into his hand, before He can take us further.
What happened in that room was surrender, and I don't ever want to go back to who I was. I choose not to.
Of course I'm sad, of course I am. Of course I wish what happened hadn't happened. I have no idea if we are done having children or if God has planned to bless us with more. We are both open to the possibility; to waiting and seeing. I no longer feel a desperation to control.
And on the same side of that coin, how can I wish away the blessing that came with this pain? How can I wish away such an enormous relief, such a washing away of the burden that covered me?
Fear, indecision, guilt, longing, isolation, loneliness, heartbreak. They are not from God, and I will no longer allow them to take residence in my heart and my mind.
I heard this song on the radio, the song that's playing, and it made me cry my eyes out. It was playing for me:
They all fall
Like a million raindrops
Falling from a blue sky
Kissing your cares goodbye
They all fall
Like a million pieces
A tickertape parade high
And now you're free to fly
Carryin' a millstone malaise
It's been pulling down your gaze
You pound the pavement
It don't give or care
This weight ain't yours to bear
Why you holdin' grudges in old jars?
Why you wanna show off all your scars?
What's it gonna take to lay a few burdens down?
It's a beautiful sound
When that muffled sigh
Says you're barely getting by
Cut your burdens loose and just simplify
This is not your floor
You're going higher than before
Drop the weight now
Wait for the lookout guide
It's time to leave your burdens in a pyre
Set a bonfire
'Cause when you lay your burdens down
When you lay your burdens downWhen you drop them burdens
What a free-fall
What a thrill
Bury them all
In a landfill
The thing I've longed for, more than anything in this world is communion with God. I believe with all my heart, this verse, the verse that I taught to some children the day before the surgery:
"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths."
I have not been acknowledging Him in all my ways. I'd pretty much decided that my ways were better than His; that I knew best.
I'm ready for this ride, Lord. You gave me a taste, and I want more. You always surprise me, You find a way out when I thought I had none. You hold me when I am full of sorrow, You rejoice with me when I am glad.
I'm ready for the freefall.