It had been a long hard school year.
Summer would be a time to relax and sit by the pool. To socialize with people and connect without the pressures of work. There were friendships that I had missed over the past year. My new job had taken me from being a stay at home mom with a Starbucks card, to a full-time teacher with a school lunch account.
Before I started working full time, I would go to Starbuck’s and sit at a certain table tucked away on the back corner of the patio. I would stay for hours and read, journal and just be. The table was under the leafy canopy of a tree. Loved that place.
Photo: Madeline Chaney
Meeting up with a friend there would often include talks about life and its unpredictability, its joys and its disappointments. Conversations that were not rushed and allowed us to take in the words and pauses of the other person. One of us would eventually hold our heart out and let the other see the part that was hurting. The part that was bleeding out. Those times with friends were rich.
But the times that were just me and God. Those were even richer. Ear buds in and plenty of paper in my journal. Pages of words that helped me organize my scattered brain.
I start with the word, “BE” and circle it in the center of the paper. I liked to write down feeling words that describe me at that moment if I just let myself, “BE.” It’s good to know where you are at. The truth about what is coming up to the surface of your heart.
Am I angry, disappointed, frustrated or embarrassed about something?
Am I lonely, anxious or afraid?
Am I celebrating, relieved, ecstatic, hopeful or surprised?
Once I had my “BE,” then I was ready to look for God. Finding Him in His words and ask Him to bring light to my darkness. Hope to my despair. Peace to my anxiety. Wisdom to my confusion.
I began to understand what it meant to worship God in spirit and in truth. Name what is true about you. Be honest with yourself. God already knows what is in your heart. As you lay the true parts of your heart before Him… His heart of truth can cleanse, cover, and comfort.
Psalm 51:6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach wisdom in the secret heart.
The school year began and every morning, I drove past the Starbucks and looked at my table. Longing to have that time again. I needed it then, more than ever. Each morning I would gather up the pieces of my heart and try to keep it intact from 8:15am to 3:15pm.
Every time I drove past, I saw someone else sitting in that chair. Enjoying their time with a friend or sitting alone, reading a book. I wanted to have that time again. Some mornings, I would have time to go through the drive-thru and grab my coffee. Iced-quad-shot-espresso, in a Grande cup, with extra ice and 2 Splenda. I know. I’m one of THOSE people!
Once my iced quad espresso was in hand, I would drive away from the drive thru window, around the sharp curve, and there would be my chair, at my table, under my tree, just calling my name. “I’ll be back, I promise.” And then I would be on my way. Already, moving on in my head to the lesson plans I had lined up for the day, and the challenges that waited for me at school.
At school, my lessons helped students over-come stage fright, get into character and prepare acting scenes. My Drama class is a chance for students to put aside their problems and become someone else on stage. All it took was a funny hat from my prop cabinet or the old school rotary telephone I kept on the stage. Students would often pick up the receiver and just begin a conversation using another voice. They were somebody else for those few moments talking to a make-believe character.
I wanted to pick up the receiver too. I wanted to hear someone tell me good news for once. I wanted to hear that things were going to change. I needed hope.
While other families flourished, our family was going through job loss. Others were welcoming new babies into their families. I was looking at a 2nd round of in-vitro. A frozen embryo-transfer this time. We had 3 frozen embryos from when we did in-vitro several years before and had my twin boys. I was deeply committed to giving my embryos a chance at life. But in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk having another baby. I could hemorrhage again.
When I was pregnant with my twin boys, Max and Colin, we took the class for parents having twins. They told us a mother carrying twins had a higher risk of hemorrhaging. But I never thought it would happen to me. My pregnancy had gone so well.
On May 16th, 2008, just a few hours after my babies were born, I began to lose blood. I told the nurse I didn’t feel well. I was on the verge of blacking out. Tunnel vision. The doctor rushed in and explained to me what was happening. She said that she would need to do a procedure to make it stop, but that it would be very painful.
The morphine did nothing to help with the pain. I remember gripping my husband’s hand so intensely that he said to me, “it’s ok, you can scream.” He knew. He knew that I needed to scream. And I did.
I had never experienced this kind of pain before. After they got the bleeding under control, they put me on the special care floor where the nurses were very attentive. I was on the verge of a blood transfusion. So weak. My babies were there in the room with me. I remember lifting up my head from the pillow to see them. They were finally here…my heart was happy looking at them, but I was too weak to hold them much. I replayed those moments of the hemorrhaging in my head over and over. The traumatic memory of that intense pain was like a movie on a loop in my brain.
Fast forward several years and I was facing another possible pregnancy. What if it happened again? What if they can’t stop the bleeding this time? I felt like I was being pushed towards the doorway of doom and forced to walk through. The frozen embryo transfer was a door that I had chosen and wanted, yet I was terrified of what was on the other side. I wanted to give life to my 3 little embryos, but giving life to the babies could result in my own death. All of me did not want to risk this. And yet every fiber of my being wanted to do everything possible so that I could hold my babies in my arms.
I felt alone in these warring thoughts. Confessing this fear of death seemed selfish when there were babies to be had. “A good mother sacrifices herself for her children,” was the voice in my head. Those words shouted shame. While the words, “I am afraid,” tried to be heard over those shouts.
These heavy thoughts were like the big backpacks that I saw my students carry around at school. Why don’t you use your locker? I would ask the little 6th graders this question and it was always the same answer. “I don’t want to be late to class so I don’t use my locker. I just carry all my books with me.” Some of the students looked like they were going to tip over because of the weight of these large packs on their backs. But they trudged ahead and made it to class.
Just like the students, every-day I managed somehow to stay upright despite my heavy backpack that was filled with anxiety, fear and conflicting thoughts. The routine of getting up and going through the same schedule every day gave me stability. School needed me. I had to be there. I needed school. I wanted school and wanted to be there working in the job that I had dreamed about for so many years. But I wanted to be myself, not the war-torn and shell-shocked version of me.
I can remember standing in front of my class, an hour after I got the call telling me that my embryo transfer had not been successful. Jason and I had just cried together over the news on my lunch break. I dried up my tears, walked back into the school building and I taught. I can’t remember exactly what the lesson was that day, but I remember standing at my podium thinking I have a job to do. I was good at compartmentalizing. I put my lost babies on a shelf to grieve over later.
I kept going and made it through the week. The fear of having another terrifying hemorrhage experience was gone but it was replaced with an intense sadness. An emptiness filled my back pack and this nothingness seemed heavier than the fear that seemed so weighty before. Now, there was nothing to fear and nothing to hope for. I wondered when I would start bleeding. With all the hormones preparing me for the embryo transfer, I knew it would be more than usual. I had asked the nurse on the phone, how long it would be before I started and she said anywhere from 7 days to 6 weeks.
That Sunday, we were cleaning the house to get ready for our small group from church to come over. About 30 minutes before everyone was going to arrive, I went into the bathroom and it was happening. I was losing blood. This was the blood that was supposed to hold my embryos and keep them safe. But it was not to be. I couldn’t control what was happening. I couldn’t hold onto them. When embryos fail to implant, they disintegrate and leave the body along with the uterine lining. They had measured all of my hormone levels and the thickness of my lining. It looked like the perfect conditions for babies to grow. But even when you do everything right, things don’t happen the way you expect. There I was, seeing hope flow out of me. They left me and a part of me went with them.
A hemorrhage of the heart.
I told Jason what had happened and he held me close. “Do you want me to cancel today?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll be ok.”
I felt light headed and a little weak. But instead of listening to what my body was telling me I tried to act like I was fine. Maybe it was so painful that it was easier for me to deny. To not acknowledge it. Once again, my babies were put on the shelf.
I have grieved over that day many times. Why couldn’t I just be in the moment and be weak? My husband would have canceled our small group or re-routed everyone at a moment’s notice. But I did not have self-compassion. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. People would be arriving any minute. They didn’t need to know. I needed to lay down, to rest and I needed to cry. I needed to be held. I needed to be seen for who I was in that moment of pain. It wasn’t the other people that I was hiding from. The person I was hiding from, was me. I could not bear seeing me fall apart.
That morning, my home was filled with people, but I felt alone. My house was bustling with activity. Conversations, coffee pouring, food preparing. Yet I was far away in my mind. Unable to feel my own pain. Unwilling to engage my own heart.
A week later, I sat down on the couch in my counselor’s office. I adjusted the pillow like I always did and leaned back. After she prayed for me, I just remember saying, “I don’t know how to do this.”
I had been so focused the last few months on the fear of hemorrhaging again. The possibility of this life-threatening complication taking me from my boys. I was afraid that if I died, my boys would forget me.
But I was not prepared for what would happen if I didn’t die, but my embryos did. The bleeding out of my heart. There was no stopping it. No procedure to control the loss of hope. No morphine for the soul.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.
When the bleeding is out of our control, we are forced to look outside of ourselves for help. We want to deny it and act like we will be ok. But there is a point where the pain is unbearable.
We all have circumstances that break us and knock us down flat. It was unexpected or more intense than we thought it would be. The sadness will come out of nowhere because you see something that reminds you of the one you have lost. How things are now, are not how they used to be. Maybe some choices were made for you. You feel stuck in a place that you never thought you would be.
“It’s not the news that any of us hoped that we would hear
It’s not the road we would have chosen, no
The only thing that we can see is darkness up ahead
But You’re asking us to lay our worry down and sing a song instead.”
I have been in all of these places. I have lost hope and then found it again. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, a soldier put his spear into his side. Out came water and blood. It is believed that the water and blood was from around his heart. That spear ensured that Jesus was dead. But our hope was born from Jesus’ bleeding heart. Without his blood, there would be no hope for us. We can ask him to comfort us, because he too has had a hemorrhage of the heart.
Hebrews 4: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…
Isaiah 53:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Jesus longs to comfort you. Bring your bleeding heart to Him. Do not deny your weakness and need for help and healing. What would it be like for you to take your grieving heart off the shelf? The bleeding is out of your control. Can He come in to care for your hemorrhaging heart?