Sunday, August 25

Gwen's story revisited

If you're a Hope Mom, talking about your children just isn't the easiest thing.

Answering the question, "How many kids do you have?" or "Oh, too bad you don't have a girl!" or "Is this your first?" becomes complicated the moment it leaves the person's mouth. Any conversation becomes awkward as soon as death is introduced.

How do you tell someone that your baby is in Heaven? How do you communicate the depth and gravity of that truth? If I cry, do you understand it better? If I don't, does she seem less important to me? When I tell her story, what do I want you to hear?

My daughter Gwendolyn went to Heaven 36 hours after she was born. That's the short version.

If I get the chance to tell you the longer version, this is how it goes:

I had a really beautiful pregnancy. My husband and I had waited a few years to start having kids, and when I became pregnant early in 2010, we were elated. I had grandiose plans of what motherhood would be. We wanted two boys, two girls: the classic American dream. I eagerly adopted the title of "granola mom" and researched cloth diapers, vaccines, circumcision, midwives and birth centers, and read countless books on natural labor. I stopped drinking coffee and cokes, I took an alternative birthing class; I was joyfully joining forces with the millions of women who had naturally given birth before me. I had a plan.

When I started having contractions, I was freaking out I was so excited. I sat during our church service, timing my contractions and smiling like a crazy woman. After 18+ hours of contractions, I wasn't smiling anymore... I was happy of course to be having a baby, but MAN! Labor hurts! I kept telling Blair I would never judge another woman who had a medicated birth, ever again! Around the 24 hour mark, the midwife's assistant came to check her heartbeat. She had trouble finding it -- but she was just learning, so it wasn't too alarming, right? When my midwife checked, there was that moment on her face - sheer panic the was quickly masked so she wouldn't scare me. But I was scared.

I was scared as I hurried out of the birthing tub and put on an oxygen mask. I was scared when I heard the lead midwife of the birth center say, "There is a ton of meconium...". I was terrified as my husband herded me to a van and we raced to the hospital. With contractions every 45 seconds, I couldn't run fast enough down the halls. The L&D team prepped me for surgery, had me sign papers, and told me "You need to be prepared for fact that when you wake up, your baby might not be alive." I moved myself to the operating table, and fell asleep as the blue eyed anesthesiologist counted backwards from 10.

I woke up in a room that's meant for laboring mothers. Blair was there, and I asked if the baby was alive. "She is. It's a girl! But she has heart damage, and liver damage, so she's in the NICU." And I thought, "Okay. She can survive. People recover from that." But as the day wore on, she didn't recover. In fact, she was never able to breathe on her own or open her eyes. Her body wouldn't pass fluid. Her perfect, chubby little body that weighed 10 pounds, 1 ounce - it failed her. I failed her. 24 hours after she was born, a neurologist told us she was brain dead.

What's a mommy to do, when her precious baby is lying exposed, naked, unloved on a sterile hospital bed? She was supposed to wrapped up and snuggled next to me, nursing and opening her eyes and crying.

You know, I think that most of these details have come back to me over the years, because God knew I couldn't handle them in those moments. The Spirit kept reminding me, "Erin you know ME. You KNOW Me. Live by faith, one minute at a time." So I lived by the minute, waiting to hear about her, waiting to see her, praying that God would make her wounded body whole.

He did, just not in the way that I had wanted. Gwendolyn Hope Cushman separated from this body and went home to Jesus on October 20, 2010 at 3:10am. And in the days that followed, the Lord kept bringing me back to that one truth - I live by faith. What faith? Faith in the son of God, Jesus, who loved me and Blair and Gwen so much that He died in our place. Faith that He came to life after He was dead, now lives in Heaven with God the Father, and invites all of us who repent and believe, those who fall asleep on this Earth to be in paradise with Him. Gwen fell asleep before me, but she and I share the same hope. She is in Heaven because God made a way. I will be in Heaven one day because of that same truth.

I should add, of course, that in my desperate clinging to Jesus, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't clean. It was often messy, and loud, and despairing. But God is faithful, even when we are faithless and lose heart. He patiently brought me through that first year of missing her, and every day since. I can now say that the Lord is completely true, and when He said that He will bind up the brokenhearted, He meant it. It's been almost 3 years since Gwenny changed my life, and the Lord has restored my heart, joy, faith, and family. She now has a younger brother, whom the Lord graciously allowed us to keep for a few years this side of eternity. Every day is one day closer to her.

I don't know where you are in your story - if you are a Hope Mom or Dad, or family member, or just a friend who has different (but deep) wounds. What I do know is that God is Good, and that His mercy and love will reach you wherever you are.

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