What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.
I've used many metaphors to describe these 9 weeks and 4 days of bed rest. It's been a stormy sea, a marathon, a roller-coaster, a journey. It's been both bothersome and blessing, chaos and calm. When I look back on the past 2 1/2 months, I can barely remember them because they've been so very full and so very empty. It's as if my mind and spirit can't define or contain this time into a single definition or category.
But if I must choose one theme to cover the ups and the downs, the chaos and the calm, it is this:
I remember the very first full day of bed rest. 20-some hours after the jarring news from the high-risk specialist, Tyler and I found ourselves sitting across from our regular obstetrician. We were still in a bit of shock, listening intently for any bit of information and explanation we could gather. We heard it in sound-bytes.
21 weeks. 24 weeks. 28 weeks.
We were at 21. We wanted to get to 28. But it seemed like the doctor was stuck at 24.
I know I've written the most heart-breaking words I've ever heard in a prior post: "If you go into labor before 24 weeks, there isn't much the hospital can do. They might admit you, but the babies probably won't survive." The doctor said this with a ridiculously matter-of-fact tone. (As if there is anything matter-of-fact about losing life after 21 weeks of it!)
Her voice said "if" but her eyes said "when." She looked at me with an intense gaze, staring at me to be sure I understood. I looked back at her from behind a rippling waterfall, the tears starting to well in my eyes. Then I looked at Tyler.
"Remember, you're on strict bed rest," she continued, "That means no leaving the house, no laundry, no doing the dishes, no going up and down the stairs...no...no...NO..." As the doctor's list of what I couldn't do grew longer and longer, my heart stretched farther and farther to find hope. It felt like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter, stretched beyond its usual capacity in order to keep something together. I felt like it might snap and break, as rubber bands are bound to do when stretched too far for too long. I looked back into the doctor's eyes as she continued...
"Nothing we can do...We can pretty much guarantee you're not going to make it to full term..."
That was it. I was done. I couldn't hear any more. I'd gotten the picture, heard the words, felt the heaviness. My senses were overloaded with despair. I don't remember anything said after that. Tyler and I left the exam room in a daze, arms around each other, tears on the verge of flooding the entire 2nd floor of Chagrin Medical Center.
That evening we processed what had been the second doctor's appointment in two days. We revisited the words we'd heard and the words we hadn't. We admitted to one another that we felt significantly heavier and more despairing after this day's appointment. The day before had been full of "when's." We'd been given a set of milestones and timelines that extended beyond the point of viability. We'd been given something we could do (bed rest) that might help us get there. That day, we'd only been given the raw, painful truth of our immediate situation.
One day we had hope. The next day we didn't. It wasn't that our situation had changed, or that the information being given to us was any different. It was all the same.
We decided to listen to the first doctor (he was the specialist, after all)...and we chose hope.
Those first few weeks of bed rest were the most difficult. It was a battle to keep hope front and center in our minds and hearts. But we knew we had to keep it there. We knew that the minute we succumbed to the spirit of despair, our babies were lost to us. Deep within, our intuition told us that if we decided inside that they wouldn't make it, they wouldn't. So we reached, stretched and searched for hope in just about everything.
And alone, I don't think we would have made it. There were too many scary moments; too many sleepless nights, spontaneous tears, startling symptoms and overwhelming odds. Soon, we realized that just like the chores building up around the house, we needed help.
I remember receiving an email from a friend at church just a week or two into it all:
"We certainly already all love those babies," she wrote, "and I have every faith that all will be well." After reading the last line, I laughed in between my tears. Although I was thankful for her words, I was NOT so sure that all would be well. Hope was dangling on a string in our house, and we were scrambling to reel it in. Yet, the note made me laugh because here I was, the pastor, the one who speaks of hope on a regular basis, running dangerously low in hope... and hearing my own words being spoken back to me. Even more, hidden in those words were these unspoken words: “it’s okay if you feel hopeless right now. We’re holding on to hope for you. It’ll be here when you need it.”
Soon after, the cards started flooding our mailbox. In 9 weeks and 4 days, I could probably count on one hand all the days we haven't received a card or email of encouragement. Some of the cards have messages, some are simply signed...but we know that all come with a prayer. We have received over 100 tangible prayers and reminders of hope in the mail. (side note: I think my church is single-handedly keeping our post office branch open!)
This is why faith communities ROCK. Literally, our church has been a rock of hope for us during a time when life itself seemed so unstable. If I ever needed a reason to believe in the institution of church, this is it. Sure, I can and do find God every day in the trees and the sky or as I walk silently through the metroparks...until I can't leave my living room. I can say prayer after prayer as part of my own individual spirituality...until I find myself speechless with despair. And in those moments when my own spirit is struggling, when hope has been thrown overboard in a sea of doubt, someone has brought it back with a life-preserver, holding onto it and holding it out to us until were were ready to take it for ourselves.
Emil Brunner had it right. Life cannot be sustained without oxygen. Life cannot be sustained without hope. Sure, many people survive crippling illnesses and spirit-crushing situations without a church family or close community, but Tyler and I know that the reason we’re still breathing and loving deeply is because we’ve been held afloat by the prayers and love of true community, real family. It’s not something we could have done alone. We needed the people who have held onto life-preserving hope for us (and the babies) when we didn’t have the strength to do it ourselves.
Today, we are almost to 31 weeks -- 10 whole weeks of bed rest filled with every kind of emotion possible (and a little extra frustration and exhaustion thrown in there for good measure). Today, we are just a little over 6 weeks away from what the doctors consider "full term" for Gummi Bear and Junior Mint. Yes, contrary to what doctor #2 believed, we can actually see the beacon of light ahead and are filled with hope. From here on out we can be certain that all will be well.
And we are so. very. thankful.