We Can’t Hear A Heartbeat!

At an Above Rubies Conference, Nancy Campbell opened the floor for questions and I felt prompted to confess my fears of having another baby. I fully expected her to give some kind of rote advice, but wanted to hear it anyway. Instead, she immediately asked if she could pray for me! I felt the power of God as Nancy and others gathered round and prayed.

From that day on, my heart was ready to receive whatever God had in store. But it wasn’t until the following summer that I conceived. By now my “baby” was almost three years old, and my arms were hungry for an infant. We were all very excited.

We had birthed all our babies at home, and despite the hemorrhage with number five, we didn’t see any reason not to do it that way again.  My good friend, April, who was a midwife, agreed to attend my birth.  My mom, who had attended all but one of the others, was planning on being there as well.

By early March of 2007, the pregnancy excitement had worn off and I wanted to see this little one, and hold him/her in my arms instead of my increasing girth. I had things prepared. It was time. At the 28 week checkup, I was uneasy in my mind about the baby. It seemed to be moving less. It had always been a quiet baby, moving gently and not very often. But the heart tones were good, and there was no other indication that anything was wrong. I was having a few contractions, so maybe I was revving up for labor. Babies often quiet down just before labor. We gave it the benefit of the doubt, and continued with a normal prenatal. That was on a Friday.

By Monday, I was in early labor. I made things ready and expected to have a baby soon. My mom changed her flight and planned to be in the next day. That night I had contractions off and on. At one point, I got up to get in the shower and Dwight came in to read the Word to me while I “labored.” It wasn’t tough going yet, but I still had an uneasiness and fear about the baby. April had been with me the night before, checking heart tones again.

Around 5 am, I was back in bed dozing, and the baby kicked three or four times VERY hard. It woke me up!  I changed positions and went back to sleep in peace thinking, “Lord, thank you for that reassurance that the baby is fine and moving into position for birth. I am going to rest while I can.”  That was the last time I felt the baby move.

Throughout the next day I continued on and off with contractions. I did school with the children, cleaned the garage, and made sure the room was ready for my mom coming.  The baby felt very, very low, and there was a heaviness to it that I hadn’t had before.  I knew I was just waiting until Mom got there to “explode” into labor.

She arrived late afternoon on Tuesday, March 27. April came over to meet her and we talked for awhile. After supper, we decided to go upstairs and check heart tones again, and see what was what.  WE COULD NOT FIND A HEARTBEAT!

Crying out to the Lord, we tried and tried, but there was nothing.  I literally cried as we made the decision to go to the hospital. I had been trained as a midwife before I was married, and I truly believe in homebirth as the best way. I know I had some pride in this belief, and had often “shot my mouth” about the poor choices hospitals give, and doctors’ interference leading to all sorts of complications.  I was condescending to those that resorted to pain relief, and had “counseled” others on the benefits of homebirth versus hospital birth. But in that moment of decision, my perspective changed 180 degrees. I repented of my prideful attitude. It didn’t matter what they did to me, I wanted my baby to be okay. They could do a c-section and I wouldn’t balk a bit. Just save my baby!

I didn’t believe for a moment that the baby was dead. I hoped that when we got there, they would do a sonogram and see that there was just…something, anything, and they would fix it.

The ride to the hospital was an agonizing 30 minute ride. My contractions picked up and were several minutes apart. But I barely felt them as I concentrated on getting there and “saving” the baby.

Homebirth is frowned upon in our state, and because I had done my blood work early in the pregnancy with a naturopath, I knew I was going to get some strange looks. But God went before us, providing the way through an old friend who worked on the L&D floor. We were admitted quickly and placed in a room.

The nurse checked for heart tones--still nothing. She jostled the baby’s head quite violently, trying to stir up movement, but there was none. At that point, she looked at me and said, “You have to consider the possibility that your baby is gone.” I think I had considered that possibility way back in my subconscious thoughts, but it was difficult to hear them so boldly and starkly spoken out loud, no matter how compassionately it was said.

The doctor arrived, gruff and unfriendly. He did an ultrasound that confirmed the baby had indeed died, and that there was no amniotic fluid. He asked questions, and God provided the grace for me to answer intelligently and straightforwardly, without wavering. We did not appreciate his manner, but he was the tool in God’s hands at that point.

So began the journey into a dark valley where I had never been before. I was so incredibly overwhelmed, I could not begin to think what this meant for me, for my family, for my extended family, for my future. I wanted it over and done with so I could hide myself away. I asked for a cesarean, but that was not an option since I was a already 6 cm. dilated.

Labor continued on into the night, contraction after contraction. I cried out for mercy. I cried out for pain relief. If only. If only I had done something differently. If only I had something to work for, the contractions would be bearable. But there was nothing. No reprieve.

We prayed. My mom read Scripture. We sand “His strength is perfect when our strength is gone”, a song which to this day I cannot sing without crying.  We cried out for His strength and God provided in His perfect way.

Finally, I had the urge to push. There was a flurry of activity by the nurses and doctor who had left us alone for the most part until that point. About 20 minutes later, we saw, our beautiful daughter for the first time. I asked the doctor to hand her to me, and I held her against my chest. She was perfectly formed. Seven pounds, ten ounces. Her hair was dark and she looked like her sister. Tears poured  down my face.

How could this happen? What did it mean? Why were we given a portion of our heritage only to have it snatched away at the moment of birth? “God, I cannot do this!  I simply cannot face this,” I cried. The nurses gently cared for her, measuring and dressing her, taking pictures and footprints. Family gathered, some taking a turn to hold her, all of them crying.

Once again we were left alone, this time just my husband and myself, and our dead baby. As we held her, faith welled up in Dwight’s heart, and he prayed for her to be raised to life. But it was my doubts that held it back. I didn’t have that kind of faith.  Instead, I just held her, closing my mind to all except the weight of her on my chest.

We named her Shelah Grace.

The walk through this valley of the shadow of death has been quite a journey. It has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced and yet God has brought joy. How can that be?
Joy isn’t an emotion; it’s a fruit. As we walked from that hospital room without our child, we CHOSE to believe that God had control, with a reason for this pain we felt. Choosing God means choosing joy, in spite of grief.

God spoke to me when my father-in-law encouraged me not to be bitter. God said, “Gratefulness with dispel bitterness.” And therefore we CHOSE to be grateful.

I am learning something about the love of God. Our finite minds want to pull His love down to the level of human emotion. But the depths of God’s love are far deeper than that. His love is so deep that He will prepare something sharp and cutting to remove the dead flesh from our new lives. I am thankful to Him for knowing what is best for me.

I found a scripture in Job 14:19 that says it better than I can, “The waters wear away the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man.” “Waters” in the Old Testament often stand for trials or difficulties of some kind. Job says their purpose is to wash away that which is of this earth, the moss and dirt of our old nature.  We cannot have a firm stand on THE ROCK if we are slipping around on the gravel and sand of our own desires. God has a way of destroying our hopes when they are not placed on HIM.

Our child went to be with Jesus, and we take great comfort in knowing where she is, and that she is forever safe there.  It has given us a heavenly perspective.  Like a pair of divine glasses was shoved on our noses, we have become so much more aware of our children’s spiritual state of being.  Yes, we lost one daughter, but not really. How much greater would be our loss if one of our children is given to the world!  That would be a true death, and abundant would be our sorrow.

Now I really want to tell you the REST of the story, as Paul Harvey would say!  God is so faithful!  His goodness and mercy are from everlasting to everlasting!

I could not imagine what my life was going to be like with such a gaping hole where my baby should have been, so I took one day, one moment at a time.  We prayed for wisdom to answer the other children’s questions and fears, and gained tremendous comfort from them as well. I prayed daily, sometimes hourly, for grace to face the next thing in my life. I was so empty!  But I turned to the One who can fill that empty place, and He is faithful to fill it.

The Word of God came alive to me after the baby’s death. I read with new understanding and passages leapt off the page into my heart. I had trouble sleeping, and so I spent many quiet hours with the Lord, reading and writing.  I would walk several miles each morning, just breathing deeply and meditating, gathering strength to face the day. And slowly, slowly, God’s healing was accomplished.

In April, 2008, I knew God was blessing us with another child, and I sensed that it was going to be a boy. Two days before I found out for sure I was pregnant, God showed me a verse in Isaiah 60:22, “A little one shall become a thousand and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time.” This was a promise for me, and also a caution to wait patiently for the Lord’s timing.

We chose to use a doctor this time around.  After Shelah Grace, I had had some pretty major physical issues and met a wonderful Christian doctor named Poppy, who helped us through that time. She was the first one to plant the seed of faith for us to have another baby.  And although she did not have hospital privileges, she agreed to do all our prenatal care and didn’t charge us a dime!  For the birth, she referred us to another doctor who was compassionate and extremely agreeable to our special needs. Again, God really went before us and provided the way.

Everyone in the family was so excited about this baby!  We had ultrasounds done to monitor the baby’s growth, and it confirmed that we were having a boy. He became “Joey” because Dwight said I was like a momma kangaroo with a joey in her pouch!

On December 4, 2008, Joseph Ethan Naham McMinn (“God shall add strength and a comforter”) came into this world three and a half weeks early, but perfectly healthy and crying!  Praise God!  He was born in a hospital (something I never would have done before except under duress).  And what an opportunity there was for us to testify there!  Almost every single person from the nurse on down to the clean-up crew knew something of our story. They would say, “Oh! You’re the ones that had most of yours at home!” and it was said in a good way. One nurse in particular would come in to talk with us any time she had a chance, wanting to know about home schooling, and child training. The financial officer asked to see us the next morning.  Because we were self-pay patients, we had to pay the hospital bill up front. Somehow, God led my gregarious husband to tell her our story as well. She confessed that her father had passed away three weeks earlier, and there was opportunity to share the Lord with her.  Not only that, but after checking with her supervisor, she lowered our bill by about 70%!  God works in amazing ways!

We are blessed from the abundance of God’s mercy.  We have seven beautiful children, one of which precedes us to the throne of God.  And although we miss our little Shelah, her life and death were not in vain.  The incredibly short time we had with her is cherished in our hearts, causing us to take nothing for granted.  My desire is that the lessons from this journey will sink deep, deep into my soul, purifying the inner man.

JULIE McMINN

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