Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Fragile Flicker of Life

In the past year, my family has been celebrating life -- many of the good things in life:  New marriages, an 80th Birthday, high school and college graduations...  When you have a family that spans 6 or 7 different states--it's an incredible feat to get together over the course of a 3-5 year span.  But in 2010, the Stoeckle clan gather twice in one year!  Two weddings and the patriarch of the family hit a milestone birthday!  And before the year was out a new baby was on the way too!  God is amazing with his love and grace.

While I have been savoring the memories and reliving special moments of the past year--I have also looked back on situations and experiences that seemed tragic—and at the time I asked the big question--WHY?  Through the years I recognize I have some answers or at least answers that make sense to me.  But there are pivotal moments in my life where I really didn't understand why such sadness was happening.  But I do have the eyes to see how having gone through the pain helped formed me into the person I am.

I see so much irony in the hopes, and dreams and worries I lifted in prayer have in some ways morphed into something completely different from the original intention...that's what I want to share in this blog entry.

Some highlights from 2010:

Boston Stoeckle's with Papa Don, all wearing the T-shirts he had made for the "reunion/wedding weekend!
Heather (Adam's girlfriend) and Adam's graduation day from Baylor University!

Jessie and Matt Stoeckle's March wedding!

Sara and Ryan got married June 12, 2010

MOH -- Jenna and Uncle Michael singing at reception

Air Guitars

Stoeckle Family Reunion Sara and Ryan Edition T-shirts

Da'  Boys!

May 27, 2011 Ryan and Sara proudly welcome Landon Lee Corl to the family!

Seeing our daughter become a mother, brought back so many memories of my days as a young mom.  I remember holding Sara in the hospital thinking...this is all I have ever wanted to be...a good wife and mother.  And the Good Lord blessed me with both!  With every passing day, as the stress of new motherhood eased, I found myself utterly and completely enthralled  with this little girl.  Joe and I thought we wanted at least 3-4 children, and our plan was to have them close in age...similar to my family with my own siblings.  That was our plan.

But God had a different plan.  And while God's plan is a perfect plan, it is not without pain or heartache.

We lost our first son when I was 28 years old.  Sara was a year old at the time of our loss.  He was our second baby.  

I went for my 20-week, 5 month check-up and my doctor couldn't find the baby's heartbeat.  An emergency sonogram confirmed what my doctor called the beginning of a late pregnancy miscarriage.  I called this miracle of life,  was now a fragile flicker of life...a baby we planned for, a baby we had dreams for, but a baby we lost.   

At the time, I didn't know that a lot of women miscarry--so while intellectually I became aware of this fact--I didn't find it a comfort.  I never really asked WHY we lost the baby, why it was taken away from us…I just believed that for some reason God must have needed another angel in heaven.  I was just anxious to get the “go ahead” to try to conceive again. 

My doctor mentioned that he had pathology results back from the fetus we lost.  (I hated the clinical term he used to describe our son).  I didn't recall that tissue from the baby was sent to a pathology lab for genetic testing.  

When he read the results to me, all I heard was this foreign medical mumbo-jumbo language...then he said our son was a “Trisomy 21” baby.  I asked him what that meant. He said, “Kathie, the baby you lost had Down Syndrome.”  

He paused so I could take in and absorb the information he had just given me.  Suddenly I felt as if he had taken my head into his right hand and just slammed it into the the back wall of his office.  I got dizzy and nauseous, and then started to cry. How can this be…I’m young, I have already had one healthy baby…does this mean I can’t have more children?  

While Joe and I went through the grieving process, we also went through extensive genetic counseling.  It was there we were told we had a 99% chance that we would NOT have another baby with Down Syndrome.  Because of our faith, I knew if we conceived and discovered we were going to have a baby with Down Syndrome, we would not terminate the pregnancy.  I wanted to be sure—I mean truly understand what it would mean if Joe and I had a baby with Downs, before we attempted to conceive again, I did a lot of homework.

Intellectually, I learned of all the various anomalies that were associated with a baby with Downs.  What I didn't know was how I would feel emotionally having a baby with special needs at birth.  I was being brutally honest...would we get looks of disappointment from others upon seeing our baby...or worse would there be pity?  Personally, I went through a great deal of soul searching.  If I was not up for the challenge, or had the courage to face the emotional aspects of having a baby with special needs, I didn't want to have more children.  

So after all of my research--I wanted to know first-hand how socially, emotionally, spiritually if I could handle this special blessing.  

So, I called the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas and talked to mothers who have a child with Downs.  The moms were so generous in sharing their triumphs and challenges.  Our conversations on the subject were frank, honest, heartwarming and giving.  Talking with these moms and then reading an interesting essay on raising a child with Down Syndrome gave me a new perspective on parenting and prayer.

Emily Perl Kingsley wrote an insightful essay in 1987 entitled, "Welcome to Holland".  She describes in her essay about her experience of raising a child with special needs.  She equates it to planning a vacation to Italy.

 Boboli Gardens, Italy

While planning this fabulous vacation you do all of the research on points of interest, guide books, even possibly learning some Italian.  Finally the day comes to go on your vacation.  The plane takes off for this trip of a lifetime, and as the plane lands the flight attendant says, "Welcome to Holland"...the flight plan changed, and this is your final destination.
Ms. Kingsley goes on to say that while the flight plan changed--you weren't taken to some awful third world country, just a different destination!  And her point at the end of the essay is if you don't let go of the fact that the trip you dreamed of was to go to Italy, and never made it to Italy, all of your mourning would never allow you to discover the true beauty and wonderment of Holland.  

She happened to write this essay the year we lost our first son.  
The year we contemplated whether our family would remain small.  The year we prayed for God to give us the wisdom, courage and tools necessary to raise a child with special needs if that was His will for us.  

The year we trusted in God's perfect plan and conceived another baby.  

Fast forward a year later from when we lost our first son, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy son.  Nineteen months later I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, precious daughter.  

From my experience of losing a baby 24 years ago I have found I don't take new life for granted.  I know that I am more compassionate toward mothers AND fathers who experience a loss.  I also, ALWAYS stop and lift a prayer of encouragement and support for the moms and dads, sisters and brothers who have a child or sibling with special needs.

Oh, and remember I mentioned all of the prayers that I stormed heaven with requesting wisdom and courage to handle a child or children of special needs we might have been blessed with -- I believe Our good Lord gave me a very different opportunity as a mother and answered those prayers in a very different way, for a very different challenge--of which I will share in another blog entry.  

I want to share this video clip--I love this movie clip from Evan Almighty because it is an interesting perspective on how "God" (Morgan Freeman) explains how some prayers are answered:  

I Lasso the OPPORTUNITY that God blesses me with everyday!
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, ~ Jeremiah 1:5

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