I pray for you.

I want to be writing about giant joy bubbles that burst with mushy gushy infatuation.

I want to be writing about lazy days filled with quiet cuddles and precious new coos.

I want to be writing about dreamy moments of simple motherhood.

While there very much have been bubbles, coos, and moments, most of the string of days post partum have been littered with panic and dread.

I feel guilty for even writing that.

However, I need to speak my truth to give a voice to those that cannot form the words to describe the terror inside.

So. This is for you new mom.

To the new moms who carry guilt for not savoring each morsel of motherhood, or even more, fearfully dislike the doldrums of this new life – I pray for you.

To the new moms who are plagued with irrational fears – fears that you will somehow lose control and harm the children that you love more intensely than you knew possible – I pray for you.

To the new moms whose minds become foggy and melancholy courses through your veins – I pray for you.

To the new moms that frantically search the internet, certain that something is intensely wrong, and you are going insane – I pray for you.

To the new mom who weeps – ashamed, lonely, and isolated – I pray for you.

To the new mom who questions her value and her worthiness of motherhood – I pray for you.

I storm the heavens for you because I intimately know the torment you are experiencing.

I am so sorry.

I love you.

I pray for you.

I’m struggling to know what else to write or say that wouldn’t be somewhat hypocritical. While you are in the throws of postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD, it’s difficult to encourage someone to hang on and assure them that this indeed will get better because truth be told in most moments I cannot even fathom a world where this torture relents.

So this is an open letter both to myself, and the new moms.

Hang on tight. It’s a wild ride, but YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’m here, even if no one else is.

You are not a bad mother – your brain and body are just struggling to interpret these raging hormones and emotions.

You will not harm anyone. It doesn’t matter how gripping, petrifying, and real the intrusive, irrational fears may seem. Feelings aren’t facts. Thoughts aren’t truths.

It’s ok to not enjoy each moment of motherhood. No one enjoys each aspect of any job, and motherhood is one giant job – so giant in fact it often knocks us to our knees and makes us question everything.

You are not crazy – you are just tired and need a snack. And maybe someone to hold your hand and scratch your back.

Those who have never experienced any form of mental illness or distress can’t understand simply because their brains work and interpret things differently. When reaching out to others – keep this in mind and pile all the grace you can on top of yourself.

Go out and get help. Shout it from the rooftops if you have to. If you don’t know where to start – message me.

If this reads melodramatic – you have not experienced this agony. Take a moment to pause and praise God .

I love you sister. I pray for you.

God provides every time – even in the darkness.

 

 

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The Hardest Thing

 
10 years ago
, the heartache and tears following a break up was the hardest thing I had ever been through. I felt and mourned deep loss of romance and friendship. I cried and rarely felt like leaving my apartment. I became quite literally sick with grief.


5 years ago
, social and relational anxiety was the hardest thing I had ever been through. I was a newlywed navigating unknown territory of what it meant to be a wife, as well as what it meant to have and love a husband. I had just moved across the country and I was completely immersed in a new culture, climate, and circle of friends. My deep southern roots slowly adjusted to the fast paced diversity of the Silicon Valley. I cried nearly every single day for an entire year. I wasn’t sad and I wasn’t miserable. Rather, I was deeply unsure of myself, and my new role in this drastically differently life.

3 years ago, new motherhood, breastfeeding, and Post Partum Anxiety were the hardest things I had ever been through. They brought me to my knees and threatened my stability. I had entered motherhood expecting my transition to be natural and effortless. However, in the first year, I gulped equal amounts water and air, as I struggled to keep my head just above the surface. Intrusive thoughts petrified and immobilized me. In the first 3 months, my daughter screamed from 30 minutes to 5 hours every single time I attempted to feed her. I was guilt ridden, scared, and exhausted.

1 year ago, giving birth to my stillborn son, Keller NormanBartlett, was the hardest thing I had ever been through. My husband and I shattered as we labored to bring his lifeless body into this world. Words are insufficient to describe this type of pain and sudden, shocking loss. The days, weeks, and months to follow have often been battlefields – ridden with pain attacks, depression, and anger.

Comparison is an evil and deceptive enemy. It lies and tells us that our joy is insufficient and our pain is inconsequential. Even worse, it deceives us into thinking our friends and family’s joys are mediocre and their pain minute in comparison to whatever battle you yourself may be facing.

As mothers, I think we are especially susceptible to falling into the pit of comparison. We are bombarded with pictures, videos, and stories detailing the “highlight reel” of other family’s lives. Without much thought, we can trip into the darkness of believing we need more (clothing, housing, activities, romance, holiness) in order to achieve the “same level” of happiness, contentment, and joy. We rob ourselves of the abundance and goodness surrounding us. Comparison literally blinds us. We become incapable of realizing and accepting our own joy.

Equally, we are very often met with the darkest and most painful moments in other’s lives. Newsfeeds are filled with “case of the Mondays” hardships, personal confessions of struggle and depression, prayer requests for heartache, and the deep groaning’s of death. The corruption of comparison reaches to pain as well.

10 years ago, the hardest thing I had ever faced was – simply – a break up. The trials and hardships I have faced since, can and have caused me to scoff and mock my 20 year old self. I had “no idea what true pain was”. This is false and caustic comparison. 10 years ago – the heartache of that lost friendship brought me to my knees. I wept to God that He would mend that relationship. He didn’t. He knew the pain and growth were far more beneficial than a temporary patching of my heart. Many who had known far greater pain, could have grinned and said “there, there”. They didn’t. They hunkered down by my side, saw my pain for what it was – the hardest thing I had ever been through – and prayed, and loyally and patiently kept by my side.

As mothers, it is difficult to meet the pain of other mothers and not compare it to your own.

“At least their baby doesn’t have colic!”

“At least they have parents near to help out.” 

“At least their husband is home!”

“It’s just a stomach bug…”

“I wish my kid only woke up twice a night.”

We see the pain of others and almost instinctively compare it to our own struggle (or at least I do). We minimize the pain of others because poisonous comparison has entered into our hearts.

Conversely, we can see the pain of others and minimize our own pain and hardships.

“I only have one kid – this shouldn’t be so hard.”

“I know my baby only wakes up once – why am I so tired? Why is this so hard?”

“None of my kids are chronically ill – I shouldn’t be struggling so much just because they’ve had a cold for 2 weeks.”

“A miscarriage is common – so many women have had them – why do I feel so sad for so long?”

“My family is close by and so many people don’t have thatkind of help – I shouldn’t be having to fight depression so hard.”

Your battles are hard simply because they are the hardest thing you are going through.

God sees your pain and reaches out with perfect love and compassion. He isn’t sitting on high telling you to “get over it” because He’s seen and experienced “much worse”. He just sees brokenness and pain and meets it with love. He effortlessly understands that this trial is the hardest battle you have faced, and He is ready to carry you through the waves of any storm you may face. ANY STORM. He doesn’t see a small difficulty and think, “That’s nothing. Seriously, handle it yourself.” He just offers his hand. Every single time.

I pray that time, wisdom, experience and God’s mercy can scrub the stains of constant comparison from my heart. I want to see the heartache of others and meet it with compassion – not comparison. There is such power joining joy to joy and heartache to heartache. Seeing other’s battles as the hardest thing they are facing is empowering. It validates each other’s struggles and creates a network of love and trust that can move mountains.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Amen, right? Rather than defaulting to the thievery of comparison, let’s work towards the compassion of God.

“He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.” –II Corinthians 1:4

The next part of our journey. 

So much of Keller’s story happens in the everyday. His story is learning to cope with strangers unknowingly saying “Is she your only child?”, “It is just SO MUCH harder when you have to juggle two.”, and “Do you have any other kids?”.

So much of Keller’s story is simply accepting the quiet simple days. My heart aches to have two children screaming in my ears. I would much rather cry with my hands full, than weep with empty arms. 

I am constantly convicted by Keller and the lessons the Lord has revealed through his death. My heart needs to share these lessons. 

I am ready to share the next part of our journey. 


God is creating new life for our family. Our third child is due June 6, 2017. 

Praise our ALMIGHTY GOD. 

We covet prayers. We are humbled and thankful by the incredible goodness God has given us. 

Mary is excited. She kisses baby often. She is PINING for a baby sister. 

“God will say ‘I gave them a brother already. Now I will give them a sister!'”

We wanted to take a moment to rejoice with all of you – a moment of unrestrained joy and happiness. 

I am ready to write again. I think I need to share the struggles and joys of creation following death. Thank you for blessing me with this platform. Thank you for your overflowing compassion and love. Thank you for your eager ears and tender hearts. You are doing a mighty work. 

Hey new baby – Mommy, Daddy, Mary, and Keller welcome you to our family. We love you a lot. Jesus loves you a lot. I hope you like hugs and kisses. 

Part Two.

Wow. I feel a bit ashamed to say that I have been SHOCKED at the mighty work God has done through Keller’s story. Only the Lord can use a story of death and waves of agony and pain to spread love and hope. I am seriously on my knees astounded at God. Glory to God in the highest.

When we set out to write this love song, this was our goal:

“Our story isn’t exceptional. We aren’t unique because we have met death. Loss fills the lives of most we meet. But if we can point those in the pit,  those in the darkness with no touchstone, to the Light – Praise the Lord -Hosanna.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 

(2 Cor. 1:3-7 ESV)

Each day we will share a piece of Keller’s life. We want to mourn, laugh, worship, and celebrate with you – our dearest friends – and with you – the ones whom the Spirit led to this space because you needed to know you aren’t alone and there is indeed Good News.”

The Lord answered every part of this prayer, and then in true Creator-style, went above and beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Thank you. Thank you for sharing in our journey in such an intimate way. You have made yourselves vulnerable to our suffering and reached out with love. This is such a gift. We continue to be encouraged and strengthened by our community. You all have such a talent for active, compassion-filled love.

The Spirit has used this space and led me to amazing souls that I had not known before sitting down to write our Keller story. I am so thankful for each person I have been connected to and each opportunity that has been afforded. Again, it BLOWS me away.

I love you. You, the one reading this page right now, I love you. I love you a LOT. I wish I could hug and kiss you at this very moment and thank you for all you have meant in our lives. Thank you for keeping Keller “real” and giving him the ability to still be a mover and a shaker in so many ways.

There is a lot more I want and need to say. This is only Part 1 of our story. So much of losing a loved one is the daily and constant struggle to live with and adjust to that reality. In the coming months, I want to share moments and lessons this first year without Keller has taught us. There is a lot my heart still needs to put out there.

For now, I need a break. My heart is tired. My brain is tired. My body is pretty tired too. Writing has been good, important, and therapeutic, but not easy. I have always said I am a better writer than I am a speaker, so writing helps me sort out things my brain has all jumbled up inside. It’s quite draining essentially taking your heart and splattering it all over a computer screen. It has been a good, but difficult work. I still struggle many (most) days. Keller’s death is constantly in my line of vision. Sometimes I can function, and other times it clouds my view so much that I want to curl up into a ball and hide underneath the bed. A lot of days I want to curl up into a ball and hide underneath the bed.

Which leads into another message I need to share. Everyone grieves differently. I grieve through writing and reflection. However, I have only just now begun to grieve in this way. For the bulk of the first year, Keller’s death was still too raw and tender to approach in such a head on manner. If you are grieving, I pray you can grieve in just the way you need to grieve without any pressure to mourn in any sort of “right way”. I often put this pressure on myself whenever I experience emotions I believe are too unpleasant and unfit to experience. This kind of frustrates the process. Ride the waves and keep trusting. The Lord provides.

Nathan and I thank you all with every ounce of strength we can muster up. You are the hands and feet of Jesus and you are doing a good work. Thank you for loving Keller Feller. He’s a really awesome kid, and it brings us giant joy knowing so many people know his name. It brings us even more joy knowing that Keller’s life proclaims the name of Jesus.

Let them see Jesus today.

Surrounded on every side. 

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In the days following Keller’s death, Exodus 14 painted the perfect picture of the protection we felt from the Lord. In front and behind, the Isrealites saw only certain death. Threat of death was pressing in from every side, but Moses saw God. “Fear not. Stand firm…the Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.” The Lord made their pathway dry. Ominous waters towered above them on each side, but the Lord, He was in the dry ground. The Lord provided a light on an unknown and untraveled trail. The Lord created a barrier between His children and their enemies. The Lord surrounded His people on every side. They only needed to be still.

It is only by the power of the Almighty Creator that we were and are being carried through on dry ground. Any perceived strength is 1000% the Lord’s strength. The Lord rallied His troops and carried us through the storm. You are His troops. YOU were and are the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives.

Countless cards flooded our mailbox. Cards from people across the entire country. Cards from people we had never and maybe will never meet. 2 dozen bouquets of flowers were delivered to our door. Packages filled with tender and thoughtful gifts, as well as toys and stickers for Mary were received. I cannot capture the magnitude of love we recieved. It astounds me even now. I am left speechless.

I need to reinforce just how blessed I know my family to be. I am not writing a tragedy. I am not writing because our sorrow was unique or exceptional. I am writing because we love Keller and our God is bigger. I need to tell the world just how much bigger He is.

Love was piled and heaped on top of us. We were fed every single meal for 2 months. (As orchestrated by my incredible and forever friend Megan. Megan gets things done. You need a Megan.) When the meals stopped, (only after asking that they stop – as Megan put it, “This gravy train is only going to stop when you say stop.”) we had dozens of gift cards to provide easy, mess-free dinners out. Every single meal for two months. I am certain that is the actual definition of lavish.

I feared being alone. Alone meant being slammed back into a “new normal” that terrified me. The Lord heard this cry and provided. Nathan had 4 weeks of paternity leave. Nathan’s mom flew in and spent two weeks at my side. Next my bosom friends Kelly, Katie, and Stephanie stepped in to just sit and be with me. I will never be able to convey the fullness of my thanks. I was in the pit. I was riddled with anguish and panic. These friends flew across the country to simply sit and be everything I needed. My mom flew out last minute to hold me tight when panic gripped me.  If it is ever within your power to jump on a plane and be with a friend in the midst of grief – do it. This has profoundly and forever impacted me, and the way I will choose to give and receive love.

Word had circulated that my first full sentence after seeing Keller’s still heart was, “We are going to Hawaii.” We had every intention of happily financing the trip. It was a time we needed and we knew the benefits would far outweigh any costs. We began planning our trip. It was a welcomed and necessary mental break. Not long after the planning began, over-the-top insanely generous friends started a Gofund.me in order to finance our trip. We were and are so undeserving of this generosity. We wanted to say no. We wanted to kindly, but firmly refuse. However, right at the outset we had vowed to accept all the love. Our entire trip was funded in a matter of days.

I have trouble talking about this. I completely understand that people in our community  were searching for a way to express their love and sorrow. I fully process that this trip was a means to let our friends express the love and compassion tied up in their hearts. We are forever thankful for the almost absurd amount of loved ones we have in our life. We cannot begin to imagine facing the death of Keller without our Lord and His army. It is heartbreaking to imagine someone in the throes of the death of a loved one without the Lord to light the path.  I look at my life and see nearly literal mountains of blessings. So many others need copious and absurd amounts of lavish love as well.  So many do not have an army surrounding them  ready to answer their every need and desire. This twists up my heart in a really complicated and convicting way. We should freely give and receive love to all. I know that I am a part of that all, and I need the active love of God as much as anyone. I just long to freely and abundantly pour the love of Jesus to those huddled in a dark corner utterly alone. I struggle to know how this will play out in my life, but I’m ready. I want a love that showers blessings on everyone in my community and then goes out seeks to love those without community. It’s such a radical and big love. It’s an intimidating love. It’s God-sized love and I want it. I have been shown God-sized love over and over and over and over. Lord – lead us down a path delivers heaps of Your love to those without.

I have yet to send out a thank you card to everyone who showered life-giving love on us. (I hate myself for this. There is no excuse. I so desperately want to convey the full extent of my love and thanks to each person that has touched our lives, that I am often painfully slow in acknowledging and expressing thankfulness to our loved ones. From the very bottom of my heart, please forgive me.) I want to (and will) acknowledge each and every act of love offered up on our behalf. Not a single card was “lost amongst the shuffle”. Love and empathy was felt in each and every card. We will forever cherish your kind words and thoughtfulness. Your gift has shown a light on a period when only chaotic darkness surrounded me. If you have reached out and not yet recieved a thank you – Thank You. Thank you for surrounding us on every side with the mighty love of Jesus. Thank you for being Jesus.

I am very humbled writing this post. I have no words to express the thankfullness in our hearts. This is an incredibly feeble attempt to thank our people for loving us with a God-sized love in our darkest hour. I wish you all could use a telescope, peep inside my heart, and whatever picture you saw would some how accurately convey everything we are feeling. Until such a telescope is invented, please accept our feeble attempt at, “Thank you”. And now – let’s bring that Love to everyone.

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Lavish love.

 

 

We drove home. We pulled into our parking spot. Nathan helped me out of the car and we tenderly walked toward our steps. My friend Megan was stopping by our neighbor’s house  with her precious son when we arrived. I remember hugging her and crying in each others arms. I remember squeezing her little boy – so warm and alive. It felt as if we had been in a time capsule. We had stepped out into a brand new world. We had new eyes and the way we perceived everything had changed.

We walked through our front door. Mary and I had made a giant “Welcome Home Keller” banner and hung it on our wall. It was the only thing I asked be taken down before we arrived. It was quite a loud reminder of something of which I needed no reminder. My parents, my sister, and Mary were all home. The weight of simply stepping into a home prepared perfectly for Keller was staggering. His rock-and-play sat in the corner. The nursing pillow and burp rags were placed near the rocking chair. His crib was snuggled next to our bed. I’m fairly certain I even had his activity mat set up, complete with toys long enough for a newborn to swat. Everything was ready for a son that would never come home. A brain in such distress simply cannot process so much stimuli at once. There were many, MANY times in the following days and weeks, that (just like a newborn) I would become easily over stimulated and have to retreat for a bit in order to weep and regroup. Our bedroom became our sanctuary. Our house was soon bursting with family and loved ones. The noise and life brought incredible comfort, but it was often too much for us to participate in. So, we would excuse ourselves to our bedroom and weep all we needed. Just hearing loved ones surrounding us on the other side of the door was comfort.

I need to pay tribute to the family that surrounded us in those following days and weeks – another verse to our “love song” if you will.

I don’t think either of us had quite imagined that our entire families would show up in such large ways. The presence of each and every family member was profoundly felt, even if they were not able to be with us physically. For some reason it just didn’t cross our minds that our families would rally so quickly, fully, and selflessly. But they did. Our hearts had a difficult time processing and accepting the lavish love showered on us. We decided rather quickly that we would accept all love that came our way without protest. It’s sometimes hard to humble yourself to accept the lovingkindness of others. The Lord was working in mighty ways through everyone around us and we really needed to allow Him to work. We vowed to one day return the same love to those in the deep inside the pit.

Nathan’s parents flew in that evening and we all hugged and wept. A family from church housed them and gave them a car to use for as long as they needed. The next day Nathan’s sister, brother-in-law, and our newest niece Livia arrived. This was possible because Nathan’s other sister SELFLESSLY offered to keep the two older nieces while the rest of the family traveled. My brother also arrived thanks to the incredible generosity of my grandmother. She paid for anyone and everyone who needed aid in flying to be with us in our moment of need. My aunt flew in from West Texas to tightly hug our necks and just “be” with us. Big, giant, lavish love.

My entire immediate family stayed in our tiny apartment. Nathan and I in our room. My sister and Mary in the other. My parents on our couch and an air mattress, and my brother on a camping pad in our living room/kitchen. (The first evening he tried to use the camping pad and sleeping bag and sleep on our deck. We shared this deck with our other neighbors – two kind and unsuspecting bachelors. I believe one of them saw Caleb and just said, “Hey man. You ok?” To which my brother answered, “Yup.” I love you Caleb.)


Nathan’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece slept downstairs in our neighbor’s bedroom. Our neighbors, or rather BFNFL (Best friends and neighbors for life), gave them their own room and slept on the couch for their entire stay. Nathan’s parents stayed only 10 minutes away. The rest of our family may have been an entire country length away, but they all felt incredibly near. They were present in phone calls, text messages, meals, flowers, gift boxes, and cards. We were flooded with love.

I look at pictures, and I can transport back to those moments. I can feel the warmth of the apartment. I can hear the laughter. I can smell the food, the LAVISH amounts of food, provided by everyone in our tribe. I am so thankful for the moments that we all sat in our crowded 350ft² living room and were united in sorrow, love, and Jesus. I am so thankful for the moments of laughter and camaraderie I heard on the other side of our bedroom door. The noise of life happening around us was so deeply comforting. We couldn’t always join in. Nathan and I often needed time alone to pour our souls each other and to the Lord. We were often to weak to even sit up. We had to lay prostrate and mourn.

Our family filled in every gap. They cared for Mary with every possible ounce of love they had to offer. They put aside their own grief to pour love all over our 2 year old baby girl. We had all the time we needed to be alone and intensely grieve, without ever once having to worry about the well-being and happiness of Mary. She was spoiled a LOT, and I’m just so glad. Everyone pulled together to make decisions, and keep our apartment clean and running smoothly. It never felt crowded or burdensome – only filled with love. There are so many large and important decisions that must be made following a death. We did not have the strength to make any more decisions than were necessary. My sister, in her masterful Executive Assistant ways, booked flights, contacted funeral homes and cremation services, and even reorganized our pantry. Our family became our liaisons to the outside world. They orchestrated food delivery and meal times. We were in such a thick fog in the days following Keller’s death. I’m certain our family filled in more gaps than we are even aware. It is a gift and a blessing to be able sit in the house of mourning without interruption.

Most are not blessed with the kind of families the Lord lavishly gave us. We are keenly aware of our VERY blessed lives. We both have families who were ready to give everything they have in order to serve us in the best possible way. We praise you Lord.

We are so thankful to the Lord for placing us in families that have deep devotion to each other and a steady and abiding trust in our Creator. We are unworthy. All we can do is shout songs of thankfulness for the love He has given us through you.

We pray we can continue pour this incredible experience of love we had on others. It is the best way we know to honor our son and serve our King.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Romans 12:10 ESV

“Outdo”. I like this. It conveys a message of pouring out an over the top, selfless, and lavish love. Lord, put this love in my heart and may it always pour out on those who need it most.

Goodbye.

I  imagine it’s a universally difficult task to choose when to say goodbye to the body of a loved one. It darkens the room like a storm-filled cloud. The thunder of the imminent moment constantly rumbles in the distance. One of the first things Nathan said after Keller was born was, “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”

For Keller, there came a time when he began to lose his newborn appearance. Bodies are meant to be living. Bodies are created to have blood and life coursing through every square inch. When life has left a body the physical appearance of your loved one relatively rapidly disappears. It’s interesting. Bodies are meant to be living. Death is not from God.

We set a rather arbitrary time to say goodbye. We decided that between 6 and 7 a.m., we would kiss our son for the last time.

Around 6 a.m. everyone left the room and gave Nathan, myself, and Keller time alone as a family. Another wave crashed overhead and hurled us to our knees. We held our son and mournfully wept with the bitter assurance that we would never hold him, or see him again in this life. There are no words available that can capture this moment. You are met face to face with the stark contrast of the living and the dead, of the physical earth and life to come. It is too large a truth to process or articulate. We were just still, and in the presence of God. We prayed as a family.

Keller never opened his eyes. There was no life in his perfect body to tell his eyelids to lift. In the few final moments we had with Keller, we opened up his eyes and we were met with the most stunning crystal blue eyes ever known. They weren’t just blue, they were almost an icy blue, and they were all Keller’s. Our blue eyed boy. Just like his daddy.

After the wave of saying goodbye crashed and eased into shore, we FaceTimed Nathan’s parents. They were getting on a plane shortly, but they wouldn’t make it in time to hold their first grandson. I’m so thankful for the gift of technology. Across the country, they were able to meet Keller Norman Bartlett. We all cried and virtually held each other. We all remarked on his handsome perfection. We all worked to pour every ounce of love we had over him.

The Lord, in His almighty, perfect, and wondrous goodness placed another blanket of peace around Nathan and I’s shoulders. It was time. The Lord would strengthen and sustain us. 48 hours earlier we were eagerly awaiting his arrival. 24 hours later we were reeling from the shock of his death. Now we were saying goodbye. We welcomed my parents and Wendy to come back in and say their goodbyes as well. Perfect, selfless love filled the room.

I took off his hat and, tears streaming down my cheeks, handed him to the nurse. She tenderly wrapped him in blankets. She made certain his tiny body was nice and cozy. She wheeled his hospital cradle near my bed so that Nathan and I could touch him one last time. She quietly wheeled him out of the room, my dad stopping to kiss him one last time.

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And he was gone. That was the last time we were with Keller. His first birthday is approaching, but I truly just ache to my core to hold a newborn baby and for a moment feel the weight of Keller in my arms. I always take notice of one year old boys waddling and babbling about. It’s a short glimpse of my son and the life we never knew. In many ways though, Keller is forever a newborn baby. Every time I see a newborn fresh with life, I see Keller, because that is the only way I have ever known him. He will always be 8 lbs 5 oz, 21.5 inches and perfect. Nathan captured our sentiments perfectly,

“With Mary, and other kids, they’re always growing and changing. I put a picture of a newborn Mary on my desk, and a year later she looked completely different. Keller never aged. When we said goodbye to him, the way he looks in his pictures, that’s the only way he ever looked. The Bible gives us brief glimpses of Heaven, but we still can’t fully fathom what eternal life with God will be like. I don’t know what Keller will look like when I meet him someday, but I’m very excited to find out.”

Bodies are created for life. I know so little about eternity. I rest knowing God is creator. He is real. He is love. He promised life forever with Him. No more goodbyes. No more moments of devastating finality – just presence. I’m ready for that eternal moment Keller Feller. I’m excited to see you, with the life and love of the Lord coursing through every square inch of your forever body.

7 hours.

We spent 7 hours with Keller. 7 incredible hours. 7 heart breaking hours.  I have moments when I believe 7 hours was the perfect amount of time with Keller’s body, and I bask in the beauty of those 7 hours. I have moments when I believe 7 hours wasn’t even close to enough time, and I rage at myself for not clinging to his body for as long as humanly possible. I still have a lot of rage in my heart. I am so incredibly angry. I’m angry at death. I’m angry that the plans I had laid out for our family are shattered. I’m angry that it has been an entire year.  I’m just really angry. I think anger is ok though. Death isn’t what God meant for us. His intention has always been that eternal moment.

Eyes closed, I stroked Keller’s tiny hands, and really, I swelled with pride as any mother would. He wasn’t alive, but he was still every bit as much my boy – Our son. I had just given birth to Keller Norman Bartlett. The Lord gifted me a few moments to swim in motherly pride.

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Everyone let me know that I could hold onto Keller for as long as I wanted. No one rushed or interrupted our time with him.  I scooped him up into my arms and protectively cradled him. I didn’t let anyone else hold him for a while. I couldn’t bring myself to even offer. I needed to hold him. I needed to not let him go.

Nathan had a difficult time holding Keller. Holding a stillborn baby is nothing like holding a living newborn child. Every movement of his tiny body reinforced that he was very much gone from this life. Holding Keller made Nathan angry. His pallor, his heaviness, his cool skin, his floppy limbs all screamed that he would never live. As Wendy put it, “Giving birth to a lifeless, silent baby felt wrong on every level.” Holding Keller reaffirmed that Nathan’s son was dead, and this filled him with rage. Just wake up! Why won’t you wake up!? Just open your eyes! Nothing can change this reality. Death is infuriating. Death should make us angry. I feel comfortable being angry with death. Death is not from God.

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It took a couple of hours for everyone to become adjusted to the reality of Keller’s appearance. Once we all settled in to the shock, we worked to breathe in every moment.

Nathan cut the cord. What is generally a moment of pride, tasted incredibly bitter.

I’ve yet to share with many people, but I’m certain many are curious as to just what happened to our healthy and thriving boy. Keller’s umbilical cord got wrapped around his ankle and formed a tight knot. This knot cut his growing body off from his life source. In what we have learned was likely a span of 10 minutes, his heart stopped beating and he met eternity. There is a lot about the simplicity of his death that brings me comfort. There is a lot about the simplicity of his death that fills me with anger. I want to scream and break things fairly often.

Abby arrived shortly after Keller was born and captured our precious few moments with our son. We were all so proud. He was just so perfect. I got my mom to pull out a few things I had packed for him in our hospital bag – his baby brother shirt and a crocheted cap. The hat fit his head just right.

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Nathan climbed into bed next to me and we took time to adore each inch of Keller. I can still feel his weight in my arms. I can still imagine the temperature of his skin. We road out the highs and the lows of the waves with Keller in our arms. We would stare at him and weep bitter tears of anguish. We would stare at him and beam the love God ties up in the hearts of parents. It’s a love that allows us to more clearly and intimately understand the love the Lord has for us. He calls us his children. His love is infinitely more perfect than mine will ever be, so my brain can’t even begin to imagine the fierce love for us He has tied up in His heart.

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I spread out his receiving blanket, swaddled him, and nestled him into my chest. Nathan pressed in close to both of us. And then, we all napped. I let Keller know that napping on top of your mommy’s chest is pretty much the absolute BEST thing about being a newborn, so I’m glad he got to experience it. We really truly all fell asleep in each others arms. It was bliss. Sorrowful bliss.

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My parents then took turns holding him. (Not for very long, as I said, my mommy arms desperately needed him.) I know it was torture bearing witness to their first born writhing in the pain of the sudden death of her son. The Lord strengthened them. They strengthened me. The sacrificial love of Jesus filled each and every soul in that room.

Nathan. Oh my Nathan. You are my hero. You are my champion. I need to let you all know the immense love Nathan personified that day. I think Wendy captured it perfectly,

“He was never away from your side, never shirking back, never seeming to have any needs of his own, wholly focused on being with you through this and sharing in it all WITH you as completely as he possibly could. He was Jesus in the room.”

It was no longer he that lived, but Christ in Nathan. Thank you. With every ounce of everything I have to give, thank you.

Due to the anesthesia, I couldn’t yet move my legs, so my mom, dad, and our nurse weighed and measure Keller on the other side of the room. Truthfully, I also had a very difficult time seeing his body behave so unnaturally. I needed to hold him and be with him in as newborn like of a state as possible. So my parents took on the task of unwrapping his swaddle and gently laying him on the table to gather his weight and height.

8 lbs 5 oz. 21.5 in. And aren’t those tiny feet darling? New wrinkly baby feet are good for the soul.

 

The entire gamut of emotions intertwined in those seven hours, and honestly, they harmonized perfectly. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows. He isn’t confused by or scared of our emotions. He sees us and reaches out his hand with compassion. He held us in his hand that day. He’s holding me in his hand right now. That’s the only power I have to relive and write all these memories. It’s divine power.

7 hours. I hate that I only had 7 hours with you Keller. I love that I had 7 full hours with you son. I am furious that you were so perfect, but still completely lifeless. I am thankful that though your tiny body was completely lifeless, you still looked so perfect and so like our son.

Thank you Lord for knowing my heart. Thank you for seeing past the warring emotions that cloud my view. Thank you for an absolutely perfect 7 hours with our son.

This is God.

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Around 11 p.m. things began changing. It became clear that Keller would be born shortly. Our Doctor and nurses began getting the room prepared. A huge swell of emotion broke over us – this was it. It was time. The wave crashed over us. We spun and sputtered in the water.  The wave broke, and we eased into shore. Every time we had to meet a seemingly insurmountable task, the waves broke. The water would become still, even for only a moment, and allow us to come to our feet and meet the next wave face to face. This is God.

I made a play list for delivering Keller. It was filled with songs that inspired me to deeper trust and communion with the Lord. We were trying to get the music to play before I began pushing. We kept fiddling with it and the phone kept telling us that the music was playing, but we couldn’t hear anything. We quickly realized that when we pressed play on my phone, the play list began playing on our home computer. Which means at about 11:45 p.m. our neighbor Christine shot up in terror on our couch because incredibly loud hymns began mysteriously playing from our computer. This makes me laugh every time. I was talking with Christine about this a few days ago, and she said that the more she thought about that moment, the more she saw it as a “God moment”. She didn’t know how or what happened, but she did stop and pray, moments before we began pushing Keller’s body into this world. This is God.

We figured out the music and “Be Strong and Courageous” began playing as I began pushing.

“The Lord goes before you through the trouble and strife and he will protect you all the days of your life. He’ll never forsake you. Don’t be afraid.” 

His delivery was beautiful. I pushed for 15 minutes. I was surrounded by loved ones, an incredible medical team, prayers of the saints, angel armies, and the Holy Spirit. I could focus in and tell my body just what it needed to do to push our son’s body into this world. “How Great is Our God” played when his lifeless body was effortlessly delivered at 11:57 p.m., just in time to make his due date, and Keller entered my arms. This is God.

“How great is our God. Sing with me, How great is our God. And ALL WILL SEE How Great is our God.”

This moment. Oh this moment. Keller was not alive. His body was limp and lifeless. His body was cold and grey. His death became reality. Every ounce of hope vanished for everyone in the room. This moment brought Nathan, my parents, Wendy, my Doctor, and the nurses to their knees. They all quite literally hit the ground and cried and screamed out in desperation. Anger filled the room. No. No. No. No! Keller was so very dead. Everyone was forced to face his little body and fully accept right in that moment that our son would never cry out or breathe. 

My mom became ill and nearly threw up. Our Doctor (our wonderful, incredible, God-given doctor [more to come on her goodness later]) held my parents as they all sat on the ground and audibly cried out in pain of the assurance of his death. I remember Nathan falling to his knees in a sorrow I never knew existed. We raged at his death. Everyone could barely look at sweet Keller because the more we stared at him the more we had to accept his death. The more we had to accept that we would never know our son in this life. The moment Keller was born the fragile glimmer of hope we had all been tenderly cradling dropped to the ground and shattered. It shattered and it was heard in the wailing of those that loved Keller most.

But for me, for me it was different. The doctor immediately placed Keller on my stomach. I was holding my son. I couldn’t look at him, but I could hold his tiny hands. Tears fell down my cheeks. I had delivered our son. I was his mommy, and I was holding our boy. I lay there for a long time, eyes closed, holding and rubbing Keller’s sweet newborn hands. I could hear the chaos death causes around me, but for that moment, I was at peace. The Lord caused the peace that absolutely surpasses all understanding to blanket over me. It’s the most “present” I have ever been. It was a “Heaven moment”. This is God.

The crushing wave broke momentarily and eased my family and loved ones ashore. They were able to come up from their knees and meet Keller. I didn’t want anyone to move him off of me, but I did want everyone to touch him. I remember saying, “Holding his hands is absolutely incredible. I can’t look at him quite yet, but feeling his weight on me and holding his hands is amazing. You should all come and touch him. Come meet Keller and touch his sweet little body.” I can so perfectly recall holding tightly to Keller in those initial moments. Nothing will ever feel as incredible as it felt to hold Keller. “He’s a big boy. This is an 8 lb. baby.” And he was. I sat there and stroked his hands and basked in the peace of being united with our son. 

I finally was able to look down and scoop him up into my arms. I cried as I cradled him in my arms. I was immediately fiercely protective of Keller. I wanted him to have as many baby moments as we could fit in. I wanted his lifeless body to be respected and treated as if it were a screaming and thriving newborn. I held Keller close and Nathan and I looked at our son together. All three of us sat there in that moment and let every emotion that came with it wash over us – anger, love, devotion, grief, hopelessness, emptiness, fear, trust, devastation, brokenness, helplessness, peace. It was the most intense and beautiful moment I have ever known. This is God.

True Worship.

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Sitting down to write about our labor with Keller is daunting. That delivery room was such a sacred space. I desperately want to accurately and respectfully portray the holiness of that day and space.

Every labor is momentous. It is a giant task bringing a child into this world. When I began to go into labor with Mary we were flooded with emotion. The responsibility of delivering our daughter lay before us. It was probably equal parts responsibility, respect for what was about to occur, and excitement because in just a few short hours we would get to hold our very own real, live daughter. Laboring with Keller was starkly different. We fully realized the responsibility before us and respected the process of labor, but we were void of any sort of excitement to motivate us to keep moving forward. Labor is difficult in the best of circumstances. It is especially difficult for the mother, and all of her loved ones, to labor knowing the outcome will shatter your world.

We were wheeled into our room shortly after Wendy arrived. I was scared. I didn’t know why Keller died. Was I going to die too? Was it something wrong with my body that caused Keller’s heart to stop beating? I remember looking at our Doctor and saying “I’m trusting you. I need you to keep me ok. I need you to promise me that.” I wanted my husband and daughter to be protected. I needed to be there for them as we sorted through the rubble of losing Keller. I remember at some point allowing my mind to let go of the worry of my own death. My vitals were wonderful and Keller deserved my undivided attention. The Lord lifted that burden off of my heart.

The nurse cried with me and as tenderly as possible, gathered all my information, and prepared me for induction. I chose to get an epidural before they induced me with Pitocin. I couldn’t bring myself to fight through physical pain as well as  emotional and mental torment. The epidural did not take properly at first. Minutes after it was placed, my ears started ringing, I became nauseous, and I started to black out. “Something’s not right. Something’s not right.” Nathan and Wendy helped sit me up and put my head between my knees. I asked Wendy if she had any oils I could smell. She handed me Peppermint and Lemon. So now and forever, Keller will smell like Peppermint and Lemon – it’s his scent. I like that I have scent to for always know Keller by. The oils eased the nausea and helped me focus in just enough to stay present. After determining that I could still completely feel my bottom half, the doctors put in a new epidural. This one took well and allowed me to labor almost completely free of physical pain. (Fact: As tiny as I am, it takes an absurd amount of anesthesia to knock me out.) The administered Pitocin, and the 18 hours of labor began.

The labor came in giant, crashing, tsunami-like waves. Nathan and I would hold each other and weep bitterly. Anguish coursed through our veins. We would have moments where each of us would absolutely crumble beneath the weight of it all. And then, for a moment, the wave would subside and a moment of relief and lightheartedness would come. It would give us the strength we needed to face the next imminent and roaring wave.

I have to pause to admit that finding the ability to tell this story is really escaping me. I miss that day so much. I feel so protective about that day. If I could have one thing in life, it would be to go back in and live that day all over again. I know that sounds bizarre. That was the day, the only day, I got to be with our son. That day I sat at the feet of God. I was held in His hand. I was in His presence. Everything about that room and day was safe and protected by our Lord. It is absolutely impossible to capture the glory that occurred. My words can’t and won’t capture it. That being said, I’ll do my best to share any glimpse of glory I can.

Wendy massaged my feet and belly as the contractions began. She prayed over us. My parents were on a plane within a few hours. It was a comfort knowing they were coming to be right at our side. At times, we all wept collectively. At times, we took turns being crushed by the weight of Keller’s death. At times, we read over and praised God for each message and prayer we had received. At times, we reflected on the lessons we had already learned in just a few short hours. At times, we got hungry and I begged for (and got) popsicles and jello. At times, we researched our upcoming Hawaii trip. At times, we laughed till we cried. Anyone who has ever experienced intense sorrow knows that it is impossible to sustain bitter weeping for hours on end. Your mind, body, and soul need a moment of rest before tackling the next wave of grief.

The labor progressed slowly for the first 12 hours. My body was contracting, but it wasn’t quite ready to let go of our son. This was disheartening. We desperately wanted to meet him. An article had gone viral not long before Keller was born – A mother delivered what the doctors had determined to be a stillborn child, and after minutes of the mother holding him tightly, a heartbeat was detected and the baby was indeed alive. This article was in the back of my mind the entire labor. I knew, my heart knew, my body knew, the fetal monitors knew, but a mother can’t help but cling to any hope that may be present. Nathan clung to the hope even tighter than I did. He thought if we could just get him out, maybe there is faint heartbeat. Maybe they can rush him to the NICU. Maybe, just maybe, he will live.

My parents arrived around the 11th hour of labor and from there, things began to progress more rapidly. As Wendy said, I was waiting for them. My mom immediately crawled into bed with me and held me tight. Tears flowed down our cheeks as we just held onto each other. My dad wept as he kissed my head and laid his hand on my stomach, on Keller. We all sat together and labored. Each person in that room labored just as I did. My parents were at the ready to be everything we needed. They would deliver a light hearted topic to talk about when my mind started to go to dark places. They would leave the room and allow Nathan and I to hold each other and discuss next steps. They coordinated a friend to bring food so everyone could get a bit of sustenance. They read us messages from loved ones in agony over our loss. We even played “Heads Up” for a bit. My brain was beyond spent. It need any tiny, half-second break it could get.

We got picture updates from our friends caring for Mary. She was smiling at the park, completely unaware of what had happened. Those pictures were so hard to see. It was hard to face the fact that Mary would never know her brother. It broke us every time. Mary sustained us too. We wanted to hold her as close as we could, as quickly as we could, and cry and praise God for our breathing and thriving daughter.

By the time my body was ready to deliver, the Doctor who had told us we lost Keller was back for her next shift. This was the same doctor I made promise would take care of me. She would deliver Keller. This was the poetic providence of God.

Coincidentally enough, today is Labor Day and I am working as hard as I can to convey to our “Labor Day” to you. It truly is impossible.

Just know, everyone who entered that room was altered. The Lord’s presence was tangible. He sustained us and provided in incredible ways. It was the most worshipful act I will ever be apart of. I would labor over and over if that meant I could be in that close of contact with my son and our Lord. Jesus sacrificial love was magnified. Prayers of the saints were blanketed on top of us. It was worship in its truest form.

I miss you Keller. I will love you and labor each and every day to hold you again.