The Worst Easter Ever

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In March of last year my wife, Kim, opened up a letter that would shape our lives for the next four years.

It was “Match Day” and along with thousands of other medical students across the country she was finding out which residency program she had matched with.

To our great surprise, we discovered we be moving from Tennessee to Connecticut.

Around this same time we had another surprise – Kim was pregnant.

Needless to say, that time was a whirlwind of emotions. We were thrilled to finally be expecting a child after years of trying, shocked that we would be moving across the country, and excited about the prospects the future held.

Within a day or two of finding out we were making the trek to New England, we contacted a real estate agent in the area and made arrangements for a frantic search for a new home in Connecticut. Kim may have matched to a new program, but medical school was still going strong. At the same time I was busy at work, preparing to take my youth group on an international mission trip that summer, while also getting ready to start my own program at Yale. So our house hunting trip had to be brief, not much longer than an episode of House Hunters on HGTV.

The plan was to travel up the first week of April. We would attend an Admitted Student Day at Yale, then spend a couple of days frantically trying to find a place to live, before rushing back to Tennessee in time for Easter Sunday (since Easter isn’t really a day you can take off when you work for a church).

As I said, as crazy as it all was, we were really excited. Kim had matched at a program she really liked, I was thrilled to have the chance to study at Yale, and we were finally expecting after years of waiting, trying, and praying for a child.

Unfortunately, our excitement faded quickly.

On our flight to Connecticut Kim began to experience back pains. Our minds immediately jumped to the worst. During our layover, the pain got worse and I could tell from the look in my wife’s eyes that she was seriously worried.

The double edge sword of being in medicine is that while you may have the confidence and ability treat all sorts of ailments, you are also keenly aware how quickly things can turn, and how even the best doctors can sometimes do nothing to stop the inevitable.

Seeing the worried look in her eyes and watching her struggle in pain I felt helpless.

Hundreds of miles from home all we could do was check into our hotel and wait at see what would happen.

The next morning we were scheduled to attend the Admitted Student Day at Yale. To our great relief Kim was feeling much better than she had the day before. The back pain seemed to be gone which meant we could finally concentrate on the business at hand – finding a place to live.

The day started off well, but it didn’t stay that way for long.

The pain came back. It wasn’t at constant at first, but it kept coming back stronger and more frequently each time. Worried that the worst could be happening and unable to reach Kim’s doctor in Tennessee, we decided to make the short trip across state lines to Massachusetts where my wife’s sister was a midwife and would be able to get us in to the midwifery clinic she worked at.

During the two and a half hour drive there the pain just got worse, while my sense of helplessness and our hopelessness grew.

After picking up my sister-in-law we finally made it to the clinic where they had been kind enough to stay late so one of the nurses could perform an ultrasound on Kim and find out exactly what was going on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself sitting in a doctor’s office during a time like this, but it is a completely surreal experience. Everyone in the room knows the gravity of the situation and yet we all inexplicably feel the need to uphold a sense of decorum and professionalism.

It’s almost other worldly.

But we quickly came crashing back down to earth once the ultrasound began and learned the news we had been dreading to hear.

There was no heartbeat.

Our dreams of having a child would have to wait, snuffed out before our very eyes.

As the reality of the situation was beginning to sink in, the nurse warned us that the miscarriage would probably kick in full swing soon as the body began the natural and painful process or ridding itself of the failed chance at life.

She was right.

It happened almost immediately after the ultrasound was over.

I’ve never seen my wife in so much pain before.

I’ve never felt so helpless before.

Neither of us had ever been so heartbroken.

And in the midst of our personal hell we were supposed to find a house. We had to find a house. This was our only chance to do so. We didn’t have the time or money to come back to Connecticut to look again and we certainly didn’t want to blindly rent a place we had only seen pictures of.

So, we decided to head back to my in-laws apartment to try and figure out what to do.

It didn’t take long to come to the realization that Kim wouldn’t be able to do anything that weekend. She was in so much pain she couldn’t even get off the couch, let alone make the drive back to Connecticut and search for a house. But we had to find a place to live.

Which meant I had to leave and go at it alone.

Yes, Kim told me to go and, yes, she was in great hands at her sister’s apartment with a sister and brother-in-law who could not have been more supportive throughout our ordeal, but leaving the apartment that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and the prospect of driving back to Connecticut alone only to get up and feign normalcy with a real estate agent I didn’t want to drag into our hell was another nightmare I wasn’t looking forward to.

The drive back was the loneliest two and a half hours of my life. My emotions were so raw I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the radio. I didn’t want to hear anyone experiencing any sort of joy when I was hurting so much. So I sat in silence with nothing but my thoughts and the constant reminder of a wife wrenched in pain on a couch that was getting further and further away with every mile that I drove.

By the time I crossed the Connecticut state line I was at the end of my rope, drained completely of all emotions, when words I had not thought of or even heard in years began to flood my mind….

When peace, like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio Spafford wrote those words after learning that his family whom he had sent ahead of him to America from Europe had died when their ship sank during the trans-Atlantic voyage.

Before that moment alone in my car in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, I had never really understood how painful it must have been for Spafford to write those words or how strangely comforting they could be when your worst nightmares come true.

Without even knowing why or really being able to stop myself from doing so I found myself doing the last thing I ever thought I would do only hours removed from learning of the death of what would have been my first child.

I began to quietly sing.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.

If you know me at all, then you know this is not the sort of thing is not me at all. I’m not a sappy person. I avoid cheesiness like it’s the plague and mystical encounters with God are not something I ever claim to experience.

And yet God is the only source I can point to tell you why I found myself breaking the silence of a lonely car ride with a hymn I hadn’t sung in years.

I wish I could tell you that it felt like God was sitting next to me. It didn’t. I wish I could tell you that these words of peace made everything better that night. They didn’t. I only slept that night because I was completely exhausted.

But it was a simple gift of grace I will always be grateful for.

The next day wasn’t any better as I glossed over my wife’s absence by telling the real estate agent that she was feeling under the weather and decided to stay back at the hotel. Things only got worse as we visited the potential houses and the real estate agent took every opportunity to show me how the extra bedroom in each one could easily be converted into a nursery, not knowing we no longer had a need for one.

After the house hunting trip from hell, I arrived back at the hotel to find my wife was back and, thankfully, feeling better. We talked about the houses I saw and she was even able to get out to see one for herself, the one we eventually decided to rent.

But our long slow nightmare wasn’t over.

We still had to go home and face a church on Easter Sunday that didn’t even know we were expecting, let alone that we had just had a miscarriage.

As many couples in our situation choose to do, we decided to remain silent about what had happened. Not out of embarrassment, but because we didn’t want to blindside everyone and drag them into our personal hell.

If it had been any other day but Easter I would have called in sick. But it was the biggest day on the church calendar and I had to be there, no matter how much I dreaded it.

For me, it was as awkward and draining as I expected it to be. By the time the service was over I was emotionally numb from pretending everything was ok.

But like He did for me in that lonely car ride home only a few days earlier, God spoke a word of peace to my wife during the service. This time the words of peace came our associate pastor Lora Jean who, though unaware of our plight, delivered the most perfect sermon an expecting mother could hope to hear after enduring such a nightmare.

Like preachers everywhere that Easter Sunday morning, Lora Jean preached on the resurrection, but she brought a point of view to the age old story that I had never considered and which my wife will never forget.

She talked about Mary and what she must have been going through as she walked to the tomb that first Easter.

Only days earlier, Mary had stood at the feet of the cross and watched her first born child die in front of her very eyes. When we talk about that first Easter today it’s framed in expected celebration almost as if Mary knew what was about to happen. But she didn’t. She wasn’t coming to the tomb to celebrate, but to mourn.

When my wife went to church that Sunday morning a year ago, just like Mary, she wasn’t going to celebrate, but to mourn the loss of what would have been her first child.

But like Mary, she was met with unexpected hope. Our child did not come back to life, but God met Kim during that service with words of peace  and a reminder that she wasn’t alone. Countless women had endured the same pain she was experiencing – including the mother of God. But God did not abandon Mary in her despair, nor would He abandon Kim.

Like He had for me in that lonely car ride home only a few days earlier, God brought peace and hope to my wife during the darkest days of our marriage. The peace of knowing that she was not alone and the hope that one day new life might spring again.

It didn’t make things go away instantly. There were countless difficult days afterwards that in which we both found ourselves once again in tears, wondering how God could have let it all go so wrong.

To be honest, there are still plenty of days when I get angry with God over what happened.

But despite our anger and despair, that weekend God had given us enough peace to see another day and sufficient hope to join with Horatio Spafford in singing,

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.

One year and another miscarriage later, our faith is finally becoming sight.

This November, if all continues to go well, we will welcome our daughter into the world. 

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As excited as we both are I can’t tell you that the pain of last year doesn’t still linger. The tears still flowed as I wrote this post and remembered that hellish Easter weekend.

I also can’t tell you that all stories have a happy ending. Many times they don’t.

But from my own experience I can tell you that no matter what happens, God does not abandon His people.

I can tell you that God is faithful even when the all the evidence says otherwise.

And I can tell you that God is a God of peace and of hope and that God generously showers that peace and hope on us often when we least expect it.

He did for us.

And I hope God does the same for you.

Whenever.

Wherever.

And however you need it.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

  • Laura Hattaway

    Thanks for sharing your story. I just lost a baby three weeks ago (actually, probably earlier than that, but I realized it three weeks ago and am still in the physical process of everything; I realized for sure that the pregnancy was no longer viable two days before my husband and I left for a week in Haiti) and the song that came to mind is also a scripture. “I want to know Christ and the power of his rising; share in his suffering, conform to his death.” I realized that, in my truest moments, I did *not* want to share in Christ’s suffering. Can’t wait to hear the good news in November. :)

  • jaysonwhelpley

    This is a powerful and tough read any day. Thank you for sharing. My wife and I are headed in for our first ultrasound for our second kiddo. Congratulations on “November’!

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Zack, thank you for sharing this with us. What a poignant and heart rending look at grief and faith. That same song came to mind after my Grandma died several years ago and I had a similar reaction as you. Congratulations on the news of your daughter. Praying all goes well.

  • http://www.SpiritualAuthority.wordpress.com/ monax

    Zack,

    I know personally the anxious feelings of “Match Day.” A few years ago I sat in the med school’s auditorium with my then girlfriend waiting to find out from an envelope where she would be going. She had applied to several Derm programs from Boston to Chicago but didn’t make it into any of them. What a heart-break this was for her.

    I also know what it’s like to lose a child in the womb. Nearly half my life ago in my mid-twenties my fiancée lost our child in her first trimester. Goodness did I grow up fast when I realized I would be responsible for a wife and child! But God, however, decided to take our baby; the relationship didn’t last, and we never married.

    This Father’s Day I shared this loss with another man (a near stranger on a blog) who had lost a child and had expressed how painful Father’s Day was for him. I shared how I believe my departed child is capable of looking down on me from heaven, and how her felt oversight makes me happy and encourages me to be a better man—even a better father to the fatherless.

    But here’s the kicker! This Father’s Day (after sharing my loss with this man) I then (while watching golf) entered into a “conversation” with my heavenly child and was somehow led to name her. Actually, I believe she named herself. I never had a name for her—for my eternal child before. I have one now. Thought I’d share this much with you.

    Also, I signed my email up to follow your blog yesterday because I’m curious to read your “Blogmatics.” Fwiw, and as others expressed—I think doing a post on Theodicy would be especially helpful too.

    Blessings to you and Kim and your children!

    David from Pittsburgh

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    This is so gently and beautifully told. I was moved to tears. I like it when stories of suffering are told honestly, and this one was so full of the luminescence of Jesus. Thank you.

  • Chris Robey

    Man, thanks for sharing this. My wife and I had two miscarriages 2 months apart last year after a healthy pregnancy. As a husband, it is so hard to watch your wife go through something like that. It is a helpless feeling.

    And, I said some unkind things to God during the process too on behalf of my family. He took it.

    And, just like you guys we have a little one due in November.

    God is with us.

  • pastordt

    Many blessings as you wait during this tender time of both excitement and anxiety. You are brave to have a baby during medical residency!! Praying protection and grace over all three of you this morning.

  • Jo Inglis

    Thank you for sharing your story so honestly and those beautiful, deeply personal moments where God ministers quietly & directly to us (so it can only be meant for just us.)
    Also love the Banksy image & sent a card with it on to friends on the first birthday after their teenage son died – it is one of the most beautiful wordless images I have seen.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    Thank you for sharing your journey so openly. One of our MennoNerds is currently processing through miscarriage (20 days since “no heartbeat” and still no resolution). If you want the URL for the first in the blog series, let me know…

    …in the meantime, Congratulations on the expectations!

  • Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts

    Zack: I’ve been there. Twice. The third time…on 8/31/2011…I gave birth to a beautiful little girl named MaKayla. I’ll be keeping you and Kim in my prayers. On behalf of all the women and couples who have endured this, thanks for sharing your story. – TMLG

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I’m totally blown away by this Zack. What a terrible season to endure. I love the way God comes to meet us when we can’t even think straight enough to reach out to me. That’s one of the reasons why I still believe.

  • Brad

    My wife had a miscarriage years ago. Even after three healthy boys born after that, I still think about it from time to time and wonder what might have been. There are times when the raw emotion of that day creeps back in unexpectedly. May everything go well and normally this time around. You’re certainly not alone.

  • http://www.anamcara.com/ Tara M. Owens

    Zack… thank you. Such beautiful, harrowing words. As someone who’s had that hymn seemingly appear from nowhere—for me it was in the midst of having a heart attack—it was a grace to hear you describe the moment not as peace-filled (it sure wasn’t for me) but assuring.

    I can’t read that last stanza without crying. every. single. time.

  • Rebecca Erwin

    That hymn has carried me through most of my life. Holy Spirit sings it to me often within the deep well of my soul. Thank you for sharing your experience with true grace.

  • Debbie

    Zack and Kim,
    As an OB/GYN nurse of 30 yrs, a mom and a miscarriage survivor I feel your pain, your gratitude for God’s gracious mercy, and share your delight in the gift of new life. I also know that Kim will be a better doctor for the road you have travelled and that God has prepared your hearts well to minister to the many couples you will encounter who will need the love of those who have “been there”.
    Debbie Letteney, RN, MA Theology

    • Shelly Downing

      Debbie – what a small world! That is one of the things I delight in – the people God brings across our path. I was a small part of this story as I was at the midwifery clinic mentioned above, and work with the sister mentioned above, and have been rejoicing with the news of the new life coming: now I read your gracious comment and wonder if you remember me – I worked with you at Strong before I became a midwife and moved to Boston. (I have been there ever since, though at the moment I am in Haiti for a couple of weeks.)

      • Debbie

        Indeed a small world. Yes, I remember. You were a missionary kid who had your high school reunion at Hershey park! …and a wonderful nurse and sister in Christ. My son Mark and Zack are classmates at Yale. We are living in Raleigh. I “retired” from nursing education March 1 after winning a battle with breast cancer. Would love to connect with you.

        • Shelly Downing

          Debbie – I am sorry to hear that you have had breast cancer – thankful you have survived it. Yes, you remember me correctly – funny you remember about our high school reunion! our 20 year was in Myrtle Beach. :) I had planned on missions, but have been in Massachussetts since I left Rochester, though I do enjoy some short-term trips. I am in Haiti right now for a few weeks volunteering at a Birth Center.
          Zach’s wife’s sister is a midwife in our practice, and I was the one who talked to them that night (try not to let the midwife pride detract from the story :)) . It is so interesting to read a husband’s perspective, since we don’t usually get much of that.
          Do you enjoy Raleigh? I always thought I would move south for the warmth… may do that yet, though my sister is still in Rochester, so that keeps me north.
          Did you use your M.Div degree in Rochester? you were just getting that when I knew you. Thanks for connecting. Shelly

  • Shelly Downing

    REjoicing with you and Kim, Zack. So well-written. Thanks for sharing your journey. Kara’s co-worker, Shelly

  • Jan Moyer

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. God has been with us through some difficult times and we’ve been able to use those experiences to bless others and be more mindful of those dealing with a loss or hurt. Very inspiring – thanks.

  • ZackHunt

    I just wanted to offer a sincere word of thanks to all of you for sharing your own stories and for your kinds words. It really means a lot to both Kim and me.

    • Debbie

      Shelly and I are old friends, thanks for reuniting us.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Hello Zack and Kim –

    Congratulations on your baby girl. Thank you for sharing your story. We have a similar story and also can say with you the words you said:

    “…from my own experience I can tell you that no matter what happens, God does not abandon His people.
    I can tell you that God is faithful even when the all the evidence says otherwise.
    And I can tell you that God is a God of peace and of hope and that God generously showers that peace and hope on us often when we least expect it.”