not a normal birthday

Yesterday was my 27th birthday. I spent the day enjoying time with my family and just relaxing. In a lot of ways it felt like a normal birthday. But it was not a normal birthday, and all day, no matter what I was doing, all I could think about was how not normal this birthday was. On this birthday, a normal birthday should have meant celebrating my first birthday as a father. On this birthday, a normal birthday should have meant celebrating my birthday with a child. But it didn’t.

About eleven months ago, after just one month of trying, my wife and I learned that she was pregnant with our first baby. We were filled with so much joy and anticipation. But that exuberance was also tempered by anxiety. We eagerly awaited our first doctor’s appointment and when we finally made it and had our first ultrasound, we found that the baby was not as far along as expected, so we needed to wait another week before we could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Not bad news, but not great for our already fraying nerves either.

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A week later we were back in the doctor’s office for a second ultrasound where we saw the baby was still not as far along as we would’ve expected, but we also heard what we thought was our baby’s heartbeat! Still, even this exciting news was balanced by nervousness as we were scheduled for a third ultrasound just a week later to make sure we heard a stronger heartbeat.

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Once again, a week later we waited nervously to hear our baby’s heartbeat. This time though, the baby still looked small and there was no heartbeat at all. A few excruciating minutes later, the doctor confirmed that our first pregnancy was ending in a miscarriage.

We were devastated. All of the intensity of the joy and excitement we had felt had been turned to grief, fear, confusion, and sadness. In the coming weeks, Kristina and I often found ourselves being overcome by these emotions. We had the support and encouragement of our family and friends, and that encouragement was truly amazing. But I can remember more than one occasion when a well-meaning family member or friend would say something in an effort to be positive, not realizing how unhelpful the comments really were. Other times, I felt as if I had to bury my own grief so that I could be strong for Kristina. Virtually all of the focus in the aftermath of a miscarriage is on the mother, and of course, this makes complete sense, especially because the mother has to deal not only with intense emotions, but also with the extremely difficult physical realities of miscarriage which only serve as a terrible reminder of the pain. But because of this focus, it’s easy for the father to forget to feel his own grief, and I often found myself trying to push my sadness aside so that I could try to take care of Kristina. In those moments, I remember feeling so alone.

In reality, I was never alone. Not only did we have so many who opened up and shared their own stories of miscarriage and pregnancy loss (those are the people who have inspired me to share our story), but because of my relationship with Christ, I had access to the ultimate comforter and encourager. In those first couple of weeks after learning of the miscarriage, I read a lot about miscarriage, and specifically about the experiences of other fathers who had faced the loss of a pregnancy. One of the suggestions I came across was the idea of naming the baby. Even though we didn’t technically know the gender of the baby, both Kristina and I were sure that the baby was a girl. We had felt that way from the beginning and most everyone we talked to used female pronouns when referring to the baby without any prompting. I began praying about what to name this child that we would never get to meet and I felt God putting the name Sarah on my heart.

At first I was confused. Sarah means “princess” and while it is a beautiful name, I could not see any particularly important meaning in it. So I kept it to myself, assuming the name had just randomly popped into my head. Just a couple of weeks later, I was reminded of the story of Sarah in the Bible and of God’s promise to her that she would have a child despite her age and barrenness. God’s faithfulness is evident throughout the Bible, but one of the most striking examples is this promise, so when I heard someone refer to Sarah as the mother of nations, it became clear to me that God had placed the name Sarah on my heart as a promise to Kristina and I that we would have a child.

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I know that may sound strange to a lot of people, but I do believe that one of the ways God chooses to reach people is by placing thoughts in our minds and stirring our hearts. So we named our daughter Sarah Grace to honor her life and God’s promise to us. Over the past eleven months, we have been remembering her life and the love that she brought to us. Now, we are expecting our first son, Greyson, the fulfillment of God’s promise to us, in about eleven weeks.

We have been so blessed to have the opportunity to love two babies. We know so many people who have struggled with infertility and we know what an incredible gift it is that we have been able to get pregnant so easily. We absolutely cannot wait to meet Greyson in person in October, and to have the opportunity to see him grow. Yet over the past week in particular, I have found myself feeling like I am missing something. Two of our closest friends welcomed their first baby into the world just two weeks ago. We had learned that they were pregnant not long after we learned we had lost our first pregnancy. So as much as I have been excited for them experiencing firsts and loving their daughter, it has been a difficult reminder that we should’ve been experiencing these things already as well.

Earlier this week, we had a 3D ultrasound and got to see, in amazing detail, Greyson’s face. I was so excited and happy to get to see my son looking so cute and growing so big. But I was also reminded that I will never get to see Sarah’s face. I will never get to see her baby feet and toes, or her smile, or her hair. I will never get to kiss her smushy cheeks. And yesterday, on my birthday, I found myself wishing I could have spent the day holding my baby in my arms and loving her and caring for her. I know that I will get to experience this all with Greyson and that it will be amazing, but that can never make missing those experiences with Sarah okay. God promises that he has good for those who love Him, even in the most difficult of circumstances, but I don’t believe that means that God takes away all the pain of those circumstances. Yes the truth that God has good for us can help to encourage and comfort, but the pain I feel from missing Sarah is a pain born of the love that God placed in my heart for her. It is a pure pain, a holy pain. And it is not a pain that I want to forget.

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Because of Sarah, what is a normal birthday for me has changed. A normal birthday for me now means holding a child in my arms and telling him how much I love him. I didn’t get to do that this year and so this birthday has been not normal. But as painful as that was, I wouldn’t trade this new normal for anything because it is one of the many precious gifts that Sarah gave me in her short life and I will treasure it always.

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