I suspected from early on that our fourth child would be our first little girl, figuring that a different mix of hormones was to blame for the different pregnancy symptoms my wife experienced with that pregnancy. When Jennifer developed a killer migraine, I was sure. We were having a girl.
It wasn’t just any migraine. It was the worst migraine she ever had, and it came with new, scary side effects. At one point, Jen thought she was having a stroke when one half of her body went completely numb. With half her mouth numb, she had trouble talking. Turns out, it was a neurological “aura” that can accompany that kind of migraine. Several days later, a doctor prescribed a medication that made the pain subside and the auras go away.
The next morning, Jen was feeling remarkably better, and I was off to work. She called me that morning saying that she was in terrible pain. But this time, it wasn’t her head. It was the kind of pain that sends pregnant women to the hospital — a burning, ripping sensation across her abdomen.
I tried to reassure Jen that the pain didn’t mean the worst, though I knew it could. You see, this wasn’t our first rodeo.
Before we had our first son, we lost three babies to miscarriage. Getting the news the first time was a suffocating blow. The doctor searched for a heartbeat with no success, then kept searching and searching some more, before finally delivering the news that our baby had died. He left the two of us alone in the examination room, and we stood together crying on each other’s shoulder, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that the baby was gone. After several minutes, we struggled to pull ourselves together for the walk out of the doctor’s office. Our grief felt very private and very out of place in that office. When the next two pregnancies ended with miscarriages as well, our experience of loss grew deeper and wider, but it was never quite as shocking as that first time.
So, when Jen announced that she was in pain shortly after her migraine disappeared, a dark sense of foreboding fell over me. We might be going through it again. I didn’t have long to mull that over, though. Shortly after she called to tell me about the pain, Jen called with worse news. She was bleeding. A lot.
There was no more mystery: we had lost another baby.
I rushed out of work to meet her at the emergency room. Thankfully, a friend came to pick up the boys so I could attend to Jennifer. I sat next to her in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs. Once again, we were left alone to our grief. The doctor hadn’t yet told us that the baby had died, but we both knew. There wasn’t much to say. I just held Jen as she sobbed on my chest.
After about twenty minutes, they took us back to an ultrasound room, and we sat silently in the dark while the tech did her work. There was no joy in that ultrasound room. No banter from the tech about the baby, no hopeful anticipation of seeing the heartbeat or learning whether it was a boy or girl. Just stony silence from the tech and the faint sound of weeping from Jen. As I held her hand, I stared through my own tears at the screen, waiting to see the lifeless form of our baby. It felt more like a private funeral than anything.
Then, a flash of light and sound. It disappeared. The tech moved to another angle and kept at her task in silence. What was that?
There it was again, but this time there were several flashes and faint sounds. My voice broke as I forced out the words, “Was that . . . a heartbeat?”
“Yes,” came the answer, and the tech focused back in on the same area and turned up the sound. There it was, unmistakable. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, along with the bright flash of a beating heart. Life!! In an instant, our grief had been wiped out, and we embraced in the dark with tears of joy.
Several months later, our joy was made full when little Katie was born.
. . .
I learned a lot about hope that day in the ER. As we sat in the examination room, we both were utterly positive that our baby was dead. Between our prior experiences with miscarriage, the pain Jen felt, and the heavy bleeding, we had no reason to think anything else. We didn’t come to the hospital hoping that our baby would be okay; we came grieving the fact that she was not.
And then, out of nowhere — hope. Counterintuitive hope. Hope that dashed our expectations and left us breathless. I realized later that even before we saw and heard Katie’s heartbeat, the hope of her life was more real than the reality we saw before our eyes.
I think this is the kind of hope the Bible describes. Peter says that God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” then exhorts us, “[S]et your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:3, 13) Paul says that we groan as we wait for the redemption of our bodies when Jesus will be revealed, but reminds us that we were saved in the hope of that redemption: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:23-24) So both Peter and Paul talk about the hope we have as a present reality, based on the salvation we have received in Jesus: we were born again to a living hope and we were saved in that hope. Hoping in God for our ultimate redemption always means grasping hold on the present reality of that hope. It’s not just wishful thinking, or an unfounded hope in an uncertain outcome. At the same time, the hope we have still looks forward to what God will accomplish: we hope in what we do not yet see.
The difference with what we experienced with Katie was that we had no hope that God would preserve her life before the reality of that hope was revealed to us. That makes some logical sense because, unlike the hope that we have in our ultimate redemption in Jesus, we don’t have any promise that God will keep us from difficulty or tragedy. But with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that I could have put my hope in God’s deliverance of Katie’s life, even in the face of circumstances that pointed entirely in the other direction.
I have a lot of room for growth in the kind of hope that trusts in God’s deliverance from or through the trials and difficulties of life. Most often, I feel the best I can muster is like the father who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Among the many reasons I’m glad I have my precious little Katie around is that she’s a reminder to me that there’s a present reality for that kind of hope, too.