Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Name is JONAH

The story of me and Ivan is a lot like the story of Jonah and the Whale.  I'm Jonah in this story.  Not the whale like you were thinking.  Though I was pregnant and very much whale-like with Ivan for forty-two weeks and a day.  But I guess that's more like being an elephant and not a whale.  Aren't elephants pregnant for like two years or something?  Anyway, I'm Jonah.  You're Jonah.  We're all Jonah. 

My name is Jonah and I'm a bereaved mother.

Very early on in my pregnancy with Ivan, I knew something was wrong.  I just knew.  Nobody believed me.  My belly was measuring small and my morning sickness didn't abate at twelve weeks like it did with my two other children.  And somehow, don't ask me how, I knew it was anencephaly.  Long before an ultrasound, I was already trying to come to terms with burying my baby.  I had already cried.  I was already asking myself questions like where would I bury him?  How would my five-year-old daughter cope?  I tried to talk myself out of it but I knew.  I knew the heartbreak was great.  I could feel the trauma reaching back from the future to get me.  This event was out there in space-time and had somehow already burned me.

In the car on the way to my eighteen-week ultrasound, I chided my husband for being so upbeat.  I  said, “Don't be so happy.  You're about to find out your baby doesn't have a brain.”  

A few moments into the ultrasound,  I thought I saw the profile of a nice, round skull go past.  Phew!  My baby has a skull!  See, Alana, everything's going to be fine.  I wondered if it was a healthy baby boy or a healthy baby girl.  Then the ultrasound tech said, “I'm just going to tell you right away...there is something seriously wrong with your baby.”  Before he said another word, I said, “Is it anencephaly?”  He was shocked.  “How did you know?” he asked.  “I just knew,” I said.  He asked me several more times how I knew before conceding,  “I've been doing this long enough to know that Moms just know things.”  Yes they do.  

My baby's neural tube didn't close.  Part of his skull never formed.  He was going to die.

I started crying immediately in the office and fell apart completely by the time we got into the car. Why?  How?  Is it my fault?  Not my baby!  Not my sweet baby!   But I want him!  I want my baby!  I really want my baby!  I wondered why this felt so bad.  After all, I had been through the sudden death of my father and the suicide of my brother.  This was just a little baby I hadn't even met, I reasoned.  Why did it feel as bad and worse than losing someone I had known and loved my whole life?  

After finding myself alone in the house later that day, I fell on my face on the carpet of my living room floor and out of the belly of hell cried I!   I sort of thought it would be a good idea for God to take Ivan home then and I told Him so.  I couldn't hold my baby in my arms and watch him die. Then a thought was whispered to me and it went like this:  Maybe God knows better than you do, Alana. I started laughing deeply and out loud.  My laugh startled me but it was appropriate.  I had just grasped for the first time ever that God is God and He must know best, right?  My will compared to His was ludicrous.  Like, really funny.  Of course He knows best...He's like, God!  Duh!  

Ivan wasn't leaving me just yet and I knew it.  I knew I would get to meet him and had about five months, I figured, to enjoy him.  I treasured each kick, each hiccup. Whenever I had my other two kids in the bath tub, I would sit on the tile floor and revel in that fact that all three of my kids were alive and kicking and with me in that moment.  I tried, I really tried to soak Ivan all in.  It turns out, though, I didn't soak enough in!  It turns out you don't appreciate anything 'til it's gone, no matter how hard you try.  If I had no regrets or guilt, it simply wouldn't be death.

My due date came and went.  My doctors were ready and willing to induce me any time and  I could tell they wondered at the source of my patience. They didn't know what I knew:  If was induced, I wouldn't meet Ivan alive. Labor would be slower, the contractions longer and harder.  A long delivery would be too hard on his fragile head.  I knew if I wanted to meet him alive, I had to go into labor naturally and deliver quickly without an epidural to slow things down.  Moms just know things.  

Each day was a gift and I was fully prepared to carry forty-four weeks.  Or two years like an elephant.  Or forever.  At forty-two weeks and a day, labor arrived.  I paced the house between contractions, singing lullabies to Ivan and crying.  I wasn't ready!  I wasn't ready to let him go.  Please not today, I thought.  Please not yet.  Oh, God!  Let me keep him!

At the onset of each contraction, I visualized looking up at a tall island mountain.  Then I would imagine going under the ocean and down, down, down to the bottom of that mountain.  After the contraction peaked, I would imagine slowly coming back to the surface of the sea. This visualization technique had arrived in my mind uninvited while I was in labor with my previous son two years prior.  I was surprised by it then and chuckled upon realizing my mind had borrowed this whole bottoms-of- the-mountains business from the the story of  Jonah in the Bible:

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fishes belly.  And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me;  out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.  For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about:  all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.  The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever:  yet thou hast brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.  When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord:  and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.  And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

Did a great fish literally swallow Jonah?  I don't know.  Maybe. I don't really care if it's literal or figurative or both.  That's not the point.  The point is redemption.  The point is having the weeds wrapped about your head and the waters compassing you about, even to the soul!  The point is feeling cast out of God's sight. The point is being in the fish's belly and how to get out.

Childbirth is agony by the way.  Losing a loved one is agony.  That kind of pain (both physical and spiritual) is for me, visually,  beneath the sea, at the bottoms of the mountains and inside the belly of a great fish where it feels like God can't even see you.  

I know you know this place.  I know you've been there too.  

I labored several hours in a warm bath at the hospital with the lights dim and the room quiet.  My husband knelt beside the tub and poured water over my belly during contractions.  Some tears formed and fell silently from my eyes while in the tub but not for sorrow.  For sacredness.  That was the only time I've ever cried because of sacredness.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It was beautiful.

I had come to realize in those last months that the reason I could grieve so deeply for this tiny, supposed stranger was because time isn't the way we perceive it and that's a scientific fact.  I have a relationship with my son that exists out there somewhere.  It already is and has been. He's my son from all eternity to all eternity.  Just because our paths were only going to cross here and now briefly didn't mean our love was less.  He is my son and I knew him when I saw him.  

Contrary to the original diagnosis, Ivan was born with exencephaly, not anencephaly.  He had his entire brain but it was protruding through an opening in his crown.  He had a chromosome disorder called Trisomy 18 which is what caused his neural tube defect.  He also had enlarged kidneys and a single umbilical artery. And bless his precious thumb on his right looked like a pinky in the wrong place.

Meeting Ivan face to face was magical.  My Mama eyes couldn't have seen his defects with a microscope.  He was perfect!  Oh, my sweet, sweet baby boy!  He had a lot to say to me.  He made many baby sounds with his very own little voice, told me all about it.  He yawned two adorable yawns.  He opened his eyes a lot and looked into mine. I was so very, very happy. 

There was no way of knowing how much time we would have.  Ivan seemed so strong and pink and definitely wasn't waning yet.  My five-year-old daughter had expressed a desire to meet him before he died.  I felt nervous about my husband driving home to get her.  What if Ivan dies while he is gone?  But I was  more nervous about my daughter missing the chance to meet her brother.  I let the nurse bathe him so he would be cleaned up and not startle his sister.  While the nurse wiped Ivan down, I  turned my gown around, wiped off some blood and practiced my normal face.  It was during his bath Ivan started to weaken.  I started to panic and wanted him back in my arms immediately.  I had an incredible midwife who came to the hospital with me to be my doula. She told Ivan to hold on until his Daddy got back and that's exactly what he did. I knew he would wait for his Dad.  Ivan knew that was important.

My daughter experienced a little panic of her own and decided she didn't want to come to the hospital after all so my husband rushed back to the hospital without her.  In retrospect, I'm sick with guilt that it went down that way.  I'm sorry my husband missed thirty minutes of Ivan's short life.  I'm sorry I gave up those precious moments to bathe him when he could have been in my arms.  I worry that leaving my warm, bare chest made him weak.  But what if we hadn't tried to give our daughter the chance to meet him while living?  I would regret that too. It's tempting to waste wisdom on the past.

Once Brandon got back, I told him Ivan was weak and I thought he was going to die soon.  Ivan's eyes had been shut but after Dad got there and everyone had left us alone in the room, he opened one eye and took a last peek at Mom and Dad.  I can still hear his last gasp for air in my mind's ear as he died in my arms with my husband by my side.  Each time I had imagined that moment, I had winced.  But the moment had come and gone peacefully, quietly.  He died two hours after he was born.  Two very precious hours!  I feel spoiled I got that time.  It is a privilege denied to many.  

Ivan and I were like subatomic particles and having collided and interacted for a nanosecond, it was over.  Poof!  Like a flash!  Our trajectories had crossed and we would have to wait a really long time to be together again.

Every motherly instinct was insulted as I walked out of that hospital without my baby.  My legs were collapsing as I made my way for the car, my husband literally holding me up.  (He has held me up in many ways.) We buried Ivan four days later. Spring was just arriving, which I found heartily appropriate and welcome.   Hope.  Resurrection.   

How does one find oneself vomited out upon dry land?  A bold clue is the fact Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  I believe my heartbreak was made bearable and healed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. You don't have to believe the same thing I do.  The principles that get you out of the fish's belly are legitimate, no matter what 'being redeemed' means to you. To escape the belly of hell, I had to submit my will to God's, dwell in an energy of gratitude, pay what I had vowed, and be merciful to obtain mercy.  Ivan taught me about God's grace.

I read once that problems come to you with gifts in their hands.  Weird, huh?  I thought so too.  Except it's true.  I love deeper.  My capacity for joy is greater.  My marriage is stronger.  The name Ivan means 'gracious gift from God'. 

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains but I am happy. The sweet will be sweet only because we have tasted the bitter.  It has to be this way.  The Lord prepared a great fish to swallow us up. 

Wherever you are, Ivan, I love you.  Our reunion is out there in space-time somewhere and its sweetness is reaching back from the future to get me.  I just know it.

Remember that the purpose of this series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. Alana will be reading your comments so you may comment directly to her. 

**Isn't this just beautiful? I read it three times and I could not stop the flow of tears. Alana is one of my sister's best friends and her story, Ivan's story, has been very close to my heart ever since I heard it. Thank you for sharing so much of this incredibly powerful experience with us, Alana, for it is an undeniable testament of love and eternity to me.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I have a little one in Heaven too. My daughter, Bella Grace, was stillborn at 24 weeks. I had a completely normal/healthy pregnancy, no complications, morning sickness, etc. And then we went in for our gender scan at 24 weeks (because she had her legs crossed at our 20 week appt and wouldn't let us see her gender) and she didn't have a heartbeat. I am the 1% of women who lose a child to stillbirth. As in my case, there usually isn't a medical reason they can find. I never got to see or hold Bella but I will love her forever. We talk about her all the time and we will celebrate her "birthday" each year and talk about her short life. I believe that Bella's life mattered, even though it was only inside of me. I have 2 children: one in my arms and one I will always carry in my heart.

    1. E, I am so sorry for your loss. I have not experienced it personally, but I do know how painful it is... my mom lost 4 babies- 2 who were stillborn, and 2 who lived for a short period and then passed away. I absolutely do believe in what you say- Bella's life DID matter. She will be forever with you in your heart, and, I believe, in the eternities.

      Much love to you. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    2. E...soooo sorry for the loss of your little one :( How shocking to have no warning...just no heartbeat when you're not expecting it...ugghhh... breaks my heart! That's great you are keeping her memory alive by celebrating her birthday!

    3. Jacy, I didn't know about your Mom until last year when Jenny told me. I just cannot comprehend what she went through! I imagine that each blow would be harder because you had just been through it...just so. terribly. sad! They say the wound is where the light enters you so after I heard about your Mom, it all made sense why she seems so full of light. She just seems to radiate love and actual, literal LIGHT!!! Bless her sweet Mama heart and bless those 4 precious babes!!!

  2. I don't usually comment, but wow. WOW. This is just so beautiful. I was crying, but it was a happy cry. So many important, eternal truths taught here. Thanks for sharing, Alana (& Jacy)!

  3. Alana, your beautiful story brought me to my knees. I was sitting at work and just couldn't stop the tears from flowing as I read. It absolutely breaks my heart that Ivan was taken from you so quickly. But at the same time, I find myself rejoicing for you, and the knowledge that you will see your precious son again. There is true comfort in that, and in knowing that a loving God is taking care of us, no matter what valleys (or whale's bellies) we must pass through. I lost a baby at just 8 weeks, and while I could never pretend to know a grief as profound as that of the grief you went through with your sweet baby, I fully believe that my son or daughter is also in Heaven and that I will meet him or her one day. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and your heart, today. You have reminded me today of what is truly important. You have no idea how much your story touched me. Thank you again.

    1. Jessica...I think no matter when you lose your child, it's just as tough...even though it was at 8 weeks for you, I imagine your grief just as terrible no matter when it happens. He/She is YOURS from all eternity to all eternity. God bless you and your sweet little angel!!!

  4. Alana your story has touched my heart and I can't stop the tears.. your are such a special person I'm so glad you got to meet Ivan and spend those 2 hours with him I think of little Ivan everytime I drive past the cemetery .
    I'm so glad to have you in our family and I know Ivan is with you everyday in your heart thanks so much for sharing your story...

  5. I haven't commented on Jacy's blog for a long time (though I always always read the posts!). This time, I couldn't help but thank you- Jonah- for sharing your story. You are an amazing example of strength. I am overcome with your humility and grace. There really are no words...but this is the most beautiful analogy I've ever read. Isn't the Atonement amazing? Where would any of us be without it? I cannot stop from bawling just thinking about it.

  6. This was amazing. Beautiful. Sacred. Love poured out of this story and made it to my eyes and out. My oldest´s son name is Jonah so you can imagine what this post moved inside me. Thanks for sharing, you are a very blessed woman.

    We all are ;)

  7. Alana,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your testimony is so precious and sharing it is and will be a great gift to so many. It comes at a pivotal moment for me. Thank you for the help you may never know you gave.


  8. As a new mom your story is so devastating and I was crying as I read it out to my husband. I couldn't even imagine this but you seemed to handle it with such strength and I know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us and it seems that your testimony really helped you through this.

  9. Thank you for sharing. My daughter, Carleigh, was diagnosed with anencephaly at 22 weeks and born still at 37 weeks on March 28, 2009. Losing Carleigh has been my biggest heartbreak and having her has been my biggest blessing. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    1. Holly,

      Isn't is amazing how much our biggest heartbreaks can be our very biggest blessings? I absolutely love how you said that.... I haven't experienced the loss of a child before, so I won't pretend to fully comprehend what you feel, but I do understand that thought process. My most challenging trials have been my most rewarding blessings- and I would never ever trade them, for anything. I am so sorry for your loss. I love how Alana said it and I believe it-- Carleigh is out there in space-time somewhere and your reunion with her will be the sweetest gift.

      Sending my love to you tonight.

    2. Holly, I totally understand your comment about Carleigh being the biggest heartbreak and the biggest blessing. I feel the same as you, that I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm glad to have had my son for a short time than to not have had him at all. Many hugs for you!

  10. My daughter was born still at 35 weeks this past April. Your analogy to Jonah touched me so much and it really rings true for how these past few months have been. Thank you for your beautiful story and strength.

    1. Dear Kaitlin,

      I cannot imagine the tremendous pain you have experienced the last 4 months. I am so very sorry for your magnificent loss. I am sending all the love and strength and continued prayers of healing I have your way.


    2. Oh my goodness Kaitlin, April was just barely! You poor Mama! It's just a tough few months, huh? Your little angel is looking down on you and knows who you are and loves you so much!!!

  11. This story really touched my heart today.

  12. What a beautiful story and what beautiful strength you have. Little Ivan is so lucky in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your story!

  13. Alana,

    You have a beautiful way of writing--I didn't want your story to end because it was so well written. Thank you for sharing your joys and your pains. It has brought peace to my soul tonight. I will re-read your story often and hope to meet you someday. Thank you for sharing your great depths with me.


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