“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV)
Learning to Surrender
How God Gradually Changed My Heart
The truth is that I never really wanted to have children. As a matter of fact, I decided at a young age that I didn’t ever want to get married either. My goal was to have long, wild hair, and live alone somewhere in the mountains. I would be free! I could travel the world as a musician and focus on my primary goal in life: having fun.
All of that changed when I was working as a waitress in between my bachelor’s and master’s college degrees. My first night on the job, I met a bartender named Tom who was unlike any guy I’d ever met before. That was a bit of a shock…suddenly I wasn’t so sure about my resolve to never get married. We started dating and were married six years later.
OK…I’d gone soft on my resolve to never get married, but kids? No way! I was much too busy achieving my dreams as a professional trumpet player. With my schedule full of teaching, performing almost nightly and running my own music contracting business, who had time for children? They’d probably just get in the way of my dreams, I reasoned to myself.
My Clock Started Ticking
So I really don’t know how it happened that I woke up one morning two years into our marriage, desperate to have children. I was thirty-one, and somebody must have put batteries in me overnight because quite suddenly my clock was ticking! Despite all of my career aspirations, I suddenly felt that there was a greater call in life that I was missing.
I am definitely a bit of a type-A personality and quite goal-oriented. I shared my news with Tom. Thankfully, he was in agreement. Within two months we were pregnant! We told our exciting news to everyone we knew, and I settled in for nine months of pickles, ice cream, and bliss.
Something Is Wrong
At about six weeks, we went in for our first check-up. The doctor did a short exam. Looking a bit puzzled, he sent us in for an ultrasound. We were totally unprepared for what that brown-eyed doctor told us next. “The baby hasn’t developed the way it should have. Are you sure you’re six weeks pregnant?”
I assured him that I knew I was. He sent us home with some medications and an appointment for the following week. We waited and prayed, a bit worried that there might be a problem. However, we were full of hope that our capable doctor would be able to solve it. When we went in the following week the baby had shown no development. The doctor told us that we’d had a miscarriage.
We were stunned! Nothing in our lives could have prepared us for that moment. Somehow in those six short weeks of pregnancy, we had created an entire life scenario with our child. We’d talked over names and educational options. We’d discussed parenting ideas and started fixing up his or her bedroom. We’d dreamed of the future and of the kind of parents we would be. We had deeply connected with this little person who was fully dependent on us for their life.
I went to the hospital to have a “D&C,” essentially the process abortion doctors use to abort a living fetus. As I healed we waited until we could try again.
A Second Pregnancy
When that time came just three months later we conceived again quickly. This time I bought every pregnancy book I could find and read everything possible on the internet about how to avoid having a miscarriage. When six weeks passed and we were still pregnant, we rejoiced. We’d made it! We told everyone we knew that we were going to be parents again.
At our eight-week exam, that brown-eyed doctor looked at us with compassion. We’d miscarried again, somewhere between the sixth and the eighth weeks. We were devastated! Once again I went in for the ” D&C,” and we waited in sadness and anxious confusion for weeks to pass until we could try again.
While we were suffering from this inexplicable loss of life, testing was being done on our precious baby, but nothing could be found. There were no chromosomal abnormalities, nothing to indicate why his little life had ended.
A Third Pregnancy
A few months later a pregnancy test told us that we were again pregnant. We were understandably nervous. I was a “go-getter” who was used to working hard and seeing results. I tried to surrender control over my fertility to God. “Here is my fertility,” I said to Him as I held up what amounted to tightly clenched fists. “You can be in charge…as long as you give us at least one boy and one girl.” Obviously, I still had a lot to learn about surrender!
This time we didn’t announce our pregnancy to anyone except our immediate families. I ate exactly what the books said, rested the recommended amount, and read volumes on pregnancy and miscarriage daily. We lost sleep, obsessed, prayed, and waited.
At our eight-week exam, we heard the heartbeat and saw our baby moving. FINALLY…we were going to be parents! At ten weeks I started feeling energetic and generally great. All of my research had told me that feeling energetic was NOT a good sign during the first trimester. I made a quick visit to the doctor, worried. Sure enough…another miscarriage, followed by another D&C.
We Were Powerless to Stay Pregnant
I still remember driving to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where Tom was working at the time. He was in a meeting, and I stood at the door and tried to get his attention. When he looked up and saw me, he smiled, not yet knowing the news. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I burst out in tears right there in the hallway.
Understanding, he ran over to me and we hugged and cried. This terrible pain and fear we were suffering were unlike anything we’d ever gone through. What we wanted more than anything in the world at this point was to have children. Despite our best efforts, however, we were powerless to make it happen.
At that point, the future scared and unsettled me. My focus had changed from career to family so suddenly. Now here I was, unable to achieve the dream of having children despite my best efforts. I found myself crying at inopportune moments. I couldn’t handle seeing babies at the grocery store, sitting behind a family at church, or visiting friends who had small children of their own.
The most frustrating thing of all was that up until that point in my life, I’d been an extremely successful high achiever. I basically succeeded in everything I put my hand to. This, however, was completely out of my control. My efforts at staying pregnant were fruitless. There was NOTHING I could do in my own power to stay pregnant.
Understanding the Loss of Miscarriage
It’s hard to understand the magnitude of loss one experiences with the miscarriage of a child. On one account it seems irrational. After all, our babies had never even been born. We never got to see or hold them. I never even felt them move within my womb.
However, a miscarriage is not only the death of a child but also of a family’s dream. This is regardless of whether or not there are already children in the home. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of parents who lose a child they have held, known, and loved after its birth.
As the abortion debate rages on, the way in which a mother views her fetus signifies the life or death of millions of children. In Psalm 139 King David pours out heartfelt praise to God as the author and creator of all life. We marvel along with him at how uniquely and marvelously each of us is made.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16, NIV)
Leaning Into God
After the third miscarriage, despite our struggles to keep hope alive, fear and pain were waging their own war in our lives. All we could do now was lean further into God. As I looked to Him, he led me to Proverbs, where I read the following verse:
“Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart. Lean NOT on YOUR OWN understanding. In ALL your ways submit to Him, and HE will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV – Emphasis mine)
Those verses now took on new meaning to me, and following their advice suddenly seemed a Herculean feat. Was I really to trust him with EVERYTHING? How could I put ALL of my trust in a God who didn’t seem to care about my dreams?
Worst of all, what if His answer was “No”? Could I honestly handle that? Wasn’t there something I could do to force this dream of mine to become a reality? Could I somehow ‘make it happen’ regardless of God’s plans for us?
Finally Giving Him Control
One afternoon after our third miscarriage I was feeling very sorry for myself. Exhausted from fighting this battle that I couldn’t control, I was meditating on Proverbs 3:5-6. As I was crying out to God, I suddenly found myself in a new place. “OK, God,” I mumbled through tears. “I thought I wouldn’t survive without children. My heart definitely aches, but we’re surviving. We’re still in love, and we’re still happy.”
“God,” I breathed out with all of the courage I had, “If you say ‘No’ to us having children, I will choose to accept Your answer. I’m deciding to trust that YOUR plans for our lives are better than OUR plans are. So right now I really, truly give you my fertility.”
As I unclenched my fists and held the palms of my hands out to God, something released inside of me. I was still in pain, but I knew that somehow I would be able to accept whatever God’s plan was for us. I would trust that it would be better than our plans. We would be okay regardless of His answer, and He would give us joy and contentment.
God Blesses Us With Three Children
Apparently, that was the lesson I needed to learn. Two weeks later, Alexander was conceived! We nervously attended week after week of doctor’s appointments. Each week we saw the heartbeat and watched the baby grow and progress. However, we were afraid to connect with this little being and have our hearts broken again.
When delivery day came and Alex entered this world as a perfect little person with all of his fingers and toes, we almost couldn’t believe it. God had given us a beautiful, healthy son! Alex was followed in rapid succession by Abigail and Gabriel.
God’s Plan for Our Fourth Child
I had dreamed of having four children. After Gabriel we put in a due effort, trying to even out the numbers. One night after about ten months of trying to conceive again I woke up in a cold sweat. I’d had a terrible dream in which we did indeed have a fourth child. He was severely handicapped, connected to tubes day and night, and unable to do anything on his own.
I sensed God reminding us again to cede control to Him. He impressed upon me that He had a wonderful plan for our family which didn’t include a fourth biological child. Although we really wanted a larger family, we were learning to trust that God’s plans really are best. In obedience, we opened our hands and gave that dream over to God.
Trust in God’s Plans for You
God is so wise and so perfect. Just at the point at which we were striving to become pregnant with a fourth child who we hoped would be a girl, a beautiful little girl WAS born…in Medellin, Colombia. We are now blessed to call Mariana Elena Atwater our own. She is Gabriel’s Irish twin, and she has been an amazing blessing on our lives!
She is an answer to prayer, and we calculate that she was conceived right around the time I had that dream about the child connected to tubes. We see now how God had something better planned than we could possibly imagine!
Maybe you haven’t yet been able to have biological children or have experienced trouble in conceiving additional children. Possibly you’re waiting on an adoption process that is taking much longer than you had expected. In those deep, dark hours of the soul as you are crying out to God. seeking the comfort, solace, and peace that only He can give, I want to encourage you to be totally transparent with Him.
Be honest with Him. Tell Him how afraid you are that this pain will never end and that you might not get to the other side. I invite you to declare out loud that you are willing to believe that He will somehow make it all work out for good, Let’s believe together, you and I, that His plans for your life are better than your own plans could ever possibly be.