Andy and I had always dreamed of having four kids. The fact that we started with twins - which Andy still jokes was 'his' idea - was a really efficient beginning!
We found out that we were successful in conceiving our fourth baby on January 10th. What a celebration! I had intended to keep the secret until we had an ultrasound around 8/9 weeks. And for a girl who's really close with her mom, keeping this kind of secret from her was NOT easy!
It was a quiet celebration, with just me and Andy, basking in God's goodness and celebrating the possibility of new life! God had been so good to us. And we were so very grateful. The baby would be due in mid-September, just a few weeks after the boys started their first year of kindergarten. I'd be home with just Megan and would have a little extra time to commit to just my two youngest. We couldn't have planned it any better!
It was just a little more than two weeks later that Ben's headaches started. January 27th, to be exact. I was feeling very tired, but still pretty good. We made a few routine trips to the pediatrician, came home with a diagnosis of a sinus infection. The headaches continued, we got a stronger antibiotic, went to the emergency room. All of this was sort of out-of-ordinary for our healthy little boy, but nothing that most moms don't experience at same point in their parenting journey.
On the night of February 5th was when we first learned that Ben's headaches were because of a tumor. A big one. We wouldn't know for almost two weeks that it was cancerous. That Ben would undergo brain surgery and have been given a grim prospect of life. That our lives would have been forever changed.
And all the while, I was carrying a new life.
And let me tell you. I was angry. Really angry.
THIS was NOT part of the plan. How could God do this? In addition to being extremely tired, I was also very emotional. Andy and I just cried and cried. We'd sit outside Ben's hospital room door after he had gone to sleep and just hold each other and weep. How was this possible? Our sweet sweet boy. He would be the one to get most excited about a new sibling. He had always been so gentle with Megan. The teacher. Lessons about patience and goodness just seemed to come naturally to him. We just couldn't imagine our family without Ben in it.
For the first few days after we learned Ben's diagnosis, I could not talk to God. Unless you count screaming and yelling. Then yes, I talked to God all day long. It took me a few days to come back to reality.
I'm glad people didn't try and encourage me during those few days. I think it would have driven me farther from faith. It was as if they knew I'd find my way back. I just needed some time to be human. They let me cry and cried along with me. They let me ask unanswerable questions and didn't bother to try and offer solutions.
Thankfully, God allowed me that privilege as well. Thankfully, God can handle me expressing my emotions. He's God. He's got pretty big shoulders. And He can totally handle it.
I think God cried along with me. I felt His arms holding me close.
I can't say that I still don't feel angry at times. I do. I feel a lot these days. And many of the emotions, I feel all at once. Sadness, grief, joy, gratitude, hope, sorrow. Being pregnant just intensifies them. One little thought, picture, video can bring a multitude of tears rolling down my face without even batting an eye. And it comes out of nowhere. Brushing my teeth. Looking at a picture that's been on my wall for years. Going through the videos on my phone. Hearing someone mention how many kids they have. A song on the radio. It all brings an overwhelming flood of emotions.
I caved and told my mom the news of our pregnancy when she saw Ben in the ICU after he had been admitted. I just couldn't handle going through this and my mom NOT knowing. I'd need her strength to help get me through.
Andy was worried about the radiation and chemo. Would I be able to accompany Ben to Roswell? Would that pose a threat to the baby in any way? We were pleased to learn that it wouldn't. The only precaution Ben's oncologist suggested we take was to let Andy administer the chemo, not me. And then I should be wary of touching any of Ben's secretions including urine, bowel movements or the like. That's when I called my friends and asked to take them up on their kind offer to clean my bathrooms. It had become a chore that was unsafe for me and my growing baby in utero.
I'm not sure if you know this about me, but I am a worker. A do-it-yourselfer. Andy and I have always been sort of proud in that way. We like to do things ourselves. We help others when we can. But it is so much easier for us to give than accept. Asking for help - or even receiving help when it is offered - was a very difficult thing for us to do. We had now found ourselves in a position, however, when we needed to ask and accept help. Because of Ben's situation, but also because of mine.
I just don't have the energy I used to have.
I've been getting bursts of energy every few days since I've entered the second trimester. But you can only do so much when a chubby four-year-old awkwardly follows you around the house. Just wants you to sit with him. Hold him. And take naps beside him. In many ways, perhaps this was good timing to be pregnant - I could never refuse a nap! But it is also difficult to sit when your mind is going a million miles an hour with everything else you could be accomplishing, even with just a smidgen of energy. It only takes a minute for me to remember that resting is the best thing I could be doing, for both of my babies.
I didn't tell the kids about the baby until we were in Florida. I knew they wouldn't be able to handle such exciting information without telling everyone else about it. And it's pretty easy to mask a growing belly here in Buffalo when I just wear jackets all day in the cold! But wearing tighter-fitting maternity shirts in Florida, Ben noticed. "Mom," he told me one night, "your belly is getting really big." He would have been the first to notice. By then, we had learned the sex of the baby, so I asked the boys to guess the gender. Again, Ben was right. Jack guessed a boy. What a joy, to be able to celebrate the growing life of their baby sister in my belly! Every so often, Jack will come up to my belly and put his hand up to it, doing his best to convince me that he can feel her kick. That would be pretty remarkable, considering the fact that I haven't even felt that yet!
"Two boys and two girls!" Jack keeps saying. Every time I hear that I want to weep. Oh, boy, I hope so. I hope this baby girl can meet her big brother Ben. I want Ben to meet her.
And let me tell you, this is going to be one resilient baby girl.
I could never have anticipated things to happen quite like this. I mean, who could? No one ever invites cancer to invade their homes. It is an all-too-familiar enemy. Even God hates cancer. And weeps for those who have to suffer through it. But through all of this, God has a plan.
"For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future."
I had chosen this as my life verse when I was in high school. And I have always been encouraged by God's promise. But as Andy and I began walking this journey, we started questioning its truth. What good could God possibly bring out of this? What good could possibly come from my son dying? Or at the very least, going through this horrific experience?
Honestly, I don't have an answer for that. But truthfully, it is not for me to know. I have been instructed to just take one day at a time. Trust. And follow God's footsteps. Because even if I can't see His map, God's got a plan.
You know how I know? I can see traces His fingerprints everywhere.