Casimir Pulaski Day

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hipster window

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

All the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes

Lyrics from Sufjan Stevens’ song “Casimir Pulaski Day” from the Illinoise album.

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We’ve recently returned from camp at Nairamdal International Children’s Center with our school. Will update within a few days.

Beth sig

10 Ways that being an In-Patient Changed Me

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Moving to a new country inevitably means change. When we moved here to Mongolia, we both anticipated change in many ways. We have more or less adjusted to those changes, which have ranged from new or available foods to different cultural values. Even if we haven’t fully embraced everything (Eric has yet to don a wrestling costume and get involved in one of Mongolia’s manly sports [but Naadam is coming!]), we have more or less found our new niche.

Lately, we’ve experienced a whole slough of changes. The weather has been changing (more snow!), for one, and we are still navigating the change in expectations that came with losing our first child. Related to that biggest of changes was our recent hospital stay which managed to affect a lot of personal changes–some are cultural adaptations, and others are just general perspective changes.

1. I no longer think being an in-patient would be “cool.”

Can you believe that I once that it would be a lot of fun to be an in-patient? You get to stay in a hospital overnight! You get three balanced meals a day! You get attention and visitors! Who wouldn’t want that?

The thing is, all of those cool or fun things are accompanied by not so cool and fun things. Things like the following: you don’t get to choose what is included in your balanced meals, your rest is constantly interrupted by various factors, and you’re probably in the hospital for a really serious, possibly overwhelming situation. Let’s just say that I don’t want to be back in the hospital again any time soon. (Although, if you have to be hospitalized in UB, I highly recommend Intermed Hospital. They are FANTASTIC.)

2. I often wear house slippers.

I had been bouncing around the idea of getting house slippers both for us and for guests and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I was more or less ordered to wear slippers in the hospital (by nurses, doctors, and visitors alike). They make a big difference in keeping your feet warm–even in our overly warm apartment–especially for someone like me who has poor circulation. I actually brought our slippers back home from the hospital so I can keep wearing them until I can get some cozy wool felt slippers in town. Slippers FTW!

3. I have a penchant for drinking hot water.

Because of my poor circulation and tiny baby veins, my nurses kept giving me hot water to drink (yes, plain hot water) whenever they needed to draw blood or adjust my IV port. At first, I just kind of forced myself to drink it, but I acquired a taste for it while staying in the hospital and now drink it at home. When I confessed this to an expat friend who has already made this adjustment, she texted back, “One of us, one of us…”

4. Nurses are now my heroes.

I have always admired people who choose to work in the medical field because their jobs are so important and can literally be the difference in life or death situations. When you grow up in developing nations, you realize what a privilege medical care is. Doctors get a lot of respect, but nurses do the dirty work. Not only do nurses do the dirty work, but they do so with kindness, smiles, and occasional jokes.

Due to the length of our stay, we saw many of the same nurses and began to develop some rapport with them. These amazing women were working twelve hour shifts, leaving for twelve hours, and coming back for another twelve hour shift. That is rough, and they were all so amazing. Kudos to these nurses!

5. Needles are now my archenemies.

I’ve never been a big fan of needles. My mom will tell you about my kicking a nurse in the knee when I was getting an updated vaccination. I will tell you about all of the crying and fighting to get out of shots, blood draws, and finger pricks that I had to endure throughout my childhood. Somewhere along the way, I told myself to get over it–probably in late high school–and now I can handle shots and such just fine.

However.

However, I still have poor circulation in baby veins, which means that when you have things like IV ports, bad things happen. By the end of my time in the hospital, my arms made me look like a beginning junkie. I definitely don’t blame the nurses for this, but I did wind up with three different IV port locations over the course of my stay (with five attempts total). Those IV port insertions were possibly the worst part of being there. Add to that multiple shots, and let’s just say I don’t want to see another needle for awhile!

6. Meat has somehow moved further up on my list of favorite foods.

Almost every meal in the hospital included a meat in one form or another. I had stir fries and chicken noodle soup and something akin to pot roast, and I loved it all. Even breakfast sometimes included meat in the form of a meat porridge. Consider a porridge with pureed, well-stewed meat in it, and that’s about what the porridge was like. Apparently, it’s one of the ways that Mongolians introduce meat to youngsters. So yay meat!

7. I’m more motivated to learn Mongolian.

Eric and I have been taking Mongolian language lessons since November. He is good at learning and remembering the grammatical structures of the language, and I’m good at remembering the words. With our powers combined, we can sort of communicate in very limited, very broken Mongolian.

While in the hospital, almost everyone spoke at least some English, and we were able to communicate the basics between their English and our Mongolian. Remember those nurses? What I would have given to have been able to have real conversations with them! I would have liked to have been able to say more than “hello” and “thank you” in Mongolian. Anyhow, I did learn the word for “toilet paper” in Mongolian while we were there, which I think is a win. (But please don’t ask me what it is because I’m not sure that I remember it.)

8. I appreciate the small things more.

A kind smile goes a long way. A short visit can make my day. Add in a flower or a chocolate bar or a card, and you’ve radically affected my outlook on life. Seriously, every thing that people said or did for us while we were in the hospital turned a horrible situation into something that we could survive because of how loved we felt through it all. From washing my hair for me in the sink, to braiding my hair, to just sitting with us in our hospital room while we did our own introverted things, we were very loved. Small things become big things!

9. I realized that the gift of service is truly a gift.

Not everyone has this gift naturally–and that’s ok!–but to those who have it and use it to bless others: thank you!! Any time that someone would take time out of their busy schedules to do something for us or spend time with us in the hospital meant so much. We had friends bring us things in the hospital and bring us meals when we got home. One of our friends cleaned our bathroom for us when we got home because it’s our least favorite area of the apartment to clean. Another friend helped us figure out our hospital bill when we were discharged and insisted on carrying all of the heavy bags for us when we returned to our apartment. Bless you all!

10. I value relationships even more.

You can’t grow up in Africa or move to a place like Mongolia and not appreciate the value of relationships, but let me just say that I appreciate (and realize the responsibility of) good relationships even more. We were both blown away by just how much our friends and family–locally and around the world–have reached out to us and supported us through all of this. It has challenged me to love others around me in better ways, and I cannot express how grateful I am for having been surrounded by all of your wonderful people. If I believed in luck, I would say that we are very lucky to have you in our lives. I would say that it is providential, but I feel like that word doesn’t encompass the gratitude we feel (and the humbleness at receiving your abundant kindnesses).

Thank you. Баярлалаа.

Beth sig

Bitter. Sweet.

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There’s a novel called Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I haven’t read it, but the title resonates. I feel like I’m on that corner, living at the conjunction of bitterness and sweetness with peace and sorrow intermingled. For the most part, I truly am “okay.” Physically, I feel better than I have in a long time. Spiritually, I feel the Father’s closeness in all of this. Mentally and emotionally, however, I don’t know what I feel.

I’m not sure anyone really has the words for what it feels like to process the loss of a child. Even though I have a great hope to cling to, I still miss our baby. Even though a healthy delivery was still a long way off, my arms feel as if they should be holding our baby. Deeper than an emotion, deep down in the very marrow of my bones, my body knows that something is gone that should still be here.

Friday, after a difficult night of regret and longing, Eric and I finally looked at the pictures of our baby that had been taken after the procedure. They were not easy photos to see. And yet, we have comfort knowing that our baby is both fully formed to perfection now and in a much better place. Eric had mentioned that what makes him sad is thinking about the lost future with our child and how that’s probably selfish to feel that way. Knowing that our baby will never have to experience the pain and suffering that this life holds is sweet to hold onto, but I still wish we had our baby now.

Yesterday, we met with a member care couple who wanted to check in with us and see if they could help in any way. She mentioned that our baby will only ever know love, and that is sweet too. Our baby knew our love—inasmuch as a baby in utero can know it—and now our baby knows perfect Love.

This is all comforting to know, and about 80% of the time, this knowledge is enough to keep me going and trying to catch up on life. (Life does not stop for you when you run headlong into tragedy.) The other 20% of the time, I swing from uncontrollable crying to feeling hollowed out to burning anger to numbness.

Somehow in the middle of all the bitterness of grief, the Father still manages enough sweetness to keep me from collapsing. Seeing babies, small children, and obviously expecting women doesn’t hurt, which is what I had anticipated. Rather, these sights warm my heart and bring a smile to my face. Not every pregnancy ends in sorrow, and it is good to know that not everyone has to experience a miscarriage. At an all team meeting on Friday, I was able to hold a coworker’s baby girl and receive hugs from some of the other young children. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle seeing them, but it was healing to be around them.

A friend shared the following with me while we were still in the hospital, and I wanted to share it here as well:

“His thoughts said, As I journey, sometimes the water is bitter.

“His Father said, Let My loving Spirit lead thee forth into the land of righteousness. Do not ask Him whether He will lead thee to Marah or to Elim. Do not ask for the Elims of life. If thou must pass through Marah, fear not, for He will show thee a Tree, which, when thou shalt cast it into the waters, shall make the bitter waters sweet. One thought of Calvary will make any water sweet.”

When we were at conference in Thailand, around the same time that the Father told me that our baby would not survive, someone else shared a quote from Oswald Chambers that I copied into my journal. “If [He] has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; or if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him.” How little did I know when I heard this quote that it would soon be made reality in my life.

Our cup is bitter, but He has sprinkled enough sweetness into it to keep it from destroying us completely. Please continue to uphold us as we continue to grieve.

Beth sig

Just an Update (originally published to FB 3/9/15)

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It is currently 1:11pm, and we are both still in the hospital. We had hoped that we would get the all clear to go home today, but both of our doctors want to keep us until tomorrow morning.

Eric’s gastroenteritis (and whatever caused it) has settled down. He’s been on a pretty steady diet of IV fluids and water, but he ate some of his breakfast this morning and all of his lunch just now. He’s feeling much better, and we were both a little surprised that his doctor had found some questionable stuff in his blood that is making her keep him until tomorrow. However, in general, she seems to be encouraged by his progress.

As for me, physically I am feeling quite well. Not only am I allowed to get up and walk around on my own, but my doctor even encouraged it. It’s been nice to walk to the break room (where the water cooler/boiler is) and not feel like I’m going to be scolded. My doctor did an ultrasound on me late morning to see how everything looks following the procedure. Everything looks good except for the larger myoma (or fibroid). The larger myoma has a dark area next to it that could be liquid or necrosis (such a wonderful word to come out of your doctor’s mouth). My doctor will do another ultrasound in the morning to see if the myoma has stayed the same or if it has grown. If it has grown, then she will probably need to move forward to another operation. If it has stayed the same or gotten smaller at all, then I’ll be released tomorrow and have follow up appointments to monitor the fibroids. It seems very likely that at some point, the myomas will need to be removed, but I really hope that another operation can wait for awhile and not happen this week.

Thank you all so much for continuing to keep us in your thoughts! We have appreciated every message, text, email, and visit. It has helped a lot as we continue to process, grieve, and move forward.

<3,

Beth and Eric

[NOTE: We were both discharged from the hospital in the afternoon on the following day.]

Peace (originally published to FB 3/6/15)

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)

As we headed into the long night yesterday evening, I was afraid. I had heard so many worrying stories about the procedure that I knew was coming today. I held that fear loosely as if it could be a defense against the unknown. Bad idea.

I did not rest thoroughly last night because I was periodically taken down to the delivery ward for cleaning and medication that would soften my cervix and induce labor. The delivery ward itself was quiet and dimly lit. At one point, I realized I could hear the soft whooshing sound of a fetal heart monitor from where I sat in the hallway, but the laboring mother—and all others present—were very quiet.

The cleanings were painful. The second visit to the ward resulted in me shaking uncontrollably for about twenty minutes following. My third and final trip down to the ward (at 6:00am), I began to recite from my favorite book and felt the beginnings of perfect peace come over me. As I waited for the doctor, I heard the first squalling cries of a baby delivered in the ward and felt such joy at the sound. I’m sure that the doctor thought I was delirious at that point when I said how wonderful it was.

I began to feel periodic contractions after this visit, and my water broke at about 7:30am. At this time in the morning, I felt peace come over me. I still felt uncertain about what was to come, but there was comfort as we moved forward. The nurse wheeled me down to the operating ward shortly thereafter with a sleepy Eric in tow. As they hooked up another IV and monitored my vital signs, the contractions were almost constant but manageable. I tried to recall Psalm 23 in its entirety, but the pain made it difficult to remember more than disordered fragments.

Eric was a step behind me as they wheeled me into the operating room, but he was kept waiting in the hall instead. I should have been afraid when I was suddenly alone without my support system in place, but I still felt that unshakeable peace.

The anesthesiologist walked me through a questionnaire—I was able to be fully sedated for the procedure—and then patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be ok. This is a bad circumstance, but you are young and will have more children.” Then he folded his hands, glanced upwards, and added, “God blesses young people with children.” Soon, I was only conscious of the beep of my heart monitor.

In the recovery room, one of our friends joined us as I pulled out of the anesthesia. The doctor had asked Eric after the operation if he wanted to see the baby, but he said no at the time. Our friend went in our place and took pictures for us to view when we can emotionally handle it. At that time, the doctor said that she was 60-70% sure that the baby would have been a boy.

We are now twelve hours distant from when I went into the operating room this morning. I have had minimal physical pain and have been able to carry on through the day with that same peace hovering all around me. We are so grateful for the many people who have been lifting us up today all around the world. Your emails, calls, messages, visits, and online comments have been blessedly encouraging. You are precious to us.

The doctor will keep me in the hospital until at least Monday morning in order to continue giving me antibiotics to fight the infection in my body. If lab tests on Monday come back positively, we will be able to go home then.

Grace (originally published to FB 3/5/15)

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I’m sitting in a hospital bed with another round of antibiotics pumping into my arm through an IV port. This is my third medicine from a bag today, not counting the syringe of antibiotics shot directly into the port in my left forearm. I’ve been stuck, prodded, and wheeled through the hospital throughout the day, and the word that still comes to mind is grace. Grace that I have access to incredible medical care. Grace in the form of caring nurses. Grace from knowledgeable doctors and technicians.

Yesterday, we came to the hospital for a routine prenatal check-up, excited to watch Speck wiggle around during the ultrasound and marvel at how much the baby had grown since our last appointment in Thailand. Instead, we saw a still, small form on the screen and heard no heartbeat. The way that the ultrasound technician did not want to meet my eye confirmed it. Speck had passed away. We listened as the doctor explained what we were seeing, when she thought the baby might have died, and what she proposed we do next. We left the hospital heartbroken.

There was no reason to expect this outcome. Every check-up had been positive, all signs pointed to a normal, healthy pregnancy. However, there is another piece to this story, one that I’ve guarded close to my heart like Mary. When we were in Thailand, the Father told me that this baby would be taken away.

I cried and pleaded with the Father, begged that He not take my baby away. He asked me to surrender what was His. Finally, I agreed. I told Him I didn’t want it, but that I would give up our baby. I prayed and hoped that this would be metaphorical, like Hannah giving up Samuel. I told Eric what the Father had told me, but I had convinced myself that the conversation with the Father had been about stewardship and that we were meant to steward this child that was a gift from Him.

Now I know better, and I still think, “Grace.” Grace that He told me ahead of time. Grace that I was able to let go back in Thailand to make this parting easier. Grace that I have the comfort of knowing that we will meet Speck again one day and will be able to marvel at this wonderful image-bearer.

Since learning of our news, we have been able to share with our ELI team and school here and with family abroad. We are blessed to have unending support and can feel the uplifting that is going on around the world. Today would have been nearly impossible to bear without their thoughts, their visits, and their small comforts that they’ve brought us throughout the day. Grace and more grace.

We marveled at the rising sun on our short walk back to the hospital this morning. The clear blue Mongolian skies looked vast as always. The air, free of pollution, was cold but fresh. As we walked, I began to sing quietly to myself, “Great is Thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning, new mercies I see,” and I meant it. Again, grace.

Back in the hospital, our doctor informed us that the lab work that had been done yesterday had shown high levels of bacterial infection throughout my body, hence the antibiotics. She also explained that she expected our baby had died about a week after our appointment in Thailand, which would explain the infection. From the sound of it, I am lucky to be as relatively well as I am—evidence of more grace.

We were able to have another ultrasound to be sure before we agreed to any procedure. This confirmed yesterday’s diagnosis, but also showed the growth of a fibroid that had been spotted in Thailand as well as a second fibroid that was smaller. From what the doctor could tell, the fibroids had cut off the blood supply to the baby. Knowing how this happened is further grace. Being able to release the doubts and self-blame was grace.

Now, we are resting in my hospital room. They will be administering drugs periodically tonight and into the morning to prepare my body for inducing labor. I do not know what to expect, but I suspect that tomorrow will be the most difficult of these three days. I know we will not be alone—neither spiritually nor physically. He has given us grace—and grace upon grace—and still we need more. However, we covet your thoughts as we head into tomorrow.

Great Expectations…Delayed

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Back in the first week of December, we found out that we were expecting our first child, which caught me a little by surprise as my family medical history does not speak to easy conception. We began to tell very close friends and immediate family around the eighth week of our pregnancy and began to tell more friends closer to the end of the first trimester.

When we were in Thailand, a friend volunteered to take pregnancy announcement photos for us. Not long after we returned from Thailand, we shared these photos and our news with the rest of our friends and family on Facebook. Our school found out as well since many of our students and coworkers are connected with us online. Everyone was so excited, and we were thrilled at the positive support and love.

We had already been planning on staying in Mongolia through the summer–rather than go back to the US for a visit–and with the baby’s due date in early August, we assumed that it would be best for everyone involved to deliver in UB. We had been going to a great hospital and had been planning how next year would look compared to this year, and then everything changed in matter of seconds.

At our last prenatal checkup (March 4), the ultrasound technician could not find a heartbeat. Our normally active and wriggling baby lay unmoving. My doctor declared it a miscarriage, and it felt like how you would expect this news to feel like–like the air had been sucked from our lungs, like we were in a waking nightmare, like we were pitching headlong down a dark ravine with no parachutes to save us.

While in the hospital and back at home recovering, I wrote several posts on FB that go into detail on all that we’ve been through in the last week and a half. I will post those in chronological order to this blog, but we also wanted to share some of our favorite pictures from when we were looking forward to having a baby.

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