In That Building

That building right there is where my life changed in 1983. It’s where worried parents and frantic doctors scrambled to save my life; the hallways imprinted with the pacing back and forth steps of a team wondering what was wreaking havoc on my body. Broken hearts. Spilled-out tears.

I ended up spending my senior year of college interning in that hospital. In an odd way, being there every day was comforting; like coming home. Occasionally, I meandered my way up to the floor where I stayed for a month. I searched for the nurse’s eyes to see if anyone recognized me. So many years had passed and the hospital had gone through its own renovation. Everything was different.

I’ve said before that trauma is not a place. It’s an experience. Yet, in many ways, trauma can be connected to a place. Seeing this hospital and being inside it reminds me of the pain I experienced there, but it also renders me with the calmness of courage I had to fight the infection and survive.

In that building, I won. My future changed and trauma infused itself into my parents and self, but I won. The building has changed so much. Walls have come down and in their place, the newness has taken over.

The same goes for my life. Tearing down the walls I built up to store my medical trauma revealed a newness; a refreshing of spirit. But the trauma of it all has never left. I feel hints of it from time to time. I battle with the injury to my self-esteem and physical issues still occurring years after my surgery.

In that building, my life changed. We’ve both been through many renovations, yet we are connected to each other.

Because that’s what trauma does.

Medical Trauma Has Been on My Mind

Medical trauma has been on my mind. Despite, or maybe because of, the current pandemic that is disrupting all of our lives, I’m pressing onward in writing my story. I want to remember every detail; all of the moments of anguish just as much as the squeals of delight. Medical problems are traumatizing and often overlooked when we study trauma-informed care. I knew my mom would have more answers for me but I also knew that a hard conversation needed to occur.

“Mom, I need a favor. I’m working on a writing project and need for you to try to remember all of the details about my surgery and the time you spent at the hospital with me.”

“Um…well…I remember it as if it was yesterday but then I also have times during it that I’ve blocked out or something. I’ll try…I just don’t know if I can remember all of it.”

Within seconds, Mom started pouring out details of that fateful time in 1983. The paper quickly filled up with notes. I barely kept up with her. Her voice cracked a few times, followed by a drawn-out silence until picking back up where she left off. I knew she was holding back tears. I knew this was hard for her to go there again. As you can see in the image, Mom thought she couldn’t remember that much because of the stress involved at that time, but she did.

What I experienced is considered medical trauma. For her (and my Dad), it is also trauma induced by the near-death experience of their daughter.

Why am I telling this to you? Because medical trauma has been on my mind. I’ve been trying to dodge the fear of getting sick with this virus. I know, however, that it is a trauma-trigger for me. And, for anyone who has experienced significant, life-changing illness. It is also triggering for people who cared for those of us who survived serious illness.

Tonight, I’m thinking of all the people around the world who have just narrowly escaped death or the ones who are fighting it. I’m thinking about the health care professionals who are battling exhaustion and fear so they can keep someone else alive. My heart is with those who couldn’t be there for their loved one’s final days.

This virus is traumatizing for our society. As we push through it and prayerfully get through it, we will come out okay, but changed. Medical trauma is just as real and valid as any other form of trauma.

Let’s keep each other close in thought. Let’s check on each other, show grace and kindness. We will all remember the fear or worry that we are feeling right now, but we can also do our part in letting compassion and putting others’ needs in front of our own become just as memorable.

on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.

A Letter to the Nurses Who Had a Hand in Saving My Life {and every single nurse out there}

It’s no surprise that doctors tend to get a lot of affirmation for their life-saving precision when it comes to surgery.  The doctor who performed my surgery reluctantly received plenty of attention for saving my life.  My case and the way he performed my hysterectomy have been studied both abroad and at home.  He chose to take on the surgery (first of its kind) knowing the risks at hand.  Even his wife knew of the concerns.  She called her friends and they gathered to hold a prayer vigil while he was performing the surgery.

I still have him as my doctor and see him often.  I can call him anytime I need something – day or night.  He and his wife came to our adoption celebrations.  We’ve exchanged Christmas cards and shared food together.  Our families have stayed friends through the years and he knows that I hold no bitterness towards him or the Lord.  Even still, he gets a bit weepy when we talk about my surgery.  It absolutely impacted his life.

The reality is that it was not just his expertise and his hands that saved my life.  There were many nurses who walked through that terrible sadness of my illness; yet, they did not receive the same type of attention and they did not get to watch me grow up and eventually become a mother.

To the nurses who worked the pediatric floor at the formerly called St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri and who had a hand in saving my life in 1983, thank you.

Thank you for carrying my family through a horrible ordeal.  Thank you for holding my mother up while she nearly collapsed from the news and for offering my dad extra blankets at night because he just couldn’t leave.  Thank you for wiping away tears, caressing my hands and speaking words of encouragement into my ears.

Thank you for holding my body down while the needles were sliding in and out of my veins.  I knew it needed to happen and you did, too.  Thank you for checking in on me all of the time and showing the utmost professionalism with the full measure of tenderness.  Thank you for sneaking a friend onto the floor (even though it was against hospital policy).

Thank you for seeking my parents out to offer assurance that I was receiving the best care and for being goofy, smiling a lot and cheering my recovery.  Thank you for putting up with my smarty-pants antics when you couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my IV machine but I could (and I told you how to fix it).  Thank you for holding each other accountable.

I’ve often thought about the nurses on the pediatric floor who tended to my needs.  Without them, I know my experience in the hospital could have gone a lot different.  Even though it was a traumatic time, the love received absolutely made an incredible impact on my healing.

Nurses deal with anger, confusion, grief, sickness, bodily fluids, weeping parents and screaming patients on any given day.  They are comforters, counselors, scientists, and mentors.  They are teachers, advice givers, and hand-holders.

They intentionally walk into the trenches of sickness and trauma, sometimes even at their own risk.  They put up with bureaucracy, policies, and politics and do so with their patients on their minds.  Nurses do not get enough credit for the life-affirming and hope-dealing job that they do.

hosp1

To the nurses who had a hand in saving my life in 1983 and to all of the nurses out there, thank you.

“I Wish I Had a Hysterectomy at Eleven.”

Me (at the ER for kidney stones following the typical question regarding last menstrual cycle): “I had a hysterectomy when I was eleven-years-old so I do not have periods.” Nurse: “Oh. I wish I had a hysterectomy at eleven.”

Um…really? Let’s break that down just a bit.

1) You wish you would have had a major surgery as a child.

2) You wish you would have been in the hospital for nearly a month.

3) You wished you would have missed nearly half of a year of school.

4) You wish you would have felt completely different from girls your own age.

5) You wish you grew up knowing you would never have biological children.

6) You wish you would have believed that your lot in life was your fault and that God was punishing you for some reason.

7) You wish you would have attended baby showers with the full pressure of grief on your heart.

8) You wish you would have cried until you could not cry anymore over what life had thrown you.

9) You wish you would have walked around with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

10) You wish you would have fought the physical, emotional and spiritual battles that encompasses infertility.

11) You wish you would have had to make the decision to be courageous enough to explore foster care and adoption.

12) You wish you had to look into your children’s eyes and try your best to explain why they did not grow in your tummy and why they are not able to grow up with their biological parents.

Don’t get me wrong.  I so appreciate nurses.  Nurses sustained me throughout the many operations and medical issues in my life (both in childhood and adulthood).  The compassion I felt from the nursing staff was incredible and even at a young age, I recognized it.   They are the front-line warriors of so many tragic endings and for that, I have great respect.

However, there have been a handful of medical professionals who have reacted oddly when learning of my surgery.  Some have questioned why the medical team felt it necessary to remove my uterus and other organs.  Others have given flighty statements like the one described above.  The bottom line is that if you do not know what to say to someone, then just either don’t say anything or say something like, “That must have been really hard for you to go through.”

I have found that people who experienced severe medical issues as children are some of the most resilient adults.  I know I may be assuming a lot and that’s okay.  Those of us who have been delivered from the brink of death get that compassion and understanding are so important to the human experience.

If you are someone who experienced a tragic medical history, you’re strong.  You got this.  You know that a select few can truly relate to what you have been through and that’s okay.

If you are someone experiencing infertility, close your heart off to the silly notions and words of others.  You know what you are going through.  You get that others don’t get it.

If you are a nurse, you have the most incredible opportunity to show love, kindness, and compassion.  Keep doing that.  Mind your words, of course, but continue to fulfill the calling on your life to tend to the hurts of so many who need you.

“I wish I had a hysterectomy at eleven.” After all these years, I haven’t forgotten these words. Let’s just all commit to minding our tongues.

After all, words do hurt and if given the choice, wouldn’t you want your words to heal?

7 Billion Ones {photography/storytelling project}

In the latter part of 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting photographer Randy Bacon, and his sweet wife, Shannon.  They invited me to be a part of their amazing movement/project/mission called “7 Billion Ones”.  Their goal is to excite others in believing that “Your Story Matters”, and to instill inspiration through images and words.

I am not a person who takes a ton of selfies, and I certainly don’t like to have my picture taken, but the purpose and validation through this cause was well worth stepping in front of the lens.  My purpose for being in it was this:  to share my story so that others in similar circumstances can be inspired to never give up.

Even if I only have an audience of one, but that one person is moved to encouragement by my story, then it is well worth it.  We never know how sharing ourselves with others can directly impact lives.

You can check out my story by clicking the link below.  Spend some time exploring all of the stories on the 7 Billion Ones website.  I promise you will find a great deal of inspiration from the multitude of others who have stood in front of the camera and told their stories.

7 Billion Ones Story

And, dear friends, keep telling your own stories.  Our lives, full of characters, drama, sadness, and joy, are what makes this big ‘ole world go round.  You never know how your story will affect others; even if it is only an audience of one.

Blessings,

Caroline

Dear Parent of a Sick Child {letter #4}

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

You are lonely, aren’t you?  You have spent many days surrounded by people who care, but there are moments when you feel like the loneliest person on Earth. Although you have had your share of visitors, kind words, gentle sentiments of encouragement through the written word, and comforting touches, you still feel like a small island in this vast ocean of life.

You continue to walk around…

an isolated warrior…

a weary soldier…

a desperate mother…

a lion-hearted father…

in a battle not of your own making.

You hear about and see all moms and dads with their babies enjoying the sun of the summer, traversing through the seasons, and experiencing a life enriched with joy, milestones, and celebrations.  Yet, there you sit.

Waiting.

Waiting hand-in-hand with your child who has barely been awake the past few days.

You visualize her running in the sun of the summer.  You think about the future, and what is to come.  You dream of the milestones, the intricate details of development, and the celebrations you have been able to plan.

You beg for a life beyond all of this.

You yearn for a life farther away from sickness.

You desire never to visit this place again.

You stare at her.  You wonder, “Will she ever wake up again?  Will she ever experience a life outside of these sterile walls, and the beeps of these machines?”  In these moments, your own vision of parenthood, and your dreams of it, seem to evaporate.

You think, “Will I ever wake up to MY child… my child before this illness?  Will I ever see her energy, her enthusiasm for life, and her humor again?  Will this silence ever stop?  Where is our life…our life before all of this?”

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

Your continual stance in the deep hours of the night mean so much to your sick child.  Your gentle grasp, your words of comfort, and your whispering of hope for life beyond this affliction, carry weight.

All of these things have a gravity of their own.  They are not measured in the physical lineage of this world.  Instead, they are mounted upon that seemingly invisible wave of fortitude that courses through your body.

You have the moxie to show this wayward season in your life that it is just that…a season…a temporary stay…a time that will not define your child, your parenthood, and your character.

With each glimpse of life outside of illness, you are anchoring your child and your own parenting experience to the hope of the future.

Hang on to that anchor.

Throw it onto land.

Proclaim it.

Set your vision on the shore of healing, and the life that is in sight.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

You are lonely, aren’t you?  You wonder about life beyond this sickness.  You remember those precious moments before this sadness entered your life.  You cherish with anticipation the visions of your child playing in the wonders of the world, dancing in the rain, experiencing a first crush, crying over a broken heart, going on a first date, graduating from school, and eventually, marrying the one who stole her heart.

You dream of your child launching herself into this world so that it can catch a bit of her radiance.

To be honest, I do not know what you are going through.  My children…my babies…are all seemingly healthy.  I know this can turn on a dime. From my own experience, I have learned that life is fragile.  One day, things seem okay.  The next, you are side-swiped by a diagnosis.

I hope, and pray, and give my own energy to the promise that my children will never experience the life-altering, nearly fatal, and forever-changing illness that I survived as a child.

I do not write from a point of complete understanding of what you are going through.  Instead, I simply write from the vision of what my parents must have felt while watching me fight for life during the eleventh year of my walk on this Earth.  I also write from the words that have come from their own mouths, and the mouths of observers when escaping back to that fateful time in my own life.

I write letters in retrospect.  I write in remembrance of their bravery, their quiet, yet strong presence, and their gentle proclamations that I would beat the hostile intruder that made its way to my life.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

I know you feel lonely.  I know you get tired of seeing the blessings of life that are happening around you.  You must get angry.  You must feel a twinge of jealousy.

You cry out to God in your anger, and in your weakness.

Please know that while you are feeling helpless, and maybe even insignificant, in this big world of unknowns, your presence is perhaps the largest and most beautiful sight in your sick child’s eyes.  Your own sense of loneliness is not seen by your child.

Instead, your nearness to the illness, and your child, has helped to underwrite the story of hope, and the melody of compassion that your child hears, and may even dance to in the future.

Continue to be there.  Continue to be that hand that can be held in the darkest of hours, the agonizing moments of pain, and the stillness of the day.

Stay strong, parent of a sick child.  Stay courageous.  Stay hopeful.

Stay.

Although you may feel like the loneliest person on Earth, your presence is a pillar of gladness that helps your child.

Together, you are not alone.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child (letter #2)

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

You are still there, aren’t you?  You are still at the hospital awaiting for results, for your child to wake up, and for any glimpse of good news…anything that will settle your heart to the hope of a new day without sickness.  You are tired, but you do not want to show it.  You put on a strong face, but you wonder sometimes if you can keep this costume of strength on.

You have found yourself to be a superhero of sorts,  During those quiet moments, you feel like Clark Kent.  You feel vulnerable, weak, and absolutely human.  Yet, during those strong moments where your sick child is watching, you adorn yourself with that cape of strength that you have uncomfortably worn for a while now.  You become Superman or Superwoman.  You stay up all night watching the monitors next to your child.  You make a list of questions for treatment options, expectations, and possibilities.  That brave mask you wear that shows no sign of weakness or vulnerability is rarely taken off, especially around your sick child.

Yet, you sneak off to the isolated corners of the hospital where no one can see you.  You weep with the agony of a desperate heart.  You cry out, “Please, please. Heal my child.”  You bargain with God.  You tell Him that you would gladly trade positions with your child.  You would shorten your life in order to lengthen the life of your baby.  You, dear parent of a sick child, are a weary soldier.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, be still now.  It is okay for you to weep in the quiet corners of the hospital, and to bargain about extending your child’s life.  It is okay for you to yearn to swap places with your sick child.  You are only human, you know.  But….

You are a warrior.  You hold your child with an incomparable measure of strength as he or she gets one more treatment, one more I.V. that cannot seem to find a vein, and one more painful test. You stay up all night in order to catch your child opening his or her eyes for the first time in several weeks.

Your shield has become one of hope.  It may get dings in it, but you never stop carrying it.  It has become your defensive weapon against those who bring you bad news.  Although dampened at times, it still reflects a light that others catch when around you.

You, parent of a sick child, are one of the toughest kind of parents.  You are a survivor of a war waged on the one person you would give your life for.  You did not ask for this.  You did not expect this.  You were barely able to stand when you received the news that broke your heart, but, you stood for your child.

Yes, you are a Superhero of sorts.  You are a warrior.  You wear the mask of bravery, the cape of strength, and the shield of hope.  

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, do you want to know something?

Your child knows you are there.  Your child sees your brave face.  Your child does not know that you disappear to the isolated corners of the hospital.  Your child does not realize that your knees buckled at the devastating news.  Your child also does not know that you bargain with God on his or her behalf.

Do you want to know why?

Because while you are busy being a non-glorified superhero, you step aside so that your child becomes the warrior, the fighter, and the one who receives the praise for being strong.  

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, your kind of strength only comes around every so often.  Most parents will (thankfully) never know the depths of exhaustion mixed with a sliver of hope that you have gone through.

Sneak off to the quiet corners of the hospital if you need to.  Pray, and plead with God about the life of your child.  Advocate for treatment options, keep your mask of bravery, cape of strength, and shield of hope on.  

For your child…

the one you pray over,

the one you bargain for,

the one your knees buckled in despair over,

the one you put on a mask of bravery for,

the one you wear your cape of strength around,

and the one you carry your shield of hope for,

will also wear a mask of bravery, a cape of strength, and a shield of hope.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, you are a warrior.

Related Posts:  Dear Parent of Sick Child

My Response to the Response

The past few days I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to a blog post I wrote back in June of this year.  From what I can tell, the post titled Dear Parent of a Sick Child, was found via a Google search.  It was shared on Facebook, then shared again, and again. Since Wednesday, my blog has received over 34,000 views.  In particular, the post has been shared on Facebook over 10,000 times.

I’m completely overwhelmed and humbled by this response.  Some bloggers get this high of numbers of views on a constant basis, but not me.  I’m a pretty simple blogger who enjoys writing and sharing about my struggle with barrenness, my joy of being an adoptive parent, and my walk in the Lord.

I’ve been moved to tears by the messages from parents sitting by their terminally ill children, parents who have lost children to illness, or ones celebrating their children’s recovery.  I don’t even know what to say in response, and at times, I can barely find the words.

The funny thing is that I do not believe it is my most well-written post.  I have read it many times since, and still see flaws, and areas I would like to tweak a bit.  When discussing this with a friend, she pointed out that perhaps it is even more evident that God is moving on this one.  I cannot help but agree with her.

Back in June, I was moved to write the open letter partly in honor of my mom and dad, and the love they showed me during my illness.  I also wrote it to give voice to things I wished I would have been able to say during that fateful time in my life.  My hope was to encourage parents caring for sick children.

Ultimately though, I wanted to give a glimpse of what it is like to be cared for as an ill child.  I wanted people to know that when I think about the time spent in the hospital, I remember some moments of sadness during it all, but mostly, I remember the presence of my mom and dad.  Sure, I sensed the heaviness of what was going on, but I still felt the never-ceasing support, and genuine love given to me.

I remember the presence of love over my pain.

With all of this being said, I feel the need to share what has been on my heart this week.  Here is my response to the response thus far:

  • Nothing we do is insignificant.  Nothing.
  • Moments in time, regardless of how long ago, have the potential to come back full circle, and in ways we could not ever comprehend.
  • There are many hurting people in the world.  Tell your life story.  You never know the kind of impact it will have on someone who needs to hear it.
  • There are a tremendous amount of seriously ill children, and exhausted parents.  Please pray for those families who have read my post, and the many more who have not.
  • Please do not take your life and your little ones for granted.
  • When the Lord prompts you to do something, then do it.
  • The Lord, through His mercy of sparing my life back in 1983 and through current events in my life, has proved Himself time and again.

I especially want to thank the parents who have read my post, or commented on it by sharing a little bit about their struggle.  You all have thanked me over and over again, but I say, “Thank you.”  Thank you for sharing your stories with me.  Thank you for fighting for your babies.  Thank you for not giving up hope.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  You have touched my heart more than you will ever know.

Throughout my early years, I often wondered why I dealt with illnesses that were difficult.  I especially anguished over having a hysterectomy at such a young age.  I cannot tell you enough how truly remarkable it is to be able to share my story with the hope that it comforts others.

This was my path that the Lord laid out for me, and for that, I give thanks.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

-1 Thessalonians 5:18

Thirty Years Ago

Labor Day Weekend (United States) is usually one that most look forward to. The last hurrah of summer includes an extra day off from work with family and friends. Labor Day weekend evokes another remembrance in my life though.  It is the first memory of waking up in the hospital following my hysterectomy in 1983.

I remember waking up with my dad’s hand near my arm.  I remember opening my eyes just long enough to see him staring at the television.  I remember watching him quietly watch the Jerry Lee Lewis Labor Day Telethon….and that was it.  I closed my eyes, and fell back asleep.  I don’t know if it was day or night.  I don’t know how long he had been sitting there, or how long I had been asleep.  I don’t recall if I said anything, or if he did.  All I remember is quietly watching him stare at the television.

Thirty years ago, I became a survivor.  A survivor of a deadly bacterium.  A survivor of something rarely, if ever, seen in 1983.  It is incredible how a microscopic bacteria could wreak havoc, nearly claim a life, and leave in its wake, a life forever changed.

Labor Day weekend marked the beginning of a different life story.  It was the beginning of a journey marred with confusion, loss, and silence.  My parents suffered great loss as they watched me fight to stay alive.  They knew that staying alive was only part of the struggle….the temporary part.  Infertility would stay.

Today, as I sat around our table with my parents, husband, and children eating lunch, I thought about this weekend and what it meant for my life.  As I sat with my daughter at the doctor today (she’s fine), I thought about my own parents sitting by my bedside with worry as their greatest companion.  As I watched my son playing in a creek at a local park, I thought about the first time I laid eyes on him, and exhaled.  As I put the little one to bed, I hugged on him a little longer than usual, and told I loved him a few extra times.

Thirty years ago, I was a young girl waking up to the image of my father by my hospital bed.  I fought a deadly illness, and won.  The battle was not over though.  In many ways, it had just begun.

Through the years I’ve learned that life is partly what is written or ordained to happen, and mostly what you make of it.  What I mean is that it is easy to “throw in the towel”, rely on your own crutch of victimization, wallow in self-pity, and lose faith.  It is far too easy to say, “Well, life is unfair.”

I do not believe that the Lord wants us to be victims.  He does not want us to stifle His light because of what we have been through.  Through the past thirty years, I’ve learned to trust, hope, and to dare to envision dreams coming true through His grace.  photo

Through him we have also obtained  access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that  suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character  produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been  poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to  us.
-Romans 5:2-5