John and Carol met when they were just fourteen, as classmates in school. In high school, their early friendship grew as a result of so many hours spent together at church. John served as the youth choir director, and Carol as one of his best singers.Although John never knew until much later, at home, Carol was responsible for her brothers and sisters. She was the oldest of seven children with an alcoholic father, and a mother who picked up odd jobs to make ends meet despite her husband’s habit.
From a very early age, Carol was put into the place of caretaker for her siblings – cooking and cleaning for them, checking homework, changing diapers, feeding bottles, and tucking everyone in at night. Carol’s escape was through music, so it was no surprise that she and John grew close over time.
Shortly after graduating, John proposed to Carol on a youth trip to Disney World. When she said yes, they popped the champagne cork over the top floor balcony of the Contemporary Resort. They had their whole lives before them, without a care in the world. He got the girl, and she was finally free.
Carol and John were soon married and built their forever home in a town right next to the small city where they grew up together. Carol started going to nursing school, and John continued his work at the bank. They had a simple, sustainable life together and a future full of dreams to realize.
Two years into their marriage, Carol was pregnant with their first child. Carol’s twin brother and younger sister had both just had the first two grandsons of the family, and now Carol would be adding the first baby girl. About two months into her pregnancy, however, Carol started to feel like something was wrong. She went to the doctor. Tests were ordered. More tests were ordered.
All of a sudden, John and Carol found themselves in Boston at the Children’s Hospital, talking to specialists about chromosomes and X mutations and risks and options. Their world of possibilities suddenly became so small – as small as the size of Carol’s palm. When Lindsey was born in June, Carol held her baby in the palm of her hand. For just a moment. And then the little life was sent to the NICU to be monitored, tested, and sustained by machines.
Carol and John’s world continued to shrink over the course of the summer. For the next four months, their world consisted of hotel rooms in Boston near the hospital, the rocking chair in the NICU, bad cups of coffee from the hospital gift shop, fast food from the shops along Longwood Avenue in Boston, and stiff drinks from the nearby bar.
John was a simple man with a gentle heart and a hopeful shimmer in his blue eyes. His baby girl and his grieving wife were too much for him to handle alone. It was too real when this seemed to be like the hospital television shows he used to watch at home. That was supposed to be entertainment – not his life.
Carol’s twin brother came into the city whenever he could, to sit with John over his responsible single shot of scotch, and talk to him. But there was not much to say. After six months of this sleepwalking existence, John and Carol were told that if they wanted to take their baby home, they could.
There was nothing more the doctors could do. Their child would not survive her genetic disease. Carol wanted to be home with her baby. John had maxed out his capacity for hospitals – especially the labor and delivery floors, with the rooms of happy parents with happy and healthy babies.
So they took Lindsey home and took care of her as best they could. Carol’s childhood of taking care of her six siblings had not prepared her for this first experience as a mother. But she showered her baby with love and prayed to Jesus every night for a miracle.
Four months later, Carol and John were sitting at the funeral home deciding between two options for the tiniest caskets they had ever seen. None of it felt real. It was all a terrible dream from which they both wished to escape.
A year later, they had somehow prayed themselves back into faith. Their strongest support was their church pastor. His mighty army of congregants nursed Carol and John back to a new normal, and they felt hope again.
They could see the beauty in the sun, the moon, the flowers, and the birds. They started trying again. They found comfort in the book of Matthew, in which Jesus encouraged the people to believe that there is no reason to worry, for God will provide:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:25-27)
September of that year, their prayers were answered. Carol was pregnant with their second child. This time, they were more proactive and got the limited testing for Lindsey’s genetic disorder completed for this new baby. The results came back positive. Their second child would be born premature, into discomfort, and survive for only a short time. Carol and John went to God with their cries of frustration, desperation, pain, and confusion.
How could this “one in a million, extremely rare” genetic disorder happen to their family twice? Why was this happening again? Carol went to her pastor and asked what lesson God was trying to teach her. She wanted to understand how this could be God’s plan for her, her husband, and her daughters. Her pastor offered no answers but walked alongside her and John every step of the way of her second pregnancy.
The community rallied. Meals were sent, tiny blankets were crocheted, a baby shower was compassionately organized. Carol and John were offered kindness, support, respect, and dignity. On Valentine’s Day, Tifanie was born – just two short years after her older sister had passed away.
Because Carol and John had taken such good care of Lindsey, the doctors gave the okay for the young parents to take their baby home. Results confirmed that the same journey was ahead for this family as the last time they left the NICU. In just four short months, Carol and John were back at the same funeral home, choosing between the same two tiny caskets.
Carol and John returned to church. They returned to their pastor for guidance and comfort. They resigned themselves to being the best Aunt and Uncle to the new nieces and nephews who were being born healthy to all of their brothers and sisters. They tried to move forward. They went to work. They were faithful churchgoers, though neither could find the desire to sing in the choir anymore.
The stares and sympathetic glances became too much to handle every week. With careful monitoring, orchestrated support efforts, and countless conversations with their pastor, John and Carol started trying for another baby. Again. Just a year and a half after Tifanie was buried, they were pregnant with their third child. Carol’s mantra throughout her pregnancy was: God is good.
God was good. John and Carol gave birth to their third daughter nine months later. A healthy child. Jessica was a perfect 9lbs 11oz., and they took her home with tears in their eyes. Carol thought that she didn’t have any more tears left, but this joy was transformational. The sun was shining again. There were stars in the sky.
Her baby girl was home, and she would stay home for eighteen years until moving to a big city to pursue her big dreams. John and Carol had their world in her. She was everything they had prayed for over after years of trauma, suffering, and questioning. This was God’s plan. And it was good.
Jessica is now 33 years old and trying to have a child of her own. She has her own fears of what her experience will be like since her parents went through so much to have a healthy child. Responsibly, she decided to get as much information and preliminary testing done to determine her chances of having a healthy child. The genetic tests came back negative. She is in the clear and has every chance of having a healthy baby.
A few weeks ago, Jessica called home to share her good news with her mom. She was curious about what kinds of tests her mom had had when she was facing her second and third pregnancies. Jessica wanted to know if she had missed any tests.
Carol’s response to the question was short and shocking. She said that she didn’t really remember any of it. She said that it was all really foggy in her memory. She didn’t remember any tests. She just remembered feeling confused and wanting to take her baby home like everyone else. Jessica was taken aback by this.
She asked her again, “Mom, you don’t remember having tests done? How did you know the babies were sick? Once you went into labor? It took them that long to figure it out?” Carol got really quiet and didn’t say anything. She was trying really hard to think. She was desperately trying to conjure up this information for her daughter. But she couldn’t remember the details.
“I’m sorry, Jessica. I can’t remember. I was so confused. But I think of the babies every day. They’re with me, in my dreams all the time. I’m just thankful I got to love them while they were here. I wish I could remember… why can’t I remember?”
This obviously caused alarm in Jessica. Clearly, something was wrong. Her mother did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s. She was only in her early sixties. These experiences were apparently too painful for her mother to be able to take with her into her daily life or into her long-term memory. She had effectively dissociated from the pain of that chapter of her life. It was something Jessica could understand, but it still made her worry for her mom.
“Mom . . . I am so sorry I am asking these questions if they are taking you to a really sensitive place. I really think you should see someone, though. I’m worried that you may have been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder your whole adult life without knowing it. There are people who can help you. You are not alone, Mom.”
If you or someone you care about is displaying signs of PTSD, help is available. There are counselors to talk to and tools that your loved ones can acquire to help them cope with daily life and triggering situations.
Signs of PTSD
Please encourage your loved ones to seek trauma therapy if they present any of the following signs of PTSD:
- Intrusive memories (including flashbacks and night terrors)
- Negative changes in thinking or mood (or feeling emotionally numb)
- Changes in physical or emotional reactions
- Trouble sleeping
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Inability to regain control of one’s everyday life
Christian Counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of PTSD, you do not have to struggle alone. Feel free to contact our office today to schedule an appointment with me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory to get help, support, and treatment options to overcome the signs of PTSD you are experiencing.
“Baby Feet”, Courtesy of Fe Ngo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Candle”, Courtesy of Jessica Delp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cemetery Angel”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee and Conversation”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License