Dear Carri ~ an open letter from one traumatized "mom of many" to another

by Vyckie

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I was recently interviewed by a Minnesota news station in relation to the sad case of Carri Chmielewski ~ a “quiverfull” mother whose planned unassisted home birth of baby #9 ended tragically.

As one who has been in similar high-risk situations with three of my pregnancies ~ I wrote a piece expressing my initial reaction (sickened and mortified) to the news that Carri’s baby boy had died due to an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE) ~ a situation which might not have developed had she sought competent medical treatment earlier in her pregnancy when she first suspected she might be carrying twins.

During the interview, I was asked, “What would you want to say to Carri?” OMG ~ I had no idea what to say to Carri. Having gone through the faith-testing trial myself ~ the indescribable trauma ~ the near loss of life ~ and then to do it again ~ and again … at least my babies all survived … what is there to say to Carri?

“I’m so sorry for your loss” really doesn’t cut it ~ you know?

Initially, I declined to answer the question. But now that I’ve had more time to really think about it ~ I actually do want to speak to Carri. I’ll probably never meet this woman ~ who doesn’t know me from Adam, but with whom I feel a woeful sort of “shared experience” connection ~ so, I’m writing this letter to Carri from my heart ~ in no way do I want to add to the unbearable pain which Carri is already experiencing ~ I only hope that I might have something to say which could encourage and edify Carri ~ and possibly help with the healing process.

Dear Carri,

I am one of the many, many “internet addicts” who followed your “Carri-Me-Away” blog with fascination, admiration ~ and yes, a certain amount of dread and fear ~ as you journaled about your pregnancy (with twins!) ~ the ups and downs of waiting (not always quite patiently) in anticipation of the arrival of the new little ones ~ seeking the Lord’s will for a safe, happy delivery in your own home where you and your babies would be surrounded by loved ones ~ where you could feel comfortable, cared for, and supported.

The final weeks and days leading up to the due date (and beyond) are a crazy mixture of excitement and exhaustion ~ of hope and expectation ~ and of really.wanting.this.to.be.over.with! You expressed all these feelings so candidly and with such sweetness in each post ~ we couldn’t help but love you and wish you all the best ~ and hold our collective breath as we waited for news that “The babies are here!”

It’s true that many of us who were checking your blog daily were upset that you hadn’t gone to a qualified OB doctor ~ many were convinced that you were unnecessarily putting your life and that of your babies in danger ~ some were even outraged about the risks you were taking and your apparent lack of sense in eschewing sound medical treatment.

Personally, I was a bit worried too ~ but not overly so because I have been in similar situations on several occasions ~ and even though I realize now that I hadn’t made the best (safest) choices for myself and my babies ~ at the time, I had put my trust in the Lord and, in the end, everything turned out okay ~ I survived and the babies were alive, healthy and thriving. I believed the same would be true for you ~ maybe you wouldn’t get the wonderful, peaceful home birth ~ but if you had to go the hospital, that’d not be too terribly awful ~ you’d have your babies and that’s really all that matters, right?

Carri, when I read that you’d suffered an AFE and that you’d lost the baby ~ the news brought back a flood of memories from my own high-risk deliveries and triggered a PTSD reaction that I just had to write about. I’m sure you’ve already read the “verbal vomit” which I posted on my No Longer Quivering blog ~ I just was so shook up ~ I felt like I could really identify with your ordeal and I was horrified to think that my birth stories could easily have ended as badly as yours ~ and all this time I’ve been telling myself that I really wasn’t being incredibly misguided, misinformed, negligent, and just plain stupid in the birthing choices which I’d made for myself and my children.

Like you, I held to a firm conviction that children are a blessing from the Lord and I strongly desired to have as many blessings as He chose to send my way. Faced with the very real possibility of half a dozen or more pregnancies in my future ~ I was highly motivated to diligently seek out the very safest ~ least expensive, traumatic, painful and unpleasant birthing options available. I read every birthing book I could get my hands on (well, not “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” ~ I really didn’t need to scare myself into a totally medicalized birthing experience which is what I feared would happen if I read that one), I did plenty of research, I consulted with other women who had experience with natural childbirth and home birth ~ I really put my all into becoming well-informed regarding all the choices available to me.

The only problem was that the more I studied the situation, the more I came to feel that there weren’t really a lot of suitable options ~ in order to get the satisfactory birth experience which I so desired, I was going to have to make some tough decisions ~ I was going to have to take charge of my own birthing plan rather than passively giving myself over to “the experts” who would handle the birth in a high-tech manner which was most convenient for them and which was least likely to land them a day in court as defendants in a malpractice or negligence lawsuit.

You once wrote on your blog: “God never meant for man (Pregnant Women) to surrender himself (herself) to the total control of man (dr./technology, etc.) God considers that idolatry. We are to surrender ourselves to GOD.” Through my own experiences, I had come to completely share your sentiments. With my first pregnancy, I was so afraid of childbirth that I totally surrendered myself to the doctor’s judgment ~ and as a result, I ended up with a completely unnecessary c-section ~ which then led to two more scheduled repeat cesareans.

I had gone the route of “trusting in man” ~ I’d paid a high price personally, but I’d finally learned my lesson ~ from then on out, I was trusting in God rather than “man.”

I realize that your experience is really quite different than mine in that you had already successfully delivered your babies vaginally ~ and several of them at home ~ so you did not have the same risk factors. BUT, just like me ~ you had your doubts.

I was a little surprised that you revealed those doubts in your online journal ~ although your concerns were always accompanied by statements of faith and trust in God such as this: “As I reflected in my study today Those scriptures became alive to me and talked to my heart at where Iam and how Iam feeling. God is with me and He is lifting me up and He is giving me peace and He is keeping the devil away from my thoughts And He is giving me and our babies protection and my Dh and I provision for the birth and the babies.”

Although we both knew full well that a big part of what makes for better outcomes in natural childbirth is when fully-informed pregnant moms are in control ~ they are listening to their bodies and trusting their instincts ~ as Christian quiverfull women, we also learned to distrust our feelings and we daily practiced dying our own selves, surrendering control, leaving the decision-making to those in rightful authority, trusting the Lord to work through those authorities whom we submit to out of loving obedience to Jesus who serves as a living example of self-denial and true surrender to the Heavenly Father.

In your own words (and I said these very things myself): “God has promiced full protection and provision is we obey Him and follow His direction. … God always remains in control,and sometimes God’s plan is different from our plan..You do not always get to choose what happens..”

Looking back, I can clearly see now how verses such as “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding,” and “‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” ~ these and similar verses which seem to teach that women are specifically more susceptible to deception like this one: “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” ~ all of this set us up as women to doubt our own perceptions ~ to dismiss our fears as irrational or as the devil sowing seeds of distrust.

Our deeply beloved belief system denied us an important safety net ~ that of our own feelings. When our bodies and our minds screamed out, “Something is wrong!” our faith calmed us down ~ after all the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear …

I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when I read your words, “God is Good to those who seek Him and He will provide you the wisdom with what you need to do in any area of your life as long as you are in right standing with Him.” My skepticism was not because I doubted your sincerity, Carri ~ it’s only that I wholeheartedly believed the exact same thing. That’s partly why I sought with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength to be right with Him ~ as right as I possibly could be ~ by discerning His will through prayer and from His Word and then faithfully following to the best of my ability. Whatever the cost ~ I wanted to be right with the Lord.

I know that’s what you wanted too. But being right with God did not protect either one of us from calamitous birthing outcomes.

After my disastrous home birth attempt, as I lay in the hospital bed, half-dead and feeling like I’d just been through a “to-the-pain” duel with Satan and he’d left me utterly defeated and humiliated ~ I was so distraught and my mind was racing trying to figure out WHAT JUST HAPPENED??!!

I couldn’t believe that it was one of those Job scenarios in which the Lord was testing my conviction ~ Did I truly trust Him with my family planning ~ even if it meant surgical deliveries and near-death experiences? “LORD ~ YOU ALREADY KNOW I DO.” The Lord knew that I would surrender myself completely to Him ~ though He slay me. He knew the strength of my conviction ~ He knew that my faith in Him never wavered.

I had envisioned a glorious testimony of God’s protection and provision ~ His reward for my complete trust and obedience in allowing Him to use my womb for His purposes. I imagined myself explaining after my successful home birth that it was because I had been faithful in seeking His will for my life that the Lord had carried me and my baby safely through.

The only reason I had been so open in sharing about my convictions and my home birth plans is that I had every confidence that the Lord would take care of me and my baby ~ after all, He’s the one who placed these beliefs in my head and desires in my heart ~ so it was His reputation which was really at stake.

Despite all my hoping and trusting and committing all my plans to Him ~ everything that could go wrong in that pregnancy did go wrong ~ and in the end, I had an emergency c-section which was necessary to save my life and the life of my baby girl.

One girl. I, too, had the experience of being assured by my midwife that the reason for all the weight gain and other unexplained complications was that I was most likely carrying twins. Like your midwife, mine also heard two distinct heartbeats on the fetoscope. Twins! That would be wonderful! A double blessing.

But were there really twins? (My heart told me, “No.”) If yes ~ should I be attempting a home birth? If no ~ then why all the weight gain ~ what was wrong with this pregnancy? I’ve always believed that if I had gone to the doctor for an ultrasound, I’d have discovered that there was only one baby and then sought answers as to why I was feeling so awful. But then I learned that you did get an ultrasound ~ and when only one baby was detected ~ you called the results “inconclusive” and continued to have a strong faith despite your doubts ~ and I realize now that I’d probably have done the same thing ~ sort of a “Lord, I believe ~ help Thou my unbelief” thing ~ that’s really where you seemed to be at when you wrote:

“I just keep tossing and turning this idea of twins I want to trust Brandi and her thinking that we have twins but I find myself doubting as each day goes by I am so up and down with it.I know one thing God knows what is in there!He will bless our family either way!I am trying to stay focused on that thought rather than playing the guessing game with twins or no twins~

“All signs in this pregnancy says TWINS

“but there is still the hey I am 40 weeks and still carrying twins?!I know that it can happen but I am just in awe I guess..I am so ready to just know and learn what we have.”

No twins. No home birth. No amazing testimony.

Instead, I was surrounded by angry nurses who thought I must be nuts to even consider home birth ~ fellow Christians who wanted to know if I still believed that the Lord had called me to trust Him with my family planning ~ my mother, who begged me not to have any more children ~ my midwife, who insisted that we’d done everything right and there was no reason why it couldn’t work out for me the next time ~ my husband, who was terrified because he’d almost lost his wife and his baby and he couldn’t imagine trying to raise a passel of children without me.

I never did figure out why the Lord put me through that ~ but I continued to believe that God is good ~ and never for a second did I stop trusting Him. I didn’t have to understand ~ after all, He’s God and I’m not ~ He doesn’t owe me an explanation. I had three more babies ~ again risking our lives with a home birth (after 4 cesareans) and finally planning an unassisted birth despite my own clear premonition that there was something wrong and I would need a c-section (in that case, I suffered a partial uterine rupture).

After that last pregnancy when I had (again) nearly lost my baby and my life ~ the discouragement I felt was overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why the Lord would reveal to me the truth that children are a blessing ~ why He would give me such a love for babies and a burning desire for more little ones ~ why would He make this conviction so plain to me and not, at the same time, honor my wholehearted acceptance of His will by making the deliveries a little easier ~ or at least not life-threatening?

Cripes ~ I had been SO faithful. “So what’s the deal, Lord?” Not that I would question God ~ I only wanted to know what was going wrong so that I would be alive to continue to serve Him and to raise up the precious children which He’d so abundantly blessed me with.

I well remember wondering if it was really such a good thing that I had lived ~ the discouragement and depression ~ the confusion ~ the anguish ~ how could I go on? In the Lord’s strength, of course ~ but I just could not fathom how He might take the wreckage and work it together for good.

It is a blessing and a miracle that I survived. The same goes for you, Carri. We both have paid a very high price to follow the quiverfull conviction ~ short of actual martyrdom, I’d say we gave it our all, huh? You’ve lost your baby ~ but you still have your faith which I know can be a very valuable asset in times of trouble. I don’t really think I have that anymore ~ too much has happened and the ideals which I’d staked my life on don’t make sense to me now.

I’m still trying to sort it all out ~ and at this point, I mostly can only tell you what I no longer believe ~ but there are a couple of things I’d like to say which might ring true for you as it has for me. I don’t have chapter and verse for what I’m going to share ~ only my experience and common sense, which I admit, doesn’t count for much from the strictly fundamentalist point of view ~ but here goes anyway ~ please believe that I only want to encourage you, Carri:

Through all of the pain and sorrow, I’m getting the idea that we can’t go back to Eden. There is no such thing as a perfect family ~ and no matter how hard we knock ourselves out trying to be godly wives and loving mothers ~ we’re going to make mistakes and things will go wrong. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t still try ~ but, please ~ be gentle with yourself when you’ve done your best and yet, disaster strikes. Failure doesn’t make you a bad person or an unfaithful Christian ~ we all screw up sometimes ~ and even when we do everything right ~ stuff happens. We live in an imperfect world ~ you’ve heard this before, you know it’s true.

I don’t say this as a way to avoid responsibility for the poor choices I’ve made ~ the big lesson that I have learned in all of this is that excuses and rationalizations only compound an already messed up situation. There’s no shame in freely admitting, “I was wrong.”

And it’s a whole lot easier to actually see where and how I’ve been wrong when I am willing to look at the situation as it actually is ~ rather than what I knew it could be ~ what I had hoped it would be for me. I know that home birth can be a safe, sensible option for many women who have previously given birth via c-section. I hoped that it’d be a good way for me to avoid another surgical delivery, save money, and allow us to welcome the newest little family member in the comfort and familiarity of our own home.

My failure was in wanting what is possible in theory to be true for me so badly ~ I could not allow myself to acknowledge that in my particular situation ~ it probably wasn’t a good idea. Rather than trust my gut feeling ~ I made more and more declarations of how I trusted in the Lord ~ how He was leading and guiding me ~ how He would keep me and my baby safe as I relied on His strength and His wisdom.

I know it is not fair for me to project my own experience on you, Carri ~ who the heck am I to believe that what I went through has anything whatsoever to do with you? And yet, I just have this feeling as I read posts on your blog like this one:

“I want to rest in Jesus I do not want to sound like I am complaining,on,ly God can fullfill me and I can not change the situation Iam in only God can..in His time..

“He is preparing for me to be able to birth the babies and the babies to recieve all they need in the womb..I just need to daily write it out and meditate on it. It helps me get through another day~I have thought about my wondering and dobting and I have often thought am I saying that God I do not think you are handling this situation right?

“If I am then I know that is from a proud heart and I need to check that real quick before the Lord or my heart will never be satisfied. I will continue to fall deeper into the pit of complaining.I do have faith that God is in control and He will see me through this bound of emotions

“God will refres me and fil me up daily..He will provide my needs and my babies or baby needs..I need to trust Him and keep him in control of this birth and not me!”

Oh, Carri ~ what can I say? I understand why you did not go to an OB doctor ~ I understand why you did not insist on a second opinion when you were unsure whether you were actually carrying twins. You did exactly what you believed to be the one thing which would absolutely ensure a safe and healthy delivery for yourself and for your baby ~ you trusted in God and His promises and what you believed to be His will for you.

I do not fault you. I will not deny the reality or question the sincerity of your walk of faith and trust in the Lord. I can only offer you my empathy and all the best wishes as you struggle to recover your health ~ and as you grieve the loss of your precious baby boy. May you find peace, unconditional love and support, strength for the journey ~ and above all, please don’t ever again discount what your own heart is telling you.

With compassion and hope for the future,

Vyckie

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