When Nightmares Come True

The pain of losing a baby brings a focus on God, who lost a Son.

by Marlo M. Schalesky

I woke with a surge of fear. My hands, balled into tight fists, gripped the sheets as my breath came in ragged gasps. The chill of the pre-dawn air wrapped cold fingers around my chest and throat. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them again. I could see the dim outline of my dresser and chair. The bed felt damp beneath me. Was it just a dream?

I could still hear the frantic pounding of blood in my ears. Oh God, my baby! The words shot through my mind as I sought to distinguish reality from the image of a miscarriage still vivid in my mind.

My husband, Bryan, rolled over in bed and sat up. “Are you all right?” he mumbled. “What’s wrong?”

When my mind cleared, I let out a long breath. It wasn’t real, I told myself. It was just a dream. “It’s nothing,” I murmured. “Go back to sleep.”

Joy of conception

I pulled the covers around my chin and waited for Bryan’s steady breathing. Slowly, it came, the peaceful sound like a gentle lapping of waves on the sand. I wrapped my arms around myself and stared at the ceiling fan whirling slowly in the darkness. Surely God wouldn’t allow anything to happen to this baby, I thought. We had been trying to get pregnant for almost three years now. It had been a roller coaster ride of emotions — hope and fear and disappointment chasing each other through our hearts.

Then, nine months ago, I had undergone surgery to widen a “tight spot” at the bottom of my uterus. The doctor said I’d have about a year to get pregnant before the opening closed up again. With the end of the year nearing, we found out I was pregnant at last. I remembered how I had danced for joy, thanking and praising God. Life was good. God was good. And everything was right in my world.

Now as the first rays of dawn began to peek through the shutters of my bedroom window, I tapped my fingers across my belly and closed my eyes. Everything was going to be all right. After all, God was in control, wasn’t He?

Dark reality

Later that day, I went about my business as if nothing had happened that morning. I had blood drawn for prenatal tests, stopped at the grocery store, and came home again to rest.

Then it happened: the nightmare. I started to bleed. Cold terror gripped me as I rushed to the doctor’s office. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening.

As Bryan and I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, my mind felt numb, frozen in fear. Back and forth, back and forth, I rocked in the chair, trying to think, trying not to think. Quietly, Bryan took my hand. His eyes met mine, but there were no words to say; my nightmare was coming true.

Sad confirmation

Within a few minutes we were ushered into a small examination room. Her usually cheerful face drawn with sympathy, the doctor pulled a cart of machinery up to the table. “We’ll need to do an ultrasound, to see if. . . .” She didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t need to; I knew.

As the doctor moved the probe at different angles, I saw nothing on the screen but gray fuzz. She shut off the machine. “I’m sorry. It’s too late.” The words were barely a whisper, yet they echoed through me like a shout of agony. “It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late.”

The baby was gone; my nightmare had come true.

As we left the doctor’s office, grief and shock left me in a daze of pain. I prayed I’d wake up again and find it wasn’t true. I prayed that the doctor was somehow wrong, though my body confirmed I was no longer pregnant.

Cruel reminders

When we reached home, a dozen reminders of my loss assaulted me: a congratulations card on my desk; a baby name book on the coffee table; a bag with new maternity clothes sitting on the stairs, waiting to be taken to our bedroom.

I sat on the couch and stared at nothing. “Oh God,” I whispered, and could get no further.

Slowly, my hand reached for the baby name book, the touch of it seeming to sear my fingers as I picked it up and flipped through the pages. I paused, my eyes lingering over the names we had marked: Andrew, Jared, Thomas . . . Brianna, Justine, Michelle. . . . My heart lurched with each name.

“We never even knew if you were a boy or girl,” I whispered. “We’ll never know now.” Tears lodged in my throat like a cold stone as I shut the book and shoved it under the couch.

Unexpected word

Quickly, the congratulations card and maternity clothes joined the book. I felt Bryan watching me, concerned, his breath the only sound in the room. Without returning his gaze, I picked up the journal that we had started for the baby and held it with trembling hands. My eyes, still wide with shock and pain, finally met Bryan’s.

“I know,” he choked.

I dropped the journal and fell to my knees, my head dropping to my hands. “Oh God,” I repeated as everything inside me crumbled into a hundred shattered pieces of agony.

For a long time, I sat there until, in the midst of my grief and hopelessness, a single scripture spoke in my mind. It wasn’t the scripture I would have expected — not of comfort or hope in God’s power, or a promise of future blessings. The scripture was spoken by Job when he, too, was faced with tragedy: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21, NIV).

Then the tears came — a flood of them. I knew that God had given us a baby and that I was agonizing over Him taking the child away, but how could I praise Him in the midst of a nightmare-come-true?

Song of faith

Still shaking, I rose and went into the other room to get Bryan’s guitar. As I came back to the living room, I handed him the instrument. “Play for me,” I whispered. “Not something about me — something about God.”

Without a word, he took the guitar and began to play. “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. . . .” The words washed through me, beckoning, questioning. Could I still sing them — even now?

Oh God, I can’t. Help me! my mind cried. With a shuddering breath, I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed the words past the lump in my throat. “Thy compassions, they fail not. . . .”

As I sang, my eyes lifted. Through my tears, I saw the cross that sits on our television. A strange warmth filled me. God understands the pain of losing a child, I thought. His Son died on the cross. Was God now allowing me to experience a bit of His own pain? If so, could I trust Him enough to go through this nightmare and accept it without anger and accusations?

New understanding

Another verse from Job came to me: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10, NIV).

New understanding flooded me. If I praised God, if I claimed that God was good and just and kind when things were going well, then I needed to say the same things when times were terrible. If I only praised God when circumstances were good, what did that say about my faith?

A shiver raced through me. I wanted a faith that wasn’t based on how happy my circumstances were, but on who God is. Circumstances change, but God stays the same. His love is constant, even in the worst of times.

I began to sing again, my voice growing stronger as God comforted me, not with promises or platitudes, but with the awesome wonder of His presence. I wanted to praise Him, despite the pain, despite the loss, despite the tears that still flowed unhindered down my cheeks. Even in the midst of a nightmare-come-true, I wanted to proclaim that God was good, loving, just, and holy. He was still worthy of all my praise.

Now, months later, as I look back on my experience, I realize that I have been profoundly changed. As with Job, my understanding of God has grown. No longer does my faith need to be based on the ever-changing circumstances of my life. It can be founded on the unchanging glory and wonder of God.