Saturday, May 30, 2009


Some sweet things:

* Don's trick of keeping a pack of gum in the sleeve of his robes every year at graduation.
* mom checking in and stopping by "just to look at you"
* daddy's blog and notes
* the teddy bear my friend Rebekah P. sent through her mother-in-law when i was in the hospital, so i wouldn't have to leave with my hands empty. i've never, ever been a stuffed animal kind of girl (okay, since being pregnant with Ben i've been known to buy really cute stuffed bunnies or lambs...), but this teddy bear ended up in my bed when i was in so much pain when i first got home from the hospital.
* friends who come to just sit on my couch but whose feelings aren't hurt if i don't always answer the phone :)
* the mail lady-- she has this little daily routine where she puts the mail in our boxes (we're in the country-- there are a couple of boxes beside each other) and then pulls up beside the fence across the road and gives doggy treats to the mongrels who live there. it's so sweet. she even does it in bad weather. that's one trick for making friends with your enemy!
* the new friends we've gained through this process-- there is a whole remnant of mothers and fathers who have lost babies... i had no idea that this society existed, and definitely no idea that i would one day join it. there is such tenderness in these bruised hearts. i'm starting to see a trend in something that might just be incredibly precious to the Lord...
* job, ecclesiastes, and psalms look entirely different to me. there is a whole dimension to the Word that i had no idea about.

the sun is out, too, and the humidity is down. i love the rain, but it's good to have days like this, too.

i miss my child, and that's good, too, today.

His splendor covers the heavens, And the earth is full of His praise. His radiance is like the sunlight
Habakkuk 3: 3-4

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh, and one more thing...

My brain...

Of course, at times like this, hypochondria raises its ugly head.

Is it my brain's way of trying to cope? Am I trying to distract myself? Am I completely insane? Yes to all three, I suspect.

All day today, I've had pain in my right calf. And I've known why: Don has been changing the dressing on my wound ever since we've been home, but only recently have the nerves been sort of coming back to life-- it's started to sting BAD every time. So, drama queen that I am, I curl my toes and stretch my legs and sigh and look everywhere but DOWN-- can't look at this wound. Makes me faint. My leg hurts because I strained a muscle in my leg.

But of course, my brain has a check list of every bad thing I could have wrong with me. Because there just isn't enough grief in the world. So all I can think of is "blood clot."

Before I go on, I'll just proclaim this: NO, in the name of Jesus. I say ENOUGH to death and fear and sadness. I say NO to constant fear of the enemy. I refuse, in the name of Jesus, to live my life in fear of...the future. I will not live afraid that I am going to drop dead at any moment, that my husband is going to get killed in some horrible accident, that my parents are going to disappear... granted, we're all going to go be with Jesus at some point, but He has NOT CALLED US TO LIVE IN FEAR OF DEATH.

So a few minutes ago, I got up to check on Don-- he went to sleep early and sounded like he was calling for me-- and when I came back into the hallway, I started feeling all woozy. My legs felt funny, I felt faint, and I stopped and said, "NO, in the name of Jesus. NO. I will not live in fear." And I said some other stuff, too, but you get the idea. I called for Don and he came and prayed for me and I feel fine now, of course.

In all of this sadness and questioning, I feel like the Lord has taken his finger and put it directly on this one area of my heart: fear. It feels like He has identified it as His own personal enemy that He wants to crush in me and for me. Powerfully and permanently.

So tonight, I will take all of my thoughts captive and make them obey Jesus.

I will not die but live and tell the works of the Lord (Psalm 118: 17)

Certain Days

I have so many emotions these days, and hardly any of them arrive with any warning. Usually, there is some word, event, place that cranks up feelings/memories, etc.

A list:

* Gymboree, Baby Gap, OshKosh
* the baby's room
* first time at church
* my niece's birthday (in my mind, this was going to be one of the first places we were going to take Ben after he was born)
* Horizon milk with DHA/Omega 3
* maternity clothes
* dr.'s office-- on the one hand, I love it because I LOVE the people who work there. The nurses there walked through the last nine months with me...their sympathy is so real... they saw me grow, heard my fears, laughed with me... when they cry, I feel it and it is precious. On the other hand, it's just the waiting room sometimes. And it's not the women with babies, oddly enough-- it's the still-pregnant women. And it's not them or being jealous so much as remembering that I was just pregnant, with no prize... at least, not one that I understand yet.
* the spot beside our bed where we had a bassinet, borrowed from Nathan and Lucy
* the old couch, which we can afford to replace now (we got a great new couch and were about to get a matching one when we found out we were pregnant with Ben)
* the car. almost every time I'm in it I remember that his baby seat is not there and that he's not behind me
* summer. I was so excited to have this whole summer to get to know him. The timing of his birth could not have been more perfect...turns out, it's also ideal for grieving.
* pools. I've wondered for months how old he had to be before he went into mom and dad's pool
* peppermint lotion from Origins. Don put it on my feet almost every night before bed for the last month of pregnancy
* orange juice. Ben would really get going when I drank OJ. Like all babies in the womb, I guess
* my own hair lately...

I guess the one I want to jump on is that last one for now.

We took some pictures of Ben (I say "we"-- Paige and mom took pics, and then one of the nurses did, too. They did such a good job, but I so wish we had known about an organization that takes beautiful pictures of babies who have passed or who are dying...). I was still completely out of it-- either still being sewn up in surgery or still completely wasted from medications-- so I have so few memories apart from the really strong one when I was holding him during the baptism. Anyway, the pictures are precious to have, but there is this one picture where you can so see his hair...

It is my hair. Oh my gosh, I expected him to have Don's hair because his hair is brown and I was completely bald at birth, apart from white fuzz. As an adult, my hair is still the same blonde it always has been since high school-- light blonde or strawberry blonde, depending on the weather. No way my baby will have blonde hair like me and my entire Scottish side of the family. But Ben's hair was even better-- it was strawberry blonde. It was wavy, like both sides of our family, and strawberry blonde.

It has rained almost daily since everything happened with Ben, which I am convinced is God's mercy toward me-- the rain comforts me so deeply-- and the humidity makes my hair more red than blonde.... and whenever I see it now, it's him.

The whole situation is so incredible and I want to weep and throw things across the room and scream and sing and yell at God and thank Him, too... so many feelings. The amazing miracle of seeing yourself reflected in the face of a baby is just as intense if that baby has passed away. Seeing my husband's face and my hair and some say my eyes (Don told me last week that he especially sees Ben's face in mine when I'm asleep) is the most miraculous thing I have ever beheld. There is nothing like it. I have no words to put with it. Stunning. Fascinating. Overwhelming. Somehow, even in death, it was life-affirming.

He had my hair. That little person I held so briefly in my arms was flesh of my flesh. Bone of my bone. Closer to me physically than anyone I have ever known, aside from my own mother. I will never fully comprehend it. Is this one of the thousand reasons that this kind of death is so devastating? My body shut down some of its own functions in order not to reject this little part of me for almost one year. My heart rate changed. Everything changed around him.

And now he is gone, gone, gone. And my heart and arms cry out as sharply today as they did four weeks ago.

Four weeks? Has it only been four weeks? Has it already been four weeks? How many more sets of weeks can one live with a gaping hole in your soul?

Still, God sends messages. He loves me. I do not understand Him. But I know that He is good. One blog I read put it perfectly:

"A quote from Brennan Manning... 'The seldom-stated truth is that many of us have a longing for God and an aversion to God. Some of us seek Him and flee Him at the same time.'

I get this, especially that last part. I seek Him because He is my source of comfort. I flee Him because He has allowed this pain." (Greg Sponberg, May 6)

There is so much more, but I have to sign off for now.

Thank you so much for following this course with me. For your notes and phone calls and constant support and encouragement. Thank you for letting us continue to grieve-- for encouraging us to take as much time as we need, for reminding us that this grief won't ever completely pass but that there will be a time when it will become more manageable. Thank you to my sweet friend, an older woman in her 70's, who looked me deeply in the eyes yesterday and said, "Samantha, the Lord has more for you. More of all kinds of things-- but more children, too. Trust Him." Thank you for all of the love, the friendship, the space to be awkward and weird at times-- who knows how to navigate these waters???

Thank you for not being afraid of our grief.

Someone asked what I was reading right now. I'm reading an amazing book that my friend Pam sent to me. You know that if Pam sent it and Joy Dawson wrote the intro, it's a must-read :):

Pain, Perplexity, and Promotion by Bob Sorge

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It's 1:30am and I can't sleep.

My son's bed is empty and it's all I can think about tonight. I'm tired-- could easily crawl into bed beside my husband and be asleep in seconds, but my mind just wants to think.

I didn't cry about Ben one time today and I hope that's alright. It felt at times that I was sort of waving thoughts of him away like you swipe at a mosquito-- you know you won't totally get rid of it, but you can delay the bite for a few minutes. It'll show up again and again, near your ear or your wrist or suddenly sucking at your ankle. Thoughts of Ben are always so close. I know it's alright that I didn't cry-- the ache didn't disappear-- and that I surely will tomorrow, but it's the realization of a "new normal" that everyone who goes through disaster seems to talk about.

Everything seems different to me. My house looks different. Maybe because I've hardly left it in these weeks of recuperation. My bedroom looks different. Everything has shifted. The light is funny. But it seems that the baby's room is the one thing that hasn't changed and I don't understand exactly why. I have this memory of sitting in his room a few weeks ago, sorting onesies and toys in preparation for his arrival. Mom and I were oooh-ing and aaaahh-ing over each little outfit and gadget, my feet propped up and swollen, and I remember looking around thinking, Wow. There's going to be a baby in here. This is so weird. So cool, but so weird. Maybe Ben's room doesn't look different to me because it was already weird before. The fact of his coming, the idea of his little person in our home, had been changing me for about 9 months... the fact of his departure was just one more facet in the overall change. I'm different. I'm different from who I was 9 months ago and I'm different than I was three weeks ago today. All because of him. He hasn't changed-- he's as much a mystery to me today as he was before he was born. My memories of him outside my body are almost as shrouded as the images we saw in ultrasound. He was real both places and I touched him-- this is something I keep having to remind myself. I'm different from having grown him and birthed him and buried him.

But oh, to have heard his voice.

That's the thing about it being the middle of the night. I should be holding him. Feeding him. Listening to him breathe or cry or coo. Singing to him or laughing at him. I should be griping over dirty diapers and sleep loss. Instead, I'm trying to adjust to a world that he was never in but was supposed to be in. A world that we made room for him to live in. Have I mentioned how empty my arms feel?

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

I know the One I believe in. I know that He is going to make all of this okay somehow, but tonight my heart is broken and I fall at His feet, depending upon the promise that He is near to me now. Nearer than I have ever known. He knows about Ben's room-- He knows about the little clothes that my son will never wear, and the lotions and shampoos that will never touch his strawberry blonde hair. He knows about the blankets that were made just for him and the books that were waiting for his tiny hands to hold. He knows why He chose to knit him together in my womb, only to whisk him away before I could look into his eyes or make him know my kiss.

But I know that he knew my voice. And we shared blood. And he went everywhere with me his entire life. Everywhere.

So there I've done it-- I've cried for him tonight, and written clumsily for him. Now I will go sleep beside his father and pray that he only has good dreams tonight.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Friday, May 15, 2009


I'm starting to learn some things about pain.

Sometimes, it's important to throw your head back and howl. Just let that gut-wrenching cry creep way up from the pit of your stomach, your heart, your spine, your spleen...wherever it is that that stupid scream has been lurking (for two weeks, two years, two days...), let it fly. It has been two weeks since my son died and it feels like two decades and two hours and two minutes and it also feels like right this second.

And yet...

There is an abatement that comes. A relief sometimes. I was writing to someone... can't recall who... that it was like waves. As an English person, I'm sure that I have read a poem somewhere about grief being like waves-- it's such an obvious and true comparison-- but not until this season have I known. It comes-- you can be floating along on a raft (in my mind's eye it's always this heavy-duty canvas raft that Nathan and I talked my parents into buying in Gulf Shores when we were little-- it was perfect for the ocean because it was tough, and it was this faded denim/Confederate flag thing. It's always the float I see in my mind when I'm thinking of floating at the ocean). Anyway, you can be floating along and all is fairly peaceful, but you know that it can't last-- I mean, you're floating in the ocean. If things get too peaceful, then you know that you've accidentally gone to sleep and floated waaaay too far out to sea and you're in deep doo-doo. So you're floating and you see the beginning of a ripple. You see the start of a swell. And you brace yourself.

The first swell might not be too bad. Knocks you a little to the left, but you're still on the raft and pretty stable. Your hair is still cool.

But then here comes the booger big brother wave, following behind.

And you have some choices. You might choose to just go ahead and jump off the raft and hang onto it from a sort of standing position-- it seems more stable for some reason. But you're definitely toast that way-- your hair is positively going to get wet and you're going to have eyes full of salt water. OR you can try to paddle away from it, or down from it to where it seems the wave will peter out. Or you can do what my dad always used to do: dive straight into it. Face first.

I mean, you're going to get wet either way, right?

Diving into the waves of grief that have begun to rage around my heart has been the only way to do it. There have been moments of keeping it to myself, certainly, but mostly I have just given up trying to fight them: Ben was real. He was mine. He grew in my womb, kicking and rolling and responding to me and to music and listening to my voice drone on every day. He was alive. He was alive. He was alive. He kicked my hand, he kicked his father's hand, he woke me up, he pushed against me... he was real. He deserves as many tears as my body will make. I had no idea that there is an endless store of them...

So that's one of the things I'm learning about grief. That it's stupid to fight it. Some of you were concerned that I was far too chipper at first-- maybe that was denial? Coping? Mostly, protection of this incision-- too much crying, too hard, put too much pressure on my tummy. Plus, I was exhausted with physical pain and just...well... being tired. And also, I was on lots of medication. And also, I didn't want to look down at this empty spot in my arms for too long. I didn't want to look to close at where Ben wasn't.

There's so much that I want to write, that I want to think through-- all of my thoughts seem so jumbled up together: my husband and his persistent, gentle love; my parents and their tenderness; my friends and their non-stop compassion and aid; my God and His kindness toward me in the face of my silence. I want to write about all of these things.

But mostly, all I think of when I think of writing is the weight of his little body in my arms as I truly held him for the first and final time. Oh my God, he was perfect. So perfectly small, the way a baby is-- all warm and still against my chest, and the perfect weight... I had dreamed for months of holding him, and here he was, inches from my face, perfect and still and beautiful like his father. I have this strong image of him with drops of water running down his left cheek from where Pastor John had just baptised him. In that moment, he was a living baby who had just calmed down from a crying fit. I could have sworn that he breathed. I touched his chin. I felt faint. I just knew I was going to drop him-- so much pain medication in my body. I asked Don to take him from me, but I didn't want to let him go. I drifted in and out of awareness for the rest of the time. Someone told me that they sang-- I don't remember. I remember my husband holding my son and hearing the crack in his voice as he said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," and somewhere in the back of my mind, I silently echoed in agreement, "dammit." We will, we will, we will.

Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.

Yet will I praise Him.

Yet will I trust in Him.

Yet will I worship Him.

Yet will I serve Him.

I never had any idea what those words really meant. Though He slay ME, I always thought. Though He take MY life. But it's a different verse when it reads, "though He take my only child, I will serve Him."

Because there is nowhere else to go. It's like after THIS hard teaching, the Lord would ask us, "do you also wish to go away?" And we have to reply like Peter, "Lord, to whom will we go? Only you have the words to eternal life." We're ruined. He has taken our child-- or allowed him to be taken or whatever, I don't care, but he is gone-- but we cannot and will not leave Him because only He is good and only He understands any of this. Even if he's not saying. Or not in any language I can understand.

I know that I am not the first mother to be ripped apart this way, and I will not be the last, and there is so much to work through, but this is where I am today. Tired, in love with my husband, longing for my child, sad that my milk has dried up (but happy, too, that there were no complications there), blessed with so much love all around and so many people praying...but always thinking of Benjamin. Always springing leaks at the weirdest moments.

And I'm just two weeks into this thing.

That's the hard part.

How can I live my life missing him like this?

So I cry out to my God and will trust Him for the rest of the story. And we're going to squeeze it til all the beautiful stuff comes out-- whenever that is. I know that there is joy on the other side of this night. I know it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just wanted to let you know about my friend Mary's blog-- she beautifully describes much of what the last few days have been like...

Today was good--my recovery is fairly uncomfortable and serves to remind me of what has been lost, but God's grace is massive.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Short update

I'm not ready to write yet, but wanted to just post something small...

Our son, the beautiful Benjamin Joseph Swaney, went to be with the Lord on Tuesday afternoon, in childbirth. We remain stunned and sad and alternately numb and in agony, but there is so much grace sustaining us in the meantime.

We were not created for death, you know? We were not created to bump into it, to taste it, to experience it, to understand it. God created us for the Garden, for relationship with Himself, for friendship with the Eternal-- He did not design us for sin and death. It only makes sense that our bodies and spirits and minds would react with such violent passion and repulsion when it touches us.

I want to write about what happened, but I am not there yet. As a writer, I've never understood why someone couldn't "write about something yet" until now. Maybe I don't have the energy. Maybe I can't relive the whole thing again for the hundredth time today. Maybe I wish that I had answers to pair with my questions-- a perfectly balanced and composed piece. Doesn't exist, I know. Maybe I'm just tired. That's probably it.

But know this: we have no idea what happened. He was perfectly fine all night. I labored really well and it was looking like the vaginal delivery I was hoping for would happen (I know-- I'm crazy). They brought in an ultrasound just to take a look and make sure all was well with Ben and he was perfect-- even waved at us :) It was precious. He scored an 8 out of 8 on all of the points he needed to hit to indicate strength and health. But sometime during labor, near 12 in the afternoon, his heart rate started dropping. So they moved me in all kinds of positions and sometimes that would help... when it dipped way too low they pounced on me and rushed me into an emergency C-section. He was gone before they lifted him from my womb.

Maybe he was lying on his cord and his oxygen was cut off? Who knows? My fantastic midwife and doctor and everyone else are mystified. Somehow, I have peace with that part. I just want to know "why" from God. Medically, I can deal with the mystery. Relationally, I struggle with what was an honest-to-God miracle-- his conception and gestation--and why the author and perfecter of my faith chose to take this route with the baby Don and I had longed for. Still long for. Long for every second of the day.

So I wait.

I may wait until the day I enter heaven to understand, so my prayer is for more faith. More grace. To cleave tighter to God and to cry out for His mind. I trust Him completely, though I do not understand His reasoning. I have had glimpses of possible "whys" in these days, but I know that I am not even any measurable distance into this journey. I will carry a longing for Ben until the day that I hold him in my arms in heaven. I just hope that one day it won't hurt to breathe when I hear that name.

So again, I wait. And I am eternally, outrageously blessed with the husband God has given to me. I am filled with a thousand thoughts of how fortunate I am to be connected with this man in this life. The three-legged race I have always sort of felt that marriage was like has become a two legged race-- we are completely dependent upon each other, totally lost in our dependence upon our God. It is so good to be like-minded in this crisis.

And we are surrounded by the body of Christ. The community we live and work in has blown my mind once again. The friends and family who have rushed to our side have supported us in so many amazing ways. The love we have felt, so profound. From our sweet mothers and fathers, to our siblings and close friends, all the way to people we hardly knew-- and people we hardly knew before but who feel like lifelong friends now (the nurses in Labor & Delivery and Mother/Baby at Rockdale Medical Center. Their tenderness and mercy were the touch of the Father to me so many times...), we have been carried so tenderly. Our pastor has pastored and encouraged us. I cannot imagine walking this way without any of them. God has blessed us beyond measure.

But my mind always goes back to Ben. Blessed us beyond measure...but took our son. And my mind cannot comprehend...

But I don't have to. For now, it's all just faith. And not my faith-- it's faith that is a gift-- MUST be a gift-- from God....

Psalm 27:4
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.