Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Son I Carry in my Heart

 I have been reading old blog posts, specifically one about morbid thoughts I have had during pregnancy. At the time I only had Elisheva and Lydia, but I had worried with both of them about what if they died? Or I died? And then it did happen. I had a son die. I was so young back then. I was 25 years old, and so hopeful for the future. I wanted a big family.  I wanted Avram to get a Ph.d. I wanted Avram to get a job as a professor, and even favored BYU for him to work at. I wanted to live within walking distance to BYU. Check, check, check, check, check. I got everything I wanted. Except Torvald. I did not get my son. I will never have my son in this life. 

And reading my old thoughts, it is strange that now this is my reality. I wanted a standing up headstone then. I still want one now. We buried Torvald in the Provo Cemetery in the older pioneer part, where he will have a fully upright tombstone. This was something that was very important to me. Important enough that I felt like the first tombstone we ordered, which was the same one as the flat ones but would just be wedged upright, was not the actual stone I wanted. We went back and paid three times the price for a fully upright one, and I have less than zero regrets. A tombstone, it turns out, is basically the most permanent purchase one can buy, so it is best to go for what one really wants for it. 

I remember crying at IZ singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow." I still love that song, and I cannot listen to it now - it is too painful. I cry at just the thought of it. I cry at a lot of things now. Today I opened up my file of downloads on my computer, and there were the 3d images of Torvald just a day before he died, and I cried - gut wrenching sobs that are a whole new, unpleasant way of crying I have discovered in the last couple of months. I had no idea when that ultrasound was taken. I was so hopeful, so grateful for him. I thought I might have gestational diabetes, or that he might need a surgery after birth, but that everything would work out fine, with fine here meaning exactly the way I wanted it to. Everything did not work out fine, it did not work out the way I wanted it to. I didn't have any premonitions, after all these years and pregnancies of thinking that I or my baby might not make it. And this time I was a 100% sure he would make it. But he didn't. Torvald was never going to make it. We don't know exactly what (perhaps we will in the future), but he had some kind of genetic difficulties. He never could have lived long, even had he managed to be born alive. My baby was always slated for death.  

Sometimes I want to rage against God. It is so unfair. We love our children. We want our children. This pregnancy had been so hard, so very hard. I had promised God years ago I would have the children he wanted me to have. That has been wonderful and life-giving, but it has also been hard, the hardest thing I had ever done (and that was before Torvald died). Now, it feels like I have been betrayed, that God took my willingness further than I thought I could go. And yet I cannot rage against God. In a blessing after Torvald was stillborn, I was told that God sent us Torvald because he knew that we would love him. And we do love him. And I know deep down inside, in a place that I cannot deny, that he is a blessing to us, and not a curse or a sign that God does not favor us, but rather that we are favored by God. I know this. But it still hurts. It hurts to see others with their living babies. It hurts to see babies that also have genetic struggles, and wish my child was living like theirs is. 

My arms feel so empty. I go about my days, and I am doing pretty well. We have our seven living children to love and to feed, clothe and parent every day. I am excited about our house projects coming up this summer (gardening and landscaping and painting). I love traveling with my family to see nature, and have already lined up our two next vacations. But underneath it all I carry Torvald in my heart. With a living child they grow away from you from the moment they are born. As Dave Barry put it, they are like a comet streaking past, and you are just a small part of that. But for a stillborn baby, he was physically born, but he has never left me at the same time. For seven months I carried Torvald under my heart, and now for the rest of my life I will carry him within my heart. My other children will move away and continue their own existence without me. And I know that Torvald's spirit is in heaven. But I am the monument to his life. The only life he had on this earth was within my own body, within my own soul. 

This is the burden and the blessing of being a mother of a stillborn child. I am the only one who ever held him, who ever substantially felt him move. That is my blessing, and my curse. No one else knew him while he was alive. Very few even saw his little, broken body. To almost all others he is an abstract. But to me he was real, a real person. A person who moved and whom I loved, and still love. And I miss him so much. I miss my baby. I miss the smell of a newborn, and their sleepy milk drunk breath and heavy weight. I feel cheated to have gone through such a hard pregnancy, and such a hard post delivery (I lost a third of my blood. I would have died without modern medicine), and not to have gotten a baby out of it. Not to have gotten Torvald. 

Sometimes I will be doing something mundane and the image of his cold cheek next to mine as I held him will come to me, like an overlay over my life. I hope you never have to hold your dead child in your arms. It is almost unbearably poignant. Exquisitely painful. Because at the same time that I was mourning him, I was also trying to soak up being in his physical presence, because I knew that that day, February 11 was all I would ever have in this life with his body, and it was also the closest to his soul that I could be as well. This was all compounded by the fact that because of my blood loss and continued loss that day that I spent most of the day unable to sit up and unable to hold Torvald at all. I could not even get a whole day with him. I could have kept him over night with me - the hospital was very understanding and helpful. But they had put Torvald in a hospital bassinet that kept him cool, and by the evening when I could finally sit up and hold him again, for the first time since that morning, it was not the same. I could feel that his soul had separated from his body in a way it had not since early that morning when I had birthed him. I need to say goodbye to his body, but it was only his body left to say goodbye to. He was so very cold. 

And so I said my goodbyes. I had Avram leave the room, so I could be alone with my son. Since the morning I knew what I had to do to say goodbye. And so I sang to Torvald while holding him. I sang the lullabies I had sung to all of my children throughout their babyhoods. I sang Baby Beluga, and an Irish Lullaby, and others I cannot even remember now. I cried and I sang, because I knew that this was the only opportunity I would ever be able to do so. Like I needed to store up all my mothering and deliver it at once to him in the form of song. Avram came back and I told him what I was doing, and together we sang Hush Little Baby to him, which is a song Avram has always sung to our children. A week later I remembered a song I had often sung to my children that I had forgotten to sing to him - Mother I Love You, but with the lyrics altered to that child. So I found a moment to be alone in my bedroom and cradled to me the afghan my mother had crocheted for Torvald, and that I knew he would be wrapped in for burial and sang to him, through my tears, "Torvald I love you. Torvald I do. Father in Heaven has sent me to you. When I am near you, I love to hear you, singing so softly that you love me to. Torvald, I love you, I love you, I do." Except I will never get to in this life hear him singing that he loves me. Now I cannot sing to my children anymore. I break down in tears every time I try to sing a lullaby, like they all belong to Torvald now. Thankfully Avram can still sing to our kids.

I also, when I was alone with Torvald, carefully kissed his little feet, his hands, his cheeks, his eyes, his mouth. He was so cold, and so still. But I loved him still. I both treasured my last moments with him, and dreaded them. It was perhaps the second most painful moment of my life to have the nurses take him away (the first being when the Doctor told me they could not find his heartbeat, and showed me on the ultrasound monitor where it should be. Torvald's little body just lay there inside of me, like was was asleep, but with black stillness where his heart should have been moving.) 

Two and a half months later I feel like I spent the time I needed to with Torvald's body. But I am still bitter I was out of capacity for most of the day, that I could not spend more time with him earlier, when perhaps his spirit was more broadly present. Instead I was surrounded by medical professionals working on me. It is sobering to realize a century earlier that not only Torvald would have been dead, but that I would have died also.

But I am not dead. I am very much alive. I love this life. I love my other children, oh so much. I love Avram. I love springtime and blossoms and the feel of the sun on my face. I love breezes and flowers and pretty art and painted rooms. I love nature and beautiful old buildings and my friends and family. But underneath it all, I also love one who is not here. I have never dreaded death, but now I look forward to the day when I am reunited with my son again. Until then it has been a great comfort to me that Heavenly Mother is in heaven, and can be the mother to him that I cannot be. I am grateful we know that there is the divine feminine, and not just the divine masculine. 

There is a picture over our mantel by Brian Kershisnik titled, "Jesus and the Angry Babies." Avram and I picked it out for our anniversary last year because it always made us laugh a little, to see Jesus with a lap full of angry babies. It just feels appropriate to Jesus, somehow. One of the babies is hidden behind the others, with his head just poking out and his eyes showing over another baby's arm. Now I think of that as Torvald, that like that baby he is with Jesus, and although we cannot contact him, that Jesus is in contact with him, is taking care of him. On Torvald's twenty week scan he hid his face from us the entire time. Eve joked that he was saying, "Go away!" to us. After he died of all of our kids Eve, only four, has been the most willing to talk about Torvald, and the most openly sad he is gone. She said within a few days of him dying that now Torvald was telling us that he was going away, to be with Jesus. That is what I think of  every time I see this print - Torvald has gone away to be with Jesus. I know this. I am grateful for a Savior and for the plan of salvation. But I am also still so very sad. I did not want him to go away. I wish I could have had even one moment of holding Torvald when he was still alive. I cannot wait until the day when I can hug his resurrected body. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Avram's remarks at Torvald's Funeral

In my job, I do a lot of speaking, and even a lot of speaking and teaching about gospel principles, but this is not a message I would have chosen for myself, not necessarily in topic, and definitely not in circumstance. I don’t really have the words to say what I feel, and I feel keenly the inadequacy of my language to fit the circumstance. 

Let me begin this with a story. When we first discovered we were pregnant, Thora and I were very excited about the possibilities, about welcoming a new individual to our family. When we announced it to the kids, I had a conversation with Enoch, our eight year old son, who asked me, “Dad are we lucky to be having another baby?” I said yes, we were very lucky, and the thing is, even with all of this, I still feel lucky. The past months have been a privilege, and I appreciate Enoch for articulating so well what I have been feeling.

There a lot of teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ that help me and aid me in my life, but right now, I am most grateful for the hope that I have in a glorious resurrection. The Prophet Joseph Smith reminds us, “The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, “that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven”; and all other things, are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent doctrine of our own resurrection has been the bedrock to my faith over the past few weeks. I always believed, and hoped in the Resurrection (Easter is one of my favorite times of the year), but I never needed the Resurrection like I do now. I have been reminded of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). I have felt, in some of the hard moments since we discovered Torvald’s death, something of that misery that Paul alludes to. Facing Torvald’s death has felt like looking straight in the face Jacob’s awful monster, death and hell. 

But I have also felt the fierce joy of the Resurrection. We are not unavoidably lost. I could not countenance a world where I had no hope in seeing Torvald again, but that is not the world in which I live. I live in a world, where, through Jesus Christ, we live again after we die, and we will dwell in eternal glory. I love the observation of Neal A. Maxwell, “Christ’s victory over death ended the human predicament.” Having felt all too strongly the “human predicament”, I take great comfort and solace in Christ’s victory. We are not left alone. 

Elder Maxwell goes on to say, “Our “brightness of hope,” therefore, means that at funerals our tears are genuine, but not because of termination—rather because of interruption. Though just as wet, our tears are not of despair but are of appreciation and anticipation. Yes, for disciples, the closing of a grave is but the closing of a door which later will be flung open with rejoicing.

We say, humbly but firmly that it is the garden tomb—not life—that is empty.”

There is still a whole in my heart that aches for little Torvald, but I know that I do not need to look in this life for things to fill that hole, because Torvald is not gone forever. Like each and every one of us, Torvald is an eternal being—he existed before this earth, and he exists now, and he will still exist long after this earth is a cosmic memory. Although he died before I could get to know him as well as I liked, I look forward to the day when I will be able to know him better. I look forward to our personal return to Zion, where we can fall upon his neck, and he can fall upon ours, and we will kiss each other. (See Moses 7:63). 

In the meantime, I am grateful that my son has found the heavenly city that we are looking for. Although I am still a stranger and a pilgrim on this earth, still desiring the heavenly country that Jesus has prepared for us, I anxiously await the day when “God will dwell with [us…and shall] wipe away all tears from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, neither crying, neither shall be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). 

Even so, Lord, come quickly! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

My Remarks at Torvald's Funeral

On February 11, 2021 I gave birth to our still born son, Torvald Alistair. He has some genetic difficulties that caused him to pass away. These are my remarks at his funeral on February 26th. 

This pregnancy was hard (which turned out to be because of severe polyhydramnios, caused by Torvald's genetic difficulties), and yet every day I had a mantra I often repeated to myself as I fell asleep and as I woke up: I love this baby, I want this baby. I love you. I want you. And I did. I do. Three years ago when announcing Gareth's birth on social media I commented that we were just grateful that he was born healthy. Avram and I early on in our childbearing realized that we did not really care whether we had boys or girls, which is good as, in a phrase I always tell my children, “you get what you get and you don't throw a fit.” We would just say, like many other parents, “We just want our child to be healthy.” 

In early February I went to the hospital for early labor, and became aware that Torvald might have genetic problems, but they did not seem incompatible with life. And we thought, we don't need a healthy child, we just want a living child. And then, only three days after coming home from the hospital we went back again, this time in more aggressive early labor, to learn that Torvald had already passed, and that the smaller genetic difficulties were in fact insurmountable, and even had he lasted to be born alive would have died shortly anyway. And beyond our immediate grief, grief that lasted as Torvald was born, as he was laid on me and I held my son and wept, I knew, that ultimately God does not promise us boys or girls, he does not promise us healthy children, and he does not even promise us living children. 

What we are promised is what Jesus was given in Gethsemane; a mortal experience that will test us and try us beyond what we think we can bear, but we will not be left alone, we will not be left comfortless. Christ asked “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Heavenly Father sent an angel to comfort Jesus, but notably did not remove the requirement for Christ to complete his heavenly commission to atone for all of His children. 

God did not give Torvald life, but we also have comfort. When Christ came to raise Lazarus from the dead Mary met him, and told him that if he had been there her brother would not have died. In her sorrow and grief Jesus met her, and in the shortest verse in scripture, but still full of meaning, “Jesus wept.” He wept with her even knowing that he would shortly raise her brother from the dead, and that she would be with him again. He did not mansplain this all to Mary, he did not tell her there was no need to cry because shortly she would see her brother alive. He just wept with her in her sorrow.

And I have felt the same about Torvald dying. I have felt the comfort of God comforting us, of all of your prayers carrying us in our grief, even while we know that we will be united as a family again after death, but that has not stopped us from crying and grieving that we are separate now.

Avram and I have long talked about how much we love the Church of Jesus Christ's doctrine of the plan of salvation, and not just the warm fuzzy parts, but even the hard parts that we have referred to as being a “cold comfort.” One such cold comfort is that we could not have had a true earthly, mortal experience without having a world where genetics do not always work, where we have mortal bodies that are subject to pain, disease, and death. Even through the almost overwhelming wave of pain on learning that our son had died because of these very fallen and mortal limitations, we felt the truth that this is a part of our mortal experience, and that God had not abandoned us but that he cared deeply, that we have a God who weeps with us, even while knowing that our mortal sojourn on earth is not long for any of us, even octogenarians, compared with our immortal existence. And it has been a comfort. 

Like Avram, I too have felt this great privilege of having Torvald in our lives, however briefly. But knowing that he is not in our family briefly, but forever, has been what has sustained us. Perhaps all we could offer him in the end was a flawed mortal body, but I have learned such a reverence for what an important part of our eternal progression having a mortal body is. Holding Torvald in my arms, seeing the tell-tall signs of genetics that didn't work on his face and body, I still felt at the same time such a reverence that he had a body at all. That even broken it was beautiful. We felt his spirit, and the Holy Spirit strongly in the birthing that was also his death. It is a comfort to know that our deepest sorrows and difficulties are not outside of the Spirit's reach. 

One third of the Heavenly Father's children rejected having physical bodies, rejected going through sorrow exactly like this. I cannot completely blame them – like Christ in Gethsemane I too want to retreat, want to call enough on this pain and suffering. But also like Christ, in my own much lesser way, I want to tell God, “Thy will be done.” 

I do not regret getting pregnant with Torvald, even knowing the tragedy we feel now, I know that God's will was done in sending us a son that was neither healthy nor could live. His becoming part of our family, including his death, is privilege and blessing I feel grateful and blessed to be called to bear. As a mother when I have carried my children I have seen myself as their protector, ushering them to their earthly existence in the only way possible for them to gain a physical body, for them to progress eternally from spirits to living mortals and eventually to eternal glory. But ultimately it is the Lord's position beyond mine to protect and usher our spirits, and I must rely on Him when what seems like the most fundamental of mothering actions does not have the outcome I have worked so hard for. Even though God's will takes us through our own Gethsemanes, Christ has redeemed all for us, and turned our sorrows to sweetness, our ashes to beauty. 

I miss Torvald, even having known him so little compared to the length of my life. I look forward to reuniting with him, and to the resurrection when we will all be made whole again, and when he can have a physical body that will fully function for his spirit. Until then, I am grateful for a loving godhead and a Heavenly Mother that can be with him, and love him in person in ways that I cannot. I am grateful for the Plan of Salvation that teaches me why hard things happen to us, that gives me comfort, even hard comfort, and helps me know that we can be together forever and that our earthly life is short, but our heavenly home is eternal.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Two weeks ago (so I'm a little slow) Elisheva Anne turned one year old. I know every mother says this, but I can hardly believe it's been a whole year since she joined our family. In her short life Elisheva has lived in a foreign country, England, and in Virginia and Ohio. How many month old babies do you know that have a passport? Not that she'll be using it ever again, probably.

Elisheva had a quick and easy (for her) entry into the world on April 28, eleven days early. Elisheva has been a mother's dream as a baby. She sleeps well, and started sleeping completely through the night at 7 1/2 months. She also takes naps, and actually lets you just put her in her crib when she's tired (although sometimes she'll fuss if she thinks she should be able to stay up and play).

For the first few months of her life Elisheva was a lump of a baby, which was her affectionate nickname. She wasn't very interactive, and was content to sit and to eat. Eating has always been Elisheva's number one hobby. I appreciated that she was a low-need baby, as we moved from England to Virginia when she was six weeks old, and then when she was four months old we moved from Virginia to Ohio.

The day we moved to Ohio Elisheva must have realized that we were settling down and she could progress past the lumpy stage, because she rolled over that very day. Unlike her sister Lydia, who learned to roll at four months and spent the next several months rolling all over the whole house, Elisheva could never quite figure out how to completely roll over, so she remained immoble.

This, along with her love of milk, led her to grow to 20 pounds by six months. Six months later, she still hovers around 20 pounds, and is losing her copious baby fat. For a while, though, Elisheva was quite the chunkers. Which led to her next nickname - Chunker Monkers (based on Chunky Monkey). We also called her Chubbery Bubbery (from Chubby Baby). Good thing Elisheva was not sensitive about her weight!


I love Autumn. I love how the air smells, and how the leaves are already starting to turn. I love that my brain, after being sluggish for the summer months, comes alive again. Last night Avram and I re-arranged our living room, because I got inspired on a whim, or as Avram likes to say, I had a bee in my bonnet. I also made up a list of every dinner we've eaten this last year, and organized it by category, so now I have a master list of menus to refer to when I don't know what to plan for menus that week (which happens every week).

Perhaps because my birthday is in October, perhaps because I love school, and school was always the harbinger of the coming season, but Autumn has always been my favorite time of year.
Meanwhile, Elisheva continues to become my most favorite toddler. The things she loves most in the world: food, shoes, and going places. Elisheva loves grated cheese, and has learned that if others at the table have a bowl, or spoon or whatnot, she needs one too. She now feeds herself, and delights in it. Elisheva has developed an attachment to shoes, and specifically to once she has shoes one, going outside, and going places. She loves to play in the dirt of my tiny herb garden.
When you take her shoes off at night, she usually cries. Also, once she has her shoes on for the day, and thinks we need to go somewhere as a family, but aren't leaving fast enough, she'll deliberately unsnap her jelly sandals, and then come to you for re-snapping, thus reminding you that we need to hurry up and go, already!

Elisheva has a few words, although she is a slow talker. She'll regularly say, "Mama," "Nana" (banana), "Shoes" (her favorite word, to no-one's surprise), "More Milk!" always said as a command, and occasionally she'll pop out with book, or water, or Lydia, or even Daddy. Today she said cheese. Mostly she uses expressive grunts to navigate herself through the world, which do work quite effectively.

We're visiting family in Tennessee in the next week, and then after we return school starts for Avram. Meanwhile, I plan to pull out knitting again, which I always put on hiatus through the Summer months.


While the rest of Western America enters Spring, we here in the Eastern part of the country continue to participate in activities like sledding.A friend of ours in the ward invited us to her house, where her husband built a snow hill in their backyard perfect for children and innertubes.

Meanwhile, the Russian Roulette that continues to be Avram's funding always provides us a source of excitement in our lives. The class Avram is slated to teach for Spring Quarter has 20 people in it - a good thing. Especially since the department needs to find ways to save some money, and has talked specifically about getting rid of his class. For the last couple of weeks we've checked the class almost daily, praying for the numbers to increase past the point of no cancellation (whatever magic number that maybe).

Life isn't all gloom and doom. For one thing, the sun is out today, and I have fond hopes that Spring may yet come, despite the six weeks of Winter we're definitely getting thanks to Punxatawny Phil.