The Hardest Battle ~ Mamas and Fear

In memory of our son who would’ve been 24 this Sunday, I’m sharing my first published article. I believe the deeper our sorrow, the more precious our joy. The doctor had been matter-of-fact after my ultrasound, but a certain sentence she said replayed in my mind. “Your baby’s head is so low, I can’t get accurate head measurements, but everything looks fine.” I was 32 weeks pregnant, and my due date was May 28, 1989.

By the time I got into my car, a mighty battle with fear began.

I tried to reassure myself that everything was fine, but since I’d worked for a pediatric group, I was familiar with a term that raced through my thoughts–anencephaly.

“Anencephaly: a birth defect with the absence of some or most of the brain. Chance of occurrence 1 in 1,000.”

My suspicion was too terrifying to share with my doctors or even my husband. I spent hours secretly searching through medical books. Everything I read fueled the battle going on inside me.

Decorating the nursery happened in slow motion. Friends asked why I hadn’t fixed up the room sooner. I pretended to be busy with my daughters, Jamie, 8, and Katie, 6. Finally, as my due date approached, the girls chose a border with geese, hearts, and teddy bears. Rick insisted this would be our boy, so we painted the furniture red and the walls bright yellow.

There. A happy, wonderful nursery. Surely a healthy baby will grow up here.

But my mind continued to battle.

Twelve days past my due date, contractions began and we entered the hospital. Within an hour, and after four ultrasounds, I knew I was living my nightmare. During the third ultrasound, I gravely commented, “You’re trying to find the top of the baby’s head. You’re thinking anencephaly.”

I’d finally spoken the words  that terrified me.

One of the doctors said I was right. They were 90 percent sure our baby had anencephaly.

The labor room squeezed in on me, like I was locked in a horror movie and couldn’t find the exit.

Rick held my hand. “It’ll be OK.”

“You don’t understand. The baby will live hours…at the most.” We stared through a picture window at the pouring rain.

Will I always hate rain?

The doctors communicated through a secret language, moving only their eyes.

God, why won’t anyone smile at me? I want to start over again. Come back later. This can’t be real.

The sounds of the baby’s heart tones seemed to thump…

No hope. No hope. You were right all along.

But deep within me, wedged below the fear, a tiny speck of faith struggled to emerge.

Gently and quietly, bits of Scripture came to me like a life-preserver in rushing water.

When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. Psalms 56:3

Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5

I acknowledged the hope and decided: God, I trust You–no matter what.

Within a few minutes, my trembling stopped. I felt as if I were floating on a raft in the middle of a warm, still lake.

My God shall meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

But worry jabbed at me. “What about the girls? How will they understand?” I said to Rick.

“I’ll tell them.”

The delivery was long and difficult. Our son, Robert Clifford Garmon, was born at 3:20 a.m. on June 9, 1989. He lived 25 minutes.

There were no triumphant, “It’s a boy!” shouts.

Total silence.

Each person played his or her part in a pantomime. I wanted to scream, “Somebody, please say something. Stop looking away!”

I didn’t cry until we were in the recovery room.

I asked to see Robbie. He’d been wrapped in a blue blanket and had on a little white cap. He face was bruised from delivery but perfect. He weighed just over six pounds. He came and left so quickly.

Hello, Robbie. Goodbye, Robbie.

Rick hurried home to take apart the nursery and make funeral plans. The doctors released me nine hours after Robbie’s birth.

We left the hospital and drove to Mother’s to pick up the girls. Rick had explained to them about their brother and told me they were fine, but I pictured their sad faces–felt their disappointment.

When we drove up, they ran down Mother’s driveway smiling, holding boxes of Nerds candy. Katie’s pigtails bounced as she said, “If Robbie’d lived, we’d have bought him some Nerds, but he’s in heaven.”

Jamie added, “Grady’s probably holding him right now.” (Grady, my father, had died five years earlier.)

Genuine smiles.

Acceptance in the face of tragedy.

Children’s broken bones heal faster than adults. Maybe their hearts do too.

My heart took a little longer to heal.

Some days I felt strong, but grief is tricky. It sneaks up from behind and throws unexpected punches.

The soft color of baby blue felt like a quick jab to the jaw. Seeing newborn babies, especially boys, could knock me down for a while.

A week before Robbie was born, my grandmother Goge gently offered me some advice. Here words seemed like an extra puzzle piece. I tried turning them to every angle, but they didn’t fit. I hadn’t asked for her help. Now her words slid easily into my heart.

“Julie,” she said softly. “The hardest battles aren’t fought on the battlefield, but in a mother’s heart.”

Epilogue:

Two years later, we drove to a different hospital. There was no rain in sight that hot, steamy August day.

Pretty soon, loud crying announced the arrival of another son–Richard Thomas Garmon. Watching Rick hold Thomas–his perfectly formed head inside my husband’s hands, a prayer of gratitude rose .

Thank You, God. You were there the whole time–even when it didn’t make sense. You never left my side.

 

** Please forgive the length of this blog post.

** “The Hardest Battle” was published by Homelife magazine out of LIFEWAY, January, 2002.

Love and prayers,

Julie

Comments

  1. Oh, Julie. I’m thinking of all the moms who’ve lost little ones that you just comforted, knowing they are not alone in their pain. Thank you for sharing. hugs.

    • Marie, my heart was so full when I posted this. I prayed about it, and this is the post that felt right. Have been praying for mamas since I put it up.

      Thank you. Hugs right back to you.

  2. Mary Wilkins says:

    Oh my! Thank you for this article. I’m sure there are so many Moms who have gone thru such ordeals right around me and have never spoken about it. You and they are the ones I pray for on Mother’s Day. Sending hugs.

    • Oh, bless your heart, Mary. You pray for mamas who’ve lost babies on Mother’s Day. What a ministry! May God pour out His favor on your!!

  3. Sharon Mangas says:

    My Dear Julie,
    Thank you for sharing this. I know it wasn’t easy. Your writing is always heartfelt and glistening with beauty and emotion. I’m sure, as your friend Marie says, this will help other young mothers who have lost babies know they’re not alone in their grief. I will never forget when I was a young mother and a friend called to tell me her baby was stillborn. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like that. I’m sure I tripped all over myself trying to say something, anything. Now I know it’s most important to listen and just be there to show love. Sharon Mangas

    • Sharon, that’s exactly right. Just listen and care. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?

      Thank you soooo much for reading and letting me know this touched your heart. You are always, always such an encourager!!! Love you, my friend.

  4. Julie- I’m sitting here wishing I could give you a hug. I’m so sorry, my friend; that you didn’t get to have Robbie longer. But your words reveal the incredible spiritual glory his life brought into your life- and your family’s life. When we enter eternity- the joy of reunion and fellowship will be yours. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart. love you!

    • Thank you, Cindy. I feel your precious hug across the miles. 🙂

      I believe Robbie’s 25 minutes on earth is serving a purpose. I’m praying this story helps bring healing.

      Love you too! Gotta catch up on my blog reading and read yours. XO

  5. Doug says:

    Julie, I had no idea your family had gone through this tragedy. I do know that he is still with you in spirit and has helped you write about him so beautifully. Thank you for sharing his story.

    • Hey Doug,

      Thank you for letting me know you read this. I love, love, love hearing that my writing touches hearts.

      Blessings to you and yours.

  6. I have the sweetest of tears this morning. I didn’t even realize what an intake of breath I was holding till I started to read the scriptures and felt a slow release. I felt like I was right along side you, taking it all in. Thank you for sharing such an exquisite and intimate time in your life and how He saw you all the way through.

    • Vicky, those Scriptures get us through a lot of tough stuff don’t they?

      Your writing does the very same thing for me. Lifts me. Encourages me. Raises my faith. Keep writing, my precious friend. And thanks for letting me know you read this! Means so much.

  7. donna says:

    love you.

  8. Precious Julie thank you for sharing your heart and your pain. I’m so sorry for what you went through. Thank you for giving others hope and encouragement in the midst of their trials. You are so precious and such a blessing.

    I love you, Julie Garmon. I’m very honored to call you friend. (((((Julie))))) Praying for you.

    • I love you too, Lisa Buffaloe. My deep, dear friend across the miles. Our hearts connect no matter what, don’t they?

      Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your spirit is full of His Joy.

  9. Melba Fletcher says:

    Julie, I love your descriptive writing! It feeds my soul! And, of course, your words fit my situation, too. Yes, grief is tricky. Often, It is like being hit by a huge wave when, for a few minutes, you let yourself almost forget you are in the ocean. Grief is a choking, suffocating emotion – like none other.

    • Melba, just to know that my writing touches your heart–well, I can’t tell you what that means. It’s a tiny way to show my deep prayers and love for you. Talked to Mother this morning. She asked if you are back home….

      I love you. No other way but to keep going, is there…

  10. I could barely breath reading this. The power of the words you placed on the page….amazing. What a beautiful tribute to your son.

    • Ohh, thank you, Kellie. I’m praying for people who might need this type of encouragement right now. This is why we do what we do, isn’t it. XOXO

      I love you, my friend.

  11. Anna Haney says:

    I remember reading this for the first time a few years ago and I cried just as much then as I did today. Surrender. Patience. Faith. Thank you for sharing.
    Love you

    • Anna, I gotta stop making you cry! Maybe I can bring you happy tears next week. I think you need a break. 🙂 I’m praying for you. I love you too. Let me know how you’re doing….xoxo

  12. Sue says:

    I am so very sorry. God Bless you my dearest friend.

    Love,

    Sue

  13. Jo Forrest says:

    Julie, thank you for sharing your powerful story. It was a blessing to see your great faith in such a sad and tragic situation. We have such a wonderful Comforter! All praise to Him!

    • Amen, Jo. What a Comforter He is. And He always, always knows best. Even when we don’t understand. Thanks for letting me know you read this.

      XOXO

  14. Julie Gilleand says:

    Thank you for sharing your story about your sweet Robby. So many things you have shared I can relate to. That alone is a blessing, but that you can so beautifully season such a heart-wrenching memory with grace is powerfully healing. God bless you, Julie.

    • Love you, Other Julie. For a while, I thought I’d always stay in that season–that there was no way out. I’m so grateful. Blessings to you, my friend. XOXOXO

  15. I’m trying to type through my tears, and yet … I think of how gracious God was to prepare you. And how special your girls accepted and seemed to understand. They talked of a brother and smiled. I pray this ministers to many, Julie.

    • I know, Ane. I’m telling you, He prepared me. I knew. I just knew. And I’ll never forget that gentle “knowing” He allowed me to experience.

      I had a message from a reader who wants to share the story with someone who’s just lost a baby. That’s what I prayed–that posting this story would help even one person.

  16. Julie, this post brought tears to my eyes…. Memories like this can’t be easy to share.. God bless you for sharing from the depths of your heart and soul. Hugs… Catherine

    • Ohh, Catherine. You’re right. I didn’t know it would bring the feelings back to the surface to re-read the story. And to type it again. Take the picture of the footprints.

      To Him be the glory. May it help bring healing for others.

  17. Oh, Julie, I can’t begin to imagine that kind of pain and loss. The fact that you knew is so amazing, like God was preparing you the whole time. I’m so grateful that eternal life is real and that you will see Robbie again and this time there will be no more goodbyes.

    • I know, Elizabeth. So true. I knew. I’m telling you, I knew. Even before the ultrasound, I knew something wasn’t right.

      I still praise Him for the way it unfolded.

      “No more goodbyes.” Oh, how I love those words. Yes, Lord.

  18. Beautiful Julie. Thank you for sharing. No words can describe the battles in a mother’s heart nor the beauty of this piece. Thank you for sharing!! Love to you all!

  19. Debbie Ewing says:

    Julie, I was at your moms house bringing food the day of Robbie’s funeral, my little boy was about a year old at that time. My mom kept asking me why I was so nervous. I told her we needed to get everything set up and leave. When she asked me why I said the last thing Julie needs to see is a little red haired boy! I was so heartbroken for you. I’ve never told anyone this before, but I visited Robbie’s grave several time. There I shed my tears and prayed that God would bless you with another child. I love you Julie!

    • Debbie!!!! I’m crying now. I didn’t remember this.

      Ohhh, Debbie!!!! Bless your sweet heart. You are so right. Seeing a little redheaded boy that day would’ve undone me. Even more so. I was sort of a zombie. Just going through the motions.

      YOU’VE BEEN TO HIS GRAVE?????? How can I ever thank you? That’s something I’ve only done a couple of times. I don’t know why, but that’s hard for me. I don’t know how to feel–what to do when I get there. My MIL puts flowers out for us.

      Debbie, you helped prayed Thomas into being. Ohh, Lord. Hold me back!! I can’t believe it! XOXOXOX

      I love you, too. Gotta call Mother and tell her. WOWOWOWOWOW. This is another blog!!!!

  20. Sandra Walker says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your Goge was right; the hardest battles are fought there. It is doubly hard to watch your child go through this. You have lost a grandchild but you hurt so for your child. BUT GOD…..!

  21. Love what you said, Sandra. “But God…!” You’re absolutely right.

    No other way, my friend.

  22. Pat Garczynski says:

    Dear Julie, Thank you for your from-the-heart, heartwrenching story about Robbie. Your Grandmother Goge’s words should be bronzed! Also, Romans 11:34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” Your sweet story makes me think of many things: my Mom who had a stillborn baby a year before me in 1942 and was told she would never have another; my daughter and daughter-in-law in Denver who each have had three miscarriages along with normal births; my other daughter Jennifer in Denver EXPECTANT in her 7th month of pregnancy with her second child. I just returned to Mich. from her baby shower. I LOVE in the book Heaven Is For Real when four-year-old Colton Burpo has a near-death experience and encounters a sister his mom had miscarried that he hadn’t known about and comes back to tell his stunned parents about it! LOVE to you……

    • Hey, Pat. I love hearing about these babies in your family–and of your heart. Goge also had a stillbirth baby before Mother…and was told she shouldn’t try to have any more children. 🙂

      I loved that book too.

      So excited for your new grandchild on the way!!

      So much love,
      Julie

  23. Oh, Julie. Sniffles and shakes cannot escape me, even though I know about what you wrote. Thank you for sharing the deep parts. Love you to pieces.

  24. Arie Strobel says:

    What an incredible sharing of your story, Julie. Our community has been touched by the losses in similar story. We visit 3, 5, and 6 year olds in the cemetary…feel finger-tied in trying to express and share while respecting privacy of the families. But I wanted to reach out and acknowledge that you were heard, you made a difference, and you are beautiful. Arie

    • Hugging you from here, Arie. You are such a blessing to me–and to so many. So, so kind of you to make cemetery visits.

      Love you, my friend.

  25. Rebecca Bannister says:

    Julie – I’m so glad I’ve connected with you over email and your blog. I literally feel like I’ve grown up with you and your family – my mother started me reading Guideposts articles in elementary school. And since ya’ll were from Georgia I felt a special connection!

    I knew about Robbie from your mother’s writings but can’t thank you enough for sharing your story. I’m sure the Lord led you to share it and it has brought comfort and peace just as He intended.

    Much love . . . Rebecca

    • Rebecca, I’m so glad you’ve found my blog too! Sounds like you’ve followed us for years. Thank you, thank you.

      I feel your hug and I’m hugging you right back!

      XOXOXOXO

  26. I’d forgotten how powerful this article is Julie…took my breath although I knew the story. God is faithful and He is able to carry us. thank you thank you for opening a vein this week…whew.
    love u
    xo

Trackbacks

  1. […] Like when our infant son died minutes after he was born. Rick did what I couldn’t do. He disassembled the nursery before I got home from the hospital. (I wrote about it HERE.) […]

  2. […] Our third child Robbie was born with anencephaly. […]

  3. […] Our daughters were six and eight, and a few months earlier, we lost our son, Robbie, who was born with anencephaly. […]

  4. […] Our third child Robbie was born with anencephaly. […]

  5. […] the season of grief. We’ve buried a child, my father, our grandparents, others we […]

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