I am seventeen weeks pregnant when the complications begin. This is our fourth baby, so I recognize the contractions immediately when they start. For three days and three nights I time the constant rhythm and I worry. There have been complications with every pregnancy—with each of the three babies we held on to before this pregnancy, and with each of the pregnancies we lost. I know what these contractions mean. The chance of loss, the months of bed rest ahead. We have been through this before.
But the contractions have never come this early; I am barely four months along. I pray for them to end. I pray for God to calm their consistency. I try to have faith. But finally, I drive myself to the hospital. Greg stays home with the kids because we know how this will go. I will stay for two hours to be monitored, the nurses and doctor will come up with a plan, I will come home and get in bed and never get back up until the baby comes. Yes, I know how this will go.
But things don’t go how I have planned.
I won’t forget the nurse telling me that at seventeen weeks I am not far enough along for them to offer any help, that the pregnancy isn’t viable at this many weeks, that the tiny kicks inside my growing womb do not constitute a life that they are authorized to save. I sob. I explain how this pregnancy has been my most viable pregnancy so far, how I have never made it this many weeks without a complication. I beg the nurse to call my doctor. When she leaves the room, I lie still on the bed and listen to the constant beating of the tiny heart on the monitor. Through the tears I watch the lines tracking the contractions that are witness to the battle this child will have to fight against to live.
The nurse returns with words of promise: the doctor wants to treat this pregnancy as if it is viable. He confirms what I have already told her—this has been my most successful pregnancy thus far. We will fight to keep the baby. I return home to complete bed rest. For four weeks I lie still. I do not move. My body aches with the pressure of it all. It is as if I am keeping every muscle taut in order to hold the baby inside. I am worn out physically and emotionally, and still the contractions do not stop. I can’t bear the thought of losing this baby. Of delivering a tiny girl that will be capable of taking only a few short breaths and will then pass away in my arms. I am not strong enough. I know I am not that strong.
But after four weeks, when it becomes apparent that the contractions are not going to stop even with the help of medication and bed rest, we meet with Dr. Brown. There is a surgery. It is risky at this point in the pregnancy. Either it will work, or we will lose the baby. He lays out the truth of it bare: we could lose the baby during the surgery. I might miss seeing the baby alive because I will not be awake. Again, I sob. He feels it is our only hope. I wonder why it has to be so hard. This good thing, this desire to bring new life into the world, why does it have to go like this?
I lie on the bed in the middle of the operating room with a soft white blanket laid over my swollen belly. Underneath the warmth I slide my hands to rest on the roundness and try to feel the stirrings of life within. It might be the last moment I have with this tiny one. I know this. I don’t pass up the opportunity to connect one last time. I am afraid, but even more than being afraid, I am exhausted. Too exhausted to pray, to beg for the life of this child, to ask for the success of this surgery. The anesthesiologist starts to count down from ten, and it is almost time. I am sliding into sleep, but before I do, I pray the only words of which I am capable: “Thy will be done; please bless us.”
I wake in the recovery room. I feel myself sliding in and out of wakefulness. I see the anesthesiologist, feel him check the pulse in my wrist, watch him write something on his chart. It is hard to form words. I wrestle with trying to remember how to speak. But I have to know. “Did it work?” I ask him, my raspy voice a surprise to both of us. “Am I still pregnant?” I hear him whisper yes as I drift back off to sleep. Just before the sleep comes, I place my hand once again over the roundness, and a whisper settles into my heart. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
I am on bed rest for four months, allowed to sit up for only ten minutes every day. Once a week I go to a doctor’s appointment. I learn that when people don’t see you around, they forget you exist. I spend hours every day by myself. My mother comes to pick up my children every morning and they return home with Greg every night. During the day, I am alone. No one stops by to visit. In the silence of it all, I turn to the one friend who is constant. I find Him in the Word. I speak to Him in prayer. Over the days that turn into weeks, and eventually into months, I pour out my heart to Him, I learn of Him, I rest in Him. He becomes for me courage, the promise of good things to come, my place of refuge, a constant source of strength. He is peace, hope when hope is gone, and my stronghold. With time, I realize that He has become more than just someone to believe in; He has become real to me. My understanding has deepened. I have proven Him, and He has been there.
It is after the five months of bed rest are over, after the six hours of labor. After the doctor holds Grace up in front of the nurses in the delivery room to tell them to look closely, for they are witnessing a miracle—this baby would not be here if it weren’t for the faith of her mother. It is after we arrive home with our tiny baby girl with the soft white hair that I finally realize this truth: it was in the depths of the place that I didn’t want to go that I was able to understand more clearly the capacity of God. His goodness. His realness. His love.
If all had gone well I would not have gained that understanding.
I consider something I haven’t ever thought of before. Maybe the trial isn’t always about God trying to prove us or build our character—what if He is trying to help us discover His?
I wonder what He has allowed you to go through so you might understand Him better.
In Even This, Emily Belle Freeman shares her own deeply personal experiences of feeling forgotten by God—from the fear of abandonment in a dark hospital room to the desperation that followed months of unanswered prayers. In a moment of honesty, she found herself asking the question she had been afraid to consider: "Where is God in this?"