Monday, October 19, 2009

October 13th Began with Hope

October 13th began with hope.

We did the usual rigmarole with getting our kids ready for school – Caden had to be at the bus stop by 8:15, Ellie and I needed to be in the car by 8:40 to go pick up her friend and then head to pre-school by 9:00.

I got up a few minutes earlier that morning and decided to make waffles for everyone – not my usual habit, but I enjoy making breakfast for the whole family once in a while. Summer was still working out at Cardinal.

During breakfast and getting dressed we talked about what today was going to bring – we were going to find out the sex of our baby! We had it all planned out – family style! We would ask the doctor to write the gender of our baby on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope – and Summer and I would suspensefully wait all day until we picked Caden up from the bus stop. The proud first grade reader that he is (or more like the proud parents of our 1st grade reader), Caden would read the piece of paper letting our whole family know. I was going to video tape it and put it up on Facebook as our announcement.

I dropped off the girls at pre-school, headed home to help Summer get Will ready so the 3 of us could all go to the ultrasound appointment. I sensed God drawing me to read Psalm 139 during this time, but I was too busy to sit and read it, so I put it off till later.

We arrived at the appointment, waiting for a few minutes in the waiting room while we all watched Elmo on the TV. Then we were called in. The tech began the ultrasound – I whipped out my camera to take some video, but the tech told me I had to put it away. Will was being unusually clingy to mom, so he got to lay down right next to her as the tech performed the ultrasound.

She looked inside mommy for about 5 minutes, which seemed short to me. Throughout all of our pregnancies, this was at least the sixth time we had been through an ultrasound and they usually lasted much longer. Before she finished up, she said she was unable to determine gender. To which we were disappointed – we were all set to get rid of either old boy clothes or girl clothes from the older siblings, depending upon the sex. We were going to purchase a bunk bed for Ellie if she was going to have a little sister. We were going to tell family and friends who wanted to purchase something special for the baby.

But as the tech left, I began sensing something else even worse than not being able to determine gender. It was just too quick – the scanning. Granted, every office probably does things a little different. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something just didn’t seem right.

Summer had been saying this for a few weeks now. Something just didn’t seem right. By the time you are pregnant with your fourth, you feel like you are somewhat a pro at this game. You know what to expect – you know what’s coming next. You're ready, although not happy, for the morning sickness and restless nights because of a belly getting big. You're ready for people to come up and touch your belly and ask, "When are you due?". You know exactly how to distinguish the shadows on the ultrasound picture for what is your baby and can even, almost instantly, see the gender of the baby. You’re ready for the emotion filled experience you will have at the hospital, awaiting the arrival of your little one and then the long hours of being up at night, trying to figure out what it is that will soothe this baby to sleep.

But this was different. She was carrying differently than the other pregnancies. She had a lower weight gain. With each sequential pregnancy, she would feel the baby kick earlier and earlier and with greater frequency each time. But now in week 21, she had only felt a few kicks, usually when she put a greater amount of pressure on her pregnant belly.

She kept asking the doctors and nurses – and they just kept saying that every pregnancy is different and that as long as we heard the heartbeat, there was not much else to worry about. We were forced to take comfort in hearing that pulsating sound come over fetal monitor.

The doctor came in a few minutes after the tech left. He introduced himself and then said he needed to be frank with us, that there is something serious with our baby. He then went on to tell us that there were no kidneys, that a condition of this nature was fatal.

Serious. Fatal. The words ring through my head and heart. I sat there, the tears welling up, the words, “O God”, several times, a call out to the God whose grace is sufficient, barely noticeable as they crossed my lips. My hand reaching her hand, my other one around Will as I now console my wife, experience my own grief and needing to make sure Will was content enough to remain quiet as the doctor began to talk to us and take another look inside mommy’s tummy.

I hardly remember the next few moments, except one big moment of grief. The doctor was talking to us and showing us what the ultrasound picture displayed. The place where the kidneys should be was completely void. Nothing at all. Not a trace of anything. The heart (I could see 4 chambers) was beating, but there were no arteries coming off of the heart to where the kidneys should be. He then explained that there was no amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. I would later find out that the kidneys begin producing this substance around 12 weeks gestation and that amniotic fluid is crucial for the development of the lungs and other vital parts and that the lungs would be small. The baby was measuring about a week or two behind where it should be. Gender would not be able to be determined because the baby was curled up in a ball inside the womb.

In addition, another complication had occurred. Summer’s placenta, that life-giving source for the baby, was enlarged and in the wrong place. Called placenta previa, Summer’s was what they called “complete” or type IV. It was on the bottom part of the womb, completely covering the cervix. We would find out later that this meant she would not be able to deliver vaginally, but would need a C-section if the placenta did not move naturally. In a healthy pregnancy with plenty of amniotic fluid as a cushion, the placenta might move, but the chances in this unhealthy pregnancy were slim.

There were questions asked, answers given over the next few minutes as he continued to gather some measurements. I’m not sure what those were. I cried. Summer cried. In one of the most tender ways, Will reached up and grabbed Mommy’s hand. He knew she hurt. It was his way of saying, as we so often do when he hurts, “It will be ok mommy. I’m here and I love you.”

The doctor finished the ultrasound and then led us to his office to answer our questions and to tell us our “options”. Again, I’m not sure I remember much of what happened in there. I remember the doctor going over again what was wrong with the baby. I remember Will getting anxious and needing us to play with him as we were unable to – the doctor whipped out his iPhone, found a movie and let Will watch it. Summer began taking notes. I just sat there, not believing it was us in that room, not believing the conversation that was taking place, waiting for the night to end and to wake up from a dream.

What I would learn later upon further research is that our baby has what is called, Bilateral Renal Agenesis. According to Wikipedia and confirmed by other sources, tt is the uncommon and serious failure of both a fetus' kidneys to develop during gestation, and is one causative agent of Potter sequence (or Potter’s Syndrome). This absence of kidneys causes oligohydramnios, a deficiency of amniotic fluid in a pregnant woman, which can place extra pressure on the developing baby and cause further malformations. This occurs to approximately one out of 5000 babies and is probably caused by a genetic disorder. Why this baby and not our first three, we don’t know. Caden and Ellie, our older two, had renal hydronephrosis, which basically means that too much fluid is in the kidneys. This condition worked itself out over time, yet the doctor thought it to be curious and that there may be a link.

The doctor told us we had two options: 1) Electively Terminate the pregnancy; or 2) Carry the baby till between 32 – 36 weeks and deliver by C-Section a baby that will most likely die within an hour or two.

This is where abstract theology becomes so concrete you either stand or fall off of it. This is the fire of 1 Corinthians 3. What’s my foundation? Do I really believe the things that I have taught?

Who am I?

We made the choice in that office, yet the doctor would not hear it. He told us to go home and think about it. We were not in the mindset to argue and we got up and walked out of that doctor’s office into a whole new life. Tears falling out of us with each step.

We made it to the van, sat down and we wailed in our mourning. I don’t know how long we were in that parking lot doing that, but I know nothing else mattered. Will was in his carseat and I have no idea what he thought and I didn’t even have the thought to look at his face. We just wailed. We had experienced no greater pain than this. Then, barely able to speak and do anything, I did what God had wanted me to do that morning before we left. I opened the Bible to Psalm 139 and read of His love and care for the baby that He is creating inside Summer – reading and pausing to cry in between words and sentences.

We had to drive home – a 45 minute trip. I cried the whole way. As we left, Summer had realized that we had forgotten the only ultrasound picture that was printed of our baby and, wanting the only thing that could link us (especially me) to this baby, she went back in to get it. As she asked for it, the tech told her, “It will be really hard for the next couple of days, but it will get better with time”, to which Summer responded, “I know it will be hard, but we know God and God will be faithful to see us through this.” She wanted to sarcastically respond, “Really? Do you really know the pain will only last a couple of days?”

As I pulled out onto the main road, I saw a truck – a kind I have never seen before. It was a casket company delivery truck and I instantly became aware of what all this meant – we were about to plan our baby’s birth and funeral.

In those moments of grief, clarity somehow pushes its way to the surface and suddenly I realized the things that mattered most in my life. My wife and children. Nothing, nothing else matter. I couldn’t care less about my responsibilities as a pastor, about all the deadlines and goals and meetings, leading worship, teaching and preaching. In those moments after hearing the news and for the next few days nothing else would matter except to be with my family and to hold them close. In those moments of grief the thoughts kept coming to me that if I lived a long life and died just doing holding my family close, I would die a very happy man.

A friend brought a book by to read to me to lead us into prayer. We didn’t get to read that book, but he forgot it at our house and I found it the other day. I picked it up and the words spoke into my existence the pain and hope that my heart could not speak. The Valley of Vision, a collection of prayers from the Puritans. There is no other book of prayers like this one and no other prayer that speaks my heart to my Father as this one:

“Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.


  1. I had no idea that this had happened. My prayers are with you and Summer. I know from experience how very painful this is. I also know that God will get you through it.

  2. Amen and Amen. Love you guys.

  3. My heart is breaking for all of you. This story is all too familiar to me. Psalm 139 is the very scripture God gave myself and Andrew for him and Meredith's little baby, Hope.
    Our prayers are with you all. We love you and if there's anything we can do, please don't hesitate to ask.
    God bless you with His everlasting love and peace.

  4. Lora and I are praying for you guys ...

  5. Rick & Summer, We love you and are praying for you.

  6. I have no words except for these: this is one of the most beautiful blog posts I've ever read, I love your family deeply, and as I begin Morning Prayer now I will pray for you to be enveloped in the strength, peace and love of our heavenly Father. I mourn with you.

  7. Thank you for writing this post full of grace beyond my understanding. My heart breaks for all of you. Your family has been and you will continue to be in our prayers as you hold your family tight through this terrible trial. The Johnsons love you!

  8. I also lift you up before our Father. Thank you for writing this and for letting us read it. I love you guys.

  9. While Aunt Laurie and I struggle to understand your ordeal from far-away Columbus we pray that God will grant you and Summer the strength to weather this tragic loss, a loss that is yet to come and one which will never really go away. He began that process even before your trial began—urging you to read the words of His psalmist. I’m not sure more poignant words have ever been written. Then I read your blog. May your gift to us, that of so freely sharing your grief, strengthen you just as that enlightened Puritan had prayed--that to give is truly to receive.
    --Uncle Jack

  10. I was tearing up reading the blog entry. Please know that you and Summer are in our family's hearts and prayers.

  11. THank you for gathering the courage to document all of this. Know that we are suffering beside you. A warm hug from the Mezgers, Rob

  12. Summer, we are praying for your pain, and amazed by your faith.

  13. I am so sorry this happened to your family. So deeply sorry.

  14. I discovered the Valley of Vision last summer. It has given me words to express my heart's cries as well. I'm a friend of the George family... so grateful that you are blogging your journey. Sharing and being transparent is a gift.

    Brenda Miers

  15. I know there is nothing I can say but just know that Ben and I are praying for you and Summer and the family. You have been on our hearts. I am praying for you this afternoon during the event, too. Kristi (Quigel) Bicknese

  16. Heather "Kelb" DowlingOctober 26, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    As I pray each day you and your family are included..........

  17. My heart aches for you. I am praying. I will ask my dad and grandparents to help look over your little baby until you can get there.

  18. I do not know you and you do not know me, but I heard you story through a family member of mine. I cannot even begin to comprehend what your family is going through. I will be actively praying for God to comfort and strengthen you all during this very hard trial. Remember that God is with you always and no matter what He has a plan that is perfect. He is sovereign over EVERYTHING.

  19. Dear Summer and Rick:
    We are praying for you as your time comes near. Wish we lived closer to be with you. God Bless! Love, Aunt Laurie and Uncle Jack

  20. as I read this, and feel a fragment of your burden, I pray. The weight seems heavy, my arms, my legs, my whole body seems to have gained 20 pounds in 10 min. I cannot imagine your hurt but I know ONE who does and I know He cares for you. We are told to bear one anothers burdens...Galatians 6:2
    Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. NASB... so I shall pray for you. God always knows, always cares and yes His Grace is sufficient. He always shows up and sometimes speaks through simple things. My word varification is trudst...I see TRUST and so I shall and press on! God Bless you and carry you through this!