Kathryn & Norah
Kathryn and I met as contestants at Miss Oklahoma several years ago. Little did I know our paths would cross again in a deeper and more meaningful way later in life. I had the privilege and honor of praying fervently for Kathryn and Mark's little girl Norah. I asked Kathryn to share her story to wrap up our May of Mother's Days because it's a story so relatable to so many women and men waiting for a family. As I met with them to take these pictures of Norah to celebrate the first year of her life, I was moved by God's eternal goodness. Norah is the evidence of faith for things unseen and hope prayed for.
It all started with fireworks. This is what Mark might tell you about when we met, because in 1999 in Inola, Oklahoma, we met while we were working at a fundraiser for the high school band and choir. To raise money, we were working a firework stand. We didn’t date in high school, but dated when I was in college. We were married in 2009.
Our story began as many do - with two pink lines on a pregnancy test. It was February of 2013, and my husband and I had only been trying to get pregnant for a few months, so for us things happened quickly. We were cautiously optimistic, and we were able to see our baby’s heartbeat when we were a little farther along than 7 weeks. I had started to show and bought some maternity clothes. I bought a little stuffed lamb as a gift for the baby, and we were anticipating a baby around October 28. We went in for another appointment a few weeks later, and our OB couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. Her ultrasound machine wasn’t the greatest, but she was pretty confident that our baby was no longer alive. She sent us to the hospital, where a fancy machine confirmed what we knew. Our baby had passed away in utero a couple of weeks or so before, and we didn’t know it. This was on a Thursday. They scheduled me for surgery to remove the baby the following Monday, April 8th. I was heartbroken.
In October, we got another positive pregnancy test. Blood work early on told us the pregnancy likely wasn’t viable. On a Saturday in November, in the bathroom of Walgreens, I started to lose our second baby.
The following February, I got a third positive pregnancy test. Yet again, early blood work pointed to a pregnancy that wouldn’t last, and the shortest of our three pregnancies was lost on February 25th.
It’s so hard to unpack all of this and how each loss affected me differently and how they all affected me together - there’s just so much! But when I look back, I have flashes of memories that stand out to me.
I remember the lights in the operating room before I went under anesthesia to have the baby removed. I remember crying afterward to my mom because I didn’t want them to have taken the baby. I remember seeing pregnant people and babies so many places and it being so difficult. I remember going back to work too early and crying in my boss’ office. I remember worrying about what they had done with our baby’s body. I remember, after our second loss, when our miscarriages were not the only factor weighing on my heart, staring at myself in the mirror at home and wondering if I had to put on makeup that day. I remember thoughts of bitterness and jealousy toward people who were pregnant who hadn’t been trying very long. I remember not attending the baby shower of a friend. I remember feeling like I had a spotlight on me. I remember all the blood draws, all the tests, all the loss, and then, after three miscarriages, the months of negative pregnancy tests and fertility treatments. I remember wondering if we would ever be able to have biological children.
One of the hardest places to go was church. There were pregnant people everywhere, and there was even a family at church who had a baby that was born the same month our first baby was due. I sang on the stage at church, and sometimes I didn’t really have a great attitude about the words to the songs that we were singing. Sometimes the words I was singing were almost like sermon to myself - me singing, reminding myself of the things that were true but now seemed much muddier than they did before. Things I needed to hear. I remember singing with the the choir a song called “Holy Is He” and the lyrics say: “Who hears me in my loneliness, who finds me where I hide, who knocks outside my broken heart till I let him inside” and there I was, standing in front of people on stage, singing words that were speaking to me so perfectly and trying to not ugly cry on stage. There were tears as I was reminded of my broken heart and of God knocking on the door for me to let him in. Church was where I was reminded of the promises of God. But church was a hard place to be in the midst of my pain. Holidays were difficult, and a reminder of one less chair that should have been around the table. Mother’s Day was especially difficult. Due dates and date of loss anniversaries could also be difficult. On our first baby’s due date, Mark broke down and cried.
Faith is one of my spiritual gifts. In all of this, my faith really took a beating. I wasn’t really sure how to pray. I felt like I had prayed for a healthy pregnancy three times and it hadn’t worked, so it was all really confusing to me. There was just a shift inside me - things were different.
So I can look back and remember all these things - the hurt, the bitterness, the regret, the longing, the waiting, the doctors appointments, the emptiness of our house that felt so painfully loud. The months passing and things staying the same. I missed our tiny babies that we never got to meet. It was a dark time.
In October of 2013, in the midst of our second loss, I was on a walk through our neighborhood. The trees were changing colors and I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me - “this is a season.” I wrote about this in my blog. Those words from the Lord were balm to my heart. It was a buoy of hope thrown to me. How just as the leaves change and fall off, a new season in my life was coming. Some of those leaves hang on the trees for dear life, but eventually, they give way and the seasons change. And God was telling me that this season would change too. In the midst of sorrow, I had hope. Writing about things like this was therapeutic for me.
I mentioned so many things that I remembered that were painful, but I also have memories that are life-giving, reminders of God’s promises in the midst of pain. I remember the day we found out our first baby had died, a friend showed up on our porch with the makings for ice cream sundaes. She dropped it off with Mark, offered some kind words, and left. I remember after our second loss, our life group signed a card for us, and had that with cookies and flowers delivered to me at work. The reminder that I was not alone came at the perfect time. I remember the friend that had walked a similar road as me that spoke to me all about my loss and about her loss and she was a bit of a lifeline for me. I remember sitting with another friend at Starbucks, tears streaming down my face, as she just sat and listened, and let me talk. I remember around Mother’s Day I got cards in the mail from people who knew it could be a difficult day for me.
Before all of this, I would have not said that mercy or empathy was one of my strengths. But now that I am more intimately acquainted with grief, sorrow, and longing, I have so much more empathy. I am able to be more sensitive to other people. I now know the importance of “saying something” instead of “saying nothing” - I also know that sometimes the only thing I need to say is “I’m so sorry for your loss. I am praying for you.”
During our journey, we started a ministry to families who had experienced pregnancy losses, called Hannah’s Hope. We send boxes of tangible items to families to help with work through their grief. The work of Hannah’s Hope was redemptive and healing for me. It allowed me to use my circumstance to help others. We are now a 501(c)3 organization and, because of God’s provision, we have sent Hope Boxes to hundreds of families all over the United States, and even across the world.
After our third loss in February of 2014, we knew it was time to figure out what was going on. We stopped trying and started testing. I was diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder, and our reproductive endocrinologist told me to begin taking a baby aspirin and extra folic acid. With that advice, we had the green light to try to for pregnancy number four in July of 2014. On August 16, I underlined Psalm 113:9 in my Bible, which says, “He makes the barren woman abide in the house a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!”
Months passed, and we still weren’t pregnant. In January, we went back to our doctor, and in February I started fertility meds. After one cancelled cycle and three failed cycles, we still weren’t pregnant. In June we went to St. Louis to see another specialist who did a diagnostic test on me that can have the benefit of also make it easier to achieve a pregnancy. Three weeks to the day after that test, I had another positive pregnancy test. But this test was Norah. That day, of course, I had hope, but I also didn’t know that this pregnancy would have any other outcome than before, and I began to battle all sorts of anxieties and emotions that come with pregnancy after loss.
I mentioned before that the previous year, on August 16th of 2014, I had read that passage of Scripture from Psalm 113. On August 15th of 2015, almost one year to the day later, I was pregnant with Norah, but we hadn’t announced it yet, and a friend of ours sent me a text, and in it she said, “As I was reading my Bible this morning this word literally jumped off the page at me and I felt the Lord say to me, "this is My Word for Kathryn and Mark, give it to them."
It's Psalm 113:9 - "God's grace provides for the barren ones a joyful home with children, so that even childless couples find a family. He makes them happy parents surrounded by their pride and joy. That's the God we praise, so give it all to Him!”
I could see in my Bible that I had underlined and dated that verse from almost exactly a year before.
As you may know, my pregnancy with Norah continued, and I was so desperate to meet her. I knew if we had a girl, I wanted to name her Norah since before we even had any challenges, as Norah meant “light” - not only did I want her to be a light for Christ, but she was bringing light to us after our season of darkness. Her middle name is Grace, and I knew that the gift of Norah was nothing more than unmerited kindness from the Lord. After months of waiting, Norah was born, healthy and whole, on March 24, 2016. She is a miracle.
Norah is now 13 months old, and I am so grateful for the perspective I have because of our circumstances. My perspective is very different now. I see, very personally, how every moment with our baby is a gift. Pregnancy discomforts are a privilege. I see that it is a privilege to get up in the middle of the night with a baby, that every dirty diaper, every sleepless night, every “inconvenience” is a gift more precious that can be imagined. The perspective that I have, at least for me, I believe will make me a better parent. Even now, I get emotional sometimes when I take Norah to the library for storytime. I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that a simple trip to the library makes my cup overflow. And of course, I would have known she was a gift before, and I would have been grateful. But, for me, it would have been different. I think Norah is getting a better version of me because of our journey.
So I look back at everything, and I am forever changed by what we experienced. There was much pain, but then there were the kindnesses, and the way I was changed for the better. I will always remember the darkness, but I am changed for the better because of the light.