Forever Intertwined: Generations Together through Birth and Death

birth story and grief

2021 was a gut-wrenching year for our family, but it didn’t start that way. On a late January evening, my husband and I went on a much-needed date, talking over tacos and margaritas. I remember thinking that my period was late, and when we got home from our date, I took a pregnancy test “just to check.” We had been trying for our second baby, and I wanted so badly to be pregnant. 

I took the test, and to my utter delight, it was positive. My husband was incredulous, as it had taken nearly two years to conceive my son. We were completely thrilled and grateful that it only took a few months for this little girl to make her home in my womb. We called our daughter, who was 17 at the time, into the room, and she was overjoyed—she had been praying for a little sister.

We couldn’t keep the good news to ourselves, so the next day we shared it with our family. We went to my in-laws’ house to share with them, and Rory’s mom, Willy, said with a smile on her face, “That’s the best news we’ve had in a year.” She had been battling breast cancer off and on for about six years, and she was ready for some joy in her life. 

Soon after, we found out the baby’s due date was October 3rd. I thought it would be serendipitous for her to share a birth month with her maternal great-grandmother. Five years to the day after she died, my miracle boy was born, so I cherished the thought of another way for me to remember her. Everything within me was delighted about this October due date.

But a month before she was born, my husband lost his job. Everything changed within a matter of minutes when he called me crying, and it felt like life was falling apart.

Exactly one month later, Rory and I woke up to a phone call in the middle of the night. His mom was being admitted to the hospital. She had been struggling with difficult side effects from her chemotherapy, and they weren’t sure if she was going to make it through the night. He got dressed and drove to the hospital, praying all the way there. 

I was already struggling to sleep because of constant trips to the bathroom, and now my heart was so heavy. Her cancer battle had taken a turn for the worse that summer when they found spots on her liver, and I was heartsick at the thought of losing her. 

The next morning, I was starting to get uncomfortable cramps. Rory was still at the hospital, and I was exhausted in every way. A dear friend offered to take my kids for the day so that I could rest, and I attempted to prepare my heart, mind, and spirit and wept while trying to cling to the promises of God. All the while I was begging Him to heal Willy so she could meet her granddaughter. 

By that afternoon, the contractions were starting to become more frequent and intense. My sweet husband walked through the door, exhausted but grateful for the time he had with his mom, and hopeful her health would improve.

I looked at him and said, “I’m pretty sure this baby is coming soon.” He replied, “Just give me a 20-minute warning so I can take a shower before we leave for the hospital.”

Once we got to the hospital and upstairs to the triage room, the pain was intensifying. My goal was to have a natural birth, but that was beginning to feel impossible. They checked me, and I was still early in labor, the same stage as when I had arrived at the hospital with my son. His birth took 17 hours, and that didn’t sound appealing to me to repeat. I looked at Rory and said, “I don’t need to be a martyr. I need the drugs.” He calmly replied, “Do whatever you want, babe.”

I wanted to labor in the tub because it had helped to tamp down the pain with my first birth. The nurses started working to get the wireless monitors on me, but in the midst of that, I threw up. A nurse said, “Ok, we’re in transition!” I thought, “How the heck could I be in transition already and nearing the final stage of labor?!”

The midwife joined the nurses as she arrived from another birth, then they decided to check me before letting me get into the tub. I was nearly ready for birth! Nurses were running around the room, and my husband was still trying to clean up the vomit off of his shoes. No longer were drugs an option. This baby was coming. I was on the verge of falling apart, but my midwife just looked me straight in the eyes and said with firm yet gentle conviction, “You are going to have this baby! You are doing great!”

I looked at my husband for affirmation, because I was terrified of the pain. However, I was ready to meet this sweet girl who I had been praying for and carrying under my heart for the last nine months. My heart was tender and my mind exhausted as I considered my weakness. I knew I had to surrender to the birth process, and I couldn’t allow fear to stop me from allowing my body to do what God created it to do. 

A few pushes later, and our little girl was born. I was in utter disbelief—God had answered my prayers for a quick, natural birth. No tears, no complications, just a precious girl who came into the world when we needed hope like we needed oxygen. After a couple sweet days of fawning over her beauty, we headed home. Everyone was so glad to have a literal bundle of joy to hold as we contended in prayer for Willy’s life. 

The next day, on our daughter’s due date, Rory got another phone call in the early morning—his mom’s heart was failing. He rushed to the hospital, but she was already gone. Our hearts were completely overwhelmed by grief but overcome with the hope of eternity. After six years of fighting cancer, she was ready to see Jesus. 

Our baby girl and Grandma Willy will forever be intertwined. We are truly grateful she is no longer suffering but rather made whole in the arms of Jesus. Our daughter’s name means “God is a gracious King.” Never before had we needed a reminder of God’s grace and His sovereignty in our lives more than during this moment of tremendous sorrow and great joy. 

While it is eerie to think how we prepared for October 3rd all year in order to welcome a new life into the world, I also find comfort knowing that God knew it was the same day He would welcome a good and faithful servant into His everlasting kingdom. God operates outside of time, yet we are so bound to it. To think that Willy missed the arrival of her granddaughter by mere days makes me heartsick. She spent some of her last days making a beautiful baby blanket inscribed with scripture. This blanket now hangs in her room as a visible reminder of the legacy of faith she left to our family. As we remember her in the years to come, I pray for a way to honor her life through celebrating her life and thanking God for her as I mother my sweet girl. 

Jessica Mathisen lives just outside of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and three kids (two through biology and one through adoption). She is a former elementary school teacher and a lover of people. Her passion is to communicate God’s love to others through writing and relationships. Her most favorite things are hanging with her family, eating chips and salsa, and reading good books.

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