It’s that time of year again….

(This is a repost from this day last year, with updates for this year.) Today would have been our daughter’s 28th birthday. Her name was Rachel Elizabeth Hartman. I reprint this post every year on her birthday.

But….I would like to explain something. People usually think that because I am reprinting this, that we are still deep in grief. We are not. Rachel is with God and we can use this experience as a witness of our relationship with God. While we missed her terribly for years after she died, and we wonder what it would have been like to have her here, we are joyous that she is in Heaven. While I would have loved to raise her just like we did with our other 2 kids, she has been promoted ahead of the rest of the family. She is no longer in the pain for which they gave her morphine. She is no longer trapped in the sick little body she was born with. Her body was perfectly formed, but she contracted a group B strep infection, and her little lungs could not handle it.

Nearly every year, on the Sunday morning before her birthday, I sing It is Well With My Soul in church. I could not this year, since I have bronchitis, but a friend sang it in my place. Bethany was named in honor of her older sister (her name is Bethany Rachel), and was born 2 years and 3 months after Rachel. (All 3 of our kids were born 2 years and 3 months apart.)

It really is well with my soul. Sorrow is such a hard thing to understand sometimes. But grief and utter despair are entirely different. We grieved, and even now, when I see something that makes me think of Rachel, I will get tears in my eyes. But I do not despair. She is with the parent that loves her far more than I ever could. And soon…very soon….we will see her again.

This is a repost of the post I do every year on her birthday: 

For about two weeks, every morning on the way to drop Brandon off at my mother’s before work, I had this recurring thought: “What if this baby were born early? What would I do?” I know now that God was trying to prepare me.

February 6, 1984 was an ordinary Monday. I took Brandon to my mother’s house (he was 2 yrs old) and then went to work. After work, I picked him up, took him for his allergy shot, and went shopping at Target for a new baby carrier. Our second baby was due April 28. Eleven weeks to go.

When I got home about 7:00 p.m., I was having a few small contractions, but I was used to those. I had Braxton Hicks contractions most days, and I had them when I was pregnant with Brandon, too. But I didn’t feel well, and the contractions were coming every 15 minutes. I was really tired. So Steve fixed hamburgers for us and I ate a little. I didn’t feel any better after resting, and by 9:00 p.m., the contractions had increased to every 5 minutes. But still they were not really bad.

We called the doctor and he said get to the hospital. So we did. They monitored me for a while and told the doctor on the phone that I was not having contractions. I don’t know what the nurse thought that rise and fall was on the monitor chart. So they gave me Vistaril and sent me home. At about 1:30 a.m., Feb. 7, I woke up having really hard contractions, but having had a sedative, I was having trouble staying alert enough to breathe with the contractions. I was in a lot of pain. So about 2:00, we headed back to the hospital. We went into the ER, and the police officer immediately took me to labor and delivery. The baby, who the nurses had been able to touch hours earlier, had now moved up too far to reach, and the monitor indicated she was in distress.

Emergency C-section. My spinal anesthesia was not working fast enough, and they needed to get her out, so I was given gas long enough to do an incision. When I woke up, they were carrying her over to the table to get her breathing. I had to turn my head in an awkward position to see her, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The anesthesiologist told me she was pinking up well. They put a breathing tube in her throat. She was so tiny – only 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Just 15 inches long. She was born at 3:43 a.m. Her cord was only 4 inches long, so she could not have been born normally.

I just laid there praying, and thinking about the scriptures that talk about Mary “pondering things in her heart” when Jesus was born. I needed my husband, but they had not let him in there because it was an emergency, and it was still only 1984. They took her to the nursery, and gave me something to knock me out, before taking me to recovery. That still makes me mad to think about that – they didn’t want me to fully know what was going on. There was absolutely no other reason to knock me out.

Doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital came and got Rachel stabilized for the trip to their hospital; then they brought her in for me to see. I could only reach into the incubator and touch her little legs and feet. I could not raise up to look at her, since I had had spinal anesthesia. You have to stay flat if you don’t want the worst headache you could ever imagine. They told me I could call them anytime I wanted to see how she was doing.

Steve and my mother went to Texas Children’s to see her. After Steve got home, they called him to come back. Rachel died at 10:25 p.m. Her brain had hemorrhaged and her lungs collapsed. He held her and the nurse took pictures. He came back up to the hospital to tell me, but I was asleep and the nurses just took him to the lounge to let him sleep a while. At 4:00 a.m., I woke up and wanted to call Texas Children’s. They tried to talk me out of it. I knew something was up. The nurse said, “I’ll go get your husband,” and I knew that if she was OK, he would not be up there then. He really didn’t have to tell me she had died. She lived 18 hours and 42 minutes.

I will have to let Steve tell you about the trips to Texas Children’s Hospital.

It was determined that she had group B strep. That helped the doctor to treat me, because I had it, also, and the antibiotics he was using were not working.

The next several days were a blur. Or more like a nightmare. I was still very sick, and we had to plan a funeral. And Brandon was missing me. I got out of the hospital Sunday afternoon, even though I was still running fever. But the visitation at the funeral home was that night. And the funeral was Monday. The day before Valentine’s Day. Before the visitation on Sunday night, I sat and held her for the very first time. I also was able to hold her for a good while, the morning of the funeral.

At Rachel’s funeral, Steve and I were actually the ones that put the lid on her casket (baby caskets have the lid as a separate piece). At the end of the service, we walked up to the casket, kissed her goodbye, and put the lid on the casket. That was hard to do.

People said and did some unkind things. Some meant well, and others did not. We were told by one that we shouldn’t have been so attached to her because we didn’t have her long enough. One woman said, “Well at least you didn’t lose your other child.” People might as well have just punched me in my incision. It felt the same. Another was mad because I didn’t come to see her as soon as I got out of the hospital. Never mind that I had had a c-section, my daughter died, and I was still very sick with the same illness that killed Rachel. I was so sick that the doctor had not wanted to let me out of the hospital, but I told him I was going. I was NOT going to miss my daughter’s funeral.

We had a limo for the funeral because I knew it would be easier to ride those long distances in the limo after a c-section, than ride in our truck. I had on a loose dress and the driver asked me when the baby was due. I told him this funeral was for my baby. I hate to make people uncomfortable like that, but I just couldn’t avoid it.

Life can be so unexpectedly short. Love your children. Hold them and kiss them a lot. You don’t have any earthly idea when you might not have them anymore.

Please go to Steve’s blog to read his story about his experience with her birth.

This is Rachel Elizabeth Hartman, on February 7, 1984:

Rachel Elizabeth

Steve’s father died on the same day, Feb. 7, in 1998.

I want to add a little bit to this year’s post, and tell you about a dream I had about 6 months after Rachel died.

For so long, it bothered me that I never got to hold Rachel while she was alive, and I really wanted to. I wanted to see her little body, and touch all her little toes. It’s what mothers do. I knew it bothered me, but didn’t realize just how much it bothered me, until the night I had this dream.

Our bed is a tall, antique looking 4 poster bed. I have many storage containers underneath it. In my dream, Rachel’s casket was also under the foot of our bed. As I’m typing this, I can still picture it in my dream…that’s how vivid it was. I wanted to open her casket, and hold her, but I was very afraid to do it. In actual life, one day we were at the cemetery, and I sat down on the ground right over Rachel’s grave. It was almost like I could feel the little casket in the ground, and I wanted to open it so bad, just to see her little body again. So in the dream, I wanted to open it just as much. I wanted to see her. I wanted to touch her.

I pulled the casket out from under our bed (I can still picture even the angle the casket was sitting at after I pulled it out in the dream), and finally got the nerve to open it up.

It was empty! She wasn’t in there!

Now, I’ve been a Christian almost all my life. I accepted Jesus when I was a little girl. I was raised in the same church I go to now. I have been taught from the time I was little, that our soul immediately leaves the body when we die, and is immediately in the presence of God. And even though my mind knew that, my heart just wasn’t feeling it.

Sometimes you wonder if God is telling you something….and sometimes you know for sure that He is. This was one of those times that I knew without any doubt. I knew He was assuring me that Rachel was with Him, and she wasn’t in that little casket. And He told me that I got to hold her longer and closer than anyone else every held her. I held her inside for 29 weeks, right under my heart.

There is also something I know for sure that God did for me. Brandon was always an unusually smart little boy. I know…you’d expect that coming from a mom. But he really was. And still is. He started speaking recognizable words at 5 months old. He was speaking whole sentences by the time he was a year old, and by the time he was 2, he carried on better conversations than some adults I’ve known. When he was 4, he was reading on a 6th grade level. His IQ now tests in the genius range. So he really was a smart little boy.

Sometimes he’d use that conversational ability to really tug at my heart. My mother kept him while I worked, and many mornings, long before he was 2 (probably around 18 months), when I would leave him at her house, he’d say, “Please stay home with me today.” And man…I really wanted to.

About the time he turned 2, he asked me to teach him how to read. So I did. We made flash cards to teach him phonics. By the time he was 4, he was reading books, and driving us crazy by reading all the billboards as we drove down the road. There are a lot of billboards you don’t want your kids to be able to read. “Mommy…what’s a gentleman’s club?”

When Beth was little, he would read her books. He’s 4-1/2 years older than her. He had 3 Dr. Seuss books completely memorized. When he wanted me to read to him, I’d tell him to read them himself. But he still wanted me to read, so I did. (Now he doesn’t memorize Dr. Seuss books, but he can completely recite the lines from many movies…of all the characters.)

We also had a game we played at night, rather than reading a book every night. We’d tell a story. Not just any story, mind you. We’d make it up as we went along. I’d start it with one line, like maybe, “Tigger walked down the road.” (Tigger was his favorite character.) Then he would make up the next line. And I’d do the next, and so on. With his imagination, the stories usually got pretty wild. It was fun.

When Rachel was born, Brandon was 2 years and 3 months old. After I came home from the hospital, I would sit in the recliner. He always was a snuggle baby, but having had a c-section, I couldn’t let him sit in my lap like he was use to doing. So he would sit on the arm of the recliner, as close to me as he could get.

When I would get sad and start to cry, he would say, “Don’t cry, Mommy. It will be ok…Jesus has a baby now.” He told me that many times…every time I would start to cry. And in the first few weeks after the funeral, that was a lot!

I did not go back to work after Rachel died. I had always wanted to stay home, and we had been working to get things paid off, so I could quit my job. We decided that was as good a time as any to quit. Since I was home every day, I was not around many adults, and I needed the company of more than just a 2 year old. Fortunately for me, God made my 2 year old much older emotionally and intellectually, than most. And that really helped me. It was even helpful in that he could do so many things for himself by that time.

God takes care of us. He provides for us the things we really need. And He provides comfort to us.

Ps 46:1…..God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. NIV

2 Cor 1:3-4…..3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort ,

4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. NIV

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