Dark Stains on Our Canvas

A Story of Infant Loss

By Jay Decker
PC Unsplash
Imagine your life as a canvas.
It begins as a blank tapestry, waiting to be filled with the colors of life. Family, friends, life circumstances, decisions you make...all leave marks on your canvas. Beautiful reds, blues, oranges. Dark stains of browns and blacks.
All these hues form together in a colorful representation of your life.
This is where our story starts.
My wife, Theresa, and I met in Jamaica on a missions trip with her church. I don't believe in love at first sight, but there was definitely chemistry. Theresa will tell you she knew that second week in Jamaica we were going to get married; it took me a little longer 'to know,' but just shy of two years later, we blended our canvases together and were married.
We spent the first year of our marriage adding colors, with a move across the country to Kansas City, new jobs, and finishing up a graduate degree. And it wasn't long before a third—and fourth—canvas added to our growing mural.
Theresa was twelve weeks pregnant when we first heard 'twins' were a possibility. We had joked about wanting twins when we were dating, but hadn't really given it a whole lot of thought as a real possibility. But here we were, a year and a half into our marriage, expecting identical twin boys. Normal first pregnancy, right?
At 20 weeks, Theresa was placed on fairly strict bed rest—only once up and down the stairs during the day, wheelchairs and motorized carts at the grocery store, and really just most of the day spent in a chair watching TV. Baby A was growing at a slightly faster rate than Baby B, and Theresa's cervix was measuring short. All this added to the already risky pregnancy led to ultrasound monitoring several times per week.
At 35 weeks, Theresa and I headed into the doctor's office for what had become a routine check-up. We joked that these appointments were serving no point except to rack up some extra bills for us; in fact, the doctors had told us at our last appointment that we didn’t need any more monitoring if our OB/GYN did not want us to keep coming back. “If anything were to happen, it would have happened already. We’re now just waiting for your boys to come,” they told us.
And like a bad dream, this is where the routine...became not so much.
They had trouble finding a heartbeat on Baby B. That wasn’t abnormal; because of how big the boys were getting, sometimes both monitors would pick up the same baby. When that happened, the monitors would just need to be adjusted. Sometimes it took upwards of ten minutes or so to make sure the monitors were picking up the proper baby.
After about thirty minutes, the nurse left to get an ultrasound machine. “We just want to check on the position of the babies.” Still nothing we were too concerned about. Baby B had always been a mover and a shaker, and was constantly flipping and making it difficult on the techs. She grabbed the machine, found his position, and hooked up the monitors again. Still found only Baby A’s heartbeat. Theresa finally asked, “Are you sure there are two heartbeats?”
They called in the doctor, and he took a look at the ultrasound. The thing about going to so many ultrasounds is that you start to recognize certain things beyond the hands, face, and feet. You know what the stomach looks like, what other organs look like…and what a beating heart looks like.
I watched the screen while the doctor searched, and it started to hit me. He couldn’t find a heartbeat on my little boy. My chest constricted so tightly I could hardly breathe. I started to pray, but didn’t know what to pray. I felt like I just kept repeating, “Please God.”
After about ten minutes, the doctor simply said, “I’m really sorry.”
My baby boy was gone.
The doctor said he wanted us to go across the hall for a more “in-depth” look at Theresa’s belly, because those machines were a little better at picking out certain things. I clung to any hope I could.
As we crossed the hall and Theresa got hooked up, the tech began the ultrasound. She quickly found Baby A's heartbeat, and it was perfectly normal and healthy. But as she moved to Baby B, and as we prayed so desperately that the other machines were just wrong, the lady pulled up his heartbeat.
Flat line.
I cannot even begin to describe the emotions. I cried more in the next 24 hours than I had in the past ten years.
This was not supposed to happen. We did everything they said. When we went to the store, Theresa rode in the wheelchair. When she was at home, I did the dishes, laundry, and cooking, and picked up anything that may have fallen on the floor. She was sitting a good 14 hours a day (not to mention sleeping another 8 or 9), protecting her babies. She took the right vitamins, went to all the check-ups, prayed for our babies to stay in there long enough to be healthy. We were beyond 35 weeks, the original goal they had given us. We were out of the woods!
And then we weren’t.
What went wrong? Why did this happen? HOW could this happen?
We never expected twins. But when we found out we were having twins, we knew that God had a hand in it. For one, identical twin boys are the rarest of twins. For twins to even be identical, the egg has to “randomly” split; we firmly believe that for almost anything science explains as “random,” God has a hand in it. He had reached into Theresa’s womb and split that egg. He had given us twin boys.
And then one of my precious babies was gone.
Why would He allow one of them to be taken?
It was supposed to be two. Every time we saw a baby, it was “We’re having TWO of those!” Every outfit we bought, we thought, Where can we find a similar one for the other boy? The outfits we had picked for them to come home in said 'Brothers rule.' Two cribs, two highchairs, two car seats, a twin stroller…everything double. The past eight months had been full of excited anticipation for the arrival of two.
And now there was only one.
We didn’t even get a chance to pray for Baby B's healing. All we could pray was, “Please, God, no.”
All of this happened around 4:00PM on Monday. They told us they were scheduling a C-section for Theresa the next day at 12:30PM; they didn’t want Baby A to be in there too long after they discovered that Baby B had no heartbeat. 
For us, nearly 20 hours was way too long. Please, just get our other baby out healthy. They kept telling us, “He is doing great; his heart rate is fine” etc., etc. The only thing we kept thinking was, So was our other boy's. Please, we don’t want to lose both of our sons.
At 11:00, the nurse determined Theresa was going into labor, and they pushed up the C-section. By midnight, she was in the OR, and twenty minutes later (the longest twenty minutes of a dad’s life, especially one who has no idea what is happening and had just lost one of his baby boys) I was heading back to join her. At 12:27AM on the morning of March 20, 2012, Elias Tay Decker let out a scream, one I could listen to over and over and over again…it meant my boy was alive.
Up until that moment, I had continued praying. I knew (and still know) that God has the power to bring people back to life. I knew he could give my baby boy a heartbeat again. I was so hoping and praying to hear a second scream. To be able to look back and laugh, saying something silly and ultimately ridiculous like, “Baby B just had enough of being in there with Baby A. He wanted out, and he figured the only way to let us know would be to stop his heart.”
I don’t know why (and probably never will), but God did not answer my prayer.
At 12:28AM, a minute after his older brother, Hezekiah Thason Decker was stillborn. I never heard the second scream I had been desperately praying for.
How can I explain what we were going through? Joy. Anguish. Laughter. Tears. Hope. Despair.
And guilt. Big time guilt. How could we feel sad when our baby boy Elias was in our arms? How could there be a fog of sadness on what is supposed to be the happiest day of our lives? We had left the day before, excited about the possibility of maybe, just maybe that day being the day we brought home our two sons. We had welcomed Elias the next day not knowing what had happened to his brother, why it had happened, or what we were going to do.
The next few months were a really odd and rough time for us. We were ecstatic about the birth of Elias, but crushed by the death of Hezekiah. The autopsy results on Hezekiah came back telling us, in a nutshell, “Everything was normal. We don't know what went wrong.” We had hoped that knowing the how would help us cope with never knowing why. That will not be the case. We have no idea what happened to Hezekiah.
To make matters worse, Elias spent his first three weeks in the NICU. As standard procedure when one twin survives the death of another, an ultrasound was run on Elias' brain to make sure everything was normal. 
The results were not.
Still reeling from Hezekiah's death, the NICU doctor called us in and told us Elias had “holes in his brain.” We found out (but not until several years later) that Hezekiah's death had caused Elias's blood pressure to drop drastically, resulting in a massive stroke.
He received an official diagnosis of left-sided hemiparesis with cerebral palsy, and we were told he would experience a lifetime of challenges because of it. 
Within the span of one week, our beautiful life canvas had become marred by massive black spots. It was as if someone had taken a can of black paint, dipped some sponges in it, and chucked them against our life.
Welcome to the hard place.
You never know how you will respond when life implodes on you. Will you completely break, or will you straighten your back to get through it? Will your relationships suffer, or will they strengthen? Will you get angry and bitter, or will you be able to move on?
Will you turn toward God, or away from Him?
Seven days after the death of Hezekiah, I sat in the NICU with Elias and wrote the following words: 
Through this all, we know that God is God and He is in control. I don’t know why our plans for twins so radically shifted, but I know that my God is there for me (for us). Elias means 'My God is the LORD' and Hezekiah means 'The LORD is my Strength.' We had pre-picked these names, for these meanings, a while back. Obviously, they have become even more poignant to us this past week. We want Elias to always know, and to serve as a reminder (to us and to everyone around us), that no matter what happens in this life, we will always proclaim Jesus Christ as our LORD and Savior.
The black stains on our canvas were still there, evidence of the scarring and pain which was still very front-and-center of our lives. Yet for us, we needed to proclaim this fact: no matter how hard life may get, we would still turn to Christ—our Rock—to get us through.
When you are in the midst of the hard place, sometimes all you can see are the black stains where your beautiful life has turned out drastically different from how you envisioned. They consume your vision, and you can feel like your canvas—your life—is ruined and will never be beautiful again.
What is great about a painting, though, is that sometimes you can't tell what is being painted until it is finished. 
Sometimes, the dark colors are what makes the painting a masterpiece.
And while our story is far from finished, we have begun to see the beauty that can result even with the dark stains.
Eight months after Elias was born, Theresa unexpectedly became pregnant again. When we first discovered we would have another child, our anxiety spiked. Can we really go through this again? What if something else goes wrong?
But within a few days, this anxiety was replaced by an overwhelming sense of peace. Not a peace that everything would be okay, but more so a peace resulting in a feeling of no matter what happens, God will still be in control.
After a relatively uneventful nine months, Callum Lynry Decker was born. His name means “Dove,” something we chose because it is the universal sign for peace. God had given us another beautiful, wonderful boy, and brilliant colors began once again emanating from the dark stains on our life's canvas.
God wasn't finished, though.
In late fall 2015, Theresa and I once again discovered she was pregnant. When we asked the boys what they wanted—a boy or a girl—they both said, “A sister!” The only thing we had to worry about was them fighting over their one sister.
Until we didn't have to worry about that, because at 22 weeks, Theresa went in for her first ultrasound of the pregnancy and discovered there was not just one, but two sisters inside. The boys had each requested a sister, and God in His infinite grace and mercy, had given them each one.
The odds of having two sets of identical twins are 1 in 70,000. We recently discovered through a DNA test that the girls are identical, just like their oldest brothers. 
God is incredible.
So much of this second twin pregnancy was different enough from the first one to help keep our anxiety low. It was a different gender (girls vs. boys), who each had their own placenta (the safest type of twin pregnancy); we didn't discover we were having twins until 22 weeks (over halfway through the pregnancy and mostly past the riskiest part of any pregnancy); and Theresa was able to work through most of the pregnancy. 
At 37 weeks, Eliana Bralen Decker was born, and one minute later, Adalaigh Rykklann Decker joined her in the world. Their names mean “Jehovah is God” and “He is good.”
As I look back on the canvas of our lives these past seven-plus years, I’m reminded of the words of Charles Wesley: “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” In instances like this, one tongue does not seem adequate for the praises our God—our Rock—deserves.
When you find yourself in the Hard Place, lean on the Rock. Not for the blessings He gives, although they are many. Not for the credit you will receive, because it probably won't come. Not even for the sake of getting through the hard place.
Lean on the Rock because in a life of craziness, hard times, and unpredictability, the Rock will keep you stable. He will be there when you need it. He will give you the grace to get through, the strength to mend a broken heart, and the peace to face the next day without worrying about when the next hard place will come.
The dark stains are still there. They will never go away, and our canvas will never look the way we thought it would before they came. Yet through it all, God is continuing to create a beautiful masterpiece.

Jay Decker is a stay-at-home father of four children, who wishes he had five living in his house. When he is not chasing children, he is training for half marathons, writing, or coaching baseball. His wife, Theresa, works as a nurse at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. The 'Decker 6' live in Lenexa, Kansas. Occasionally, he will blog at https://doubledeckerx2.wordpress.com/


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