Join us for a conversation with Amy Balentine about her story of receiving a life-limiting diagnosis for her son, Simon. Amy shares her journey of walking through Simon's pregnancy and the seven days he lived on earth before going to Heaven. After grieving Simon's death, Amy and her husband also lost three other babies early in pregnancy. Amy discusses with Ashley how this shaped her faith journey and why she has chosen to look for blessings in the middle of her suffering. She encourages grieving moms to lean on Jesus in the darkness of grief. In this episode, we discussed:
Navigating a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy
How to handle people who encourage you to "end the suffering"
Choosing life and letting the Lord decide when Simon would pass away
Why it's important to trust God to lead and carry you through this difficult season
The difference between miracles and tragedies
Finding blessings in the midst of suffering
How to surrender control and choose our reactions to unwanted circumstances
Faith statements and how we can teach our heart to feel what our brain knows to be true: "God is good even when my baby dies."
How to handle lonely, dark nights filled with worry when carrying a baby who is expected to pass away
Celebrating your baby's life even when you're sad
Ways to connect with and cherish your baby in your pregnancy
Amy's ministry You Made Me Mom and the importance of hospitality in pregnancy loss support groups
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
In this episode, we discussed the difference between earthly tragedies and Heavenly miracles. When viewing suffering through the lens of eternity, our perspective of our tragic stories can change. In your grief, what blessings have you witnessed in spite of the pain? Are there ways you can change your perspective?
Amy shares the verse 2 Corinthians 12:9 about God's power being made perfect in our weakness. How does this verse resonate with you in letting Christ's power rest on you?
If you are currently pregnant with a baby who has been given a life-limiting diagnosis, what advice in this episode was the most helpful? Write down a few ideas that will help you bond and connect with your baby. (If you have experienced this in the past, write down a few special memories you had with your baby as you reflect on your pregnancy and/or birth of your baby).
Amy mentioned the faith statement: "God is good even when my baby dies." She talks about how it's hard to feel (in your heart) that this is true even though you know it in your mind. Do you struggle with questioning God's goodness? Write a letter to God sharing how you feel, and ask Him to help your "heart catch up to your head" like Amy said.
We talked about the New Heaven and New Earth and Jesus' Second Coming. How does the hope of Heaven impact your grieving? Does the promise of eternity comfort your heart and in what ways?
Amy mentioned that this is likely the hardest road you will ever have to walk through, but you don't have to go through it alone. She said that Jesus will carry you through. How can you surrender your grief to God and allow Him to carry the burden with you?
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CONNECT WITH OUR GUEST
Amy Balentine is the founder of You Made Me Mom, a nonprofit that supports grieving mothers.
Amy is a daughter of the King, wife to Adam, and mother to seven children. Three children are in her care while four reign in Glory.
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Episode 4: Grieving a Life-Limiting Diagnosis with Amy Balentine
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure, and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.
I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain, and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.
Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
I am so excited to introduce to you today my good friend, Amy Balentine. Amy is the Founder of You Made Me Mom, a non-profit ministry, and I've had the blessing of knowing her since 2015 when both her and I were starting our non-profits right at the beginning, and we've journeyed together through this.
We actually live just three hours away here in Kansas, and she is such a supportive, encouraging friend who values community over competition, and she has such a beautiful testimony to share with you. I'm really looking forward to you getting to know Amy today, so let me share a little bit more about her.
Amy is a daughter of the King, wife to Adam, and mother to seven children. Three children are in her care while four reign in Glory. Amy had two sons die in 2014, Simon, who lived one breathing week, and Thomas, who lived until 13 weeks gestation.
In 2020, Amy experienced two more miscarriages and is now walking through secondary infertility. Since 2015, Amy has been serving in the pregnancy and infant loss community. The Lord gave her a ministry called You Made Me Mom, a support group that serves mothers who have lost babies during pregnancy or infancy through one year of breathing life.
The support group gathers once a month in Amy's home, where she shares the message that God is good even when a baby dies. You Made Me Mom has seven chapter locations, including one in Canada and one online.
Amy is a 2005 graduate of the University of Kansas and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a lover of hospitality, fine food, and a well-organized home, which all stem from her 10 years as a wedding and event planner before her calling to work in the home as a mom and a non-profit leader.
You are going to be so blessed by Amy, and I can't wait for you to listen in on this conversation about grieving a life-limiting diagnosis. Let's welcome Amy Balentine.
Welcome, Amy. I am so honored to have you here today. Our listeners probably don't know this, but we have known each other since 2015, when both of our ministries were just starting, and we were getting our 501c3 paperwork back.
And God has been so good to bring you into my life and have you to walk this journey of ministry and motherhood with you. I'm so glad you're here. Would you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about yourself?
Amy Balentine: [00:04:08] Yes. I am so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me. Let's see, I'm mom to seven, I am married to Adam. To give you an idea of being a mom to seven, it sounds like I've got this very loud house, and I do, but I'm only a mom to three living children, so I've got four babies in Heaven.
I know we'll go into detail about those later, but one lived one week of breathing life, another died around 13- 14 weeks gestation. And then I had two miscarriages last year, right in the middle of the pandemic.
And so, I believe we're walking through secondary infertility right now, but we also have three living kids at home, so we're just so thankful for the lives that we've been given that are in front of us. And I also lead a ministry called You Made Me Mom, and it's a support group for moms who've lost babies during pregnancy or infancy.
Ashley Opliger: [00:05:05] Wow. Amy, I'm so sorry for all of your losses, and going through that in the pandemic is just so, so hard, and I know that's even more isolating walking through that when everything was shut down. I'm sure also your support groups were impacted just like ours were through COVID, and navigating that, just a really difficult year.
So we'll definitely be praying for you going through infertility and grieving your babies. You have such a testimony of walking through grief with such grace and gratitude, walking that dance between grief and joy, and always having a grateful heart, even though you're grieving.
And so if we could go back and talk about Simon first, your precious little boy Simon, who lived for seven days on earth, and you chose life when you knew that he had a life-limiting diagnosis, and you were able to make these memories with him when you weren't expecting to get to spend that time with him after birth. So would you tell me about his life and his diagnosis?
Amy Balentine: [00:06:11] Yeah, I would absolutely love to talk about him. In January of 2014, my husband and I found out that we were carrying a son that was different than our first pregnancy. We went in for an 18-week ultrasound, and we found that his kidneys were enlarged, and so they encouraged us to go to a Level 2 ultrasound.
And I didn't really know what a Level 2 ultrasound was, and I was pretty good about not Googling enlarged kidneys and what a Level 2 ultrasound was. I just decided, “Well, I'll go to a Level 2 scan, and they'll tell me if his kidneys are enlarged or not, and then I'll be on with my day,” and that's not what happened.
We went into the Level 2 ultrasound, it was about an hour and a half, and they said, “We'd like for you to get on the phone with our perinatologist,” who wasn't in the office that day, so it must've been pretty important for them to get him on the phone with me.
And he shared that our son indeed had large kidneys, and they’d really like to take a better look at him, as they thought he had other anomalies: a cleft lip, a cleft palate, and a heart defect.
And so they asked us to come in the next day for another scan. And when we went into the scan and the perinatologist was sitting in the room with us, they looked directly at Simon's brain, and they noticed that his brain hadn't divided into two hemispheres.
And not knowing very much about the development in the womb, I was a wedding planner prior to being a mom, and so I didn't have a lot of experience with development in the womb, and I said, “Well, can it still split?” I didn't know.
And he said, “No. More than likely, your baby has a diagnosis called Trisomy 13,” which is an incompatible-with-life diagnosis. All of these words were very new to me. I had never heard of life being incompatible with life. And so he said, “I'd like to do an amniocentesis if you would allow.” And so we elected to do that, and those findings told us that indeed Simon did have full Trisomy 13.
And my husband and I, and many others in the trisomy world, we call it a life-limiting diagnosis. And he very much was compatible with life. I could feel him moving in my womb, and I knew that there was life inside of me.
So we found out that his brain had not divided into two hemispheres; he had enlarged kidneys, a heart defect, extra fingers and toes, a cleft lip and palate, possibly no eyes, and many other anomalies. And we decided on that day, and prior to even getting the final phone call, that Simon was a boy and that he indeed had Trisomy 13, that we were just going to celebrate this little boy's life.
The Lord so richly blessed us with a time in our pre-marriage class, mine and Adam, my husband's pre-marriage class, there was a question that talked about having children. I had explained to my husband, and he had reflected it back to me as well: No matter what children we have, I don't want to investigate too far in the womb. I want whatever children the Lord will give us.
And I obviously did not have a glass ball, but how precious was the Lord to pave this path? Even before we said, “I do,” to commit these words to one another and to commit to Simon that we were going to let his life and the Lord together live out Simon's life, and we weren't going to make any decisions. I got to be Simon's mom, and I was chosen to be his mom.
Termination was absolutely an option; they offered abortion to us, but we very quickly knew. I mean, from that pre-marriage class, that wasn't even an option for our family because we wanted to see what Simon's life was going to do. And I'm so thankful that we sat back and let the Lord and Simon do the work on his life. So if I could just go ahead and tell you about his birth ...
Ashley Opliger: [00:10:46] Yeah.
Amy Balentine: [00:10:47] So it was at about 36 weeks gestation. It was in May of 2014, I realized I was in labor and my eldest son, I don't think I've mentioned his name yet, his name is Teddy. And Teddy just so happened, just so happened? Right? Nothing is a coincidence. The Lord had perfectly planned this out.
Adam and I were supposed to go on a date that night, and our 18-month, year-old son, Teddy, was spending the night with my in-laws. And I started laboring at about 4:30. And at about 7:00, I acknowledged I was truly in labor. And we called our videographer that we had in place and a photographer that we had in place, both good friends and told them we'd be heading to the hospital at some point that night.
And I showed up at 9:00 PM, and I was carrying a birthday cake literally in my hands, laboring with Simon at the same time, telling them I'm about ready to push. And they got me into triage. They said, “You're a nine, it's time to push.”
And I'm like, “All right, great.” Two pushes later, Simon was born. He was born with his eyes open. He indeed had eyeballs. We didn't know if he would be born breathing. We were told he could die in utero, that a third of the babies die in utero, a third die during labor because it's just so hard on their fragile bodies, and a third die minutes or hours after birth.
So for him to be born, I wasn't hooked up to fetal heart monitoring, so I had no idea if his heart had stopped beating. I just thought if I had been hooked up to fetal heart monitoring, it'd be hard to labor through. And I know the experience with Bridget, you know what it's like.
And I went on to labor with another baby who had died, and I was thankful to just be surprised. And we were doing the same thing regardless. If Simon was alive or Simon had died, we were going to celebrate his life with that cake that I had brought in, with family meeting him, so it didn't matter during labor if he was alive or not.
So when he came out with his eyes open, staring at Adam and me, we were so thankful, so many prayers had been answered in that moment. And we prayed, we dedicated him to the Lord that night and prayed that he'd be alive in the morning when his big brother Teddy came to visit him.
And he indeed was. And 15 hours after birth, we took him home and he lived out the next seven days and 22 glorious minutes in our home, and it was the biggest unexpected blessing. My aloud prayer, the one that we shared on our blog and publicly, was that Simon breathe.
And indeed, that was a lofty prayer, like a given that your baby would breathe, but that was our prayer, given Simon's diagnosis. And when he breathed, I was so thankful. But my private prayer, the one that I barely shared with anybody, definitely my husband, I think was about the only person that I shared with him; I wanted him to dwell in our home so badly.
And when I was rolled out with him in my arms in that wheelchair to our car, it was such a blessing. So we were so thankful to bring him home for those seven [days] and 22 minutes. And it was hard to live on hospice with a baby at home with a feeding tube and oxygen.
I had had no experience prior to that time, certainly never experienced palliative care, certainly not with an infant. But I learned that Simon was just an infant. He just needed our love and sometimes a little extra oxygen. And we just let his body do what it wanted to do.
Five different times during that week, we thought Simon was going to be with the Lord, and we surrendered him time and time again. And he would go like a dusky blue and then he’d pink back up and we'd get another day with him.
I know that this is a very typical thing with apnea and with parents that walk trisomy and other similar diagnoses. You think it's the end and they kind of bounce back, for lack of better words.
We're so thankful for that time, but it was excruciating. I won't pretend that it wasn't, but it was beyond a gift. And I can't believe that I was chosen to experience such a rich blessing of Simon’s life and to see the Lord work through my family and through Simon’s life.
Ashley Opliger: [00:15:48] Yes, such a miracle! And watching your faith through this experience, I didn't know you at the time, but hearing your story of surrendering him and trusting the Lord through your pregnancy, and choosing life and saying, “I'm going to let God decide when Simon is going to go home into Glory with Jesus in Heaven,” letting God decide that. “I know that this is what the doctors are saying, but I'm going to trust that God's going to live out his days.”
And then even during his birth of saying, “I don't need to hear the monitors. I'm going to trust and be present in this moment with God and see what happens.” And that's really the way I see your faith, is a very present surrender, in-the-moment surrender to God and trusting the Lord to lead and to guide.
And you got to witness this miracle in Simon's life. And I know that those days at home with him were difficult, but at the same time you also experienced joy and got to show him love. And looking at all those pictures, you actually, several years ago, wrote a blog post for Bridget’s Cradles and shared your story on our website.
I'll link that there too, because you share some beautiful photos from Simon's birth, with the birthday cake, and going home and being there, and Teddy getting to meet him. And it's such a beautiful picture of getting to cherish those moments and live in the present. And I know every year since then, you celebrate that time with your family and honor his life in that way.
But I want to go back to your pregnancy and walking through a life-limiting diagnosis. I know there are so many moms who, whether it's Trisomy 13 or anencephaly or some other diagnosis, even in my case, we weren't given a life-limiting diagnosis, but I had a subchorionic hemorrhage, in which case we knew that there was a very good potential that she would be stillborn or be born too early to survive.
And there's so many moms that walk this journey of not knowing if their baby will survive or having a diagnosis that could end in the baby dying. What was that pregnancy like for you, once you knew that there were complications? And did people ask questions of why or not understand why you were carrying a child who you knew would likely die? What was that like for you?
Amy Balentine: [00:18:16] Well, it was definitely a learning curve to learn about suffering. I, of course, like everyone, have had ups and downs, mountaintop highs and valley lows, but being told that your child will not live when they're kicking and moving inside of you is a very conflicting message.
I accepted it from the start. I didn't even really necessarily pray for the miracle of full healing. My prayers were really what I shared earlier, and I love that you called them miracles that we saw in Simon's life, because most people wouldn't see Simon's life as a miracle. Actually, when we still tell the story to this day to people that are just meeting us or Adam has a new work colleague now seven years into it, people are just like, “That is such a tragic story.”
And their response is always, it makes Adam and I giggle because it's like, “Well, no. I guess you're right. On the surface, that is a really tragic story.” But at the same time, like you said, it was just puddled, I mean, there's rivers of miracles through it.
And I think that that's what we have to recognize when we're walking with these very special pregnancies and special babies, if our doctors have told us that we have a life-limiting diagnosis. So we're realizing that God is in charge. I didn't choose Simon's diagnosis. I didn't choose for my son Thomas to die, who was our 13-week gestation loss, but I am in control of the way I respond.
So God is in charge. I'm in control of the way I respond. Do I run away from the suffering? Or do I allow the Lord to give me the rich blessing that I may see through this suffering? That's not saying, “Muster up your own strength.” Right?
He's saying to us, “No, no, let Me carry you. Let Me be the one to carry you through this valley or this hardship, or, this terminal diagnosis of your baby.” That's actually what 2 Corinthians 12 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me.”
So that was the hardest journey I've ever gone through. For moms that are listening, that are experiencing and are in the middle of a pregnancy like this, more than likely this will be the hardest thing you will ever walk through. And for moms who are walking after the loss, miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, early childhood loss, this is likely the hardest road. But we're off the hook. We can surrender to the Lord and give it all to Him. We don't have to carry the burden.
Now that doesn't mean that this is going to be easy or that we're not going to have fear, but we're allowed to put it at the foot of the cross and let Him carry it, and for us to do all the practice work that we've done in the years leading up to this. So for me and you, I know we've been walking with the Lord since childhood. I know a lot of women might not be walking with the Lord at all, and some might be newer believers. They might have just this last weekend decided to follow the Lord.
But for those of us that have been practicing walking with the Lord, whether it be for six months or 60 years, we've had practice for this moment. We've had training. So we know that, “God is good even when my baby dies.” That's a faith statement. That's saying, “I have been practicing for this moment. My head is telling me, “‘God is good, even when my baby dies,’ but this is not good, Lord.”
And so you can repeat that over and over and over again until for me what happened was that my heart caught up. I knew God was good. And eventually my heart did catch up. And my heart wasn't saying God wasn't good, but my brain, the two needed to come back together after spending a little bit of time of my heart breaking and thinking, “Well, God, this is not good. Like how could this be good? This feels terrible.”
And so you've had all this time to practice and now it's time to really put your faith in motion. “Lord, this is not good, but I know You are good. And I know You are with me and I know that You have gone before me. And so I will put my hand in Yours and I will continue to walk with You even when it doesn't feel good.” And we know that in Genesis 3 there was the Fall, and because of the Fall, the Lord only has so much tattered yarn to work with for each one of us. So at the end of Simon's life, He said, “He has this tattered yarn.” He said, “This is it. His life is complete. I find this complete.”
Same thing with Thomas at 13-14 weeks gestation, He says that, “This world is broken. This is not the way I intended for it to be. And by the way, I'm coming back. This is going to get better.” But right now this is where we are, and Thomas' life was complete at 13 or 14 weeks gestation.
I mean, I don't have answers for any of this, but that is one way that I have been able to reconcile, “How can I be living in a world with a good God that allows death to happen?” Well, we're in the in-between. We're in this time of suffering; He's allowing it to happen.
There is more to come. He is returning. The New Heavens and New Earth that we are being promised will have no more death, no more tears, no more suffering. And I'm going to have arms of children because I have so many kids in Heaven and so many on earth. And there's so much to look forward to!
Ashley Opliger: [00:24:35] It’s the same, like when you said his co-worker said, “What a tragic story,” but when you think about it from the Christian perspective of living between two gardens, the Garden of Eden, and then the brokenness, the Fall, and now we're living between this time of, “Okay, here's what's to come,” when God restores the earth, He comes back and He dwells with His people on this earth without death and sin, that's not tragic.
We know that this is a miracle and that we have hope to see our babies again and spend eternity with them. Even when we only got to spend a couple of weeks carrying them in our wombs, we have this eternal hope that we look for. And it is tragic on earth, when you look at it from an earthly perspective, it is tragic.
And even when you're a Christian, it's tragic what we're going through. I never want to minimize the grief and the trauma of walking through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. It is, like you said, the hardest thing anyone can ever experience.
But when you look at it from an eternal perspective and you have hope in the Second Coming of Christ, we know that this is not the end of the story and that you will get to hold all your babies again, and I'll get to hold Bridget, and everyone listening who has faith in Christ who has a baby that has passed away, they will get to see them again. And so that's when I think you can go from a tragedy to a miracle and to that hope.
I love that you brought about that conversation too, about the head and the heart, because it's so easy for us to feel that God is not good, when something happens that doesn't feel good and doesn't feel right and doesn't make sense why a good God would allow it, but looking at His sovereignty and knowing He’s sovereign over all, and that His character never changes.
He's always good, regardless of our circumstances. And what you said, bringing our head and our heart together to know the Truth in God's Word, but to feel it, and to live that out and to practice that, even if you haven't been a believer for long, just rehearsing what you said over and over and over again until you feel it and believe it to be true. So thank you for sharing that.
Ashley Opliger: [00:26:51] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about some other hope-filled resources our ministry provides to grieving families.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find many resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, blog articles, featured stories, recommended books, and other support organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven days, and holidays. We also have a page with ideas on how to care for a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.
In addition, every month I lead free Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find friendship and support. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name.
Lastly, our Pinterest page has beautiful graphics of quotes & Scripture from this episode, along with many other resources that you can pin and save. We would also love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. We’d love for you to follow along and spread the word about the Cradled in Hope Podcast. Now let’s get back to our episode.
Ashley Opliger: [00:28:30] So we're going to skip ahead here to what you've done with all of this pain and what God has done through your life, through this pain and your obedience to comfort other moms and to walk other moms who have been given the same life-limiting diagnosis.
So if you want to share more about how you've encouraged moms that come into your life, God has brought into your life, encourage them to dance between joy and grief, knowing their child may not breathe at all or for a very long time, what does that look like when you walk that path with a new mom?
Amy Balentine: [00:29:04] Well, that is one of the beautiful things about You Made Me Mom. It's a support group for moms who've lost babies during pregnancy or infancy that the Lord gifted to me. And I host it out of my home in Kansas City; we've got other locations. And not only am I getting to walk with women in the support group, but I also get a lot of one-on-one time with women.
So they might be a mom that is local or I've got a great friend now in Mexico that had a life-limiting diagnosis as well, another trisomy diagnosis. And she found me on Instagram and we were able to walk with one another through her pregnancy.
And what I love about walking with women, whether it be locally face-to-face, through Instagram, on the phone, via text, is that we're able to encourage each other. It sounds crazy to think that this many years out, I still am finding waves of grief crashing up over me, but I'm getting to walk with these women at the same time, remembering what it was like seven years ago.
And as you know, it doesn't go away. Our grief changes over time. Right? But it doesn't necessarily fully dissipate. I mean, it's still kind of present and it can wash up over you. And it's wonderful to be able to walk with women and hear from them and encourage them in saying, “I know that this is a really hard walk. You aren't alone. I am here and the Lord is with you.”
And in those nights, I don't know, being on bed rest for you, I know you were on bed rest for quite a while with Bridget, and I don't know about you, but it was challenging for me to lay down next to my husband. I mean, I was so thankful to lay down next to my husband at the end of the day, but it was really hard for me to sleep. I was scared. I was sad, and that's a lot of times when our babies are so active at night, and so it was time that I actually got to spend with Simon in the middle of the night and also Jesus.
I could see my husband's chest rising and falling and he's over there just sleeping away with no issues. He was grieving too, but Simon's pregnancy was very challenging for my husband, as it is for all dads that are walking through similar stories. But that's really when I started to spend more time with Jesus, knowing He was sitting, laying with me right there.
I felt so alone. And I could hear the Lord saying to me, it wasn't like an audible, just to be very clear, but I had thoughts of, “I'm here with you, Amy. You are not alone. I am walking with you.”
And to be able to say that to another mom who's in Mexico or Canada and say to them, “How are your nights? Are your nights really hard?” And especially if they're not a believer, it is a privilege to be able to say, “Hey, I'm going to share with you something that helped me through the evenings and through the night when it was so dark and I was with my own thoughts and I was scared of,” this is a hard one to admit, but I was afraid of what Simon might look like given his anomalies, which is insane now that I know what he looks like.
I think he's the sweetest, cutest baby, but I was scared. And I'm able to connect with women to say, “Those nights are scary. They are quiet. They are dark, and you are finally with your own thoughts. But the Lord is with you too, and He wants to hear it all. He wants your anger. He wants your happiness. He wants to hear that you are in that grief-and-joy dance of being so sad at this diagnosis, but so thankful that you are this baby's mom.”
I think it's hard for people to watch us walk through these pregnancies. It doesn't make sense if you haven't walked it. It's like, “Why would you enter that suffering? Why wouldn't you just end it now, and end this life and not continue the pregnancy?” It seems easier to end it. End the suffering. That's what the world tells us to do, and move on to another pregnancy. Right?
I don't believe that that's where the Lord is calling us to. I think He wants to do the great work in these lives. And that's a great privilege, that I love to be able to walk with women and say, “Pause. If your life is not in danger, your child's life is not in danger, you can carry on the pregnancy with everybody being safe, let's just sit in this moment. Let's feel the suffering. Let's feel the pain. Let's feel the joy and let's let the Lord and this baby do its life's work. I think we'll be surprised on the other side, if we allow them to do that great work.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:34:30] And I think we talked about this before, but in choosing life, when you choose the opposite and you end the suffering, end the baby's life, either way, if they truly have a life-limiting diagnosis, they're going to pass away. But the difference is that one is that you made the choice and you decided and took control into your own hands versus letting God play the baby's life out as He intended, on the day and hour that He chose.
And so if you're going to be grieving this loss either way, I feel as though, and you know I'm very pro-life in my beliefs, and I believe that the Bible is clear on that, but I think also just from looking at it from a grieving and healing perspective, the mom is going to be grieving either way, but instead of having this guilt and regret of making this choice versus being able to let the Lord work and walk through this, I think there's so much healing that can come from walking that path of choosing life and letting God decide, and walking through the suffering and the joy and those extra moments with the baby.
After I went through my own experience of walking through the 11 weeks of bed rest where I didn't know if Bridget was going to survive or not, I ended up writing on our website a list of things that I could tell another mom that's walking through this, if they're expecting loss, what they can be doing to bond and connect with their baby.
And I know you have shared so many of these ideas as well, but if there's a mom listening and looking for a list, we do have this on our website and we'll connect it on the show notes. But I share ideas on singing to your baby and reading the same book every day or talking to your baby.
I also list ideas for the baby to get to know the mom, like eating your favorite foods and ice cream. For me, ice cream is a favorite, letting the baby taste those things through you and getting to know you. I think there's a lot that you can do in those weeks of time where you get to bond and feel your baby move around and really spend that time connecting.
And I know Angie Smith wrote the book I Will Carry You, which was a really impactful book for me. I'm talking about this dance between grief and joy and choosing life. We'll link that as well. It's on our website already, but I think there's so much that can come from that, even though it's a really hard road to walk.
And so you mentioned You Made Me Mom, which is your ministry, it's a non-profit and you have support groups all over now, in your home in Kansas City, you have one here in Wichita local to me, and several other states and cities across the country. And even, do you have one out of the country now, I was thinking too?
Amy Balentine: [00:37:19] I do. Yeah, we have one in Canada as well.
Ashley Opliger: [00:37:21] That’s what I was thinking. And so God has really grown your ministry since we first met. She's in Kansas City, which is about three hours north of Wichita. And back in 2015, I actually went up to Kansas City to stay with a friend, Natalie, who at the time was our regional coordinator for Kansas City.
And we had gone up there to visit all the Kansas City hospitals and donate our cradles to Kansas City hospitals. And we had gone to your house to meet you, and you hosted this beautiful dinner for us. You are very hospitable, and like you said, you were a wedding planner and you love to do home decoration and everything.
You had this beautiful table laid out. You had Bridget's name on a little placard at my seat and Natalie's baby, Jude, his name at her spot, and candles lit, and everything was so beautiful. You do such an amazing job of welcoming people into your home to feel safe and loved and cared for.
And so I'll never forget that first time of meeting you. And I think at the time also you had your non-profit paperwork that you were submitting and we had just become a non-profit. So we had met right at the beginning when God was just starting the seed for both of us. And so I'll let you share a little bit more about that story and You Made Me Mom getting started.
Amy Balentine: [00:38:49] You Made Me Mom is all about hospitality. It was put on my heart to start a support group out of my home after the loss of Thomas. So I know I've talked about Simon and Thomas, but just to give the listeners an idea of a time frame for those two losses, Simon died in May of 2014. Three months after that we were pregnant with Thomas and three months after that Thomas died, at 13-14 weeks gestation.
And it was at that point that I knew that I wanted to start a support group, just out of my home. And the idea of the support group is that you're not meeting at a church. You're not meeting at a hospital. And two of those two places, while those are so good, I have been to support groups and those places, they absolutely fulfill a need, but I have found from my own experience and from other women's experience that entering back into that same hospital that you lost him can be really challenging.
For me, going back to the same triage and the same sonogram room that I found out about his life-limiting diagnosis and that Thomas had died and that there wasn't a heartbeat, that's been very redemptive for me. Those spaces have been redeemed, but I also understand where women are just like, “I'm not going back in there. I don't want to. That is a place of death.” And I think that's good that you're listening to what works for you.
I think that that's what happens at hospitals. Sometimes women just, “If I get the opportunity to deliver again, I'm not stepping foot back in that hospital.” Totally understand that. I also think, at the same time, sometimes we can be running from the Lord. And He is always there waiting, He is ready for us whenever we are ready to turn around.
But I think that entering through the doors of a church can be kind of hard, especially because our message is, at You Made Me Mom, we are rooted in Christ and our hope is in the Word of the Lord. And we're welcoming of all faith backgrounds and non-faith backgrounds. So I love for women to come, and we have had women come, who have no faith or who are Jewish, who are Mormon.
They're coming in the sort of space where they know we're going to open and close in prayer, there's going to be talk of Christ's redemptive power, while at the same time they want to be sitting with other women who have experienced a similar story, all stories totally different but yet there is overlap, and that we can all say to one another. “Wow. I don't feel alone anymore. That same exact thing happened to me.”
And that's what we do. We sit around our living room. There's no curriculum. I open and close in prayer. I often prepare something to share, whether that be moments of a podcast, like maybe from yours in the future as well, and then we just popcorn around and share the story, our story, our baby's story.
And you can even just come and listen and not share. And we truly mean that. If you just need to be surrounded by other women and just be testing it out and seeing how it goes, that's what we're all about.
So we try to keep it very, “Just show up, there's no expectations” The nice thing about that for our leaders is that the weight is off of them. They're grieving too. I'm grieving too. And so I want to give space for my true emotions and I don't want to be muddying it up with feeling like, I'm here to lead an in-depth study and to make my house feel perfect, which of course I know it doesn't need to. But I just try to have a hospitable space that is warm and inviting. And that's what we do in all of our cities. We are in six different cities and one virtual.
That is one of the great things that came out of the pandemic for all of us. Right? You too! We're virtual. It is such a gift. I’ve met even more women that I wouldn't have met. I just never thought that, but especially me, but I never thought that the Holy Spirit could show up the way that He did, on my computer screen, through these women sharing such vulnerable, sacred stories. I just didn't think it was possible.
And last August during a virtual meeting, I mean, I get chills thinking about that particular meeting and how, I don't know. It was like I could see the Spirit moving through the screen. I’m like, “This is insane. This meeting is incredible, to see the glory of God's goodness come through in such really hard, tragic, there's that word again, stories.”
One thing that I would love to mention is that on our website we have a resource guide as well. It's called Known. It's a quick reference book. It's a 22-page e-book. And so there are recommendations and they’re like your recommendations page of, “What can I do when I find out either a diagnosis or that my baby has no heartbeat?”
And some of the things that I like to do, you had mentioned singing and praying over your baby, if you have the time. I had extended time. I had five, six months but most people aren't given that amount of time. But most of the time we do have a good 24 hours.
So often our doctors just want to send us straight over to get a D&C or a D&E and to get the process started, if it's a miscarriage or an early stillbirth that perhaps would be a D&E as opposed to a delivery.
I always encourage, especially in this Known document that we created, for women to pause and, as I said before, if everybody is safe, if your baby has died and at that point, we're looking at the mother's body and her body is safe, this is a great time to just prepare.
And it is very scary. I know, to walk around with a deceased baby in your womb. It's very hard, it's mentally challenging. It was for me, so I'm not going to assume that for every single person. But that is your time. If you haven't been given those five, six months, like I had to go home and prepare.
So if you were going to have a bassinet for your baby and you already have their nursery set up, if there is any way that you could go ahead and take that bassinet, if it's portable enough to take it with you, take your Pack n’ Play. Who cares? If it can get to the hospital, take it with you, so you have some memories to make with your baby.
Now, it's going to feel super strange to do these things. It's very backwards. This isn't the way it was intended to be. This is certainly out of the order that we anticipate. Right? But I think it's important to have those things.
I had a cardigan that was for me, and I had time to get it embroidered. I realize most people wouldn’t, but it said Simon's name on it. And it was just precious to have the cardigan. I still haven't washed it seven years later, probably really gross, but I love that I have held him in that cardigan.
I held him in it in the hospital. I brought that home. He has touched it. I have his gown that we had prepared for him, his blankets. We were able to bring those things to the hospital with us, and then when we came home, we were afforded the luxury of getting out more things, a stroller, actually lay him in a crib, that sort of thing.
But if you have a pause, if you've got six hours, 12 hours or 24 hours, that is such a good time for you to stop and find things that are going to make the experience memorable that you can take with you as you leave the hospital, because I think that it feels strange to bring those things with you.
Ashley Opliger: [00:47:35] Yes, I would say there's so many moms though, that when they look back and they hadn't taken that pause, or maybe they just didn't have the time because they went to their doctor's office and they were told there's no heartbeat and they send them right over to the hospital. I know so many mothers who have so many regrets of wishing they could have had something.
And that's why our cradles, for so many families, they're like, “This is the only thing that we had,” because it was at the hospital available to them. They didn't have a onesie or a blanket or anything from home. And so if they have that time, whether they're anticipating loss in their pregnancy or they find out and they can pause, have time to prepare these things, it does really help in the moment and then in your grief, moving forward, to have those experiences and being able to bond with your baby in that way.
I will definitely link the Known e-book link on our website and also in our Hope Guide for all the moms listening to find that. Also, if you're listening to this and you know someone who's going through this or walking through this maybe now or in the future, the best time to let them know about this is in the moment.
And so if you can try to remember about these resources and share that with those people going through it because so many times I hear that it's too late. They've already been to the hospital, or they didn't have enough time, and so it's trying to find the moms and get this into their hands when they really need it.
Amy Balentine: [00:49:01] And the families. I feel like so many families, and friends are asking, “What can I do?” And the nice thing about what you guys offer on your site beyond actual cradles is that families can see, just like in the Known document, “Okay. So I could run,” through their house.
They don't have time to go home, but, “I know it's a baby girl. I could go grab a pretty pink sweater or a pretty pink nightgown that she has,” Right? “I have something that I could give to her. I could run to Target and buy her something brand new that would be just for this.”
So if she would never want to see it again, she could pack it away in a box, and she would have it more than likely the day that she does want to look at the item again. I think that families are always looking for things to do. I never hesitate an offering to bring a birthday cake to the hospital for someone.
I ask, because that's not for everyone, I realize, and that can be very misplaced. But if the family would allow for me to write their baby's name after they have passed, after they've had delivery but they're yet still in the hospital and they've called me, I love to be able to bring them a birthday cake or bring them one to their house and say, “This child's life should be celebrated. I am sitting in the grief with you, but I also want to say congratulations on your baby,” because at some point, as you know, people stopped saying congratulations to us.
And to me, that was one of the saddest parts is that it was just like, “Oh, I'm so sorry.” And it's like, “I know. I'm so glad that you're sorry, but are you happy that I'm pregnant still? Are you just so sad? I'm so happy I'm pregnant still, so I would love for someone to still celebrate with me.”
I realize that's kind of an extreme example, but I think it's nice for families and friends to be able to have something to bring, other than just food, and I'm sure you have recommendations like that as well of some very practical things. Bring them food. Leave a latte on their front porch. Don't expect to see them, just tell them that the coffee's out there and that you're gone and that they can run out and grab it, so they don't have to see anybody face to face.
Ashley Opliger: [00:51:14] I don't think that a mom would ever regret celebrating their baby's life. And I remember we had a really difficult sonogram where the doctor was saying my placenta was tearing away, that the hemorrhage was behind it, and the hemorrhage had grown, and we did not have a very good prognosis. And we had found out that Bridget was a girl and we had already planned to gather and do a gender reveal with our families and our friends.
And I remember just being so sad. “Well, okay, we're celebrating her, but will we even get to bring her home?” And I was like, “Should we do this? I'm so sad.” But my husband was like, “No, we will never regret celebrating her life. Whether she lives or she dies, we'll never regret that.” And I'm so glad that we did, because looking back on her pregnancy, those photos of seeing the pink balloons come out of the box and have the gender reveal cake.
Our friends and family wearing pink and blue and doing all of that, even though I was sad, deep down, not knowing and questioning. I was anxious and worried and all of the things. I’m so glad that we celebrated her life. And I have those pictures to look back on, and I found joy in the middle of all of that and all of those feelings.
When you're looking back, you'll never regret doing those things. It might feel weird in the moment, and it might be really conflicting emotions of, “Why am I celebrating when I feel sad? And my baby's expected to die.” But celebrate the life that God's given you and the baby that's yours for all of eternity. You'll never regret that. I think it's so important that you brought that up.
I love everything that you're doing with You Made Me Mom and your ministry. How can moms connect with you? I know you mentioned your website, which we'll link, but you have Instagram and Facebook too.
Amy Balentine: [00:53:01] Yes, we have both of those.
Ashley Opliger: [00:51:02] Any other ways?
Amy Balentine: [00:53:02] Nope. Those are the main two ways. And I have on our website how you can get in touch with me.
Every year on March 13th, which is 3/13, which would be the Trisomy 13 Awareness Day every year, I posted my personal phone number on Instagram for anybody that searches that hashtag #trisomy13. It pops up currently higher in the list, and it says, “If you've been given a life-limiting diagnosis and you just want somebody to listen, I'm happy to do that.”
And so I walk with all different types of women, so if they are looking to deliver and wait until birth to meet their baby and carry until birth. I love walking with them. But if they are considering ending the pregnancy, I want to hear from them too.
Or if they've already ended the pregnancy, I love to walk with those women. They are grieving moms as well. My goodness, aren't they the ones that need our hands and our listening ear and our compassion, after walking through the diagnosis and ending the pregnancy?
So I am here for anyone that is experiencing a life-limiting diagnosis, and I'm really here to listen. As you can tell, I like to talk. I have got no problem with that, but I'm a great listener, and I'd love to hear other life-limiting diagnosis moms' hearts. And if I can be a sounding board and help them make decisions along the way, I would be honored to do that. So that's another way to get in touch with me, just text me.
Ashley Opliger: [00:54:46] I love how authentic and genuine you are. You're so available to moms, and I'm so appreciative of everything that you do in your ministry. So if you're listening and you're walking through this, or you know someone who's walking through this, I strongly encourage you to get in touch with Amy, and You Made Me Mom. And Amy, would you mind closing in prayer specifically for moms who are going through a life-limiting diagnosis?
Amy Balentine: [00:55:13] Yes, absolutely.
Ashley Opliger: [00:55:14] Thank you.
Amy Balentine: [00:55:16] God, You are so, so good. I'm so thankful for this time that we have set aside today, that we have set aside time to listen to one another, that women were so gracious to sit and listen to some hard stories about life and my children's lives.
But Lord, I am so thankful that You have chosen me, that You have chosen the other women who might be listening to this podcast who are also experiencing loss or a life-limiting diagnosis. Or even, Lord, I just want to wrap around women who might be experiencing an unexpected pregnancy as well.
Lord, I lift all of these women up to You. And while we will not pretend to understand Your plans, Your ways, Lord, we declare are higher than ours, we do not pretend to understand what You are doing, but we know that You are good and that Your plans for us are good, that the plans that you have for our babies are good.
Lord, I release these women to You. I ask for any strongholds that the devil might be pumping into them, whether it's, “You're a fool for continuing this pregnancy. Why would you extend the suffering? End the suffering now.”
Lord, I ask that You remove those thoughts. I ask that You remove any of those surrounding these really special pregnancies, if it's family or friends that are encouraging the pregnancy to be ended or for decisions to be made that are not pleasing to You or pleasing to the mom or the dad, I ask that those people's lips be silenced.
And I ask that, that these women be really quiet and that they guard their hearts, but that yet they don't guard their hearts from You. Lord, I ask that they open their hearts to You, let You be the guiding light, let You be their life, let You shine the bright light on the path that they should be walking, and that all of those other external influences, those paths go very, very dark, whether it be medical advice that seems like it doesn't make sense, grandparent or parent advice, sibling advice.
I ask that those go very, very, very dark and that we simply follow Your path and exactly what You want for this baby, for this pregnancy, and for this child's life, and that we are able to see the miracles in such a different way that it might not be the perfect healing that we would love to see, but that be the miracle that the baby is born without the anomalies or without the life-limiting diagnosis.
Lord, but simply the fact that we get to carry these babies is a miracle and that we get to hold these babies is a miracle, that our definition of miracle change to what You want it to be. Let us surrender this control, Lord. It is all Yours. We are getting to walk alongside with You being co-creators of life, and we are so thankful for each one of these babies.
Thank you for Bridget's Cradles and all they are doing. Thank You for this podcast, how many ears that it's going to get to reach, and for each one of those cradles, that families are blessed and that they're able to take those cradles home as a memory of their baby and can continue to touch the cradle over many years to remind them of their baby, and to remind them that there is so much more to come.
Please bless Bridget's Cradles, protect their ministry and allow it to continue to grow, and flourish as I've seen it do over the last six years. It's in Your Name that we pray, Lord. Amen.
Ashley Opliger: [00:59:32] Amen. Thank you, Amy.
Amy Balentine: [00:59:34] Yes, thank you.
Ashley Opliger: [00:59:38] Thank you for listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast. We pray that you found hope & healing in today’s message. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode. New episodes will be shared on the 1st and 15th of every month. You can also find this episode’s show notes and a full transcript on our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast.
There you can download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, that is filled with notes, Scripture, links, discussion questions, and so much more. Be sure to leave your email address so that we can keep you updated on podcast episodes, upcoming support groups, and other hope-filled resources.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to Bridget’s Cradles in memory of a baby in Heaven, you can find information on our website on how you can get involved and spread hope to other grieving families.
One way you can spread hope is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the two minutes of your time as a way YOU can personally share this hope with a mom whose heart is broken and needs healing. Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Until next time, we will be praying for you. And remember, as Jesus cradles our babies in Heaven, He cradles us in hope. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope.
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