Episode 5 - Wrestling Well with God through Recurrent Loss with Kristin Hernandez
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Join us for a conversation with Kristin Hernandez, author of Sunlight in December, about wrestling well with God through recurrent pregnancy loss. Kristin shares her story of losing five babies: a baby boy, Ethan, due to a life-limiting condition, and four precious babies to early miscarriage.
In her heartbreak, Kristin discusses with Ashley how she turned to her faith in God and embraced the suffering. She believes that God will meet moms in the storm of grief and show them His goodness. In this episode, we discussed:
Wrestling well with God through loss and pain
What does wrestling with God mean and how do we wrestle in a healthy way?
How to navigate a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy
Not having answers for why miscarriage and recurrent loss happens
How grief exposes errors in our theology
The problem with prosperity thinking
Why we should expect and embrace suffering
Finding God's goodness in the messy middle of grief
Why our hope isn't (and shouldn't be) in a rainbow baby
Surrendering our desires for God's will
How we can turn to God even when we doubt Him
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!)
Kristin talks a lot about "wrestling well" with God (instead of turning away from Him). She shares ideas on how to do that in a positive, healthy way. Do you feel that you need to wrestle with God? What advice or wisdom that Kristin shared was most helpful to you that you can use in walking this out in your daily walk with Him?
In this episode, Ashley shared that grief has a way of exposing errors in our theology (i.e., areas in which we are wrong in our beliefs about God). Have you discovered this in your own walk? If so, what beliefs are you wrongly believing? Find Scripture to support the truth your heart needs to hear.
We talk about how as Christians, we should expect and embrace suffering because there is eternal glory that awaits us. How does this perspective shift change your outlook on your loss? In what ways can you choose to surrender your pain?
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CONNECT WITH OUR GUEST
Kristin Hernandez is the author of Sunlight in December and the co-host of the Through the Lens podcast.
Kristin is a writer, podcaster, wife, and mother to six children—one in her arms and five with Jesus.
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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 5: Wrestling Well with God through Recurrent Loss with Kristin Hernandez
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.
Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] In this week's episode, we welcome Kristin Hernandez. She is a writer, podcaster, wife, and mother to six children, one in her arms and five with Jesus. As she grieved her babies, Kristin wrestled with her faith and with God. It was in this process, she truly began to dive into Scripture and see the goodness of God in the midst of suffering.
Kristin blogs at sunlightindecember.com and is the co-host of the podcast Through the Lens. Her first book, Sunlight in December: A mother's story of finding the goodness of God in the storm of grief is releasing this summer. She lives in Southern California with her husband and son. I am looking forward to you hearing Kristin’s story; though it is filled with grief, it is also filled with hope. Let's welcome Kristin.
Welcome, Kristin. We are so grateful to have you here on the podcast today.
Kristin Hernandez: [00:02:21] Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:26] I actually found you on Instagram and I have been so blessed by everything that you share and your vulnerability in sharing your story and your grief. And so I just want the audience to know a little bit more about yourself, if you want to share about your story and your babies in Heaven and what your journey of motherhood has looked like.
Kristin Hernandez: [00:02:47] Yeah, I'd be honored to share. So as you said, I'm Kristin. I am from Southern California and I live here with my husband, Chris, who I met in college, and our 10th wedding anniversary is coming up this November.
And then we also have our son, Andrew, who is three, who's living with us. And to most people who just saw our family, they would think we're a small family of three, but we are actually the parents to six babies, five of whom are with Jesus. And our very first son is named Ethan, and we welcomed him after several years of battling infertility.
Chris and I got married pretty quickly after college, and we knew right away that we wanted to start a family. And so it was only about a year into our marriage that we decided that we were ready to start trying, and I think we were just so innocent and hopeful and really didn't think that it would take us very long, but years passed. It was like a year passed and then two years passed and we started wondering, “What's going on?”
So we went to see some doctors and it was basically what they refer to as unexplained infertility. There was really nothing noticeably wrong. The doctors kept saying, “Just keep trying. We really don't see anything. Your hormone levels are normal. You're both healthy. You're young. Just keep giving it a go.”
And finally one doctor said, “I think at this point with how long you've been trying, we can make a referral for you to meet with infertility (doctors).”
And so at that point, we had been two-plus years on this journey of monthly tears and it felt like to me, in my mind, “This is going to be our trial,“ like, “This is our life trial. It seems like everybody has at least one big life trial. This is ours. And eventually the Lord is going to give us this baby. We're just going to keep praying, keep praying, keep praying.”
And we just kept asking, “God, open my womb. We want to raise this baby to love You. We want to raise this baby to know You. What we're asking for is a good thing, and we feel like You're withholding it, and we know You're good, but we don't understand Your plan here.”
So we decided to do infertility (treatments), but we decided to wait a few months first, because I had just started a brand new job at the time and we thought, “Let's just take this season, settle into the job, really just enjoy that, and then maybe next summer we'll start pursuing infertility (treatments).”
And so it was early in that year, because it was right before the holidays too, so that was another factor, was, “We're going to enjoy the holidays, start the new job. And then we'll really dive into this, and we're going to go all in and really pursue whatever routes we need to from fertility (doctors).”
But during that time I did become pregnant for the very first time.
Ashley Opliger: [00:05:40] Oh, wow.
Kristin Hernandez: [00:05:40] And it felt like what people say happens. And I know so many of you listening have probably heard things like this and roll your eyes at it, just like I have, words like, “Just relax,” or, “Stop trying,” or things like that.
God isn't playing games with us. He's not manipulative like that. He's not looking for us like, “Just do that.” He is sovereign over all of that.
But in my mind I kind of bought into this, “Oh, maybe that works. We had stopped trying, I wasn't doing anything and now we're pregnant.”
And so we were, I mean, understandably ecstatic. And we were praising God and praying over this baby every single day that God would use this baby to be a means of sharing the Gospel and that he would draw people to Jesus. And in my mind, I was thinking that all of these prayers meant, “Jesus, when he's 18 and he wants to move overseas to go to the unreached and tell people about Jesus, I will just surrender that and let him go.”
And in my mind, those were what those prayers meant. And I don't ever think I actually had those intentions of boxing it in, but that was what I was picturing when I was dedicating him to God and dedicating his life to God and really having no idea what that would end up looking like and how God really would answer that prayer. But it would be in a way that I don't even think I knew was something that happened.
So pregnancy was going really well. We were excited. We were starting to make plans and preparations, and everybody around us was so excited for us, because so many people had been praying for us over those years that we would finally have a baby.
And so we went to our 20-week anatomy scan. And it was during that scan that they discovered that Ethan had a lot of health concerns. He was missing a part of his brain. He had a really severe heart defect. There were a few other things that looked like they could be markers for something, and so our medical team was very up front with us that, “We think that there's something really big going on here underneath the surface that could potentially be life-threatening.”
So they offered us a lot of tests at that point, and we weighed the pros and cons. And I was nervous about the risks of getting an amniocentesis, even though it's a very low risk. but any time they're inserting a long needle into your uterus, it's a very, very minimal risk of going into preterm labor or a stillbirth.
It was just like any risk for me, and I was just terrified. I mean, really I was terrified. And we decided not to do testing because doctors assured us that having a diagnosis wouldn't change my birth plan, it wouldn't change what they did. Because I also thought, “Well, if this will help them, if this will help my medical team treat him when he's born, I'm willing to take that risk.”
But they just kept reiterating over and over, “This is really just for your knowledge so that you know what to do moving forward.” And we knew that we would carry him to term regardless of what the diagnosis was. And so we just didn't know what we should do, but we knew that whatever it was, we wanted to fight for him.
And we loved him so much. From that very first moment we knew he was there, we loved him.
Ashley Opliger: [00:08:57] Of course.
Kristin Hernandez: [00:08:58] And so we went through the pregnancy, which was really, really difficult. There's so much fear and unknowns and praying for a miracle, just constantly praying for a miracle but not knowing if that is what would happen, and really wrestling too, because I had a lot of people around me telling me things like, “We're just going to pray. We're going to have faith that he's going to be okay.”
And as they would speak those words to me, my thoughts were always like, “I know that God can do this, but I also don't know that that means He will, because I know He doesn't owe this to me. And I also look at Scripture and I see people like David, who is called ‘a man after God's own heart’, and he wrote many of the Psalms, and God allowed his child to die,” and so really wrestling through like, “God can do this, but I don't know that He will, because I am even in Scripture seeing examples of Him not and Him still being good,” but really still was kind of like, “but maybe that could happen.”
And a lot of people saying, “Doctors are wrong all the time. Doctors can be wrong,” and knowing that yes, that can be true, doctors do not know more than God, but also I knew He had equipped those doctors really well and had given them tools to support us and to study and to see what was going on with our sweet guy.
And so to fast forward a bit, on August 15, 2015, my water broke while I was at home. And so we knew this was kind of a moment of truth after months of driving to see specialists. And we had been driving down to several different hospitals for these appointments.
And I even had a pediatric cardiologist in LA that we were meeting with and they wanted me to deliver in Los Angeles, which would be over an hour drive from our house. And so we'd been told, “If your water breaks, don't go to your hospital in LA, just get to the other hospital you'd been going to, and we'll potentially transfer you.”
So water broke at home; we ended up rushing to the hospital and they got me admitted. They were going to transfer me to LA the next morning. And the next day, my labor really started ramping up so quickly.
So they had me on a magnesium drip to hopefully slow down my contractions, because they wanted to transfer me over. And he was a little early, and so they wanted to also give me steroid shots for his lungs. And they were just taking all precautions because nobody at this point knew the actual diagnosis, and so they were covering all their bases, doing everything they could.
And the next morning as they were prepping me for transport, I started transitioning very quickly, and so we ended up not going to Los Angeles, where I was going to deliver. We had him at our original hospital, which was really, God's grace is in all of this, too.
We had such a great team and caring nurses and doctors around us. I ended up having an emergency C-section because he was breached, and he was born on August 16th at 1:32 in the afternoon. And his birth was silent from him and just so much hubbub from everybody in the room, just so many beeps and voices and everything, and they did everything they could for our sweet son.
And after about 30 minutes of just so many efforts from the NICU staff and from my medical team, they told us that they were going to stop taking efforts because he just was declining no matter what they were doing. And so they asked if we wanted to hold him and my husband and I were like, “Yeah. There's nothing else we want more than to hold our firstborn miracle baby that we've been waiting for all these years.”
And so we held him and we just soaked up that time with him. We sang over him, and we took pictures, and we snuggled him, and just tried to condense this entire lifetime into the amount of time that we had.
And Ethan passed away later that same day at 3:05. So he spent 93 minutes in our arms and in our world before he went to be with Jesus. And we were devastated. There was peace in the room, which is just unexplainable. Unexplainable peace in the room, and then those first few days and weeks at home were so incredibly difficult.
I really felt almost as if I had been led out into the wilderness and left there. I was really angry and I really wrestled, and I really struggled with doubt for one of the first times in my life. I was just so mad, so mad at God and didn't understand why our infertility would have been almost healed in a way, without any interventions or anything, and just at the last possible moment felt like it was ripped out of our arms.
And so we were really just struggling and wrestling. And during that time we did meet with Ethan's doctors, because we did ask for testing to be done after the birth. And we found out that Ethan had Trisomy 9.
So many of you may be familiar with Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18, which do often create a lot of life-threatening conditions in babies, and Trisomy 9 is like that, because it's the ninth chromosome that you have a third copy of. And our do