Our Brave Lights...
Eight years ago, I met my best friend while we were both working as worship leaders and music artists. On May 20th, 2011, I married him. Marcel & I began our lives together excited and thinking we were ready for anything… but not expecting the incredible and at times, heart-wrenching journey we would be embarking on. Just two months after our wedding, we were surprised to find out we were expecting a honeymoon baby! A week after that pregnancy test, we were floored when I was rushed to the hospital after passing out at our home in West Michigan. Once there, the doctors took me into emergency surgery for multiple issues; appendicitis, ovarian cysts and a rare, intestinal disorder called an intussusception. We feared for our baby’s life, as we were advised that our little one would probably not make it through all the abdominal surgeries I would need. But our little brave champion made it through with the same heart rate after surgery as right before. Baby was safe and I was ready to rest. After six weeks of surgery recuperation and a few UTI’s later, I headed back to work. We had made it through the Summer and I was ready for that honeymoon period of newlywed life to really begin.
As Fall began, we began nesting and prepping for our baby’s arrival. At five months pregnant, we were thrown our first baby shower by a local church we love so much. We began to stack all those special items in our second bedroom – our baby's new room – and kept dreaming of what life was going to be like once our child arrived. In October, we found out the sex of our baby – a boy! After all that had happened in my first trimester, I was happy to be pretty healthy and feeling ok, just had a little Autumn cold, a few UTIs and such, but so much better than before. After consulting with our OBGYN, we planned a trip to Denver to celebrate my best friend’s wedding and were cleared to drive out West, excited and peaceful about the journey. But as we arrived at my parents home after our 20+ hour drive, I felt incredibly exhausted and much more sick than when we started out. I figured it was simply the fact that we had driven so far and I was pregnant. When I excused myself to head to the restroom a bit later, I knew something was wrong. And the next moment when my water broke, I was truly terrified.
We headed into the Emergency Room to see what could be going on and ended up spending the next five, grueling days in the hospital with various doctors and specialists. Our son was alive, but with almost no water in the womb and not yet to 24 weeks, there was only a small chance of him surviving. If he could stay inside, make it to week 24-25, there was a chance, but our doctors recommended induction which would immediately terminate the pregnancy instead of waiting as it would be hard on me and possibly not "worth the wait". But to us, any chance to save our son's life was worth the wait, even if it meant my discomfort and pain... I wanted my baby to have the best chance at life - even if that chance was a small one. As we waited in the hospital to see if baby was faring well and if my body was creating more amniotic fluid, I began to get much more sick, and as we were planned to be life-flighted over to the Children’s Hospital in Denver, our doctors expressed their fears of infection in the womb and it potentially fatally spreading to me. Even then, I still chose to not to induce labor, wanting to give my baby any chance possible. But the next morning when contractions started naturally, I knew our son was going to make his appearance sooner than I desired. Caleb Anthony Arocha was born on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 and after two short hours of life, went from our arms into the arms of Jesus. Caleb means “Brave” or “Bold”, and we knew right then as I began the four hours of labor to bring him into the world, that this was the perfect name for our beautiful, brave little boy.
The night of Caleb's birth we were released from the hospital and we left in a stupor… unable to really believe what we had just been through. Right before we were released, our hospital team of nurses and doctors who had been with us during the hardest day of our lives had been replaced by the night crew, who (although I’m sure were lovely) had no idea how to help and ended up letting us leave without a proper discharge. Marcel was left to find a wheelchair to help me out to our car, even after asking for help from the nurses station. I just sat in the corner on the maternity ward in a daze as I heard other newborns on the floor crying and new mommies soothing their infants. I was too spent to even cry, so tears just ran down my face without me knowing it. We arrived back at my parent’s house around midnight and I remember sitting outside in their backyard, looking up at the stars and audibly asking, “Why? God, why did You let this happen?” That weekend, it was hard to get out of bed, but impossible to stay and do nothing. I felt more topsy turvy than I ever had before.
On Monday morning, the hospital called us in a hurry to come back in to the Infectious Disease ward because my placenta report had come back showing multiple infections which they needed to treat as soon as possible to insure that I was not infected as well. I was still showing signs of infection, so it was back to the hospital for another stay… more exams, tests, needles, medication in addition to grief and loss. And to add incredible insult to injury, the hospital actually misplaced Caleb’s body! We were preparing to cremate instead of bury our baby (since we felt a funeral was too expensive and out of reach for us), so when we went through the process to cremate, we were alerted to the fact that the hospital could not find the body. There have been very few times in our marriage that I have seen Marcel really, truly angry… I can tell you, this was one of them. Thankfully, with the help of my family and supportive staff at the hospital, they were able to locate Caleb’s body, treat my serious infections, and send us home to my parent's heal as well as possible.
Once we finally arrived home to Michigan at the end of November, I was a shell of the person I had been when we left. Deep depression had set into our home. Marcel and I had only been married for six months and had been through what felt like a lifetime of pain – emotionally and physically. We were completely at a loss as to how to move forward, but luckily were referred to an amazing counselor in the area to help start our healing process. As I tried to head back to my job at the church, my work began to suffer. It became hard to minister to others while going through such loss and still healing physically from infection and childbirth. My milk had come in and it was hard to lead worship or be in an emotional environment without having to excuse myself. My oversight kindly gave me time off, and my counselor and doctor prescribed an anti-depressant to help me through. But the feeling of going through this whole situation alone was unforgettable. No one in our friend groups, family, or coworkers knew what to say or how to help… and both Marcel and I were at a loss on how to convey what we needed or even know where to start.
As Spring approached, new trials began to emerge as we started to see the first medical bills from the surgeries at the beginning of my pregnancy and our son’s birth flow in a steady stream to our door. I started to organize and pay them, but became overwhelmed with emotion as more and more seemed to come in. Spring and Summer of 2012 are now a blur to me as I was prescribed different anti-depressants and seemed to only be able to make it from home to counseling in one piece. Every time I opened a medical bill after that, I crumbled into a sea of tears, unable to do anything. Marcel & I began to tackle the bills together, calling to set up accounts, paying ones we could, and planning for the rest. Soon, we both became overwhelmed as there was no extra cash to pay the mounting bills. There seemed to be no way out for us. Every time I received a bill, it felt like people wanted to me to pay for the death of my son and it was more than I could stand. Many of our accounts went to bill collectors and caused even more stress. In the fall of 2012, after our son’s first anniversary of birth and death, we knew we needed to re-organize our finances and seriously pay off bills, no matter how difficult. Instead of asking for donations or organizing fundraisers, we started meeting with a financial planner who helped us create a better budget and pay off more bills. We decided to downsize our already pretty frugal lives, find extra work, and explore creative ways to pay off our debts. We began discovering ways to save money on things we needed by doing them/making them ourselves (such as laundry detergent, meal planning, creative home decor, etc). We continued to go to counseling and at the end of the year (with the support of my doctors and counselor), I decided to stop taking my anti-depressants. As things became a little less hectic, we finally started to feel like we could breathe again.
Then in March of 2013, we took another trip to Denver to visit my family. I hadn’t been feeling very well on the flight, and as we started to land, I remember turning to Marcel for help as I lost consciousness on the airplane. The paramedics came, revived me in the airport and took me to the hospital… again. There we found out that I still had some intestinal issues that caused me to pass out, but was also (to our great surprise) pregnant! What an entrance for this baby! After a night in the hospital, I was cleared to go home – pregnant with a due date of November 10th… exactly the same day of our son Caleb’s birth and death. Marcel & I were honestly a bit stunned, but excited and feeling like this was such a huge gift! For the next three weeks, all we could think about was our tiny miracle baby. We had a hunch this would be a girl and decided on a name, Lucia Feliz, which means “happy light.” We felt like this little one would be a gift to that bring so much joy to our lives, and help break through some of the darkness that had overshadowed us for a while. About four weeks later, during a conference at our church, literally while I was leading worship, I felt contractions and bleeding begin. Marcel called our specialist and we went in for an ultrasound that afternoon. While at the doctors office, I actually delivered our little, yet-to-be-fully-formed baby. We had miscarried. Another beautiful light had gone out for us once more.
The aftermath of loss this time was easier in one way, yet more difficult in another. We were able to ask for help a bit this time – we told people we needed support and were honored to have many friends and family members send meals and visit as I recuperated. Yet it seemed like there was always something coming against us during those long months. I even had a freak accident that landed me back in the hospital for treatments – I was bit by a bat in our home and had to be treated for rabies! Yes… it’s as weird as it sounds. And it just seemed like we couldn’t really get out from under things. But our Lucia did shed some light into our lives, and in the few weeks we spent knowing she was on the way, we made smarter decisions to make sure our house was in order. Marcel and I had decided to move, downsizing our home costs and continuing to pay off medical debt and prepare for a new life. Our one asset was a paid off car, which we decided to sell in order to pay off the rest of our debt from Caleb’s birth, my surgeries & treatments. We decided that our family needed to be together at one church instead of working at two different places, so I left my position so we could both attend and serve at the church where Marcel was the Worship Pastor. After we miscarried, we also felt strongly that God had given us those few special weeks with Lucia to shed light and show us how to minister to other couples going through the journey of child loss. We had begun to learn that healing comes through the pain, not from the relief of pain... and this is a message we knew we needed to share.
Over the past few years, we have had people from all over ask for help, advice, support as either they or their family experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other death of a child. We have worked with couples and individuals, been able to minister and preach about how to care for the grieving, and have seen our music ministry outside of church streamlined as a creative tool to support those in need. And while we definitely do not have all the answers, we are able to minister and love those in need in such a deep way that we never could have understood had we not been on this journey of losing our children. We still mourn at times, we still grieve, but we walk out healing everyday knowing that we do actually have a good Father who is working all things together for our good. We see this now more than ever after the birth of our sweetest gift, Lucy Helene Arocha (born November 15th, 2016). Our "rainbow baby" is such a beautiful, precious gift to our family! But even with the joy she brings, her birth and our gift of a child to hold on Earth is NOT the reason we stand healed. It is because of the healing only Christ can bring that we now walk in wholeness as a couple and family. There is always hope... and His name is Jesus.
– Cynthia Janelle Arocha