Living out a hope that is greater than our dreams

Author of Buried Dreams

Lindsey R. Dennis and her husband, Kevin, had only been married a few months when they found out they were pregnant. Excited and hopeful about the new life she was carrying and the future of their family, they were devastated to learn at their 20-week ultrasound that the baby would not live due to a fatal diagnosis. They would relive their grief again as they buried their second daughter fourteen months after their first. In Buried Dreams: From Devastating Lost to Unimaginable Hope (Abingdon Press), Dennis shares not only her story of grief and loss, but how to live out a hope that is greater than our dreams.

Q: In Buried Dreams, you share about the loss of your two daughters who each only lived a few hours after their births. Why did you decide to write a book about such personal and difficult losses?

I talk to many people who are struggling to know how to walk through the disappointment that has unfolded in their lives, the buried dreams, the loss and pain, and I wanted them to know how hope can rise from even the darkest seasons. I want the reader to see how these dark seasons are instruments in the hand of God to produce in us the hope that doesn’t disappoint. I want others to know this hope and how to persevere in the midst of great pain. And I simply wanted to tell the story of God’s worthiness and faithfulness to us during deep suffering.

Q: You and your husband had been married less than a year when found out you were expecting your first child. What were some of the hopes and dreams you had for your family? What were you most looking forward to about motherhood?

Being older, we were both eager to start a family, and personally, I had always dreamed of having 4 kids. I come from a big family with 3 younger siblings and was excited about the possibility of our family being a big family. Kevin was excited to be a dad, and every kid he meets falls in love with him. I felt ready for a new season of motherhood. In fact, I had it all planned out in my head. We would get pregnant within the first year and then a year after we had that baby try for another and so on and so on. I knew it probably wouldn’t play out the way I imagined, but I still was hoping that would be our reality. I was just looking forward to becoming a mom, having little babies in tow and getting to spend my days caring for them.

Q: Can you share a little about each of your pregnancies? When did you find out about Sophie and Dasah’s respective conditions?

Initially, when we found out we were pregnant with Sophie we experienced a blissful naivety, simply in shock and wonder that we were able to get pregnant so quickly. I was still nervous about having a miscarriage until the 12-week mark passed, then I just assumed nothing else would go wrong. Though I knew there were no guarantees, based on friends of ours who had either lost children or had serious things happen, I didn’t think that would happen to us. We went in to a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks and that is when we found out Sophie’s condition. It was shocking and devastating. Yet only 6 months into marriage and still in wonder at God’s provision of each other, we immediately clung to God’s goodness, trusting He knew how He would walk us through this journey. Our community rallied around us and began to help us celebrate every week that Sophie was alive in my womb, from supplies to make cookies with her to being serenaded on stage by 98° in front of over 15,000 people, every week Sophie was celebrated. It was a painful yet beautiful and celebratory season of cherishing Sophie’s life and inviting others into that.

After Sophie passed away, though still grieving, we were eager to try to get pregnant again. None of our doctors or genetic counselors thought the same thing would happen again, but now our eyes were opened to a whole world of infant loss and all the other things that could go wrong. It was as if I had lost the innocence of pregnancy. I was filled with the struggle of fear and trust in carrying this baby, wondering if he or she would make it. When we walked into our 12-week appointment with Dasah to find out if she had the same condition as Sophie, we were nervous, but hopeful. When our doctor told us she had similar condition, it was as if the whole world crashed around us. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe and that I wouldn’t survive this. In some ways, it felt as though God had abandoned us. This time we didn’t have the same reserves as we did when walking into Sophie’s story. We were still weary in grief and aware of the randomness of suffering. Our community still surrounded us, planning an epic gender reveal party, having a card of encouragement for us every day until Dasah’s arrival, and rallying around us in prayer. However, it was a much lonelier and darker experience. The weight of walking through another loss was heavy, and the hope we could have more biological children seemed broken in two. Not knowing what “family” would mean for us in the future, we decided to have family time each week, doing more normal things to just enjoy being a family and celebrate her life.

Q: How did you cope with knowing you would be carrying a baby for several more months that wasn’t expected to live beyond her birth? How much harder was it for you to go through a similar experience the second time?

I decided to start writing about our journey online and that became an outlet for me to process my pain and speak truth to myself (that I would so easily forget in the midst of my sadness). I found stories on blogs and Facebook pages of others’ stories and ultimately found refuge in God’s word. It was a daily, moment-by-moment battle, and each day brought its own joy and pain. I had to take it a day at a time because if I got ahead of myself or tried to imagine what it would be like to say hello and goodbye to this sweet baby that I was growing to love more day-by-day, I felt I would collapse. I had to trust God would give me strength for the moments He was asking me to walk through now and would ask me to walk through later.

Walking through it a second time was excruciatingly worse. I really didn’t think I could feel any greater pain than what I felt the first time, but I did. Now I knew what it was like to watch my child die, to have to say goodbye to her, and then bury her. The unknowns of what it would be like with Sophie elicited fear but kept some of the pain at bay because I didn’t know what to expect. But I knew with Dasah and it was so hard to keep trusting in God’s grace each day, wondering if the same grace that held us when we said goodbye to Sophie would be there with Dasah.

Writing about Dasah’s story/birth and what followed was quite emotional. I wanted to really be authentic with my readers and go back and relive those moments, even the most painful ones to give truest view I could of how I was experiencing those times. In return, a lot of fresh grief surfaced. Dasah’s story has and continues to be the more difficult chapters of my story to trust God with and you can very obviously see that struggle as I wrote her story.

Q: When you became pregnant for the second time, did the doctors expect the baby to have a similar diagnosis? Were there risk factors or genetics that played a factor in their development?

There really is little research done on Anencephaly and Acrania, and at this time, there is no known gene that causes it. There are some risk factors doctors have identified that may increase the chances of having a child with a neural tube defect, but even those risk factors aren’t conclusive. Neither Kevin or I carried any of the risk factors, so the doctors had no reason to believe it would happen again. In fact, most women who have this happen go on to have (or already have) healthy children. The greatest risk factor for neural tube defects is folic acid deficiency. With Sophie I was not on a high dosage of folic acid, but with Dasah, I was. There is some debate over the type of folic acid to take, but regardless, with both of them my folate levels were normal, so the doctors don’t know what happened to cause their skulls and brains not to form.

Q: Who did you write the book for? Will only those who have lost a child find comfort and hope from reading Buried Dreams?

While my story is a story of losing two children, and more specifically carrying two babies, each with a fatal diagnosis to term, I think this book is both for women who are walking a similar path, but more broadly any woman who has had to bury a dream. That dream may quite literally be in the death of a loved one, or it could be the loss of a marriage, career or any hope for the future. We live in a culture that says, “Keep dreams alive, don’t stop dreaming,” but the reality is that some of our dreams do die, so what are we to do when that happens? How do we ultimately hope for something greater than temporal dreams? This book is for anyone wondering if there truly is a hope that doesn’t disappoint and wants to know how to have that hope.

Q: What is it like to look back at what God has done in those three years of your life and where are you now? How has God been faithful to grow your family in the past few years?

I’m in awe and challenged to remember that there are new seasons of waiting, surrender and even suffering that God is asking me to walk in. They are different then a couple of years ago, but God is rooting the same truths more deeply into my heart. I pray my hope is so much more firmly rooted in Him in 40 years than today. I pray each year He would become more unimaginable and glorious to me. I don’t want to miss what He’s doing to draw me closer to Himself in whatever circumstance He asks me to walk through both now and in years to come.

Today, it’s been more than five years since our journey with loss and grief began. After we lost Dasah, we knew that we weren’t ready to take the risk to become pregnant again. We didn’t know if we ever would be. However, we had always known adoption would be in our story at some point. And like most families, adoption didn’t enter our story the way we thought it would. We began the process of adoption a few months after Dasah’s death, and a year later our son, Jaden, was born and his birth mother choose us to be his parents. Jaden has been the sweetest gift in our lives and brought such joy and life!

After his first birthday we began the conversation of whether or not we would try to get pregnant again. At this point we had done a lot more genetic testing and tried to find something conclusive to base our decision on. At the end of the day, there was nothing conclusive, and we had to take a step of faith one way or another. I was full of fear of walking through loss a third time, but long ago I decided not to make decisions out of fear. Eventually, I realized I might regret not trying again, and when I look at Sophie and Dasah’s lives, I have zero regret about carrying and birthing them. I knew I wouldn’t regret carrying another child that had the same condition if that happened.

We decided to try again and just two months ago on July 2, 2018 Briella Dawn came into the world, fully alive and healthy. Finding out she didn’t have the same condition as her sisters was a different kind of shock, and it was different to navigate pregnancy with a child who could live. We are so grateful for each of the children God has given us so far. Although we can’t understand God’s ways and wish all four of our children were here, we realize that neither of our children would be here without the child that came before them. Our family hasn’t formed how we thought it would, but each of the children He has given us has molded and shaped our family to be one that I hope looks more like Jesus and reflects His heart, glory and worthiness of our lives to whoever is watching.