Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 237th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in Adrian, Minnesota on January 23, 1968, the third youngest in a family of eight kids. Mom and Dad were staunch Lutherans who lived and breathed their faith. They were also able to raise a house full of hard workers—and good thing too. We needed to be because we lived on a 280-acre farm with 20 cows, 300 geese, and a million chores. My job was to make sure the animals had plenty of fresh grass. One of the things I loved about my family was while there was lots of work, we always made time for leisure. Our weekends were full of card-game tournaments and eating heaps of popcorn while we sat together to watch movies.
From a young age, I associated a large family with hard work, love, comfort, and commitment. So, it was no surprise that as I grew older, I wanted to have my own large family. Yet, I doubted whether there were any women who wanted the same. Kids were a handful, after all.
I went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota for a music degree with two goals: learn as much as I could and meet a beautiful woman who shared my dreams for a big family. To my surprise, I found the woman of my dreams during class. One day, I overheard Kathleen, a beautiful and bright woman, was lamenting to a friend that, “There are no more men who want to provide for a large family and support a stay-at-home wife!” I felt like screaming from across the room, “HERE I AM!” But, I figured that was not the best way to let her know my intentions (although that sure would have been memorable).
I remained completely invisible to Kathleen, despite our classes together, until I asked her out on a date. Our first exchange over dinner was clear, short, and to the point. We both had high ideals and neither one of us were interested in recreational dating. It was all or nothing. “I will not marry anybody who isn’t Catholic.” Kathleen stated with a serious look. I remember thinking she was crazy if she thought I’d turn my back on my Lutheran religion and become Catholic. No way!
Yet, when she handed me a rosary, and I began to understand the ins and outs of her religion, I knew I was in love and I’d do anything for her. Please God! Don’t send me to Hell for praying this, I pleaded to God when I pulled it out for the first time. Within two years I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, and we were married soon after in 1991. I figured that if Kathleen had living faith through Catholicism, maybe I’d been misinformed all my life.
Our adventures in married life began almost immediately, finding out we were pregnant just days after returning from our honeymoon. We got our family started, having our first two daughters just 15 months apart. That Christmas after we became four, we lived in a rental house with mice and all we could afford for a tree was a piece of cardboard Kathleen cut up and laced full of lights. Despite my meager paying position as a band director, we made the best of our situation and were content because we had one another.
In true Catholic fashion, we fell pregnant again soon after our second daughter’s 1st birthday. Having had two successful pregnancies without problems, we began preparing for our third child. The pregnancy went smoothly but took a turn when Kathleen’s water broke.
She was having unusually sharp pain with her contractions, something she hadn’t dealt with before. With each second that ticked by, the pain grew worse, and I could see the agony in her eyes. We didn’t know what was going on. I hopped in the car and drove like a madman to get Kathleen to the hospital. Upon inspection, the doctors declared an Emergency C-Section and the OBGYN came flying in to start the operation. They placed me in a side room, blind to what was happening on the other side. I was forced to wait by myself, not knowing how my wife or unborn child was. It’s a terrifying feeling, not knowing whether the one you love will open their eyes, or leave you behind to face life alone.
After hours of uncertainty, a nurse emerged with my daughter wrapped in a pink towel. I could tell something was wrong by the solemn look on her face. As I looked down at my daughter, I thought “how beautiful.” But then I realized that her little chest wasn’t moving up and down, no crying. She was still. Then I realized what had happened. My daughter was born dead, just three hours before my birthday.
I felt a million emotions rise and fall inside of me. Joy at meeting her, followed by rage and disbelief that she was dead, followed by intense denial that she was gone. She didn’t feel real. None of it did. In one moment, I wanted to throw her. Just as fast was an opposite emotion; guilt. How could I do that? She was my daughter. I just held her and sobbed. What came last was terror. Terror for my wife and what would lie ahead.
The doctors told us what had happened was that the C-Section my wife had from our oldest daughter had split during contractions. Uterine ruptures usually tear through major arteries, causing fatalities, but by some miracle, the tear had never made it that far. It was a miracle she had survived. We were torn between opposite emotions, feeling both fortunate and devastated. In our mourning for our daughter’s life that never began, we named her Emily Rose.
Kathleen’s oldest sister came to see us with a camera which infuriated me at the time. How morbid! The last thing I wanted was pictures. I didn’t want to remember this tragic day! But when I look back now, I’m glad she took them because Emily is forever encapsulated in those photos, never forgotten.
We buried Emily Rose after a highly-attended funeral in our hometown. Doctors told us that we shouldn’t have any more children, and we couldn’t disagree with them. After everything we had been through, we were terrified.
Against my better judgement, I went back to teaching a week later. Although I was physically present, my mind was miles away. Nothing meant anything to me. I stumbled through my days, somehow finding the strength to lift the baton and conduct my band, but it was exhausting. I kept telling myself that providing for my family was more important than grieving that and I had to be strong for them.
I held all my grief in, but it became too much at my band’s final concert. They played, “Blessed are Those Who Mourn.” The deeper into the piece they went, the more agitated I felt. When it reached the crescendo, every feeling I’d been holding in from her loss resurfaced and the sound of it spoke of my true grief. I felt like everyone in the auditorium could see me in its echo. I felt so vulnerable. I had no idea a sound could express the depths of how I felt so clearly.
We spent an entire year not trying for kids, raising our two girls and trying to think of other things besides babies. In the evenings, Kathleen would pull out her guitar and we’d rock our girls to sleep, singing praise and worship songs that reminded us about God’s love in a time when it was hard to feel it.
Gradually, we came to a place of decision as we prayed together. A year after Emily’s death, we opened our hearts back up to pregnancy. Certainly, there was a possibility of loss, and we couldn’t control that. We were simply willing to trust God through that fear and face the daily roller coaster.
Not long after we came to this resolution, we found out we were pregnant again. It is hard to put into words the courage I saw in my wife upon hearing the news. Despite having almost died and suffering unimaginable pain through the loss of Emily, she welcomed the new life inside of her with joy and trust. I was in awe of her. I’d be lying if I said there were not times where I was deeply afraid of what could go wrong, but we faced the unknown together anyway, asking God to grant us a safe and healthy delivery and recovery for my wife and child.
To avoid another rupture, we were told that Kathleen could not get to contractions or go to full-term. And so, at 36 weeks when Kathleen was just having Braxton Hicks contractions, we rushed her into the surgery room for a planned C-section. As the procedure was underway, I was quaking with fear that our baby was going to die again. When is the first cry? Is there going to be a first cry? How do I know she’s okay?
Then I heard it. My daughter Ellen’s cry. All the terror, grief, and sorrow in me was released and replaced by joy. She’s okay. They’re both okay. The days of joy that followed were beyond what we thought was possible.
While we were pregnant with Ellen, we had found a specialized high-risk doctor and a highly skilled family practitioner that insisted that Kathleen’s uterus was not diseased. “Avoid a hysterectomy after this baby if you can,” he advised. Thus, Ellen was not the only miracle. Within the next 15 years, we had five more children. Doctor’s confirmed that Kathleen’s uterus continued to look stronger with each successive pregnancy, although they could not explain why. We knew why. We were meant to fall in love and have a big family, God willing.
When I look at my children today, I feel so incredibly blessed and unworthy. While I may never understand why my daughter had to die, I am grateful for the lessons her brief little life taught me: to value my living children more and never take moments with them for granted.
The number seven is a holy and sacred number in many religions, and when I do the math on the miracles in my life, the birth of my six children plus the survival of my wife, I reach the sacred number. Despite the tragedy, I believe that I am a blessed man.
This is the story of David Goedtke
David currently lives in Comfrey, Minnesota. Unable to sustain his family on an income as a band teacher, he now works as a General Agent with the Knights of Columbus. David and his wife fell in love with a shared dream for their future: to have a large family. After the simultaneous near-death of his wife and still birth of his third child, David was stricken with grief. Through prayer and despite the risks, he and his wife decided to try for more children. The couple miraculously had six more healthy children, and that’s when David realized the importance of family and what you have in the face of grief. When he is not out serving clients, or leading his team of life insurance salesman, he is at home doing house projects, building a tree fort for his kids and reading. He also likes woodworking and drawing. The day before his birthday will always be known as the anniversary of the death of his daughter, Emily Rose, but he uses that day to celebrate instead of mourn.
This story first touched our hearts on January 16, 2019.
| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |