In The Silence – Tanya’s Story
I was eight when my mum got sick. Watching her battle stomach cancer was devastating. It was the 1970’s and her cancer treatment was harsh, aggressive and ultimately unsuccessful. I was only 11 years old when she died. Six weeks later I started high school. It makes me sad that I have very few memories of my mum other than her illness. When she died I felt like a part of me disappeared forever. My dad coped with his grief very differently to me. He seemed to move on much faster than I could. Two years after my mother died he remarried. I was devastated.
All of my life it has felt like my dad has chosen others, especially women over me.
The loss of my mother was still so raw when my new family moved in. I now had a stepmother, three stepbrothers and a stepsister. They moved into my house and took over my life. My stepsister didn’t want me in her space and the loneliness I felt in a house that was so full of people was haunting. My stepmother despised me. She carried damage from her own past that included an abusive ex-husband but the damage that she did to my young and vulnerable soul still affects me today. I recall the time that she called me a child of the devil. In the very depths of my heart I knew it wasn’t true, but to my fragile heart those words were like death. When I was 16 she wanted me to move out and I was happy to go. I moved into the flat next door and finally found my very own haven.
My father’s marriage to her did not last and he has had a long list of girlfriends since then. The one thing that was consistent in our relationship was that I always felt like I was not a priority to him. As he sought to ease his own pain in one relationship after the next, he seemed to forget about me. The open wound across my heart that began with the loss of my mother, continued to tear open, deeper and deeper with every year. I became no one’s daughter. I felt like an orphan living alone, forging my own path.
I didn’t know it at the time but God had faithful people praying for me and things were about to change.
It was 1989 when I first encountered Jesus. I was at a youth camp and a band called ‘In the Silence’ were the guest speakers for the weekend. Their name really resonated with me; after all silence was something I’d become quite accustomed to. That first night I stayed up all night talking to my best friend about Jesus. I had lots of questions. The next day there was an altar call. I remember telling God I was sorry, that I wanted to know who he was and then the tears came, buckets and buckets of tears. I’d never cried that much in my life.
God was healing me; my grief and pain began pouring out and God turned my deep sadness into a joy that I’d never experienced before.
After I made the decision to follow Jesus I felt the need to tell my family about it, they all thought I was nuts but I didn’t care. One of the golden moments of realizing the extent of God’s love for me was when I found out that the parents of a close friend had been praying for me for five years!
With my new heart wrapped up in God’s love and my bags packed I moved to Sydney to pursue my dream of doing a fashion design course. I was now 21, and a whole new chapter of my life was about to unfold. It was as though during this time, my faith really took off, I was in a new city, making friends and attending a new church. I was living in a share house in Newtown with 16 other girls from the country who had also moved to the city to study. It was fun and noisy and there was never a dull moment.
The church I attended was a very open and accepting church; similar to the one I attend now. It had a drop in center for the homeless and random things like people sitting in the congregation with a pet rat sitting precariously on their shoulder as a sermon was preached. The beauty of a place like Newtown is that everyone is accepted for who they are, rats and all!
I met my husband Bruce at a friend’s wedding, I was 27 and he was 31. I was drawn to his strength and integrity, he was such a strong male character and I had always wanted to be with someone who made me feel safe. It was only four weeks after we met that we were engaged, our friends and family were completely spun out with fears of it being way too quick. This year we will celebrate 23 years of marriage! We are still going strong, I’m glad we didn’t take on their fears.
When I was 33, we decided to start our family and this is where the wheels started to fall off. People often have this idea that life goes like this; you meet, fall in love, get married, start popping out babies and then you all live happily ever after. That was not to be our story. Year after year we tried to start our family and after no success we realized that there was a problem. We met with some fertility specialists and were confronted with some serious genetic issues that explained while we had been unable to conceive.
Initially we were both very angry that we had no idea about such serious genetic issues but our anger soon turned to grief. We battled feelings of despair and hopelessness as we faced the reality of not having a family. It was truly one of the darkest moments in the history of our marriage.
When the shock waves started to ebb a little, we jumped on the rickety roller coaster that is IVF. I was so angry that we had to go through this process. I was angry at God and the world. It seemed so unfair. I had daily injections for months, which wreaked havoc on my hormones, and then finally, I was pregnant.
Four weeks later I had a miscarriage. We were devastated.
Once my mental health was strong enough we began the process all over again. One attempt after another and nothing. We took a few months break then had another go and were delighted to find out that I was pregnant. It was such an incredible feeling but at seven weeks I started to bleed. We had an urgent prayer meeting to pray for the baby growing inside me. We both felt a real peace over the next week but then at eight weeks, more bleeding. Bruce met me at the hospital and during the ultrasound they couldn’t find a heartbeat. More loss, more grief, more pain.
We took a year off from IVF. It was all just too raw. We went on holidays and tried to find normal life again. Over the next few months we did all that we could to become mentally, physically and spiritually refreshed. Only two eggs remained and our doctor advised us that there was no possibility of anymore treatment beyond these two. Bruce and I were in a great place and felt confident that God would come through this time but sadly, the cycle was unsuccessful.
We had one last chance.
After our final cycle, I took some time off work to rest and to give this last little egg the best possible chance of hanging in there. Four weeks later we found out that I was pregnant. We were all holding our breath, praying that this pregnancy would last and I was put on daily injections to try and prevent miscarriage. At our eight-week scan we received the incredible news that we were pregnant with not one, but two babies! We were having twins. Bruce jumped up and screamed out ‘Glory to Jesus.’ Our church family had been praying for twins so we were not surprised. It was an incredible moment as we experienced the promise of this verse coming true in our lives.
“I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
It was that scripture and the hundreds more that I had stuck to our mirror and cupboards that got us through the months ahead. It was that promise that came to mind when our beautiful boys, Noah and Caleb were born after a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy. After a nine-day hospital stay, we took our miracle, identical twin boys home.
I wish I could say that after that I lived in some kind of baby bubble of bliss but life as an older mum was truly challenging. I was 38 and Bruce was 41 and life with two newborns was exhausting. Bruce was doing shift work and we had limited family support. Sometimes it felt like if I didn’t have Jesus, wine and snickers I would never get through. In the midst of all this, I also started my own photography business. This gave me the flexibility to be home with the boys when they were little. God was so good and faithful even in our exhaustion. But I knew there was still more healing required.
A few years ago, I attended Captivating conference with Stacey Elderidge. My goodness was I broken and put back together! There were so many incredible and painful moments that I encountered during that conference, I felt like I had all the pieces of me taken out and watched as Jesus put them back in the right way. I felt a real shift in my spirit, an unlocking of areas that hadn’t been seen for years and suddenly were thrown into the light. I think I’m still getting over that conference but in a good way, each time I read through my notes I’m constantly challenged to delve deeper into my past and my feelings knowing that I can trust God with all of them.
The deeper the healing the greater the peace.
Our boys turned 13 in 2018 and I turned 50 and I think it’s the start of a whole new season. It’s so amazing to watch the boys grow up with their own faith. In our 23 years Bruce and I have had so many ups and downs but we are both excited for the next season of our lives. God is faithful and good, I still get emotional looking back at our journey. It’s a part of us, and always will be. As painful as it was, I can see how God is using my story to bless others.
Last year I began volunteering at Heartfelt. Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from all over Australia and New Zealand dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births or have children with serious and terminal illnesses. All services are provided free of charge. As I stand alongside the parents who have lost their baby, I talk to the babies like they are still alive. I do my best to make the whole experience a lovely one for the parents, finding features in the baby that look like the mum or dad. I truly sense a God given peace in the room and in my own heart.
I know that my own journey of loss, grief and healing has given me a sense of compassion that can bring comfort and hope to these parents.