I travelled to the hospital, my mind full of thoughts: I’m meeting Andy at the park…the kids can play on the swings with him while I am busy…How long will the ultrasound take? Half an hour? We might be home by 6 pm.
It was a day like any other day. A special day because I was to see our baby for the first time. But still, just another day. A secure, a safe, a predictable day. My biggest worry of that day was, “Will we get home in time for dinner?”
I lay on the couch in the ultrasound room. There on the screen was our baby. Oh, he was so beautiful. My heart filled with love and overflowed.
My eyes were on the screen watching our tiny baby floating about in his little cocoon. I didn’t really take much notice of the technician disappearing out the door. A few moments later he reappeared with a doctor.
And then life which is always so precariously balanced, as if on a knife’s edge, dipped and turned upside down. Everything was tossed high up into the air, and when it all fell back down again, everything looked the same but was not the same. Life would never be the same again.
“I’m sorry. We’ve found a problem with your baby. He has a diaphragmatic hernia.” A compassionate look, a touch on my arm, and the doctor continued. “The internal organs have moved through the hole. They are in the lung cavity. There won’t be enough room for the lungs to grow.”
“Even if there wasn’t a hole, the lungs haven’t had a chance to grow much anyway,” I stammered, trying to understand. “There’s lots of time…Something can be done.”
“I’m sorry…nothing... There is a very small chance that your baby will survive but I don’t really think that is probable. It is unlikely that he will have enough lung tissue for independent breathing.”
My mind froze. I couldn’t think properly. I struggled to make sense of it all. Not enough lung tissue? That meant death. The baby would die? How could he die?
And suddenly I understood clearly. It rolled in and hit me hard. I was trapped down a one way street. I couldn’t return. I couldn’t go back those few short minutes to a time which was safe and predictable and held promise. No, I was heading down a long, dark tunnel towards sorrow and nothing could save me.
I knew it didn’t matter what I wanted. It didn’t matter that I was frightened like I’d never been before. It didn’t matter that I thought I would probably die under the weight of the suffering. It didn’t matter if other people had a choice about whether to continue their pregnancy or not. Me? I had no choice. I could not kill my baby. I knew what was right and what was wrong. I had a gift, the gift of my Faith.
It was never suggested to me that I abort my baby. I was so fortunate. Why was an abortion never suggested? I’m not sure. Perhaps the doctor realised I would never agree. Perhaps the doctor, who had looked so gently and compassionately into my eyes, as he gave me the unwelcome news, was the kind of doctor who could never kill a child.
The ultrasound was over. I stumbled off to the bathroom, still dry eyed. But as soon as the door closed behind me, the flood gates flew open. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I sobbed noisily and uncontrollably.
Of course Andy knew something was wrong as soon as he saw me. “Our baby is going to die!” And even though Andy enfolded me in his arms and covered me with his love, I knew he couldn’t change anything. He couldn’t save me. He couldn’t protect me. He couldn’t bring back my safe world.
I started praying for a miracle of healing for our child. I could not give birth, hold our baby, watch him die and bury him. It was more than I could cope with. I was not that strong. And so I could not accept the prognosis. I thought, “It’s up to God. God can heal my baby. God is more powerful than the doctors. It doesn’t matter what they say. I know there is a possibility that God will intervene and save my baby. He knows I am weak. Perhaps…”
The doctors would not talk about miracles. They wanted me to prepare myself and our children for death. They would not give me hope.
Over the next few months I prayed and I prayed. Every prayer I could think of. If only I filled my prayer bucket, God might grant me a miracle.
And then gradually I began to accept the situation. I began to add, “If it is Your will, Lord,” to my pleas for healing. “I am willing Lord to give you my baby. But please don’t ask me. You know how weak I am. I will not survive.”
It was a very long five months. I could not think past the birth. Whenever I did, I saw a dead child I was too frightened to hold. I saw a tiny coffin. I saw a yawning, open grave. I saw a terrified woman bowed down by grief.
And then right at the last moment, the fear receded a little and I began to feeI excited. I had come to the realisation that our baby couldn’t stay safely within me forever. I began to wonder what he would look like. I began to anticipate meeting our child for the first time. Perhaps God had healed him anyway and there’d be no need for sorrow and tears. God gave me this period of calm and hope just before I had to face the trauma of his birth.
Thomas was born. He had not been healed. Within seconds of his birth, he was being wheeled away to the neonatal intensive care unit. “Wave to Mum!” said the nurse cheerily as she pushed our baby out of the room. But I could not see him. He was too far away. My eyes were too full of tears.
It was some hours before we could visit Thomas. We had to wait until the doctors had stabilised him before we were allowed to enter the unit and meet our new son.
There he lay surrounded by whirring equipment. His face was partially obscured by a tube. He’d been put into an unconscious state to keep him immobilised and to reduce the stress on his little body.
I stood and looked at him through the tears rolling down my face. He was beautiful Just beautiful. He looked perfect despite the tubes and wires. There was no sign on the outside that he was imperfect on the inside. And I thought, “How could anyone contemplate killing a little baby. This is the same baby I saw on the ultrasound all those months ago. He is now a lot bigger. But he is the same baby. I couldn’t kill him now. I couldn’t have killed him then.”
Thomas only lived 28 hours. He died in my arms, his family around him.
We thought we’d suffered greatly during Thomas’ pregnancy. That suffering was nothing compared to that which descended upon us after Thomas died. All my nightmares became reality. Sorrow and grief were waiting for me, waiting to pull me down into a pit of despair.
Eventually joy did return to life. I did survive despite thinking I wouldn’t. God knew me better than I did. He knew I had more strength than I cared to admit. He gave me His own strength. He knew I could give birth and then watch my baby die. He knew I could hold my dead child and then bury him. Because He knew how much I loved my child. You can do anything when you love.
And so life returned to ‘normal’. But it was not the same life I used to know. No. Life had changed forever. On the outside I look the same. Not many people would suspect the presence of grief locked away in a safe, secret place within me. But it is there.
I often think about what might have happened had we not had the gift of Faith. What if we’d had no support from our family and friends? What if we’d terminated Thomas’ pregnancy? What if we’d killed our son?
We would not have avoided any of the suffering. But the suffering might have been compounded by guilt and uncertainty. We might have asked, “What if he had survived? What if we’d killed him and God intended to save him?”