Seeing your baby on ultrasound for the first time never gets old. Watching all those turns and kicks on screen, seeing that tiny heart beating, catching a glimpse of that precious little face…all confirmation that the exhaustion and illness has, in fact, been worth it.
I’ve had a lot of ultrasounds, a lot. Things seemed fine at first this time around. Beautiful heartbeat. Lots of little squirms. But the nurse was making me nervous after a while. I started wondering. My wonder turned to panic. Why is this lasting so long? Why is she asking me so many strange questions? Is something wrong? She said she would show the ultrasound to the doctor and be back.
The ultrasound has now taken so long that my husband is going to be late for a meeting out of town. I tell him to go. It’s probably fine. I worry too much. He agrees, it’s probably fine. It always is. He closes the door behind him as he leaves the room. I hear the muffled voice of the nurse outside the door, catching him as he heads down the hall, “You’re going to want to stay”, she says. Oh no! I was right, it’s not fine. My worst fear. Something is wrong.
The doctor enters. I’m already crying and wringing my hands. It’s worse than I could imagine. It’s the worst. She tells us that our baby, our precious little human, the one we were just watching up on that screen, that baby cannot live outside the womb. He has no kidneys. She explains that ultimately, without kidneys, the baby’s lungs cannot develop. There is nothing they can do.
Through sobbing tears we explained that we would not have ever considered terminating. How could we? We just witnessed a perfectly content baby living inside my womb…
Our family spent the next several months praying, and preparing for devastation. And yet in the midst of deep sorrow we found ourselves delighted as well. The children were enthralled as my belly wiggled and moved along with the person inside. There were many joyful giggles while listening to the racing heartbeat of their little sibling on the doppler. Then the fun that comes with listing baby name possibilities, and crossing many of the suggestions off (and all of our four-year-old’s suggestions off because, let’s face it, “Frog Legs” is just not a great option for a first name). We would have missed out on so much had we ended the life of our baby.
We hadn’t forgotten for one minute what the diagnosis had been, nor what we were going to have to face in the very near future. Every morning for the rest of my pregnancy when I woke up, the time when the baby was most active, the reality hit me again. “The baby I am carrying is not going to live.” We were making plans for a funeral instead of a nursery. Every day began with tears.
I was dreading the day that I knew would come all too soon. The day that we would say “hello” and “goodbye” far too close together. As my due date creeped closer and closer I became more worried. Fear set in. There were so many unknowns. So many what-ifs.
September 30th I woke up early, I couldn’t sleep. I quietly dressed and snuck out of the house, intending to get to the grocery store and back before the day was in full swing. Twenty minutes down the road and I wasn’t feeling quite right. I didn’t know if I was in labor, but I certainly didn’t feel right. I called my husband who suggested that I come back home. “Groceries can wait”, he said. He’s a very smart man.
By dinner time, amidst sorrowful tears and precious giggles, broken hearts and gleeful smiles we, with our children, welcomed our baby into the world. We didn’t waste a moment. We knew there wasn’t much time, and we were right. Just three hours later I was blessed with the privilege of holding him as he left his tiny broken body and entered into eternity.
Many of the doctors and nurses did not understand why we would carry to term a baby that we knew would not live. “Why would you put yourself through this?” one nurse mumbled during one of my many ultrasounds. For us there was never any question. What do we do when we receive news that our loved one has a short amount of time to live? We certainly don’t take their life because they’ve been given a terminal diagnosis. Instead we do everything we can to make the time that they do have meaningful. We enjoy every minute we’re given with that person and do our best to make precious memories. Why would it be any different with a terminal diagnosis for the preborn?
Life is precious, no matter how short. The Lord is the giver of life and we would leave our baby’s life in His hands. We knew there would be great pain, there always is where death is involved. What we didn’t know was how much joy would come as well. We didn’t know how we would be blessed by such a short life. How much joy our baby would bring to his siblings. We didn’t know how they would take time to marvel at his tiny toes and ears. We didn’t know how giving him a thousand little kisses would help to mend our broken hearts. We didn’t know how precious and cherished the sight of his daddy holding him in his hands, just as he had done with the other children, would be. We didn’t know how sweet those memories would be to us all now. Of course there was pain. There still is, and I suspect there always will be. But, oh, how grateful I am that we left this life in the hands of his Maker. Because we did, our pain has been tempered with sweet, sweet joy that we would have missed. Some would call this baby a burden, but I carried him and held him in my arms and I would say he was no burden. His name is Noah, and he is our son.