ISAIAH TAUGHT US TO BE BOLD IN THE FACE OF WHAT SEEMED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES

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Courtesy of Stephanie Anderson
Stephanie Anderson

 

OPINION

Our son died in the womb. This is how God made his short life count.

Jan. 12, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Early last year, a pregnancy test revealed a big surprise for me and my husband: ready or not, baby number three was on the way! There were a lot of things to think through. How were going to fit three car seats, let alone the gear necessary for three kids, in our car? Where was baby going to sleep? How would our two year old adjust to being a big sister?

One thing we never thought about was, “What if something is seriously wrong with our baby?”

Though I was looking forward to our routine anatomy ultrasound and finding out whether we were expecting a girl or a boy, I had also been feeling anxious. But after having our two beautiful, healthy girls, I figured my worries were just the product of an overly zealous imagination.

No one expects to be planning their child’s birth and death at the same time, but that is where we found ourselves.

Things started out normal enough. But after a few minutes, the ultrasound technician grew silent. “I’m going to be quiet now, and just make some measurements,” she announced. She never did turn the screen for me to see the baby. Abruptly she announced she needed to step out. Several minutes passed, and my heart began to sink.

Eventually, she returned with the radiologist, who took more measurements and said he was seeing some highly concerning things, including a club foot, abdominal abnormalities, and the baby was measuring small. We were told the next step was seeing a fetal medicine specialist (though we had to wait several agonizing days to be seen).

Based on the limited information we had, I started doing some research to prepare myself for the worst. One real possibility seemed to be Trisomy 18 or Trisomy 13, very serious conditions where the baby’s body contains an extra copy of a chromosome. (Trisomy 21, or Down’s Syndrome, is the most common trisomy.) I read a lot of blogs and articles and wrote down some questions.  Together, Dan and I grieved, worried, spent sleepless nights, and wondered what in the world to pray for.

At the specialist’s office, we received another ultrasound. As we watched the screen while the technician took measurements, we could tell that things just weren’t right. This little one didn’t move or look like our previous babies did.

After reviewing our scan, the perinatologist talked with us about all she was seeing. From the bottom of this little one’s feet to the top of their head, so much was wrong. Our baby did indeed have restricted growth and club feet, as well as an omphalocele (some of the baby’s bowels are outside the body), an abnormal head shape, heart defects, brain defects, scoliosis of the spine, facial abnormalities, and a cleft palate. She also didn’t detect that the baby’s legs were moving.

We had so hoped that she could at least tell the gender so we could name him or her, but she couldn’t determine that because of ambiguous genitalia. We were told we’d have to wait for the results of our amniocentesis.

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Her feeling was that yes, this was either most likely Trisomy 18 or Trisomy 13, though she couldn’t be positive without the amniocentesis results. (Because we felt that the benefits of finding out what issues our baby faced so we could plan his or her care at birth outweighed the risks, we decided to go ahead with the test.)

We were able to share with her right away that abortion is not an option for us. Our desire was to honor the gift of this baby’s life, and allow God to take him or her home when He deemed right.

After that, we met with the genetic counselor, and it was encouraging to find out that our hospital has a wonderful perinatal hospice program. They work frequently with families like ours facing terminal diagnoses for their unborn children, and had an experienced coordinator who could help us with everything from forming a birth plan to planning for special memory keepsakes. (In a culture that embraces abortion, we found it oddly encouraging that enough families are choosing life for their unborn children that there is a need for a comprehensive perinatal hospice program!)

No one expects to be planning their child’s birth and death at the same time, but that is where we found ourselves.

After several more days of waiting, I received the call with the results of the amniocentesis and the news we’d already anticipated—our baby had Trisomy 18.  It was a de novo occurrence, not caused by anything in either of our genetic makeups. While Trisomy 18 is one of the most common chromosomal abnormalities, it still only occurs in 1 in 5,000 births. As Dan put it, it’s like we “won” the genetic lottery. Yet we knew God was still sovereign, no matter how grim the diagnosis.

The counselor also told us we were having a boy. Knowing our baby’s gender was hugely important to Dan and me, because we both felt like it would allow us to name this baby and make him part of our family. We didn’t want our son be viewed as an unfortunate episode in our family’s history that we don’t talk about. We wanted our daughters both to know that they had a brother, however briefly, and that they will meet him eventually. Above all, we want them to know that his life was just as precious to their Creator as anyone else’s.

We decided to name our son Isaiah. When we began blogging about our experience, a verse of Scripture popped into Dan’s head: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). We both felt that this was a wilderness we found ourselves in. At the same time, we believed God was charting the course for our family. He had proved faithful in every challenge we’ve met over the years, and we knew this wouldn’t be an exception.

Still, living in the unknown was crushing. It was impossible to plan for the future. Would I go into labor early, or would Isaiah die in utero? If he survived to full-term and was delivered alive, would he die shortly after birth, or would we bring home a baby who would die within a few days, weeks, or months?

Reading blogs and articles from other families who also had babies with Trisomy 18 gave me something solid to hang onto in a sea of unknowns. I saw that other people had indeed walked this road before us, and it gave me hope that we would be okay through whatever happened.

Several days later, I realized I hadn’t felt Isaiah move since the previous evening. Even though he was tiny, he had a pretty regular pattern of movement, and it felt like something had changed.

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The next day, a nurse at our doctor’s office performed an ultrasound. “I’m sorry, I can’t detect a heartbeat,” she told us. I’ll never forget seeing his still little body and that flat heartbeat line.

The doctor talked with us about our options: we could either do a D&C, or go through a labor and delivery. There was no question in my mind what I wanted: to deliver a baby to hold and see, both to honor Isaiah and to give closure to us.

They sent us home with a plan to come back the following evening to start the induction. We were warned that the labor and delivery process could take one, and quite possibly two, full days. (A woman’s body just isn’t ready at 27 weeks to deliver a baby, for good reason.)

It actually was a gift to have that evening and most of the next day to prepare our hearts and get our bags packed. In fact, Dan and I both slept better that night than we had slept in weeks. Though our hearts were still heavy, and we were saddened to know our baby had died, the unknowns of the previous few weeks were now known.

Right after we checked into the hospital, they started me on meds to induce labor. Thirty-six very long hours later, my water broke, and with just a couple of pushes Isaiah was born.

At our request, our nurse first took Isaiah to clean him, wrap him in a blanket, and put a hat on his head. It was a marvel to see just how little he was, weighing just a touch over a pound and being 10.5 inches long. He was so tiny and fragile, and we spent some bittersweet moments holding him.

It was tough to decide whether to have our daughters see Isaiah. We didn’t want to traumatize them, but we did want to give them closure. In the end, we decided to have them see him briefly. We explained to our oldest daughter that Isaiah didn’t look like a normal newborn, that he was very tiny with dark skin, and that his lip had a boo-boo on it (cleft lip). When the nurse brought him in, she just wanted to look and observe, while our two year old was fascinated. She wanted to give her baby “Isa” love pats.

Soon afterwards a wonderful volunteer with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep came to take some pictures of our family and of little Isaiah. We are incredibly grateful for the gift of those photos she gave us.

I would sum up our experience of that weekend at the hospital with the word carried. We felt carried through the difficulties by our friends and family who showed us love through their words and tangible acts of service; by the caring and compassionate labor and delivery staff; and ultimately by the Lord. I love how the prophet Isaiah pens God’s tender promise: “I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).

With the love and support of our church and our friends and family, two weeks later Dan and I buried Isaiah at a local cemetery and had a small service to honor his life. Though his time on earth was fleeting, we know that Isaiah taught us both how to be grateful for what we do have—family, friends, church, home, and health. He taught us to empathize with the suffering and hurt of others, what to say and what not to say to those who hurt, and how to just listen.

Isaiah taught us how to be bold in the face of what seems to be impossible circumstances. He taught us to recognize how God answers prayer even in the deepest and darkest of nights, and that He provides for us in every circumstance.  Most importantly, he taught us that every life, no matter how small, can make an impact. He will forever be part of our family, and we can’t wait to see him again.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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3 Responses to ISAIAH TAUGHT US TO BE BOLD IN THE FACE OF WHAT SEEMED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES

  1. planechant2 says:

    What an incredibly courageous and moving post. Thank you and God bless you.

  2. judyferg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Isaiah with us. Blessings on your family!

  3. a beautiful new saint..Isaiah!

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