Amy and Ryan were so excited! After three miscarriages the hope of another pregnancy was finally realized. The pregnancy test was positive! Immediately Amy called the doctor’s office and set up an appointment. Amy had an early ultra sound that revealed she was six weeks and two days along and the baby had a strong heart beat. They stopped on the way home from the hospital to celebrate with ice cream while revising the nursery plan. The evening was spent calling family and friends to share in the joy of this fabulous news.
Several weeks later, a second ultra sound initially verified the good news of the first. Amy and Ryan had already chosen a name if the baby was a boy, he would be Elijah Daniel—two of their most admired biblical men. Friday was spent making a second round of phone calls, followed by friends coming by to congratulate the happy parents.
Later that evening when the phone was no longer busy, the doctor’s call came through. He had received the initial report and suggested they look at the ultrasound together on Monday. The sound of his voice was unsettling. It was Good Friday. Amy and Ryan went to church services acknowledging that the God of the resurrection who “knit us together in our mothers’ wombs” had the ability to form a healthy baby. Amy prayed the Lord would heal any problem with their baby. But if God chose not to heal, then God would not put her and her husband in the place of having to decide if the baby should live or die.
On Monday more ultrasounds were taken and read by the specialists in perinatology. A second ultra sound seemed to show the baby’s heart was on the “wrong” side and there appeared to be a “cyst” in the chest. It also confirmed the baby was a boy.
Further investigation show three major defects. The baby had a chromosomal defect, a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) and a hypo-plastic left heart. The perinatologist gave a very grim outcome. He actually said that he expected the baby to die anytime in-utero because he said a CDH found this early was extremely severe. Amy and Ryan made it clear they had no intentions of aborting their baby. They felt God had made this child for this family and God had a plan for him. This was an answer to one of their prayers, but it was not the answer for which they had hoped. The incredible joy celebrated with family and friends so quickly turned to sorrow as they began to face the tough reality.
At times Amy was overwhelmed with confusion, doubt and questions. Feelings of fear and love simultaneously swirled within her, each competing for control. Love for her baby drove her to cry out to God demanding he confound the medical professionals and heal their baby. She wanted more than anything to carry this baby to full term, to hold him, caress him and celebrate his life. Amy’s own feelings and thoughts seemed unmanageable. The equilibrium of life suddenly was out of kilter. Time seemed to stand still. She wondered if she would make it through the next hour.
Unlike many parents in pain, Amy and Ryan were fortunate to have trustworthy friends and spiritual advisors who offered to pray for them. Caregivers were invited to bring biblical perspective and encouragement. Amy and Ryan did a lot of talking and praying with valued friends. Admittedly caregivers often felt impotent and incompetent amidst such a traumatic and “unnatural” life event.
Yet, shepherds who understood the trauma of fetal loss were the most consoling and accepting. They understood that typically men and women process emotional pain differently. They communicated a message of “these feelings are normal” given the present circumstance. They were present, extended love, and spoke appropriate words of compassion and support to Amy and Ryan.
Elijah Daniel was delivered full term at eight pounds and eleven ounces. Amy’s prayer was answered in being able to hold, caress and love little Elijah, if only for fifty-four hours. Amy would remember the final moments with these words:
He passed away very quickly. We all started crying so hard at that moment. Even though we knew he was dying, that was the final moment he was with us, and it hit us all pretty hard. I just held my baby boy. I remember saying, “oh my sweet boy!” My heart wanted him back so badly….Many of our friends were in the hall and were able to see him. I was given hugs and felt so loved. There were so many tears in the hallway that day. Tears that said how much our baby boy was loved!
Pictures with family and friends, a birth certificate with precious tiny footprints, poems and the pathology report were gathered and treasured. Although the report confirmed the outcome of the three major defects, Amy and Ryan today rest in the assurance that the resurrected body of their precious Elijah Daniel is whole.
As feelings of anger, sadness and even denial emerged, Amy felt the freedom to express her grief, to process her pain in the safe company of understanding friends. Amy in the midst of her own emotionally painful weakness would later realize the strength she drew from her caring friends. Certainly no caregiver would assume to have all the answers, nor should she. The “why” will likely not be known in this life. Typically answers are not the greatest contribution to be made by a caregiver in the fog of an emotionally painful life event. Appropriate cognitive processing is important, but timing will determine maximum effectiveness.*
Caregivers who are able to integrate an understanding of a given emotionally painful issue with a loving presence will maximize their shepherding effectiveness. Amy and Ryan were blessed to have such support around them. Not everyone is.
How prepared are we to shepherd others amidst unforeseen emotionally painful experiences?
Increasing our shepherding effectiveness will be the focus of our next blog series.
*Taken from Shepherding Women in Pain, p. 11-14.