It was a hot July day in 2017, and the thick summer air seemed filled with so much promise and hope. As we pulled into the doctor’s office parking lot, we happily bantered back and forth about boy or girl.
‘If the baby is a boy, how are we going to choose a name? We like so many!’
‘If it’s a girl, we have no idea what we’ll name her. We don’t have any picked out!’
Our giddy excitement built as the nurse escorted us to the ultrasound room. Soon enough, our little one was visible on the screen, doing flips and summersaults, seemingly agreeing today was an exciting milestone.
‘She’s a girl!’ the ultrasound technician said with a great big smile. The technician continued her study while she let the big news sink in. In awe and wonder, my husband and I counted ten fingers and ten toes on the screen, and small enough to fit on our palm, she looked beautiful. Fearfully and wonderfully made.
After what seemed like a very long time of measuring and making notes, the technician stood and said she’d soon return with the doctor.
Five minutes went by. Ten minutes went by. Twenty minutes.
Just as we began to worry something was wrong, the doctor came in. I sighed with relief and eagerly told her our baby was a girl and she had ten little fingers and toes. Agreeing with me, she put her arm around my shoulders and in the most gentle voice she could muster, informed my husband and I that while our baby had ten fingers and ten toes, she also had many malformations.
“Your baby’s brain is malformed, her heart is malformed, her kidneys are enlarged, she has a cyst that fills half of her abdomen and she has a clef lip,” she told us. “That’s just what we can tell from this ultrasound. Who knows what else is going on. She may live or she may not, and what life looks like if she lives is very unknown.”
There are no words to describe what it’s like receiving that kind of news about your child.
The next day, we saw a maternal fetal medicine doctor who focuses on babies with development issues in utero. After reviewing his own ultrasound test, he sat us down to answer our questions and help us digest this new reality.
“You brought a list of questions, I see,” he said, cutting through the heartbreaking silence. “Pass them over and I’ll answer them as best I can.” I slid my scribbled-on and tear-soaked notebook paper across the cold hospital table. He leaned back to review each question, one by one.
When do you think she will die? Will it be in a week? In a month?
When she dies, will we get her body?
If we get her body, do we bury her?
Do we have a funeral for a baby who dies before term?
Should we name her, even if she is going to die?
Patiently he answered each question with sincerity. Once finished, he slid the paper back to me, leaned forward and clasped his hands on the table. He glanced away as if to gather his thoughts, before looking back at us and saying, ‘now, I’ve answered all your questions and we’ve talked about your daughter’s death. But, from what I see on the ultrasound, she’s very much alive right now. I can’t tell you what the future holds, but I know she’s alive now, so let’s focus on her life and what we can do to help her.’
I’ve never heard more hope-filled words in such a dark, hopeless place. ‘Let’s focus on her life,’ he said. ‘She’s very much alive right now.’
The grief didn’t go away. The tears didn’t stop. But my eyes opened to the gift of today. What would tomorrow hold? I had no idea. Would I lose my beautiful baby? Maybe. Would I one day attend her funeral, looking at the tiniest burial box on the market? Possibly. But on this day, she’s alive. I had the joy of carrying her and loving her, today.
After those two nightmarish days, I feared the loss of my baby less than I did before we found out about her development challenges. You see, before that awful gender-revealing ultrasound, I was so worried about losing this child to miscarriage. I woke every morning fearing what the day might hold. Clinging to the life inside me and begging God to let me keep it.
But once my fears were legitimized with the news of her malformations, I instead found myself letting go. I found my death grip on this gift God gave us, this precious child, begin to loosen and open to the beauty His gift truly is. Not because I loved the child any less (if anything, I loved her all the more), but because I learned to love the child today, rather than worrying about tomorrow. She’s very much alive right now.
I realized I could not enjoy the fullness of God’s gifts when I’m too busy fearing their potential loss. I realized God gives us gifts, such as children, to love and care for. But He doesn’t give us them to own. They are not our own, but His. He entrusts us with these beautiful gifts and He may entrust us for a long time or a short while. Either way, holding tight to the gift only squeezes the joy right out of it. Squeezes out the life He intended to give us through that gift.
I have this image in my head of my two hands, held together, open to receiving whatever He gives. Open to gifts coming and going as He wills. Open to new things. Open to the life of the gift I hold today, not clinging to the worry of tomorrow. This, in contrast to the image of my two hands clasped in tight fists, squeezing and clinging to what He’s given. Straining the life right out of the gift. Closed to more He’s trying to pour in. Closed to His will.
I am still learning how to receive God’s gifts with open hands, allowing Him to give and take away. There are days my grip becomes so tight my hands ache. My knuckles are white and my palms are sweaty. And there are days when I master keeping my hands open to the will of God. Open to His gifts. Open to receiving and to losing. Calm, relaxed and trusting.
If He takes away our daughter, will it hurt? Hell yes. ‘Hurt’ doesn’t even begin to describe how it would feel. But, I will cross that bridge if or when it comes. In the meantime, my baby is very much alive, and I intend to love her and live fully with her in this moment, today.
What gift has God given you, that is tempting to squeeze out of fear of losing it? Financial stability? Health? A home? A significant other? A promotion? A job? A dream? A child? Maybe even something intangible like happiness, peace, comfort.
I invite you today to open your hands, release your fears so you can fully enjoy the gifts God’s given you today. What will tomorrow bring? I don’t know. But for today, His gifts are very much alive.