On my phone there is a photograph that I catch a glimpse of every day – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Some days I linger a bit longer, but regardless, I see it every day.
It’s a very personal and protected photo to our family, one that we will forever cherish and hold dear. It’s the sweet and timeless image of our 18-week-old still-born son.
Seeing his beautifully formed, yet tiny face with its already perfectly poised lips, nose and cheeks never fails to snap me back to that unforgettable Wednesday morning, not too long ago, when our family’s giddy excitement was prematurely cut short by the words, “I’m so sorry, but your baby no longer has a heartbeat.”
Have you ever been so sleep-deprived that it felt as though you were standing still while the world moved in reverse at a rapid pace? That surreal, out-of-body experience, where voices and faces become a muffled blur? Well, that was what I experienced in that moment. Everything, especially the dream of having a future with our son, was vanishing, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
It was in that exact moment that I came face-to-face with the mortality and fragility of life. Suddenly the world felt a bit more finite than I was ready for.
The next 48 hours proved to be a whirlwind of decisions we never thought we’d be making. Medical terms were thrown about, and incredible – but conflicting – advice swirled around us in no short supply. Apparently, I was too far along for a D&C (dilation and curettage) so either a D&E (dilation and extraction) would have to be performed or I could go through a normal and painful labor process (which by the way was highly discouraged by my high-risk doctor.) We were swimming in information and emotions while doing our best to rely on God in order to process it all.
My husband Paul and I both have strong opinions about many things and don’t always initially see eye-to-eye in every situation, but God has blessed us with an uncanny ability to sense His guidance at the exact same moment in our most difficult circumstances. Perhaps it’s just a testament to the magnificent bond of a husband and wife when you’re both wholeheartedly seeking Christ together and at the same time.
So, after spending some time together in prayer and wading through our options, we looked at each other and just knew that, for us, the best way to preserve the dignity of our God-given unborn child was through labor and delivery.
Ultimately, having the opportunity to see, hold, love on and say goodbye to our boy gave us clarity that we had made the right decision. Our few hours with him will always be a special time in our lives that we won’t take for granted. It was a bittersweet moment in which we learned to celebrate the value of life in a very tangible way. (Side note: please know that this isn’t to say that anything is wrong with the other procedures since sometimes medical safety requires different methods; we felt that delivery was the best option for us.)
Part of preserving our son’s dignity came in the naming process. Years before as we had been preparing for marriage, we daydreamed about the children God may choose to bless us with. We had chosen a name for our daughter, Catherine, born 2009, and we had chosen a name for our son. On the day of his delivery, while holding his still and lifeless body, neither of us could bring ourselves to call him by his name. I think we just didn’t want it to be real, for our time with him on this earth to be over. However, after a few hours of countless tears, prayer and finally rest, we woke up, looked at each other and just knew: this was our Gabriel.
As we faced this hard, yet refining time in our life, most comments, calls and texts to us were uplifting and encouraging. But there also came others from those who just simply didn’t understand. “Why are y’all so upset? It wasn’t even a real baby yet.” Though God supernaturally shielded us from the sting of this remark and others like it, they did make me think deeply on how beautiful every single life is.
It would be very hard to convince us that our son wasn’t yet a baby. We were already able to count all 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes. Our son was every bit a life, every bit a baby, and every bit our child. While many in the world may not value our son’s 126 days of life, God’s Word promises us that HE does.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” the psalmist wrote (Psalm 139:16, NIV). Though our time with Gabriel was shorter than we ever dreamed, imagined or wanted it to be, we, too, will always value his brief but precious life.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sammi Carby is a homeschooling mother and member of Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)