My husband likes to walk through old cemeteries and read the gravestones. On our latest cemetery excursion in Cedar City, Utah, we came upon a tragic sight. A young woman was sitting in front of this tombstone for her baby girl who had died.
Flashback to 1972 when our family stood on the top of Missionary Ridge watching a terrible fire in the Chattanooga valley. I was nine months and three weeks pregnant. Something didn’t feel right. The baby inside me was very quiet. Was she mesmerized by the fire as I was. Were we both watching hell?
The next day I went into labor. The delivery was way overdue by anybody’s count. When we got to the hospital the nurse started listening for the baby’s heartbeat. Pretty soon she left the room and a doctor came in. He started listening for a heartbeat. Then I got the news from hell. We don’t hear any heartbeat, and we think this baby has died. I am sorry.
I froze in agony and blanked out the pain in shock. The first thing I said was, “I don’t want to be awake during the delivery. Is that okay?” Prior to this I had planned for natural childbirth, but now I just wanted to pretend none of this ever happened.
The doctor said, “Of course. We can start the anesthetic right away.” Everything was a blank after that until I woke up while being wheeled out of the delivery room. I have no idea how long I had been in there. I just knew that my belly was empty. The doctor stared me in the face and said, “I am sorry. Your baby was not alive.”
I slept all night and woke to a sunshiny morning feeling absolutely nothing, no pain, no grief. When the doctor stepped in my room I smiled and said, “Hello.”
He gave me a strange look and got very quiet like he was trying to figure out what to say. Finally, he opened his mouth and said, “Paula, you do know that your baby died?”
My reply was matter of fact, “Yes, I know that.” End of story.
But, of course, that was only the beginning of the story. I woke up the next morning, still in the hospital, and the reality hit me smack in the face. The sun was shining brightly outside the window, but everything inside of me was dark. I began sobbing wretchedly. My husband and I went home with empty arms to an empty nursery and broken hearts. I am crying as I write this decades later.
Oh, I told myself, “Our baby girl is in heaven. We will get to know her someday in our future.” But you can tell yourself what you want to believe, and you still go to bed every night imagining you are holding that baby. And then you cry because your arms are empty. Where is God when these things happen?
Over and over I repeated in my heart Psalm 91:4 “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” I began to sense that his arms were around me. Like his tiny baby he held me, carrying me through my grief.
I had never felt I would be a very good mother. In fact I disliked babies. But now I craved having a child. When I saw other new mothers carrying their infants in their arms I felt devastated and would hasten to leave the room, so I wouldn’t have to look at them.
Within a few months I was pregnant again. Even though the doctor had suggested I wait awhile, I could not stand to wait. Now I was terrified something would go wrong. This baby was born only two weeks overdue, but the heart rate slowed during delivery. They hurried up the delivery and there he was, a fine, healthy baby boy! His first several months I would hold him and pray, pray that he would be okay. Right now he is about to turn forty. Is that because God heard my prayers? Nineteen months later I had another baby boy. Yes, he is thirty-eight. Both our sons are amazing, wonderful men.
But how does God figure into all of this? Was the birth of these three babies just random bad luck/good luck? At some point in my life I began ruminating about this. Was life a result of blind chance, or did God have a hand in things? What if our first baby had lived? These two amazing sons would never have existed. Oh, we would have had more children, but not these same two sons. It came to me then, that these exact boys were meant to be – DNA, looks, brains, personalities. They were not random accidents of nature. Here is what King David wrote about God’s plan for us.
“For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are they works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” Psalm 139
Here is a song, “You Are Mine” which feels like God talking to his child.