Every time I feel our baby kick inside me, I say a short “thank you” to God. I want to stroke my belly, smile and say to the baby, “Hi! You’re still there!” This attitude has a lot to do with Sarah.
As I approach the end of this pregnancy, little Sarah has been much on my mind. Sarah was our 7th daughter, born June 14, 2003. She would be turning 3 soon.
When I was 4 months pregnant with Sarah, we began preparations for an abrupt move from Ohio to Texas. This move was something we had longed for and when God finally brought it about it happened very quickly.
I hadn’t seen a midwife yet due to poor road conditions (standard for Ohio winters), and scurried to do so before leaving the area. I measured quite large and she suspected twins. She encouraged me to schedule a sonogram – my first ever!
At the sonogram, I saw a beautiful baby girl – just one. We decided to call her Sarah. For the first time ever, one of our children had a name and a face before birth.
We moved, and I found a new midwife here in Texas.
I had a rather difficult pregnancy: lots of morning sickness, severe hypoglycemia, and the stress of living with our 6 children in a small travel trailer in Mom and Dad’s driveway while we bought land nearby and started building our house. During much of the day, our household was integrated – not always smoothly – with Mom and Dad’s already crowded household of 13. It should have been 14, but Grandma was in the hospital and died less than 3 weeks after we arrived.
On Sunday, June 1 at 34 weeks gestation, I realized Sarah hadn’t moved in quite a while. At a prenatal checkup 3 days earlier, she was fine. I didn’t immediately panic: She had never been a highly active baby and I had a lot of amniotic fluid, so I generally didn’t notice movement unless I was really looking for it.
But I was concerned; I talked to my hubby. We talked to my mom. She had a stethoscope, and we tried to find a heartbeat. Finally, we thought we succeeded. It was slow for a baby but too fast to be mine – or was it? In retrospect, it must have been my own. But we were a little encouraged. I called my midwife who strongly suggested that we go to the emergency room, and we didn’t doubt her. It was late Sunday night, the kids were in bed, and Hubby and I were in the car in minutes.
That night I had my second sonogram, but this one was not like the first. There was our little girl, but no heartbeat. They called in a second doctor to confirm the news before spelling it out to us, but it wasn’t hard to read their sad and sober faces.
They suggested that in the absence of other known causes, gestational diabetes was a good guess. There did seem to be something wrong with one of her kidneys – no one was quite sure if that provided an explanation.
We were relieved to hear that there was no pressing reason to induce labor right away – labor should start naturally soon enough, and could still be done at home as all our other births had.
Half numb with the shock, we went home to share the sad news with our 6 daughters, my parents, and their 11 children who still lived there at the house, not to mention extended family and friends.
After a couple of days of bleary-eyed sobbing on my part, we settled down to wait. The midwife explained what to expect:
Labor would probably start naturally in 1-2 weeks, and would be very much like a normal labor and delivery.
The body would be very soft, her skin very delicate. She would not really deteriorate in the womb – we would have a funeral to plan and a child to bury.
I needed weekly blood tests which she would administer, to monitor the levels of certain toxins in my own blood.
In the end, it took nearly 2 weeks for labor to start. I’m guessing that she died 3 days before the hospital visit, so really it was even more than 2 weeks.
Those were long slow days, but not a nightmare. I found myself waiting on the Lord’s timing, resting heavily on Scripture. I actually looked forward to labor, finding great comfort in David’s actions first while he fasted and mourned and prayed for his son’s life, then rose and ate and dressed upon learning that the child had died. I was puzzled at my own feelings, but I was sure that the worst had already passed and the funeral would be a true relief for me.
God made our path straight throughout this trial: funeral planning was simple. Mom and Dad have a private cemetery on their land, and Grandma had just died a few months earlier so we knew just what needed to be done. A woodworking friend built a lovely little coffin for us, and Hubby chose a nice spot in a secluded corner of the cemetery. The men in the family helped him make a deep hole in the hard, rocky earth. It was hot, sweaty work. Mom and I padded the coffin and lined it with soft, pretty fabric. There is something very therapeutic about doing funeral preparations. I think we miss out on this aspect of “closure” when the funeral home does everything for us.
The county coroner was notified of the situation and would expect a call after the baby was delivered. He would do his duty at the house, and we could proceed with the funeral at our own convenience. No need to send the body away to strangers in strange places.
Labor started late Friday night. As with our other children, she born on a holiday: Flag Day, June 14. Labor was uneventful, and the birth was a quiet relief. Mom and I held her for a while. She looked like some of our other daughters: lots of dark hair, round pretty face. There was nothing hideous in the experience. She was beautiful and very still. I understand now why it is called a still birth.
The coroner came and went, and we called family and friends.
When the sun came up, the children wanted to see her. They said she looked like a doll – a little baby girl too still to be real.
The funeral was held the following morning, and it was indeed an event of quiet and solemn joy – for me, at least. There were a few tears, but smiles came quickly afterward. Our daughter wasn’t with us, but we knew where she was. How could we begrudge her the bliss in which she lived now? Why should we question our Father’s wisdom in taking her there so soon? She has beaten us to the end of the race – she won. We labor on for the time.
Farewel dear babe, my hearts too much content,
Farewel sweet babe, the pleasure of mine eye,
Farewel fair flower that for a space was lent,
Then ta’en away unto Eternity
Blest babe why should I once bewail thy fate,
Or sigh the dayes so soon were terminate;
Sith thou art settled in an Everlasting state.
By Nature Trees do rot when they are grown.
And Plumbs and Apples thoroughly ripe do fall,
And Corn and grass are in their season mown,
And time brings down what is both strong and tall.
But plants new set to be eradicate,
And buds new blown, to have so short a date,
Is by his hand alone that guides nature and fate.
By Anne Bradstreet, in memory of her grandchild who deceased August, 1665 being a year and half old.
Sarah’s short time with us has not left us fearful. Rather, it was encouraging. We have experienced what every parent fears, and found that God was in that dark valley with us. We were never alone. It was not an experience beyond what we could bear.
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
We always knew, but have been reminded of how precious life is, and will never take for granted that children seem to arrive on a regular schedule in our household. I have more aches in pregnancy now than I did earlier years, but I have learned to love being pregnant in ways that I never understood before. I look differently on the discomforts and inconveniences of pregnancy. Queasiness and creaking hips and aching feet are not a trial to be endured, but daily reminders of a blessing: these things remind me every moment to thank God for the child I hold in my belly, whom we will soon (Lord willing) hold in our arms.
I don’t believe that it couldn’t happen again, but I’m not fearful. This child – all of our children – belong to the Lord. He knows His plans for them and for us, and we trust Him.