Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I am your Strength and Shield. . .I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
I couldn't make sense of what the doctor was saying. We were just there for an ultrasound, and we were worried the tech would slip and tell us the baby's gender. Now, my doctor's partner, who was handling her patients while she was away from the office, was trying to explain the incomprehensible to me.
Just moments ago, when the tech said, "I have to be honest, there's a problem," I assauged myself with hopes like, "It's okay. It's just Down's Syndrome. We can handle Down's Syndrome. Please God, let it 'just' be Down's Syndrome." I wondered then if anyone had ever prayed for a Down's baby before, but now I know that all-too many have. But even that hope was fleeting, crushed when the doctor entered the room.
"We see this every five years or so. This condition is incompatible with life."
Still, her words were unbelievable. She explained that somewhere in my baby's development, something went "wrong." His spine developed, but his skull failed to develop completely. Without a complete skull, his brain would also fail to develop completely. He would be blind, deaf, mute, have no consciousness, and he would not be able to feel.
"But he's not DONE developing yet!" I wanted to scream. "He's only been in there 21 weeks, he's not finished growing. It will just grow in, his skull will just grow in, you stupid, stupid doctor. Why are you telling me something so stupid, and so wrong, and so evil? You're telling me my child is not going to live, and that's impossible! It's impossible, because we have been dreaming about this child, and longing for this child, and praying for this child. This child has a bedroom, with a crib, and clothes, and diapers, and blankets, and a puppy, and a mommy and a daddy! And now here you are, telling this mommy and daddy that this child is going to die and. . ."
I just wouldn't believe it was true. I was a person of new faith, confident in the power of God, and more importantly, certain that I didn't deserve to live out what this doctor was diagnosing. I would simply pray, and I would ask everyone I knew to pray also. Though Ben was in shock, and my mother was in tears, I was in what I know now to be a strange blend of trepid faith and utter denial.
If the doctor said "Anencephaly" that morning, I didn't hear it. In fact, I wouldn't have anything to do with learning more about this condition, this farse that the doctor was trying to convince me of. Doctors think they know everything, but they don't. That afternoon we scheduled ourselves for an advanced ultrasound in Fresno, to be performed in two weeks. The ultrasound would determine whether the first diagnosis was correct. I gave myself two weeks to hope. If, after two weeks, the diagnosis was confirmed, I would accept the cross that Ben and I were given with grace.
That afternoon, I packed myself into my favorite suit, and the only one that still fit over my 21 week baby bump, for an interview at the Public Defender's Office. "You don't have to go," Ben told me as I tugged my skirt on. "Yes, I do. I have no idea where our life is taking us right now. I have no idea what's going to happen to this baby. We need to keep all of our options open." I went to the interview, and to my closing shift at the bar that evening, with a phony smile plastered on my face. My world was crumbling around me but I wasn't going to fall with it.
Over the next two weeks, I organized a novena on Facebook to St. Rita, Patroness of Impossible Causes. Joining in the novena were both friends who I had told in confidence about my baby's diagnosis, and friends who had no idea something was potentially so wrong. I knew the likelihood that the first ultrasound and diagnosis were mistakes but I prayed anyway. And as I prayed, the impossible began to happen. I came to realize that, no matter what a doctor told me, I would love my child. No matter what adversity we were about to face, I could handle it. Even if I were being asked to carry my child only to have to say good-bye, I would do it.
It was in these two weeks, unbeknownst to Ben, that I made a commitment to find out this child's gender and if she were a she, to name her Margaret, in dedication to both St. Rita, and to my my maternal grandmother whose birthday was the same as Gabriel's due date. If the baby were a he, I would name him for St. Gerard, who I was looking to to bring my child through birth alive.
On February 15, 2011, a diagnosis of anencephaly was confirmed. On February 28, 2011, we learned that this special child we were carrying was a boy. Our son. Our baby boy.
The refrigerator had been housing pieces of paper with our chosen boy and girl names, and the middle names we had been toying with. One of the middle names was Gabriel. I looked up the name's meaning in our baby name book again. "A hero of God. God is my Strength."
Five pounds and nine ounces of heroic strength. A miracle. An activist. A bright light. A symbol of hope. Our precious baby boy.
If someone had told me one year ago what I read in my daily devotional book today, that God promised "I am your Strength and your Shield. I am with you and watch over you wherever you go," I suppose I would have believed it on some plain level. Now, one year after my world was shattered around me, I have built a new world, one built on a foundation of true hope and the deepest of human love, with walls held in place by a mighty God who turns even the darkest of moments into opportunities to draw closer to Him.
I am reminded of the closing sentences in my personal statement that I wrote for my Whittier Law application: "My life has not unfolded according to the plan I drafted when I was a young girl. Today I walk the path of a woman who knows life does not always turn out according to plan, but still, I keep walking."
I thank God for every step along the way.