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.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Giddy Says

"What does it mean when someone creates a Facebook profile for their dog, and uses it to say things she doesn't want to say herself?" Ben asked Amber.

"They are passive-aggressive."

"That's not entirely true," I corrected Ben. "I don't just use Gideon's profile to say things. I also use it to play Cafe World."

Fellow psychology students might agree with Amber. I've been known to log in as Gideon to back myself up in an argument about politics -- As if posting from a different profile somehow gives more weight to my argument. I do use Gideon's profile to play one of those Facebook games that never ends. And sometimes, I use Gideon's profile to say things that I can't say myself -- not because I don't want to, but because sometimes the feelings are so strong that I need to express them twice.

Today, if Gideon could write a blog, it would look something like this:

"I sure miss my baby brother Gabriel. I wish he were here to pull on my ears. I wish he were here to make my mom smile; I'm starting to think no one can ever make her smile again the way she used to smile.

I wish mom and dad would stop fighting. Don't they love each other anymore? Why can't we all just play? Are we still a family?

I wonder if I'll ever have a new brother or sister again. We have Noelle, but I wonder if dad knows she's just not enough. I wonder if dad knows how much mom cries."

I find I explain myself to Gideon often. "Mommy just misses Gabriel, Bubba. Mommy's sorry she's so sad, I know it upsets you. Mommy is sorry she just doesn't have the energy to play like she used to. Mommy hopes she gets better soon too. Mommy wishes the fighting would stop too."

The fighting seems to have stopped. It's been replaced by silence. And the silence is even more frightening.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Andrew

My heart is heavy today, after reading this morning that another anen mommy, Kelly, has had to let her baby go. Though I love all of my sister-mommies, I find myself connecting especially with certain mommies or sometimes certain babies.

Through the course of Baby Andrew's life, I couldn't help but relive my precious Gabriel's life too. Gabriel was born on June 10, Andrew born on January 10; they were their mothers' first born children; Gabriel was born at 3:19 PM, Andrew was born at 3:20; though anencephaly occurs more commonly in girls than in boys, both Gabriel and Andrew were struck by this defect; when Kelly brought Andrew home and was able to introduce him to his canine brother, I remembered the joy of introducing Gabriel to Gideon in a moment I thought would never come; like I did for Gabriel, Kelly prayed for Andrew's suffering to end though it would mean letting go.

Gabriel lived 10 days, passing on June 20 and Andrew lived 10 days too, passing on January 20. For those ten days, the world stopped its hustle and bustle to follow the progress of those little lives. Mommies who lost their babies much sooner lived vicariously through Kelly and me and I continue to be amazed by their genuine love and happiness for us even when their own time had been so short. Mommies and daddies of children of every kind -- healthy, disabled, living, deceased, boys, girls -- held their children a little closer in their arms or in their hearts, thanking God for their own blessings. That is part of the beauty of the life of the anencephalic baby: Their ability to bring glory to God, even amid sadness and despair.

I am ashamed to admit to my envy over the past ten days. I am but a human being, with a selfish heart at times. I thought so often in the last ten days about how much I wish I could live the ten days with my precious Gabriel, over again. Though I celebrated Kelly's joy and today mourn her loss with her, I am still consumed with longing for my son. How is it I have been given so very much to be grateful for, yet I still want more?

But even as I witness Kelly's love and strength on this day, I know that her pain is tremendous. And I know that many other mommies are celebrating the life of Baby Andrew, but also remembering their own babies' lives, all much too short. For it is never easy to let go of one's child. Whether we are 30 or 80, or our baby is born still, lives for minutes, hours, days or years, to watch them leave this earth before we do is unfair. And I think it must be the deepest hurt there is in this world.

Kelly, I thank you for your selfless example of love. Thank you for sharing your precious boy with us. Thank you for allowing me and so many others into your world, into your heart. Thank you for bringing back so many memories for me, though the scars from losing my own sweet boy are still raw and tender. Thank you Kelly, and all sister-mommies, for opening your hearts to God's will, and by your example, changing this world and making it a little bit better. That's what we are doing - Making this world better, one precious life at a time.

*The picture of Gabriel's hands was chosen for this entry after reading the following from Andrew's mommy: " I fell asleep and so did you holding my finger tightly." Sweet dreams, sweet Andrew.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Little Crusader

This year marks the 39th anniversary of the landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade, the court case that ruled that the right to privacy under the 14th amendment extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion (with some limitations, still), and states may not keep a woman from exercising that right. Though abortions occurred legally before this decision, and will occur legally even if the decision is reversed, the case and the date of its ruling, January 22, are memorialized by pro-choice supporters as a day of victory, and mourned by pro-life supporters for the part Roe v. Wade has played in the destruction of so many innocent lives, as well as the devastation abortion has caused in the lives of so many women who were falsely led to believe that abortion was an answer they could live with.

There are a number of annual pro-life marches that take place on the weekend of January 22, including a very large march in San Francisco, which I had hoped to attend last year. Circumstances didn't allow me to participate last year or any previous year, but I couldn't have known on January 22, 2011, that I would be asked to be a walking, talking billboard for the pro-life movement just one week later.

After Gabriel's initial diagnosis, I gave myself two weeks to hope. For the two weeks leading up to the advanced ultrasound that would or would not confirm a diagnosis of anencephaly I allowed myself to believe that the initial diagnosis was wrong. I made a promise to God that if our worst fears were confirmed, I would accept Gabriel and his fate with grace.

I like to think I did a pretty good job of representing the decision to choose life. People who learned of Gabriel and his story before he was born, knew that Ben and I had chosen to carry him, though he might not even be born alive. I never dreamed that Gabriel would be so brave and bold and far-reaching in his earthly mission.

Gabriel's life is not somehow more meaningful or valuable because he lived significantly longer than many anencephalic babies. Ultimately, he would share their fate. Before Gabriel was born I was advised by others who had walked in my shoes to remember that anencephaly would claim Gabriel's life, not something that I did or didn't do. Now, I give others taking this journey the same advice.

But as Gabriel held on, day after day for ten days, he showed so many people that his life is worth fighting for. Yes, he was here in part because I believe with all my heart that abortion is a moral wrong, an irreversible and destructive choice, and a plague in this country. Gabriel taught the world so much more about life, though. He taught us that it is worth fighting for. Life is not ours to take. And living is worth doing.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Waiting to Change the World

Our second night in the hospital after Gabriel was born, a nurse came in and looked at him, and asked, "What is he hanging on for?" I didn't know either. I wondered how long he would hang on. I never expected us to be there, more than 24 hours after Gabriel's birth.

If I could go back I would tell her, "He's hanging on to change the world." Some people wait for the world to change; Gabriel waited to change the world.

This month marks the anniversary of Gabriel's initial diagnosis of anencephaly. I have not written much about D-Day -- Diagnosis Day -- but I plan to write our story and post if for the anniversary. It is a sad story, because the light was not yet shown to us.

But I know that things did get brighter. To help celebrate that, I invite followers of this blog to write to me here, at my gmail address (AndreaHernandezCude@gmail.com), or on Facebook, and tell me how you learned of Gabriel's story, and how he has changed your perspective. Please also let me know if I may share your story, even if anonymously, in a blog to be posted later.

I look forward to your responses.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another Tuesday Night

"The old man went to the doctor today. He's getting better," Shawn shared with me over a Heineken last night. Shawn is in town visiting his girlfriend Cynthia, who has recently moved to Bakersfield from Reno temporarily, to take care of her father who has pancreatic cancer. Shawn has been here about a week, but last night for the first time I asked him what was wrong with Cynthia's father, Paul.

"I really admire Cynthia. You know, a lot of people wouldn't go to the trouble of taking care of their sick family members."

"Well, he's her dad."

"A lot of people wouldn't care. They couldn't be troubled."


"Really. We live in a cold world." This led to a conversation about Gabriel, which led to a conversation about child-rearing, which led to a conversation about prison reform, which led to a conversation about being a lawyer, and so on. Shawn told me he was in the army for 15 years. He was in Iraq for both wars (or conflicts, if we must be precise) and in Bosnia. While he was in Iraq in 2004, a girl in Kentucky that he'd been dating told him that she was pregnant with his child. He managed to get a leave for the baby's birth, and he let the girl and his daughter move into his home. He gave the girl power of attorney over his personal matters. When he moved back, she had ruined his property and his credit, and taken all of his money.

"I was so angry. Excuse me for cussing, but these are the things I was saying to her. You have to understand, then they didn't do any decompressing, so 48 hours prior I had been in Iraq getting shot at, and this is what I came home to. That's when she told me the baby wasn't mine. The most humiliating thing I ever had to do in my life was take that baby to get a DNA test -- she wouldn't go with me -- and they like to string you along for a few days before they tell you the results. I thought about just taking that baby and starting a life with her somewhere else. I loved that kid."

Shawn told me that he was very despondent after the incident with the girl in Kentucky. "People warned me. Never date a girl from just outside of the base. I would tell anyone in the army that, now." Shawn grew so depressed that the Army told him they couldn't send him back to Iraq. "If I can't go back, please let me out." After 15 years of service Shawn was honorably discharged into civilian society.

In the roughly two hours that I conversed with Shawn, I grew to respect him greatly. His girlfriend Cynthia arrived later, and we all talked some more. They weren't a pair that I would look at and see a match, but from what little I had learned about them, they deserved each other. Two kind-hearted people who do right just because it's what they are supposed to do.

It's no secret that Ben and I have been struggling. I am dedicated to my marriage and want things to work out. An evening with Shawn and Cynthia reminded me of how hard it is to find just a good, respectable person. If Ben and I don't work out, how many girl-from-Kentucky incidents might we both wind up experiencing? Could we ever find what we have with each other, again?

Before Cynthia arrived, Shawn looked a little sad. Sharing his Kentucky girl story, and talking about Cynthia's father's illness had taken an emotional toll on him.

"Here," I grabbed the framed photo of Gabriel, his 'most famous' smiley guy photo, from one of the shelves of the bar. "If you need to smile, look at my son. Everyone that looks at this picture has to smile."

Shawn did smile, and I did too, knowing how Gabriel continued to change people's lives and hearts.

As I got into my car after what turned out to be a more eventful evening than I had anticipated, I turned the key and heard Gabriel talking to me from the car radio. "Danny's Song," which has come to be known as "Gabe's Song" to me, was playing when I started the car. The message soothes me every time, as I listen to the reminder: "Everything's gonna be alright."