Sarah C. Williams: Delivering a Stillborn Baby Taught Me the Transience of Death

Image: Jill Tindall / Getty

“How do you prepare for a birth and a death at once?” I asked a friend one morning in mid-July. “Can anything be more unnatural?”

Two months before, I had sat in a medical office listening to a doctor. His voice was unduly loud, as if he were speaking to a general audience. “Thanatophoric dysplasia is best described as a form of severe dwarfism,” he said. “This particular chromosomal abnormality will result in death either immediately or soon after birth.”

At the next appointment, I made my intentions clear. “I want to carry the baby to term,” I said simply. The consultant took his glasses off and swung them to and fro between his thumb and forefinger. He did a poor job of masking his surprise. “Well, of course, there is no pressure to make the decision quickly,” he said. “You may need more time to consider.”

I had made my decision, but it meant great pain in the days to come. I wanted my child for myself. I wanted a baby to hold, a toddler to laugh with, a daughter to teach. I did not want a deformed baby and I certainly did not want a dead one. But God began to challenge me: What if the days ordained for her do not include a birthday?

During those early months, I meditated on the verse in Isaiah that says, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot” (Isa. 53:2). The passage refers to the Messiah who would come as the suffering servant to carry the sins of the world. But the “him” in this verse was a parent—a parent watching a child grow knowing that child would ultimately die. God was not asking me to do anything he had not already done himself. I pictured, then, the circle of unbreakable love that exists within and between the persons of the Trinity, and as I saw myself being drawn into that circle, I became less worried about how to love a dying baby and more concerned with following God in his love.

This image had two profound implications for me. First, I saw how God loved with complete self-giving. And second, I saw how that selfless love took away the dislocation of death. Death would change the way I could share love with my child, but it would not take away the love itself. In sum, I was struck with a Christian truth so fundamental that I had almost forgotten it: Death is transient in light of God’s eternal love.

The night of my daughter’s delivery, this truth rang true.

By 11 p.m. the pain in my back was excruciating. The contractions were regular and intense and with each one, the agony in my spine reduced me to the edge of blackout. But after an epidural, the pain began to abate for a while. The nurse was making her way toward the door when suddenly I asked her to check Cerian’s heartbeat. “Please, may I listen to the baby’s heart?”

“Are you sure you want to?” she said. I nodded.

There was no gallop this time. The sound was slow and faint. Cerian was going, and I knew it. The nurse left me, then, and it was at that moment that the presence of God came powerfully into the room. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced, before or since. Weighty, intimate, holy, the room was full of God. Everything inside me stilled; I hardly dared breathe. His presence was urgent and immediate, and I knew with certainty that God had come in his love to take a tiny deformed baby home to be with him. There would be no painful bone crushing for Cerian, as I had imagined, only the peaceful wonder of God’s enfolding presence. It was later confirmed that she did indeed die at that particular moment. She died just before the final stage of labor from a placental abruption, a painless death caused by the cutting off of the blood supply to her body.

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Source: Christianity Today