This was supposed to be the greatest day. We’d finally surpassed the 20-week mark. The tiny child we had prayed for, the one who’d already captured our hearts, we’d finally see in all their little glory. The ultrasound was scheduled for later that afternoon, July 31, 2003.
Though from the moment I awoke that morning, I sensed something was wrong. I milled about the house, accomplishing essentially nothing all morning long; simply moving awkwardly, quietly, from one room to the next. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror at one point, lingering hardly at all before darting my eyes downward. What on earth was the matter with me? I searched the floor for answers, but knew only that I felt heavy, empty. And even more disconcerting? My will appeared to be resigned to it, as though I had no fight in me whatsoever. No fight to investigate it, to contemplate it, to worry about it–nothing. Just still.
Erik tried to hold my hand in the car, on our way to the appointment. I made no effort to hold it back. I looked blindly out the window. I could tell he was a little confused, but thankfully he asked nothing. Just settled for an un-reciprocated hand hold, and silence.
I felt the cold chill of the ultrasound gel, and heard the tunnel-like sound of the niceties Erik and the sonographer were exchanging. I reciprocated my husband’s hand hold now, as the gray-scale images filled the screen. Our sweet baby. The sonographer guided the wand along with one hand, pressing keyboard buttons wildly with the other. I felt myself breathe for maybe the first time all morning when I saw our baby move; just sort of squirming around like babies do, lifting their chin, kicking a tiny heel. She made several vocal observations, measurements and such, when her dialogue abruptly stopped.
“Um, well…we’ve got a problem here.” Erik and I sat silent. “Well, it’s looking like,” she paused. “Ok, so looks like we’ve got a cystic hygroma here at the neck.” She explains what this is, I try desperately to comprehend her words. “I’m also seeing a diaphragmatic hernia here. And, well? Ok. Looks like we’ve got some short lim–” Her voice trails off as she jumps to remove the probe from my belly, stands to her feet, and says, “you just stay right here. I’m going to get Dr. Williams.”
Erik drapes his arm around my head, burying his face in my neck. I begin to tremble, uncontrollably, to the point I fear my teeth will break. The sonographer returns with Dr. Williams, who proceeds to explain that our unborn child is gravely ill. They cover me with blanket upon blanket, while painting a picture that gives our baby a less than one percent chance of survival at birth.
Oh my God. I cannot believe this is happening to me. They appear to be discussing the maternal risks at this point, the possibility of delivering at Children’s in St. Louis. I hear portions of the conversation, though can only briefly focus. Fear and panic consume me, I just cannot believe what I am hearing. Then Erik says simply, distraught and through tears, his eyes on the still image of our child…“poor baby.” I see the absolute heartbreak fall across his face. Oh. Oh my goodness yes. The baby! I haven’t even thought of the baby. The baby’s the sick one! The baby’s the one who’s just been handed a death sentence. And here I am, selfish as always, worrying only about me. I feel paralyzed with guilt, and devastated beyond all measure.
At this point in my life, my relationship with God was one of, let’s say, admiration. I believed He made the moon and the stars. I believed Jesus Christ was His only son, and that He sent Him to die on the cross for our sins. I saw Him as an authority figure–one who was capable of giving, and of taking away. Above all, I really just hoped He liked me. I’d heard others say, when confronted with life’s trials–“just let go, and let God.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant.
Regardless, with even the little bit of faith I did have, and in my absolute desperation…I had to believe He would help me. That night, as our families and friends diverged on our home from all across the country, I retreated to our bedroom and cried to Him, out loud, “God. God please take this from me. I cannot take this. Its too much, and I am giving it all to you right now.” I waited…crying silently. I crossed my arms over my chest, and simply waited. I closed my eyes, and focused on something I could control…my own breathing. This was the first time. The first time I’d trusted in Him fully, and I had to believe He would come through. There just wasn’t another option.
As medical people (and specifically ER medical people), my husband and I are no strangers to witnessing lives turn on a dime. And as truly devastating as those moments often are–even in the midst of unthinkable tragedy–God is there. And I am here to tell you, in the hours and days that followed that fateful appointment–God showed up.
He was there as my body mercifully progressed into labor later that same evening. He was there in the eyes, voices, and actions of our family and friends. He was there in the way He prompted my father to handle all of the funeral paperwork, costs, and cremation details we could not possibly fathom considering. His hand was in choosing the nurse, Stephanie, who would care for me through the night–she herself having experienced a similar loss. She never left my side, and her kindness and empathy validated every bit of my grief as she answered all my questions and assured me of how life would, in fact, go on. He was there in the wonderful surprise, when little Caroline Elisabeth turned out to be a boy–providing a much-needed, lighthearted break of laughter and joy–as we wrapped our tiny boy in the pinkest of blankets (a gift from his daddy, no less). He was there in the opportunity, to name our son Ian William Edward Cochran, after my father and recently-deceased angel of a grandfather. He was there in the willow tree we’d planted when we found out we were expecting, that had grown exponentially in a matter of weeks, providing the perfect shade for our informal backyard funeral. He was there in my uncle Jim, who traveled back to California to find the perfect (and I do mean beyond the shadow of a doubt perfect) final resting place for our child’s ashes. It was exactly the place I imagined when I closed my eyes. He was in the words of the man who authored the novel I read when we came home, A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. The author had lost his entire family in a car accident. He described his desperate grief as though he were on a boat, setting out toward an infinite horizon of unknowable and unfamiliar. He desperately wished to turn back to shore, where life was familiar and included his loved ones. Though the boat just kept going–out into the great expanse of the ocean’s horizon, and regardless of his desperation to return to shore, he had no choice but to remain a passenger on the boat. The boat was not turning around. The night I read this, I sat straight up in bed…”YES!!! That is exactly it! I just want off this boat!” Just a couple of nights later, God did the most amazing thing. The thing that would convince me I needed to stay on the boat.
This particular night, I fell asleep tearful and just exceptionally empty. I saw Ian in my dream. He was beautiful. Bathed in glowing white, wearing a white garment. He looked to be about as old as he would’ve been, around eight weeks. He appeared healthy, plump, with locks of thick blonde hair. His smile and cheeks filled his whole face, and he was looking directly at me. Just as I awoke, he had reached out–so close to me now I could feel his breath–and placed each of his tiny hands on the sides of my face. As my eyes opened, I physically felt his hands slowly and gently leave my face. My heart soared, as I burst into tears, realizing God had just shown me precisely what my heart and mind needed to see. Our baby was healthy, happy, surrounded in the glory of Heaven. Most of all, he loved me. I could see it in his eyes. I realized that morning, not only does my son love me…God does. Because why else would He have presented Himself to me in all these ways? Why else would He have allowed me to have this moment with my son, when the last physical sense I had of him was the moment the funeral director lifted his tiny body from my fingertips? Why else?
Because He loves me.
Our God–He is gracious and merciful. He has crafted the horizon we cannot see; He has planned it all along. He already knew of the precious, kind, and beautiful face of this child, Cameron Quinn, whose life would be waiting for us on the horizon. His plan, His time, His promises, His love. They never fail.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.