When I picked up the phone on that hazy June morning, I answered expecting to hear my wife tell me she was on her way home from a routine ultrasound. I expected to hear about little arms and legs, waving hands and kicking feet. I expected to hear Lynne’s voice full of nervous anticipation, telling me of what 13 weeks had brought to this life growing inside of her. Instead, a shaky voice responded: “Baby, I’m OK, but something’s wrong. Something’s wrong with the baby.”
I quickly found friends to watch our 2-year-old, Sara, while I rushed to meet Lynne. Her obstetrician immediately sent us to a high-risk prenatal specialist where a second ultrasound confirmed what I prayed we would not hear: “Your baby will not live.”
The diagnosis was certain—Anencephaly—and the prognosis was medically definite. Anencephaly is a condition in which the neural tube, which normally closes around the fourth week of pregnancy, does not close. The result is an absence of the top portion of the skull and a large portion of the brain. Fifty percent of babies diagnosed pass away in utero. The others pass away shortly after birth. Our obstetrician had never seen survival past an hour. We were presented with the options to terminate the pregnancy or “let nature take its course.”
“Mighty God,” I silently and repeatedly prayed, “we need You.”
For many weeks, Lynne and I had ended each day putting Sara to bed and spending time together talking about what another baby would bring. Each night was a sweet culmination of our thoughts: What is a good name for a boy? Will another girl be as independent and commanding as our Sara, or will she take on the quiet, tender nature of her mother? How will we manage the time demands while I go to seminary full-time? Certainly, thoughts of complications were there (especially haunting is what Lynne said the night before the appointment: “I think something might be wrong.”), but any such thoughts faded into the horizon of this vision we had for a family of four.
The night after the diagnosis, our conversation was heart-wrenching. Few words could speak what our tears did in those hours before nightfall. We prayed for healing, but we both felt the same thing—God was calling us to carry this through, to speak His name with boldness even in the depths of our sorrow. We would need to place our trust fully into the goodness of our Savior.
A few weeks later, we went back to the doctor to find out our baby’s gender. When the technician paused the grainy black-and-white screen to reveal the gender, we saw a beautiful and heartbreaking image—our perfect little girl and the anomaly that told us she was ours only for a small time.
“Perhaps,” I thought, “she never was ours. Perhaps she has always been His.”
That night we had a small party, replete with a pink-iced cake and the smiles and laughter of our close friends. We wanted to celebrate the life of our little girl, giving her every experience we could, every experience we would want her to have outside of her mother’s safe womb.
Lynne gave me the honor of naming our little girl, which was no small act of trust, especially considering I had mentioned the names “Bubbles” and “McGhee.” (I imagined telling people in the midst of grief: “This is our little girl. Her name is Bubbles McGhee.”) I decided on a name Lynne and I thought would be a wonderful name for another little girl—Annie. Saying the name gave me this wonderful picture of a little girl twirling in her dress around my living room. Even though I would never get to experience that little girl in my home, I found comfort imagining her in the home Jesus has for her. I imagined His laughter as my own, marveling at her carefree spirit.
Now, only a month after the diagnosis, I feel as though we have been journeying for a lifetime. My prayers no longer focus on Annie’s healing. I still believe God can and He will heal, though perhaps not on this earth. More than healing, though, I pray for courage. I need courage to face the coming days, especially those that harbor the full reality of losing a child. I need courage to lead Lynne and Sara as a husband and father, continually pointing them to our only source of hope. I need courage because we are not journeying toward the day we lose our baby but from day to day, moment to moment. Each time I think of losing Annie, I need the courage to say the words, “I don’t understand, but my God is still good.”
I also pray our story would be one that encourages those journeying through their own valley of grief. It is one we must all make and one we must often make with others. I don’t know what tomorrow, next week or next year will bring. I don’t know when Annie will leave us or what that day will hold, but I am certain of this: God is enough. He is enough to take the ashes of my grief, anger, resentment and pain and turn them into a crown of beauty for His glory. He is enough to take our little baby, our little Annie, and make her whole.
And He is enough for you, too.
Lynne, Sara and I will see Annie before the year is over, and I know that when that happens it will be too soon. I will be writing and blogging along the way, praying the Spirit would take my words as His own. I hope you might decide to journey with us. I hope you find encouragement and comfort. I hope you will see a glimpse of the One who is holy over all. He is near. He is holding us all, proclaiming His peace over our lives and speaking comfort to our souls.
He is enough.
Gabe Holloway is a former youth pastor and a current student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is currently blogging through his experience of losing his second child at gabeholloway.tumblr.com.