Nancy and Benji were married for 3 years when they started trying to conceive. The first 3 attempts ended in miscarriages because the egg never developed into an embryo, a condition called a blighted ovum. By the fourth attempt in 2014 Nancy was feeling like Sarah in the Bible when God promised her a son at 90 years old-like her desire to have a child would never come true. So when she went to the doctor’s office the fourth time around and saw a heartbeat, she was ecstatic; she would be getting her promised child after all.
Then at 18 weeks the unthinkable happened: her water broke. After checking her fluids over several days and seeing no change in the levels, her doctors advised her to end the pregnancy. They explained all the risks and possible disabilities that her child would experience even if she were able to carry the child to term. Nancy and Benji refused to give up on their child. They refused to make the decision to end the life of their child, preferring instead to leave it up to God to decide if she lived or died. Against all medical advice Nancy went home and continued her pregnancy with the help of an out-of-state midwife who would call her and give her advice over the phone.
On bed rest and with 22 weeks to go, Nancy was determined not to give up on her baby. She wanted to do everything she could to make sure that Brielle would survive. She wouldn’t even allow herself to contemplate the possibility of losing Brielle. Her maternal instincts had kicked in and she wasn’t backing down. Benji would leave work on his lunch break to check on her and make jokes to keep her cheered up, and family and friends would call and spend time with her. Her faith in the impossible was being affirmed as the weeks went on and Brielle’s heartbeat remained intact despite low amniotic fluid levels.
It was week 29, the day she had scheduled for maternity photos, when she woke up in pain. It couldn’t be labor pains, she thought. It was too early for that. The only other logical explanation was Braxton-Hicks contractions, those annoying “practice contractions” that women tend to experience in the third trimester. The hours went on and still she was in pain. They called an ambulance for help, but by the time they arrived with the medical equipment, Brielle had come. Her eyes opened for a brief moment, then slid closed as her body went still. The umbilical cord was still attached and blood was still pulsing through it, transferring oxygen and gases, so Nancy and Benji had hope that she could be revived. The paramedics’ equipment didn’t fit little Brielle, but they did everything they could. Brielle was eventually pronounced dead at the hospital a while later.
I’m a mother of 2 and my son spent 10 days in the NICU when he was born. That in itself was nerve-wracking and had my emotions on a roller coaster. I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating it must have been for Nancy and Benji to lose the child they had waited and prayed for-especially since it seemed like their situation would defy all medical odds. But losing Brielle was only the beginning.
Nancy and Benji held a burial service for little Brielle so that family and friends could say goodbye to the one they all had prayed for. Benji did his best to stay strong and put their situation in perspective. As he walked among the graves in the cemetery, wondering where he had failed as the head of his family for this to happen, he noticed that the inscriptions told stories like his: families that had lost a son, a father-unexpected tragedies like the one he was now facing. He wasn’t the first person to be going through this and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. All he could do was keep going and be there to comfort his wife.
For six months after they buried Brielle, Nancy walked around in a daze. She went back to her daily routine but inside she was numb. Angry. Shocked. Why would God take away her promised child? Was it something she had done? Her baby was supposed to be there with her but she wasn’t. Night after night she would leave her bedroom and cry in the living room. She didn’t want Benji to hear her cry, because he would try to comfort her, and she didn’t want to be comforted. I deserve this pain, she thought to herself. So she let the pain come.
Then there were the voices in her head. They were so loud. She could hear Satan mocking her, “This is the God you believed in? Didn’t he tell you she was going to be okay? You see what he did to you? And you're still serving him?” It would get so intense that she would pull on her hair and ask God to make the voices stop. But they only continued. “It’s all your fault. You should’ve just let the doctors take her from the beginning. Why don’t you just end it right now? You could jump off your balcony. Maybe the tree branches will catch you, maybe they won’t.” Nancy went on, "If I didn't have Christ, I probably would've killed myself. Or been locked up in an institution for trying to kill myself."
Then one night as she was crying, she saw Jesus’ face in her mind. And he was weeping with her. She could hear his voice clearly speaking with her. “I know you’re hurting baby. I know it hurts, and I’m hurting with you. But you’re going to be okay. Your child did live. She will live. You had her for a short time here on earth. But she’ll be there for eternity. You’re going to see her again. And I’m with you.”
Tears flooded my eyes as Nancy told me her story. I could hear the pain in her voice as she was going back over the memory. And I know that it’s something that she still carries with her. It’s gotten easier to live with over time. Some days are harder than others. But Brielle is still her promised child, and always will be.
Talking to Nancy and Benji about their experience made me examine my own faith. Specifically the way I relate to tragedies. Should I expect God to spare me from them if I pray a lot and have the confidence that He can make miracles happen? Is that faith or just fear? And when bad things do happen, does it mean that God ordained it to happen or did He just allow it? I guess it depends on the situation, but talking to Nancy and Benji made me confident that He will be beside me, comforting me and giving me the strength to go on no matter what happens. Maybe that’s the only guarantee we can have in this life. And maybe that’s the only one we truly need.