Tate was our sixth child. He was born in 2001 and long-before we knew he had autism, we decided our family was complete. Shawn started his own business that same year and we felt like our plates were full. I was secretary, receptionist, and dispatcher, as well as wife and mother. Then, when Tate was two, I got a huge surprise. I found I was expecting a seventh child. Unplanned or not, we were THRILLED and I hoped and prayed that I was carrying a little girl.
I had the usual visits to my obstetrician. At the first visit the nurses teased me about my “surprise” and my age. I was forty. At my second or third doctor visit we heard a heartbeat and everything seemed fine. At sixteen weeks we did the normal blood work to rule out all the things doctors like to rule out. I’d done it all before and was not worried. However, this time the test results came back saying the baby had a one in ten chance of having Down’s syndrome.
My doctor was very concerned and urged me to get an amniocentesis. One in ten did not sound that alarming to me. And then I talked to an Obstetrician friend of mine and did some reading. The results normally come back as one in several thousands. My friend told me that test results like mine probably meant my baby had Down’s syndrome.
I prayed over and over that my baby would be born without a disability. I always added to the prayer that I would miscarry if my baby had a disability. I wanted God to have my baby in His care if she was to be born with a disability. I knew that Shawn and I would have no issues with loving a child with special needs. I was just terrified of all the unknowns and the things that would be required of me if I had a child with special needs. I was afraid of all the time and attention a special needs child would take from my other six children. I really did not think I had what it would take.
I refused the amniocentesis because of the risks involved. I was deeply in love with my baby and did not want the baby harmed. However, I did agree to a level two sonogram. The doctor said it would give us some detailed measurements and probably tell us almost for certain whether or not the baby had the measurements that came with having Down’s. The heart was to be examined closely as well as other things.
We left that appointment greatly relieved. The doctor was so encouraging. He believed the baby was developing as it should with no problems. The measurements looked completely fine, and the heart looked healthy. We also got to see that we were having a girl. She moved around and wiggled for us on the monitor and appeared very active and healthy. We had a name picked out and we began using it. Her name was Chaney Nicole. We had about two weeks of absolute joy. And then… I went in for a regular OB check-up. I was a little nervous when the doctor had difficulty finding a heartbeat. The longer he tried with no results, the more afraid I became. The doctor took me down the hall to get a sonogram, and our fears were confirmed. There was no heartbeat. My precious little girl was dead. Less than two weeks before, I had seen her heart beating, her little body moving and I had heard a doctor say she was healthy. I was in shock.
The next morning I had labor induced. One day, I was halfway through my pregnancy and very excited about our new daughter. The next day I was sobbing uncontrollably in a labor and delivery room, dreading the end of the day. All of the nurses were very patient and kind. Because I insisted, they brought in a monitor and we listened for a heartbeat one more time. In a few hours I delivered a tiny baby girl. Chaney was perfectly formed. Her tiny footprints were one inch long.
I could hold her in one hand. She was seven inches long and weighed less than four ounces, although she had weighed almost twice that when we saw her on the sonogram two weeks before. She had probably died shortly after that sonogram that gave us so much hope. Touching and holding Chaney helped me so much. I had been crying for hours before she was delivered, but holding her helped tremendously with the closure I needed. Shawn held things together for me throughout the labor and delivery and about the time my tears stopped, his began. That time we spent with Chaney's body in the hospital was so valuable to me.
It is so hard to know what to say to someone who loses a baby. There is no one-size-fits-all comment for sure. Many sympathetic people came to call after Chaney died. Some said hurtful things without ever knowing it. One Christian friend commented, “God must have thought you didn’t need any more.” This person did not mean to hurt me and probably believed the comment to be true.
Some people assumed that because I was the mother of six living children, losing Chaney would not hurt as badly. I could not understand that. Having the other children around me was comforting, but my loss was the same as any other mother’s loss. Did people think my grief was one- seventh of the intensity of a mother who loses an only child? Would that also mean because I am a mother of seven, I have seven times the amount of love as compared to the mother of an only child? I don't think so.
Two older women from the congregation where we worship had also lost baby girls in similar situations. They each told me their stories and that helped me so much. They let me know that I was not alone. Both of these women had boys when they lost their baby girls and never got the opportunity to raise a daughter. I realized how blessed I was in comparison to those women. I had two little girls at home, as well as boys, when Chaney died.
I was sad for a long time after Chaney died. I think about her often still. I know she is in a much better place than I could have provided, but my arms still long to hold her. Chaney was not my first miscarriage but the others I had were much earlier and did not cause me the amount of grief that losing Chaney did. Perhaps it was the bonding time I had with her. I have felt some guilt from time to time. Did I deserve to be Chaney’s mother? I had prayed that she would die if she were handicapped so I would not have to bear the burden of raising a special needs child. Did God answer my selfish prayer? For indeed it was a very selfish prayer and I had many lessons to learn.
Chaney’s short life did matter. Because she lived and died, we made a decision to “save” another little girl. Several times I had seen footage of international orphanages on news programs. I wanted to give one of those children a Christian home and a mother’s love. My husband had never shared my yearning to adopt a baby. Then, when Chaney died he felt we had already made room for one more in our hearts and our home, and that space needed to be filled. We knew we could not replace Chaney but Sydney has definitely helped to fill the hole that was left in our lives and in our hearts. Chaney was here for a short time and she “paved the way” for Sydney to join our lives. You see, while I was praying that God would not “burden” me with a special needs child, I already had one with autism who had not even been diagnosed yet and Sydney was lying in a crib across the ocean needing a mother to love her. God knew. He knew I could handle a child with special needs. He knew I could handle two. And I believe he knew that I had a whole lot of lessons to learn. I thank God that I now fully understand that children with disabilities are not a burden, but a blessing.
“…glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
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