My husband’s father passed away from cancer in July 2018 and just one month later, we found out that we were expecting another little bundle. The joy was palpable – a life given in the rear view of a life taken. In the midst of our grief, God gave us hope. We have three kiddos, ages 7, 5 and 1 and I giggled to myself over how much busier life would soon become. The dreaming was immediate and I wasted no time making plans.
Within 24 hours of a positive pregnancy test, I had already calculated the due date, how many years apart the children would be in school (including college) and where the baby would sleep.
My mind jumped to the baby’s arrival amidst a busy schedule of baseball practices and summer vacation. I had my grip so tight on a wheel that ultimately wasn’t mine alone to steer. As it turned out, no amount of planning would prepare me for the news that followed 12 weeks later.
As we anxiously awaited a call from the doctor to share the gender of our baby, I made plans for a gender reveal cake to surprise our kids with that weekend. Blue or pink was top of mind.
The phone rang and I could almost hear the drumroll… “Unfortunately, the test results popped positive for Trisomy 13.
”My heart raced and I stared at my husband. I felt paralyzed. I didn’t know what to say, what to ask. What did that mean? Plans on hold. Preparations rerouted. And what of our many dreams for this child? What of those, Lord?
For weeks, I had a strong feeling this baby was a boy. At my organizational best, I had started making lists of names, but didn’t pay much attention to those for girls. Before the call ended, I asked to know the gender of the baby. Boy.
It was nearly 3pm. We prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and asked for peace and understanding. I asked for faith to trust. God works in mysterious ways, but He is always intentional.
The next day, we decided on a name: Beau Gabriel. Beau means “handsome” and encompassed everything we knew to be true about this little boy. Gabriel means “messenger of the Lord” and this little dude certainly had one to share.
On the morning of our appointment with genetic counselors, my anxiety took hold. Despite repeating, “Lord, have Mercy. Christ, have Mercy,” I became overwhelmed. I crawled inside the dark closet in our son’s room, held their teddy bears and curled up in a ball. The tears fell effortlessly. I felt so alone and scared. And then suddenly I felt the words, “Be at peace.” There was an immediate calm. I inhaled and exhaled with the deepest breaths I had taken in days. My fears subsided.
That afternoon, an ultrasound confirmed that the development of Beau’s arms, legs and brain were consistent with initial findings. We were devastated. We had watched him bounce around with such great hope! I kept searching for a way out, a different end to this story, but the Lord was asking me to trust Him. We sat in silence as the doctor explained that Trisomy 13 is a chromosomal defect that by medical standards deems these babies “incompatible with life.” Most do not make it to full term and those that do only live for hours, days or up to one year.
The doctor discussed our “options” with us, but there was no decision to be made. How could we say no to the Lord who has given us countless yeses? We simply answered with our Fiat.
What a beautiful gift to be a witness to life. Beau was a little missionary!
That night, we both collapsed on the bedroom floor and bawled. We ugly cried together. Though we chose life, knowing that we were embarking on one with a certain end brought on a very raw sorrow. It was a profoundly intimate moment in our marriage. We shared in an intense and total suffering because we so deeply loved this little boy that we may never get to hold.
The grief was overwhelming. Falling in love is a risk of heartbreak and as parents, we often take for granted that in being open to life, we become vulnerable to another kind of heartache and loss. As Catholics, being open to life also means being open to death. Though I accepted God’s will for our family and this child, I fiercely prayed for the chance to hold him. Even if only for a few hours, I wanted to hold my son.
Per my track record, I started making those plans. We decided to share the news with family and close friends in a letter. I then started to consider what life might look like if Beau had an extended stay in the hospital after delivery or even if we needed a nurse’s help with care once he came home.
Sitting in the parking lot of my son’s school one afternoon, I wrote Beau a letter:
“You are not an unfortunate event or random spasm of chromosomes. You were destined by God from the beginning of time for this life, just as you are.There were no mistakes or coincidences when God gently knit you in my womb. The perfect artist created you in His infinite wisdom and loving masterful hands. He gifted you to us, your mother and father, as a masterpiece of His love and perfect design. You are a beauty unto yourself and an awe-inspiring wonder of life. You are our source of love and we are humbled to be yours. You, my sweet son, are so loved. For everything you are and for every breath you ever take, you are our greatest privilege and most cherished joy.”
Two weeks after the confirmed diagnosis, I was rushed to the ER with severe bleeding and spent three hours in the waiting room, after being told we had to wait in line like everyone else. It hit home for the first time, just how little respect our culture places on life. My heart ached beyond words. I sat in a wheelchair bleeding and it didn’t matter.
Suddenly, the room started to spin. I lost my vision and my blood pressure plummeted. What followed were 12 hours of every kind of pain one could imagine: physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual. God called Beau to heaven that night.
In the certain loss of a son, I identified with Our Lady’s suffering more intimately than ever before and accompanied her at the foot of the Cross. There I found comfort and an opportunity to offer up my sadness. In Our Lady’s mantle, I found refuge and understanding.
But it wasn’t until the physical pain of the violent delivery that I identified most closely with Christ and His cross.As I lay in the hospital bed at 2am, writhing in pain from contractions that continued for hours, I united my suffering to Christ: His physical pain, vulnerability, the mockery and shame, and faith in God’s will. It was in my poverty that I understood sacrificial love.
Healing has been a long road, but the Lord never abandons us. My husband gave me a gold angel charm that I wear everyday alongside my medals of Our Lady. What a beautiful reminder of Beau’s presence in our lives! We hung a Christmas stocking for him and his brothers love that they have an intercessor in heaven, who they envision walking around in a diaper and a pair of shades.
The process of naming, celebrating and burying Beau has been instrumental in the healing of this tragic experience. If you or a loved one has gone through a similar loss, have comfort that the Lord is faithful in His love for you and that He is present in your suffering. It is only through accepting His will that you can find peace and hope.
Your loss is not a reflection of your motherhood or femininity. You have the capacity to carry beautiful life, freely given and worthy of dignity. Stay open to this gift in all of its uncertainties. Let’s strive to love our children courageously, fiercely and selflessly.Though I never got the chance to hold Beau this side of heaven, I have peace in knowing that he is fully alive in the arms of loved ones gone before us and that our first hugs will be the sweetest imaginable.
(handwritten note from the writer)