I went home from work one day to find Nicole with a smile on her face and a gift bag in her hand. I opened my present to find a baby outfit that said, “I love daddy” on it. At that point, I had a smile on my face as well. Just like that, I was a dad. We were so happy. We wanted to tell everyone, but we decided to wait until Nicole was 12 weeks pregnant to make any announcements. We knew why we were waiting, but we didn’t really think through the implications of why we were waiting. In our minds, our baby would arrive on schedule. We had no real concerns about the pregnancy. Looking back, the 12 weeks thing could have almost been called a formality as far as I was concerned.
I remember going to Nicole’s first prenatal checkup. Sure enough, she really was pregnant. They estimated that she was about 9 weeks at that point. Unfortunately, due to being in the sweet spot between insurance coverages, we had to wait for our first ultrasound.
We went back for our ultrasound two weeks later. The screen came on, the familiar sonogram image popped up, and there was our baby. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment. With tears welling up in our eyes, we looked at our child. I have always made fun of the way that parents get about their sonogram images. I mean, come on, they all look exactly the same. Except this one looked totally different. This one showed my baby. It was beautiful.
I noticed that the ultrasound technician was pretty silent during the whole thing. I assumed that was because she was focused on recording measurements and whatever else she had to do. She sent us to the waiting room where we sat until Nicole’s doctor was ready for us. We were so excited to discuss everything with her. But as we sat in the waiting room watching some version of “House Hunters”, I had a thought: Weren’t we supposed to hear the heartbeat today? I dismissed it. I must have been mistaken. Maybe that was later.
Our excitement crumbled just as fast as it had arisen. Nicole’s doctor broke the news to us that they had attempted to find the baby’s heartbeat, but were unsuccessful. She wanted us to go to another office and have a second ultrasound done to be sure. After the longest afternoon of our lives, we received the terrible confirmation that our baby had probably passed away a week or so prior. What we thought would be a wonderful day ended up being one of the worst days of our lives. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the awfulness of that day decided to linger for a while. It was during that difficult season of grief that we received great support and love. Those with whom we shared the news of the miscarriage were often very encouraging. However, not everything that we were told was very helpful. Indeed, not everything that we were told was even right.
One well-intentioned person attempted to make me feel better by assuring me that we would have another child. I get what they were trying to say, and I don’t hold it against them at all. However, in my mind, they were treating my baby as a very replaceable commodity. Another person asked, “Don’t you know that it happens to a lot of couples?” That one seemed pretty calloused. It was as if we needed to just get over it and things would be better. The problem is that the “it” we needed to get over was a baby.
In both cases, the people meant well. In both cases, the people were trying to be helpful. I believe that life begins at conception, so I approach this subject with that bias. However, if those on the other side of the aisle are correct, that what exists in the womb is simply a potential human, then I think that these people were technically right (albeit unhelpful) to say what they did . After all, maybe we would get another shot at having a kid (we did, by the way), so maybe we could get over the one that we lost (we haven’t, by the way). However, if my belief (which was shared by those who made these statements) about the nature of the unborn is correct, then my baby’s death was just as much of a loss as the death of any child.
That is not to say that I have experienced the same level of grief as a parent who loses a child who has been born. I would have to be very thoughtless to believe that. Those who have lost children after they were born have experienced grief that I dare not claim to have felt. I only mean that in both cases, a child was lost. In both cases, a child should be mourned. In both cases, it is neither helpful nor right to suggest that a new baby will replace the one that was lost and that the parents should just get over it.
A few weeks after the miscarriage, we got a puppy. I remember visiting with a friend who didn’t know what had happened and telling him that we got a dog. He laughed and said something about how that is the normal order: Get married, get a dog, then have kids. I smiled and changed the subject. He had no idea that we had gotten the dog on a whim in an attempt to fill a hole.
Of course no dog could fill the hole left by the loss of our baby. Because nothing could fill that hole. Nothing replaces a person. Not even another person can do that. When we found out that Nicole was pregnant with Jude, I thought back to the person who said we would have another child. For a moment, I entertained the idea that Jude was the replacement for our first baby. But Jude is not a replacement for the baby we lost. Jude is a unique gift just like our first baby was a unique gift.
As I write this, I am watching my soon to be 6 month old son enjoy some time in his swing, looking around the room with fascinated wide eyes. I am thankful to God for him. Right now he is smirking at something that I am unable to identify. It may have been the ceiling fan. It might have been the dog walking by (I’m glad we got him, even if my reason for doing so was misguided). Whatever it is that has him entertained, I am glad that it exists. That smile is, if I may be sappy, heart-melting. Nicole and I are still new to parenting, but even now we cannot imagine our lives without Jude.
People experience the grace of God in common ways all of the time: The sun rising each day; the rain that falls when we need it. Parenthood is another example of God’s common grace. An example of His love for people manifested in a gift that we do not deserve. I always knew that I wanted to be a dad, but I never really knew what a gift it would be until I saw my son for the first time. Of course, a lot of painful things occurred before that could happen.
But even though so much pain surrounds the memory of our first baby, I know that we had a special gift in the brief life of that child as well. The joy that came with knowing that God had placed our baby on this earth. The excitement that came with wondering if we would have a boy or a girl. The way that expecting a baby brought Nicole and I closer together. The brief life was certainly a meaningful one. And I know that God loves our first kid just as much as He loves anyone else, and we look forward to the day when we will meet that child, learn their gender and name, and join with them in worshipping our Lord in a place where death and pain are no more. Until then, we will miss that baby, hold on tight to Jude and each other, and thank God for the gracious gifts that our children are.