Children With Special Needs Don’t Make Parents Special

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Although my wife is pretty special.

“God gives ‘special kids’ to special parents.” You’ve probably heard the statement. You may have even said it yourself. It’s one that is pretty common. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually verbalized it myself, but I did assume it was true once upon a time. However, I now see that it is simply not the case.

I understand that people mean well when they say it. I’ve done my best to be gracious and thankful to those who have said it to me since my son’s birth. I understand it is intended to be a compliment of sorts. People are just trying to be encouraging. But I don’t think that it’s particularly helpful for anyone.

My wife and I will be the first to admit that we are not part of some exceptional brand of humanity. We get stressed out about caring for our little guy sometimes. We get tired. We become impatient. I can assure you, we are just like any other parents.

Sure, they’re called “special needs” because they are not the same things that every child will face. Our son currently sees 4 different therapists each week. He is 16 months old and just last week sat up unassisted for the first time (and we celebrated that accomplishment big time). That milestone came after many months of working with a therapist. He is still learning to feed himself. He does not crawl quite yet. I would be lying if I said that all of this is not overwhelming at times.

And I suppose that some people watching us see how much we love our son, and how much we seek the best care for him. They may take notice of how much time and effort we invest into seeing him succeed. Their observations may lead them to view us as truly special indeed. The problem is that if you removed from the equation that our son has Down syndrome and were looking at the parents of a typical baby, you would absolutely expect to see people who love their child, seek that child’s best care, and who put time and effort into seeing that child succeed. And if parents of that typical child did not exhibit those characteristics, they would be viewed as bad, selfish parents.

So then, what makes us so special?

We’re just doing what all parents naturally do. When you meet your child, you fall in love. And it’s that unconditional kind of love. When you fall in love with your child, you do what you must to take care of them. Some things are easier than others, but you endure because of the one for whom you are doing those things. It doesn’t make you special. It makes you a parent. It’s a job that anyone can do regardless of what life with our little ones may look like. Kids with special needs are just like kids without them. Little humans who will be naturally loved by their parents. And when those parents fall in love, they step up to do the things that the little one will need for them to do.

Anyone can be a parent to a child with special needs. They only need to have love in their hearts.

This cliché is dangerous because it leads not so special people to think that they are inadequate to care for their “special” little ones. Believe me, you can do it.

If you just found out that your baby will have special needs, don’t assume you can’t take care of them. Don’t be scared. Don’t think for a minute that you won’t like being their parent. I can assure you that you will love that child more than you ever imagined possible. No one is better equipped to nurture that baby than you, because no one will love that baby as much as you will.*

God doesn’t give special children to special parents. He gives children (regardless of their needs) to imperfect, ill-equipped people who slowly learn how to apply their love to the raising of their children.

So please don’t call me special, because I don’t call you that either. Neither of us are.

We are parents. A special job, to be sure. But a job for ordinary people nonetheless.

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*Sometimes, that unconditional love that a parent has for their child may lead them to selflessly recognize that they are not the person who is able to care for him or her. In those cases, adoption is a wonderfully miraculous thing. There are also those tragic situations in which a biological parent fails to love their child selflessly and they are forced to give them away (or they abandon them altogether). In both cases, such children come into the care of other parents who unconditionally love them  as their own. Praise God for adoption. And praise God for those people who bring children into their families as their sons and daughters. Christians view it as a beautiful picture of what God has done for His children through Christ (Ephesians 1:3-6).

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A Future Without Down Syndrome – Good Idea or Bad Idea?

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Photo Credit: BW Photography

A few months ago, I corresponded with a man named John. He is the father of Grace, a young woman who has Down syndrome. Grace belongs to an ever-growing community of entrepreneurs with Down syndrome (Gracie’s Doggie Delights). In his message to me, he made the statement that the future is looking bright for his daughter, and that it will only be brighter for my son, Jude. Indeed, great strides have been made. I was very encouraged. But since then, I have begun to wonder if he was right.

Did you know that it is becoming easier for things like Down syndrome to be detected (with near certainty) through non-invasive prenatal testing? Did you know that the majority of children who are diagnosed with Down syndrome will be aborted (internationally speaking)? Did you know that this type of selective abortion has virtually eliminated babies born with Down syndrome in some countries?

Did you know that it may be possible to genetically edit babies who are diagnosed with Down syndrome in the future? That it may one day (soon) be possible to change a baby’s DNA so that they won’t actually be born with it? If it sounds like science fiction, that’s because it’s insane. Nonetheless, it may not be out of the realm of possibility.

One of the publications that I follow on Facebook recently shared an article about that very possibility and posed a question: “Suppose you are pregnant. A genetic test reveals your child has Down syndrome, and you are offered the option to undo the genetic mutation. Would you?”

What do you think? Would you edit your child? Regardless of how close science is to allowing us to alter DNA, do you think the world would be a better place if people with Down syndrome no longer existed?

I went to the comments section of that post hopeful. Surely, everyone knows how crazy that sounds. Indeed, how horrible the thought. But once again, hope in humanity was misplaced. The people spoke, and many of them responded with a resounding, “Yes, I would absolutely edit my child.”

But I wasn’t ready to give up on the people just yet. Perhaps they just hadn’t thought it all through. So I replied to some of them (perhaps a bit passionately). I explained that my beloved son has Down syndrome and that we happen to like it. I explained that one of them was wrong to compare Down syndrome to cancer. I tried sharing stats about the positive impact that people with Down syndrome tend to have on their families. Ultimately, it seems I got nowhere with the people who decided to respond to me. In fact, one guy told me that my son was a “genetic and familial dead end.” He also called him “defective”.

Obviously, I think that nice guy was wrong. But whether people were nice or mean about it, they came from a perspective that I fear far too many people share. It’s a perspective that I have even heard from people who share my Christian worldview. It goes something like this: Down syndrome is a flaw that would not exist in a perfect world.

If that’s true, then sure, edit that DNA.

But I think that perspective is mistaken. It assumes that Down syndrome is a problem to be solved. A defect to be fixed. I don’t believe that is true.

Now, genetically speaking, I see why people are tempted to call it a flaw. People don’t typically have 3 of the 21st chromosome. People with Down syndrome are truly unique. But the fact that it occurs because someone has that extra chromosome is an important thing to consider here. They have that chromosome from the very beginning of their development. It is literally always part of them. To remove it would be to destroy part of their body. A fundamental part of them would be lost.

We love our son. And it’s not as if we love him even though he has Down syndrome. No, we would miss that extra chromosome if he were to wake up tomorrow without it. It’s part of what makes him who he is. The idea that so many in our world seem to view people like him negatively saddens me. And as I think about the bright future that John told me about, I fear it may not come to pass. After all, it’s clear that a lot of people seem to think they are better off if their kids don’t have Down syndrome. It’s also clear that many well-intentioned people see those with Down syndrome as in need of fixing. Perhaps the great strides that we’ve made won’t last.

Something that I was told more than once as I interacted with commenters was that it would be best for the child to not be born with Down syndrome because it would mean a better “quality of life”. That assertion seems to have little basis, though. While people with Down syndrome often do require some extra assistance with things like learning and physical milestones, how does one presume to quantify the quality of someone else’s life? Especially considering that the people living those lives are pretty happy with how things are going.

Although there is an obnoxiously overstated stereotype that people with Down syndrome are always “so happy,” there is a very interesting statistic out there. It turns out that some 97% of the people living with Down syndrome are indeed happy with their lives. That’s higher than any other demographic. And, statistically speaking, the families of people with Down syndrome are usually pretty healthy as well.

By the numbers, life is perhaps arguably better when someone has Down syndrome. And that better life extends beyond the individual. Families are better off. Schools are better off. Communities are better off. The world is better off with people who have Down syndrome. To jettison that community from our world would not be progress. Trisomy 21 is not a disease to be eradicated. It’s a gift that, as of now, occurs in approximately 1 in every 700 births in America.

Please join me in advocating for a future where people with that gift continue to make our imperfect world a better place.

Just as God intended.

The Encouragement I Have Received from the People that Know Best

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He likes beignets

In my experience, when your child ends up having Down syndrome, people often have some thoughts to share with you. Some people say misguided things like, “I’m sorry.” Some well-intentioned people say interesting things like, “Your baby will be like the angels.” Some people say something that you might say falls between those two extremes. And then there are those who have no idea what to say at all.

We’ve heard a lot of different things from a lot of different people. While some of those things have been less than helpful, some of them have been very beneficial and encouraging. It’s not surprising that some of the most helpful comments I have heard came from the parents of children with Down syndrome. I’d like to share some of that wisdom with you.

While everyone’s experience is different, these statements have been so very uplifting to me. I hope that they encourage you as well.*

“Take the words ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of your vocabulary, and never set limitations on what your child will achieve no matter the age.” – April Naretto, William’s mom

“Life with Victoria has been an unexpected journey with unimaginable blessings!” – Heather Messick, Victoria’s mom

www.heathermessick.com

“Set your expectations high; you’ll be amazed at what your child is capable of doing.” – Hilary Case Bordelon, Morgan’s mom

“If you think you had a joyous life before this child, just wait. He will bring joy in your life on a whole new level that you never knew existed.” – Amanda, Eli’s mom

Follow  them over at Raising Eli

“You got the Rolls-Royce of children.”

“We always focus and choose to celebrate what our child CAN do because Stasyia CAN do so much!” – Cori-Anne Richardson, Stasyia’s mom

Follow them over at Stasyia’s Story

“He will be the heart of your family.” – Jim Robinson, Helen’s dad

When we found out about Jude having Down syndrome, we were asked if we wanted to continue with the pregnancy. Such a question would never have been asked if he were a typical baby. The fact that the question gets asked demonstrates that many people still negatively view having children with special needs. That makes me very sad.

If you just found out that your child has an extra chromosome or that he or she will have a life that is a little different from his or her peers, please be encouraged by the words of these parents. I will never forget the day I was told that Jude will be the heart of my family. I thank God for the dad who said that to me.

He made me excited for the journey of finding out exactly what he meant.

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*These statements came at various times, some of which where in person and some of which were through correspondence. I did not have a notebook on hand to write some of them down as soon as they were said, so they have been included here based upon my memory. Some of the statements came unsolicited, while others came at my request.

The Time When I Worried that My Son Might Not Have Down Syndrome

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Upon learning that my son probably had Down syndrome, I went through a brief period of denial. Soon after, that diagnosis actually ended up feeling like good news. We had already lost one baby to miscarriage, so knowing that the abnormalities shown on an ultrasound were most likely linked to Down syndrome gave us peace of mind. We would not lose another baby. He would be just fine.

The test that was done to determine his diagnosis did not actually carry a 100% guarantee, though. According to Nicole’s doctor, there was a 99% probability that he had Down syndrome, but to know with absolute certainly would require an amniocentesis. We decided to forgo that procedure after learning of the potential risks. And in the experience of these doctors, in some 1,000 instances the test we had already done had only been wrong 3 times. They seemed certain that it was the correct diagnosis, so we proceeded with the assumption that they were right.

Over the next couple of months, we learned more about Trisomy 21, met people with it, talked to their families, and embraced a better understanding of what life might look like for our family. It was an interesting time for me, personally. To think that I had at first seen the diagnosis as a negative thing, then came to accept it as good news, to finally find myself excited about it is quite something. If nothing else, I hope that my personal journey encourages people to be slow to make drastic decisions when it comes to prenatal diagnoses. You may be surprised by how much your heart can change.

I didn’t realize how much mine had changed until Jude was born.

Nicole and I were looking through Jude’s discharge papers from the hospital the other day. He was born 10 weeks early and spent the first 44 days of his life in the NICU. As you can imagine, there were quite a few pages to look through. One of them reminded me of something. His karyotype (which showed his extra copy of chromosome 21) took me back to the Wednesday afternoon (on the 4th day of his life) when we were given the confirmation that he does have Down syndrome. As I thought about that day, I was reminded of the days leading up to it.

Following his delivery, Jude had an echocardiogram to make sure that his heart did not have any defects (a common issue for babies with Down syndrome). When it revealed a healthy heart, one of the members of the NICU team came to give us the good news. While he was there, I must have said something that tipped him off to the fact that we had not actually confirmed the diagnosis yet. Clearly, it was news to him. I remember seeing a look on his face that seemed to indicate that he was not sure if Jude actually had Down syndrome. That, perhaps, his heart looked fine because he didn’t have a syndrome which often affects the heart in a negative way.

I don’t know whether or not he was actually thinking that. What I know is that, for a few days, I worried that Jude didn’t have Down syndrome after all. It’s hard to explain how I felt. I can only describe the feeling as disappointment.

But why would that disappoint me? Considering my initial feelings about the diagnosis, you’d think I would have felt something closer to hope. That’s not how I felt, though. While thinking about that afternoon, I have wondered why.

I recently read a blog by the mother of a woman with Down syndrome. In it, she challenges the use of “people-first language” when it comes to Down syndrome because, like the color of her daughter’s hair or eyes, her extra chromosome is a beautiful part of who she is. Rather than some negative thing, it is something to celebrate and cherish. It is part of what makes her who she is. I found the blog helpful (ironically, I am about 100% sure it was written in response to one of my own posts) in thinking through my feelings on the days following Jude’s birth. Why would I have been disappointed if he had been a typical baby? Because I had come to love him for who he is.

Does that mean he would have been loved less if he ended up not having Down syndrome? Of course not. But it’s really an irrelevant question in my mind for an important reason: I believe that God had guided our hearts toward loving the baby that He did indeed create to be our son. Jude was planned and carefully created with an extra copy of chromosome 21, and that is part of what makes him who he is.

Full discloser, I still advocate for people-first language. Jude is the same kind of human as any other child, and I think that is worth intentionally pointing out. But please understand that his extra 21 chromosome is an important part of his humanity, not an unfortunate addition to it. It’s something that makes him the beautifully unique individual that we are so blessed to call our son. It’s something that we love about him. It’s something that we would miss if it somehow went away. Without it, our son would not be the same person.

Here’s what I believe: People, with or without special needs, are special. Every individual is made the way that God planned. That means the design of God should be embraced and celebrated. Because I had grown to love that aspect of Jude’s design that we call “Down syndrome”, I was sad at the thought of losing it.

When Jude’s doctor came to tell us the results of his genetic testing on that Wednesday afternoon, the confirmation of his Down syndrome was anything but the bad news that many people would think it should have been. I’m not sure if his doctor understood how good her news actually was. Truth be told, even in my relief on that day, I had no idea just how good her news was, either. Down syndrome had first felt like good news to us when we thought it simply meant that Jude would live. We didn’t consider at the time that it was good news for another reason. Down syndrome itself was good news for us because it meant getting the son that we love and cherish.

That he would live was certainly good news, but that he would live with Down syndrome was good news as well. I get that now, and I am understanding it better with each passing day.

The Danger of Assumptions and the Importance of Awareness

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Photo credit goes to AK Photography

When Jude was given a probable diagnosis of Down syndrome about half-way through Nicole’s pregnancy (we didn’t confirm it until he was born), she and I began doing research. We didn’t know much about it, so learning quickly became a top priority for us. Much to our relief, there is no shortage of educational information when it comes to Down syndrome. What surprised me was the number of websites dedicated to not only educating people on what it is, but also on raising awareness of it. As one who was mostly uneducated and unaware, I (rather ironically) wondered why there was such a concern for “raising awareness”. Aren’t people already aware that Down syndrome is a thing?

What I did not realize is that being aware that Down syndrome is a thing is quite different from understanding it. And even if someone understands the genetic ins and outs of Trisomy 21, they may not understand what it means to have Down syndrome, or how important individuals with it are to the world. I realized the difference following a conversation several months later.

After Jude’s birth, I was walking my dog when I ran into some neighbors. I shared with them that he had arrived and they expressed their excitement for us. As we talked, I revealed that he has Down syndrome. I was surprised by what was expressed next.

“Oh no. He’s Down’s? I’m sorry.”

The statement came with a tone of sincere sympathy. He was truly sorry.

But sorry for what? At the time, I took it to mean that he was sorry we had this kind of baby. He was sorry that we didn’t get a better one. He had just congratulated me, but now it was as if congratulations were no longer in order. We were pitied.

It was one of those moments that I feel like I’ve seen on TV shows. You know, when a character says or does something out of line and is about to learn a valuable lesson? You know the moments I mean. The moments that you kind of roll your eyes at because they never happen in real life.

But it turns out that people really do say such things on occasion. And because it wasn’t what I expected to hear, I was totally unprepared to respond.

I don’t really remember exactly what I said in response. I think it was something like, “Oh, no, we are thankful for him.” And we were. And we certainly still are. And in fairness to my neighbor, I don’t think he had any hurtful intent. I certainly don’t think he intended for me to take it the way that I did. But as I have thought over that conversation since that day, I have had several different feelings. At first, I felt shocked. Then I was angry. More recently, the anger has disappeared and been replaced with empathy. I have come to see that for the better part of my life, I might have felt a little of what my neighbor seemed to express that day.

When the possibility of a Down syndrome diagnosis first came up, I had a brief period of denial. Why? Because I apparently assumed it was something that is undesirable. It was the same assumption that my neighbor apparently had. And whether or not I would have actually said something like that to a new parent, I now realize how ignorance about Down syndrome can lead people to think all kinds of unfortunate things. And I was certainly not immune.

That is why I think it is so important that we raise awareness.

Awareness that people are not “Down’s people”, but first and foremost people who happen to have Down syndrome.

Awareness that the unique challenges that Down syndrome may present are not the only side of the coin.

Awareness that Down syndrome is not a disease or some kind of devastating affliction.

Awareness of the accomplishments of people with Down syndrome (driver’s licenses, degrees, jobs, marriages, etc.).

Awareness that people with Down syndrome bear the image of God along with the rest of humanity and are masterfully crafted by a good and wise Creator.

And on a personal level, awareness that, on most days, I don’t spend most of my time thinking about the fact that my son has Down syndrome. Not because I am still in denial, but because, as many have already pointed out, he and I are more alike than we are different.

Can I ask you a favor? Would you please take a few minutes to explore one or two of the links above and share what you learn with others? You may find out that some of your assumptions about Down syndrome are misguided or even totally wrong.

I know I found that to be the nature of many of my own assumptions. My son is a gift, and there is nothing about him I would desire to change. When I first found out that he might have Down syndrome, that was not the case.

I thank God that I am more aware now.

My Son is Not a “Down’s Baby”: Or Why it is Sometimes Good to be Politically Correct

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Totally inadvertent that 75% of his cutest pictures feature the Broncos logo.

One day I was looking through my Facebook feed when I came across a post by my friend, Mat:

I think the world has gone nuts over being offended. Don’t get me wrong. However, a whole lot of what we call “politically correct” my momma called “manners.” Christians aren’t called to be the common sense police. Christians are called “to be all things to all people that by all means we might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22).

I couldn’t have agreed with him more. The current fad of being “politically incorrect” for the sake of opposing the so called “PC Police” is not a Christian virtue, and this idol of getting to say anything we want really needs to be reexamined. And not because we need to live to please everyone all of the time. As Mat pointed out, yes people have taken it way too far when it comes to how they respond to being offended. It is absolutely unreasonable to expect people to never say something that rubs us the wrong way. And really, I think it is impossible to live and speak in ways that will be 100% acceptable to everyone all of the time. Different values exist across our world, and we are kidding ourselves if we think that there is a way to please everyone.

Still, why do we value the right to offend more than we desire to be kind? For Christians, I think that it is obvious which of those things should take priority over the other. One of them is a fruit of the Spirit. The other is not. The gospel message is certainly offensive, but reserving the right to call people names or use language that others find hurtful are not gospel issues. Our language should always build up (Ephesians 4:29).

I think the problem is with the term “politically correct” itself. It is regrettable that this has become about politics because that’s not really what it’s about. At least, not all of the time. Often, the people who desire that different terms be used are not actually being all that unreasonable. If I find it offensive when someone labels something they find dumb as “retarded”, am I being unreasonable? I don’t think so. It’s easy enough to point out the original meaning of the word and demonstrate how someone equating it to being dumb or stupid or some other negative thing is incredibly dehumanizing to people with special needs. Is the right to use hurtful language really more important than treating one another with kindness? The polite and decent thing to do is to avoid being unnecessarily offensive if you can help it.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean:

My son has Down syndrome. My son is not a “Down’s Baby”. He is a baby who has Down syndrome. It is something that he possesses, but it is not who he is. Does the distinction matter? I believe it does. When someone uses the incorrect term, there is a connotation that suggests that he is not the same kind of human as, say, “normal people.”

To be clear, I am not walking around carrying a grudge against the (several) people who have used “Down’s Baby” during Jude’s short life. I understand that they did not intend any harm. And that is my overall point, I suppose. When people use “politically incorrect” language, they are mostly not trying to be offensive. But the thing is, they nonetheless often are offensive. Do I take it personally when people use the wrong term? Not usually. But I do understand why some people might just take it personally. And I empathize with them.

It’s true, you cannot please everyone. But why not do our best to be polite? I am not suggesting that we walk around on egg shells for the rest of our lives, but I do believe we should think through the things that we say. When it comes to so called “politically incorrect” words, it is possible that people find them offensive for legitimate reasons. And even if we disagree with them, is being right about a word more important than the person challenging our usage of it?

The verse that Mat referenced in his post comes from one of Paul’s letters. Paul argues that Christians lay aside the secondary things in order to get into the lives of people and, hopefully, win them over to the faith. Of course, we should never compromise on the truth of God’s word. As we share the gospel, we will without a doubt say things that people do not want to hear. They may even find what we say to be very offensive. That should be expected. However, if the way that we talk about other things turns people off, then maybe we need to change the way that we talk.

John MacArthur put it this way:

[Paul] did not compromise the gospel…But he would condescend in any way for anyone if that would in any way help bring him to Christ…If a person is offended by God’s Word, that is his problem…But if he is offended by our unnecessary behavior or practices—no matter how good and acceptable those may be in themselves—his problem becomes our problem.

Christians, let’s be slow to speak. Let’s listen to people. We may just realize that the language that they find offensive is seen that way for a good reason. And even if they are totally wrong about the terms we like to use, is that more important than our witness?

The way that we talk is a big part of how we show love to our neighbors. Let’s be sure to love them well.

Miscarriage and God’s Grace

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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.