The Brightness After Rain: Owen’s Story
My life is not what I ever imagined it would be. It is true that there has been far more pain than I ever could have fathomed. But that pain, though always present, rests now in the shadow of something far greater. That pain now resides in a quiet place, surrounded by blessing and beauty far beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of. My life has been transformed completely – not into the life I once hoped for, but into one so much fuller and richer and deeper. And that gift of transformation and beauty has been given to me and to my little family by just one tiny person. Our precious newborn son Owen. God’s perfect, transforming gift.
Owen was our miracle baby, the child my husband Mike and I dreamed of and longed for throughout our long journey through infertility. We were not the type to ever doubt our desire for a family, or to relegate it to the end of a long to-do list. For both of us, family was a priority, and our desire to one day become parents had been life-long. We had married young, and began planning for a family shortly thereafter. But our months of trying to get pregnant soon turned to years. And finally, in fearful frustration, we turned to our doctor for answers.
Unwavering in our longing to bring children into our family, my husband and I were united in our resolve to do what was necessary to reach that goal. But never in the years of waiting and hoping for a positive pregnancy test did we anticipate that our journey through infertility testing and treatment would be as difficult as it turned out to be. We endured the loss of privacy, the invasiveness of testing, and the emotional rollercoaster of hope and disappointment. And before long, we sat together in the plush office of a somber faced fertility clinic director, who told us that we should expect never to give birth to children.
Devastated by the news, we spent many months anxiously considering our options, and attempting to come to terms with this unexpected turn our life had taken. I grieved deeply in those months, mourning the loss of the “normal” life I had always anticipated. Mourning the opportunity to build our family simply and easily. Mourning as I faced what was to be the first great challenge of my life.
As we grappled with the news that we might never give birth to children, we tried to seek God’s will. At many turns, our attempts were half-hearted, as we continued to long for things to go our way, to desire deeply for our lives to be as we had planned. The loss of our fertility seemed to us the ultimate affront, the worst and most painful blow that we could have been dealt. Surely it was God who had placed in us the desire for children. So why would He take our ability to have those children away?
Finally, in confusion and desperation, we pleaded with God to give us a sign. To show us just one thing that would point us in the right direction. That would reveal to us His will. And seeing our weakness and our repeated failure in trusting Him, God was still gracious, giving us a sign that told us to go on. Many months after being dealt the shocking news, we returned to the fertility clinic for some follow-up testing. And we watched the face of the clinic director as it displayed puzzlement, confusion, and eventually cautious but pleased acceptance. And that same, once somber faced clinic director told us that a large and likely inoperable cyst growing inside the wall of my uterus had simply disappeared without explanation. It had been only one of the many barriers preventing us from conceiving a child. And the chances of success even with extensive medical intervention remained almost non-existent. But for us, it was enough. It was the sign we had prayed for. And it gave us the hope we needed to continue on.
And so we embarked together on the difficult journey through fertility treatments. Previously a very happy, emotionally stable person, I reacted badly to the medications , struggling with debilitating hormone-induced depression unlike anything I had ever before experienced in my life. With each attempt at treatment, we allowed our hope to rise, only to be dashed again and again like fragments of shell on the seashore. And finally, after many long and disappointing months, we arrived at what we knew would be our very last attempt at getting pregnant. Feeling battered. Hopeless. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained.
And then, a blood test. And the phone call we had dreamed of for so many months. The voice of a nurse from the fertility clinic on the phone, congratulating my husband. Then repeating the words to me. We were pregnant.
We were thrilled beyond words. Overcome. Overjoyed. This was everything we had hoped and prayed for all those long, difficult years. Finally, our dreams had been realized. Finally, our lives were what we had always imagined they might be.
And then one cold, clear November morning, my husband and I drove together toward our first routine ultrasound appointment. So deeply filled with happiness and contentment, we breathed in the beauty of the snow-capped mountains, and soaked in the brilliance of the winter sun. And reaching over to squeeze my hand, Mike said quietly, “We get to see our baby today. This is going to be the best day of our lives.”
And then, the ultrasound. The look of concentration on the technician’s face. The hands of the clock, sweeping slowly around, as the test continued on for what seemed to be too long. My husband coming into the room at the end of the procedure, looking hopeful, excited. Holding my hand as we finally saw our baby moving and kicking on the ultrasound screen. And one wonderful surprise, as the technician let it slip that we were having a boy.“There’s his little foot,” he said quietly. Almost too quietly. And our hearts raced with this incredible news, swelling with love for our son, as we willed ourselves to ignore the rattle of words catching in the technician’s throat.
Then the wait in that tiny, dark room. Sitting atop the exam table, holding my husband’s hand. Together we watched as the hands of the clock continued their march, nervously reassuring one another as we tensely awaited the technician’s return. And we reminded ourselves again and again that this was the baby we had prayed for all those years, the miracle baby God had promised us. Yes surely, we told ourselves, all must be well.
Then finally, the door creaked open. And with trembling hands, the technician handed us a sheet of paper. Four blurry images of our longed-for baby boy. “Your midwife is waiting to see you. Please go directly from here to her office”, he told us, hands continuing to shake, voice breaking. And I remember the feeling of fear, cold and electric, coursing through my veins, encompassing my body, as I clung to the precious paper images still in my hand.
Never have I grasped anything so tightly as I did that piece of paper, as we drove that frosty morning towards our midwives’ office. Desperately searching the images on the paper for some sign of what was to come. My eyes never left those four blurry shapes, as I pleaded with the Lord for the well-being of my son. But even in that moment I felt certain that our lives were about to change. And that we as a family would never be the same.
By the time we arrived at our midwives’ office, they had cancelled their appointments for the day and closed down the clinic on our behalf. Sitting together on a low, worn couch, Mike and I watched the sunlight streaming through a small, curtained window. And listened as our midwife Shelley slowly informed us of what the ultrasound had revealed. And strangely, I remember the warmth of the sunlight across my legs as I sat doubled over and sobbing inside my husband’s arms, feeling the agony of each tear as my heart was slowly ripped to pieces.
“Organs growing outside of your baby’s body…”
“Only one ventricle in the brain…”
“Multiple other abnormalities…”
Grief-stricken and terrified, we went home that night to our empty house more broken than we had ever been in our lives. Even in the midst of the sobbing I could not control, I could feel the tiny kicks of this child we so deeply loved. In agony we fell to our knees together before God, praying that He would heal our baby boy and protect him from suffering. And that night, our minds racing and hearts aching, we named our little boy Owen Michael. It was the only name we had ever considered for a boy, for our son. The son we had prayed for and longed for. The son whom we so deeply loved.
Late that evening, distraught and desperate for rescue, we sat down for the first of what would be many times in front of our computer. We felt so weak, so helpless, and so overwhelmed. But we were desperate for a miracle. Desperate for God to heal our little boy. Even in our weakness, we knew we would do whatever it took to love and care for our child. And we could think of no better place to start than to ask others to pray. So I typed my first of many emails. Just a brief, heartbroken, impassioned request for prayer. And exhausted by the emotional toll even that short explanation of our news had taken on me, I collapsed sobbing onto the couch.
Several moments later, I sat up to reach with shaking hands for a tissue, my burning, tear-filled eyes resting briefly on the computer screen. And there in our inbox were several replies. Hungrily we read those emails, each from a shocked and heartbroken friend or relative, vowing to walk with us, promising to pray. And as we tearfully read and clung to those promises, our inbox continued to fill, a first glimmer of hope in even that darkest of moments.
Five days after our initial ultrasound, we were sent for a day of specialized testing with a team of fetal diagnostic specialists. As we drove to the appointment that morning, the sky was a bright and blazing blue. We listened to worship music, singing over the fear that threatened to consume us. In the past five days we had prayed with a passion previously unimaginable to us, all other concerns in life suddenly unimportant, caring only for this child we so deeply loved. And as we drove together that clear cold morning, we believed with every fiber of our being that God could heal our son. That perhaps He already had. That perhaps we would drive home that day having witnessed a miracle.
Our first scheduled test of the day was a detailed, two hour long ultrasound. So different an experience from the last, yet another opportunity to see our baby boy. This time Mike was permitted to sit by my side from the start, and rather than being given just a quick glimpse of Owen, we were able to watch his every movement on a large television screen. I’ll never forget the dimness of that room. The coldness of the exam table. The whirs and clicks and beeps of the ultrasound machine. I will never forget Mike gripping my hand so tightly, as though to prevent me from falling. But most of all, I will never forget the sight of my baby – my Owen – moving slowly, kicking slightly. And in the final moments before the screen was shut off, our precious baby boy raising his hand and moving it back and forth, as though he were waving to his mommy and daddy. Mike squeezed my hand at that moment and I knew he had seen it too. Our beautiful, precious baby boy.
Then shutting off the ultrasound machine, the radiologist turned slowly towards us, the room now still and silent. And laying her hand atop my pregnant belly, she looked down and began to cry. “Poor baby,” she whispered quietly, speaking to the child within me, “Poor baby”. And then, tears filling her eyes, she looked first to Mike and then to me. “I am so sorry,” she told us softly, pausing for a long moment, “Your baby’s condition is incompatible with life outside of the uterus.” She explained a few of her findings and told us to take all of the time we needed in the room. But I heard almost none of it. Because in that moment, my life changed. Fully. Completely. In an instant.
And I lay there for what seemed an infinite amount of time. White towel and cold ultrasound gel still on my tummy, staring straight ahead. Clutching Mike’s hand. I don’t think that I cried in that moment, because the intensity of the pain was far beyond tears.
Somehow we left that room. Stumbled to our vehicle. Drove aimlessly during the time that was to be our scheduled break from testing. Somehow we arrived at a grassy place by the river. Parked our vehicle. Sat frozen in the sun. And I remember only one brief and agonized moment, as I looked toward the tear stained face of my husband and whispered, “You know what they’ll tell us to do”. And united in our resolve to care for our baby and in our complete, unwavering love for Owen, we grasped on another’s hands. “Never”, we said in unison, staring forward as the sun danced brightly on the water.
Later that afternoon we met with the director of the fetal diagnostic clinic, who reviewed with us once again the devastating results. My shaking hands clutching a worn tissue, I listened as a stranger told us that our baby would soon die. Listened as a stranger told us that we would have, at most, a few minutes or hours to hold our baby alive. But that far more likely, we would lose our child long before birth. That our beloved son was likely never to grow, and not to survive the length of my pregnancy. That we could lose our precious baby any day. And as the doctor spoke, I was overwhelmed by the cruelty of the arrangement of that room, and the space between my husband’s chair and mine that made it impossible for me to hold his hand.
As we had expected, we were advised not to continue our pregnancy. Not to put my own health or even my own life at risk for the sake of a child who could never survive. And absolutely unwavering in our love for and commitment to our son, we together fought for our baby boy. He was our child, we told them. Our precious, deeply-loved baby. And that was all that mattered. We were told that we were in shock and would come to our senses. That we could return when ready to reconsider. And sobbing and clinging to one another, we walked away more shattered and afraid than we had ever been in our lives. But we walked away knowing two things for certain – that we loved Owen more than life itself. And that together we would give him the very best life possible, every moment that he was with us.
My most powerful memory of the night that followed is of darkness. We sat almost immobile side by side on the couch, without the energy or the will to turn on the lights as the sun began to set. The darkness that invaded the room was deep and heavy, but no match for the suffocating darkness of my soul. Never before in my life had I felt utterly without hope. Never before in my life had I wished that I could close my eyes and simply cease to exist. My heart beat so frantically that I felt certain it could not handle the strain, certain that soon it would cease its beating. And yet it continued on.
Late that night we sent out another email, a desperate and heartbroken request for prayer. And in it, we asked specifically for three things. We asked that the Lord would miraculously heal Owen. We asked that Owen would never at any time suffer or feel pain. And we asked that we would be granted the strength to endure.
That night I sobbed the entire night long. Deep, aching sobs that shook my body and tore at my soul. At times I fell momentarily asleep in exhaustion, only to be awoken by terrifying dreams and more body-wracking sobs. The tears that poured from my eyes were so constant that my skin became red and raw. By morning, cuts had formed under my eyes where my lashes continually fought to bat the tears away, the cuts bleeding and stinging each time the tears began anew.
I remember little about the following few days, aside from the constant sobbing and the terrified pounding of my heart. And the frenzy of fearful questions that never ceased their swirling in my mind. How could I live through the coming days and months, loving this baby within me and knowing that I would soon be saying goodbye? How could I face the knowledge that my first challenge of motherhood would not be responding to the cries of my newborn, but rather facing his death? Never had I known such a feeling of weakness. Never had I been so afraid.
But as the days passed, the emails began to pour in. First from friends and family. Then from acquaintances. Then from strangers. And before long we were receiving emails from around the world. A former sponsored child of Mike’s grandmother praying in India. Friends praying in South Africa. An entire church praying in Japan. Within days, there was a community of thousands, of friends and complete strangers lifting our family up in prayer. And as the prayers for Owen began to stretch around the world, slowly, gradually, our drowning hearts were given moments of air. Glimmers of hope that God was near. And that He held our baby boy.
Weeks passed and Owen was still with us, his tiny kicks becoming stronger in spite of the fact that his body was not growing. And because of him, Mike and I were able to hold on. To continue breathing. To continue doing what was necessary to care for our child. I took an extended leave from work, knowing that there was no way I could continue my work with babies and families while caring for my own baby I’d been told would soon die. Mike went back to work, needing a distraction from the pain, if even for just the briefest of moments. And my wonderful parents, so in love with their very first grandchild, came over every day to help me and spend time with me. Somehow we survived the most difficult Christmas season of our lives. Somehow we continued to breathe in and out, in the midst of the turmoil and pain.
Then one snowy night just before Christmas, I reached a turning point in my journey, the point in which my love for my son truly overcame my fear. The moment in which God brought beauty into the pain. Since I was a little girl, I have played the harp, and that night, I sat for the first time in months on my antique harp bench in the music room. Pulled the smooth wooden sounding board of my harp close to my slowly growing belly, and softly began to play. Silent Night. Away in a Manger. Oh Holy Night. As I played, tears streamed unceasingly down my face, as my heart at the same time ached and glowed with love for my unborn child. And as the snow continued to softly fall in the light of the streetlamp outside, I began to speak aloud to Owen, telling him how much I loved him. Telling him that my tears were not of sadness, but of love simply overflowing and spilling out of my heart. And filled completely with love for my Owen, telling him that it was okay if he needed to go. That daddy and I wanted him with us and loved him so much. But that if he ever got tired or if life became too hard, that it was okay to stop fighting. And overcome with pain and with love, I began to play Christmas carols for my baby again, his little kicks slowing, as though he were listening.
And so began what were to be some of the most beautiful days of my life. Not because they became in any way easier. But because as I continued to live each day in utter brokenness, the Lord revealed to me that His power truly is made perfect in weakness. The more deeply my heart ached for my child, the more able I was to understand the blessing of Owen’s life, and to truly make the most of each and every precious moment with him. The more helpless and weak I knew myself to be, the more I was able to trust in God’s power, and in His perfect and loving will for our beloved baby boy. Many mornings I awoke unable to even utter a coherent prayer, so falling to my knees at the side of the bed would simply sob “help me, help me, help me”. And somehow, each day I was given the strength to go on. To love, cherish, and yes – even to enjoy my time with our beloved baby boy.
So life began a new rhythm. Each day relying solely on God for strength to live in the moment. And each day devoting every ounce of my energy toward caring for my child. Praying for him. Reading to him. Singing to him. Playing my harp for him. Eating well and caring for myself, to help bring strength to his tiny body. In the evenings when Mike came home from work, we’d sit together on the couch until late into the night, talking, praying, and even laughing. And late at night, long after we risked the intense privacy of that precious time being interrupted, we’d take our dog for long walks around our neighborhood, holding hands and watching the stars.
That New Year’s Eve, we spent the night at my parents’ cabin on the beach just an hour’s drive away. Initially it was an attempt to merely escape the thought of a new year, and the terrifying reality of what that year was likely to bring. But that New Year’s morning, the sun rose into a cloudless sky over brilliantly sparkling water, and for the first time in that journey we had a sense of true peace in our souls. We sat cuddled together on the couch, feeling Owen kick inside my belly, and watching a young bald eagle as it sat calmly on the dewy grass outside our window before soaring off into the sunlight. For the remainder of our pregnancy, we returned to the cabin each and every weekend, relishing the solitude and beauty of that place. We took long walks on the beach and spent endless hours staring out at the ocean. Mike tended the garden. I wrote and I read. And regardless what the weather that week had been, our weekend retreat always seemed to be bathed in sunlight. I will never forget the beauty of those perfect weekends together, walking as a family in the crisp, cold air and sensing Owen’s utter contentment within me.
It was shortly after that first peaceful cabin retreat that Owen began to grow. Until that point, his growth had been slow, just as had been predicted that terrible day we were told that he would die. We had never stopped believing that he could be healed, but it seemed to us that the healing we hoped for was not happening yet. And then, early in the second week of January, we went for a routine check-up at our midwives’ office. And sitting in that same little room in which we heard the first of our difficult news, we listened to Owen’s heartbeat, strong and steady. Our midwife measured my belly. Checked her file. Then measured it again. And smiling, she told us that Owen had grown. My belly was measuring 8 weeks further along than it had just three weeks earlier. Eight weeks growth in three weeks time. We were thrilled beyond words, awed, and overcome. All of those heartfelt prayers from around the world were being answered. The Lord truly was listening to our cries. The following weekend at the cabin, we took pictures of me with my hand on my belly. And in those pictures, I was smiling.
From the start, we had lived with great hope that Owen would be healed. And that wonderful little growth spurt was to us the most incredible sign. A sign that our Owen was defying the odds. A sign that he was getting stronger. Every day, we spoke of the possibility of Owen being born completely healthy. Of him being placed in my arms having been miraculously healed, shocking all who were present. We never doubted for a moment that God was able. And we, along with our network of supporters around the world, were praying for just such a miracle. But while we deeply desired and prayed for a miracle, we also were keenly aware that God knew better than we did what was best for our baby boy. There was nothing on earth we wanted more desperately than for Owen to stay forever in our arms. But we knew that God loved Owen even more than we did, and that we therefore could entrust Owen’s life into His hands.
Never did that trust prove more essential than when asked to make decisions about our Owen’s future. Before ever even cradling our precious baby in our arms, we were asked by our doctors to make decisions about the end of Owen’s life. We had longed for this time of preparing for parenthood for as long as we could remember. Yet in what should have been a time of anticipating new life, our medical appointments were focused on anticipating death. Instead of preparing ourselves for diaper changes and nighttime feedings, we were preparing ourselves to face palliative care and children’s hospice. Each time we faced an appointment with a specialist, we were asked to make decisions about things no parent should ever have to think about. They were decisions so agonizing and so overwhelming that they were completely beyond our human ability to bear. But in our utter weakness, the Lord spoke lovingly to our hearts, guiding Mike and I with absolute clarity. Although the journey continued to be agonizing, we felt certain that we heard God’s voice. And with all our hearts, we followed. Not because we were in any way strong. But rather because we loved our son more deeply than we loved our own lives, more deeply than our own plans and dreams. We did not know what was best for Owen. Only our loving God did. We had no choice but to trust in God completely. And that complete trust in God’s loving plan for our son was all that got us through.
As part of that exercise in trust, we lived each day walking a fine balance between believing and praying fervently for a miracle and living to cherish each moment with Owen, knowing that each could be our last. Sitting at my harp and playing for my baby, I poured all of my love into preparing Owen for the future that lay ahead of him. As I bathed my little one in music each day, I imagined standing before our church on Easter Sunday morning, holding Owen in my arms, healthy, whole and healed. And tearfully, I too imagined my baby arriving in heaven already knowing its music, comforted by the sounds that spoke to him of his mommy’s love.
There was no way to live that balance except for one day at a time. No way to plan for the future. No way to prepare for what might lay ahead. Rather we chose to hold on to each day, making memories with our Owen, holding on to time. Each night, Mike and I fought sleep, not knowing what the next day would bring. And as we lay in bed late into the night listening to music and praying, Owen danced happily in my belly, blessing us with each and every kick.
Our need and desire to live focused on each moment was so complete that we did nothing, at least in the traditional sense, to prepare ourselves for labour. No reading. No classes. Nothing. Our wonderful midwives, who had been so touchingly compassionate and unwaveringly supportive of us throughout our journey, respected our choice. “You have chosen to face your challenges as they come and live your lives one day at a time,” our midwife Natasha told us, looking with certainty into our eyes. “One day, the challenge you face will be labour. And I know that you will face that challenge well, just as you’ve faced all the others.” I wept with relief when she finished speaking, feeling some certainty for the very first time about that uncertain day that loomed ahead.
“Owen’s name means ‘well born’,” I told her, clutching Mike’s hand, tears still in my eyes, “And we believe he will be”.
And then one late winter night, as Mike lay sleeping beside me in our bed at the cabin, Owen stopped moving. Not for minutes, but for what seemed like hours. In terror I woke my sleeping husband, and we held on to one another, praying and waiting. And finally, as the sun rose, our little sweetheart began to move again. Faint kicks. Then stronger ones. Our relief and joy were profound, as we together breathed in another day beside the ocean. Walking in the sunshine. Taking happy, smiling pictures of my pregnant belly. But as we prepared to leave that evening, I felt a sudden and panicked need to take one more walk by the water. To stay just a little while longer. To hold on to that particular moment. Because even then I think I knew that my brave little boy was fighting too hard.
Early on after receiving Owen’s diagnosis, were told by our obstetrician that it was quite unlikely that I would go into labour naturally. She had explained that often it was the baby that triggered the mother’s body to go into labour, and that because Owen was developing so differently from other babies, there was a good chance he could never give my body the right signals. She spoke matter-of-factly about inducing me, and about scheduling an induction for a day that she was working, to ensure she’d be there in the delivery room. She was a good doctor, supportive and compassionate in her care. But I am certain she did not understand the sense of panic that discussion struck within our hearts. As I had tearfully told Owen that snowy evening before Christmas, I wanted him to decide when the time was right for him to arrive. Every moment with him was so precious, so sacred. How could we leave it in the hands of any human being to determine when that precious time would end? I spent many hours tearfully pleading with the Lord that He would determine the perfect moment for Owen’s arrival.
And early on the final morning of winter, the Lord answered that prayer, when our precious little Owen communicated with perfect clarity that he was ready to arrive. I awoke in the darkness realizing my water had broken, and sat for a moment, stunned but certain, before beginning to move. Took one long breath. Put my hand on my tummy. And as Owen kicked, I woke Mike up. Called our midwife. Called the hospital. We moved swiftly but without panic. Packing the bag we had just recently purchased. Calling our families from our cell phones as we began the drive in darkness. There are no words to describe that experience, to adequately sum up the vastness of those moments or the great depth of conflicting emotion that churned within us. But as we drove, we repeated the words of Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” And together we clung to the promise of God’s presence, more essential to us in that moment than even the air we breathed.
When we arrived at the hospital admitting waiting room, it was filled with women in labour. One quite frantic. Many in the midst of contractions. Nervous husbands rushed about, running hands through their hair, fumbling with video cameras. But Mike and I were still. Standing, because there was no room to sit. Moving slowly. Wanting time to stop. And when the triage nurse approached us with her clipboard, I told her calmly that my water had broken. And then crying for the first moment since the morning began, I told her that our baby was not expected to survive.
I remember much about the days and hours that followed. Surprising detail about our physical surroundings. The people we encountered. The progression of my labour, and the feelings in my heart. But at this moment as I write, those details feel too private, almost too sacred to share. So many of those memories will remain private, held deeply within Mike’s heart and mine. But while the details will remain for us to hold, the story itself is one that must be told. Because Owen’s birth was in every sense a miracle.
From the moment we were admitted into hospital, God’s hand was apparent everywhere. Each doctor and nurse had been handpicked to be there, each moment had been perfectly timed. God truly had gone before us. And He was with us. Amidst the flurry of activity that seemed to follow the movement of our medical chart, amidst the sheer volume of doctors, nurses, specialists and social workers assigned to our unusual case, Mike and I shared moments of normalcy. Moments in which we felt much like any other expectant parents, experiencing labour for the first time, expecting the arrival of our baby. Those moments of normalcy were truly miraculous, and our ability to hold on to positive memories of our birth experience has been truly a gift from God. Because there was nothing normal about going through labour prepared that our baby might die. Nothing normal about knowing that as we prepared to greet our child, we might also be preparing to say goodbye. As my labour began to progress rapidly late that first night, I remember lying on my side on a bed in an exam room, Mike’s hand on my belly, feeling Owen kick. The enormity of my love for Owen was overwhelming, and it was that love that kept me focused. It was that love that allowed me to walk the seemingly infinite walk from that exam room into the delivery room, Mikes arm around me, holding and anchoring me. It was that love that allowed me to breathe through each contraction, Mike reassuringly rubbing my back and the doctors remarking on our strength and calm. And that love was my only focus when it was time for Owen to be born.
As I prepared to push, the room began to fill. First with a team of obstetricians and pediatricians. But then, with something far greater. I lay in the dimness of the room, Mike holding tightly to my hand, and I felt the room become full. From the floor to the ceiling, every corner and every space, filled completely by the presence of God. And as our midwife told me to push, I sensed the vast host of angels present within that room, holding Mike, holding me, and preparing to welcome our baby boy. And so I wrapped my body around the beloved child within me, and poured all of the love in my mind, body and soul into my beautiful baby boy. And it was in that moment of pure and perfect love that our precious little Owen was born, entering the world and leaving for heaven at precisely the same time.
As Owen was born, a great shudder ran through my body as I took one long and trembling breath, looking to see if my baby had been healed. Fully anticipating that his body would be perfect. And that I would see only shock on the doctors’ faces as Owen let out a loud and healthy cry. But instead, a doctor carefully placed Owen on my chest, and the room full of specialists quietly and respectfully grew empty. As I held my newborn baby boy, so still and yet so warm, I could see instantly that his body was formed differently, just as we’d been told it would be. And as I drank in every tiny detail of this little one I so loved, I was overcome by the perfection of this gift God had chosen for us. “He’s so beautiful,” I cried over and over again, weeping tears not of sadness but joy. And though our hearts ached, there was no trauma in those moments. No anger. No fear. Only pure and perfect love for this child in our arms. Forever our baby. God’s perfect gift. Well born, at sunrise, on the first day of spring.
Several hours later, I was wheeled into a private room on a maternity ward, heavy blankets protecting my privacy as I cradled our new baby in my arms. God’s protection and immense blessing upon us continued, as we were permitted to stay in the hospital for two full days with Owen in our arms. Aside from the nurses assigned to our care, no one was permitted to enter our room. And though the cries of newborns all around us shattered our hearts, the hours we spent in the privacy of that room were some of the most precious and important hours of our lives. We took endless pictures of our new baby boy. Held him, rocked him, and sang to him. We dressed him in soft baby blue sleepers. Wrapped him in cozy blankets. Held his tiny little hand. And when the time came for us to leave, just before sunrise the day before Easter, we kissed his soft little cheeks and told him how much we loved him. That we were so glad he was with Jesus. And that we would see him again.
Walking away from that hospital room was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The agony of leaving my child behind was unspeakable, and beyond my capacity to bear. But as I began walking down the cold, empty corridors of the maternity ward, I felt Mike’s arm wrapped around my waist. And then, as my knees began to buckle under the unbearable burden of grief, I felt a hand, large and warm, wrap itself firmly but gently around my upper arm. I felt myself lifting as the hand held me up, supporting me as I continued that impossible walk. And I knew without question that it was the hand of God, very literally carrying me in the moment of my deepest brokenness. God’s presence once again surrounded us in the tangible way it had that moment in the delivery room, and as we walked through that busy and bustling hospital, the hallways were entirely empty. Empty except for the host of angels that we knew to be lining the corridors, shielding us as we took our first faltering steps down life’s most difficult road.
And so we drove away from the hospital, with no baby bundled into a car seat behind us. And I wept, clinging tightly to the soft blanket that once held our son, that still carried his sweet newborn smell. We drove toward a home that would not be filled with a baby’s cries. To a home that would, as it had for many years before, continue to ache with emptiness. But in that vast emptiness, we were still parents. Parents to Owen, our perfect, beautiful baby boy. And needing to honour him, to do something for him, we drove to the beach and parked by the water. Reaching for my bible, I read aloud with trembling breath the verse given to us for Owen many months before, just days after our first ultrasound. “He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.” (2 Samuel 23:4) And as tears streamed from our eyes, Mike and I held hands and together watched as the sun rose into a cloudless sky.
Our journey of grief has been marked with pain so deep that it is beyond comprehension. Pain unfathomable to me even in the months I lived with the reality that Owen would likely die. It is impossible to imagine how deeply empty arms can ache, how piercing the pain of living with a shattered heart, forced to continue its beating. The pain of Owen’s loss will reside in our hearts forever, growing not less, but only different over time. But in amidst that pain there has always been beauty. Because there has always been Owen.
Shortly after returning home from the hospital, we composed one final email, celebrating Owen’s life, and telling of the answer to all of the prayers lifted up on our behalf by friends and strangers around the world. Telling of our Owen, born perfect, born beautiful. Born exactly the way God had intended him to be. And within moments, a response from a stranger in Israel that spoke to our hearts so powerfully we knew the words could be only of God:
“How amazing to think that in such a short time, Owen has accomplished his purpose. Praise the Lord for allowing each of us to witness this miraculous journey.”
In the days, months, and years following Owen’s birth, we have been blessed to see glimpses of that purpose. Emails, from close to home and around the world, speaking of Owen’s touch in the lives of others. Mommies and daddies who hold their children a little closer. Friends and strangers who breathe life in a little more deeply, or walk more closely with God. And then there was the sunny spring day that I watched a baby boy playing in the grass at the park, and was told tearfully by his mother that Owen’s story had saved her son, giving her strength to continue her pregnancy when doctors advised against it.
We are forever humbled and forever grateful that we were chosen to be Owen’s parents, forever awed that God would choose to entrust such a gift to us. Because no one has been more deeply changed, more completely transformed by the gift of this child than we have. Being Owen’s parents has been both the most difficult and the most profoundly transforming experience of our lives. We see things we could never before have seen. Understand things in a whole new way. Our lives and our family have been blessed beyond measure, thanks to the perfect gift of our little boy.
And those prayers for healing, poured out tearfully with our hands on my pregnant belly and lifted up by friends around the world, those prayers have absolutely been answered. We understand now that it was never Owen who needed to be healed. Owen was perfect. Complete. Beautiful. Just as he was. And one day when I hold him again in heaven, he will be strong and healthy, free from pain. But the things that made him unique? I believe those things will remain. I do not believe for one moment that our son was meant to be the same, to be “normal”, to be just like everyone else. I do not believe that is what any of us should hope to be. It took the gift of our beautiful Owen to reveal that truth to our hearts, and to heal that which was broken in our own lives. It took the gift of our little boy to show us that the “normal” life we so desperately longed for was not at all what we should desire. God had in store for us a life far from ordinary. A life so much fuller and richer and deeper than any we could have planned for ourselves, and one that we would not trade for any other in the world.
And now each day, we live as Owen’s mommy and daddy. Forever we carry the pain of his loss. Forever we miss him, and look forward to holding him once again. But forever we also carry the joy that is Owen, as we see with new eyes and are led by new hearts. And each time we awake to the brilliance of a cloudless morning, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness; humbled by the fact that He chose us to be Owen’s parents, and amazed by the great beauty and purpose of the life of our little boy. As unspeakably difficult as the journey has been, we would not choose a different road. Because only this road led us to Owen. Our beloved son. Our perfect, transforming gift. And forever, our brightness after rain.