usually means heart-shaped love notes, candy in rosy pink cellophane boxes, and sappy love songs. Many sweethearts spend the day celebrating that mushy feeling and commemorating love. I was one of them until February 14, 1994, changed all that.
A jangling phone at 8 a.m. brings me out of a deep sleep. Nearly four months pregnant, I need all the sleep I can get. Sounding groggy, I answer it. It's my midwife. I hear tension in her voice as she explains the results of my recent ultrasound. Cold reality claws into me with icy fingers.
There are serious brain deformities, a hole in my baby's skull, and hydrocephalus, known as water on the brain. Unfamiliar medical terms overwhelm me. I'm unable to grasp much.
"Debby, do you have directions to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle? You need to be there this afternoon. Take someone with you."
"But, that's 80 miles away!" I stammer. "I need to make some calls first." Trembling, I hang up the phone. "What's going on with my baby? How can this be happening? Lord, I'm afraid. I NEED You!"
By 1:00 that afternoon, I'm surrounded by the hospital's most advanced medical equipment. Several doctors speak with my husband outside the examining room.
"If we confirm the results of the last ultrasound, it's a fatal diagnosis." They whisper in hushed tones. My blood runs cold.
As doctors assess my baby, I am poked, prodded, measured, scanned, and all but shish-ka-bobbed! The doctors find 'only' hydrocephalus and seem relieved. Further testing is needed. Some people find comfort surrounded by a plethora of medical technologies. I can't help feeling like a lab rat awaiting a freaky dissection in a college biology class.
The next few weeks pass in a surreal haze. Some days I feel optimistic, fostering hope for a miracle. Other days, the burdens are so heavy that I can't lift my head from the pillow. I endure a battery of tests and argue with my husband. Raising a handicapped child is a feat beyond our capabilities. Our so-called 'options' box us in so tight that we can't breathe.
My husband takes so much time off work that he loses his job. His last paycheck doesn't cover the bills. The strain is too much on the marriage, and we separate.
This is my lowest point. I have two children whom I am unable to support. I'm pregnant with a baby whose survival is precarious, and I'm alone. I never thought I would consider abortion, but in desperation I call a clinic and schedule an appointment. My records are faxed to the clinic, and I arrange the related details. Somehow, my pastor's wife discovers my plans and comes to my house. For nearly an hour we debate the issue.
"I've known you for years, Debby. If you go through with this, you'll never be the same."
"I can't take care of my healthy kids; I surely can't take care of one that's messed up. If this kid's gonna die anyway, why not just abort it?" I vent.
"We'll stand by you, let us help you," she implores with understanding. My heart knows she's right. Together, we cancel the appointment, but frustration still haunts me. What am I going to do now?
Two things save me. One is my church. Over the next few weeks, they bring over bags and bags of groceries, laundry soap, and other necessities. Many people send cards; most contain money. One kind gentleman fixes my car. Add this to a well of hugs and prayer support that doesn't run dry, and you have people bearing one another's burdens. If ever a congregation was worth their salt, it's Crossroads Church.
The other is the Lewis County Care Center. It's there I meet Jane. She's a slender woman with the Wisdom of Solomon, the heart of King David, and an internal strength that rivals the physical brawn of Sampson. She holds me and rocks me as I sob until my eyes run dry.
I am grateful for the emotional and practical support, but it doesn't alleviate the nightmares occurring with dizzying frequency. It doesn't mollify the heartbreak of planning a funeral with my pastor, in case my baby doesn't survive. I trek to Seattle and back often for more than regular check-ups. Twice, I am hospitalized with pre-term labor, and finally, put on bed rest.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, an ultrasound detects the possibility of normal brain development. But my child isn't out of the woods yet. Seattle is the safest choice for delivery.
On August 3, after 30 hours of labor, my daughter Toni Anne enters the world, bawling. She's healthy in every way. Holding her is one of the greatest experiences of my life. Specialists examine her thoroughly and find no abnormalities. There isn't any medical explanation for why she is born healthy, other than a gracious miracle of God. When the pediatricians finish checking her, she comes to my room with me. Her first night on this earth, she sleeps on my chest.
I wish I could say we all live happily ever after, but life isn't a fairy tale. My husband and I are unable to reconcile our differences, although we try. We soon divorce. I struggle financially and emotionally, but I learn a great many things.
I discover that the power of health, life, and death is in the Lord's hands. I don't condone recklessly abandoning the aid of modern medicine. Nor do I believe that perfect health is guaranteed by the cavalier use of medical technology. Not every baby diagnosed with abnormalities will receive healing. To families raising handicapped children, I pray the Lord blesses you abundantly. Your courage and strength greatly surpass mine.
For those who opt to end the pregnancy of an unhealthy child, I feel you deserve mercy, compassion, and love. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
For couples facing the tragedy of losing a baby, my soul aches for you. There are no words to ease your heartbreak. I pray you find comfort in Christ Jesus and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
To the Crossroads Church congregation, thank you for the meals you provided following Toni's birth. To Jane and the Lewis County Care Center, thank you for your prayers, council, and continuing support. I love all of you and carry you in my heart always.
Today, Toni Anne is a young teenager. We are very close. She has long blond hair and eyes as blue as the tropical ocean. A strawberry mark graces the back of her neck. We say that's where God kissed her and healed her.
now means more to me than gushy love songs, the taste of mouth-watering chocolate, and the sweet scent of red roses. I am reminded of the color red, but it's for the blood of a Savior who died a cruel death to save us. His blood seeped into the cracks of the roughly whittled wood from which He hung and stained the rocks of Golgotha crimson. Now THAT'S the meaning of love.
Debby Lee has five children. She and her husband, Steve, live in Rochester, Washington, where she volunteers for the Lewis County Care Center whenever her schedule permits. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.