After being told our unborn son's condition was incompatible with life, our drive home from the doctor's office was a blur. To be given no hope that your son will survive long enough to feel your embrace or to know how much they were loved was crushing. Because of his prognosis, we now felt burdened with an unthinkable choice. Do we induce labor to keep our son from suffering or endure the pain of carrying a child that had no chance to survive?
When are you due? You must be so excited! Have you picked out colors for the nursery? Tyler must be so excited! Although it was possible I would hear these comments and questions from time to time, Lauren was going to have to live this reality every time she was at the grocery store, working out at the gym, interacting with our customers and athletes at our business, and every Sunday at church. How would we answer the questions or handle the conversations? After conversations with Lauren's obstetrician, and equipped with the limited information we had, we came to an uncomfortable decision...we scheduled a date to induce labor. At that point, we truly believed our son had no chance at life and by doing this, we were in some way minimizing his suffering.
One of the first things we did after leaving the doctor's appointment was to call Lauren's mom and sister that lived near us. We felt we needed to let them know about our decision so we drove straight to her sister's house. Explaining to your family that you were making a decision to end a pregnancy was unimaginable. As much as we wanted to think that we were sparing our son imminent suffering and that the procedure was just "inducing labor", we both knew we were playing verbal judo. In our hearts we knew we were terminating the pregnancy. Having already been through the loss of our daughter at birth, we felt we could somehow get through the loss of our son...we had been there before. But deep down, we both knew this was different. We could have never imagined that one day we would consider terminating a pregnancy, but for less than 24 hours, that's what we did. Even today, there is a hint of guilt that exists deep in our hearts about that decision. Lauren's mom and sister didn't have any harsh or critical words for us whether they agreed or not...they just cried with us, hugged us and prayed with us.
The rest of the day and into the night, we felt like we were moving through life in a thick cloud. We didn't have a sense of where we were going or why we were going through this with another child. We weren't able to reconcile how we would tell Tyler what happened to his brother. To simply tell Tyler that his brother went to heaven would be lying by omission and nothing about the decision was sitting well with me or Lauren. We felt strongly that a meeting with our pastor to discuss our options was we needed to do as soon as possible, so we called our church. Unfortunately, it was Friday and the office was closed until the following week. That night, we laid in bed and talked about the decision to end the pregnancy. Why were we making the decision to end our son's life? If he was not going to survive, why were we not letting God's plan play out? Then we realized that even with so many unknowns the future held, this was the moment we needed to relinquish control. It became crystal clear to both of us...it was time to "let go and let God". When we agreed that the right thing to do was cancel the appointment, we both felt an enormous burden lift from our hearts. We actually got restful sleep that night, and planned to call the doctor's office first thing in the morning.
We woke up feeling refreshed with a renewed clarity that we were making the right decision. If our son wasn't going to make it, then God was going to make that decision. We were going to do our best to accept His plan. That very same morning, Lauren got an email from my brother's wife with a slideshow attached. It seemed like some kind of chain email, and how many of those do we all get in a week that we delete or skim over? I know...lots. But this was from my brother's wife who rarely sends us email, and she had no idea what had transpired the past 48 hours, so it was worth a look. Because of the timing and context of the slideshow, it gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes even to this day...it read:
The Butterfly Story
"A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it had and it could go no further. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was…the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly." (author unknown)
To say it spoke to us would have been the understatement of the year. Two days later, we were moved again, by a message so clear and comforting in the midst of the most tumultuous season of our lives…it was undeniable.
As Lauren and I walked into church that morning, we noticed the ushers handing out small objects to people as they entered the sanctuary. They were giving everyone a small chain of about three or four small links. Just to be clear, our pastor had absolutely no idea about our situation. When we called to schedule a meeting earlier in the week, he was unavailable, and we didn’t leave any message to indicate why we wanted to meet with him. That being said, as long as I am alive, I will never forget his opening words that morning.
Instead of the standard “turn and greet your neighbor this morning”, our pastor’s instructions were more precise. He looked across the congregation, and very intentionally told us all to turn to our neighbor, look them in the eye and say to them, “If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” We turned to each other, and couldn't even get the first word out before tears welled in our eyes. Not just misty eyes, but the kind where you can’t even blink because you're afraid the levee will break and expose the pain and heartbreak just below the surface.
“If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” Our pastor went on to talk about how we all have our chains. We all carry our burdens. When Peter was in chains, he used his burden to spread His word to those around him. We didn’t know why we going through the potential loss of our son, but we felt strongly that we were going to share our experience with those around us and maybe it would inspire or encourage someone, somewhere, somehow. I remember Lauren saying that if the doctors were wrong, she would be the first to shout it from the rooftops. Little did she know that just over three months later, it might be time to start climbing.