When joy of birth and pain of death are bittersweet companions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marie Bowen   

Bowen Boy“Our hearts were crushed. Yet, we determined that every moment we had with Sophia would be a celebration of her life and the time that God gave her.”

These words were written in a blog journal kept by Lindsey and Kevin Dennis when the daughter they loved was diagnosed prenatally at 20 weeks with anencephaly. They chose to celebrate Sophie's life while she lived in the womb. Their story is poignantly told by Brad Mattes of LifeNews.com in a January 28 article, on perinatal hospice.

Their story poses a stark contrast to the laughter my husband and I experienced upon learning this week that our grandchild in utero is a boy (see picture this page). In the joyful anticipation that we feel, it is sobering to remember in Mattes words,

"Sadly, not all parents are able to celebrate. For some, the ultrasound reveals devastating news of a grave or fatal prenatal diagnosis. What was intended to be uplifting, becomes a time of grieving."

Very often when a pre-natal diagnosis is dire and the baby may die before or soon after birth, parents are advised to abort by doctors, friends and family. Perhaps the intent is to spare the parents a measure of grief, but abortion does nothing to lessen the loss and denies parents any opportunity to honor God by celebrating their baby's life. Support is growing for couples who want to cherish every moment that God gives their baby's life into their care. Perinatal hospice programs are explained by Focus on the Family in a helpful series of articles titled "When Your Baby Won't Survive":

Simply stated, the perinatal hospice team comes alongside the family as they make meaningful plans to honor and celebrate the life of their baby, compassionately providing the clear and relevant information they need.

Key elements of perinatal hospice care might include:

  • Assistance in planning so that the wishes of the parents for delivery and care of the baby at birth may be considered.
  • Coordination of services between caregivers.
  • Creating a plan for honoring and celebrating the baby's life by gathering and preserving keepsakes, taking pictures, and planning a memorial service.
  • Providing education about the diagnosis and the grieving process for the baby's parents and for extended family.
  • Grief support at diagnosis and at and after bereavement.

As medical science develops more tests to show genetic anomalies ever earlier in a pregnancy, the ministry of the church is needed more than ever. We ought to share in the celebration of the life of each baby for as many hours or days as God gives. While the church excels in caring for those who grieve we have not always known how to comfort those who have lost children before or soon after birth. Perhaps we have not valued unborn life enough to provide comfort and care for parents grieving the early loss of a child. We must learn with them to cherish each child for whatever time God has given.

Focus on the Family lists these simple ways to demonstrate love and care:

  • Acknowledge their baby and call him or her by name.
  • Be supportive of the family. Accept their decisions without expressing judgment.
  • Prepare a meal.
  • Offer to run errands or clean the house.
  • Offer child care so Mom and Dad can have a night out.
  • Ask if you can help to coordinate the efforts of others wishing to help.
  • Remember to listen, be gentle, and be available.
  • Tell them that you are praying for them often

Links to Related Resources

For parents facing a life limiting diagnosis in the womb these are just a few of the perinatal hospice and other support ministries available. Each website contains links to a rich body of books, videos, and other support materials.

Be Not Afraid

Isaiah’s Promise

Joan’s Reach

Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care

Focus on the Family Series - When your Baby Won’t Survive

Breakpoint - Perinatal Hospice: Value of Life



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