The Least of These

My story of how we were pressured to abort our son, but chose not to. And how his short life mattered anyway.
Yesterday would have been my son Christopher’s 18th birthday. Or rather, it was his birthday, but he celebrated in heaven. I wonder if he’s all grown up now?

One of the things that I wonder about is what I would have called him. I call my daughters by the short forms of their names–Rebecca is Becca, Kathryn is Katie. Would Christopher have been Chris? I never had time to find out. I guess that’s still to come.

It really was Christopher’s short life and death that started me writing. My first few articles I wrote were all about grief and going through hard times, and one of my first books was How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, where I share some of the things I learned about yelling at God–and what God whispers back. I’ve written a second edition to that book now.

The very first thing I ever had published, though, is still one of my favourites, and I thought it fitting to run it today. I couldn’t run it on his birthday since it was a Wednesday, and I always do marriage posts then. But here it is. It was first in print in the magazine Celebrate Life back in 1999.


The cardiologist walked into the room, glanced at my chart and asked, “So you didn’t get an abortion?”. As I was 34 weeks pregnant, it seemed an unnecessary question.

For one agonizing night we actually considered it. Twenty-two weeks into my second pregnancy we learned the boy I was carrying had Down Syndrome and a serious heart defect. Though my husband and I detested the idea of abortion, we wondered if we were cruel to let him live. On April 17, 1996 we sat in our living room, numb with shock. “What if sparing him suffering is the only thing we can do for him?” Keith asked our minister, Duke Vipperman, who had come by to talk to us.

“You sound as if you believe it is you who are causing his suffering,” Duke replied. Then he explained that we do not cause suffering, it just happens. Those closest to God, who are most at peace, are often those who have suffered the most. “If you try to ease his suffering by denying him life,” Duke told us, “you are in essence saying you can do God’s job better than God.”

For Keith this settled the issue. He had never wanted to abort, but as a physician he wanted to “fix the problem”–to make sure he was doing all he could for our baby.

I knew I could never go through with an abortion, but it was not just because of my moral objections. I had felt him kick. Even though he was small, I sensed him fluttering at only 14 weeks, and he just kept growing more active. I could never abort him. I loved him. He was my son.

Christopher arrived eleven days early on August 6, 1996. Suddenly he was no longer a medical problem but a tiny bundle who breathed a little too fast, and who stared into my eyes with recognition and, I think, love.

His first two weeks were peaceful ones, as he was healthier than we expected, and we learned all the facets of his personality. He enjoyed being cradled and listening to singing, but would kick and scream in indignation if he lost his soother. When our 1 ½ year old daughter Rebecca visited him, she would lean over the bassinet, pat his blond fuzzy head and say, “My baby?” I would nod, and promise that we would take him home soon.

But we couldn’t. As his heart began to fail Christopher grew increasingly tired and lost weight instead of gaining it. He was transferred to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to await surgery.

During the evening, as I sat alone with him in his room, I would hold him and whisper, “Do you know how much Mommy loves you?”. Babies, so tiny and helpless, inspire a purer love than most. It is an unselfish love, since babies–and especially those who are sick–cannot promise anything in return. I am a goal oriented person, yet with Christopher, I learned to sit and just “be”. I had no choice. And in the quiet, I sensed God whispering His own unconditional love to me, too. “Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for the chance to know this precious boy.”

Usually his room was bustling with visiting friends, relatives, and Keith’s colleagues. We even held a dedication service there. The event was somber, for though we were celebrating his life, we all could see how tiny he was for the battle that lay ahead. The doctors gave Christopher a 25% chance of post-operative survival, for he was only 4 ½ pounds.

On the morning of his surgery I was terrified I wouldn’t hold him again. “I want so much more for you, honey,” I said. “But I am glad to have the chance to love you. No matter what happens, I will see you again.”

For five days he recovered well, and the doctors grew optimistic about his chances. But on September 3 Christopher’s breathing again grew rapid. That night my mother watched Rebecca, and Keith and I visited him together. “Mommy loves you, sweetheart”, I whispered as we left his room. It was 9:30 p.m.

He was only 29 days old when he died later that night.

The number of people at the funeral amazed us. Along with family and friends, many from the hospital attended, too. We asked Duke to talk about the importance of Christopher’s life, as we felt so many had discounted him because of his disabilities. “We must not look down on little children, for they are our model of God’s kingdom,” Duke preached. Jesus Himself chooses to identify with them, for whoever welcomes them, welcomes Him (Matthew 18:5). “Christopher was what we are to be: a little one, utterly dependent on God, struggling against apathy and everything that would deny us the sweetness of life.”

The two years since his death have been full ones. I have shed many tears, but I also smile now when I remember him. We have a new baby girl, and Keith is establishing his own pediatric practice. I often think about how different life would be had I aborted him. I would have no memories and no peace. And how do you talk about your pain? People understand my pain when I say I had a baby who died. Would they understand if I had aborted a baby at 4 ½ months? I can visit him at his grave. But most of all, I can look my girls in the eyes and tell them with conviction that I love them unconditionally. And they believe me, for I loved him.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second EditionMany may think his was a wasted life. He never came home from the hospital, he never smiled, and he was rarely even awake. But they didn’t watch the faces of his grandparents when they held him, the nurses as they watched us, or the people we have comforted since. They do not know how Christopher changed us. And so they cannot see that his life is much more than those 29 days. Recently Rebecca told me not to be sad, because Christopher is in heaven, and he is happy now. I think she is right. And one day we will meet him again, and the blessing that was his life will be complete.

My book, How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, deals more fully with this story. Find out more here.

You can also watch a DVD series that deals with the pain in our lives here.

Comments

  1. Maryann D. says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your son eighteen years ago. My son just turned 21 years old on August 6th also. I have tears in my eyes reading your story especially since it is the same day. I am so glad though that you had this baby and held and loved him.

  2. (((Sheila))) Soo very sorry for your great loss… I will hug my children tighter today and linger longer with my attention. Beautiful post…
    Carla recently posted…Thursday, random Thursday…My Profile

  3. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  4. Thank you for sharing Christopher’s story. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.

  5. What a beautiful story. What a testimony of how precious life is and the affect we have on those around us even if our life was too short. Every heart has a right to beat even if for a moment!
    This also drives home how tragic the Australian surrogate story is with abandoned baby Gammy.

  6. Oh Sheila, I cry for you each time I read about your son, and I commend you and Keith for working through the hard issues honestly the way you did. Yes, you have grief, but it’s a pure grief, unstained by regret or guilt. And you surely have a treasure in heaven.
    Julie recently posted…And Then The Whirlwind Hit…My Profile

  7. This is beautiful, Sheila. Thank you for sharing Christopher’s story.

  8. This stirs up so many emotions in me.
    Sadness for you, and also joy because you know you will see Christopher again and because you have allowed so much healing to take place.
    Sadness for family members in a similar situation who have not allowed themselves to heal and who are “stuck” in their initial grief despite the passing of years. I pray for them, that one day they will want to truly heal, not just want to not hurt any more.
    And joy and delight in the four healthy children I have, and in the knowledge that the two I miscarried I will meet one day.

  9. Thank you for sharing this, you are such a strong and amazing woman. He looks so sweet and perfect in the picture, reminds me of one of our babies. I really feel that you graciously sacrificed yourself to allow him to live despite what “current medicine” adivsed…and here he is 18 years later, still having an impact, as his story has touched me and countless others. Your experience is a tangible example that we as human beings are so much more than a body, we are a timeless soul chosen and designed by God. Also I am impressed by your husband as an M.D. to stand by his beliefs, Christopher was a life your love created, designed by God and joyously celebrated, every year.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story of love, care, and devotion. Christopher lives on through you, your family, and all the goodness you bring to so many people. God bless you!
    Sherry Gareis recently posted…Happy Pity Party to MeMy Profile

  11. Beautiful story, thank you for sharing, even tho it’s obviously painful. I’m so sorry for your loss of your dear Christopher. He is blessed to have such wonderful parents, parents who chose life for him, even tho the Lord chose to bring him home after only 29 days.

  12. Thank you for sharing. I pray your cloud will lift!

  13. Sheryl Van Wert says:

    Thank you for sharing that article with us again, Sheila. I am 37 and expecting my 4th child, and I get quite irate at the health care system for pressuring moms to do multiple tests to check for “abnormalities” at my age. I have a cousin who’s baby passed away just hours after being born with a heart defect they knew about, and she doesn’t regret giving that son life, either. As a society, we need to be less afraid of pain and death, which I know is hard when many don’t have hope for eternity. Thank you for encouraging me (again!) and allowing God to use your valleys to help others.

  14. That was beautiful and he is a beautiful little boy. I like to think babies stay babies in heaven until we join them and we get to watch them grow up, I hope so anyway. I have 2 there.

  15. Sheila, thank you for sharing your story. And I am so, so sorry for your loss. That little boy is so blessed to have you as his mommy:)
    Lindsey Bell recently posted…Bullyproof Your ChildMy Profile

  16. Thank you for sharing this post. Its beautiful. What a sweet life Christopher had, filled with love. My husband and I lost our first son, Gideon. He was stillborn a month and a half before my due date on May 17, 2011. And I think people have thought that his life was a wasted one because he never knew life outside of my body. But its not wasted. God wastes nothing. Gideon went from knowing the love of my womb to being envolped in the love of Jesus. I will never be the same because of my sweet boy. I am forever changed, for the better.
    Stormy recently posted…Are you going to have more?My Profile

    • That’s beautiful, Stormy. I always thought that, too: I loved Christopher so much, and there are studies showing that babies pick that up in the womb. Your little baby did feel love and did feel peace, and still does, and that is a wonderful gift that you gave him.

      And his life did matter, and still does.

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