Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dearest John

The email interrupted my normal. My mother asking me to call her immediately. News of a prayer request. About my sister, Amy.

My pregnant sister.

Whose first pregnancy—just seven months ago—ended in a miscarriage. Now pregnant again, long past the time when her first baby died, past when fear controlled the days.

The computer took forever to boot, to connect to the Internet, to open my lifeline of Skype. I messaged my mother. No immediate answer. The long, painful wait—imagination running wild, mixed with hope for the best—that my mom was just over-reacting about something silly.

Finally the call through the computer from across the world. My mother’s voice—the one mixed with tears, though the picture is too grainy to see them. News of the worst. My sister was in labor. Just 22 weeks into pregnancy. Just three weeks after an ultrasound showed her healthy baby boy. But now, a labor that couldn’t be stopped. Due to an infection that is rare, but selfish in its choice of my sister’s once sterile womb. A womb now toxic to the life of my nephew, who can’t live in that world, but isn’t ready to survive the next.

Nothing could be done. The doctors in one of the world’s most modern, richest countries, were not even trying to save his life. He would be born to die. Or maybe he was already dead.

I prayed. Or at least I said the words in my heart that I hoped God would hear. I tried to believe.

I called my sister—the one who wasn’t pregnant. She was there in my other home of Colorado—the one on the opposite hemisphere—with my pregnant sister. Jennifer, numb, grieved, simply said she was tired. Then she remembered to give me details. The contractions had begun, then been medically stopped. But the baby wouldn’t stay in.Jennifer put me to Amy’s ear---a cell phone on her end, a computer on mine. I imagined her in the hospital bed, her body connected to machines.

“Are you in pain?” I asked, stupidly. Not knowing what else to ask. Of course she was in pain. Going through labor to deliver a child with no hope to survive his birthday.

“Not too much anymore,” she said. So brave.
A shuffling. Then a return to my other sister.

“She’s getting ready to push now,” Jennifer said. “And my phone is going to die.”

“But how can I reach you?” I asked, desperate for news from this life-and-death moment that didn’t seem real. I had more questions. Wasn’t there some equipment they could use? What about life support? What about a NICU? This couldn’t really be happening.

“Try Amy’s cell. I’ll try to answer it when I can.” Jennifer’s voice was calm, or maybe just tired. It’s hard to tell through technology’s cold distance.

Then dead. No more news. No answer from Amy’s cell. Just her calm voice mail, recorded when life was good. I called over and over again. Then the electricity, in this town in the Third World, went dead. A regular event that happens almost every day. Usually just an inconvenience that annoys. This time, making me pull at my hair in agony. Really? Now, when I needed that connection, I would be cut off? Really, God? What else?

I didn’t know what to do to pass the time, waiting for the electricity to return so I could try calling again. I held my kids, so perfect and full of life, remembering pushing them out of my body into a world they were ready to handle. I tried to do something normal. I don’t remember what that was.

Finally, power returned. But still no answer. What was happening? Was the baby born? Was he alive? Had the doctors changed their minds and been able to save his life? Had a miracle happened?

For two hours I waited for news. Then the email arrived, giving me the news that he—named John—had been born alive. It gave a cell phone number of Amy’s friend where I could call.

I called and a tired voice answered. I realized that while the tropical afternoon sun was shining here, night had begun long ago in the Colorado winter there.

“This is Amy’s sister, Becca, calling from Indonesia. What happened? What’s the news?”

Then the words from a stranger.
“We are home now. It’s over now. Amy is still at the hospital resting. She’s fine. We just got home a half hour ago.” The woman said. I thought I remember meeting her once when I visited Amy’s church. I wondered, for a minute, if I woke her up. I felt bad. But I had to know more.

“What about the baby? Is he OK?” I asked.
A long pause.
“He has already passed. He was alive for, what, 30, maybe 40 minutes?”
I wondered what it is like for this woman to have to tell me the horrible news of my nephew’s death. I can’t believe it’s over. I can’t believe he died.

I wanted to talk to Amy, but still no answer on her phone. I cried the rest of the day away.

The next day, I finally talked to my sister, who, just a couple days ago was just my baby sister. Now a woman. A mother. A Mary.
“He was perfect. I was so happy holding him. So happy.” Her voice is the one that I know so well. But this new Amy—the one who knows what it’s like to lose a child—is one I am meeting for the first time.

I wept. Not my baby sister’s baby. Why, God?

I remember holding my babies for the first time—the first 30 minutes of their lives vivid memories in a long list of some memorable, but some forgotten moments.

She held him, then had to finish delivering the afterbirth while his daddy held him. By the time she was done, he had died in his daddy’s arms. I cling to the hope that he left one father’s hands for those of another.

I cry as I write. Wishing for a different ending. One that didn’t included a 15-inch coffin buried in a tiny cemetery in the mountains—next to another baby who never got to live. One where my babies got to play with their cousin, John. One where he would get to wear the clothes I gave him—where he would someday weigh more than one pound.

But I also hope as I write. That my God truly is good. That all sad things will someday be made untrue. That my sister—a brave mother—will someday get to spend a million times 30 minutes with her little boy.


  1. Wow. It is so hard to be so far away during times like these. Sending love to you and your family.

  2. Crying and hoping with you...

  3. Rebecca,
    I'm so sorry. =0( I'm wiping away my tears from reading this. I can't image how you all are aching right now. I will pray that God in all His mercy and grace will give you all the strength to go through and heal from this. May trusting His hand bring joy even when joy seems impossible.

  4. Praying and trusting in His extraordinary presence for each heart. Please, please, meet these dear ones, Father ...

  5. Thank you so much for your kind comments.


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