Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our Loss is Heaven's Gain

My grandmother read me an excerpt from a book called "Appointments with Heaven," by Dr. Reggie Anderson. His daughter is married to Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman's son. He is a doctor and in this particular part of the book, he is talking about being there when a baby is born and goes to Heaven. I was very blessed by what he wrote, especially towards the end. What a beautiful reminder of the beauty of LIFE, how God holds each life precious, and how our loss is Heaven's gain. I hope you are blessed by it as I was...


Each birth is miraculous and special in its own way. Attending deliveries is one of the happiest things I get to do as a doctor. When that wriggling newborn takes his or her first breath, that cry is celebrated. It means the baby has arrived, is healthy, and is breathing on its own. There is a congratulatory mood in the room. The parents are ecstatic at the arrival of their little one. I'm always deeply grateful to have once again peered through the open veil to welcome a new soul into the world and be the first on this side to hold him or her. Even jaded labor and delivery nurses who've been through thousands of births, are happy and smiling.

But sometimes when the veil opens, it doesn't close. The baby takes a breath or two, and the veil stays parted, waiting for the soul to return to Heaven.

There is no celebration in those moments.

It was Sandra's third pregnancy, and at twenty-four weeks, she was in premature labor. Even today, it's difficult for such a premature baby to survive. If Sandra gave birth - at that time and at that hospital - there was very little hope. The baby would weigh less than a pound, and the chances of survival would be very slim.

As the resident in charge, I did everything I could to keep Sandra from delivering. Sandra did too. But at two o'clock in the morning, our best efforts failed, and Sandra went into active labor.

When the baby arrived, it was without the usual fanfare. Sandra was a single mom, so there wasn't a father standing beside her and cheering her on. Sandra also knew the risks for such a premature baby, so she was crying, not so much from the pain, as from the sadness of what she was experiencing.

As the baby slid out, I quietly said, "It's a boy."

He was so tiny! With my outstretched fingers, I could cradle him in the palm of my hand. I assumed he wouldn't live long enough to take a breath, yet against all odds, I watched him struggle and succeed. Cupping him in my hands, he managed to get out a pitiful little cry, followed by a couple of short breaths. It was a valiant effort, and it took everything he had in him.

"Is he okay?" Sandra asked, sounding concerned.

"He's so frail. He's very, very young," I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

I asked the nurse to update the neonatologist and her obstetrician. They hadn't come in because neither one expected the baby to take a breath.

"Can I hold him?"

I knew how much she wanted this baby. I took him to her and sat next to her while she held him. To make Sandra and her baby more comfortable, the nurse turned down all the lights except for a lamp in the corner. For the next fifteen minutes, I sat in a chair next to Sandra's bed and watched her weep over her baby. As I sat there, I sensed a warmth on my skin. It almost felt like I was sweating, but my skin remained dry.

The last time I felt this same warm sensation, I was in Irene's hospital room. I'd felt it with Dennis, too. That's when I knew God was keeping the veil open for Sandra's son to return to Him.

My heart broke for Sandra. For the previous twenty-four hours, she'd done everything she could not to go into labor. She was exhausted, hungry, and hurting.

And now this.

The tiny baby began to pant as he struggled to breathe. I thought about how Sandra had struggled with her own breath just minutes before to bring him into the world. Their patterns weren't that different. Breathe, pant, pant, pant. Her labored breathing was to bring forth life. His labored breathing was meant to keep him alive. I thought of the end-of-life breathing - the abnormal pattern referred to as Cheyne-Stokes respiration, something I'd witnessed so many times before - and marveled at the connection between the two.

Sandra cried softly over her son as he took his last breath. I watched when his little body relaxed and went limp in her hands. As she began to whimper, I felt the warmth of God's presence, filling the room and bringing comfort. He had been present through the delivery, and He was with Sandra and her son now.

As she cried harder, I cried with her.

A very thing veil of breaths separates this world from the next. Sometimes, the curtain blows open to let a soul come through. Sometimes, it remains open to accept a soul back in. I don't know what all was wrong with Sandra's baby, but I know he would have faced a mountain of insurmountable illnesses had he lives through the day; even then, there were no guarantees that he would have survived for long.

There are millions of babies who are never born into this world. As many as a third of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Often, the mother thinks her menstrual cycle is just a week or two off. She has no idea that a baby is forming in her womb. I know that God holds every life precious and that babies who aren't born into this world are born directly into Heaven. In those cases, God is the ultimate baby catcher.

As painful as it was for me to watch Sandra's baby leave his mother's bosom and go to God's bosom, it was a reminder to me of divine sovereignty. God gives, and God takes. But when God takes, He is taking to Himself, to a place that is better than this fallen world we are born into.

Our loss is Heaven's gain.

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