Jennifer’s Story: The Navy had just sent us to our new home in Tampa, Florida. Reunited after Kevin’s deployment in the Middle East, our family was excited to live an hour from Disney World and to enjoy our new swimming pool and Jacuzzi. This exciting new chapter for our family included the anticipated arrival of our fourth child.
Moving in the middle of my pregnancy meant finding a new doctor and having another ultrasound. Since Kevin was needed in a meeting, I assured him I’d be fine by myself and promised not to peek at the gender reveal. We had already shared our first ultrasound pictures with our family, keeping gender unknown but excited at the thought of a girl in our family of three boys.
Lorraine, the kind nurse who did my ultrasound, said the baby was measuring a bit small, but not to worry. Seeing a specialist with “better equipment” would be a good idea, especially with my age — “not that 41 was old” — she smiled reassuringly. I reported my three previous smooth deliveries and healthy babies and left feeling healthy, strong and full of life.
Five days later everything changed.
I arrived at the specialist’s office for the advanced ultrasound pictures that seemed to drag on for hours in a cold, dark room full of equipment and monitors. Finally, Dr. Ramos described the ultrasound results, in heavily accented English, as I attempted to scribble every word on a borrowed yellow legal pad. After desperately trying to piece together his explanation from my jumbled notes of medical terms and statistics, I managed to process only that our baby had a heart defect. Dr. Ramos asked if my husband could come in right then for an amniocentesis, but I knew our boys would be home from school soon and needed me there. Besides, all I wanted was to get out of that office and back home to the family and life I had woken up to that morning.
The following day’s amniocentesis confirmed what Dr. Ramos had already suspected. Our baby had Trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality the doctor and genetic counselor called “incompatible with life.” I’ll never forget hearing those words or the sudden squeezing in my heart I had never felt before that moment. I wasn’t sure I could breathe, but somehow, as my mind raced, God in his perfect kindness gave us something to smile about. Kevin asked the question, and through tears came our smiles: we were having a girl.
It was the first sign of God’s grace that would carry us through every painful step of this journey. The diagnosis was crushing. The pain was raw. And yet our baby was still alive inside of me. I had no idea what to do next. Should I keep going to my prenatal appointments? Should I buy a car seat? Was I waiting for our baby to be born — or just waiting for her to die?
One by one, God began answering my questions.
Psalm 34:18 became real to me in those days: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in Spirit.” He started by sending us Kathy. Not only a Labor and Delivery nurse, Kathy’s ministry came alongside families like ours with heartbreaking medical news about their babies. Her first question? “Have you given your daughter a name?” Could we really do that? Kathy would be coming over the next day to meet us and wanted us to have decided on a name.
We began to allow ourselves the joy of anticipating our precious daughter Lily — the gift of being her parents that day, and the next day, and the day after that. One day at a time, God quieted our fears with the peace of his presence. The reality of Lily’s diagnosis had not changed, but the assurance of God’s provision had. Our hearts experienced his peace in an unprecedented way. Each morning when we woke up, my husband put his hands on my shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Today is a good day.” And we trusted God that it would be.
And so we lived in that peace. We rejoiced in God’s goodness. My husband brought me flowers — a bouquet of white and pink lilies — with a card that read, “Let’s celebrate today. I am grateful Lily is part of our family.” The simple sound of saying her name made us smile. My mother arrived on a flight we had booked weeks earlier –another provision from the Lord — and together we shopped for a beautiful dress and a tiny pink hair bow. With three boys, we had never had the delight of shopping for girl clothes, but God gave us that gift of time to treasure.
Eight days later my water broke unexpectedly. The following night, at 29 weeks, Lily Grace Hanson was born. Deafening thunder accompanied a storm late that night, and Kevin later told me he believed God sent that storm to let us know Lily was safely home. Her tiny body was born into this world, but her soul was born into heaven, where she went straight into the arms of Jesus. Kathy was with us, as she promised she would be, and we knew God was with us too. We saw his faithfulness, his mighty arms carrying us through each treasured, yet heartbreaking moment. Never had we experienced the juxtaposition of such anguish and joy. We held our Lily, our beautiful, perfect baby girl. Our dreams of her life on Earth had ended, replaced now by our hope of heaven.
One week later we buried our baby girl in my family cemetery. God sent another powerful thunderstorm that began during Lily’s service and ended just before we gathered at the cemetery. We knew it was the Lord declaring his love, presence and power that day. His sovereignty, while painful, assured us Lily’s life indeed had a purpose. We pray our story will be a witness to the love of our Father — Lily’s Father — who lovingly carries each of us through all of life’s storms.