Happy Birthday, Henry

black-and-white-image-of-babys-foot-in-mans-handDear Henry,

If you were here, you’d be churning out papers and studying for exams. I’d be making you whatever cake you wanted. You would have picked out your birthday meal – you’d have spent a lot of time on that decision because we Ollers take our food seriously – and your siblings would come over for dinner. As the youngest, you would have no problem being the center of attention.

Eighteen years and four months ago, on a sweltering August day, I was late for my ultrasound appointment; dropping off 3 kids to a friend had taken awhile. The ultrasound tech didn’t say much as she looked at you, but in my experience they’re not a chatty bunch. I didn’t think much of it when she told me to come back for a more-sophisticated scan at the hospital because she “wasn’t able to see everything clearly.” After having your twin siblings, I was used to un-routine pregnancies. The hardest part was finding childcare for the second day in a row.

I don’t know why I hadn’t figured it out. After one glance at you, the tech guy turned to me – he had the kindest, kindest eyes – and said that you  would not live, there was no hope, you had no brain and it was one of the few defects that was always, always fatal, my mind could not take it in. But my heart knew, because I wept and could not stop.

My doctor was rounded up from somewhere. Then your dad came from work; I don’t remember how he knew or who found him. He was just there, and then we and those two doctors, who were trying so hard to be kind (don’t ever underestimate kindness, Henry), talked about what to do. I could not seem to stop crying even though I hate crying in front of people, tears running down while we processed.

They said I was in no danger from you. They said my body was the only thing keeping you alive. They said if you survived being born, you would die within a matter of hours. We had to decide what we wanted to do.

What we decided was that we believed God could heal you if He so chose. We also decided that we would treat you the same way we treated our other children: we would honor you with life and dignity for as long as we could.

Henry, this next part is hard for me to explain to you. I don’t know any other way to say it but to say it: if we had chosen differently, if we had chosen to induce labor, we would not have been wrong. You were under a death sentence and by ending the pregnancy early we would have ushered you to Jesus that much sooner. While I can’t support abortion my experience with you has taught me compassion for women who’ve done so. I know what it’s like to contemplate ending a pregnancy. I have learned that life is complicated; it’s not black and white. We all make decisions based on what we think is right at the time, and if people come to question their choices later, they need support and love, not judgment. So thank you for teaching me that, Son.

I enjoyed you for the rest of my pregnancy. You rolled and kicked just like my other babies. Then it was time for you to be born, and what a day that was. Friends had been praying a vigil for us all through the night. The hospital put us in a room right next to the waiting room so our friends could be close by. I hung out with them, in my tacky hospital gown, until the pains started and I took to my room.

All of us had the same thought: maybe God had done it, maybe He had knit back your broken places. But when my doctor delivered you with a quiet, “The condition we spoke of is still present,” we knew it was not to be. So your dad held you – I let him, since I’d been holding you for nine months – and we sang praise songs along with our friends next door, and waited for a few hours until Jesus came.

Your memorial service, the gravesite, the weeks afterward… all of it was a blur, but what stands out to me is that we were bathed in generosity, kindness, and love. Henry, how do people get through these things without the help of God and the Body of Christ?

So now you’d be a high school senior. You’d be looking at colleges, probably run track like your brother, definitely be playing piano or guitar because I didn’t give you kids a choice and you had to pick one or the other. You’d have your sister’s brown eyes in your brother’s face. You’d have your dad’s sense of humor.

From the time you children were born, our one prayer has been that you would know Jesus. Raising kids on this earth is chancy and trusting you to God has sometimes been hard. But one thing I can say with utter certainty: He answered our prayer for you. You’ve spent your whole life with Jesus, healed and loved. What better legacy could a mother ask for?

Happy 18th birthday, Son.

Photo via VisualHunt

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6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Henry

  1. Loving Henry in the months before his birth, and then during the few hours he was with us remains one of the most beautiful and precious experiences of my life. Thank you for giving it to me.
    I am excited about seeing Henry again in the morning.
    Love,
    Dad.

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  2. I remember I took a midnight hour during the prayer vigil. The vision God gave me that night came back with vivid clarity as I read your words. Green grass almost as high as his head. Cheeks puffed and pulled up by the power of his grin. That toddler wobble almost turned to a full blown run. And something in his hands. Something both mundane and magical. I keep thinking they were drum sticks. Maybe he would have said no to the piano and the guitar after all, mom! What a beautiful birthday gift, Jen. Thank you for sharing and for bringing back such sweet reminders of God’s peace.

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