"Are you going in with all of the kids? Are you okay? Should I come home?" Dan asked, his voice strained.
"I just feel strange," I replied, "but I can get the neighbor to stay with the little ones while I run to the doctor's. I'll call you from there if it's anything serious." I didn't want to upset him if there really wasn't anything wrong.
As I sat in the waiting area, I kept trying to feel any sort of movement in my womb, even the tiniest flutter. "Gretchen, why don't you come on back now," the nurse summoned me. I was trained as an obstetric nurse, so my fears compounded as the nurse listened with the Doppler for the baby's heartbeat. Her expression relayed she found none. "Let me try it," I insisted. I ran the wand over my slightly bulging stomach, but the only beat I detected was the rhythm of my own heart.
"We'll have you head over for an ultrasound," the nurse said. "They'll see what's going on for sure."
I phoned Dan and he reached the doctor's office before the scheduled ultrasound. There we viewed with sadness the motionless image of our baby, her hands hanging straight at her sides.
"She probably died about two weeks ago, judging by her size," remarked the radiologist as she studied the form of our tiny baby in the darkened room.
Dan squeezed my hand as the obstetrician stepped in. "In a situation like this, the safest thing for you to do is to have a D and C as soon as we can schedule you."
I knew the soul of my sweet baby was nestled close to Jesus in heaven, but the idea of having her sucked from my womb was not what I had envisioned for her tiny body. After some thought and discussion with Dan we went ahead and scheduled the surgery.
"What will happen to my baby's body?" I asked the obstetrician. "I want to have a burial for her."
"Well, someone tried it a few years ago and was able to get the remains, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops. It's possible," he said, but he didn't sound confident.
I felt peculiar asking for my baby's remains, but I was determined. In calling the lab to find out what was protocol, I came in touch with a lab technician named Marcia.
"I had a miscarriage several years ago," she confided to me. "I really wish I would have had a burial for my baby. I think what you're doing is great and I will help from this end to see that you get your baby's remains."
With that bit of comfort, I went in for the scheduled surgery. As I lay in the pre-op room, I clutched my husband with one hand and my small wooden bead rosary in the other—both of great comfort. "Can you make sure they don't take away my rosary?" I begged my husband. "I'm really afraid."
In what seemed only seconds, I awoke to someone saying, "Wake up, it's over." Immediately I felt angry to awaken again to the situation. They had done it—she was gone. Again, I wept—I sobbed—like never before. My mouth was parched and my emotions were raw. I thirst!
When I was again up and around, we held a memorial service for our baby in a portion of the cemetery just for infants. On a sunny but windy early March afternoon, we gathered around the tiny coffin with our pastor and immediate family. A woman who oversees the cemetery approached me and delivered an envelope and a small, delicate box. "The funeral director said this came with the baby's remains," she whispered and left. I opened the envelope to find a card with no writing in it, just little black hand and foot prints—awesomely perfect. The box contained soft white clay with a hand and foot impression—each toe distinguishable from the other. Marcia, the lab technician from St. John's Hospital, had worked with the perinatal outreach nurse to create these cherished treasures for us. I felt grounded for a time having these in my hands. I held something that my child had actually touched. That was as close as I could physically get to her. It felt so good.
A few days following the burial, I stood in the kitchen reflecting on the recent events, when suddenly I was stuck with the image of the last few moments of Christ's life. Then I saw myself with my arms and legs stretched out on the operating room table, in the same position as Jesus on the cross. In a flash, I saw Him and then again me. I remembered the mental pain I felt just before I slipped under the anesthesia, and then, from Christ's eyes, as if they were mine, I saw Him hanging, stretching out and saying, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This was what I had felt laying on the table—wearing my own crown of thorns of mental anguish and torment. While I knew that my suffering came nowhere near to Christ's suffering, it was the closest feeling to what I as a human being and as a mother had felt thus far in my life. Again, I felt my child being taken from me, and again that initial anger and an incredible thirst. Then I heard Jesus' words: "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
What followed in the next minutes, days, and weeks was my desire to fulfill those words. I would commit my baby and myself to Him. As Christ then hung His head and died, I, too, needed to die; not a physical death, but a death to self. While it was not my will for our child to die, God allowed it, and that is where I began to find great peace. I needed to accept His commands for my family, our baby, and for me.
Now, I use the precious handprint of our baby as a tool to show the humanity of the unborn. This baby was a real person. Anyone looking at this print cannot deny that. While counseling outside abortion clinics I can show many women and men her handprint and give them the chance to reconsider their decision to abort their child. I also have been able to help other families grieving from a miscarriage and can suggest the many possibilities available for commemorating their baby. I have spoken to small groups of obstetrical and family practice residents regarding how they can best help their patients.
We now have this beautiful handprint of our daughter, Christina Katherine, at twelve weeks from conception. God has blessed us. He allowed us to cooperate with Him in the creation of a new soul, to glorify Him in heaven. God is good. Not only did He bless us with this child, He blessed us with many people who showered us with much comfort and love.