When talking about wanting a family, most people's faces soften as they imagine domestic bliss, the making of memories, or maybe a chance to redeem family dysfunction. For them, family is widely assumed to be a natural stage of life, a basic right in the universal pursuit of happiness.
Eric and Anita used to be those people.
ANITA AND I DECIDED to try for our second child at the beginning of 2015. We always had more than one child in mind when we imagined our family, and we thought it would be nice for our daughter, Maddie, then 2 years old, to have a sibling. We were cautiously optimistic that conceiving wouldn't be too difficult since it only took three months of "trying" before we found out we were pregnant the first time. Right on schedule, it only took two months to conceive. We were so excited! Anita even devised a plan to give our daughter a "Big Sister" book. Since this was round two, we knew what to expect, and we were getting ready to handle everything like the "pros" we had become during our previous experience. Then the morning of my wife's initial intake appointment happened.
We woke up expecting to go into the doctor's office to plan the next eight months before we met our child. But before we even left the house, Anita started to bleed. We decided to go to our scheduled appointment anyway, but as the bleeding continued, we knew something wasn't right. To make a long story short, we had an early term miscarriage. Our child, who we were excited to meet, had been taken away from us. We were heartbroken. I was angry at God for not saving our baby. I questioned God's goodness. I started to wonder if it was even in our cards to have a second child.
The idea of not being able to grow our family weighed heavily on my heart. While Anita came to terms with the idea of Maddie being our only child, I struggled to accept it. My discouragement turned into anxiety, that somehow it was my fault that we could only have one child. I had always wanted multiple kids, and I had never considered having an only child as an option. I had landed in a place where I needed to surrender my plans and accept God's.
I had always wanted multiple kids, and I had never considered having an only child as an option.
In July, just four months after the miscarriage, we found out Anita was pregnant again. This time, we went about things differently. We immediately told our closest friends and family so they could support and pray for us. We were extremely reserved in our excitement, not wanting to be disappointed again. After 12 weeks of severe morning sickness and suppressing the majority of our joy of expecting, we were finally sitting in the routine second trimester ultrasound. We were having a boy!
A week later, Anita was back in the same office redoing the same ultrasound. It seemed typical, and we thought nothing of it. We soon received an email from the OB-GYN saying we were being referred to a specialist — she had noticed a bright spot in our baby's bowels. At this point, we were confused since we didn't know what that meant. Should we be concerned? Was this normal? We were anxious to know whether our baby was healthy because being referred to a specialist is usually not a good sign.
Another week passed and we found ourselves sitting with the specialist after another hour-long ultrasound to discuss her findings: echogenic bowels and an elevated level of liquid in our son's brain. These two "soft markers" were potential signs of Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or an infection in our little boy's developing body. We went through some blood tests, but they found nothing conclusive.
The next step was to wait six weeks and redo the ultrasound to see if the echogenic bowels and elevated liquid would resolve themselves. The liquid in the brain did resolve itself, but the echogenic bowels remained and there was a concerning bulge in our son's intestines. On top of the new findings, we were told that his average weight and length was outside of the normal range, which is another soft marker for the doctor's original concerns.
Why is this happening to us? Why does it seem like we are always struggling when others are not? I want the easy route — the healthy kids and the perfect family I see when I look at everyone else. The "good" in Romans 8:28 that we have defined to mean "#blessed" — prosperity, monetary wealth, physically healthy families. Instead, we were given a miscarriage and an uncertain diagnosis for our child six months into this pregnancy. Why do these fears of having a child with additional needs cause me to feel like my family is less normal, even lacking? Does this mean that somehow, we are unable to experience and enjoy life to the same extent as other families with "healthy" kids?
Why is this happening to us? Why does it seem like we are always struggling when others are not?
What might God's intended family look like? I imagine it means loving without judgments, loving unconditionally. It is the way parents love their children. I never understood what that meant until I became a father. I remember when Maddie came down with her first fever, and all I wanted was to transfer her fever to me so that she would not have to experience the pain. Or when she ran to me and hugged my leg to shield herself from an overly aggressive grandma. I realized how much satisfaction I found in knowing that she sees me as someone who can keep her safe.
What might God's intended family look like? I imagine it means loving without judgments, loving unconditionally.
These small things made me understand that this is exactly the kind of relationship God has and wants to further develop with me. I am starting to see how little I know about God's love — and how much I doubt it. It is only since having a daughter that I have been able to catch a glimpse of what it means that God is my Father.
I recognize that I always hoped to build family memories and fill photo albums with pictures of my two healthy kids. Coming to terms with the possibility that our child may have special needs has caused me to instead desire a strong family bond, and see my hopes of happy memories in a different light. It has also caused me to ask new questions. Does God view me as a child with additional needs? Does He wish I was "healthy"? I believe the answer is yes to both.
I am still hoping that we have a healthy son, both for his sake and for ours. But this past year revealed God's desire for me, as one of His sons, is to experience and know His love. He wants me to understand that it doesn't matter how high my IQ is, or how successful I am as a person, or even how normal I am. After all, God sees me as a child with special needs, yet, He loves me without condition and does not worry about what could have been. At the core of everything, this is also what I want for my own children.
It doesn't matter how high my IQ is, or how successful I am as a person, or even how normal I am.
If God decides to heal our son, clear up the echogenic bowels, resolve the newest bulge in his intestines, and normalize his weight and length ratios, then I would be incredibly grateful! In the event that this doesn't happen, then we will continue to be honest with our disappointment and grief. We will ask for strength and faith as we take the next, heartbreakingly difficult step into possibly being a family with a special needs child.
Despite my struggle with this possibility, I trust that if this does become our reality, then my experiences with my son will show me even more intimately how deep God's love is for me. This knowledge may not always make dealing with the circumstances easier, but it does provide me with a certain peace in the times I decide to focus on His love more than my own anxiety. I also believe that God shows me His love as I discover my love for my kids. Growing our family, in whatever capacity that may be, means we get to see even more of His persistent, pursuant love for us.