This month we are presenting a very personal family portrait with the prayer that you will understand our motivation — that of displaying the holiness of God’s creative design and work in the womb of a mother.
On August 25, 1997 our daughter Jane and her husband Drew received the disappointing news from the doctor that their baby had died in the womb. Delivery was scheduled for Wednesday, August 27. After ten hours of labor, their little baby boy was born. Tenderly they held their perfectly formed baby of 16 weeks, strangled with the umbilical cord around his neck. A nurse brought a little crocheted blanket made by a member of the hospital guild — every stitch connected with love.
On Friday morning at 10am Jane and Drew, Jessica, Ross, Keeley, and we and the funeral director gathered in Grand Rapids, MI, at the gravesite of our son Daniel (a full-term baby, born on September 13, 1963, who lived only a few hours as a result of interrupted development due to a car accident).
Together we recalled God’s teaching in Psalm 139, that this dear little one was “knit” and “woven” by God Himself. We reflected on Psalm 127:3 where children are called a “heritage” of the Lord, noting that a heritage is something we receive and something we must pass on. Thinking on what baby Christian Andrew could pass on, we realized how close his birth had brought us to God’s holy and creative work at an early stage of human development, how great our God is, how heinous is the sin of wanton sexual promiscuity and abortion, and how serious is our responsibility to do all in our power to address our culture with His truth and His commands.
Soon after little Christian Andrew’s burial, his father wrote a letter to him which he shared with family and friends. Later his mother addressed a group of young people at a retreat, on the subject of being a Christian in politics. Later she addressed a group of young people in our own church. After reading her speech, we asked both Jane and Drew for permission to print Drew’s letter and Jane’s speech. We present them here with the prayer that their sentiments and convictions may contribute in some small way to the rebuilding of a Christian consensus on the holiness, righteousness, beauty and grace of our God in His gifts of marriage, children and family.
We want to share the very personal experience of losing our unborn son with you today in hopes of transferring some of the knowledge we gained from this experience to you in a real and profound way, so that when you take a pro-life position with your friends, you will be even more convicted of the truth than you are now.
A couple summers ago, I spoke at a youth retreat on the subject of being a Christian in politics. I wanted to interact with the kids, so I brought along a flip chart and after a short presentation, I asked them to divide into groups and go through a simple exercise entitled, “What do you THINK and what do you KNOW?” I chose several topics: education, the economy, divorce, abortion and the “Christian Right.” They were asked to fill in one column with information they know about the issue, and another column on what they think about the issue. They didn’t necessarily need to all agree; they just needed to think about it very carefully and discuss together what their various points of view were.
It became apparent after the first presentation, that what they knew about the issue was far less than what was actually true about the issue, and what they thought about the subject was not the reality in many cases. It was apparent that there was a void between reality and what their Christian world-view suggested should be the case.
Being involved in political issues, I was able to take what they knew and confirm it or correct it. What they thought about the subject opened the door to discussing what the Bible says with regard to the issue and what future actions could be taken to make the right changes on that particular issue. Overall, it was an excellent exercise and hopefully increased awareness in events that many times go unnoticed.
On the issue of abortion, I will assume that all of you are pro-life. Correct? I am also going to assume that because of the culture we live in, and because abortion is readily available and legal, each of you knows someone that has had one. Correct? Further, I will assume that you know kids who don’t think abortion is wrong. And that is where I hope to give you some insight on what you can say as a Christian about this very crucial moral issue, to those who you have or will come into contact with as time goes on.
When I was in my 18th week of my fourth pregnancy, I went to my monthly doctor’s appointment and patiently waited in the office for him to come in and check my progress. I know that I was thinking somewhat idle thoughts, and was really rather tired and in a bit of a self-pitying mood. The nurse came in and began looking for a heartbeat. The device they use to find the heartbeat has a speaker in it so I could hear all the noises coming out. One thing I definitely could not hear (and after three children, I was well aware of what I should be hearing) was the heartbeat of my baby.
The nurse was quite calm and made some casual remarks about how it can be difficult to find the heartbeat at 18 weeks (not true, I said to myself; I heard it plainly four weeks ago!) and I began to slowly comprehend the dreaded truth! My nurse immediately summoned my physician, Dr. De Cook and he wheeled in the ultrasound machine.
As he scanned my stomach for a picture of my baby, he soon found what he was looking for. The stillness of that little form on the screen was a reality that never once entered my thoughts as a possibility — my little baby was dead, and amazingly I had no knowledge of it and physically, no sign of this death in my body. I began to quietly weep, and Keeley, who was with me, held my hand in silence as she watched my unexpected reaction to a routine visit to the doctor.
Dr. DeCook was immediately concerned and very distressed. It must be so difficult to see what you know is true and have to confirm it. The baby measured 16 1/2 weeks, which meant that he had been dead for a week and a half. Because the ultrasound machine used was small and not as powerful as the machines used in the hospital, he asked me to call Drew and go to the hospital to confirm what he had found.
As I sat in the doctor’s personal office with Keeley, waiting for Drew whom I had called with the tragic news, my heart was breaking, but as I lifted myself up in prayer to my heavenly Father for grace to help us through this painful experience, I felt peace that only God can give. I took Keeley in my arms and thought to myself, can anything in this world be more precious than to hold your children in your arms?
When Drew arrived, we clung to each other as Dr. De Cook explained the situation to us. Still grasping to comprehend this tragic turn of events in our life, we listened to what our next step would be. I would have to deliver my baby in the hospital and go through complete induced labor.
The hospital ultrasound confirmed what the doctor’s machine had shown. The baby was indeed dead and measured 16 1/2 weeks. We returned home with heavy hearts to tell our family and friends the sad news.
As we awaited the delivery time, we experienced the overflowing power of God’s grace and peace. The love of our family and friends gave us strength as we entered the hospital two days later.
Being in the labor and delivery unit of Holland Hospital was incredibly difficult as I walked past the newborns snugly wrapped in their little cribs. I reflected on the last time we had been here, which was the birth of our daughter, Keeley. But again, the strength and peace of the Lord propelled us on to what was going to be a long and difficult day.
The delivery didn’t occur until 10 hours after I was admitted and was the most agonizing event I have ever been through — not because of physical pain, but because of the emotional pain of death. Drew was right there with me and together we wept at the loss we had endured. Our hopes, dreams and joys dissolved in the reality of the delivery of our dead child.
My following comments are the heart and soul of what I want to share with you today. As the attending nurse gathered our tiny little baby in her arms and placed him in a warm blanket, we were told that he was a boy. Dr. De Cook looked in amazement at the lifeless little form as he became aware of what had caused this tragic death. The little umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around a perfectly formed tiny neck. The body of this 16 week developing child was perfect in every other way. Amazingly, our beloved Christian doctor, who was in his early 60’s, had never in all his years, seen such a thing. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Our compassionate and caring nurse Char, left us alone with our tiny dead baby whom she had lovingly wrapped in a blanket and placed in our arms. In the following minutes, we examined this tiny little boy from head to foot which measured only 6 inches. Our eyes grew wide as we wiped away our tears and saw a perfect little human being. He was complete with 10 toes, 10 fingers, two tiny blue eyes, eyelids that opened and closed, a jaw that moved up and down, bones in all the right places that worked in all the right ways, and a perfectly-shaped head that contained a brain that would never learn to read or write or learn “Jesus Loves Me” or Psalm 23. But we knew with the conviction only a believer can have, that our little boy was in heaven already singing with the angels and maybe even sitting on the knee of His Savior, Jesus Christ.
As our grief gave way to acceptance and peace, we began to marvel at the miracle of life and we were struck by the verse of Psalm 139: “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It is a profound experience to hold the wonder of human creation in your hand. We spoke of this quietly together as we contemplated our own lives, so rich with blessing and joy. We named him Christian Andrew after our two godly grandfathers — one who is already with the Lord, and one who is 96 and will meet his Maker soon. Our thoughts also went to the issue of abortion. It might seem like a strange thing to think about at a moment like that, but we saw as we had never before seen, what a mother loses when she aborts her baby. We were filled with horror at the thought as we came face to face with the miracle of the unborn child.
All the politics surrounding this very emotional issue seem cold and trite when faced with the reality of an unborn child in your arms. However, this reality is a way of life for the thousands of doctors and nurses all over the world who witness the slaughter of babies every day. They see what we saw only through a sinful and darkened heart. What an enormous tragedy for the human race! People so desperately need the Lord and the Lord uses people in the political realm to advance His cause. I know He has used me to do this in the past, but how much greater my conviction will be in the future!
As I close this story, I want to impress upon you the need for you as a Christian to share the truth of God’s Word with your friends. What we experienced was a manifestation of the truth of Scripture in so many ways. The development of an unborn child, the separate nature of that life and how its death cannot even be detected by the mother who carries it, the peace of God which truly does pass all understanding, and the precious promise of eternal life. In the light of this revelation, we can only say, “When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my situation, you have taught me to say—it is well, it is well with my soul.”
I made a major transition from what I thought about abortion to what I know. And it is my prayer that somehow this knowledge can be used to bring others to the conviction of their need for Jesus Christ in their lives and a conviction that includes the knowledge of the sanctity of all human life.
Mrs. Jelgerhuis is the daughter of editors Thomas and Laurie Vanden Heuvel. She and her family are members of the Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Holland, MI where her father serves as church planter. Jane is the Special Projects Director for Congressman Peter Hoekstra (2nd District, Michigan).