Few things bring more joy to a couple than to discover that they are expecting a baby. The missed period, the onset of morning sickness all point to one thing: a precious new life is forming and developing inside the mother’s womb.
In these days of ultrasound scans the couple generally keep the news to themselves, a few close friends, and family members knowing that in the early days of pregnancy the baby is vulnerable to a miscarriage. Then the day of the first scan comes and the mother attends the hospital with rising joyful expectancy as she looks forward to seeing their baby on the screen. She shudders as the cold gel is rubbed on her stomach, usually Dad stands alongside holding her hand as both anxiously watch the ultrasound operator place the probe on the skin and move it around to get the best images. If all is well the operator is happy to tilt the screen towards the delighted parents, point out the key features of the baby and provide a printout, baby’s first photo as a keepsake. Sometimes however, the operators face becomes serious and they excuse themselves from the room to call in a second opinion, an expert who will be able to confirm that something is wrong. The parents’ worst nightmare; baby is not developing normally! At that moment the flood of emotions means that the words of advice and comfort from the medical staff fall on the ground, as the parents cling to each other in mind paralysing grief.
This was the experience of Sarah Williams as she attended the initial scan of her third child. An important meeting prevented her husband Paul from being with her but neither was unduly concerned as they had been through this first encounter twice before and they confidently expected all to be well. Quickly a tiny foot was identified and Sarah felt the rush of maternal bonding. Nothing could have prepared Sarah for what she was about to discover. A problem! A consultant! A diagnosis! ‘I have to tell you, Mrs Williams, that this baby will not live. It has thanataphoric dysplasia, a lethal skeletal deformity that will certainly result in death shortly after birth. The chest is too small to sustain the proper development of the lungs. When the baby is born it will not be able to breathe.’
Tears streamed down my face as I read this book in which Sarah recounts how, together with Paul and their daughters Hannah and Emilia, they processed the initial diagnosis. She describes how they arrived at the painful decision to allow the pregnancy to progress to full term, how they bonded with baby Cerian (which means ‘Loved’), how they grieved at her ultimate death. Throughout the journey we discover how their Christian faith sustained them and gave them the freedom to enjoy the brief life of their daughter, provided them with moments of joy during the pain of sorrow. This account of real people doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions, yet it shows how they were ultimately able to celebrate Cerian’s precious, short life.
Sarah writes these words after Cerian’s death: ‘If the self is defined as a capacity for God, then it allows us to confer the intrinsic value of personhood on beings with spirits whose bodies are unusable and whose personalities cannot develop – like Cerian, for instance. She could not justify her existence in terms of abilities, talents and achievements. But I had no doubt she had a capacity to respond to God. Her worth was related to her being, not her functional ability.’ Words that encapsulate the dignity of life that superficially seems without purpose.
Buy The Shaming of the Strong: The Challenge of an Unborn Life from Amazon UK
Buy The Shaming of the Strong: The Challenge of an Unborn Life from Amazon US