Every good and perfect gift is from God.
On October 9, 2008 God blessed our family with a very special gift that was both good and perfect…the beautiful life of our dear son Nathaniel Douglas. Although Nathaniel’s body did not work in a way that would allow him to live a long, healthy life here on earth, his little body was exactly the way God designed it…which made it perfect in every way.
Our story begins on a joyous day in February when we first discovered we were pregnant with our second child. Our first born, Julia, brought so much love and happiness into our lives, so we were thrilled with the news that our family was continuing to grow! With a history of infertility, we were also a bit surprised and relieved at how relatively quickly we were able to conceive and without any fertility drugs! Our prayers had been answered, and from the moment we learned about our pregnancy, it was apparent to us that this baby truly was a gift from God!
Our joy turned to sadness, when half-way through our pregnancy we received the devastating news that our dear baby had a rare, chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18. Although we were deeply saddened by this diagnosis, we were determined to celebrate the time we did have with our son. Realizing that most of Nathaniel’s life could very well be during our pregnancy, we were committed to creating as many family memories with our son as possible. Family walks to the park, outings to the Dairy Queen for yummy treats and trips to visit relatives quickly took on new meaning. Julia was only 2 at the time, but we were able to find many ways to include her in our celebration of her little brother. She loved rubbing Mommy’s tummy, “reading stories” and singing songs to Nathaniel and never missed an opportunity to shower him with hugs and kisses. We were blessed with a beautiful pregnancy filled with many precious moments with our son. By the grace of God, every day began and ended with prayers thanking Him for the beautiful lives of our two children.
This was however, a pregnancy we did not want to end. Through a follow-up Level II ultrasound with a perinatologist and pediatric cardiologist, we were informed that Nathaniel’s physical condition was very serious. In addition to a heart problem, missing kidney, and choroids plexus cysts which we learned about at our first ultrasound, we now discovered that Nathaniel’s lungs were underdeveloped due to a diaphragmatic hernia. We were told that his greatest struggle would be transitioning to breathing on his own after birth, and the doctors did not think we would have the months, weeks or even days with our son that we had been praying for. Rather, it was likely that Nathaniel would live for just a half hour to an hour if he survived birth. It was only after seeking this additional ultrasound, hearing the medical advice of specialists, visiting with our priest, talking with our parents and of course much prayer that we were able to decide that comfort care measures would be the best option for our dear son. And so, while we continued to celebrate the perfect gift he was to our family, we began to prepare for his birth.
As we planned to welcome Nathaniel into our lives, we found ourselves surrounded with so much love, support and prayers from family, friends and the community. We were overwhelmed by the wonderful resources available to assist us throughout our journey. Through these incredible people working with these wonderful organizations we had the opportunity to take beautiful maternity photos as a family, work with a nurse educator to write a thorough birth plan, coordinate with hospital staff to ensure our wishes would be respected, consult with a child-life specialist to consider the best ways to communicate Nathaniel’s condition with Julia, and finally make plans for hospice care in the event that Nathaniel was strong enough to come home with us. In addition, we were deeply touched by the beautiful people at our parish and many others praying for us and supporting us along the way. Although the journey was an incredibly difficult one, never once did we feel abandoned or alone, and we were always reassured by our faith and the generous outpouring of love and support we received from those around us.
It was this support that sustained us as the day of Nathaniel’s birth approached. All along it had been our desire to avoid induction in hopes that labor would occur naturally. On Nathaniel’s due date however, my blood pressure was quite elevated, and it become medically necessary to schedule an induction. Two days later on October 9, 2008, we were at the hospital anticipating Nathaniel’s birth.
Although we had hoped and prayed that we would experience joy on his birthday, we honestly didn’t know if we would. All throughout our pregnancy, and especially on that day, we often reminded ourselves of a message given to us by a dear friend, “Where there is fear there is no faith and where there is faith there is no fear.” We knew the only way to approach this experience was to place our complete trust in Jesus, and he would continue to walk this journey with us.
Throughout the morning labor was progressing well. By late morning however, the nurse informed us that Nathaniel’s heart rate had dropped significantly for quite some time and that is was likely he would be born still. We immediately stopped monitoring his heart rate, and through our tears, did the only thing we could think of at that moment, and prayed.
A few hours later, at 2:03 pm Nathaniel was delivered, and as planned, placed directly on his mommy’s tummy, where we had a soft cozy blanket waiting for him. You can imagine our complete JOY, when at that time, his chest rose slightly as he took his first, peaceful breath! God had given us the gift of a live birth for our dear son! Daddy immediately baptized Nathaniel, and shortly after, our parents and priest came in to the room. Nathaniel was confirmed by our priest, and admired by his grandparents. They rejoiced with us as we marveled at the newest member of our family…so good and perfect! In his glorious 47 minutes of life, each of them an absolute gift, we experienced beautiful moments with our son and will treasure that time always. His entire life was spent wrapped in the loving embrace of his mommy and daddy, and all he knew was pure love. At 2:50 pm he was peacefully received into the hands of God. After his death, we bathed him and introduced him to his loving big sister who enjoyed holding him and showering him with more hugs and kisses.
In Nathaniel’s life and death, we have learned so much about God’s love for us and the way He is calling us to love one another. As our priest said in the homily at Nathaniel’s funeral, “… Nathaniel received royal treatment from his family. Let us never forget that every person is a gift from God and every person, in the womb or out of the womb, deserves royal treatment. No matter how much time we may have, nine months and forty-seven minutes, or many years we should seize each moment and love as well as possible as much as possible.” Indeed, each person’s life is a precious gift, good and perfect sent directly from God!
It has now been eight months since Nathaniel’s death, and not a day goes by that we don’t think of him and desire to see him again. Although there is still some sadness each day as we long to hold him in our arms again, we also find peace in knowing that he is joyfully watching over us and praying for us from God’s heavenly kingdom. It is our firm belief that with God’s grace we will some day be reunited as a family. In the meantime, as we continue to accept God’s loving plan for our family, it is by His grace we are able to begin and end each day with a prayer thanking Him for the wonderful gifts He has given us in the lives of our three children. Yes, we are expecting our third child, and our baby is due October 16, 2009 – exactly one year and one week after that beautiful day when we welcomed our dear Nathaniel into arms. What a good a perfect gift!