The thought of having another baby was so exciting. I had been taking prenatal vitamins for months and exercising four times per week. My husband and I even took a relaxing, fun-filled trip to Las Vegas to get “things” started. 😉 With the grace of God we were pregnant within months. I felt great and found it hard to keep my pregnancy a secret from family and friends. We didn’t want to tell anyone until we received confirmation from the OB/GYN. I was about 3 months pregnant when I attended my first exam with my husband. Dr. David Garza heard the heartbeat, extended a handshake, and congratulated my husband. We had tears of joy in our eyes and immediately wanted to share the good news with everyone. We went home and I typed the words “Wonderful news is in store don’t you see? A new little grandbaby for 2003!” on a little piece of paper and carefully placed it inside a fortune cookie for my mother to open that evening. She opened it and really couldn’t believe what she was reading until she saw the look on our faces. My grandmother was also there and gave us her blessings too. I even had my Orthodontist put pink and blue bands on my braces! We celebrated with my brother and sister-in-law that weekend over dinner and talked about baby names, future plans, as well as our hopes and dreams for the future. The following Monday, my mom and daughter accompanied me to the routine sonogram. As the sonogram proceeded, the sonographer asked me a series of weird questions like, “Were you taking fertility medicine?” “Have you ever had a c-section?” “No”, I replied. Why? She told me that she was just wondering. I knew by the look on her face that something was wrong. She was so nervous when she walked out of the room, that she forgot to tell me that we were done. She did not offer me a sono photo of my baby either. In fact, running out the door, a sono picture fell to the floor; of course, I picked it up and put it in my purse.
A phone call the next day from Dr. Garza confirmed my “gut” feeling about the sonogram. He told me that he saw “bone fragments missing from the baby’s head” and asked me to see a specialist to confirm his findings right away. I was not sure what that meant and just prayed that the diagnosis from the specialist would be different. I told God that if my baby was going to be born with a handicap, that I would accept that and love this child unconditionally. When my husband and I visited the specialist, he told us that the sonogram showed our son had “anencephaly” a condition not viable with life. I cried and could not understand how this could have happened. I don’t think my husband understood what the doctor had just told us and asked me “what is he talking about?” We were prepared for our baby to need medical attention once born, but not prepared for him to tell us that our baby would die!! We asked him what our options were. Options, meaning “medicine” to heal our son. The options this specialist told us were as follows: he could give me the names of clinics to have an abortion or we could “try” to carry this baby full-term where the outcome would be lethal anyway. He told us that the delivery would be difficult because of the lack of skull putting pressure on the cervix, he told us that sometimes the doctors have to break the baby’s bones to get it out of the birth canal, he told us that I would most likely have a c-section, he told us that this baby probably would not go full term, he showed us an ugly scientific picture of what our baby would look like, he told us all of this so we would be “well informed” of what we were dealing with. Our baby was not given a 15% chance of survival, nor even 1%! Our baby was not going to live and there was no cure for anencephaly. Horrified, we left. My husband was calm, yet still in shock and crying. He left his car at the office and drove me home because of how hysterical I was. I pounded my fists in anger and cried tears in quantities never seen before. I could not be consoled the entire trip home. Arriving home, I went straight to my room in order not to scare my little daughter. My mom was at our home taking care of our daughter, and found out the results of the sonogram were bad. My brother and sister-in-law came over to console us, and asked if we needed anything. The only thing anyone could do at this point was to pray. I called my boss at work and told her the bad news. She was very understanding and told me to take a few days off from work. We prayed that God would help us get through this difficult trial.
We took a weekend trip to San Juan, Texas, a 5 hour trip from San Antonio to visit the Virgen de Guadalupe Catholic Shrine . There we attended a healing mass and gave all our pain, anger, confusion, and sadness to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary. We all agreed that we felt the loving presence of our Mother Mary, Jesus and God. In our hearts, we knew what God wanted from us. Besides, this wouldn’t be happening to us if God didn’t think we couldn’t handle it, right? We returned to San Antonio, after a very uplifting and spiritual weekend. I even returned to work with a totally different outlook on life. Many were suprised that we had decided to carry this baby to term. It was not really even a decision, since we knew that terminating this pregnancy was not even an option. Some were not supportive of our decision, questioning whether we were in denial of what the doctors had told us. No, we were not crazy…just full of faith in the plan God had in store for us. We attended several healing masses and had several church groups praying for a miracle. We knew that it was God’s will whatever the outcome would be. Certain things in life were not important anymore, especially not material things. Car breaks down? Oh well. Ariana spills paint all over the white carpet? No big deal. The car is dirty? So what, it’s just a car! Bills, bills, bills, no money? Don’t worry, the bills will always be there and God will see to it that they get paid. A lot of the anxiety was taken away after a return visit and consultation with Dr. Garza. I had not seen him in about a week and was worried what he would say about my decision to carry this baby. Would he tell me the same horrible things the other doctor/specialist said? Like an angel sent from God, Dr. Garza supported our decision and told us that he and his wife would have done the same. He told me that we would treat this like a normal pregnancy and gave me a tight hug of assurance. Needless to say, we felt so much better after that visit with Dr. Garza. Months went by and we were getting closer to the due date. In subsequent sonograms we even found out that we were having a boy! The sonographer had asked if we were sure if we wanted to know the sex because she did not want us to get too attached to our baby. What?? How can you carry a child for 9 months and not be emotionally attached?! We named our son, John Raphael. We sent out pregnancy announcements stating his delicate condition and asked for prayers. We also purchased double-depth cemetery lots for my husband and I. If Baby John would die, he would be buried on my side. We hoped and prayed for those few months that Baby John would be healed.
After the New Year, the level of anxiety was very high. This was because Baby John would be born very soon. Since my due date was January 26th, 2003, Dr. Garza ordered one more sonogram to see if the baby was in position. Thank the Lord he was not breech! My doctor says that the heaviest part of these special babies are the lower part of their bodies and gravity usually makes them breech. Dr. Garza also ordered that a neo-natal team be on stand by at the time of delivery just in case. Again, it was rare that this baby live all 9 months in utero. We also found out at the sonogram, that the diagnosis had not changed in all that time.
We called our priest and asked him about Baptizing our son. Monsignor Leo Dolan of St. Helena’s Catholic Church did something very special for us and Baby John. He gave our son a Conditional Baptism using holy water and oils directly on my abdomen on January 20th. The Godmother was my first cousin, Sandra who was present at the time, it was also her birthday. It was a beautiful ceremony with loving and assuring words from Monsignor Dolan. We felt so happy that our son was Baptized through the Catholic church and that his home would be with God.
On January 23rd, my doctor checked to see if I had dilated, or if my cervix was ripe. Nothing had happened, Baby John had not dropped either! Dr. Garza wanted to see me on the following Monday which was the day after my due date, to see if anything had changed. He also said that I might have to be induced. I worried about it all weekend long, and on the evening of my due date I felt a “little funny”. I did not feel pain, I just felt like “it” was really close to happening. At about 2:30 a.m., my water broke. Again, I did not feel pain nor contractions, and was very comfortable. My husband nervously packed a few last minute items while I got in the shower. My contractions could be felt at around 4:00 a.m., that is when I told everyone “let’s go!” When I arrived to the hospital at 4:30 a.m. I was 7 cm dilated! My doctor wanted me to have an epidural in case of an emergency c-section. I did too because if they gave me general anesthesia, I wouldn’t see my son in his first minutes of life if I had a cesarean. With contractions 30 seconds apart, I was given an epidural at 8 cm. After a couple pushes the baby wouldn’t budge. He was trying to come face first. In order to help, the nurse pushed down on my abdomen to move the baby out. The doctor pulled him very hard and our son was born. That specialist was wrong! I did not need a c-section, I did not have to be induced, my son was not breech, the doctor did not have to break any of our baby’s bones, and he was not stillborn! Only God can control those things. One thing for certain was God’s will to take our son to heaven.
We were saddened that our son did have anencephaly, but yet happy that he was alive! My husband cut the umbilical cord and the nurse wiped him off and put a warm little cap on him before I held him. I did not cry, I just held him, kissed and hugged him, and told him how much we loved our little angel. He lived 7 minutes before his ascension to heaven. He weighed 7 lbs, 8 oz. and was 21 inches long! He also had a big chest and chunky legs. Even though he had passed away, I gave him his first bath, and dressed him in his little angel outfit. He had such beautiful white skin, long fingernails and brown curly hair at the base of his head. I gave him a little haircut and kept one of his “curlies” in a hair lock box that my mom gave me. We took lots of pictures and video and cherished these very precious moments with our angel. My husband, daughter, mother, grandmother, and cousin took turns holding him and remembering every inch of his little body. After the family left, Baby John stayed with me and my husband for another 5 hours. When the funeral home came to pick up our son, that is when my tears started to roll. (I must say that was the hardest part of letting go.) I was released the next day so we could complete our son’s funeral arrangements.
It has been 3 years since Baby John went to Heaven. We don’t ever regret the decision to carry our son to term. We constantly receive daily blessings and continue to bless others by sharing our story. We can’t explain “how” we were able to live through this very difficult time, as losing a child is the most unimaginable pain one can endure. We just know that by the grace of God and our Blessed Mother, our hearts and souls have been healed through the greiving process. It may sound strange but we actually feel “blessed” to have brought our son to this world only to give him back to the Lord. We don’t feel cursed or punished, we felt as though we were “chosen” to carry this little angel for God’s purpose.
For more information on baby John, our pregnancy announcement, funeral program, and more pictures, please visit our website. http://www.geocities.com/babyjohnraphael/index.html .