on being prepared

I was maybe twelve weeks pregnant with my second. As I stepped out of the shower, I heard in my head, What would you do if the baby had anencephaly?

Looking back, the oddest part of this incident is that I didn’t freak out, didn’t spend the next months worrying, didn’t think much of it at all. I just paused, thought, Well, I guess I’d have to carry to term anyhow. And then I reached for my towel to dry off. The conversation didn’t continue, as if whatever was on the other end said, “Okay,” and that was it.

Ten weeks later, when we found out the baby did have anencephaly, I decided it was the Holy Spirit, preparing me for what was to come. But in later years, I was less sure. I wondered if maybe it wasn’t my guardian angel, trying to assess how I’d react. I don’t know, but really, I don’t want to know, so I’ve never asked. The point is that the way was prepared for me.

When my first baby was only a month or two old, I got an issue of Family Foundations in the mail and read it on the living room floor while the baby played in the activity gym. Back in those days, it was still a newsletter. They had an article about a baby diagnosed at 20 weeks with a fatal birth defect, and I read the whole article, stunned because no one had ever told me that could happen, that a baby could have a birth defect so severe he would die as soon as he was born. At the end of the article, the writer told us what he’d named his baby, and it was the same first and middle name we had given Kiddo#1.

So when I heard that question in my head, I remembered that article and the anencephalic baby with my son’s name, and I answered.

We were being prepared. There isn’t any other way to explain these things. When the radiologist snapped off the machine and told us to wait there until we could go upstairs to talk to the on-call obstetrician, my husband looked at me, and I looked back at him, and we were numb. And he said to me, “What’s going to happen?” and I said, “I’m going to carry her to term, and she’ll be born, and she’ll live for two hours, and then she’ll die.” ¬†It was exactly what happened in that article. An article I tracked down later and discovered that no, that baby hadn’t had anencephaly at all but rather a different birth defect. But when the radiologist had said “anencephaly,” the word had shifted around in my head so I heard “an (not) cephaly (head)” and I repeated “No brain?” and I still have no idea where I came across the term before then, although clearly I had.

Twenty weeks later, eleven years ago today, she was born, lived for two hours, and died. But we’d been prepared. And it was better that way.

Happy birthday, Emily. I hope God gives you a pony for your birthday, because your younger sister could tell you that you’d never have gotten one of your own down here.


  1. The Sojourner

    Happy birthday, Emily.

    My fiance’s niece had anencephaly and lived for maybe 14 or 15 hours. She would be two in September; her little sister is four months old. (And their brother just turned five.) I’m not sure why I’m sharing that; it’s not like that fact means I know anything about what it’s like, but it’s a little closer to home, I guess, for me.

    I’ll pray for your family today.

  2. Lorraine E. Castro

    I love that you were prepared by the divine by whatever means you were and that you shared this with us. We all get those messages but must have quiet minds in order to hear them. Thank you and bless you.

  3. Wyldkat

    <> You have a special strength, my dear.

    [file under bitter irony. This is what showed up when I opened the page: Ads by Google Child Birth Defect Lawyer]

    1. Wyldkat

      Okay, there was supposed to be a “hugs” between those carrots. One of these days I’ll get these pages straight.

  4. mgudlewski

    Happy birthday to Emily! Thinking of you.

  5. Ana

    Hugs to the mom and dad.