It all began on a Friday afternoon. As I lay on the narrow hospital guerney I silently scolded myself for having scheduled this Ultrasound on a Friday afternoon when there were so many things for me to accomplish before sunset. I promised myself never to try this again…..my thoughts were interrupted by the insistence in her voice, “This is NOT a normal Sonogram!!! There are several large cysts in the brain and I am unable to appreciate any bladder whatsoever”. The short and very pregnant physician almost shouted at me and I suddenly realized that for her, my situation hit much too close to home. We were both physicians, were pretty close in age and my refusal to respond to what she was trying to tell me triggered her aggression. I suppose she felt the MD behind my name released me from the natural human response of denial. What she was saying was just too much for me to handle on a Friday afternoon and finally I replied by telling her that I had a right to my denial. She responded by storming out of the room. “The devil IS a liar”, was my unspoken response.
At age 40, I was 16 weeks pregnant with my second child when my obstetrician referred me for an ultrasound because the size of my uterus was on the small side of normal. “Just to make sure all is well”, he said. He had not appeared particularly worried, but because of my “advanced maternal age”, this child I was carrying was at increased risk for chromosomal abnormalities. He was right to be more watchful than usual in my case. He was simply practicing good medicine.
Early the following week, I was shocked to receive a call from my obstetrician telling me that my ultrasound was significantly abnormal and I would need to see a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist to undergo an amniocentesis. The fact that my trusted obstetrician was concerned left me feeling worried so I promptly scheduled an appointment with the specialist.
“I suspect Trisomy 21” is what the specialist verbalized after reviewing the Ultrasound, “but will need to confirm the diagnosis pathologically by collecting some fluid from the amniotic sac”. I agreed to the procedure, signed the consent forms and the amniocentesis was accomplished without complications.
Trisomy 21 is a chromosomal transfer anomaly that results in a constellation of physical abnormalities in the developing fetus that are incompatible with life. These babies either die in utero or within days of birth. A week after the amniocentesis, the diagnosis of Trisomy 21 was confirmed and the Specialist matter-of-factly recommended prompt termination of pregnancy. Termination would need to occur within the next two weeks because the fetus was getting too large for an uncomplicated abortion procedure. My preferred hospital would not even allow the procedure to be done at their facility if I waited more than two weeks.
Wow!!! How could this be happening? I had always been healthy and outside of the delivery of my eldest daughter Elana, I had never even been hospitalized or taken medication regularly. Now I was being told that the female child I was carrying was so ill she would not live. So, I should just have an abortion and move on with my life? I had just a few questions that needed to be answered. First, how did God feel about me terminating this pregnancy? I knew that abortion of a healthy fetus was wrong, but this child could not survive. What would be the point of carrying her to term? The longer I carried her, the more attached I would become and the more severe the pain of loss when my precious child died. Secondly, what ultimately would happen to my baby? Would she be as though she had never existed? Would she be saved if I were saved or lost if I were lost? Somehow, I knew the answers to these questions were intimately linked together and should dictate my actions. I also knew that this situation was a test of faith and it was crucial that I make the right decision. I thought of Abraham and the decision he made to offer Isaac. For me this decision carried that kind of weighty significance and I did not want to traverse this ground again, trying to learn the same lesson of faith. Finally, I decided to leave the situation with the Lord. However He decided to work things out would be fine with me. I would decline the termination procedure, put my faith in God and trust Him to decide what was best in this situation. Whatever came my way, I knew He would be faithful to give me the strength to bear it.
As my pregnancy progressed, I began to feel the need to name my unborn child. After all, there was a small chance she could live for a day or two and therefore would need a name. I searched through several books with names and their meanings but could not settle on any name in particular. One morning while in prayer, the name Olivia came back to me. I had noticed the name earlier, but had dismissed it because it meant “Olive Tree” and that had no significance for me. Over the next 3-4 weeks I remained unable to find a name I liked but Olivia remained in the back of my mind.
The morning of Sabbath August 27th 1994 at 33 weeks gestational age, I was in prayer for my child and called her by name, Olivia. This was a surprise to me because I had not realized I had decided on her name and here I was calling her Olivia to the only one who truly understood what I was feeling. At the end of my prayer, I felt her move ever so slightly before I got up to begin the day.
It was two days later while at work that I realized I had not felt my baby move since calling her name in prayer. I was working at a community health center at the time and since we offered obstetrical services I went immediately to the nurse practitioner to see if Olivia was still living. She listened for a full 10 minutes before telling me she was unable to detect any fetal heart tones. Dr Griffith confirmed intra-uterine fetal death later that afternoon.
Three days later, I delivered Olivia Shawn Brown via a vaginal delivery without anesthesia. I wanted to deliver naturally because this pregnancy and delivery would be the only experience I would ever have with my beloved daughter. It was important to feel every contraction uninhibited by anesthesia, as if in the labor experience I could feel all the emotions this child would have brought to my life.
Five days later, she was buried after a small graveside service attended by family, friends and co-workers.
A few weeks later I was ruminating over what this experience had meant to me when the Lord impressed me once again to consider her name. I began to look up references to the olive tree in scripture and discovered in Romans 11 that the family of God is represented as an olive tree. Suddenly, I realized that hidden within her name was a beautiful promise of hope. If her name represented the very essence of the people of God and on the day I gave her that name she moved within my womb for the last time, it could only mean that God numbers her among His children and on that morning when the dead in Christ rise, Olivia will come up to life eternal unmarred by the curse of sin. In that day when I take my flight, my guardian angel will bring her to me never to be torn apart again by death. And I will cry out in praise to God, “O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? Hallelujah, Amen!!!”