The day my daughter died
Tuesday 18th September 2018.
The alarm sounds, the birds sing and the trees sway. The Lord is the same today, as he was yesterday and will be forever.
The smell of my morning coffee and leather-bound Bible are familiar.
Before long, my son lets me know he’s awake. We go downstairs and do what we always do - Weetabix, tea for mummy, a story and a prayer.
Tuesday 18th September promised to be a normal day. But it lied.
“I don’t think I’ve felt the baby move this morning,” my wife said, empty tea-cup in hand. “I’m sure it’s okay – it’s just that they always move when I’m reading my Bible.”
We both knew what this meant. Joanna would lie on her side and drink a cold glass of water. I’d play some music to the bump. And if still no movement, an ice lolly.
If nothing still, it’s a trip to the hospital at which point the baby kicks into action. We’d been there a few times before, concerned we were being over-anxious. But they always say come in ‘just in case’.
It was only the day before at our routine scan, which showed everything to be fine, that the midwife went through the same spiel.
“Remember, if you have any reduced movement, just pop in and we’ll have a look,” she smiled. We nodded, smiling back, excited for our approaching due date.
That was yesterday. Monday, 17th September. Our little girl was thirty-five weeks and a day old. We thought she had five weeks to go. But actually, she had about twelve hours.
We had no idea that this would be the last time we’d see our daughter’s heartbeat. Her movement.
On the way into the hospital, Joanna was calm, remembering previous journeys made under the same circumstances. I was anxious. What if today was different?
The Lord is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
But my world might not be. Yesterday was exciting. Today, anxiety-ridden. Tomorrow? God knows.
As we were called from the hospital waiting room, we knew the routine. The midwife would press her grey stick against the bump and we’d hear the baby’s heart.
The pressure built in my limbs. She picked it up. She pressed.
I broke. What had built up in my limbs began to roll down my cheeks. My hands began to shake. The midwife assured us that all was not lost but they’d need to do a scan.
The Lord is the same.
It must have been a matter of seconds before the image emerged on the screen. Yet it felt like I was outside of time.
Like a soldier glancing down to see a pin-less grenade roll up against his feet, those seconds lasted long enough to see what was coming and to embrace – no, to enjoy – the whisper of life’s peace; peace which would soon be obliterated.
Those seconds ended. The grenade went off.
“I’m so sorry – there’s no heartbeat.”
As I looked at my lifeless daughter floating in her mother’s womb, it felt like I had no heartbeat of my own.
Falling on Joanna, I wept and wailed.
Our Painful Love
They say grief comes in waves. But during those first hours, what washed over us was less seaside tides and more boiling kettles.
It was like something was stuck inside my body, with no escape. It beat against my chest. It shot through my arms.
It felt like pain. But it was love. Trapped. A fierce tide of that divine emotion building for our daughter. But with nowhere to place it – nowhere for it to rest.
Beating against my chest and shooting through my limbs was a love that would never find expression in the wonder of our new-born daughter.
It was a love that would never be enjoyed as we chased her from the bath to bed; or in her proud face as she held up her achievement certificate at the end of term.
Our deep, deep love was alive; the object of our love was dead.
With no outlet for this trapped love, it was pain.
God’s Painful Love
As Joanna and I sat staring at the vanilla walls of Abbey Suite 2, there was a depth to our loving pain – our painful love – that we’d never experienced.
It was as though we were diving into the deep waters of God’s heart. Previously it felt like we’d only known the shallows and rock pools.
This God knew the pain of grief as his children walked into spiritual death in rejection of him (Genesis 6:6, ESV).
With so much love for his spiritually-dead children, he was compelled to act. He made sure that his trapped love - without its object - would once again overflow to many.
But it came at the painful cost of his own justice – justice that would mean losing his own child in order to set his love on us, children he knew before time began.
The day my daughter died was only a whisper of the day God’s son died – the day when love and pain were written across a darkened sky.
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
How deep and vast is his love. How great is his pain at the death of his child. But it wasn’t for nothing. God’s love overflowed to those who rejected him, bringing many sons and daughters to glory ever since.
The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever.
As the pain surges, we have One on whom we can place our trapped love. We were created to love him. He is the ultimate object of all our love.
To love our daughter is to love this God – the one who brings the unborn into the eternal glories of his love, the one who loved our daughter to save her from the sufferings of this world.
This is our God, who will bring us into his presence, who will wipe each tear from our eyes, who will one day introduce us to our daughter; who, before then, will not stop working to give us a joy and a hope that is in him. And in him alone.
Who can bring any charge against this God? He is altogether and unfailingly good. He only does what is right (Genesis 18:25).
The Lord was the same on the day my daughter died, as he is today, as he always will be (Hebrews 13:8).
And through our tears, we praise him.