Advice from a Minister With First-Hand Experience of a Prenatal Diagnosis

Life takes shocking turns.  We came to the ultra-sound with smiles and high expectations to find out whether we were having a girl or boy.   To our surprise the doctor told us that our son had a condition that was not compatible with life outside of the womb.  We were asked if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy.  My wife let out a cry of devastation over the news and the horrific thought of killing our child.

Some things in life are simply wrong.  Death itself is wrong and no less for an infant in the womb.  It is a great misery from the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  And yet, God will make all wrongs right.  We live with the promise of resurrection based on the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Nonetheless with the promises there is a great amount of shock and grief that come with a prenatal diagnosis. 

We named our son, Luke Lathan Vickery. He was our delight all through the pregnancy. After we accepted the reality of our son’s condition we wanted to cherish our time with him as he was in the womb.  We received great emotional support from Be Not Afraid. They have been a great comfort to us and were instrumental in setting us up for success at the birth. 
Because of his condition Luke had little to no chance of being born alive, but to our delight he came out kicking and breathing. Luke was born with bright blonde hair, which my mom said was just like mine.  Though he was not perfect, he was incredibly beautiful to us.  Our daughters marveled at how special their brother was and still regularly speak of him.   We shared twenty-five minutes of life outside the womb with our son and those memories will continue to be some of the most precious moments of our lives.  Luke taught us the value of a life, no matter how short or seemingly insignificant. 

These moments have deeply shaped my life and my ministry as a pastor.  Experiencing the nearness of God in suffering has given me a renewed sense of confidence in the Lord and boldness to preach the Word of God so that the comfort that comes only from the Holy Spirit might strengthen his people.  At the same time the grieving experience felt unbearable on many days.  Were it not for the faithful prayers of God’s people and the great love demonstrated by the Bride of Christ I am not sure my family would have made it through.  Our pastors pursued us, rushed to our side, and grieved with us.  It was not their eloquent words that had the deepest impact but simply their commitment to be with us. 

In light of our experience I would recommend avoiding three pitfalls: 

1) Don’t focus on the possibility of misdiagnosis.  It is very likely that there will not be one.  Instead be the person who values every child no matter how broken or frail they may be.  Remember that no one is so broken that they can’t have a part in God’s plan of salvation for even the baby who will die at birth is a blessing. 

2) Don’t be afraid to stand in uncertainty with the parents.  No one knows what to say in times like this and that is okay. You will be a comfort by simply remaining present with them.  Rather than giving cheap solutions or cliché answers simply cry out to God with them (consider the many lament Psalms: ex. Psalm 6:2-6). 

3) Don’t seek to minimize grief or rush the process in anyway.  Often the temptation for clergy is to rush to teaching the grieving individual or say something that we think will minimize the pain.  While what we say may be true it is likely that the grieving individual will not be ready to hear it as they are experiencing a flood of emotional pain. First we must be like Jesus who entered into grief with his friends. We have an opportunity to give permission to grieve and be gracious towards others by allowing them to grieve in their own unique way. 

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