Saturday, July 18, 2009

Welcoming a Child Destined Soon to Die

The following originally appeared in Catholic San Francisco newspaper, Apr. 27, 2001:

The Mysterious Presence of Baby Adam

By Jack Smith

"His presence among us was a mysterious sign of that peace the world cannot give." -Christopher deVinck, The Power of the Powerless

Imagine being told by your doctor that the child you are carrying will likely die hours after birth. Then imagine carrying that knowledge through the next several months of pregnancy and through labor and delivery.

For me, as a man, it stretches the credibility of the Church's absolute teaching in defense of life from the moment of conception. I certainly would not want my wife to go through those months of physical and psychological torture only to deliver a child who would soon die in her arms. What is the point?

How much more the pain for a young woman who would have to endure this ordeal.

When she was three months pregnant with her first child, my college friend Amy was given the news by her doctor that her child had anencephaly, a neural defect, and would surely die soon after birth. As a military wife, she was living far away from friends and family who could give her support. She chose, nonetheless, to go on with the pregnancy.

After her child was born and died, she sent out a letter to her friends. I had already known what happened, so when I started to read the beginning of the letter, I found it strangely macabre. It was a birth announcement:

Patrick and Amy McNamara
proudly announce the birth of their son
Adam Christopher McNamara
June 15, 1994
5 lbs. 9oz., 19 in.

Proudly? Why announce it at all, I thought.

She went on to say:

"Adam was our son for nine months and four hours on this earth. The duration of his life was spent in our arms and in the arms of his grandmothers. Four hours was enough time to baptize and confirm Adam, to appreciate his perfectly formed body, to shower parental affection on him, and four hours was enough time for Adam to touch our hearts in a way that we would have never dreamed of only a few months before.

Our son brought an immeasurable amount of joy into our lives. When we miss Adam and sadness begins to descend, we recall this joy and pray that the strength of this memory will sustain us."

I couldn't believe how Amy had found any joy in this incident. I would have been devastated and angry at God. I started to understand when I read on.

Not only did this young woman demonstrate remarkable strength through this trial, but she found beauty in it and was strength to her husband. She included a poem which she wrote for her husband Patrick on Father's Day, just a few days after his son had died:
A Father wants many things for his child...
To always be there for him through joy and sadness.
To hold him close in warmth and comfort.
To see him triumph despite hardship and struggle.
To watch his life unfold and mature into greatness.
To guide him toward truth and goodness.
And, ultimately, a Father hopes his child will rest for eternity in God's embrace.
Very few Fathers can say,
"Yes, I was there every moment he needed me, I held him from
birth until death, his every action was a triumph, the span of his
life was never wanting for truth, and I know for certain that he
will rest for eternity in the palm of God's hand."

Amy has two beautiful children now. But now I understand why she's proud to have had three.


I asked Amy permission to print this personal information and she sent me back her approval along with this reflection on the value of Adam's life seven years after his death.
"The mysterious presence of Adam continues to unfold. We have a memory box in our house with mementos and pictures from the few hours we had with him. We have always allowed Monica supervised access to the box. She likes to flip through the phots in our little album. Even though she's only four, she talks freely about 'my brother,' often in a wondrous voice as she ponders that he is in heaven looking down on her, and once in a while with sadness as she wishes she could play with him. She has always been a perceptive and sensitive child, but just a few days ago I was surprised to learn that the beautiful mystery continues already with two year old Claire.

"Patrick has been overseas for seven weeks (with five to go) and Claire has felt his absence most painfully, so we talk about what it means to be a family; that we are a family, all of us, even when Patrick is on the ship 'he's always with us in our hearts.' This brings some comfort to the girls. So a few days ago I was asking Claire who is in her family. She said, 'You, Daddy, Adam.' I had to prompt her for Monica's name, not Adam's! I had no idea that she already understood.

"Adam was born about a month after we moved into this house seven years ago. My mom, then and now, credits a unique peace she feels when at our home to his presence. We are always flattered by her sense of peace when visiting, but never feel we can take credit for it."