Cross posted from Dia Boyle at MercatorNet.com.
“When you discover that you are pregnant, you expect a certain kind of journey. You wonder if your child is a boy or a girl and begin searching for the perfect name….But now prenatal testing has revealed serious problems, problems so serious that your baby is not expected to survive. This is not the journey you planned. It isn’t even on the map…” (p. 1)
This particular journey is relatively new in human experience. Certainly it has happened throughout human history that babies have been conceived with fatal medical conditions, but until recently these problems seldom came to light before birth. Most problems would not have been known until miscarriage or birth revealed them to parents and doctors alike. Accurate prenatal diagnosis was, for the most part, not possible until diagnostic ultrasound and fetal testing became routinely available in the 1980s. With rapid developments in fetal diagnosis in the past 30 years, it is now very possible to know early in a pregnancy there are “catastrophic problems” which will almost certainly result in the baby not being able to survive after birth for more than a few minutes, days, or weeks. It is for this journey, the journey through the remaining months of pregnancy and the birth and death of a child, that A Gift of Time can serve as an experienced and compassionate travel guide and companion.
The capacity for fetal diagnosis has coincided with the legalization of abortion, and this book acknowledges that the medical recommendation in these cases has often been an abortion (or “early induction”). In A Gift of Time the authors choose neither to condemn nor support the choice of abortion. They direct their book to those who, having received a devastating diagnosis, have decided, or are still in the process of deciding, to continue their pregnancy knowing that their baby’s life is expected to be brief. Yet their positive and encouraging approach to these heartbreaking realities paint the choice of abortion as a sad mistake and a missed opportunity for emotional growth and healing.
Author Amy Kuebelbeck herself experienced this journey with the birth and death of her son Gabriel (Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby’s Brief Life). With Deborah L. Davis, PhD, an expert in perinatal bereavement, Ms. Kuebelbeck, a former reporter and editor for the Associated Press, gathered the experiences and insights of more than 120 mothers and fathers who had traveled this path. These experiences and insights are shared in the parents’ own words, organized in chapters such as “Waiting with your Baby,” “Welcoming Baby,” and “Saying Goodbye.” This book is directed to parents who have received a catastrophic diagnosis, and it is offered as an aid to help them think about and prepare for the coming months and years. How do we reveal this news to the people at work? Do we want to take photographs…and how? What about my other children? A Gift of Time offers practical advice and many resources for these parents, along with a great deal of support, affirmation, encouragement, and consolation. It is also a great source of insight for those involved in the care and support of such families: medical personnel, family and friends, clergy and counselors.
It would be a shame, however, if this book only reaches those directly touched by such experiences. A Gift of Time is more than a handbook of practical advice. Like a good novel or painting, it allows readers to look into an intensely human corner of life, one to which they may never travel in person. Because of the shared pain, courage, faith, and, often, wisdom of the mothers and fathers who relate their experiences, any reader can achieve a better understanding of what it means to be a mother and a father:
“As a mother, I have always felt that it was my job to identify what my children need and give it to them. Sometimes those needs are simple and straightforward–clean laundry, a healthy meal, a hand to cross the street safely. Maggie’s needs were not like those of my sons. She needed us to give her a safe and peaceful transition from one world to the next. Carrying Maggie to term did that for me–it gave me the opportunity to ‘mother’ her until she didn’t need me anymore.” ~ Alessandra (p. 345)
Any reader can learn about how to parent his or her own children, healthy or otherwise, in difficult times:
“You still have the opportunity to love this child. You can do this. She loves you and wants to be with you. She needs you to help her–that is your responsibility as her parent.” ~ Katharine (p. 371)
And any reader can come to a deeper appreciation of the worth and dignity of every human life:
“James and I have made a point of never wishing that she would live a certain amount of time. We didn’t want to define the success of her life by how long it was. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to think that she would be a miracle only if she lived a long time. I believed that she was already a miracle. And then I start to think, Well, what about all of the other babies in the world, aren’t they miracles too? And then, what about adults? And I am left with the realization that we are all miracles…” ~ Jill K. (p. 356)
A Gift of Time is a gift. With their beautiful writing, the authors honor the families who contributed to this book, comfort the families who will, sadly, need to make use of this book, and deepen and enrich every reader’s human experience. There are further resources on their website, Perinatal Hospice
A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby’s Life is Expected to Be Brief | By Amy Kuebelbeck and Deborah L. Davis, PhD | Johns Hopkins University Press (2011) | Papaerback, 408 pages | $18.95