Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland
ONE DAY MORE
By CLÍONA JOHNSON
ON JULY 19, 2006, my husband and I went for my 22-week scan. We had decided we were going to find out the sex of the baby this time; something we had not done with previous pregnancies. We had four girls at home and one boy who really wanted a brother. My husband and I just wanted a healthy baby. But that was not to be, not this time.
Within a minute of commencing the scan, the midwife saw that not all was well. She told us she was so sorry but the news was not good: this child would not survive for long. Immediately she went to find the master of the scanning dept to come and give us an
official diagnosis. Those few minutes of waiting were like an eternity. “What does this mean? Will our baby die? Will it be imminent or will we have some time together? Will he/she be severely handicapped…”
The Master came and answered all our questions. Our baby had Anencephaly—a condition meaning his brain did not fully develop and therefore he could not survive for long after birth, if he even made it that far. He told us that our baby could die any time but would
certainly die shortly after birth. He also told us that our baby was a boy—our son’s long awaited brother!
Needless to say we were shell-shocked! It was like a gong booming in our world: our reality had just been thrown up in the air and all we knew was that when all the pieces landed again, there would be no getting away from the fact that our child was going to die, soon. We went away and sat in shock for a while. Our family were minding our other kids so we trespassed on their generosity a little longer and went for a coffee. In the midst of the blow, one thing was clear to both of us: our time is short. We want to make the most of his short life. We want to try to give him as much love as we can in the days ahead, since we onlyhave a small window in which to give him a whole lifetime’s worth of love. There and then, we named him John Paul, after his Dad. This was my husband’s suggestion and I found comfort in knowing that we were welcoming this child together. I was not alone.
The next couple of days were a blur of broken sleep with nightmares, waking up and finding the nightmare was actually reality, the routine of looking after my other kids, the job of telling them the bad news about their little brother, telling the rest of thefamily… I had a sister and a sister-in-law who were both pregnant and expecting babies at around the same time as John Paul. I knew it would be hard on them too! After a few days of the world having seemed to turn upside-down, the new reality started to settle in and with that came a new sense of direction for me as a mother and for us as a family. We knew the time was short but we didn’t know when John Paul would die, so we realised that our greatest hope was that he would survive till birth and that we would get an opportunity to meet him. We began to hope and plan for this. We also made plans for what would happen if he died in the womb. Now the picture was not so uncertain anymore. We had time and warning. We could give him everything possible in the next few weeks until it was no longer possible to give anymore.
I found during this time that I was surprised by the joy of each new day that I woke up and found him kicking, making his presence known. During this time I learnt to live in the present, because I was so grateful that this day, this moment I had him with me. Each moment was a bonus and not to be taken for granted. In a strange way I had never enjoyed a pregnancy so much before, because with my previous pregnancies I tended to look ahead to the birth and beyond, rather than appreciating each day of the life of the child in the womb. Another amazing thing that took us by surprise was the love, care and support of our wider family and friends. People thought of the most beautiful things to do for us and for John Paul. My mother-in-law organised my two daughters and their three cousins to each knit a portion of a little blue cardigan, which she then put together for him to wear when he was born. My son was going to be clothed in love, even if just for a short time and not just our love but the love of many people around him. It lifted my heart so much to know that many others were joining us in giving him as much love as possible. Our kids also were full of affection for him, talking to him and hugging him each day.
I was fortunate enough to know two other women who had experienced similar situations a few years before. Both of them had had babies diagnosed with fatal foetal conditions. I spent time with each of them and heard their stories and their ideas—what they
found helped make their time with their little ones precious. This was invaluable to me and some of what they shared with me really helped us to plan for our short time with John Paul. Also during this time, the hospital staff were very good to us. We were part of the community midwives programme, which is a service already dedicated to allowing a more personal approach to childbirth, while under the umbrella and the care of the hospital. This is a wonderful programme and because of my special needs in John Paul’s case, the midwives were able to care for John Paul and me in a very personal way. For instance, they came to my home for many of my visits, to avoid my having to wait with other mums who were expecting healthy babies. They always let me listen to his heartbeat for a minute or two on each visit. John Paul’s heartbeat was always so healthy and my husband recorded it on one occasion. The midwives made sure I knew exactly what to expect and what the odds were but always referred to John Paul by his name, giving him the respect of acknowledging him as a valuable person. All these small things made a very big difference in having the strength to walk the difficult path.
The master of the scanning department invited us back at 32 weeks for another follow-up scan, to monitor John Paul’s development and he told us to bring all our other kids with us. He spent 45 minutes with us, and, after the official checks he needed to make, he let the kids dictate the scan from there; he asked each of them what part of their brother they wanted to see. Nothing was too much trouble and the kids were very amused when he showed them proof that John Paul was a boy! In effect, he facilitated my children
“meeting” their brother for the first time and since we had no guarantee that they would meet him alive at all, this meant so much to us.
I began to labour at 36 weeks. Labour started and stopped over a period of a few days which I think was due to my uncertainty and trepidation. Eventually, on the morning of November 2, contractions began again and I headed into the hospital. After a few hours it all stopped and I remember feeling very frustrated because each time contractions began, I would psych myself up, take a deep breath and brace myself for the difficult task ahead and then it would all stop! But inthe midst of my frustration, I began to reflect on all
the moments I’d already had with John Paul and how I valued them and I realised that this was my last journey with him and that I didn’t want to rush it! If it was going to progress at a gentle pace, then I would settle in for the ride. My moments with him were now really
limited and I should cherish them even more.
This really helped me to put things in perspective. From that point on I became a lot more peaceful andthe labour built at a slow and steady pace. At no point did it become overwhelming and as I look back on it now, I’m very grateful that it was such a peaceful labour. When John Paul was born, it was late at night and all was quiet. We had the use of the community midwives room for the entire labour and birth so we could really treasure the moments without interruption. He lived for 17 minutes after he was born and passed away peacefully when my husband cut the chord. But all our hopes for him had been realised. We had met him, told him we loved him, held him, baptised him. Now we could let him go in peace.
Again the hospital staff outdid themselves in accommodating us. Our parents had been looking after our other kids and they and the children and some of our brothers and sisters were admitted to the delivery room to be with us, as we knew the time wasgoing to be so short. So, many of our family got to meet John Paul and love him with us. While 17 minutes might seem like a very short time, it is etched into our hearts forever. It has been such a gift to look back during our time of suffering and loss and remember those precious peaceful moments. To know that we held on to and loved John Paul for as long as we could and then let him go when the time was right has been such a comfort in the pain of losing him. This is what all parents really want to do for all their children—to be there when they’re needed and to let them move on to greater things when the time is right. I realised reflecting on John Paul’s life that it was no different in his case. It all just happened in a very short space of time.
Clíona Johnson is a housewife living in Dublin. The second part of this article can be found here.
In the same issue:
Greeting the Pope from the End of the Earth
REMEMBERING POPE BENEDICT’S PONTIFICATE
Pope Benedict and the Hermeneutic of Continuity—Pope Benedict the Humble Worker
in the Vineyard—Pope Benedict the Pope of Christocentric Christian Unity—Pope
Benedict the Teacher—Pope Benedict the Thinker—Pope Benedict the Skipper of the
Barque of Peter—Pope Benedict a Sign of Contradiction
ONE DAY MORE
BENEDICT XVI: A PILGRIM ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH
Rev John Ogilvie SJ
A FORGOTTEN SPIRITUAL GUIDE AND HIS BIOGRAPHER: Part I
A CATASTROPHIC CATECHETICAL REVOLUTION
Fr George Duggan SM
From the Editor’s Desk includes ‘Old and New in Lent’ and ‘Home Entertainment
from a Lost Era’; Letters from Jim Allen, Katie McGrath, and Eric Conway; Hurling Shots
from the Ditch include ‘SF Scupper Stormont Pro-Life Proposal’; Another list from Francis
Book Sales; and among Straws for the Camel’s Back, ‘Who’s ‘Unworthy of Life?’,
‘Guardian’s Knavish Tricks’, and ‘Church of Nice, RIP’.