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Waiting in the Dark

  • Sheila Walsh Women of Faith speaker, author, recording artist
  • 2003 16 Sep
Waiting in the Dark

”He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’” Matthew 26:42

I had never been angry with God. I’d found it hard to relate to others who had told me they struggled with this; it seemed so foreign to me--until recently. I was doing well in my pregnancy. Because I turned forty in my fourth month, I knew I was considered higher risk than some women, but I didn’t give it much thought.

Based on intuition and guesswork, we were sure it was a girl and had chosen a name, Alexandra Elizabeth.

“Are you disappointed that it’s not a boy?” I asked my husband.

“Absolutely not!” he said. “I just want a healthy baby.”

At nineteen weeks I went for an ultrasound. Barry took the day off work, and we were so excited we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. “Well, do you want to know the sex?” the nurse asked.

“Yeah, we’d love to!” we replied in unison.

“It’s a healthy-looking boy.”

I thought that Barry was going to hit his head on the ceiling. He let out a yell of delight and did some thanksgiving dance known only to men.

“I guess he’s happy!” the nurse said, smiling at me. We left the hospital on cloud nine. I did a quick mental switch and realized that I was going to love being mom to a little boy; I’m not the froo-froo lace and ribbons type. We stopped on the way home and bought him five outfits and then called our families and shared our joy with them.

Two days later my doctor called. “Are you sitting down?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“Your blood screening test came back and it doesn’t look good,” she explained. “I’d like to have you meet with a genetic counselor as soon as possible.”

I knew what she was talking about. This was a test that screened for birth defects and was given routinely to women over thirty-five. I called Barry at work. He took the morning off and came with me. We walked into that waiting room as one sober couple.

We didn’t talk. We sat and held hands until they called my name. The counselor brought out charts and graphs and talked on and on, but I couldn’t hear him. All I could hear was that something was wrong with our baby.

“I’ve made an appointment for you to have an amniocentesis at eleven o’clock,” he said.

“Why would I do that?” I asked. “We’re not going to abort the baby, no matter what the problem is.”

“Well, that’s your choice,” he said. “But if the baby is very handicapped and your doctor knows that information, it will help in the delivery.”

“How long will we have to wait for the results?” Barry asked.

“Ten days,” he said.

Later, waiting for the test, I lay on the table with none of the joy that I had felt a few days ago. The nurse brought the baby’s picture onto the screen so the doctor would not harm him when he put the needle into the amniotic sac. I looked at this little one wriggling around, full of life, and I had to turn my head away from Barry as the tears flowed down my face.

“This will hurt a little,” the doctor said as he pushed the needle in and extracted two vials of fluid.

“Honey, whatever happens, the Lord will be with us, and I will be beside you every step of the way.”

I looked at my husband and smiled, but inside I was a cauldron of emotions.

“Why don’t you lie down for a while?” Barry said when we got home.

“The timing of this could not be worse,” I said. I was leaving the next morning for a ten-day tour to promote my book Honestly. Barry would not be with me on the trip, so we would have to wait separately, me in Dallas and Barry at home.

For the first two days on the road, I was okay. I cried at times, but that seemed to give me some relief. Then an unfamiliar emotion surfaced, and I realized that I was angry at God.

“If this is supposed to be another test to make me a better Christian, then forget it. I don’t want it that badly,” I cried. “I’ll stay the way I am.”

I felt torn in two. I couldn’t deny what I was feeling, and yet I felt ashamed of what I was feeling. What right did I have to demand a “perfect” child?And yet I wanted to make that demand. The waiting seemed the hardest part.

I imagined what life would be like, raising a handicapped child. “You’re a hypocrite, Sheila,” I told myself. “You tell people that the handicapped kids you used to work with were some of the most loving people you’ve ever known. You just don’t want one of your own.”

I didn’t want to talk to God; I knew that I had to make my peace with him about whatever was going to happen, but I didn’t want to.

This struggle went on for a week. Then, on the seventh day, I was in Marion, Illinois, for a TV interview. By early afternoon it was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I decided to catch a movie. And the only theater in town was showing Jack. The movie, starring Robin Williams, was about a baby born with a birth defect that causes him to grow at four times the normal rate. I almost left the theater, but something about it made me stay. I watched the parents agonize over Jack’s safety, the ridicule of other kids. I saw this man-child, ten years old but looking forty, live life with all he had. His courage and strength and struggle and tears changed everyone around him.

I drove back to the Holiday Inn and got down beside my bed.

“This is all right,” I prayed. “We can do this together. I accept whatever is ahead, knowing that it will be part of the great adventure. Thank you for letting me be angry; thank you for staying by my side.”

Kneeling in a garden, weeping on your own,
longing for the play to change,
a rewrite for a tomb,
choosing in the darkness to play it to the end.
I come to you
who surely knows how hard it is to bend.
But bend I will into this wind
no matter how I ache
and trust that in the worst of times
you will not let me break.
I get up off this dusty floor and set my course for home,
safe in the truth: I’m not alone
because you faced your tomb.

Postscript: That evening Barry called me with the news that the test results had come back early, indicating “no problem.”

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