Written by Laura Moore
Edited by Janet Kibler
Have you ever thought about your compatibility with someone? Or considered the compatibility of two concepts or objects? The question is: Can you or they “exist together in harmony”? Most of us may not realize that we are not only constantly considering our compatibility with other people in friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships, and otherwise, but we are also weighing the compatibility of ideas or objects as we operate in our day-to-day lives. However, when you hear that someone or something is “incompatible with life”, it snags your attention and stops you in your tracks. Imagine that you’re hearing it from a highly-trained specialist, an expert, in regard to your unborn child. This is the scenario my husband and I encountered several times during the pregnancy of our daughter, Helen.
Long ago, before I was even pregnant, I whispered a desire for a little girl with blue eyes and blonde curly hair. While I did actually pray for a little girl, I never truly asked for any specific features. Yet God lavishly gave them, answering my unspoken prayers with a resounding and delighted, “Yes!” It was just the right bit of whimsy thrown into the mix that comprises Helen, masterfully designed by my loving heavenly Father.
But something else coming in the mix nearly crushed us. We were truly unprepared for the onslaught of poor diagnoses and prognoses that followed each high-risk OB visit beginning at 17 weeks of pregnancy. Our sweet Helen was diagnosed with a severe form of skeletal dysplasia in utero, then ever so easily and swiftly declared “incompatible with life.” In the same breath, we were offered termination. It felt like we had the wind knocked out of us. The shock was palpable. For a human to be labeled “incompatible with life”, one is claiming that this being cannot “exist together in harmony” with the natural laws that order and maintain life in the womb and on the planet. And that’s exactly what they meant about Helen. We were specifically told she would likely die in the womb, but if she survived, the chances were high that she would die shortly after birth. We lived in this space for nearly half of the pregnancy, which was miraculously carried to term.
Many tests were recommended and termination was offered multiple times . While we did allow some genetic testing, we declined several key tests that the experts wanted to perform. Our viewpoint was and is that God actually determines compatibility. He chose Helen; thus He made her compatible simply because she exists. Any test we allowed would further enable us to anticipate and care for her needs. We chose life because it had already been predetermined for us. It is a gracious gift and we have all received grace upon grace.
We had all of the expert doctors on our case: the doctor “who wrote the book on reading ultrasounds”, the best maternal-fetal medicine doctors from the children’s hospital in our city, and other high-risk OBs weighing in. At least two of them used the term “incompatible with life” without consulting one another. Using the latest technology, including a fetal MRI, Helen was given another bleak diagnosis in the third trimester, albeit less severe than before. All of these experts believed our daughter was severely deformed and that she would certainly have a difficult life ahead.
It was at this point that my high-risk pregnancy got even more complicated. I was developing a placenta abruption and began to bleed. This is an obstetrical emergency, and it happened multiple times, but with just enough days without bleeding so as to recover in between. All-told, Helen and I spent 37 days total in the hospital while this abruption was slowly tearing the placenta away from my uterus. We had several Level II fetal ultrasounds per week, including a specific test where the sonographer needs to document certain markers of healthy growth and development. The baby must move during the ultrasound, the heart must beat a certain number of beats per minute, and the baby must hiccough or breathe during the test. These are measures of compatibility with life and they are used to determine if the baby is failing to thrive, which then leads to recommending termination or pre-term delivery. We must have had about 30 ultrasounds in total and nearly all of them were stressful and discouraging. But we chose to cling to the signs of life, like watching Helen hiccough during the ultrasound, having the sonographer point out her curly hair, and feeling her kicking vigorously inside the womb. While we listened to and thoughtfully heeded most of the advice of our doctors, we prayerfully relied on our Great Physician who sovereignly knew every detail of Helen’s growth and development. We leaned heavily on the One who was in control over the seemingly uncontrollable bleeding.
It must be said: doctors are good and necessary in this life. Yet the best of them will be the first to tell you that they do not know it all…that they’re not always right. They were wrong about my girl —thank God-but I shudder to think of all of those other expecting mothers and fathers who unquestioningly trusted their doctors’ misdiagnoses and fearfully aborted a perfectly wonderful, though flawed and needy human being…one like Helen or you or me. They bought into the misconception of “incompatibility with life.” They didn’t know the peace that flows from resting in God’s knowledge of us as He created our innermost being, knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs. His eyes saw our unformed bodies as He made us in the secret place, skillfully and thoughtfully crafted in the depths of the earth. All of our ordained days are written in His book even before one of them comes to pass! We each are fearfully (reverently) and wonderfully made because all of His works are wonderful.
The hope we have as Christians is that every human being is compatible with life— whether it be long or short in duration, or atypical here on this earth — because we know every soul is wrought for eternity. Thus we are all ultimately compatible with life because God is the giver of life; we are merely stewards of it.
To Helen’s doctors, she was only a cluster of (mis)disgnoses. To us, she was a gift and a member of our family. On the day she was born, we were frankly expecting to see a grossly deformed person. My first thought when I saw her was, “She’s beautiful!”, because I was honestly surprised that she looked normal…in truth, compatible. Life is surprising, isn’t it?
Her diagnosis was a blessing disguised as something wrong or unpleasant. But because God is in the business of resurrecting life from death, beauty from ashes, wholeness from brokenness, joy from sorrow, blessing from cursing, hope from despair, peace from turmoil, healing from pain, we do not lose heart. Helen is a living testimony of Romans 8:28 which states that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” It means that God’s limitless power is at work and He is able to take what is messy and broken and make it into something astoundingly beautiful if we are willing to entrust it all to Him. And He’s proven Himself trustworthy.
There are so many other aspects to this story, but the most soul-stirring, confidence-boosting moments came from a strong sense of the nearness of God as we cried out to Him. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8). There were many truths He impressed upon my heart, but the main one that often comes back to my mind is when He told me, “I have the last word.” Not expert doctors, not anybody else. My confidence in Him soared because of His knowledge and ability to create and sustain life even though I was shaking in my boots over all the surrounding negativity and uncertainty.
Our Helen-girl carries a different but potentially debilitating diagnosis in her frame, though she has a much brighter prognosis than in-utero. As it turns out, her slightly atypical skeletal structure is perfectly (imperfectly?) compatible with life as she functions and grows. Mercifully, there is even a treatment to aid her bone development. And all the experts didn’t see it coming!
She is the embodiment of where brokenness and beauty intersect. There is so much more to the story, and we pray there’s even more to come. We are so grateful she has joined our family and we get to journey together in this wonderfully messy, painfully beautiful, blessed life.