In late August 2007 I learned that we were expecting a child. I don’t know how it happened, but I was already almost 3 months along when we found out! It had been 7 years since Valentine (our youngest son) was born, so I guess I wasn’t really looking out for symptoms… or I was just oblivious to them. After Jim’s shock wore off, we settled into the familiarity and joy of expecting a new son. After having 5 boys, we certainly had no reason to expect a change of gender!
A few days after I learned I was pregnant I was walking and praying with a close friend. As we prayed together I heard the Lord speaking to me in my heart. These were His words… “Are you willing to lay your daughter down?” My first reaction was — my DAUGHTER?? I did not know then that I was pregnant with a baby girl. But it was so clear! Then it was sobering… and I knew an answer was required. I am always quick to say yes to the Lord — even before thinking about implications for my life. It is my personal rebellion against the enemy — a way of knocking him down from the start. I believe it deals a blow to the enemy’s plans when we answer the Lord with resolve and without hesitation. I said, “Yes, Lord… yes, of course I will give her to you.” I knew (in theory) this would mean my baby’s physical death. But I also knew God asked the same of Abraham when He told him to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. And that turned out great in the end! So in some ways I thought my “yes” was just an exercise in trust and obedience. But in the back of my heart I wondered what was ahead.
Later, when I came home, I realized the question wasn’t really mine exclusively to answer. This baby was Jim’s child as well. So that night I told Jim what I believed I had heard from the Lord. I asked him if he was also willing to lay our baby daughter down before Him. He said, “If God is asking, then of course the answer is YES.” We both prayed and were resolved to trust God with her life. And we named our daughter Hallel, which means “praise” in Hebrew.
The pregnancy was going well. I was about 4 months along when we made the decision to make Hallel’s birth our first at home. My midwife was wonderful! It was exciting to make plans for a home birth, but also a little scary. However, we didn’t waver in our decision and I appreciated my sweet, skeptical husband humoring me. I started having regular check-ups with my midwife and it was thrilling to hear our daughter’s heartbeat for the first time. But I couldn’t stand not knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were having a girl. I’d had ultrasounds with all my boys, too. So I found an obstetrician in Flint willing to bill to my insurance even if she was not to be my chosen physician. She also agreed to be my “back up” should I have to go to the hospital, since hospitals do not look kindly when you arrive to deliver a baby without an assigned physician.
The ultrasound confirmed that we were indeed growing a baby girl.
When I was about 5 months along, God again brought to mind what He had asked of us. Once again I talked it over with Jim and we reaffirmed our willingness to let God take our daughter home, if He desired. But there was no reason to think He really would! I was doing well and it seemed like just an exercise in faith. After all, He had never asked this of us for any of our 5 boys previous. But every time we prayed about it and gave everything over to the Lord, I knew that the enemy’s plans were foiled. You see, he comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But you can’t steal what is willingly laid down! He could steal NOTHING from us — he had no legal standing to do so. That is such a freeing concept, and it was becoming a very real part of our lives to be surrendered to whatever the Lord had for us.
By the time I was 7 months along, I really wasn’t thinking much more about God’s request of us, although from time to time I would be reminded — even as though I were being asked again. And Jim and I would say YES again, although now we felt well beyond the risk of miscarriage.
We were deep into preparing for a baby and I hadn’t spent much money at all. By your 6th child you know what you need and don’t need. For instance, we never used a crib so I wouldn’t be going back out to purchase a new one. Many big items (car seats, etc.) I knew I could borrow from friends. And I hadn’t even really bought any baby girl clothes yet! Then one day Jim called me from Fenton. He was at the little thrift store in town and they had just gotten in a HUGE donation of brand new infant clothing. They made an entire rack for little boy clothes — and one for girls. The little boys’ rack had been raided that morning and there was little left — but no one had bought anything from the girls’ rack! He told me to come right away because they were holding everything for me to have first choice. I did. It was like a dream shopping trip! I bought about 3 dozen little outfits — all in brand new condition. They were sold to me for only 25 cents each. It was such a joy to bring home those baby girl clothes and lay them all out to admire!
By the time I was 8 months along I really didn’t give a thought to what the Lord had asked of us. After all, aside from a few blood pressure ups and downs, I was doing quite well and our daughter’s heartbeat was strong. Life was good — and I was feeling on top of the world! My only sadness at that time was that Jim’s dear mother, Elaine, would not get to hold her 19th grandchild. My amazing mother-in-law had gone on to Heaven just a few months before.
As we made final preparations for our home birth, it was “life as usual” for us. My due date was Valentine’s Day – February 14th, 2008.
And then it happened.
All my 5 boys had arrived from 10 days to 3 weeks after my due date, so I assumed Hallel would as well. I was lying in bed late on the night of February 14th when the realization began to dawn on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt my baby girl kick. It was a terrible thought… and then it grew into a panic. For a few days I had felt almost constant Braxton-Hicks contractions — and I think that the contractions distracted me from paying attention to movements and kicking.
I told Jim I didn’t think I had felt Hallel kick in a long time… I didn’t know how long!! I tried to make her move… I tried everything. I quickly went on the internet to look-up how to get her moving if she were asleep. Nothing. Then a calm came over me and I just began to weep quietly. I knew in my heart that she was gone, but it hadn’t sunk in. Jim held me as the realization came over both of us. This was real. This was happening. God had prepared us, but we were still in shock. I went to sleep, planning to go to the hospital to confirm in the morning.
Jim would have come with me had I asked. But I didn’t and he went to work. I decided to bring Ben along, who was 17 at the time and my oldest. He was taking a sociology class nearby at the time, so I went there first and picked him up. When we arrived at Genesys Hospital, Ben stayed in the waiting area while I was taken to an examination room. One of my sisters-in-law who is a nurse there was on duty. Vivian was paged and came quickly to my side as the doctors began to view the ultrasound screen. Their faces were grim and confirmed what I already knew. Hallel was gone.
Everything was complete peace in my heart at the hospital. And a miracle was happening… something akin to JOY was even being birthed inside me. The realization that God HAD spoken to me… He HAD prepared us… it was just too much to contain. All that day I was carried high above the circumstances on this amazing wave of peace and joy and the knowledge that we had willingly walked out this story that God knew ahead of time… that He allowed to take place… that He was in complete control of. We were living out the scripture for real in our lives… “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord!” We were walking out the LIVING WORD — “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him!”
But I didn’t feel slain. I felt a beautiful triumph of… relationship. A triumph of joy and grace — it was unexplainable. The doctors and nurses didn’t understand why I wasn’t upset. In fact, I was consoling them! I told them it was okay; that I had been miraculously prepared for this. I was just so full of joy and peace overflowing. They offered me the option to deliver the baby that day or come back when I was ready. This was a Friday, February 15th. Jim would be home all day Saturday and we could take time to prepare, so I told them I would return Sunday morning, the 17th. I chose the 17th for Hallel’s birthday.
It is very strange for a child to have a birthday after they have already died. But she would need to be born. When it was all over, it was determined that Hallel had probably died about a week before her due date, around February 7th. They never figured out why she died — she was perfect and beautiful and there were no signs she had been in any distress. It was just as though the Lord peacefully lifted her spirit from her body and carried her home.
Many friends gathered that evening to pray for a miracle of resurrection. I believed in faith that God could certainly bring her back. It was a joyful time sharing the story of how God had brought us to this place. All day Saturday, as the word spread of the situation, individual friends and whole churches gathered around us to pray for a miracle. God could have done it, too! I have no doubt of it. But there was no movement; no sign. The peace and joy I felt, however, never wavered.
Sunday morning came and we prepared for the long journey to the hospital over ice-covered roads. Three friends were to come with me that day and stay, as well as Jim. Our boys would come later to see their sister. The time at the hospital was amazing. As they began inducing labor, I had my friends by my side. We prayed, sang worship songs, read scripture together. It was like a retreat! Then a large group of Christians who had been praying for me showed up. They were all allowed to come into my room and gathered in a large half-circle around my bed. I sat up and shared my story with them. Most were understandably sad for us… and they were obviously not expecting the mother in the hospital bed with the IV in her arm to be encouraging them in their faith. Some had really been believing God for a miracle and it hadn’t happened. I tried to assure them that I also believed; but my faith would not be shaken no matter the outcome. I hope something I said blessed them that day! They certainly were a huge encouragement to me. It gave me an opportunity to reaffirm my faith publicly and knock the enemy down even more. And it blessed me to have such an outpouring of love and care. That met a real need in my life and I thank them all for taking the time to leave church services to come to the hospital that morning.
It was back to my 3 friends and Jim now. We continued sharing, praying, singing. It was really awesome — as crazy as that seems! All through this I was going through labor. Suddenly I told my friends that I felt I needed to be alone now — just Jim and I. I didn’t know why — I wasn’t even paying attention to the labor pains. It was just an instinctual thing. As soon as they walked out I was going through transition — and minutes later Hallel was born.
She was beautiful and perfect in every way… but it was painful to see that some small sections of her skin had torn away during delivery. Jim went home to get the boys. When he came back I had a private room with a butterfly on the door to alert nurses and other caregivers that my baby was stillborn. I had a bassinet in the room just like a “normal” mom would. I was treated kindly and almost as though my baby were alive — that was the care I received and I loved that. Hallel had been 6 pounds, 8 ounces — my smallest baby and easiest delivery! And everyone was so kind.
Until midnight I prayed for her resurrection. It was not too late for a miracle, and I calmly prayed and believed in God’s ability to do the uncomprehendable. Continuously speaking life into her body as it slowly grew colder, I still felt that overwhelming joy and peace. But I did not want to give up easily, so long as their was hope. It was not an emotional prayer now, just a quiet waiting and believing.
However, it was to be the will of God that she be laid down before Him and live out her life in Eternity. We went home that next morning with our arms empty, but our hearts full. Even at her burial we felt such joy and peace. Jim spontaneously broke into the old chorus, “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”. The sacrifice of… Hallel. Wow. One of the definitions of “sacrifice” is “the act of surrendering a possession as an offering to God”. We don’t ever own our children — they are always God’s first. Hallel is not dead — she is surely more alive than we are! She is more aware of reality — and much more at home than we are here.
Please don’t get me wrong — we certainly grieve for our daughter. We experienced a terrible loss that I would wish on no one. But our human grief was softened by knowing God “had this”. I still found myself questioning everything — whether I had taken good enough care of my health during pregnancy, whether I could have done anything differently. But I always came back to the fact that God was in control and had loved us enough to prepare us from the beginning.
We did nothing wrong. We walked out this time of our lives in obedience and great surrender. We were held aloft by a loving and caring Father who just had a different plan for our little girl. Instead of walking in fear, we practiced resigning ourselves to the perfect love of our Heavenly Father.
My earthly father followed Hallel into Eternity a few months later, in the fall of 2008. I like to imagine my dear mother-in-law, who passed on before them, being the first to hold her baby granddaughter in Heaven! Hallel is in the company of both angels and loving family. We long for the day when we are reunited forever.