In today’s blog, we want to introduce you to James Browning and his wife Hannah. They are dear friends who have been married 5 years. James is our web designer. They have never been clients…
Together they confronted one of the most brutal challenges that any young couple could ever be asked to face. Together they learned that…
“There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world.” – Author Unknown
September 30, 2013 Hannah got a positive home pregnancy test. She was excited because just seven weeks before she had suffered a devastating miscarriage. Understandably both Hannah and James were nervous.
On December 4th, Hannah had her appointment for her 13-week ultrasound.
Hannah shares her experience…
“The ultra-sonographer was very quiet during the exam. She said she wanted to take some measurements before she would let me see the screen. Then she got up and said she needed to talk to the doctor. I waited with the cold gel on my tummy alone in the room for a few minutes. Is this how it normally goes I wondered? She came back a little while later and turned on the lights. I guess we’re done? She said that she saw something that concerned her, but she didn’t feel comfortable telling me exactly what it was.
I was able to go see a doctor in another office that afternoon. He said that our baby had a neural tube defect that was without a doubt incompatible with life, although I would likely carry to term. The baby had no bones or skin on top of its head, and the brain matter was exposed. He said that due to the circumstances, his recommendation is to terminate this pregnancy and “move on”. He could schedule me for the procedure as soon as I was ready. I was so sad, I just wanted to go home and hug my husband. I called him from the car in the parking garage and could barely talk through the tears. He took the night off from work to be with me.
All the next day, we stayed home. We cried and prayed together. We called our families. I spent some time on the Internet and found out the name of the baby’s defect is anencephaly. I read a lot of stories of families who had gone through this, some terminated, some carried to term. I felt like we were faced with a horrible choice, and there seemed to be no clear “right” answer. What if the baby is suffering? What if God heals the baby? I spoke with my friend at a pregnancy crisis center. She prayed with me and shared a story of one of her friends who had gone through the same thing a few years back. They chose to carry their baby to term, and were surprised at all the unexpected blessings through their journey.
By the next morning, we had made our decision. We wanted to carry this baby. I didn’t know how I could endure 6 months of carrying a baby knowing that we would not be able to raise it and watch it grow, but I knew that we would not be alone. My God has always been with me! Our families are always supporting us and praying for us. We wanted to give God a chance to do what He does best… take broken things and make them beautiful.
As soon as we settled on the decision to keep the baby, we felt so much peace! We found out that the baby was a girl and named her Abigail, which means “the Father’s joy”. That name was so fitting because she did bring us so much joy! The last six months of the pregnancy was filled with so many emotions like sorrow, peace, and incredible love. Abigail Leigh Browning was born on May 31st, 2014. She only lived for 11 hours but we felt so honored that God had chosen us to be Abigail’s parents, and to love her as long as she was with us.”
James shares his experience…
“On the day that Abigail was to be born, Hannah and I went into the hospital at about 10am. The C-section was scheduled for noon and we had to get in and get prepped before the surgery. I can think of so many times when 2 hours felt like forever. But this time it flew by. After all of the tests and peeing in cups and final instructions they took Hannah into the operating room and asked me to wait in the hallway for about 20 minutes.
While the previous couple of hours had flown by, the next 20 minutes slowed to a near stop. I feel like I crammed about 3 days worth of prayer in those 20 minutes and I had never been as nervous as I was at that moment. Each minute ticking by was exhausting. Would the baby be ok? Would Hannah be ok? Would I be ok? With Abigail’s condition she had a strong chance of not surviving birth, or only living for a matter of moments. What if she died before I got to see her? What if she lived for weeks or months, always just a heartbeat away from death? I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her, but I would be so afraid to sleep knowing that she might not make it through to the morning.
Finally, after the glaciers receded, the continents drifted, and mountains eroded into the sea, I was told that I could come in. I was so nervous, I was afraid that I would throw up in the operating room. Where was my baby? What did she look like? It turns out that they hadn’t even started the C-section yet, that entire time had just been prepping and anesthetizing Hannah!
They sat me down next to Hannah’s head on the table with a short curtain separating us from Hannah’s lower half where the actual work was taking place. I held Hannah’s hand, trying to comfort her and not pass out. She asked if they had started yet, but I was a little afraid to peek over the curtain, so I just kept patting her hand.
After about 10 minutes worth of nervous chatting, the doctors told us that the baby was out and I could come over and see her.
My heart beats crazy now just remembering it. Every hope and fear that I had locked in the back of my mind over the previous 6 months suddenly crashed through. Maybe God had healed my baby! Maybe she was healthy and whole! God can do anything. Maybe he would have mercy on me. Then I saw her. There was Abigail on a table surrounded by nurses. She was being cleaned and suctioned. She was alive, but she hadn’t been healed.
I instantly fell so in love with her I couldn’t even breathe. My very own daughter had just landed on earth and immediately made the whole world better. I loved her so much and I knew that she was going to die.
I had never been so happy to see someone. At the same time I was so sad she would leave. Tears started pouring down my face, and my nose started running through the surgical mask. I started filming with the camera not wanting to ever miss a second of the most important life I’d ever witness. The nurse took the camera out of my hand and put some scissors in and told me to cut the cord. I did! Immediately they wrapped Abigail up and put her in my arms, purple and sticky, and gross, and beautiful, and alive and dying. Then I carried her over to meet Hannah, her mother, who was so happy to meet her that she could only smile while my joyful heart broke and melted.
In the year and a half since then, Hannah and I have been beyond blessed with support and friendship from our church community and from our friends and family. But most of all I have been thankful for Hannah.
We both continue to grieve the loss of Abigail. It was literally the most difficult day of my life. But for Hannah, it was both easier and harder. For Hannah she had bonded with the baby for 9 months. She knew her every movement, her stretches, her restful times, and even her hiccups. Hannah had been able to use that time to say goodbye. Our experience was very different. And to this day, we both grieve in different ways. For me going through these pictures and videos still can make me cry. Hannah gets joy and happiness by looking at the same pictures. Hannah gets sad when she sees babies that are the same age as Abigail would be if she were alive. Hannah missed having a baby. Christmas time and holidays in particular, were sad and joyful. We celebrated with an ornament and a little stocking for Abigail.
The fact that we grieved differently enabled us to be a support for each other during the hard times.
Losing a child often leads many couples to end their marriage. Because Hannah and I both clung to God we were inevitably drawn closer to each other. I could never have born the loss of my baby, while living thousands of miles from my family, without a woman like Hannah.”
Dave and I want to thank James and Hannah for sharing so vulnerably this beyond difficult life experience. Some of you may have had to face similar pain together.
No marriage is immune from heartache.
It is our prayer, that your life experiences, will you draw you closer to each other and to your Savior, Jesus Christ.
We want you to know that Hannah and James story didn’t end with Abigail. Eliza Browning was born on November 8th, 2015. According to James, she is a loud, messy, healthy baby girl who just recently learned to smile when her dad walks into the room.
James writes, “I often feel like I’m parenting backwards. I started off with the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. I know how to hold my child as she has her last breath. I know how to make funeral arrangements and what to say to loved ones sharing in your grieving. But with Eliza, I have to learn to change a diaper and set a bedtime routine. I still have to figure out what I am going to say when she tells me about a boy that she likes, or worse, when a boy asks me if he can marry her (right now I’m leaning toward just saying no). But no matter what, I know that God is just as in control with Eliza as he was with Abigail, and as he is with our marriage. Without trusting that God knows what He is doing, then Abigail’s death is a senseless end. But I know that God does love us and He is caring for us and Abigail is with Him now. I believe that in a genuine and real way, not philosophical or metaphorical. I also genuinely believe that being a godly man is the best way to love Hannah and the best way to be a father to Eliza!”
You can read Hannah and James love story by going to http://HannahBrowning.com
Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…