Angie Smith looked forward to her 20-week ultrasound. As she waited for the technician, she thought of how the images would thrill her husband, Todd, a vocalist for the band Selah, and excite their three daughters. But when the ultrasound machine began capturing images, the technician's composure changed, and Angie sensed something was wrong. The doctor's words confirmed her worst fears.
"Your child, she has many conditions," the doctor said. "Her kidneys are polycystic, and her heart is much too large. Each of these is a lethal condition.There is no amniotic fluid; her lungs are not developing. ... You will have some choices to make."
Instantly, Angie's belief in the sanctity of human life collided with the reality of a fatal prognosis, a prediction that her baby would die soon after birth. Angie and Todd sought the counsel of another doctor, who had performed abortions earlier in his career but devoted his later years to serving God. His position was clear: Taking the baby would be destroying a human life.
As Angie and Todd left the hospital, they knew what they needed to do. Angie would continue her pregnancy, and the baby she was carrying would stay with them until the Lord's appointed time. They also chose to live life fully as a family during the coming weeks rather than grieve over an uncertain future.
A family experience
Thus began their journey of joy and sorrow as Todd and Angie prepared for the birth and burial of Audrey Caroline. They chose to include their 5-year-old twins, Ellie and Abby, and 2-year-old daughter, Sarah-Kate, in this soul-changing experience. To help their daughters understand what was happening, Todd and Angie purchased a stuffed bunny that had a black mark on its chest. They took it home and explained to the girls that the bunny had a boo-boo, and so did the baby. Together, they put Band-Aids on the bunny's chest.
As the weeks passed and the pregnancy progressed, Todd and Angie were intentional about making memories while Audrey was still with them. The family went to Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World, to the ballet, to the zoo, to the symphony and to the beach. Although they continued to believe and pray for a miracle, they understood that prayer was not a guarantee that God would heal Audrey.
On April 7, 2008, Angie's cesarean section was performed as planned. Fear and apprehension gave way to peace. Todd and Angie sensed God's presence in the delivery room. Audrey's breathing was not labored, and she did not have any visible signs of suffering, so Todd and Angie sent for her three big sisters. God graciously gave the Smiths two-and-a-half hours with their baby before she passed away.
"I knew I would love you when I met you," Angie later wrote in a letter to Audrey. "I knew you would become a part of me. What I didn't know was that instead of feeling like it was a brief encounter, I felt like the world stood still. . . . I didn't feel like I lost a baby; I felt like I said goodbye to someone I had always known."
Ellie, Abby and Kate took turns holding their "baby doll" sister, unabashedly loving and caring for her. After the nurse motioned to Todd and Angie that Audrey had passed away, the girls asked how they, too, could get to the beautiful place where Audrey had gone. Because of Audrey, heaven became a real place to their daughters.
Faith, however, did not eradicate their grief. Todd and Angie openly discussed questions their daughters asked about death, honestly admitting that they didn't know why Audrey's life was so short.
"There are a lot of things that are just unanswered," Todd says. "And it is just as simple and as hard as trusting Him because I don't have another option."
Todd and Angie encouraged their children to draw pictures to express their grief, and they allowed their daughters to talk freely about Audrey. Angie says she once believed that if she could shield her children from the harsh realities of life, she could protect them from hurt or disappointment. But she's discovered that she cannot shelter them from every heartbreak, and in fact, life's painful experiences often bring tremendous growth.
Still, losing a baby has stirred up Angie's fear of loss. Sometimes she worries about the well-being of her other children, but when anxiety threatens to overwhelm her, she remembers what the previous months have taught her about trusting God.
"I firmly believe that Audrey's life was always going to be exactly what it was," Angie says. "There was not a second about it that was a surprise to God. And if I accept that fully about Audrey, then I have to accept it about Abby, about Ellie, about Kate, about Todd."
Todd and Angie's journey of grief has influenced not only their parenting, but also their marriage. They are honest about the strain that Audrey's death has put on their relationship. Because Todd felt ready to move forward with his life before Angie did, he had to learn how to show compassion even when he could not understand what his wife was feeling. Angie was tempted to believe that Todd didn't love Audrey the way she did, but as they talked honestly with one another, she came to understand the differences in how men and women grieve.
Todd and Angie have learned how to give each other space, even as they hold tight to one another. In retrospect, they wish they had sought marital counseling from the time of Audrey's diagnosis so they could have avoided taking the pain out on each other.
Almost two years have passed since Audrey's birth, and the Smiths have settled into a "new normal" for their family. Not a day passes that the girls don't talk about Audrey, and the family has found new strength as they walk through grief together.
They still have unanswered questions, of course, but they take comfort in the simple truth of God's sovereignty — a truth expressed in the song "Unredeemed" on Selah's latest album, You Deliver Me. In this very personal melody, Todd and his bandmates sing:
We live in the shadow of the Fall
But the Cross says these are all
Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
They may be unfulfilled
They may be unrestored
But when anything that's
Shattered is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see
It will not be unredeemed
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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
Find out more about the Smiths' inspiring journey on their blog, or by ordering their book
I Will Carry You by Angie Smith.
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