A Gift of Time

“When you discover that you are pregnant,
you expect a certain kind of journey. You wonder if your child is a boy or a
girl and begin searching for the perfect name....But now prenatal testing has
revealed serious problems, problems so serious that your baby is not expected
to survive. This is not the journey you planned. It isn’t even on the map...”
(p. 1)

This particular journey is relatively new
in human experience. Certainly it has happened throughout human history that
babies have been conceived with fatal medical conditions, but until recently
these problems seldom came to light before birth. Most problems would not have
been known until miscarriage or birth revealed them to parents and doctors
alike. Accurate prenatal diagnosis was, for the most part, not possible until
diagnostic ultrasound and fetal testing became routinely available in the
1980s. With rapid developments in fetal diagnosis in the past 30 years, it is
now very possible to know early in a pregnancy there are “catastrophic
problems” which will almost certainly result in the baby not being able to
survive after birth for more than a few minutes, days, or weeks. It is for this
journey, the journey through the remaining months of pregnancy and the birth
and death of a child, that A Gift of Time can serve as an experienced and
compassionate travel guide and companion.

The capacity for fetal diagnosis has
coincided with the legalization of abortion, and this book acknowledges that
the medical recommendation in these cases has often been an abortion (or “early
induction”). In A Gift of Time the authors choose neither to condemn nor
support the choice of abortion. They direct their book to those who, having
received a devastating diagnosis, have decided, or are still in the process of
deciding, to continue their pregnancy knowing that their baby’s life is
expected to be brief. Yet their positive and encouraging approach to these
heartbreaking realities paint the choice of abortion as a sad mistake and a
missed opportunity for emotional growth and healing.

Author Amy Kuebelbeck herself experienced
this journey with the birth and death of her son Gabriel (Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of
Cherishing a Baby’s Brief Life
). With Deborah L. Davis, PhD, an expert in
perinatal bereavement, Ms. Kuebelbeck, a former reporter and editor for the
Associated Press, gathered the experiences and insights of more than 120
mothers and fathers who had traveled this path. These experiences and insights
are shared in the parents’ own words, organized in chapters such as “Waiting
with your Baby,” “Welcoming Baby,” and “Saying Goodbye.” This book is directed
to parents who have received a catastrophic diagnosis, and it is offered as an
aid to help them think about and prepare for the coming months and years. How
do we reveal this news to the people at work? Do we want to take photographs...and
how? What about my other children? A Gift of Time offers practical advice and
many resources for these parents, along with a great deal of support,
affirmation, encouragement, and consolation. It is also a great source of
insight for those involved in the care and support of such families: medical
personnel, family and friends, clergy and counselors.

It would be a shame, however, if this book
only reaches those directly touched by such experiences. A Gift of Time is more
than a handbook of practical advice. Like a good novel or painting, it allows
readers to look into an intensely human corner of life, one to which they may
never travel in person. Because of the shared pain, courage, faith, and, often,
wisdom of the mothers and fathers who relate their experiences, any reader can
achieve a better understanding of what it means to be a mother and a father:

“As a mother, I have always felt that it
was my job to identify what my children need and give it to them. Sometimes
those needs are simple and straightforward–clean laundry, a healthy meal, a
hand to cross the street safely. Maggie’s needs were not like those of my sons.
She needed us to give her a safe and peaceful transition from one world to the
next. Carrying Maggie to term did that for me–it gave me the opportunity to ‘mother’
her until she didn’t need me anymore.” ~ Alessandra (p. 345)

Any reader can learn about how to parent
his or her own children, healthy or otherwise, in difficult times:

“You still have the opportunity to love
this child. You can do this. She loves you and wants to be with you. She needs
you to help her–that is your responsibility as her parent.” ~ Katharine (p.

And any reader can come to a deeper
appreciation of the worth and dignity of every human life:

“James and I have made a point of never
wishing that she would live a certain amount of time. We didn’t want to define
the success of her life by how long it was. I guess it’s because I didn’t want
to think that she would be a miracle only if she lived a long time. I believed
that she was already a miracle. And then I start to think, Well, what about all
of the other babies in the world, aren’t they miracles too? And then, what
about adults? And I am left with the realization that we are all miracles...” ~
Jill K. (p. 356)

A Gift of Time is a gift. With their
beautiful writing, the authors honor the families who contributed to this book,
comfort the families who will, sadly, need to make use of this book, and deepen
and enrich every reader’s human experience. There are further resources on
their website, Perinatal Hospice. We
owe them our gratitude.

Dia Boyle, a graduate in Medieval studies,
writes from the American Midwest.


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