Choosing Thanksgiving for a Stillborn Child’s Life

Stephanie Anderson is part of our staff at Eternal Perspective Ministries. She is a delightful and godly follower of Jesus, and I deeply respect her. Steph is also a skilled editor who helps me on my books, and blogs. She’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever known. And as you’ll see, she’s an excellent writer too.

Steph’s husband is Dan Anderson, and their daughters Evelynn and Sienna are ages 7 and 2. When Steph recently lost her baby Isaiah, after receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18, Nanci’s and my hearts were deeply touched. We had the privilege of attending Isaiah’s memorial service in the home of their pastor and my long-time  friend Barry Arnold, of Cornerstone Church in Gresham, Oregon.

I asked Steph to share her heart-touching, prolife, and Christ-honoring story. I hope her words speak to you as they do me. I can’t wait to meet Isaiah in a better world. Or to hold a grandchild of Nanci and mine that we haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting—what a glorious day that will be! —Randy Alcorn

Both secular sources and Christians say there’s something powerful about gratitude—something about the act of giving thanks that changes us. Scripture says, “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:117). Choosing to give thanks is sometimes more of a sacrifice than at other times.

There is still so much I don’t understand about my recent pregnancy and the “whys” of God allowing certain situations, including our son's chromosomal abnormality. Isaiah’s whole life was a surprise to my husband Dan and me, and though we never felt the timing was ideal, we knew we would love this child when he or she arrived, just as much as we love our girls. My pregnancy with our oldest, Evelynn, was a surprise too, but as the months went on and we knew we were expecting a healthy little girl, we found it easy to thank God for the unexpected blessing of her life. I felt strongly that God had a special purpose for creating her and the timing of her life and birth.

I admit it was harder to affirm this time when everything seemed like such a disaster. I struggled to find joy in this pregnancy, and after we received our news, I wondered, Why did God give us this surprise, only to give us a baby boy that has Trisomy 18? But I know there’s value in thanking God for Isaiah’s little life, no matter how short it was and how broken his little body was. I want to keep the practice, even if I don’t always feel like it or see the “why” in the moment.

Though our hearts were heavy, on the day Dan and I went to the hospital to begin the induction process, we could still see evidence of God’s hand. Here are some things we thanked Him for that day:

  • We had already previously planned for our girls to spend this particular weekend with their Nana. They were safe and would enjoy time with her, and we didn’t need to worry about childcare.
  • We had a restful night’s sleep, the best both of us had experienced in a long time.
  • Because I had some forewarning with Isaiah not moving, I had time to prepare my heart for the news, and also time to put some things in order for work and our home.
  • The doctor’s office was so accommodating, fitting us in to get an ultrasound.
  • After the ultrasound, our doctor’s office got us scheduled to have a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep take keepsake pictures after Isaiah’s birth. That meant the world to me.
  • The sunshine that Saturday morning was beautiful. After days of gray, dreary Oregon rain, I loved seeing the sun and the fall colors it brought out on the trees.
  • A few weekends before, our pastor had talked about “adversity friends”, the kind of friends who rally around you in times of difficulty. What a precious gift our friends and family were to us in this time, with their acts of love, words of kindness, and prayers. They have taught us how to love others in their times of adversity.
  • We knew we favored burial for Isaiah over cremation, but were discouraged about looking into options for burying him because the cost is so excessive. One of our wonderful pastors helped us find a local funeral home that provides a casket at cost for bereaved families of infants, and a cemetery that donates the plot. It meant so much to us to know we will have a place to go to honor and remember him. (We later had a small service to honor Isaiah’s life, and Dan read this letter to him from us.)

When I was driving to Bible Study the week prior to our baby’s home going, I found myself praying two things: that Isaiah would know that he is loved, and that the Lord would take him peacefully into His arms.

I had no idea God would answer those prayers so quickly.

Angel with Child Figurine

After we received Isaiah’s diagnosis, a sweet friend gave me the gift pictured here. She wrote me later, “You are sharing Isaiah with the angels. Looks like they get to be the ones to teach him how to walk.”

When I opened her gift, it reminded me of a story I read years ago in one of Dr. Walt Larimore’s memoirs, Bryson City Secretsabout the miscarriage he and his wife experienced. (You can listen to Dr. Larimore share his story here, and I highly recommend it.)

After his child’s death, Dr. Larimore was devastated. In his words, “I cursed my Father. I fumed, I wrestled. And He was quiet. He said nothing.” Dr. Larimore sat down in his quiet time chair, and began to search God’s Word. He doesn’t remember what He read, but he walked away with the sense that “God is good, that He is right, that He is righteous, that His love for us knows no bounds. And in all that He does and allows, whether good or bad, if we love Him and are called according to His purpose, He works it for our good.”

Dr. Larimore continues, “I felt arms come around me, and I had the sense that I was sitting in a lap, that I was being comforted by someone who loved me and understood pain.”

Sometime later, Dr. Larimore took care of a little boy who was diagnosed with bone cancer. Little Danny was a child of great faith, who loved Jesus and His Word. His cancer progressed, and eventually he was on hospice, close to death. During his last visit to Danny, Dr. Larimore took his hand and prayed that Danny’s passing would be peaceful. That’s when Danny opened his eyes and said, “It will be, don’t worry – I know I won’t be here much longer, but Dr. Walt, I know where I’m going.”

“Where?” Dr. Larimore asked.

“I am going to Heaven,” Danny replied.

“How do you know?”

Danny was quiet for a moment before replying. “Because Azar told me so.”

“Who is Azar?” Dr. Larimore asked.

“You don’t know Azar? He is my guardian angel, and he comes here and sits with me and we talk about Heaven.”

“What does he look like?”

“He’s big and he’s strong, and he has golden hair, and he carries a big sword. Azar is my angel and my family’s angel. It is Azar who says He will take me to Heaven.”

Danny continued, “You haven’t met him? Are you sure?”

“Not that I remember,” Dr. Larimore said.

“That’s very interesting.”

“Why is that very interesting?”

“Well, because he says he’s your guardian angel too, and your wife’s and Kate’s [Dr. Larimore’s first daughter],” Danny explained.

“Azar was with you the night that you lost your baby, and it was Azar who took your baby to Heaven. It was Azar who held your wife as she wept.”

Dr. Larimore writes in his book what else Danny said:

“Azar told me about it. He said that one day you were very sad, Dr. Larimore. Azar told me that he was with you. And he said that after you had wrestled with him all afternoon, you finally crawled up in his lap, and he held you close while you cried. He told me he cried with you. …Azar took your baby to Heaven, and then he came back and was with you that day. He comforted you.”

…I could not remember telling anyone the story of my afternoon after the loss of our unborn child—not even Barb.

Baby IsaiahI remember being touched the first time I read this story, and it has new meaning now. I love that Scripture tells of us of God’s tender care for His smallest people:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

How we look forward to meeting our son. Heaven is sweeter with him there. Thank you, Lord, for Isaiah’s life.

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.