Posted November 12, 2014:
Fearfully, Wonderfully Made

Samuel David Bemis (Born and Died March 28, 2014)

by his Grandma, Posie McPhee Douthwright.

Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. (Ps 139: 13-14)

What a precious gift our family has been given! Samuel entered our lives here on earth for a time, to help us all learn a little more about the gift of life and the mystery of death.

God had a great purpose in mind when he created this little boy, and he has touched us all very deeply. The struggles that he, his mother and father, and his six brothers and sisters have been through have been immense, but through everything we have grown to love him deeply, and we will miss so much seeing him grow up.

Over the course of the 25 weeks from Samuel’s conception to his birth and death, we were called to our knees in prayer, and our hearts ached with all the struggles the parents and all the family have been through.

After an ultrasound showed marked abnormalities at about 16 weeks, the parents Matt and Amber were referred to a genetic counsellor, who in looking at the ultrasound, gave an almost certain diagnosis of triploidy.

This counsellor, trained in the knowledge of the various disabilities this disease presents, was unfortunately not particularly warm or compassionate. Although the word "abortion" was not mentioned, Amber and Matt were asked right away whether or not they wanted to "continue" the pregnancy.

It was then suggested that Amber undergo amniocentesis, which confirms the diagnosis definitively by extracting the baby’s actual DNA from the amniotic fluid.

Many people choose this procedure with abortion in mind, but Amber made it clear that, no matter what the results were, they would continue the pregnancy.

Because our medical technology has advanced so much, medical staff are able to diagnose the problems of these tiny ones in the womb very early, and they call this "poor prenatal diagnosis."

Triploidy is only one of many different types of diagnoses, some eventually fatal, and some which present various disabilities, such as Down syndrome or trisomy.

But with these diagnoses, only God our Creator knows the time and circumstances he has planned for the lives of these little ones, and the extent of their time on earth with us.

I have learned much about these very precious children, who are so often aborted (90% of them, I believe).

Since there was no question in the minds of Amber and Matt of ending the life of this precious child before his time, they were referred to an obstetrician/gynaecologist.

I went with Amber to her first appointment. He was a pleasant man, but there was some kind of a disconnect going on with him.

He seemed to be treating this like a normal pregnancy, even though Amber had already been told by the genetic counselor that there was a possibility of three life-threatening conditions which were common with triploidy: hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, and a type of cancer called "choriocarcinoma."

When we questioned him about these possibilities, he didn’t seem to know much about them. He was used to normal pregnancies. No wonder—since only 10% of these babies are allowed to live out their allotted time on earth.

When we left the short appointment, we both had the feeling that neither Amber nor the baby had been given the medical attention or the respect and compassion they needed.

A few days later, the perinatologist called Amber back with the results of the amniocentesis. He told her that it definitely was triploidy, that her life was in danger, and they had to induce labor right away and deliver the baby. The baby was now 18 weeks from conception—too early to live outside the womb.

Amber tried to get more details from him: how was her life in danger? Was the danger imminent or were these just possibilities? But he seemed unable to give any specific answers. His idea seemed to be just to get this baby out, let it die, and get it over with. He gave her no encouragement to continue the pregnancy.

I am so proud of Amber’s love and faithfulness in standing firm and protecting Samuel in her womb as long as she could.

We had done our homework, too, and found a solid reliable document from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, on early induction of labor, taken from the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.

Early induction is only permissible in cases of serious immediately life-threatening maternal illness, such as chorioamnionitis (infection following premature rupture of membranes) or pre-eclampsia, of which the only cure is to get the baby out immediately.

None of the genetic problems themselves were reason to induce early (abort the baby). Only the serious complications themselves would justify inducing labor early; not simply the threat of them.

It seemed obvious that Amber needed to find a good doctor who could support her and the baby through this difficult pregnancy. Besides the baby’s problems, she was faced with constant and extreme nausea and was hardly able to keep any food down for months.

She had been led to understand that their new health insurance would not allow them to go back to their previous clinic, the AALFA family clinic near where they live, in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

This clinic has staff trained in NaPro technology and the Creighton method of natural family planning. Their doctors had delivered three of Amber and Matt’s babies.

Fortunately, through God’s grace, they discovered that this was a glitch, and that Amber was able to go back to the clinic, and to a wonderful Catholic pro-life doctor, Dr. Matthew Anderson.

He showed great compassion and love, praying with Amber and Matt, and taking both mother and baby on with great love and care. From then on, she went to him for checkups every week and was told that if there was any sign of bleeding, she should go straight to the hospital, and he would meet her there.

So with this love, support and attentive medical care, Amber continued this pregnancy to 24 weeks. Although I couldn’t be with her in person (there are 1000 miles between us—physically), I tried to be present to her emotionally and spiritually.

It was a good lesson for me, who hadn’t found the phone a great friend in the past. In fact, I would even call my feelings about phones a phobia. But I learned that even short daily conversations helped me feel close to my daughter and all the ups and downs she experienced. We cried, laughed, and prayed together over the phone. This also helped me to feel less helpless.

I wanted Samuel to somehow know that he was loved and cherished, and so I made a blanket and embroidered it with his name and the words, "I am fearfully, wonderfully made." I also made him a burial shroud out of an old linen altar cloth.

Then I made a tiny gown for him and a tiny hat—both to fit a baby 1-3 pounds. I prayed and sometimes cried as I stitched them with as much love and care as I could. The package arrived in the mail just two or three days before his birth and death.

When Samuel’s time to exit the womb arrived, Amber’s labor advanced quickly, and Matt had to drive through rush hour traffic to get her to the hospital. Since Amber had felt Samuel move that day, they had hope that he might be born alive. They made it just in time to give birth to him at the hospital with their trusted medical staff.

Little Samuel wasn’t breathing, and they thought he had died during the birth. But when they were starting to wash his tiny body, Matt noticed his chest moving. Sure enough, Samuel’s heart was beating!

Samuel was baptized by their parish priest, whose presence was a great comfort to them all.

Samuel’s auntie Lucy, who was at home with the rest of Amber and Matt’s children, quickly packed them in the car to come down and meet and say goodbye to their precious new baby brother.

The family dressed him, wrapped him in the blanket, and everyone, including the children, held and cuddled him during the two and a half hours he had left with them.

Sarah, sister-in-law to Amber, was with Amber throughout, to offer love and support and deep understanding. This was extraordinary for her, since she and my son Chris had given birth to and lost their little baby, Sawyer Donald, in a very similar situation last year, after he had been diagnosed with trisomy 18.

The choice to continue their pregnancy to the end had inspired and touched Amber, and so Sarah’s presence through it all gave her much needed courage and strength.

Quite extraordinary also was my daughter Lucy’s presence. Lucy and her husband Jordan, after eight years of marriage, are in the process of adoption, and they are still waiting to meet the baby God has in mind for them.

Our family has certainly been brought together on new levels, forged and fused together in the furnace of love and pain. 

I am so grateful for the life of our little Samuel David, and I feel compelled to pass this story along. For, although I have always been wholeheartedly pro-life, I was previously unaware of these conditions and how they are handled, or mishandled, in this society of ours.

Samuel touched us all deeply during his brief presence and called us to love more deeply, more compassionately, more tenderly.

He also called us to advocate for these little ones—perhaps "dis-abled" but very much able to love and be loved while on earth for as long as they are allowed, and on into eternity, where eventually we will all enjoy the banquet of love together.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord ( Job 1:21).

The author, a friend and neighbour of Madonna House, worked for MH Publications.

Here are some helpful resources which offer information about these precious babies and support to their families. Both Prenatal Partners for Life and Be Not Afraid offer a lot of ongoing support and many testimonies and movies from families who have been gifted with babies like Samuel. A representative of Prenatal Partners attended Samuel’s funeral.


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