Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marian and the Millennium: Reflections on My Stillborn Baby, on Her Fifth Birthday


1.  This essay is long: thirteen-odd pages. I don't expect many people to read it, and I certainly don't expect people to read it all. I wrote it for myself. If it helps anyone else, that's wonderful.
2. Although I cite Mormon sources, all interpretation and opinions are my own and do not represent official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
3. There are different systems for classifying fetal development. Some sources count from fertilization, and others count from the way doctors classify gestational age, which means adding an extra two weeks to account for the mother’s reproductive cycle. Thus, a doctor might say that at the moment of fertilization, the pregnancy is already two weeks along[1]. It sounds odd, but I use the gestational system in my essay unless I note otherwise.
4. A miscarriage is a pregnancy that fails before the baby would normally be considered viable, or able to survive outside the womb. Most miscarriages occur in the first thirteen weeks, or “trimester.” “A stillbirth is delivery of the dead fetus that has developed to the point where it would normally have been viable.”[2]
5. My formatting in Word was so pretty, with footnotes at the bottom of their proper pages. Blogger is not so format friendly; sorry about needing to scroll down. If you email me, I would be happy to get you a PDF or word version.
6. My thanks to my mother and sister Carolyn for their help as beta-readers and editors.


Five years ago today, I had a stillborn daughter.[3] We named her Marian Marguerite Berry. It was a surreal experience, because I began labor knowing the baby was already dead.[4] This brought new meaning to the scripture “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” [5]

Several years earlier, I had done some research on the topic of stillborn babies. I was aware that such children could be listed on family group sheets, but were not eligible for proxy temple work.[6] I was further aware that there was no definitive revelation on their eternal status. My personal opinion was that they “counted”—meaning they were persons entitled to all the blessings of Abraham—but I had not inquired much further.

My experience with Marian inspired me to dig deeper.  After some thorough research, I wrote an essay about my opinion on the questions “Will my stillborn child be resurrected? Will she belong to my eternal family?” and “When does the spirit enter the body? Does it matter?” and “Why isn’t there an official revelation on this point? Are we likely ever to receive one?” Finding it too painful to publish, I put it aside with the intention to pull it back out in several years.

Now I can’t find it.

Losing the essay reminds me of losing my baby. They parallel each other somehow. I wish I could recall everything I felt and wrote half a decade ago. I also wish I could find the original research, quotes, and references I used.

I have decided to reconstruct it as best as I can. It won’t be perfect—for one thing, I’m using internet sources (including Wikipedia) instead of medical textbooks—but hopefully it will be “good enough”—for whatever, still unknown, purpose it ends up serving.

The stillbirth happened in my old Raleigh ward. I did not keep it quiet there—for one thing, it was a hard pregnancy and I couldn’t hide how I was vomiting four times a day, and, and for another, I was far enough along to be showing. Friends in that ward were very kind during the pregnancy, particularly in helping with the driving. (Car motion exacerbated my nausea.) When tragedy struck, they provided meals, cleaned my house, watched my children, and offered lots of hugs. My extended family were also very supportive.

I did not mention Marian after moving to the Leander ward. I wanted some privacy for my grief, some space for my sadness. I didn’t want to introduce myself with a dramatic “My baby died! Pity me!” 

I have told a few people as it seemed appropriate. The occasional person who caught me weeping in a bathroom following a baby blessing, for instance, or another woman who had suffered a similar loss. 

When I was pregnant with Sam, several people thought I was having a girl. “Probably Daniel has been talking about his baby sister and people got confused,” I thought, but did not feel compelled to explain.[7] 

For some reason, this year, the grief surrounding Marian’s birthday is hitting me particularly hard. Last Sunday I sobbed through most of church, frustrated and slightly embarrassed that I couldn’t control myself. After that, I concluded that “keeping it quiet” might no longer be an option, or at least might no longer be the correct option. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I should try something different, like talking about her.”

I dug through my files, trying to find my old essay. When that failed, I wrote a new one.

For the first time, instead of telling people “Please keep this confidential,” I am inviting you to share it with anyone whom you think might benefit from reading it. 

Perhaps it will prove a fitting memorial for Marian.


Imagine a woman who is pregnant with twins enduring a complicated labor. The first baby emerges healthy, but the second arrives, a few minutes later, in distress. He breathes weakly a few times, and then dies, despite everything the doctors can do.

How heartbreaking. 

As the ward family encircles the bereaved parents in support, the mother tearfully bears her testimony of eternal families. “We are sealed in the temple,” she says, “And it’s such a comfort to know I’ll see my baby again.”

Now imagine the same situation with a variation: the first baby arrives healthy, but the second dies moments before birth and never breathes in mortality. 

As the ward family encircles the bereaved parents in support, many well-meaning friends bear their testimonies of eternal families. “You know you’ll see your baby again,” they say.

The stricken mother is thankful for the attempted comfort, but cries harder, because she doesn’t “know”—there is no official revelation on the point.

In our church, we hear many variations of the following story:

A poor mother in rural South America loses a two-week old baby. The local priest chastises her for not having had the baby baptized earlier (despite the difficulty of her circumstances) and says her infant will not go to heaven because of her negligence. For a long time she grieves doubly over her mortal bereavement and her eternal guilt, but slowly comes to believe the priest is wrong. Many years later, missionaries knock on her door and teach her the restored gospel. When she hears the good news that her baby not only will go to Heaven but she will also have an eternal relationship with him, she gratefully begs for baptism. 

We tell these stories to each other in Relief Society and express sympathy. Here in America, baby loss is rare, but when it does happen, members of our church have the assurance that it is only a temporary separation. “How that poor mother must have suffered, spending all those years in doubt,” they commiserate. “How blessed we are to have the restored gospel, which has all the answers.”

At the General Relief Society Broadcast in late September, I cried. And cried. And cried. The ladies sitting near me considerately supplied me with tissues, but looked worried, probably thinking “She’s not even singing the hymns! Something really must be wrong!”

In that session, I counted two stories of babies dying, one of an older but still minor daughter dying, and one of a pregnancy that almost ended in tragedy, fifteen weeks early—but the one-pound baby girl and her mother were both, miraculously, saved.

When I got home, I told Jon, still tearfully, “The stories about babies who died were bad. And the story about the baby girl who lived was even worse.” It’s not that I begrudge Elder Eyring’s daughter, or any mother, her miracle. It’s just that these emotional and faith-promoting stories remind me achingly of my own loss—and uncertainty. [8]


Let us return to the theoretical twins I mentioned earlier. Does the living twin qualify as part of the eternal family while the other, separated by only a few minutes of development, somehow not “count”? 

Most Mormons—in fact, most people of any faith system—instinctively answer “Of course not! They will play together in the hereafter.” There is nothing in scripture or modern revelation to contradict that view. There is, however, also nothing official to confirm it.

One theory is that a “living soul” only begins at birth, when the combination of water, blood, and spirit merge, and the baby takes that first independent breath which changes his heart—literally—so that he now processes oxygen through his own lungs instead of from his mother’s umbilical cord. Our baptismal ritual deliberately invokes that moment in a spiritual “rebirth,” involving water, blood, and Spirit—as does the weekly Sacrament.

Does the baby’s first inhalation act as the “breath of life” which effects the official, divine entrance of the spirit into the body? Or is it merely the obvious mark we humans can measure? “The spirit and body are the soul of man,”[9] which hints that this “breath of life” may not be necessary.

It seems reasonable to consider the dead baby a person, equal in eternal status with his living twin. They were both full term. Both had moved with deliberation in the womb and responded to their mother’s voice. The Biblical Rachel sought revelation when her “children struggled together within her.”[10] She was told this was a behavior both boys would continue throughout their lives. This implies her twins had personalities—and thus personhood—before they were born.

But if the first presidency issued a formal statement saying that full term babies who died during delivery had an official assurance of the celestial kingdom, similar to the status of other children who die before the age of accountability, they would be besieged by bereaved parents trying to move the goalpost backwards.

What about a woman who lost her child at 36 weeks? That’s almost full term. Most babies born at that stage do not need assistive machines; they are capable of eating and breathing independently. 

What about a pregnancy that made it to 30 weeks? Even almost a hundred years ago, such a baby had a chance. My grandmother and her twin sister were born in rural Idaho, in the winter, in a farmhouse without electricity. They were two months early, too weak to nurse, and almost too small to survive. And yet, miraculously, they lived.[11] They had lifelong medical problems, but both married and bore healthy children. My own premature daughter is named in their honor.

I had extra ultrasounds with Sammy because, after Marian, I was now considered “high risk.” Around 28 weeks, I could make out his face pretty well, and could tell that he was absolutely adorable. I also watched him, on the monitor, tickling his own toes. He would reach out a hand slowly—and then jerk back when he made contact. I imagined him giggling. Then he would slowly reach out a hand again, trying to get as close as possible without quite touching himself…Bam! He jerked backward again. He was exhibiting curiosity, exploring his environment, and playing. He also sucked on his wrist—frequently.  After he was born, he continued that habit; whenever I put him down for a nap, he would cry and nuzzle around until he found his wrist, after which he would settle down. He has since migrated to his fist and then finger, but he still does it. He was a person before he was born, and he remained the same person afterward.[12]

What about 24 weeks? Currently, that is considered the age of “viability,” or the point at which a baby has roughly a fifty percent chance of surviving outside the womb, albeit with intensive intervention.  What if a pregnant woman were severely injured in a car crash at this stage? As she is rushed to the hospital, she goes into labor from the trauma. ER physicians decide to try an emergency C-section to save the baby; sadly, they are not in time. But with an extra half-hour, they might have been able to extract the baby and put him on oxygen, and he might have survived.

What about 20 weeks? As technology improves, viability has been pushed back, incrementally. A few babies born at 21 weeks have made it. Someday a 20-weeks baby will set a new record. 

16 weeks? The baby’s organs are fully formed, and external sex characteristics might be visible with an ultrasound. Marian made it to this stage.[13] Marian looked like a baby, not an “embryo” or an alien or an odd lump of tissue. Her tiny but perfect hand was smaller than one section of her daddy’s little finger. She was 7 inches long. 

By 12 weeks, the body looks “human” and the baby is classified as a fetus, not an embryo. [14]

At 6 weeks there is a heartbeat, but no clear limbs.

At 4 weeks, or 2 weeks after fertilization, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. Many more have a few days of nail-biting anxiety (sometimes hoping for and against at the same time) until they get a decisive answer.

 I suspect I had a miscarriage once. My cycle was three days late and a home pregnancy test showed a faint positive. But when it became obvious that I had either never been pregnant, or at least, was certainly not pregnant any more, it rattled me only slightly. Somehow it didn’t feel real.[15]

Perhaps half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant successfully. [16] Does it count as a pregnancy if the egg never implants?[17] Does it count as a miscarriage if the mother never knows about it? If such pregnancies “count,” would a woman be shocked to find herself the mother of a dozen babies in the Millennium? But if they don’t “count,” is that fair to the women who struggle with the pain of infertility and lost pregnancies? Many women grieve greatly at a false pregnancy, or an ectopic pregnancy, or a failed round of IVF.


What do the scriptures and modern prophets have to say about  life and spirits and unborn babies? 

Elder Russell M. Nelson, apostle and physician, said “It is not a question of when ‘meaningful life’ begins or when the spirit ‘quickens’ the body.” He taught that all life is sacred--and interfering with its divine potential at any stage of development is wrong.[18]

In a 1909 message about “The Origin of Man,” the First Presidency said, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” This statement implies that the spirit enters the body prior to birth.

Further, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said that “there is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us.”[19] That is very heartening, though I note three things: first, it is a personal opinion, second, he says nothing about miscarriages, and third, the line between stillbirths and miscarriages can sometimes be blurry.

Brigham Young opined that “when the mother feels life come to her infant it is the spirit entering the body.”[20] Discernible fetal movements are called “the quickening,” and tend to occur around 20 weeks for a first-time mother and as early as 16 weeks for a woman who has given birth before.

With modern ultrasounds, though, we know the fetus moves long before the mother can feel it.  Marian made it to 16 weeks, but I am not certain if I ever felt her move. The doctors did not understand why so many of my questions involved the activity level of a typical sixteen-week-old fetus. I was thinking, “If she was moving deliberately, if she was swimming around, her spirit must have already entered her body. And if her spirit had entered her body, then she will almost certainly be resurrected, right?”

Sadly, I can’t find a consensus opinion on when purposeful movements begin. Even after birth, a baby’s nervous system is very immature. The post-partum period is called “the fourth trimester” and is characterized by babies having odd little spasms that look like seizures. My newborn boys were lucky to find their own thumbs, couldn’t focus their eyes, and were, to a man, rotten at nursing. Likely their spirits were still trying to integrate their eternal software into this fascinating but frustrating “mortal body platform.”[21]

A fetal nervous system is even less mature, and in embryos it is mostly undifferentiated, meaning spine and brain are beginning to develop, but much of the tissue hasn’t formally been designated “nerves” or “muscle” yet.

My doctor said my baby would have been “swimming all over the place.” But what if Marian wasn’t moving purposefully? What if she was just twitching from random immature nervous pulses?

I personally don’t see how a baby could move purposefully without the animating force of a spirit, but I also don’t know how early that occurs. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, would have been about six months along when “the babe leaped in her womb”[22] as (presumably) his spirit recognized Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus.

Does that mean the Lord’s spirit was already present, even at Mary’s early stage of pregnancy? (No matter what, Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, heralded by an angel, was obviously important, even before it began.) On the other hand, the Book of Mormon seems to indicate that Jesus visited the prophet Nephi before his birth. “On the morrow come I into the world.” [23]

Do spirits somehow co-exist, straddling a threshold with one foot in the spirit world and the other in mortality? Was Jesus an exception? If any spirit could be an exception, it would be He who also had power to raise himself from the dead. Was it the Spirit speaking “as” Jesus, similar to the divine investiture of authority with which the prophet may speak for Jesus, or the Lord may speak for the Father?


When does the spirit enter the body? When is the baby developed enough to be resurrected if she dies? What is the earliest point at which parents can assert an eternal claim to a child? Perhaps those are separate questions.

Assuming Marian will be resurrected, how would that work? 

"The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth nor development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution.”[24] Presumably that means  the blind man’s sight will improve, perhaps gradually. Will an amputee’s arm grow back over time? The cancer shrinks. The fetus…um.

Would the pregnancy start over from the beginning? Would it resume at sixteen weeks of gestation? Would I have a resurrected or mortal body at that point? In either case, would I endure the nausea again?  Would we perhaps use some kind of artificial incubator? (That seems unlikely, but the technology might have improved dramatically by then.)

Can a stillborn baby actually “enter the second time into his mother’s womb,” and be born again?[25]


An adult man who married, had children, and died without hearing the gospel should have several vicarious ordinances performed: baptism, priesthood ordination, initiatory, endowment, and sealing.

A teen-age boy who died without hearing the gospel should receive baptism, priesthood ordination, endowment, and sealing to parents. 

A boy who dies before the age of eight automatically routes to the celestial kingdom, but he does not “need” the ordinances of baptism, priesthood ordination, or endowment. 

Similarly, “No ordinances are necessary for children who are stillborn. However, if there is any possibility that a child lived after birth, he or she should be sealed to the parents unless the child was born in the covenant.”[26] (Emphasis added)

In the case of the adolescent, it makes sense that we should do all the work except eternal marriage.  We should not presume to pick out a bride for him and seal them together.[27] For the unaccountable boy, it makes sense not to perform baptism, since he truly does not need the cleansing power of the atonement; he was incapable of sin. I might also imagine such a spirit entering the celestial kingdom without the endowment, since that ordinance is primarily designed to help adults get there, and the spirit in question has already been assured entrance. I assume, however, that he will have the chance to court and marry an eternal companion, and that he would need to be ordained to the priesthood before the sealing ordinance could take place during the Millennium.

Regarding stillborn babies, I was worried at first. “If they are not supposed to be sealed to their parents,” I thought, “It implies that the parents have no eternal claim to them.”  My mother suggested an alternative interpretation I like much better: they are simply beyond our jurisdiction.

I see no reason not to ordain a boy who died at age six to the priesthood, except that we have not been commanded to do it. Similarly, I see no reason to assume that stillborn babies will not one day be sealed to their parents—after we have been authorized to do it.

It also makes sense to perform the sealing if there is any possibility the child lived after birth. (What if he had a heartbeat but no respiration, for instance?) That’s similar, in my view, to performing a baptism a second time if a member’s records are lost. The original ordinance was probably valid, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. (And have an official record. Our church really likes records.) It is better, in a limited way, to do an extra ordinance than to omit a necessary one. 

If we were authorized to perform ordinances for stillbirths, I can imagine how it might be done.  Records would likely be very spotty since they might not have been recorded in the family Bible and were probably not even mentioned by most parish priests.

A miscarriage, though, would be awful. How do you baptize “Unnamed miscarriage #3 Jones of indeterminate gender from October or November of 1817 mentioned in a letter fifteen years after the fact” by proxy?

The prophet has stewardship over the earth, and over people who have lived in mortality. How do we classify who, exactly, has lived in mortality? 

As a parent, I understand the importance of simple, elegant, easily defined rules.

Fetal development is a vague line. It makes sense that the prophet hasn’t announced revelation announcing “Any pregnancies that make it past fifteen weeks count; everything else doesn’t.” Saying “the baby must breathe independently, at least once, in mortality” is a clear, easily measured metric. Probably the prophet only has priesthood keys over people who have breathed independently in mortality: the living, and the post-living. Not the “pre-living” as it were.

The more I think about it, the more I understand why there isn’t a revelation on the point, and why it seems unlikely the question will be resolved until the Millennium.


In a sequel to Anne of Green Gables, an adult Anne, now married to Gilbert, delivers a baby girl who dies a few days later.

“It doesn’t seem fair,” said Anne rebelliously. “Babies are born and live where they are not wanted—where they will be neglected—where they will have no chance. I would have loved my baby so—and cared…so tenderly—and tried to give her every chance for good. And yet I wasn’t allowed to keep her.”[28]
I felt exactly the same way. I wanted to “give” Jon and his family a baby girl. I’m not a big fashionista, but I wanted to play “dress up” a little.[29] I wanted to watch Jon teach her math. 

Many women came up to me after I lost Marian. “I had a miscarriage at ten weeks,” they said, “Nothing like what you went through, but I do have some inkling…”
In my turn, I wondered if my experience was at all “comparable” to a woman who lost a full-term baby during delivery.

One of the most important things I learned from Marian is that grief is not a competitive sport. A loss is a loss; we should grieve appropriately, respect feelings, and try to comfort each other. We need not exaggerate or minimize our own losses, but choose whether and how much to share of our  honest experiences.

 Before Marian, I was offering advice and a female perspective to a guy friend of mine. “ As a general rule of thumb,” I said, “I would expect that the longer the pregnancy has lasted, the harder its termination would be. Each day makes the child more real, and builds the relationship.”

Since Marian, I have often thought that it would have been easier for me if Marian had been full term and lived independently, even just for a moment, because then I would have had an assurance of her eternal status. 

I would also add that, in the midst of my grief and guilt over losing my baby, I realized, “Satan convinces millions of women to do this on purpose? He truly is a great deceiver.” My guilt was mercifully very short, because I hadn’t actually done anything bad. Several times a day, I would go through my litany: “But I didn’t smoke or drink alcohol or do drugs or ignore medical advice or do anything else risky. I didn’t do anything wrong, and this isn’t my fault.” Then I would think, “I believe that’s true—so why do I feel the need to reassure myself so often?”

As horrible as I felt, I can only imagine the guilt of women who had an abortion and then afterwards realized the full implications. I do not judge them. Instead, I ache for them, imagining how much pain they have inflicted upon themselves. Mercifully, the Savior has power to forgive and heal.


Another thing I realized after my experience is that many people face confusion about the eternal makeup of their families. Consider the following representative, but hardly comprehensive, examples:

*    "My son was a rebellious teen-ager. At age nineteen, he was starting to mature but had not come back to church yet. We were hopeful that things were improving—but then he died in a car crash.”
*    “My parents got married in the temple and then divorced when I was two. My father remarried, again in the temple. Technically I’m still sealed to my birth mother, but my stepmother has been more of a “real” mom to me. I want to be sealed to her, but I don’t know if that is what will happen.”
*    “My parents got baptized but never sealed in the temple. They have no interest in returning to full activity in our faith. My brother died last year, and through no fault of my own, I am not sealed to him. I had his priesthood ordination and endowments done by proxy, but will he and I ever be sealed as siblings? If I cannot be sealed to my own parents in eternity, what about grandparents or great-grandparents who ultimately accept the gospel in the spirit world?”
*    “After years of struggling with infertility, my husband and I were delighted when I got pregnant. For the first several weeks we bit our fingernails, worried that something might go wrong. After eight weeks we started to relax, only to be devastated when I had a miscarriage two weeks later. Our baby wasn’t even a fetus, just an embryo. I don’t know if it was a boy or a girl. But I feel even more bereft than when my father died. I believe my husband and I can have eternal increase, but will this specific child come back to us?”
*    "My mother got married in the temple and then was widowed young, with two small children. She remarried my father in the temple, but they are not sealed 'for all eternity.' They went on to have several more children, including me. 'Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?' Will I be sealed to my earthly father, or to some guy I’ve never met?"
*    "My wife and I fostered a wonderful child for two years. She was a part of our family, and we planned to have her sealed to us as soon as the adoption was final. Abruptly, the adoption fell through and she was returned to her birth mother’s custody. We are heartbroken for ourselves, but even more worried for her emotional stability and spiritual safety. We pray for her daily, hoping that by some miracle she will return to us."

All those questions are reasonable, and all of them remind me that I am not the only person with uncertainty. If God revealed everything to us, we would have no curiosity, no sense of wonder, no impetus to search the scriptures, and no need to walk by faith. (Also no need for scientists to go crazy trying to figure out dark matter or a Grand Unified Theory.) If every young woman knew, at age twelve, who she would marry, and what she should study in college, and if and where she would serve a mission, she would not need to seek her Heavenly Father’s council in prayer, and would thus not develop a vital spiritual relationship with Him.

As soon as I have solved the last level of a computer game, I get bored with it. I hate being bored. God has handed me a mystery, a knotty, thorny problem, to ponder over and worry at and chew on for the rest of my mortal life. It is an unexpected and bittersweet gift which will doubtless bless me in profound and uncomfortable ways.


Will my stillborn be resurrected? Probably, though I don't know how it will work. 

Will she belong to my eternal family? I believe so. 

When does the spirit enter the body? I would guess by at least 20 weeks, but the earlier we go beyond that, the murkier it seems. 

Does it matter when the spirit enters the body? Probably not, at least for the purposes of claiming a child. 

Why isn't there an official revelation on this point? It's a tricksy, slippery slope, and probably outside the stewardship and jurisdiction of the prophet.

Are we likely ever to receive one? I am not predicting anything prior to the Millennium.

A more refined question might be "At what point is a spirit assigned to an eternal family?" That's very complicated. I envision Heavenly Father sitting his spirit children down for a priesthood interview and extending a "mission call." At least some of that must have happened before the creation of the world, since specific people, primarily prophets, were foreordained to their responsibilities. After that, we get into pure speculation about "rank and file" spirits and families, and timing, and abortion complicating things. I'm not prepared to "go there" right now.


Here are a few principles which help me to feel better:
1.  God wants to give us as many blessings as He can.
2. He respects our agency.
3. “All that is unfair in this life can be made right through the atonement.”[30]
4. Parents have the right to study, pray, and attend the temple in seeking personal revelation about their children. Though there is no official blanket revelation, there is nothing to prevent parents from seeking personal assurance through study, prayer, and temple attendance.

I do not believe God will force people into eternal relationships they do not want. In the case of divorces and re-sealings, I imagine a large counseling session wherein each affected member states what he or she wants, and it is discussed, in council, until every righteous person has peace about the makeup of his or her eternal family.

I also do not believe He will force us out of eternal relationships we do want, provided all the participants are righteous. 

Jon and I wanted our baby, and we want our baby back. It is a righteous desire, one which I think will be granted. I believe we will raise Marian in the Millennium, with a truly deep appreciation for that privilege.

When my oldest nephew got baptized, an aunt gave a talk about baptism and the atonement. Trying to model the “chasm” of sin that separates us from God, she said, “Let’s pretend that you are out riding your bike and you come to a big ditch filled with water. You need to get across. What do you do?”

Ignoring the convenient picture of Bob the Builder prominently displayed, Doug answered, calmly, “I would call my Grandpa Homer. He would build a bridge.”

Doug had accurately assessed his Grandpa’s personality. If my father decided to build a bridge, it would get done somehow. He would analyze the problem,  research the materials available, develop an efficient schedule, and pre-stage his resources. It might end up being a suspension rope walk (though that’s unlikely, since Doug couldn’t ride his bike across), or a wooden girder bridge, or a metal truss. It would probably be over-engineered 300%, but not 1000% since that would run way over budget.

Characters drive stories.  A weak character will yield to temptation; an angry character will lash out at someone; a hyperactive spirit will drive his mother crazy in utero; a brilliant engineer who desperately needs to improvise an explosion with only a first aid kit and a tire iron will Find A Way. The rest of the plot follows logically from the protagonist’s choices.

It turns out the real question is not when the spirit enters the body, or when a pregnancy “counts,” or even why there is no official revelation on the topic. The real question is “Do I trust God to make this right?” And, really, I do. That is where the real faith comes in—despite gaps in knowledge, I can rely on the Savior. 

After a dozen pages, I have re-invented the wheel: I believe that Marian “counts,” but there is no official revelation on the matter. I have amassed evidence to support my belief, though, and proof that, whatever happens, I can have “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”[31]

If I live up to my covenants, He will find a way to heal my heartache. 

Humans are fallible. God is perfect. I trust His character. I trust in Christ.

[1] This reminds me of Schrodinger’s cat. Can we argue that on the fourteenth day of a “married and trying” woman’s cycle, she is simultaneously not pregnant AND two weeks along?
[2] Val D. Greenwood, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, September, 1987.
[3] In medical terms, it was technically a “fetal demise” or an unusual “second trimester miscarriage.” I delivered and held a completely formed baby. I lactated. Although she was not “viable,” to me, it was a stillbirth. And you’re all too smart to argue with a mournin’ Mormon mama.
[5] Genesis 3:16
[6] Val D. Greenwood, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, September, 1987.
[7] Although I did not announce it, neither did I try to keep it secret, exactly. I never asked my children not to talk about it, and Daniel has, I gather, mentioned it on several occasions.
[8] There were several more incidents during General Conference. In particular, Elder Bowen’s talk about the death of his one-year-old baby boy sent me over the edge again. “One more dead baby story,” I sobbed, “And I will scream! And then turn off conference and go watch football.” I didn’t actually do it (though there were more stories), but I was sorely tempted.
[9] D&C 88:15
[10] Genesis 25:22
[11] My grandmother, Marian, was also further developed than her identical twin, Marguerite, demonstrating that fetal progression is not exact. Some babies born two months early can breathe independently; others do not have lungs developed enough. Similarly, most babies walk around one year of age, but with wide variation.
[12] My other babies also exhibited personality in utero; Eric was immensely hyper, while Daniel and Jeff were more mellow. I just didn’t get detailed special ultrasounds of them.
[13] Apparently she developed to sixteen weeks and then died. We discovered the fetal demise several weeks later and I gave birth at almost twenty weeks, or halfway into the pregnancy. As I did feel occasional “movement” and continued to vomit (the placenta was still viable), I had no idea something was wrong.
[15] Nothing makes a baby feel “real” like constant nausea and vomiting. After all that misery, Marian had better “count!” If she doesn’t, I’ll certainly have strong words for—um.  I just had a picture of me yelling at an imaginary, non-existent spirit. Facing a blank wall, with celestial people glancing at me in concern while bypassing me with a wide and awkward arc, I say “And how DARE you put me through that pregnancy and then turn out not to be real!!!—wait a minute…” No, it doesn’t make sense. Motherhood frequently doesn’t.
[17] Questions surrounding fertilization and implantation also impact our choices regarding certain methods of birth control and embryonic stem cell research. I have a personal opinion on those points, but they exceed the scope of this essay.
[18] Russell M. Nelson, “Reverence for Life,” April General Conference, 1985.
[19] Doctrines of Salvation, 2:280
[20] Journal of Discourses, 17:143
[21] Daniel spent an extra few days in the NICU because he was “breathing strangely,” in a kind of see-saw motion: heaving chest morphing into heaving stomach and back again. My mother, defending her latest grandson, pointed out that it was unreasonable for the nurses to expect him to be perfect at respiration when he’d had less than forty-eight hours of practice. I can well imagine Daniel thinking “What? I’m getting oxygen. Quit nagging. When do I get to drive this thing? Why haven’t they developed a robotic exoskeleton I could control through blinking…?”
[22] Luke 1:41
[23] 3 Nephi 1:13
[24] Joseph F. Smith, IE 7 [June 1904]:623-24. I can’t interpret the original sourcing; I admit I found the quote at the BYU webpage for the Encyclopedia or Mormonism:
[25] John 3:4
[27] I’m envisioning a meddling mom saying “Oh! Mother Theresa would be perfect for him! Let’s snatch her up before anyone else steals her!”
[28] L. M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams, Chapter 19.
[29] For Halloween of 2007, I impersonated Anne Boleyn, whose pregnancy changed history. (Her condition caused King Henry VIII to precipitate his country’s break with Roman Catholicism and form the Church of England so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne. The pregnancy resulted in the baby who would grow up to become Queen Elizabeth I.)  At the time, I enjoyed incorporating my belly into a Halloween costume. Afterwards, I thought wistfully, “At least I got to play ‘dress up’ with my princess one time.”
[30] Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004), 52.
[31] Philippians 4:7


Just Tera said...

I read it all. Thanks for sharing. I cant pretend to understand but I can assure you I care and I believe as you do. blessings

Carolyn said...

I love you Gail!! And I at least am confident that I will have an adorable niece to play with and watch grow up in the millennium :)

Anonymous said...

This essay is beautifully written and very moving.

Grandparents grieve, too. Losing Marian was very hard on Dad and me, but we are so grateful that we had time to come to Raleigh before you delivered. I remember holding her in the hospital room with you and Jon. I wouldn't have missed that choice experience, and I have felt confident since then that I will see my granddaughter again.


Krenn said...

I have a theoretical solution which works in either doctrinal scenario, but you won't like the second variant.

Jon said...

Thank you sweetheart. I love you.