Fathom Mag

On the Other Side

When a mother’s fear becomes reality

Published on:
March 10, 2020
Read time:
4 min.
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I did everything a pregnant woman should. The vitamins. The vegetables. Minimal caffeine and never, ever lunch meat. Really, I should have gotten a medal for my rigid adherence to the “rules” of being with child. A gold star, at least. But instead I settled for minimal morning sickness and the comfort found in doing things the right way. 

Being in control has a strange way of making fear feel far off. Or at least manageable.

With one healthy kid already on my hip, nothing abnormal pinged my radar. Sure, I worried about whether the kids would get along or whether I could handle two under the age of two. My concerns ran circles around my capabilities, but never more than what I could handle. At the end of the day, life seemed to be turning out as planned. 

I did everything a pregnant woman should.

Then came the ultrasound. Nervousness about the gender and picking names dissipated as words like irregular and specialist made the air grow thin and sterile. I struggled to breathe as the doctor furrowed his brow, dread flickering behind his blue-green eyes. New, unforeseen anxieties poked holes in my previously safe existence, but we had no choice but to wait for answers.

Like a pinched nerve, anxiety embedded itself in my flesh, always there. Relentless in doling out discomfort and making me eager for the antidote.

Google became my new best friend, but the relationship was horribly one-sided. The more time I spent searching for answers, the more withholding the Internet became. Peace seemed just out of reach. Just one click away. But instead of tamping my anxiety, information became a minefield of new fears.

What if I have to go on hospitalized bedrest? Who will make dinner?

Will the baby have disabilities? Can I handle being a special-needs mom?

What if surgery is necessary? How can we pay for that?

Like a pinched nerve, anxiety embedded itself in my flesh, always there. Relentless in doling out discomfort and making me eager for the antidote.

Talking to God seemed too dangerous, so I kept my distance. My questions about his sovereignty and love pressed against my chest, but I did my best to keep them hidden, too afraid of the answers I might find on the other side. Too afraid that I had imagined his goodness all along. My faith felt frail at best, like standing on a sheet of glass.

As we waited for our unborn son’s prognosis, I replayed the potential scenarios in my mind. For each one, I developed a plan. While scary, they seemed doable. 

But my worst fears were not even in sight.

Days later sitting in yet another doctor’s office, seven words changed me forever: “Your son cannot sustain life after birth.” The glass beneath my feet shattered and I began a free fall into the void. Carrying and then burying my son was so beyond the realm of possibility that I had no framework, no plan for which to hold this diagnosis. Everything I understood about life and faith unraveled. And as plummeted, I begged God, “Please be everything you say you are, or I’m done.”

Losing my son left me with shards of what should have been, and I was helpless to put the pieces back together. Shrouded by darkness, the only sliver of light was that of the divine. Raw and out of options, I threw myself at God. Not once, but daily—over and over for more than a year.

Faith didn’t feel brave but desperate. Out of options. Like the disciple Peter, I held so many unanswered questions for Jesus—questions that had caused others to walk away. But when I looked around for any other hope, I concluded, “Lord, where would I go?” Everything else was empty, so I stayed. I spent time with him. I read the Psalms. I asked gritty questions without sugar coating them. I wept and wailed. God got the worst of me.

Seven words changed me forever: “Your son cannot sustain life after birth.”

And he met me there—not always with answers, but with presence. A mysterious thing began to happen. I began to experience God not as I wanted him to be, but as he was.

The beauty of fractured expectations is that when fears become reality, the box in which we once tried to place God dissipates. Yes, we become undone, but we also set God free—free from understanding him on our terms. Free from defining his love based on our circumstances or behaviors. Instead, we are invited to see him as he is, because his love and his kindness are all we have left.

Fear wants us to believe that pain and suffering are worst-case scenarios, but fear’s fangs drip with lies. Pain is not the enemy. The worst a human can experience is not suffering but separation from God—not only in eternity but now. Here in our flesh.

But when fears scratch at my skin, threatening that presence, I can look at who God is and what he has done and say,

I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love.
(Romans 8:38 TPT)

While I wish I could have my son back, grief has become an unexpected gift. Daily, my sorrow clears the path of self-reliance so that my need for God pushes me into his presence. The dissonance makes me stay. His presence is my hope and healing. Because more and more, I’m convinced that anything that removes the barriers between us and God is an incredible kindness—echoes of his abundant grace.

Sarah E. Westfall
Sarah E. Westfall is a writer, speaker, and creator of the devotional Be Still: Leaning into God When Everything Falls Apart. No stranger to loss, Sarah offers an invitation to embrace the deep grace found in a life undone. Sarah currently lives in Indiana, along with her salt-and-pepper-bearded man Ben and four sons. Connect with Sarah at SarahEWestfall.com as well as on Instagram and Twitter.

Cover image by Josh Bean.

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