A Second gift
Hmm, it’s hard to find a place to start on something (someone) that I could talk endlessly about … I’ll start with me, Abel’s mama. My name is Hannah Witmer. I work part-time in Occupational Therapy currently in a home health setting. I have been married to my husband, Mitchell almost 3 years. We have packed a WHOLE lot in 3 years of marriage, that’s for sure. We quickly (surprise!) became pregnant 4 months into being married with our first son, Wells.
I was still nursing Wells and therefore my cycle did not come back yet, when one day I found Wells playing with old pregnancy tests. I thought, “what the heck, I’ll just take one!” and SURPRISE number 2. I also have to pause there to acknowledge the pure blessing and gift of us being able to get pregnant so very easily, without trying twice. I am so fully aware that this is not the case for so many women.
Mitchell and I felt SO excited and WAY more confident with this second pregnancy. I think it’s a unique experience after having a healthy child, because you know what to expect. You know what you’re doing a bit more. And suddenly we had NO idea what we were doing. We felt his first kick at 17 weeks while we were laying in bed and cracked up, because it’s like, ‘oh yeah this is real!’
Panic sets in
We went for our anatomy scan at 18 weeks in mid-January and we were surprised by the gender of our first and that was our plan again. We could see that Abel was curled into quite a ball and the tech told us that she could not get very good pictures and that we would need another ultrasound. That was all that was said.
The next day I went to work and thankfully my last patient canceled so I got home early and missed a call from my OBs office- which said they saw a potential diaphragmatic hernia and a 2 vessel cord and that we’d need to be seen by MFM. The panic began.
We got into MFM the next afternoon and they found a lengthy number of abnormalities. The diaphragmatic hernia was confirmed and was the biggest concern.
148 missing genes
The kindest man came into the room and apologized for meeting us on these terms and then said, “I need you to know that you did not cause this.” Then he looked at my husband and repeated “and I need you to know that you did not cause this.”
This doctor delivered every parent’s worst nightmare with grace, compassion, and kindness. He explained the complexities of Abel’s abnormalities and that this would be “lethal”. There was never a question of that. He then said, “I legally have to offer you termination.”
I shook my head and said we are not interested with hot tears streaming down my face while clenching my husband’s hand. He said, “You will never hear of it again.” And we never did. I am forever grateful for that, because I know that is not the case with many stories of fatal diagnoses.
It was presumed that Abel had trisomy 18 or 13 so we did the NIPTS. Which came back negative for all of the trisomy’s. We opted for an amniocentesis which was traumatic in and of itself. Which confirmed I was carrying our second SON and that Abel had a large deletion of his 2nd chromosome. He was missing 148 genes. The dr’s said they have never seen or heard of a deletion like his.
We left the office and I told Mitchell I knew what I wanted to name him. Abel Isaac. I was experiencing the deepest, darkest sadness I have ever experienced, simultaneously trying to seek God and find Him in the mess. About 2 weeks after finding out his diagnosis and refusing termination, my mom randomly texted me saying, “Hey, do you know what Abel means?” The meaning of my son’s name altered my heart posture.
Abel means breath and son. Isaac means He will laugh.
A little boy who doctors are not sure why my body didn’t miscarry him early on. Who was then predicted to be a second trimester stillborn. And who was predicted to have 0% lung development name means breathe and he will laugh. At that point we decided to pursue praying for the healing of our sweet boy.
Emotional & physical struggles
I don’t think it’s possible for your faith to remain the exact same as before you lose a baby. You either don’t believe the things you used to believe to be true or you hunger to understand Him more.
The pregnancy was incredibly hard. Emotionally & physically. Then COVID-19 hit the US and my loss felt magnified. I suddenly felt even more alone and isolated. I was attending weekly appointments alone. Daily, I had to realign my heart to a heart of worship. Some days I don’t know if could say I got there, but we still had and have a reason to worship. He is the SAME exact God that He was before Abel’s diagnosis.
People tend to say things He never said- especially in the midst of heartbreak & trials. I do not believe God “needs another angel”, that somehow giving an innocent child a death sentence is ‘ God working in mysterious ways’ or to teach us a lesson, or most simply put, that this is God’s will for Abel and our lives.
The will of God was revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. The enemy came to kill, steal, and destroy. We live in a broken and fallen world. We were not finding a silver lining or simply thinking optimistically with bandaid-bible verses. Our grief can and does still exist, but I refuse to push this under the sovereignty of God. I believe bold prayers honor God.
Christ is still on His throne. He’s still the hope of Glory. He did not pay a price for life to go the way I hope it does. Somehow we’ve turned the Gospel into a survival kit & beneficial message to help us through life. And were proving that we’ve made it all about us. And we love Him, but we miss the point of why He came. The whole purpose of the cross was not just to get us to heaven- it’s to get the truth of the gospel back into us.
healed in heaven
We scheduled our induction at 36 weeks. The night before our induction, we had a small group of friends that came over and all laid hands on me praying for the healing of our sweet boy.
We worshiped and cried and prayed. We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring and we had no idea what our road ahead would look like, but we will remember this time as a time we trusted God, despite the pain. We knew that God is faithful and trustworthy. We knew that tomorrow, Abel will be healed on earth or in heaven. We asked our family and friends to pray for 4 things for the following day:
1) Abel would he completely healed.
2) We could meet Abel alive.
3) For a smooth delivery.
4) We are able to trust God more even if we understand Him less.
The following day followed with one of those prayers answered. Abel was laid on my chest on May 21st at 6:19am and I knew he was gone. We spent the day snuggling and loving on his earthly body before saying goodbye to him. There are no words to describe that amount of pain.
my greatest honor
We were fully aware God was more than capable of healing our Abel. We did not see that healing happen here on earth or not. Even when it makes no sense to sing, I’ll sing His praise, I’ll always sing His praise. I’m thankful for a Heavenly Father that redeems these hard, unfair parts of life. He made and is still making our broken path beautiful. We patiently wait and believe the promise of Gods redemption for this world.
Abel is not an inconvenience, He is our precious son. We will always be a family of 4. I will always be the mama of 2 boys. Wells will always have a little brother, named Abel. And I will never not want to talk about him.
Our journey to Abel has ended and we will never be the same. I won’t pretend to understand why he had this diagnosis or why we didn’t see him healed. But I don’t regret hoping for a miracle. I don’t regret believing and asking that the King of Kings do the impossible. I will never regret carrying my boy and giving him life. Carrying him, knowing him, and loving him has been my greatest honor. Valuing his life that began in September. A life that only knew warmth, comfort, and peace- never experiencing even an ounce of pain.
love despite loss
It’s natural to run from pain- we all avoid it at all costs. Although, through Abel I’ve leaned into my greatest fear- my deepest pain. Loving a child I will lose. But joy and pain are not mutually exclusive. As the depths of our parent souls ache with deep longing for our son to be with us, we know he is held and loved in a way we can’t fully comprehend. I am homesick for the day I will see my precious boy again.
Abel has changed us. Changed me more than anything in my 27 years of life has. He’s taught me more about life, love, and Jesus than anyone else. “As surely as the sun rises, as surely as it sets. We anticipate the Goodness, we anticipate the rest.”
So as I navigate life now, sometimes feeling paralyzed by a future without Abel, I am reminded of his name and meaning. Putting them together feels awfully fitting. Breathing laughter into existence. Finding joy in the pain. Trusting God in the middle of darkness.