I was asked to write a Mother's Day devotional for the spring edition of the women's ministry newsletter at my church. God gave me this piece as a tribute to Anna Vivian, whose tenth birthday might have been today. She made me a first-time mom, even though I've yet to hold her in my arms.
You may know that I’m Mom to “Irish twins” – my girls who were born in 2001 and 2002, just less than a year apart. What you might not know is that Rachel is actually my middle child…and that Abigail is the youngest of three, not the younger of two.
The Lord first blessed us with a pregnancy in August, 1998. Since we planned it, I should have been thoroughly attuned to the changes in my body from the moment of conception. But I was clueless and didn’t even consider that I might be pregnant when I started inexplicably to gain weight. Instead – because of my struggles with eating disorders – I freaked out and started purging to rid myself of the extra pounds…then panicked even more when I kept gaining anyway.
Then one Saturday morning as I furiously pedaled away on my stationary bike, I stopped short. “I’ve missed at least one period!” I thought. “Could I be…” I didn’t finish the question. Instead, I threw on a jacket and raced to the corner Walgreens for a pregnancy test. And shortly thereafter, two bright pink lines stared at me from the test stick.
I rejoiced, and so did Jeff. But I also agonized. In my fruitless efforts to lose weight, I’d taken many laxatives in the previous month; had I harmed the baby?
As the doctor measured my abdomen during my first exam at the end of October, he off-handedly remarked that I seemed a bit small for as far along as I thought I was. He said, “But you probably just guessed the date wrong. Let’s schedule an ultrasound for next week.”
So a week later – on Friday, November 6, 1998 – we arrived for the ultrasound. And a short while later, the technician paged the doctor, who informed us that our baby had died a week to 10 days earlier.
I recall hearing my wail and sobs as if I were watching myself from a corner of the room. The next thing I knew, Jeff was driving me home as I curled into a fetal position on the passenger seat. And then I went to bed and didn’t get up all weekend. My child was dead. And I was sure I was to blame.
Sometime the next week – still wrapped in a fog of guilt-induced grief – I determined that my baby would be recognized. So I marched to the Press-Gazette office a mile from my home, obituary for Baby Hollenbeck in hand. Though dumbfounded at such a request for an unborn child, the clerk made an uncomfortable confirmation call to my doctor’s office and then took the notice.
I started home, a vague sense of satisfaction mingling with my shame, loss, and emptiness. And then halfway back to my house I stopped in my tracks because the Lord “whispered” something into my heart: Anna Vivian. Her name is Anna Vivian.
We hadn’t been told our baby was a girl; in fact, the doctor had made it clear that he wouldn’t test for gender. Not that he couldn’t. He just wouldn’t, and he didn’t. And yet I was as sure of what I’d “heard” as Eli was in 1 Samuel that God had spoken to the young priest-in-training.
Prior to that, the only girl’s name we’d had in mind – the one we’d agreed upon since before we were married – was Rachel. And as I’d written the obituary, we’d decided not to use that name…since we didn’t know then the gender of our lost child and also because we wanted to save that name. So Anna Vivian was truly a name given us by God.
Of course, I was glad that Anna is a biblical name. And I latched onto the knowledge that the root of Vivian is “living.” Then, weeks later, when I shared the baby’s name with Jeff’s mom, she told me that Anna and Vivian were the middle names of Jeff’s grandmothers – and I stood amazed. God had picked a name to bond our little girl to our extended family.
Right around Mother’s Day, Rachel will turn eight, and Abigail will be seven. Anna’s due date was May 16; she would be 10. I wish with all my heart that she were with us; we all do. I still sometimes grieve, wondering if my foolish neurosis caused Anna’s death. And yet, even so, I rejoice knowing that Anna is secure in her Father’s arms, that He’s forgiven me if I’m at fault, and that one day I will embrace my oldest daughter. In fact, she is now among the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11-12) cheering me on day to day as I seek to persevere in this life until we are reunited.