John and Joan are the proud parents of four beautiful gifts from God – their children: Julian 12, Jeanne 9, Joseph 6, and Joachim 3. However, God also gifted them with three unsuccessful pregnancies. Although the losses were great, they strengthened the couple’s faith. They believe their first born, Joshua, in particular, carried a special message from God.

When John and Joan got married on New Year’s Day in 2005, they were full of joy and hope for a future trusted in God. They found out two months later that Joan was expecting their first child, and they were overjoyed.

“Every visit to the hospital was so exciting, seeing how fast our baby was growing,” Joan recalls. “We eagerly awaited the scheduled scan to find out if our baby was a boy or a girl, as we were so excited about giving our baby a name.”

The scan did not go as expected. The couple were informed that their baby boy had abnormalities in the brain, heart and intestines. They were referred immediately for a Fetal Anomaly Scan.

Abortion was Not the Solution

“Before the scan, we spent time reading up on whatever little information we could get just to prepare ourselves for the worst,” says John, “but there was no doubt at all that we would keep our baby regardless of the outcome.”

The second scan delivered even worse news. Their baby had three major problems: he had a cyst in the brain and his head was slightly flat at the back, he had two major holes in the heart, and his intestines were outside his body. The couple were further told there was a possibility of Edward’s Syndrome, where babies seldom live until birth or beyond the first month after birth.

This was devastating news for the newly weds. At first they refused an Amniocentesis, which is a medical procedure to determine the nature of the chromosomal disorder, as there was a risk of miscarriage. However, a Catholic doctor in the hospital advised the couple that the test would allow them to focus on the medical help they could provide for the baby after birth.

The Church was the First Place They Turned to For Help

“Obviously this was all so much for us to take in,” says John. “So we went straight to Novena Church from the hospital to pray and seek advice from the priest. Thank God a priest was there to provide the support and guidance we were desperate for.”

They decided to do the test so that they would be able to make informed decisions on how to care for their son, once born. It was an agonising two weeks’ wait for the result.

To compound John and Joan’s despair, they were pressured by many of their family members and friends to abort the baby. Some even thought the couple were not considering seriously enough, the financial, physical and mental burdens of keeping the baby.

“We were extremely disappointed that we didn’t get the support we had hoped for,” says Joan. “But for us, we knew we would never have been able to cope with the guilt of killing our own child. We felt that was a decision only God could make.”

However, God was with the couple. Over the next few days of prayers, people around them changed their hearts about the abortion. They began to accept that every child is a blessing from God and every baby is beautiful just the way they are.

“The turnaround in support was really encouraging for us,” says John, “and we named our little baby Joshua, meaning, “God is Salvation”.

Finding Strength Through the Church

The results revealed that Joshua had Edward’s Syndrome. Joan recalls the moment she was told: “My mind went blank but I did not cry. The thought that came to my mind later was, ‘My baby is going to die … Why didn’t God give me a Down’s Syndrome child? … Why must he take him away?’’’

At the time of their deepest despair and questioning of God’s plan for them, they were encouraged by a friend to visit the Carmelite Sisters for prayers, and that’s where they met Sr. Francisca. Through her, they were again filled with a sense of hope and peace from her encouragement, and she has been their spiritual mentor ever since.

Buoyed by Sr Franscisca’s faith and guidance, the couple decided to treasure and enjoy every moment of Joshua’s life. They rejoiced in his every movement and kick.

“Joshua gave his last kick on my birthday,” recalls Joan. “We knew something was wrong so we went to the hospital, and the doctor told us Joshua’s heart was failing. All we could do was pray. But when we went back to the hospital four days later, our doctor was surprised that Joshua’s heart had somehow recovered, although he had stopped moving. Still, we were overwhelmed with joy.”

Unfortunately, a scheduled checkup three weeks later revealed that Joshua’s heart had finally stopped beating.

There is a sense of peace and joy that Joshua is now with God because he completed his mission… that is to teach all of us what love is about.

A Faith Tested but not Broken

“We were shocked and heartbroken,” John explains. “We did not expect him to leave so soon, so quietly. He was born on 5 August 2005 after 17 hours of induced labour. And the next day, we held a beautiful funeral service for Joshua in Church.”

It was an extremely difficult time for the couple – to carry Joshua after he was delivered, but not see him move or cry like the other babies in the ward; to be discharged from the hospital without him; to collect his little body from the mortuary and watch him being laid into a casket instead of a cradle; and to finally say goodbye to him after his funeral.

“It was also especially difficult when we went home empty-handed and had to live through the period of maternity leave without Joshua,” says Joan. “However, we brought Joshua home in our hearts and hold precious the experience of loving him unconditionally.”

One Little Small Heart Linked Many Big Hearts

Sr. Francisca’s words comforted the couple and guided them through their grief: The message that Joshua brings to this world is that pure love exists, we live out of love. We love through hearts. One little small heart has linked to many big hearts. My dear, the Lord gives, the Lord takes away. He is the creator. He has the right and He knows when is the best time for little Joshua to go back to Him as he has fulfilled the mission that God has entrusted him. He died in the love of Mom and Dad. I guess he was happy to slip away in silence because he loves you.

“Though we still cry today as we miss Joshua terribly,” says Joan, “there is a sense of peace and joy that Joshua is now with God because he completed his mission … that is to teach all of us what love is about.”

This story was first published on the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family’s website.
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