A Father’s Perspective

I wanted a boy. When we first found out Sarah was pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind about what we were having: Sarah was going to give birth to our first child, our first son. We were both firmly convinced that this was going to be the case. In fact, I was so certain that we were having a boy that I was admittedly a little disappointed the day we actually found out we were having a girl. But what did I know? I’d never been a parent before.

As Sarah’s pregnancy progressed from each perfect check-up to the next, the excitement about having a daughter grew and grew. At this point, I felt like I would have been disappointed if Isabelle actually was a boy (especially since she had three pretty awesome female Buffalo Bills outfits waiting for her in her closet). I was so eager to meet her that I just wanted Sarah to hurry up and pop Isabelle out already! However, the due date (July 13th) came and went, and we had to schedule an induction on July 24th.

Most of you know at least some of the rest of the story: the induction never happened because Sarah went into labor; she had a placental abruption that resulted in an emergency c-section; and Isabelle had to be resuscitated for 15 minutes after they pulled her out of Sarah’s womb (which meant she likely went without oxygen for much longer than that). There’s no way for me to adequately put into words what I felt. A multitude of panicked thoughts rushed through my head: Is this really happening? Was Isabelle okay? Was Sarah okay? Am I about to see my healthy daughter for the first time? Is she alive? Is my wife alive? Am I dreaming? Is this reality? This can’t be happening!

Isabelle was born at 4:59 AM on July 25th. I heard everything the doctor told me; processing it was another story. When I met Isabelle, this is what I saw:

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I saw the most precious, beautiful, and pure human being that I have ever seen, coupled with the most innocent and helpless baby who was utterly undeserving of the monumental suffering she just went through and was continuing to go through. How could this truly innocent girl, whose mother displayed her enduring love by being entirely devoted to her during the pregnancy, whose charts were perfect just hours earlier, who was literally incapable of doing anything wrong, be lying before me now in such a vulnerable state?

A whirlwind of emotions filled my body, but one overpowered them all: love. Love is what I felt. It consumed me. However, what I felt was a side of love that I had no clue even existed. I was wholly ignorant that I could feel this feeling that I felt for Isabelle. It was a primal, instinctual and powerful feeling. It was a feeling that she was mine, she was ours, and we were her protectors. Only we were powerless. We couldn’t protect her. All we could do was pray.

We said goodbye the next morning as Isabelle’s precious life slipped away from us. She passed away at 10:30 in her mother’s arms as I held them both close to me. It was like watching something unfold from a movie, only it was actually happening, and it was happening to us.

Our daughter taught us several significant life lessons in her one day with us. Most of them were about God. Lesson 1: Earth is temporary; Heaven is forever. While Sarah and I still have a lifetime to spend without our sweet Isabelle, if just one person has started or rekindled their relationship with God simply by hearing her story, then the cross that we now bear will be worth it. This life is temporary. Heaven (or hell) is eternal. So while Sarah and I will always struggle with losing Isabelle, her story has perpetual dividends for those who are open, truly open, to listening. We were touched by the multiple individuals who told us how hearing Isabelle’s story renewed their faith, hence the reason I’m bringing this up again. If you’re reading this, please open your ears to hearing God’s call and discerning His purpose in your life. Perhaps He intended for you to be reading this blog, at this moment, right now.

Secondly, we are closest to God in our times of suffering. While many of you probably heard me discuss these topics at her funeral, I think it is important to reiterate. Look at the crucifix. While God is love, He is also the epitome of suffering. Instead of turning away from Him in our times of despair and wondering why God would ever let something terrible happen to us, we should do the exact opposite. We should turn toward Him. We should strengthen our bond and relationship with Him, especially because we need Him the most during such times. God has a purpose in the challenges we encounter. He will not give us what we cannot handle. It is up to us to not just lean on Him during these turbulent times, but to also serve as ambassadors for Christ so that others may come to Him through our example.

Finally, God was a parent. Losing Isabelle helped me see God’s sacrifice in a new light and gain a firmer understanding of the depth of surrender it must have taken to send Jesus to save us from sin. When Isabelle was lying there, absolutely helpless, with numerous tubes going in and out of her body, Sarah and I would’ve traded places with her in an instant, without hesitation. It was absolutely excruciating watching her knowing what the likely outcome was and knowing that there was nothing we could do to change it. That is perhaps how God felt about Jesus. In my opinion, God sent Jesus to this earth instead of Himself because giving up His son was the greater sacrifice. So great was His love for us that He was willing to sacrifice His son for all of us, knowing full well the torment that Jesus would go through, and knowing full well the torment that He Himself would go through having to watch His son die. So, after watching our daughter die, after holding Isabelle with Sarah as she breathed her last breath, we love God even more now than ever before.

Sarah and I asked Isabelle to send us a sign when she was up in heaven. For three days in a row after her funeral, she sent us rainbows over the water! On the third day (and the symbolism of the number 3 is not lost on us), Isabelle sent us her grand finale rainbow. The odds of seeing these rainbows three days in a row after her funeral and having the grand arch on the third day made these events much more than a mere coincidence. Isabelle, through God’s grace, let us know that she was up in heaven. The fact that I later found out that rainbows are signs of hope made it even better. Additionally, every now and then, Isabelle likes to let her mommy and daddy know that she’s watching over us. Sarah and I traveled to Japan this past winter, in part made possible because of Isabelle’s life insurance proceeds. Because of this, I felt like it was Isabelle’s trip too. As we were taking pictures in Japan, she decided to send us another rainbow on my phone’s camera! Sarah got one the next day on her phone, as well!

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There is another miracle that resulted from losing Isabelle: she now has a brother or sister on the way! This brother or sister would not have existed had Isabelle survived. Without going into too much detail, Sarah and I practice strict natural family planning. This method is so precise that it allows us to pinpoint the exact day when we conceive. If Isabelle was still around, she would be our top priority, and Sarah would not be pregnant right now. Instead, our baby girl is up in heaven, and she can now watch over her new brother or sister.

This time, I want a girl… but either way, our child will be extraordinarily loved.

— Matt

11 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    My Prayers are with you both and my love to Isabella. I pray that you have a healthy and happy baby! ! Charlene Durham, retired NWMS

  2. Mary Pribbenow says:

    I am so happy for you, Matt and Sarah! When I got the news from Leah yesterday via text, I responded, “Praise the Lord for their yes!” Praise the Lord, indeed. You are in my prayers. God bless you three!

  3. Becky Whilden says:

    So happy to hear there is a new little one! Praying for good health for all of you! Much love, Becky Whilden

  4. Sue O'Sullivan says:

    I am beyond excited with the wonderful news! I am so happy that you are having a second child. I am sure Isabelle will be so excited to be a big sister. She will watch over all of your. You will be in my prayers. I am enjoying Kelly’s son Braden Patrick who is now 7 weeks old.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations you all! Your story is so inspiring and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Just yesterday in church, the pastor hit upon this very topic (asking God why bad things happen). You two immediately came to mind and your attitudes during this whole ordeal are truly remarkable. I pray God blesses you two with a healthy baby.

  6. Molly says:

    Matt and Sarah, Your story is breathtaking. But they way you have lived your lives after, shows what wonderful faithful people you are. Your parents done good! And when you say “All we could do was pray”, that describes parenting at every stage! I know you will love this new little person and they will know all about their angel sibling, Isabelle. Congratulations and I hope your future is filled with rainbows.

  7. Candice from across the way! says:

    I love this and reading your blog. So powerful. You guys are amazing!!! Congratulations on baby Mark!

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