This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of my youngest brother’s birth and death. In his honor, I’m posting my mother’s narrative of his brief life in ours.
by Christie Frandsen
I couldnâ€™t sleep last night. At first I blamed it on the sultry heat that wafted in through our open windows and so I moved from the bed to the couch in the landing. But even after I kicked off the blanket, tried a different pillow, and went through all of my usual mental exercises for insomnia, sleep refused to come. It was then I remembered the date â€“ September 1. Instantly I thought back to events of that very night ten years ago and I knew why I was unable to fall asleep. September 1, 1996 was also a sleepless night for me. It was the night I learned for myself what the Lord meant by His solemn pronouncement to Eve just before she left the Garden: â€œI will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…â€?
I found out I was pregnant with my 11th child in June, just after I had been called to be Young Women President in our Ward. I was 43 years old, soon to be 44. Rosalynde was on a mission in Portugal. Gabrielle and Naomi were in college. That year I would have five children in school from kindergarten to 11th grade, and Eva, two years old, still at home. I had five girls and five boys â€“ a perfect place to end my family, so I thought. I was surprised, and even a little dismayed, at the prospect of having one more baby to add to my very full life. And then there was the concern about birth defects that increase exponentially with the age of the mother. I felt that I had already pressed my luck with Evaâ€™s birth â€“ would I beat the odds again? All these conflicting emotions and anxieties were too much for me to deal with, so I pushed everything to the back of my mind. I didnâ€™t tell anyone, hoping and praying that I would soon feel the unreserved joy I had always felt with every other pregnancy. Then I would share the news.
I finally told Russ at the end of July. He was excited, I was still subdued. I wasnâ€™t ready to tell the children yet, but as the morning sickness subsided and as I began to feel the baby move, the wonder and joy of this new life started to replace my fears. Honestly, I didnâ€™t know how I was going to handle everything, but I knew I would be able to somehow. I thought about how thrilled the other children would be to have another new baby, this one certainly our last. I decided I would tell them at the end of the summer, before Naomi and Gabrielle left for college.
When the labor pains began the evening of September 1, I could hardly believe it. But I knew what premature labor felt like â€“ I had experienced it before when I was pregnant with the twins. And I knew I was in trouble. It could not have come at a worse time. Gabrielle was in the process of transferring from Rice University to BYU. She and I were supposed to be leaving the next day to fly to Houston and pack up her things, tie up all the loose ends of this last-minute transfer, and get her settled in an apartment at BYU. As I realized I was having contractions, my first thought was, â€œThis canâ€™t be happening now â€“ I donâ€™t have time for this!â€? But it was happening and soon I knew I had more serious concerns to deal with than the logistics of Gabrielleâ€™s move. I was less than five months along in the pregnancy â€“ a twenty-two or -three-week-old fetus has no chance of survival outside the womb. Every trace of ambivalence about another baby evaporated as I began to pray desperately for the contractions to stop. But they didnâ€™t.
At about 11 oâ€™clock that sleepless night, I was being admitted to the hospital. The doctor arrived and talked to me and Russ about our options â€“ we could â€œlet nature take its courseâ€? and lose the baby, or we could try to stop the contractions and I would be facing at least three months of total bedrest, probably in the hospital. It would be a heavy burden, financially and emotionally, especially for our children who would have to manage during a stressful school year without a fully functioning mother. And there were no guarantees we would be able to save the baby even with that sacrifice. The doctor urged us to think carefully before making our decision, but for us, there was no question. Of course we would do everything possible, make any sacrifice required, to save the this precious life.. And we knew without even asking them that our children would feel the same.
I was immediately hooked up to an IV drip of magnesium sulfate, a powerful drug that stops uterine contractions. It also wreaked havoc with my mental state. I felt as if I had entered the â€œtwilight zoneâ€?â€“ I could feel my mind getting fuzzier and foggier with each passing minute. I began to think about the decision we had just made and in my weakened mental and physical condition, anxiety began to overwhelm me again. Were we making the right decision? Was this fair to our other children who had already undergone so much during Jacobâ€™s illness and death? The fact is, I was not the one who would bear the brunt of this particular burden â€“ it would be everyone else. Was this fair to our Relief Society, our Ward family, our extended family, especially my mother, who would undoubtedly be called upon to help us extensively? Most importantly, was this fair to this baby who might come into the world severely handicapped? Doubts and fears invaded my befuddled mind even as I felt the contractions slow and then stop. In the solitude and quiet of that hospital room, I prayed with as much fervor as I have ever prayed to know if we were doing the right thing.
And then the miracle came. It wasnâ€™t a conduit of light; it wasnâ€™t an angelic personage; it wasnâ€™t an audible voice, but it was just as real and miraculous as any of those things as I felt a â€œpeace that passeth understandingâ€? descend like the dew onto my troubled soul and the words of a scripture came clearly into my foggy mind: â€œThe worth of a soul is great in the sight of God..â€? This tiny baby was worth infinitely more than anything that would be required of us. I didnâ€™t know how it was all going to work out, but I knew for certain all would be well.
At that precise instant, I felt a rush of warm fluid and I knew even before the nurse checked me that the amniotic sac had ruptured. The doctor confirmed what I already realized â€“ there was nothing that could be done to save the baby now. The IV was turned off and it was merely a matter of time waiting for the effects of the drug to wear off and for the contractions to begin again. The doctor gently offered to â€œmake things easier and fasterâ€? for me by performing a certain medical procedure… he didnâ€™t say the words but I knew what he was offering â€“ I could have an abortion. I wasnâ€™t offended, but I was adamant â€“ my baby would be born as each of my other ten babies had been born. I would wait for as long as it took and I would treasure every second of this final labor. I claimed every bit of the soul-wrenching anguish that the Lord had ordained for Eve and her daughters and prayed that it would not happen too quickly or too easily. This would be the only gift I would ever be able to give this last-born child and I wanted it to be the best that I could manage. And so the doctor left and Russ went home to take care of the children and the nurse quietly shut the door.
It was well past midnight by then â€“ September 2 â€“ ironically, Labor Day. The morning dawned and I sat in my labor room and felt the contractions begin again. It was very quiet that day in the Labor and Delivery floor of Verdugo Hills Hospital. Even ten years ago, many births were scheduled, whether induced or ceasarian, and no one wanted to spoil their holiday weekend, neither the doctor nor the parents-to-be. I was so thankful for the quiet and solitude as my mind cleared and I began to think about all that had happened and tried to sort the chaotic events into some kind of order. I am one of those who believes there is meaning in everything that happens to us in this life… or there can be if we seek for it. Even the random, haphazard â€œstuffâ€? that comes with mortality can be called to order and add texture and beauty and depth and strength to the pattern of our lives, with our Saviorâ€™s help. I struggled mightily all that long quiet day to weave this unexpected and inexplicable thread into my tapestry, as I sat laboring to bring forth this baby, knowing that it would surely die.
Of the many, many â€œtender merciesâ€? that I experienced throughout this ordeal, the sweetest of all came at the moment of birth when it turned out that I was all alone in my room. And so it was my hand that held my beautiful, perfect baby boy for that instant when he emerged from the birth canal, alive and moving and exquisite, and then just one moment later, he quietly left and slipped into paradise to be with Jacob. If the nurse had been there, I would have been robbed of that sacred second with my last son â€“ he would never have known the touch of his motherâ€™s mortal hand. And I would have been left to wonder if he really had been alive at birth and if I really am going to have this child in the Resurrection. Oh, the kindness of our good Lord to allow me to hold my living baby for that brief moment of his life!
We named him Isaac Jacob Frandsen. He was born and died on September 2, 1996. He came and went so quickly you wouldnâ€™t think he would have made such an indelible imprint on my heart. Yet he did. I donâ€™t know who in our family he looks like. I donâ€™t know what his personality is like or what talents and gifts he has. I never got to nurse him or cuddle him or watch him grow. I never got to teach him anything. Yet he taught me a lesson I needed to learn and will never forget â€“ loved ones come and go so quickly it can take your breath away. We must cherish every moment we have with them, no matter how brief. And even the briefest moment together can bless a lifetime.
Isaacâ€™s birth and death ushered in the era of the scattering of my children and it has been a steady stream of coming and going since then. Most profoundly, of course, are my two boys Jacob and Isaac who have left us all behind in this â€œlone and dreary world.â€? With their departure, it almost seems as if the door to our home leads only one way â€“ away. Rosalynde, Gabrielle, Naomi, Brigham, Rachel, and Benjamin off to college in Provo and Houston. Rosalynde, Naomi, Brigham, Rachel, and Benjamin off on missions to Portugal, Romania, Hungary, France, and Austria. Gabrielle married and off to Denver, Orem, Simi Valley, and now far-away Florida, taking with her my three miraculous grandsons. Rosalynde married and off to San Diego and now St. Louis with three more of my treasured grandchildren, who hardly know their Grandma. Brigham married and off on the grandest adventure thus far â€“ Hungary â€“ and now across the continent in Boston with yet one more far-away grandbaby. Naomi putting down roots in Washington DC, creating a life for herself that Iâ€™ve only seen glimpses of. The intersections of our lives are rare and brief â€“ these are all the people I love most dearly in this world, yet we have only moments together anymore.
The comings and goings of my children will only increase â€“ Abraham leaves for college after this year and in six short years, Eva too will be gone. I will be adding more clocks to my collection showing me what time it is in all the places where they live. Sometimes it feels like I have thrown my heart to the four winds and I wonder if I will ever be able to gather all the scattered pieces and feel whole again. But Isaac and Jacob, and Christ, give me that hope.
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, even a place on the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. (Ether 12:4)
And so, dear ones, when I canâ€™t sleep at night, I will think of all of you â€“ my children and my grandchildren who carry with you pieces of my heart and mind, and I will make plans for that day when weâ€™ll all be gathered in one at last.
[I am a protective daughter, and out of concern for my mother's tender feelings I am asking commenters to avoid controversy or polemics surrounding the issues of parents' obligations to unborn children. I will ruthlessly delete. I am a fierce bear cub!]