The Borrowed Baby

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***Warning:This is a Crying Post, Grab Your Kleenex***

Three years ago, we lost our Bernadette half-way through pregnancy to a knot in her cord. My husband cried; my children cried; I could not cry. Tears would occasionally leak down my cheeks, but it was more overflow than mourning. I was too numb to actually be able to feel the loss of her.

How do you mourn someone you’ve never seen? How do you cry for an image in your mind? And not just for the baby she was, but the happy girl she would have become? One of my favorite phrases is a “remembered future.” How do you mourn for all the remembered futures, all the should have beens?

Then an acquaintance handed me her 6 day old girl and I began to weep, loudly. The tears washed the makeup from my cheeks and any trace of mascara from my lashes. I cried and cried and cried. I began to heal.

Last week, #6 was the borrowed baby for a lovely couple I had never met before. We have a common friend who told me about them and asked for prayers. They had lost their son at week 19 of pregnancy due to tragic circumstances. They were stunned by the suddenness of death and by the swiftness with which tragedy had befallen them. Our common friend knew of our Bernadette and of the peace that came from being able to say good bye-to her. They were stuck in their grief, she told me, could I return the favor and let them borrow #6?

I met them last week at their home. They answered the door wearing the pinched look of grief and too much weight upon their shoulders. #6 was sleeping in that boneless baby way and I handed him over to the woman who would be his “mom” for the next hour or so.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“You tell me.” I replied.

“Nathan. His name was Nathan.” and the tears began to drip off of her chin.

I went quietly to the guest room and read a book I had brought while they held my boy and said good-bye to their own. With a place to focus their grief, they could hold it back no longer.

I could hear nothing but sobbing and then her wail of “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you safe. I was your mom and it was my job to keep you safe. I’m so sorry, Nathan.”

They held and kissed and loved our boy for well over an hour before they brought him back to me. The tears had dried upon their cheeks and the hunch of their shoulders was lifting.

His “dad” held him close and whispered “Good-bye, my son.”

His “mom” kissed him and said “I’ll always love you.” #6 smiled his giant smile and planted a face-licking baby kiss on her jaw. She smiled and said, “He kissed me good-bye.”

They both hugged me tightly and then watched with quivering lips as I put a smiling cooing boy into his car seat for the ride home. I was half a block away when my phone rang.

“Thank you.” she told me. “You don’t know what a gift it is to be able to say good-bye.”

“Yes, I do,” I replied.

I could hear the slight smile in her voice as she said, “You’ll never guess what my husband said. He said ‘Do you think she knows? Do you think she knows that she’s the Angel of Mercy and the Angel of Death? For one brief moment, she gave him back to us and then she took him away.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, “I know, and I’m sorry.”

“We forgive you.” She said, and I knew that they had.


** Written with great fondness for, and the approval of, Nathan’s parents.  We hope that other parents will consider allowing their children to be “borrowed babies”.  Saying good-bye is only the beginning, but it is often the hardest part. **

Rebecca Frech

Rebecca Frech

Rebecca Frech is a Cradle Catholic who came back to the Church in 2000, and thanks God for it every day. She lives just outside Dallas with her husband, the brilliant Computer Guy, their 7 not-quite-perfect children, and an ever-multiplying family of dust bunnies. When she’s not teaching math, neglecting housework, or reluctantly training for a marathon, she’s blogging at Shoved to Them.

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7 thoughts on “The Borrowed Baby”

  1. Avatar

    In 1991 we lost our daughter Maura Frances at 22 wks. gestation. It was a hard time, but the hospital was wonderful and we had many pictures to remember her with. A year later we were on a retreat and mentioned our little girl, how she looked pictures etc… We were approached by a woman also on the retreat who had had an abortion and had repented of that, but still had a lot of healing to go through. We had said our Maura (who had died a couple of weeks previous to delivery) in some ways reminded us of pictures of saline aborted babies, due to the condition of her skin. This woman asked if we would send her a picture of Maura to help her in her healing process for her aborted baby. Also my mother had lost my brother Christopher 10 hours after birth in 1959 and never been allowed to hold him. She was able to hold her granddaughter and it was a healing experience so many years later.

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  3. Avatar

    We lost our first baby in March 2009 at 8 weeks, so early that most people didn’t “get” why I was still upset a few months later. But it is as you say, even over just a few short weeks, you plan for a life. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle this at the time. I’m not sure. It’s a beautiful healing idea, and I am sure there are a lot of women, like your friends, who were able to draw a lot from it. I just don’t know.
    I would consider letting my baby be a “borrowed baby”, if we ever have another.
    Thank you for a thought provoking post.

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for this. I am 6 months pregnant. My husband and I have seven children ages 4-19 and we have eight angels in heaven. We never got to see or hold our babies, but we have named them. We have lost them as early as 8 weeks and as late as 18 weeks–no time is easier than another. The pain is so deep no matter how little the baby is. I have never heard of a borrowed baby, but I can tell you that I always grieve for my previous losses with each new birth. We lost our baby Pedro in December 2011 and when our new one is born in February 2013 there will be many, many tears–both in joy and in anguish. God bless you for allowing them to say goodbye, especially together as a couple. It is so difficult on marriages to suffer the loss of a baby. Couples need to grieve together as well as individuals.

  5. Avatar

    Oh my goodness – I have never heard of that idea, but it is stunningly beautiful. I am just about floored after reading this little piece. It is moving as I want to offer up so many prayers for parents who need healing. Wow, what a remarkable post. Praise God.

  6. Avatar
    Abigail C. Reimel

    I’m not a crier, but this post brought tears to my eyes. It’s amazing, it takes being exposed to babies, watching them grow up, to appreciate how hard it would be to lose one of them, especially so early on- when instead of a mix of memories and “remembered futures” and you have is the “what if?”. This post is compelling, and the idea of lending out your baby, though it was heartbreaking to hear the way the couple spoke to him, let him go, certainly would help one to find that release in an unparalleled way. Thank you for sharing, and may God continue to heal you, and all others who have lost a child so early on.

    “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”

  7. Avatar

    Thank you for your beautiful post. I have never heard of ‘borrowed babies,’ but it is a touching way to help couples begin healing after loosing one of their little one. Although I am not married, I have many friends who are and who would be devestated to loose one of their little ones. I know that it is always a blessing to be able to hold a baby, and more so when you are feeling alone. Little one are comforting, special gifts from God.

    God bless.

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