Last summer, when I first met Shannon and Kip Brooks, I was touched by their willingness to allow me to follow along as they continued a pregnancy anyone would view as tragic. Their baby had been diagnosed with anencephaly – a birth defect that meant her brain didn’t develop early in pregnancy.
When we first talked, they had known this for about three months, and they were focused on trying to help another family by donating their baby’s organs or tissues. I found their story fascinating.
But when I spoke of it with friends and colleagues, reactions I got ranged from puzzlement to horror. I was often asked why parents would choose to carry a baby to term if it was going to die. People seemed to think this would just be a sad story that no one would want to read.
I could never say exactly why I saw it differently. Yes, their story is about grief and loss and a terrible physical deformity. But it’s also about trying to find something good in a bad situation, about finding beauty in pain.
This week, one of my yoga teachers read a passage at the end of class that seemed to express everything I’ve been feeling about Shannon and Kip’s desire to meet their baby Skylar.
The passage is from Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist:
"The ancients are right: The dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of it, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege."
Shannon and Kip surely experienced pain and sorrow. They grieved more deeply than they ever have.
Kip expressed his emotions in poetry, a craft he loves but had put aside when life got busy.
Shannon found comfort in a beautiful song, "I Will Carry You," about another couple who chose to continue a pregnancy and meet their baby who lived for only a short time.
Shannon and Kip made the decision to pass through their "valley of the shadow."
Instead of viewing pain and grief as something they could avoid, they let their hearts break.
And they found strength and beauty on the other side.