Not long after Engelberta was born, I realized that I had a sore spot slightly larger than Texas. I couldn’t stand for anyone to call her an angel. At that point, I had nine angels, and she wasn’t one of them (now I have ten, and she still isn’t one of them). My angels are the babies who didn’t get to breathe on earth; Engelberta is a living, breathing baby that I can hold, not an ephemeral memory. I know that all sleeping babies look like angels, but smell the southward end of a northern facing “angel.” There are no smells like that in heaven because God promises that in heaven there will be no more suffering.
Which brings me to the other reason I obstinately refuse to call my child or anyone else’s an angel in anything other than sarcastic/ironic context: kids are kids. They are not perfect, nor are they currently heavenly beings. They may occasionally look cherubic; they may act in an angelic manner once in a while; we may call them angels, but they will never be angels. In fact, biblically speaking, none of us will ever be angels, which means that the tiny souls that I lost before they could be born are also not, in fact, angels – I just don’t know what else to call them without being obnoxious. I feel like calling children angels and princesses on a regular basis is a way of putting them on a pedestal or allowing them to stay in a world that revolves around them. Of course the world revolves around toddlers, but they don’t get to stay there. We need to be teaching our kids to look outside themselves – to empathize, to see the bigger picture, to serve. Engelberta was not created to be an angel, and she did not win the genetic lottery to be a princess (she’ll just have to marry a prince…).
The other sore spot I seem to have is hearing her called a miracle. Of course she is a miracle! But so is EVERY child born on this planet! Life is a miracle, and there are no gradations in the miracle of life. I believe that there are miracles that happen all the time. There are amazing things that are just too big for us to imagine – perfect timing saves someone from certain death in an accident; a passing stranger happens to be a doctor who performs a life-saving procedure on a kid who otherwise would have died waiting for an ambulance – huge things that only God can pull off are all around us. There were none of those extraordinary measures involved in Engelberta’s birth – just the ordinary miracle of a new baby being born. If you are a parent, I’m guessing that you view your child as a miracle, and you should. You probably don’t think that my child is a greater miracle than yours, and you shouldn’t. Mostly, I want to avoid constantly telling Engelberta that she is a miracle so there will be no pressure to live up to some crazy standard just because we had a terrible time getting her here.
So, if Engelberta is neither an angel nor a “special” miracle, how do I see her? She is a tremendous gift. All children are gifts, but sometimes, in some circumstances, there are parents who will always appreciate that gift just a little bit more. I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t appreciate the gift that they were given in becoming a parent; I do know a few parents who realize just how precious and unimaginable that gift is because it can be impossible to come by. We are the people who relish every stinking diaper and every sleepless night merely because they exist. This doesn’t mean that I am living in a constant glow of blissful motherhood – no one glows on less than two hours of sleep – it means that even in the midst of that awful night I am thanking God that I have a reason to drink a gallon of coffee the next morning.
God had already given me the perfect gift of knowing that I could have peace and joy with him even if we never had a child. Engelberta was a gift I didn’t see coming, like the biggest surprise party you can imagine or the best Christmas present you ever got because it was just so much more than you expected. And she is a gift I sometimes feel guilty about because not everyone gets such a gift. I know how much it hurts to see the family life that you’d always assumed would be yours pass you by, and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. I hope that you, my friend who is struggling through this season, know that you are not alone and that you are deeply loved – by me, and by a God who will hold you up and will one day take all of your hurt away.