An Encounter with the Suffering Christ

by Maureen Bailey

April 7, 2006

"It started as a routine ultrasound," begins Danny Eisenbacher. He and his wife Jeannine were expecting their fifth child.

"I took the day off work as usual and went with Jeannine to the doctor. As the doctor was looking at the baby, he kept going back to the head. Jeannine noticed that something was wrong."

The doctor discovered that the baby had anencephaly, a condition in which the child's brain fails to develop properly and the baby's head is noticeably misshapen. Babies with the condition usually do not survive more than a few days after birth, if they survive birth at all.

There was never a question in Danny and Jeannine's minds as to whether they would accept and love the child God gave them. They would never consider aborting their daughter and they made their medical providers aware of this fact. Still, they were pressed to consider all their "options":

"How many times have we been asked already if we would like to terminate. It is not at all an option for us. This is our child that we are going to love and nurture for as long as we can. And actually, it isn't even our child ultimately. It is God's child. Like all of our children."

After learning their baby was a girl, they named her Angela and commended their prayers to, among others, St. Angela. Knowing that God works in mysterious ways, they prayed daily for Angela's miraculous healing but they also prepared for the worst. A funeral was planned well before the baby's birth. They wondered: Will her siblings have a chance to meet and hold her? And how will they deal with the death of their baby sister?

The Eisenbachers received the news about Angela's condition in late October. By Christmas, Jeannine began to look more obviously pregnant, an ever-present reminder that the baby was on her way. Angela made her presence known with vigorous kicks.

But this was also for them a time of sorrow, knowing that the baby likely would not live for more than a few days after birth. Their long Lent began.

Angela was born April 3. Danny and Jeannine embraced every moment that came with her labor and delivery. They did not receive the miraculous cure for which they had prayed so fervently, but they were granted what they called "the miracle of having some time with her." Angela was baptized, confirmed and anointed. Three days after her birth, she died surrounded by her parents, grandparents and friends.

Giving birth to Angela gave the Eisenbachers a chance to meet face-to-face a precious if bittersweet gift. In the face of every human being lies an encounter with God. Carrying, giving birth to and caring for a child with a disability is an encounter with our suffering-God, with Jesus crucified.

As Christians, we know that the crucifixion is not the final word. Their Calvary, our Calvaries will end. And one day, they will rejoice with Angela in the company of our risen Lord.

Maureen Bailey is a public policy analyst with the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.