In the summer of 2015, we discovered we were pregnant and that our first child was a little boy. On the same phone call, however, we learned that our son was conceived with a life-limiting chromosomal abnormality known as Trisomy 18. Instantly, we had to come to grips with the reality that our baby’s life would more than likely be short if his diagnosis held true.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment. What should we think? Where should we turn?
Would we turn to many prominent voices in our culture who would advocate for an abortion? Would such a course of action ‘spare us’ from the pain of the road we were set to walk? The truth is, aborting our son would not have spared us an ounce of loss or despair. It would have only robbed us of the joyful memories that forever mark our season with Abel Paul Crawford.
We carried Abel for thirty-nine weeks, and he was born on January 22, 2016. This happens to be same day that Roe v. Wade was passed back in 1973. (We’ve since had two more babies born on January 22nd, but that’s a different story). Ultimately, we got to love and take care of Abel for fifteen days outside of the womb and he met his Creator and Savior on February 6, 2016. That truth is both heartbreaking and beautiful. The best and the worst.
The passage our family clung to through that season and ever since is: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
Losing Abel doesn’t feel light or momentary. It feels like a piece of us is missing, and our family will forever be minus-one. It almost feels wrong to take family photos because we know our oldest child won’t be in them. The lack of his presence is also felt when we realize he isn’t in the back yard chasing his little sister, or making funny faces to get his baby brother to laugh… and when he isn’t there to pile on the couch with his cousins on holidays and special occasions… or when we can’t help but wonder what he would have looked like as a 3 year old.
It is in simple, mundane tasks as well as the big life events that we feel the weight of our loss. But when we choose to look at Abel’s life (and our own) in light of eternity – when we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen – it changes everything about the way we think about our own earthly lives as well as our children’s earthly lives.
We can honestly tell you that our time with Abel was simultaneously the saddest and the sweetest, the hardest and the greatest thirty-nine weeks and fifteen days of our lives. How is this possible? Only by looking at the message of the gospel, which testifies so clearly and powerfully to the intermingling of suffering and hope.
There’s a crucifixion and a resurrection, and we can only call it a ‘Good’ Friday because there was an Easter Sunday. The most horrific event in world history followed be the greatest news in world history. A Jesus dead and buried, then that same Jesus resurrected, alive, and offering eternal life as a free gift to all who respond to Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9–10).
How does this translate to our personal sorrow and suffering? It showed us that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. By looking to the gospel itself, believers can embrace and experience both emotions simultaneously and paradoxically.
Isn’t it always true that as we give our hearts fully to something or someone, this greater depth of love also brings about greater levels of potential pain? As much as we like to try simplifying life into two buckets, labeled ‘good’ and ‘bad’, we consistently find that the two are often interwoven and tied inseparably at the hip. After all, we can celebrate ‘Good’ Friday only because it is tethered to Easter Sunday.
Ultimately, we may understand God less as a result of our son’s short time on earth, but we can say with integrity that we have come to know Him more intimately.
Over the past four years, we have seen “the works of God displayed” through Abel’s life and legacy (John 9:1-5). Following in the footsteps of Jesus, God is using the death of our son to bring life and hope and joy to other families walking a similar road.
Sadly, we have seen that the vast majority of parents we meet would not initially share the reflections and sentiments we’ve shared here. This has led us to found a nonprofit organization called Abel Speaks, where we exist to support families who have chosen to carry a child with a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy. Our name comes from Hebrews 11:4: “And through faith, even though he is dead, Abel still speaks.”
The vision of Abel Speaks is that every family we serve will cherish their child’s life and have hope in the midst of sorrow, because joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive.
The deep pain we feel from losing Abel is directly and inseparably tied to the pure joy we had in knowing and loving him fully. We believe the story of our son ultimately points to the story God’s Son, and we can tell you that stewarding Abel’s life has been the greatest privilege of ours.