Faith deconstruction sometimes begins with tragedy. Mandy Parsons recounts a personal tragedy and how it made her question everything. For part 1, click here.
“Would someone tell me what is wrong with my baby!?” I cried out.
I was nearly 37 weeks pregnant with our first child when my water broke unexpectedly. Upon arriving at the hospital, my doctor determined our daughter was breach and would be delivered via emergency c-section. I said a quick prayer with my husband before being wheeled down a florescent-lit hallway in a stretcher toward the operating room.
I don’t remember much from the time we reached the operating room to when Taylor Hardin Parsons was born. To be honest, I have spent the last decade trying to make peace with the traumatic memories of that day and the days to follow. Our girl made her entrance into the world on May 24, 2011 at 12:47pm. However, she was not met with coos of delight, skin-to-skin snuggles or first photos. Rather, the room was silent . . . uncomfortably silent. Eventually, I heard what must have been the neonatologist ask my doctor, “Were there any indications on ultrasound?” to which he replied, “nothing other than possible club foot.”
“The room was silent…uncomfortably silent.”
At my 20-week anatomy scan, the sonographer could not capture a good image of Taylor’s feet. She was nestled with her feet all crunched up in the lower part of my uterus, so I would have to repeat the ultrasound in eight weeks to try for a better view. Eight weeks later, they conducted another ultrasound and still no conclusion. But I wasn’t concerned. Club foot is easily corrected, and I was told by my doctor that Taylor’s lack of movement wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary for a chill baby. After all, some babies aren’t as active as others. . .
“Would someone please tell me what is wrong with my baby!?” At that moment, the neonatologist called my husband, Anyan, over to the infant warmer. There was whispering and then Anyan approached me saying something along the lines of, “She isn’t moving or breathing, and there are some other abnormalities.” Immediately, he, the neonatologist, and Taylor headed to the neonatal intensive care unit, and I was left . . . alone. No one said a word after that. I cried while they stitched me up.
The next time I saw Anyan, I was back in recovery. I will never forget the look on his face. With tears streaming, he knelt down beside my bed and managed to get out, “Honey, there is something wrong with our baby.” Unable to give a more thorough explanation, he started to make calls to family, while I sat there . . . reeling. Initially, I was in complete shock. Was Taylor going to be okay? Was this something that could be fixed? Why can’t they tell me what is wrong? When can I see her? Why hasn’t anyone taken me to see her?!!
“Why can’t they tell me what is wrong?”
Even as I write this, ten years later, I am flooded with emotion. Taylor’s neonatologist soon visited to inform us that they were running a litany of tests to rule out some of the more common syndromes. In the meantime, I asked to see Taylor, and even though my anesthesia hadn’t worn off, they obliged. The nurse transported me, bed and all, to the NICU. I can’t count the number of times I traveled back and forth to the NICU that week.
When I finally met Taylor, it was love at first sight. She was tiny—weighing a little more than four pounds. Her upper and lower extremities were contracted, her fists clenched, feet crooked, and she couldn’t open her eyes or breathe on her own, but she was breathtaking . . .with beautiful, thick, curly, dark brown hair and an olive complexion. All those months, I had imagined what she might look like—this life growing in my belly—the one we had prayed for, prepared for, dreamed about. There wasn’t a thought in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to keep her.
In fact, I fully expected that whatever was ailing her would be remedied. With every slight eye movement, twitch of a limb, or breath on her own, I believed my miracle was coming. And why wouldn’t it? Up to that point, I had lived a charmed life. By all accounts, my childhood had been a fairytale; I attended my first-choice college on scholarship and later married the man of my dreams. I was at the peak of my career as a Christian music publicist and owned my own company. God had granted me every single one of my heart’s desires for 34 years. And I attributed this prosperity to my great faith—my unwavering, sold-out, passionate faith. A faith that, according to the Word of Faith movement, would grant me whatever I asked.
“I fully expected that whatever was ailing her would be remedied.”
So, I waited . . . and prayed . . . and believed in faith for Taylor’s healing. I held her for hours in the NICU every day, as long as I was permitted, and talked to her, kissed her face, played with her hair. I begged her heart to beat regularly without medical intervention. Except it never did. After numerous additional tests and eventually an MRI, the medical team determined that Taylor had suffered multiple strokes in utero. Her brain was malformed, and she had little to no neuromuscular function. Her condition was incompatible with life. And so, after having her four short days, we made the agonizing decision to remove life support. I cradled my sweet baby for 30 minutes until she stopped breathing. And when she died, a part of me died with her.
I was in utter disbelief. What had happened? This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. This wasn’t the agreed-upon arrangement with God that had benefitted me for so long. Either I would have to concede that my faith hadn’t been strong enough to heal my daughter, or that there was a problem with my blessing paradigm—and neither thought seemed possible.
“…my faith hadn’t been strong enough to heal my daughter…”
I can see now how Satan worked overtime those four days. While in the post-partum unit, I recovered from my c-section alongside moms with healthy babies. There were crying infants, excited visitors, laughter, and happy talk all hours of the day. At one point—during my daily post-surgery walk up and down the hall—I overheard one nurse say to another nurse, “I have the cutest Christian couple with the most precious baby.” It was as if something dark came over me, and I snapped at her, loudly enough where she could hear me, “We are the cutest Christian couple and our baby is dying!”
Our experience spiraled from the absolute unthinkable to just plain torturous—leaving the hospital with empty arms, choosing a dress for my daughter to wear to her own funeral, my milk coming in the day of the service. I was angry, bitter, and felt betrayed in the worst way . . . by the One who was always supposed to have my back. I was not only facing a massive life crisis, but, in many ways even more significant, a total spiritual crisis. What kind of God would allow this, and especially to one of His own?
“What kind of God would allow this, and especially to one of His own?”
Following the funeral, Anyan planned a last-minute trip to the beach for us to get away. It would be during that trip that I would decide I didn’t need God. In fact, I wouldn’t want anything to do with Him anymore. Like a bitter child who has just been rebuked, I would resign to “run away” from God. Dejected and pouting, I packed my proverbial bags and started off on my own. But it wouldn’t end up being that easy. He followed me.