12: By This Time Next Year

12: By This Time Next Year

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

By This Time Next Year

Faith works miracles. At least it allows time for them.

~George Meredith

The Christmas hubbub had finally died down, and my family members were lying around my parents’ living room, basking in the wrapping paper remnants and the piles of shiny new presents. Everyone was full of eggnog, ham, and joy. Well, everyone was happy except me. The living room was crowded with the people I loved most, and yet in my mind, someone was missing — someone I had never met. My baby, the child I could not conceive, was not there, and that baby’s absence spoke louder than all the words of Christmas cheer.

Christmas is about children, but there were no children in our family anymore. My three siblings and I had grown up, and now that I had been married to my college sweetheart for five years, a baby was long overdue. But we couldn’t get pregnant, and no one knew why. As the lonely months stretched into years — two childless Christmases came and went, and our refrigerator was covered with photos of our friends’ babies wearing Santa hats — I sank into a deep sadness. I began to question everything, even my lifelong faith in God. Did he hear our prayers at all? How could he stand by silently while my husband and I suffered?

Even so, as we faced that Christmas, I had vowed not to let my aching emptiness ruin our family festivities... and yet the loss cast a pall over the whole day.

As night fell, my father, who had been a preacher for more than forty years, gathered the family together, and we began to recount the blessings we’d been given over the past year. The talk then turned to the future. What did we hope to see next year? What were our dreams? Every family member wished for the same thing: For my husband and me to have a baby by the following Christmas. We shed tears, and as the hour grew late, Dad ended our Christmas by asking us all to pray for the coming year. Around the circle we went, each of us asking God the same thing: “Please give us a baby by this time next year.” We had prayed for a baby before — pleaded, cajoled, bargained — but never like this, never as a family, united in the same plea: “By this time next year...”

The next month, I began to see a new doctor, who had some fresh ideas for my treatment. And that spring, we received the news: I was pregnant! I embraced the months of exhaustion and nausea with ecstatic gratitude — every time I hung my head over the trashcan, I was singing inside.

The baby was due December 18. All through my pregnancy, people teased me: “A Christmas baby, how terrible!” But I, in my first-pregnancy naiveté, was convinced that the baby would come early, so that I could recover from the delivery in plenty of time for Christmas. We had waited so long to get pregnant, surely we wouldn’t have to wait past our due date to meet our child!

But December 18 came and went, and the baby only seemed to settle deeper into my womb. December 19, December 20, December 21... nothing. Not a single contraction. As Christmas day loomed, I began to despair. I was never going to have this baby. I had prayed for so long to get pregnant, now I’d be the only pregnant woman who stayed that way forever.

When my husband and I first awoke on the morning of Christmas Eve, we called just to check in with our doctor. Minutes later, we were throwing suitcases into our car, rushing to the hospital to have labor induced. On the way to the hospital, we laughed and cried, terrified and giddy in equal measure, sure that our baby would arrive by that night — a Christmas Eve baby. Wouldn’t that be delightful?

But labor dragged on into the early hours of Christmas morning. Our families drifted in and out of the hospital’s waiting room all Christmas day, rushing through the morning gift-opening without us, eating Christmas dinner with cell phones by their plates, waiting for news. But the baby wouldn’t come, wouldn’t even move into the birth canal. Finally that night, it was clear that our baby was not coming without help. I would need a C-section.

That first wail — the cry I thought I’d never hear — was a foreign but familiar sound, the song my heart had been singing all those years. And what lungs she had! The baby cried angrily — after all, it hadn’t been her idea to come out — but the moment my husband spoke to her, saying, “Daddy’s here,” she quieted, calmed by the voice she had come to know from inside my womb. And when the doctor held up a tiny head with black eyes and a scrunchy nose, my brain tried to reconcile sight with faith. That squirming bundle was our baby!

Cassidy Joy Thompson entered the world — seven pounds, five ounces of answered prayer — on Christmas night at 9:46 p.m.

But we didn’t get it right away.

It was several weeks before my mother suddenly turned to me, tears filling her eyes, and breathed, “Do you remember our prayer last Christmas night?”

And we realized that Cassidy Joy had been born, to the minute, one year after my family had begged God, “By this time next year, please give us a child.... “

Now, whenever I am tempted to wonder if God remembers us, if he hears our prayers, I look at my daughter — our family’s Christmas miracle — and I know that he does.

~Elizabeth Laing Thompson

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