In 1989 my husband, Jody, and I were healthy, young, and anxious to start a family. As a labor and delivery nurse, I knew what was ahead and was thrilled when I found out we were expecting. However, with no warning our first baby was born premature. He weighed 2 pounds and 13 ounces. This was a time of terrible struggle as we waited each day to see if our small son would live. He seemed to have every complication that a preemie could have. The doctors did not think he would live. We decided to have a family fast for our baby. He was blessed to survive and is now a 215-pound high school football player. We knew that we wanted more children. Since the doctors found nothing wrong, we went on to have two daughters, though each pregnancy was very difficult.
My husband and I thought and prayed for months about whether to have a fourth child. One day in the temple we both received strong impressions from the Lord that a fourth child was waiting for us.
Problems started early, and I had to spend most of my pregnancy in bed, which was difficult and often depressing. Our ward brought dinners, helped with the children, and made visits. Their service was truly Christlike. Eventually we found that we would be having another boy. My husband beamed as he thought about more years of sports and Scouts that would be coming. My father-in-law came to the ultrasound test and was thrilled as he saw our small baby move around.
A few weeks later, again without warning, the birth process started. I knew instantly that our tiny son could not survive. My world was shattered. The grief and pain became so intense that at times it was unbearable. I could feel our baby moving inside of me. It was incomprehensible to think he would not live. How could the Lord let this happen when He had told us to have another child?
Within 24 hours, I delivered a perfect one-pound, two-ounce baby boy. He was stillborn. Jody cried as he tenderly held our small son close. Then I too wept as I held our little boy and kissed his face. He was warm to my touch, and it warmed my soul to hold him.
Jody gave him a name and a blessing—McKay Spencer Jennings (after the prophets David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball). After the nurse took little McKay’s body, Jody and I sat alone in the room. Both of us felt a strong feeling of peace descend upon us in that room. We both knew that the Lord was with us.
The graveside service was just for family. As soon as I saw the cemetery, I started to cry. I saw the little casket under the awning and realized that this all was happening to me. I was not the supportive bystander but rather the mother grieving for her lost child. Oh, how I wished that it were just a dream, but it was not!
During the services I felt the Spirit of the Lord rest upon me. I knew that trials test us but that it is up to us whether we choose to turn to Christ and become strengthened or turn away from Him and become bitter. I am so grateful for the comfort of the gospel I felt that day.
The days after the birth and funeral were a blur to me. At times I couldn’t imagine how others could go on when my life seemed to have ended. I struggled with my faith, but I tried not to lose hope. At other times, I felt calm. Jody and I prayed expressly for faith and studied the scriptures fervently to resolve our concerns. We could see that this would be an ongoing process to come to an understanding of things.
We went to the temple a couple of weeks after McKay’s funeral. It was hard to go into the celestial room where we had received inspiration from the Lord that we were to have another child. It was hard for me to understand why we had felt inspired that there was another child waiting for us when the Lord knew what was ahead. Jody told me that perhaps the most important thing we could do was to show the Lord that we were willing to be obedient.
As Jody and I sat in the celestial room, my emotions ran over. We hoped McKay would be sealed to us even though he was stillborn, and that if we were worthy, we would be able to raise him during the Millennium. However, I wanted to know it for certain. I knew that at the present time there is no revealed answer to these concerns, and I also knew that temple ordinances are not currently performed for stillborn children. This bothered me, for my faith at times was weak. McKay had been alive inside of me. I could feel him kicking, yet because of the stress of labor he was born dead. How could the Lord deprive me of raising a child who was alive only hours before he was born?
As I was crying in the celestial room, an older woman gave me her white handkerchief. I then thought of my mother-in-law, Jean. She used to carry an extra white handkerchief with her at all times so she could give it to someone who was grieving. She had started working in the Atlanta Georgia Temple just two months before she died. I felt as if Jean herself had given me that handkerchief to let me know that the Lord was aware of me. I felt that I was not to worry anymore about whether or not we would get to be with McKay again. I knew I should trust in the Lord to resolve each case in the eternities according to His divine wisdom and love. This gave me the inner peace I needed.
Later I noticed that the handkerchief was embroidered with a picture of the Nashville Tennessee Temple and its dedication date. I realized that this handkerchief was special for this sister, yet she willingly sacrificed it as she followed the example of our Savior and lent comfort to others. I keep this handkerchief in my temple dress as a reminder of the answers to my prayers I found that day.
There are still times when I see a baby or a little boy and dream of what could have been. I feel a pang of sadness and emptiness, but then I remember that my Savior loves me and will not leave me alone in my sorrow. My older children struggle with sorrow at times also, but this gives us opportunities to talk about gospel principles. We rededicate our lives to serving the Lord and strengthening our testimonies in the miraculous power of the Resurrection and our hope that we may live with McKay Spencer Jennings, our cherished son, once again.
“There is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us. I cannot help feeling that this will be the case.
“When a couple have a stillborn child, we give them all the comfort we can. We have good reasons to hope. Funeral services may be held for such children, if the parents so desire. Stillborn children should not be reported nor recorded as births and deaths on the records of the Church, but it is suggested that parents record in their own family records a name for each such stillborn child.”
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972), Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (1954–56), 2:280.