When I arrived home late one night, my wife, Barb, and the kids were asleep. I was still revved up from the excitement of the delivery of a baby named Katie, so I sat on our swing on the back porch. As I rocked to the calming symphony provided by scores of crickets, katydids, and frogs, I reflected on attending the transition of a baby from unborn to born.
The process of labor and delivery is an exhilarating journey. It’s always an honor to assist this passage with a young family—an experience that never exhausts me.
Oh, spending hours with a family during labor can tax and tire the birth attendant, but like our birth patients, we forget the stress, work, and exhaustion it takes to birth a child the very instant the baby releases their forceful and hearty first shriek, exclaiming to all, “Look out world! I’m here! I’ve arrived!”
At birth, the wee one has completed the shortest journey they will ever make. It begins in warmth and darkness, floating in solitude with the comforting lub-dub of their mother’s heart.
For months they’ve heard, recognized, and responded to the voice of their parents, especially their mother—they listen to her talking, cooing, singing, reading, and praying. The crossing ends suddenly in bright lights, shrill beeps, and a much colder setting. But once swaddled, warmed, hugged, and welcomed—safe and feeding—the little one can rest and prepare for the greatest expedition of them all—living.
I smiled, remembering little Katie in her bassinet, calmly sucking on her fist. Her father was rapturously studying her, obviously smitten with his tiny little lady. He smiled as her petite fingers grasped his pointer finger, and beamed as he whispered, “Katie.”
I walked up beside him. “The same name as my firstborn,” I said.
Katie, like all of us at birth, had never traveled this way before. Fortunately, I thought, we do not have to make this expedition without companions. As the road of life unfolds, we travel side by side—with our parents, clan, friends, teachers, pastors, family doctor, and a loving Creator—as we all share in the marvelous and magnificent voyage from darkness to light.
What always filled me with awe at each birth I attended was that every baby is both the same as every other baby ever born and, at the same time, unique. We are all the same in that we are all created and conceived in the image of God, and because of this, in God’s eyes, each of us is both redeemable and worthy of redemption. As his image-bearers, God creates us to glorify himself and fulfill the distinctive role for which he created us while we seek to discover and then enjoy the abundant and full life he designed for those who follow him!
Yet each baby, from conception to physical death, is matchless. No other individual in history will be like them. No other has had or ever will have, the same set of fingerprints or brain waves or the same life pathway, perspective, or personality. One of my medical school mentors, a renowned missionary and orthopedic surgeon, Paul Brand, MD, and bestselling author Philip Yancey, cowrote Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, which describes the myriad ways each person is knit according to a pattern of incredible purpose. God made us uniquely, in his image, and he made each of us unique.
I loved caring for her throughout her all-too-brief life. She was the first of what my nurse named our “End of October Club.” All the children we delivered that were born on the last three days of October would come into the office on the same day each year to both celebrate and have their annual well-child checkups. We’d have a party for them with cake or cupcakes, ice cream, and punch. We kept their heights recorded, along with the date and their initials, on the door of one of my exam rooms. Those were joyful days.
Tragically, as a young woman serving our country in the military, Katie contracted a blood cancer that she and her doctors could not defeat. Her family and friends all prayed desperately for a miracle. They so wanted her to stay. But her Father in heaven said, “No, I need her here.”
Katie graduated to glory at thirty years of age on April 16, 2016, with her family at her side.
That fall, while researching a book about my father’s World War II experiences, I visited Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall and Arlington National Cemetery, where Dad had served. I took a few moments to walk over to what is called Section 55, Site 190—such a sterile name for Katie’s final resting place.
“Katherine Jo Lockwood” and “October 29, 1985” had been chiseled into the white marble tombstone. I sat at her feet for a few moments telling her I was glad to have been on call that night, pleased that her dad didn’t bounce me out of the delivery room, and delighted to have grown to know, love, and pray for her, her parents, and her two younger brothers.
“As far as I know, you’re the first person I delivered who has completed the journey down this remarkable stroll called life,” I whispered as I gazed across the surrounding verdant grounds covered with similar white markers arranged between and under trees ablaze in their red, yellow, and orange autumnal costumes.
I could see her in my mind’s eye, strolling toward me, that precious smile of hers shining as it always did. And then she suddenly turned.
Katie! I silently called.
She glanced back.
I’m looking forward to a reunion one day!
She grinned, waved, and skipped away.
I will remember that moment every October 29th—as long as my journey continues. And I can’t wait to see her again.
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2022. This story is excerpted from my book, The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor (Chapter 9, The Journey) and is used with permission from Revell Publishing.
Memories of that precious night always brings tears of joy and sadness all intertwined. God’s timing is everything.
Jennifer and Vic, amen and love to you both. Thanks so much for allowing me to share this story about a very special young woman.