For many years, Bryony Wood’s Easter was little more than a bank holiday and a chance to scoff too many chocolate eggs. Until one year when her world turned upside down.
With a healthy three-year-old daughter, I was about to give birth again. On the Thursday, the day before the Easter weekend, it was time to go into hospital to encourage my overdue baby to enter the world. A few months before, I’d started going to church and was aware of the Easter story. Everything in life was hunky dory, except for a little cloud of doubt that something was wrong with my baby. Everyone tried to assure me but the niggle persisted.
I sat with the other expectant mums that Maundy Thursday joking about hospital food and my "last supper" before tomorrow’s induction. Before bedtime, looking forward to a last night’s sleep for some months I found a Gideon Bible in the locker, and settled down to read the account of that first Easter.
I read about the last supper when Jesus ate with his friends, how he told his disciples this would be his last meal, although his words were confusing. He showed such love and grace to them, all of whom would be stricken with grief and fear within hours. During the night Jesus wrestled with his mission in the Garden of Gethsemane; I too was a rather nervous about what my next day might bring. I figured Jesus knew about fear and if he could cope with his next day, then so would I. I prayed for my baby, some instinct told me he was a boy, we’d chosen his name and I loved him already.
It seemed a topsy-turvey day to be having a baby. New life entering the world on the day when Jesus took his last breath.
Good Friday dawned to the clang of a tea trolley clattering along the corridor. It seemed a topsy-turvey day to be having a baby. New life entering the world on the day when Jesus took his last breath. As the contractions started, I found a job changing the flower water in the vases around the ward, pausing to breathe properly and reassure my baby that all would be well. By noon, things were really progressing and pain rolled in on waves. I thought of Jesus on his cross; enduring intense pain with deep humiliation and rejection.
Jesus took his last breath around three o’clock in the afternoon, six hours after being nailed to the cross. My son, Matthew took his first breath a little after three o’clock on that Good Friday afternoon, around six hours after labour started.
My baby was adorable! The first question I asked when he was born was not, "boy or girl" but "is he OK"? After a slight pause we got a tentative "yes", although he had several small things not quite right; including a large birthmark covering his back. But I was so relieved it didn’t cover his face so wasn’t too concerned. I had expected the worst and here he was, with no apparent life threatening problems, even if he would need medical treatment later on.
The first Easter Saturday in Jerusalem was bleak. Hopes died among his followers as Jesus’ body lay in a borrowed tomb. His family and friends were desperate, hiding in grief, terror and confusion. My Easter Saturday was joyful. Visitors shared our delight as I cradled Matthew. Hope and relief, after months of worry, drew me to higher highs than I thought possible.
The doctor stopped smiling, went quiet and turned to me saying gently: "Your baby has a problem. We need to check out his heart."
Easter Sunday in hospital dawned so early it was as if the night never really happened. I’d fed Matthew almost constantly for he seemed unable to suckle and settle. We’d both slept fitfully. At dawn I thought of the grieving women going to the tomb only to find it empty for Jesus had risen from the dead! Around lunchtime the medical team breezed in for a routine postnatal check-up. We would cope with Matthew’s imperfections - he was still my precious son. Then something made my heart skip a beat, the doctor stopped smiling, went quiet and turned to me saying gently: "Your baby has a problem. We need to check out his heart." Words to chill my soul that instantly obliterated the joy.
Over the next few hours, a nightmare unfolded. The family came, our vicar came; we prayed and sobbed as we learnt that Matthew had a serious heart problem. He needed to go to a specialist hospital 50 miles away. Numb with shock, we followed the flashing ambulance that carried my baby and a medical team, hurtling up the motorway as the Easter weekend world carried on around us.
That evening we faced a decision. Matthew had deteriorated and was limp and silent in his cot. Without surgery he would not live. Surgery offered a chance to mend his heart, but the operation carried immense risk. We sat in intensive care surrounded by bleeping equipment as the chaplain baptised my precious baby and we gave him into God’s care.
Three hours later, when Sunday had actually tick-tocked into the early hours of Easter Monday, the nurse who had taken Matthew from my arms into surgery returned. She didn’t need words – her tears said it all. Matthew’s heart was too poorly to be fixed; he’d died during surgery. It was like living in the negative of a photograph – Jesus’ mother Mary’s grief on Good Friday had been my grief on Easter Sunday. My joy on Good Friday had been her joy on this upside down Easter Sunday.
God was with me when I packed away the baby clothes and empty crib. He was with me then, he has been so ever since.
Despite the grief, I discovered over time a deeper knowledge of God that was life changing. He was with me, he loved and comforted me; gave me strength to face the world again. He was with me when I packed away the baby clothes and empty crib. He was with me then, he has been so ever since. He helped me to live with the memories of my son whom I loved and nurtured for nine months and three precious days.
I believe that one day we shall be reunited and Matthew and I will see the glory of Jesus, face to face. This is my faith, honed in the toughest of times ever since that life changing, topsy-turvey Easter many years ago