Throughout our marriage my husband and I have experienced a range of joys and sorrows that allowed us to suffer and to grow on many levels. However, I must say our greatest sorrow was the death of our baby boy, Joseph John. 

In 1985 I had an ultra-sound that detected a severe abnormality in our unborn child. I was informed over the phone from the doctor’s office that our baby had no possibility of living and in the same breath told I could have an abortion. Although completely shocked by the first statement, I felt an intense need to protect my baby after the second. The doctor may have just as well asked me if I wanted one of my other children killed.

He suggested we make an appointment with a specialist. We did. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was confirmed. This was something that happened to other people, not to us. My husband and I felt numb for a long time. We were told that due to this particular defect our baby could be born at any time. I was 16 weeks pregnant. We spent quite some time studying our baby’s condition to prepare for what lay ahead.

Death of a child

Our thoughts turned to God to beg Him to work a miracle and let our baby live. I wanted to provide all I could physically for him during the pregnancy and cherish every moment we had together, especially if he was not going to be with us for very long. I wanted to make up for all the birthday parties we would not be able to give him. I wanted these last months of my pregnancy to be very special where his brothers and sister, my husband and I would treasure and remember for the rest of our lives.

The months that followed were difficult. The specialist informed us we would go through different stages in coming to terms with our baby’s impending death. My husband and I experienced many different feelings. We questioned a lot and sometimes felt a distance between each other, lost in our own thoughts and emotions. I often wondered how he felt toward me now that I was carrying such a deformed little baby. At other times there was an increased intimacy and unity that strengthened over the time we had together with our baby that brought us much closer in many ways.

We relied heavily on our faith and became even more interested in aspects of Heaven that before seemed so remote. The knowledge that our baby could be in Heaven in the near future provoked an insatiable curiosity about what it was like. What was Mary’s motherly love like? How would She look after our child? Would She kiss and hug our baby like we would? I thought about this often. My heart ached.

I became obsessed about Heaven and eternal life. It was through this obsession that I discovered a deeper understanding of the love of the Holy Family here on earth and in Heaven. This helped me tremendously in letting go and accepting God’s Will.

It was through this obsession that I discovered a deeper understanding of the love of the Holy Family here on earth and in Heaven.

The pregnancy progressed normally with our little baby kicking, pushing and enjoying his time with me. In fact, he was one of my most active babies. We disclosed to very few people that our baby was going to die as this was something extremely personal that we were unable to share at this time. Looking back, I suppose we didn’t want to be pitied and I just couldn’t cope with people being negative or suggesting I have an abortion to shorten the agony. In fact, having an abortion would have prolonged the agony, an agony I would never have recovered from. Furthermore, I knew what I must do and to us it was not an agony but an honour! I must say it was difficult pretending all was going well when we knew what lay ahead. We cherished every moment we had with our baby yet waiting months for him to be born was really difficult. Would God answer our prayers in the way we wanted? Would our baby be born healthy or would he die?

Anencephaly Joseph John Perrottet

Eventually our baby’s birthday arrived, one week late. I could feel the baby’s little legs kicking around inside me during the long labour. This gave me hope that he would be perfect and we would take our baby home. We were praying for a miracle right up to the end. The doctor baptized our baby in utero, “I baptize you Marie-Claire or Joseph John in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” as we were unsure whether we were having a boy or a girl. Joseph John was delivered feet first. I knew there was no hope left. His heart stopped just a few minutes before his birth. He was born into Heaven on March 11, 1985.

There was no cry.

Silence, calm and grace filled the labor room. He was placed on a little table to the left of me. I remember looking over to him waiting for his little chest to rise and fall. But it didn’t. My arms ached to hold him. He was eventually placed in my arms. To me he was beautiful. The only sign of life was a little saliva dripping from his mouth to his blanket.

God’s grace filled the room. I will never forget his face. We could not wish him back. What he must have been experiencing was so glorious that it penetrated his little body. I am convinced he was experiencing the Beatific Vision. He was the lucky one. We were honoured to be his parents.

Joseph taught us so many lessons about unselfish love, strength, sensitivity, fortitude, detachment and the reason we are on this earth.

Gabriel and Elizabeth Perrottet

Over the years we have prayed to Joseph and he has always been an obedient little boy listening and answering our prayers and keeping a watchful eye on his brothers and sisters. We celebrate his birthday every year and in the past the children would choose his birthday cake from a special “Women’s Weekly” birthday cake book. His eldest brother once chose a rocket so it could shoot straight up to Heaven. The simplicity of little children, if only we could be like them! Joseph’s brothers and sisters born before and after him pray to him often. He is still very much with us.

Just recently his youngest sister told me she was thinking about Joseph and whether he had Godparents? I told her how touched I was that she was thinking about her brother who she had never met. I explained that Joseph had no need of Godparents as he was born into Heaven. Our parental mission was accomplished.

Thirty four years later our beautiful grand-daughter, Juliette Rose was born into Heaven. She was buried with her uncle, our son, Joseph. What an honor what a wonderful family…the communion of the saints.