The love of family

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What are the chances of the embryo surviving?”

“I’d say about 50/50,” said a disinterested doctor with the worst bedside manner I’d ever witnessed. He quickly made a recommendation for us to go to other hospitals that could “take care of” what he signalled was essentially a lost cause.

It was 2014 and my wife Jammie and I were living in Bangkok, Thailand, thousands of miles from family. Just a few days prior to this emergency visit to the hospital, we had discovered that Jammie was pregnant. It was incredibly exciting. We were finally going to have the child that we had dreamed about for years.

But that feeling of euphoria and happy expectation evaporated as we started experiencing complication after complication. As the bad medical news started to pile up, we were filled with worry and an incredible sadness. It was highly likely that this pregnancy would end in a miscarriage. As I processed the poor odds of my baby even making it to birth, I was crushed. Looking around the waiting area and seeing people laughing and smiling, I wondered what they could be so happy about.

Jammie and I had never faced this kind of challenge. We’d been married for three years and, up until this horrible news, had been very happy. Why did this have to happen now? Why wasn’t this pregnancy as easy as it seemed to be for all our friends? It felt like a dark cloud over our lives and over our marriage.

With few other options, we prayed and decided that we would do whatever it took for our baby to survive. If there was a way, we would find it. We sought advice from local friends and did serious time in Bangkok traffic, visiting different hospitals and doctors. We desperately prayed for good news. We finally found a highly recommended doctor who gave us specialised treatment and more hope. We gradually grew more optimistic as ultrasounds started to show healthy development. Maybe we really would become the parents we hoped to be!

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As the waiting game played out, Jammie and I grew closer than ever. We took turns encouraging each other. Whenever one of us was despairing, the other would chime in with a reason not to give up. Per doctor’s orders, Jammie was on bed rest for the first three months of the pregnancy, so I took up my duties as general errand boy. I ran to the supermarket constantly as Jammie’s food cravings seemed to dramatically alter on a daily basis.

Despite the fact that they were on different continents on the other side of the world, we leaned heavily on family members, especially the ones in the medical field. We pestered them with both casual and panicked calls on all kinds of issues at just about any hour. To their credit they were very patient and helpful. They answered our questions about what to expect at each stage of the pregnancy and calmed our fears. We’d never seen the power of family quite so clearly.

As time passed, we found out that we were having a little girl. We were so happy! We went in for tests at different milestones and, at each of them, our little fighter made us proud. She was kicking and growing and, as the due date finally drew near, it was time for my mother and Jammie’s sister to fly over for the main event. This was happening!

We rushed Jammie in for the delivery just after midnight on July 29, 2015. It all felt surreal. Nurses rushed around and our doctor raced to the delivery room, fresh off a flight from Singapore. Twelve hours of labour later, an instantly curious and very healthy Journie Linnea Salagubang Karlman first said hello to the world. I cut the umbilical cord and, as I held that bundled-up miracle, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was my baby. She had made it! I had met her just a few minutes ago, but already I loved her madly. I was, at last, a father.

Journie is four years old now and is everything we hoped for and more. If you’ve read some of my other pieces in Signs of the Times you’ll know that I’m far from immune to the struggles of raising a toddler. I’m blessed with a determined little girl and currently she is in a furniture-­climbing phase that I spend a good portion of my day discouraging. But we are a happy family. I am very grateful.

God, after He created Adam—the first man—said: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). He then created Eve, “a partner suitable for him”. Here, God was speaking to the importance of marriage and was showing us the very high value He places on human relationships. We need support; we need other people around us. Shortly afterwards, God told Adam and Eve to “go forth and multiply”—He encouraged them to have a family, to enjoy the special bond it represents.

We were created to experience togetherness, to draw encouragement from our family ties. We strengthen these ties in good times and rely on them when the going gets rough.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity,” says Proverbs 17:17. It’s in the tough times that the beauty of family can be revealed. It’s when you feel abandoned and alone that family can make all the difference. Families were designed to pull together, to help each other out. Support of this kind is so important to God that 1 Timothy 5:8 warns not providing for your family is a denial of Christian faith.

It’s in times of testing, of crisis, that shared faith can make a huge difference both in marriage and in family. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we are counselled not to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. I firmly believe that a huge part of what helped Jammie and I survive the darkest chapters of the pregnancy was our shared belief that God would see us through.

Deuteronomy 6:5–9 says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”. It adds that we should encourage our children to do the same. This family faith is what matters when push comes to shove. It provides strength when the medical report looks bad, when you lose your job, have a major accident or face any other kind of unforeseen crisis.

After Journie’s birth, Jammie’s sister, Jofe, and my mother stayed with us in Bangkok. Jofe took a long break from her work and my mother ended up staying with us for two months to help cook, clean, babysit and, in countless other ways, show us the love and support we so badly needed in the early days.

There’s give and take in family, but I know for a fact that I’ve received far more than I can ever repay. In my time of greatest need, those who loved me stepped in to help. This show of love reflects a greater truth about the love of God for us all. Romans 5:8 puts it this way: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the kind of love that changes everything.


Bjorn Karlman is a freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad,” living in two to three countries per year with his wife and toddler.

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