Aaron D. Cobb Reviews ‘Perfectly Human: Nine Months With Cerian’ by Sarah C. Williams

Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian is a profoundly moving and wise book. In it, author and historian Sarah C. Williams tells the story of welcoming her daughter, Cerian, after a routine, 20-week ultrasound discovered a severe skeletal disorder typically resulting in stillbirth or neonatal death. Beginning with the initial diagnosis, Williams sketches a portrait of a family that loves, suffers, and endures in faith.

It would be a mistake to characterize this book merely as a grief memoir. Williams shifts seamlessly between intimate reflections on love in the midst of tragic loss and incisive commentary on the social structures that framed her experience of receiving an adverse in utero diagnosis. She sees with the loving gaze of a parent and the disciplined mind of one trained to wrestle with difficult questions. “What does it mean to be human?” she asks. “This is the question our daughter Cerian raised for me, and this is the question that lies at the core of this book.”

But it is not enough for her to raise questions about the pressures families face after a life-limiting diagnosis. She writes honestly about her own faltering attempts to comprehend Cerian’s value. She confesses that ethical and religious principles alone could not give her family the courage and hope they needed to fulfill this work of love. What they needed, they received in disciplines of prayer and the mercy of friendship. In prayer, they discerned a call—a vocation to receive Cerian as a gift to be loved. Through friendship, they received the grace to answer this call with unflinching fidelity.

The choice to welcome Cerian opened Williams to a deeper understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God. In a culture that extols strength, health, and achievement, Cerian was frail, vulnerable, and dependent. She had no agency and no capacities for choice. But she had the power to summon great love. She was perfectly human. Cerian’s name is significant; its Welsh meaning is “loved one.” And she was entrusted to those who loved her well.

What difference would it make to our culture if individuals, families, and institutions learned to welcome those with profound vulnerabilities as beloved gifts entrusted to their care? How would this change our attitudes about value, suffering, and vocation?

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Source: Christianity Today