The Ultimate Tribute to a Life Cut Short

A touching Holiday story from Germany

A German Christmas market

Earlier this year, Kerstin Diegel, Smile Train’s Director of Development for Germany, received an email from a local midwife. The story this woman told was one of the most touching and heartbreaking Kerstin had ever read in all her years of nonprofit work. With the author’s approval, it is our honor to share her story with you below.

Warning: This story involves pregnancy loss and may not be appropriate for all readers. It has been anonymized to protect the privacy of all involved.

In early 2019, a woman whose first child I helped to care for a few years before called me with wonderful news — she and her husband were now expecting their second! Of course, I was honored to accept her offer to again provide care. Her first pregnancy and birth went without complications, and both the expectant mom and I were very calm and confident about this one, as well.

A German Christmas market
"Weihnachtsmarkt Jena, 2007" by ReneS is licensed under CC BY 2.0

And so it went, until around the middle of the pregnancy. During a routine check-up, the doctors noticed something off and asked the woman to come to the hospital the next day. She did, and that was when we discovered that the baby’s heart had already stopped beating the previous evening. Little “Liesel”* was born that day, but it was, as we say, “a silent birth.” Being there for my patients through their moments of greatest pain is no less a part of my job than being there through their moments of greatest joy. It is an honor to be by their side in these moments, too, even as I pray to never need to again.

In Germany, the public health insurance system covers as much time as we midwives need to take in these situations without the patient ever having to see or worry about the bill. But this woman had private insurance, which meant I received a bill to send to her.

I could not.

She asked me for it several times, but it was unthinkable to me.

I refused.

People in a German Christmas market
"Trier Germany X-mas Market" by LenDog64 lic under CC BY-ND 2.0

Around that time, my daughter had taken it upon herself to start raising money for Smile Train. I was so inspired by her efforts that at Christmastime, I began donating five euros in the name of each child I had cared for that year instead of sending cards. Of course, I included dear Liesel among my little ones for that season.

Her mother was touched to learn of my gesture, but also took that opportunity to ask again for my bill. I did not respond. So, she said, “If you won’t let me pay you, then please let Liesel give a child a new smile so that her legacy will live on forever.” I agreed with that.

In September 2020, when this woman, thankfully, gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy, I finally charged her for my work. I then sent the proceeds directly to Smile Train so that Liesel will forever be remembered as a child who made other children smile.

Snow on a German Christmas market
A snowy winter night on a German street

I am sharing this little story in the hopes that it will inspire you this holiday season. As one who frequently helps mothers through times of hardship, and as a mother myself, I know what it means when a stranger reaches out to help your child. It means the world and then some. Yet, even I can’t imagine the hope and joy it must bring to mothers of children in need to learn that their child will receive the life-changing cleft care they need locally and at no charge whatsoever. What I do know is that it is my absolute privilege to be one of the many people who donates to Smile Train and helps bring smiles to children and families in need around the world.

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*Not her real name.