She knew they would only have a few fleeting months together, but in that time Sarah’s unborn daughter would transform her understanding of beauty, worth, and the gift of life.
Happily married and teaching history at the University of Oxford, Sarah Williams had credentials, success, and knowledge. It took someone who would never have any of these things to teach her what it means to be human.
This extraordinary true story begins with the welcome news of a new member of the Williams family. Sarah’s husband, Paul, and their two young daughters share her excitement. But the happiness is short-lived, as a hospital scan reveals a lethal skeletal dysplasia. Birth will be fatal.
Sarah and Paul decide to carry the baby to term, a decision that shocks medical staff and Sarah’s professional colleagues. Sarah and Paul find themselves having to defend their child’s dignity and worth against incomprehension and at times open hostility. They name their daughter, Cerian, Welsh for “loved one.” Sarah writes, “Cerian is not a strong religious principle or a rule that compels me to make hard and fast ethical decisions. She is a beautiful person who is teaching me to love the vulnerable, treasure the unlovely, and face fear with dignity and hope.”
In this candid and vulnerable account, Sarah brings the reader along with her on the journey towards Cerian's birthday and her deathday. It’s rare enough to find a writer who can share such a heart-stretching personal experience without sounding sappy, but here is one who at the same time has the ability to articulate the broader cultural issues raised by Cerian’s story. In a society striving for perfection, where worth is earned, identity is constructed, children are a choice, normal is beautiful, and deformity is repulsive, Cerian’s short life raises vital questions about what we value and where we are headed as a culture.
Perfectly Human was first published in the United Kingdom as The Shaming of the Strong. This edition includes a new afterword by the author.
Williams (The Shaming of the Strong), former professor of history at Regent College, tells the tearjerking story of her decision to take her pregnancy to term even though her child had skeletal dysplasia. When her doctors told her the birth would "certainly result in death," Williams, already raising two daughters and teaching history at the University of Oxford, remained firm in her decision to go to term with her pregnancy. She was supported by her husband, family, and community. She also felt compelled by her belief that God wanted her to love this daughter, whom she named Cerian, which is Welsh for "loved one." For Williams and her husband, the medical advice was unimportant because the child had a slim chance of survival, and they felt a great sense of responsibility to "ensure that all provision is made should that 1 percent chance come about." During her pregnancy, Williams questioned assumptions about prayer (of God as wish-granter), normality (which she feels is overrated), and grief (Cerian did indeed die at birth). The book is a beautiful reminder of how individually specific the choice of whether to bring a pregnancy to term can be. Readers will be touched by Williams's story of perseverance, faith, and love.