Her life was at its end. But before she took her last breath, she gave life to a child she would never cradle, or rejoice over for even a moment.
It happened forty years ago, but obstetrician Dr. Robert Weeldreyer ’56 has not forgotten this young woman who suffered a brain aneurysm and was placed on life support until he could safely deliver her little one. The memory came flooding back recently when he read about a similar birth close to his Holland, Michigan, home last year.
“What a bittersweet moment it was for that family,” he remembers, noting that even though medical practices have changed—thanks to new technologies, medicines, and research— there are still those unforgettably heartbreaking moments, and thankfully, also the blessing and hope of new birth.
During Bob’s time as an obstetrician, he delivered more than 8,000 babies, and also served as chief of staff and chairman on hospital boards and was involved with Focus on the Family’s Physicians Group and Michigan Family Forum.
But Bob did not start out with the aim of becoming a doctor. In fact, he began at Wheaton as a physics major with the hope of becoming an engineer. Restless about the choice, Bob spoke with his future wife, Carolyn Comfort ’56, and with the head of the biology department, and he realized God was leading him toward the medical field.
Changing majors in his junior year proved to be difficult. “It was pretty complex getting all my courses arranged at Wheaton,” he says. “In the week after graduation, I got married on Friday, and early in the next week I was back at Wheaton taking a summer course in comparative anatomy.”
A member of Wheaton’s ROTC battalion, Bob went on to medical school and then spent eight years on active duty in the U.S. Army. It was meeting Dr. Jay McCully ’52, who became a friend and mentor, that convinced Bob to follow in his footsteps and enter obstetrics and gynecology. Later, Jay would deliver Bob’s first child.
After Bob completed his specialty training, he worked at hospitals in the U.S. and studied at hospitals in Vienna, Austria; Frankfurt, Germany; and London, England. While assigned to the U.S. Army Hospital in Frankfurt, he once delivered 25 babies in one day.
During his travels, Bob saw the need for educated obstetricians. In countries that were less developed, had different societal levels, or lacked a strong Christian influence, he noted that patients were often treated with little noticeable care or concern for the individual.
After many years of practicing, he appreciates the relationships he has built with both Christian associates and with his patients.
Bob says, “When you follow patients for several months, you develop a close relationship with them.” He says he always felt blessed when he had the opportunity to pray with his patients, but also just in being present at such an important moment in people’s lives.
“For me, standing at the delivery table,” Bob says, “and delivering a baby who nine months ago had not been living in any way, but had developed and was now crying—a human being with a soul—that was an astounding thing. The wonder of this miracle has never left me.”