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When My Son Didn't Come Home: Michael's Story

The story of my second child’s birth began a few months before his due date. The joy of knowing we were going to have a(nother) child presented itself on April 26, 2015 when I took a pregnancy test for the umpteenth time and saw the sweet double lines that told me I was a mommy again. The expectation was that my second pregnancy would be just like my first—extremely sick for 4 months, easy second and third trimesters, natural birth, no problems. I was delighted to find that my nausea was not nearly as bad the second time around, due either to the fact that we had a boy this time or else that my body was just used to being pregnant.

God showed me that ultimately, He—not I—held my life in His hands with that pregnancy! At 25 weeks, I had already been in the hospital to stop contractions two minutes apart. As the next few weeks went by, my midwife ordered several tests that would ultimately show my body was still preparing for pre-term labor. At 28 weeks (October 9), the perinatologist put me on bedrest immediately. “The contractions you experienced a few weeks ago were not completely harmless,” she told me. “If the baby doesn’t come before you're 35 weeks, then you can get off bedrest.”

I was an incredibly active person, both in our home and in our church. It was getting to the point where I always felt stressed and tired because I was so busy, driving our one car everywhere, getting Billy dropped off at work so I could have the car, involved in a number of ministries at church, and taking care of an active toddler at home, but I didn’t know which ball to drop to make things better. Being put on bedrest turned my whole world upside down. It took a full day for me to just process how I could live that way. Our pastor and his wife came over to our house the day after I was put on bedrest and talked through with us what our lives would look like. Billy could work some from home and our church family could help take care of us. I was supposed to be on bedrest for the next seven weeks.

I found myself out of control of every aspect of my life. I couldn’t fulfill my biblical responsibility of being a keeper at home. I couldn’t be a mother or a wife. I couldn’t clean my own home or make my family meals. I couldn’t keep my baby safe or inside of me. I was an independent person who now had to completely depend on everyone else to do everything for me. I had to sit and watch church people clean my bathroom and do my laundry. Although incredibly grateful for the kindness and love our church showed to us, there were many times I felt humiliated. I struggled to even feel close to Brooklynn because I couldn’t take care of her and she preferred the ladies who came over to play with her over me. She was often gone to other peoples’ homes because I couldn’t take care of her.

I am an organized person. I like to organize my schedule and have everything under control. I like to have lots of people come over so I can feed them. I like to see others’ needs and meet them. For the weeks I was on bedrest, I had to only accept others’ service without being able to give anything back. God taught me that there are seasons of life when it is not wrong to sit back and allow others to serve you, when that is the season He has placed you in. Our church family continually humbled me, not necessarily because of what they did, but how they did it. Many, many people showed such joy in being able to take care of our family. They told me it was a privilege to serve me as they got on their hands and knees and cleaned my toilet. They told me they loved to be able to help while they mopped my kitchen floor and filled up my dishwasher with dirty dishes from the previous two days. They showed me that love is not obligatory actions of service in response to being served, but rather a sacrificial attitude when nothing can be returned.

One of our church secretaries texted me verses every day, something she continued to do until Michael was born. She only missed two or three days during the final eight weeks of my pregnancy. Her verses reminded me to praise God for His goodness because He would “guide me continually” (Is. 58:11), “teach me His paths” (Ps. 25:4), be “a stronghold for the oppressed” (Ps. 9:9), “not restrain [His] mercy from me,” (Ps. 40:11), and bless me for trusting Him (Jer. 17:7). When I could not be with the body of Christ physically, she still encouraged me with truth every day.

At 30 weeks, my doctor’s appointment revealed that I was no longer showing signs of preterm labor, and I was taken off bedrest. A new problem arose, though. That ultrasound showed that Michael was much smaller than average and could possibly not be growing at all. A whole new unknown faced us again. Another emotional roller coaster. This time, we just had to wait. There were no preventative measures to take. Just wait. Be still. Be quiet and listen to God teaching me again that “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water that sends out its root by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8, sent to me on October 17).

On December 6, Michael was born at 6:14 pm, weighing 5 lbs, 3 oz and measuring 19 inches long. They put him on my stomach to wipe him down, and then let me hold him on my chest for about two minutes before they whisked him away to the side of the room to put an oxygen mask on him. He was unable to get oxygen sufficiently, so about 15 minutes after his birth, he was taken up to the NICU, Billy following him and me staying back in my room.

Again, I was out of control and I was alone, a less-than-ideal situation and one a mommy doesn’t want. Around 8:00 pm, I moved to my recovery room and was allowed to go up to see Michael (the NICU was on the floor above Labor and Delivery). I felt no connection to the baby I saw housed in the intubator in the darkly-lit NICU room. A nurse tried to explain everything that was going on, what the problems were, and what procedures they had done and were going to do, but my brain was mush. I didn’t understand any of the NICU “lingo” or acronyms, and things were made worse when the doctor came in and talked very quickly with a heavy accent. Basically, I got that Michael had Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which meant he wasn’t able to breathe on his own and his body and lungs were trying to work overtime to get enough oxygen. His entire torso expanded and contracted with every breath, making his rib cage look like a starving orphan with every inhalation.

My own little hospital room was very quiet the two days I remained there to recover. Every time a new nurse came in to work or a room service worker came up to bring me a meal, she would congratulate me and then look around the room for the baby who wasn’t there. Those two hospital days were lonely, to say the least. We had some visitors, which helped. One of my friends thought in advance that Billy would be in youth group one night and I would be alone, so she texted me if she could come to the hospital then. It was really helpful to have her there. After she left, I cried and cried.

I considered myself “beyond exhausted.” Many of our church people emailed or called to ask if they could do anything, but they couldn’t drive me around or give me extra time in a day to get everything done. It was a huge blessing to get meals delivered. I thought that since we didn’t have a baby at home, I wouldn’t need meals, but it turned out to be a huge help in the middle of extreme busyness. Most days, I was just frustrated. People wanted to know how Michael was doing all the time. It was kind of them to be interested, but I never knew how to answer those questions because I didn’t know myself. I would have loved to know when he would get to come home, but I didn’t. Telling people he was “doing great” would make them think he was completely better and ready to come home, but maybe “doing great” just meant that his respiratory numbers were lower and he was breathing more normally with a machine’s help. That was “doing great” compared to the day before, but it wasn’t the same “doing great” as people expected. The doctor would sometimes say that he was really pleased with the progress Michael had made, and I would think that meant Michael had just taken a huge leap toward coming home, only to find it was only a baby step. I wanted people to stop asking when he could come home because I didn’t know.

Billy and I both felt like single parents. He worked all day, as usual, while I drove around to the hospital or home to take care of Brooklynn. When he got home, we ate supper, and then I usually left for the evening to have Kangaroo Care (skin-to-skin contact with the baby for 1-3 hours). I couldn’t do this during the day while I had Brooklynn, and by the evening, I also had to drop off more bottles of milk at the hospital. Billy would take care of Brooklynn at home by himself, then put her to bed while I was with Michael. He rarely got to see Michael because it was more important that I was at the hospital and only one of us could go at a time if Brooklynn was around. It was extremely stressful on our marriage and I often lashed out at him. One day in particular was probably the lowest point of our NICU time. I got very angry at him on our way to church to drop him off in the morning. I had to then take Brooklynn to the hospital for wellness check-up and then bring her back to church for her morning nap, during which time I went back to the hospital to spend time with Michael while she slept. I was highly stressed with all the running around, and I couldn’t stop crying about how I treated Billy that morning. On the way to church to drop Brooklynn off, I spun out of control on the icy roads and did a full 360 degrees in the middle of the road, and then backed up into the median, missing a road sign and cars coming from both sides. I had the peace of mind to hit the brakes in the median, keeping me from going into oncoming traffic on the other side of the road. I was so shaken, I cried and cried and couldn’t stop.

The hospital staff wanted me to partake in Kangaroo Care several times a day once Michael’s breathing tube was out. Even though it took a lot of time, it was actually a much-needed rest in my own life. I worked out a schedule each day when I could go to the hospital alone and hold Michael. The room was always quiet, and it was when I was able to literally “be still and know my God,” as I had my devotions during that time. I worked through Luke 1-2 during the entire month of December, first because I was giving a ladies’ fellowship devotional on the life of Mary, but then continuing the study because I was learning so much about how Mary, Elizabeth, and Zachariah praised God through His asking them to do difficult things.

Working through the life of Mary just days after giving birth myself was one of the most exceptional studies I’ve ever done. Everything about her life during those days and months before Christ was born was made more real to me by memories of what I had just gone through. Mary experienced the curse of sin (Genesis 3) with each contraction and pain of childbirth, while at the same moment giving birth to the One who would overcome that curse. I realized how difficult it would have been for her to travel after the birth as I recovered physically myself. Her willingness to accept an extremely difficult calling by God encouraged my heart while I tried to accept God’s calling for my own life at that moment. Neither of our circumstances might have been what we would have chosen for ourselves, yet God’s mercy worked in each.

Had I known what NICU life was like, I would not have chosen it for myself. Yet I learned that I had it so easy compared with other families. Michael was alive, to begin with. His stay in the NICU was only nine days, and he left with no lasting physical problems. I went through the trial with the hope of Scripture and the knowledge that there was a purpose for pain: to not only draw me closer to God, but to hand me chances to speak of His glory and to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Cor. 1:4). I learned how much the body of Christ needs each other. The overwhelming love shown to us in meals (6 weeks total, including bedrest and after birth!), housework, cards, gifts, and encouragement, propelled us through the trial and emotional pain we experienced. We learned of other families in the church who had had NICU babies, and we knew we were not alone.

In the weeks that followed Michael’s coming home, I learned to attack my feelings with truth. Regardless of how I felt (“I feel like no one cares about me;” “I feel like this is too much;” “I feel like I’m not serving God”), I had to choose to think on truth (God cares about me; He will not give me more than I can handle in His strength and by His grace; I am serving God by taking care of my family and my home, even when He has put me in a place where I can’t be at church and involved in ministries there).

I was able to attend my first church service in person when Michael was almost 5 weeks old (I Skyped in to some of the Sunday morning services before that). I had missed several services before he was born because of sickness, so it had been really 6-7 weeks since I had attended. I cried through one of the congregational songs, first because I had missed our church family so much, but second because the words of “Like a River Glorious” resonated so much of how I felt.

Like a river, glorious

Is God’s perfect peace.

Over all victorious

In its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth

Fuller every day.

Perfect, yet it growth

Deeper all the way.

(Chorus) Stayed upon Jehovah

Hearts are fully blessed;

Finding, as He promised,

Perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow

Of His blessed hand,

Never foe can follow,

Never traitor stand;

Not a surge of worry,

Not a shade of care,

Not a blast of hurry

Touch the spirit there.

Every joy or trial

Falleth from above,

Traced upon our dial

By the Sun of Love.

We may trust Him fully

All for us to do;

They who trust Him wholly

Find Him wholly true. (emphasis mine) Francis R. Havergal, 1876

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