Praying through the NICU
Our story is a complicated experience full of ups and downs. When it all started, everything seemed like it was better than we could have asked for. When Jeremy and I got married, we discussed the idea of having kids after being married for 5 years and once we owned a house. Not too long after our 5 year anniversary, we were able to buy our house. Now the next step was kids, easy, right?
We stopped all methods of birth control and were so excited when I became pregnant right away. I mean right away, one month after we started trying, I was pregnant. We were ready to welcome this baby into our family. I have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which makes me at high risk for cervical insufficiency. Once I passed my first trimester, I was seen by my high-risk OB every 2 weeks to check my cervix. Every single time I was in there, the cervix measured as perfect. I was even told that I was their least risky patient in the whole clinic.
All that changed on March 29th, 2021.
At the beginning of my spring break (I’m a teacher), Jeremy and I filled up our weekend with getting materials for the projects I wanted to complete. On Sunday I started to have a small amount of bleeding and a little bit of cramping.
My doctors thought that since the bleeding was so small, I was probably just spotting and the cramping was coming from my muscles getting used to my expanding uterus. I was only 21 weeks at the time.
Early Tuesday morning, at exactly 22 weeks, I woke up in pain and the horrible feeling that something was being pushed out of me. We didn't know what was happening, but we rushed to the hospital. At the hospital, we were told that my cervix was completely gone and the baby was coming whether we liked it or not. The doctor who told us this didn't have the best bedside manners. We wanted to do everything we could to save our baby and it seemed like she had already made the decision that the baby was gone and she wasn't going to do anything.
Thankfully, my actual OB called my high-risk OB and they immediately scheduled a rescue cerclage surgery. There was a 1% chance that this surgery would be successful and then another 1% chance that both baby and I would make it through 48-72 hours successfully. My high-risk OB was a godsend. She was one of a few doctors who would even attempt the surgery. We went into it knowing that there was an extremely small chance of this being successful, but we were going to do everything we could to save him.
By a miracle from God, the surgery was a success and our baby was safe.
I spent the next week in the hospital on strict bed rest; I wasn't even allowed to sit up in bed. Exactly one week later, I went into labor and Calvin Luis was born early the next morning. Both my doctor and the NICU doctor essentially promised us that there was no way that Calvin would make it through the delivery. They were so sure, they waived the COVID protocols and let our pastor in as it was viewed as the "end of life." We were prepared for the worst but told the NICU team that we wanted them to do what they could to save him, but if it was clear he was not going to make it, then we wanted to hold him until he died.
God 100% performed another miracle and Calvin was born completely in the sac without any complications.
He came out bigger than expected and was able to intubate on the first try. Our son was here and he was perfect! Calvin spent the next 5 weeks showing everyone how strong he was. He thrived in the NICU. Around week 4, he started showing some signs of sickness. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but they knew something was. As the week progressed, they came to the conclusion that he was going to need emergency surgery to remove any parts of his bowels that were infected or had died. They found that almost the entirety of his bowels was dead. The surgeon said that it was the worst he had seen and that there were literal rocks of milk in his intestines.
They were able to remove the dead intestine successfully but when they tried to close Calvin up, the bleeding wouldn't stop and his body went into a full-blown inflammation attack. They gave him multiple blood transfusions before his heart finally stopped. They brought Jeremy and me to his bed and we were there when they called the time of death. That was the worst moment of my life and one that continues to play over and over in my head.
While this was the worst pain I have ever experienced, I know that God was in control every step of the way. He saved Calvin twice and gifted us with the most amazing 5 weeks. I wouldn't give up those 5 weeks for anything.
I know that if he had lived, Calvin would have had a very hard and difficult life. He never would have been fully healthy and would have been in and out of doctor offices and hospitals. I want what is best for Calvin and unfortunately for me and my husband, what is best for him is to be in heaven with God. Calvin taught me so much during his short life and my hope is to use him as my inspiration and live my life in a way that makes him proud to call me his mom.
My faith in God is the only thing that carried me through this past year. I’ve always had a strong faith and have gone through times of doubts and struggles, but nothing could have ever tried my faith in the way the year 2021 did. I think if you had asked me what I thought would have happened with my faith if something like this happened, I would have guessed there would be a lot of anger, second-guessing, and avoiding. Thankfully, the opposite happened, and my faith was strengthened in a way I have never known. I started reading books by theologians and pastors, I listened to the sermons at church in a new way and began talking about my faith in a way I had never done before.
All of a sudden I wasn’t worried about how people would respond if I mentioned God and it became important to me to be vocal about how I saw God in our story.
Every day I thank God that He gave us those 5 weeks with Calvin. Even now, I am realizing new things that I was taught or shown during those weeks. Everything in my life has been changed because of Calvin, but I’m so grateful for one thing that has changed: my marriage. Jeremy and I got married pretty young; I was 22 and he was 24. We had already been through a lot, but everything paled in comparison to losing Calvin. Jeremy and I were not in a bad place before Calvin, but we definitely needed some more work in the communication area. Right after Calvin died, we knew we needed to figure out how to communicate while grieving in different ways. We both were in individual therapy, occasionally had joint therapy sessions, and took purposeful time to communicate how we were feeling to each other. Our marriage has been strengthened to a level that we have never experienced before.
I know the statistics for couples getting divorced after the death of a child are incredibly high, and that we aren’t even a full year out from Calvin’s death, but I know that God has used Calvin’s life and death to strengthen our marriage.
It’s really hard to explain how my faith has changed throughout this past year in any kind of physical or tangible way. I grew up in the church, became a Christian when I was 4, worked with the youth group at my church all through college, and knew all the right answers to all those Bible questions. But my faith had never been tested like this. I went through some times of doubt when I started having a lot of health issues in high school; I couldn’t understand why my life was turning out the way it was and what I had done to cause it.
During those years, I spent a lot of time reading the book of Job. I took comfort in the fact that there is not necessarily a correlation between how strong your faith is and the struggles you experience. I also knew that God was in control of every single thing that happened to me; He just never promises that only good things will happen.
One thing that I told myself over and over in high school was that I would eventually see a reason that I was experiencing these things. There would be some lessons I learned that God could use to help others. I’m several years out from high school and I still have never seen a clear reason why the things that have happened to me did.
Calvin showed me in a very clear way that God really can put someone on this earth with a purpose and they won’t die until they have fulfilled that purpose.
Calvin was only with us for 5 weeks, but he touched more lives than some adults have. He taught me and many other people the power of prayer and the power of a strong Christian community. He created circumstances that led to strangers talking about God and praying for each other. Calvin showed me that one person really can make a difference and you can live for God no matter how young you are.
While I wish with all my heart that Calvin was still here with us, I wouldn’t trade those 5 weeks for anything. Calvin taught me so much and fundamentally changed me as a person.
I’m learning to be content with the fact that Calvin is in heaven, the best place he could ever be in, and I’m here, where it’s my job to continue spreading what Calvin and God taught me throughout this past year.
Click here to read more of our blogs about seeing God's hand through baby loss. This blog was written by Stephanie Williams in Rockville, Maryland. Stephanie has been married to her husband Jeremy for almost seven years. Together they are parents to their son Calvin and their cat Shania.