A year ago, around this time of night, I had just been admitted to Labor and Delivery at the nearest hospital with a great NICU because my water had broken at 28 weeks pregnant.
On the drive there, I kept thinking that we were on our way to either have or lose a baby. The unknown of what was happening inside me—up until hearing that blessed galloping-horse sound of a fetal heartbeat in triage—was torturous.
But then I learned that you can stay pregnant with your water broken. And that was the first of so many things that I learned over the next weeks and months. What a way to get an education.
And I’m still learning.
Here we are a year later, and I’m learning ways that God has used our trauma for good; because let’s face it, even though all in all our family is just fine, having a preemie is traumatic.
I’d like to share with you a few of the good things I’ve learned God has done and is doing through bringing Hope to us early.
First, the Coles. John and Heather have become such dear friends to us over the last year. My husband knew them during college but hadn’t kept in touch since. Then, the night that I was in labor (17 days from now, minus one year), he learned that the Coles had just delivered premature twins. On a whim, he messaged John to ask what hospital they were at. It was the same one we were in. The next morning, a few hours after Hope was born, Nathanael and I went up to the NICU to see her for the first time since the whirlwind of the delivery room, and there were John and Heather. Their babies were in the beds right next to Hope’s.
This friendship has been a priceless and timely gift, but what makes it even more special is that I had been praying for close friendships and a community of parents with young children since having Ella two years before. In fact, “A friend for Lizi” is the earliest prayer I can remember my mom praying for me as a shy, homeschooled child. And now as an adult, after I had been praying what felt like my lifelong prayer, how did God answer? He gave us a preemie on the same night that this sweet couple received preemies of their own. Who knows if I would have even met the Coles under different circumstances.
Second, Hope Audrey makes me (and everyone she meets) so happy. Sure, she also makes me so tired because she doesn’t think it’s necessary to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time day or night… But she really makes me happy. I enjoyed Ella’s babyhood immensely because she was my first, and I treasured so many moments with her when I knew she was my only chance to have just one to devote my attention to. But Hope brings a spark of joy to (most of) her waking moments that is all her own. It’s not just because she’s a miracle or because she’s my daughter so of course I love her. She simply radiates joy, and it is infectious. I can’t put into words the hours of delight it has given me to watch her grow, develop, and explore, and even more so now that she’s really beginning to play and interact with Ella. She adores Ella, and when I see the two of them together, no matter how tired I am from yet another rough night with that very same baby, I can’t help but smile.
Third, I have learned and am still learning to trust God. He made it so clear after I entered the hospital a year ago that the remainder of my pregnancy and what would happen with Hope when she came was fully within His control. I was, surprisingly, quite relaxed about the prospective outcomes after I moved into room 248 at the hospital. My biggest source of anxiety was being away from Nathanael and Ella. Hope’s NICU stay was long, sometimes frustrating, and always exhausting, but I actually look back at it now with an astonishing amount of fondness. The smell of the handsoap that all the Catholic Health facilities throughout the area use still makes me trip over breathing, as does a certain hand lotion and a particular shampoo; they all bring me right back to room 248 and I feel exactly as if I’m there and I could cry—I often do. But there’s also a weird element of nostalgia mixed in with the feeling of being suddenly knocked off-balance. God brought me through all 71 days combined of my hospitalization and then Hope’s. He brought me through each day since then, as well, as I’ve learned to parent two little girls with frequently opposed needs. Each time I’ve hit bottom over the past year due to sleep deprivation or too little patience or not knowing how to discipline or just wanting my own time or space, He’s been there, whether I’ve acknowledged Him or not. He has never left me. And I’m learning to trust that He never will. I’m learning to acknowledge His presence. His mercy.
Fourth, and this is possibly the most astounding to me at the moment: I’ve been given the sweet gift of being able to relate to what my brother and sister-in-law are going through right now as they parent their preemie in the NICU. Their son was born exactly as many days prematurely as Hope was. Exactly. And every time I say or think or write that fact, I cry. What are the odds? How could that be a coincidence? Why God is bringing them down this road, I have no idea. But I can now see that He brought us down this road of having a preemie so that Ben and Kathleen wouldn’t have to be the first in our family to go through this. They don’t have to carry this burden entirely on their own shoulders. It might not necessarily make their journey easier—it’s always hard to have a preemie—but I think I can safely say that it’s been a comfort to them to know that surviving this season can be done. They’ve seen it done. They’ve seen God be faithful to us in bringing us through one day at a time, and I pray that helps them trust each day—especially the hardest days—that He will see them through as well, and He will bring their boy home.
Thank you to everyone who helped us through the 71 days that began a year ago today. And thank you to everyone who has helped us through every day since then. We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without you and your prayers.