As I was being pushed in a wheelchair down the hallway leading to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to see my baby daughter for the first time, the faces of children in poster-size photographs smiled down on me being wheeled by. Little did I know how often I would be seeing these photos, or how in the days, weeks, and even months ahead I would come to view each one as its own ray of hope down the otherwise gloomy hallway.
Even more than I could have ever imagined was another journey: a journey that Rudy and I would be taking down a different—and longer—corridor, a path that was being laid out by the Lord before as He walked with us. One that has an end He has designed, yet only He knows. That corridor is our life, and this is the story of our journey of faith so far…
Seven years ago today—June 17, 2004, the day began like any other. Any other in the hospital that is! It was day 34 on complete bed rest and I was finally getting into the routine of things. (Yes, complete bed rest. I could not get out of bed or sit up—not even to eat!— nor do any other task that was required or involved in the personal care and grooming of oneself.)This was all due to complications and pre-term labor I started experiencing at close to 19 weeks along in my first pregnancy. It was a Thursday, around 7:40-7:45 a.m. and I decided to give my dear husband, Rudy, a call; it was his birthday after all!
Which brings me to another detail of the story….
The reason I could not tell him in person was because he was ministering in Brazil on a missions trip! It was a trip that I was originally supposed to be on as well, but due to being hospitalized just a couple of weeks before the trip could quite obviously not. After talking it over as well as praying about it ,we knew he had to keep his commitment to the team, since he was one of the main translators as well as the fact that his ticket had already been purchased. In all honesty, we really were trusting that the Lord would see fit to answer the many prayers by allowing this pregnancy to go to full-term, which would be months later since my due date was Oct. 15. Besides, it was only a 10 day trip!
To put my mind at ease since I was in the hospital, a fellow mission team member had graciously given me her international cell phone number if I should need to contact Rudy, during the time he was in Brazil. I guess in my mind his birthday constituted an emergency (just to give myself some credit—it was his first birthday since we got married in October so I wanted to be a good wife and call!).We chatted for a little bit and although I don’t remember most of the conversation I do remember asking him to pray for me b/c I had been in a good deal of pain since the day before. He said he would, and then said our goodbyes until we would see each other in a few days, since I wouldn’t be making any more “emergency” phone calls after that.
Or so we thought.
Approximately one hour later, at 8:45 a.m., my water broke!
You know, it’s funny because some details seem so foggy while others stick out so strongly, that I remember them as if they were yesterday. My very first thought was one of those. Almost immediately after my water breaking I vividly remember feeling like I wanted to throw the breakfast tray across the room! I was just so upset to have this happen so early because I thought that it meant certain death for my unborn baby, and that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. My next thought: press the call button for the nurse!
Then, while the nurse paged the doctor I called my mom who was already in town staying at our place and had been keeping me company at the hospital each day while Rudy was out of the country. Thankfully, she was already en route, so I hung up with her to call Rudy. After breaking the news to him he immediately started the process to get the next flight out of Brazil!
Wasting no time, my doctor and several nurses, whisked me off to surgery. It was a very bumpy ride in my hospital bed and I felt like the hallways were spinning while during the ride I was simultaneously being injected with the 2nd dose of a steroid shot for the baby’s lungs I had been pre-scheduled for that very day. We sped onto the elevator as the alarm sounded from the turn key my doctor used to bring it immediately to the 7th floor where we were. I was beginning to feel like I was on a roller coaster, when the elevator dropped from floor 7 to 3 more quickly than I ever remember any elevator moving (which I later concluded may have been due to the fact that I had been pretty stationary in a hospital bed for over 4 weeks at that point). I didn’t know if it was the elevator, the urgency of the situation, or even my breakfast that I had just finished shortly before—perhaps an adverse reaction to the shot? My mind was racing with so many thoughts and feelings and all I knew is that I felt sick to my stomach.
A few moments later, I lay on the operating table, waiting for the doctor to start the emergency c-section. It was then I received a calm assurance in the midst of a chaotic situation. There, a doctor—who I found out later to be the neonatologist—leaned over and in a very soft-spoken voice asked, “Do you believe in God” to which I answered, “Yes—I am a born again Christian!”. He then responded by saying very confidently, “We will pray for the Lord to help this baby”. We later realized through his clear testimony that he was indeed a believer of Christ!
I am so thankful the Lord put him there in the operating room as part of the team in place ready to begin care for Camelia. How amazing and wonderful to know even in the very minutes after she was born, there was a Christian doctor not only providing care for her but calling upon the Great Physician to help guide his hands as he ministered such care ! The Lord specifically used that doctor and the words he spoke to remind us that He was in control of the situation and would be working everything out in His perfect way.
I am also very thankful to have had my mom there by my side during the entire surgery otherwise I would have been alone since Rudy was still on the missions trip. Even amidst all the flurry and busyness of the moments leading up to the surgery as well as in the operating room she remained calm. Afterwards, she had to make several phone calls and was the first to visit Camelia less than an hour after her birth. During this time she not only received many overwhelming facts from the doctor and nurse but was able to pass it on to me.
So it was at 9:37 a.m., less than an hour after my water broke, that my baby was born.
My mom said that as my doctor passed her off to another doctor all you could see was the top of her little tiny head barely peeking over his cupped hands. She was 1 lb. 2 oz., and 11 ½ inches long. Her middle name was appropriately decided to be Faith, since we were going to need a lot of it!
To be honest, the next several hours are a BLUR for me now seven years later….maybe it was exhaustion from surgery, or the events of the day, or the Percocet, or perhaps a combination of all!?
I do remember, around 10 pm that night a different neonatal doctor came and told us they were going to put a third chest tube in Camelia, but she told us—in such a rude, matter-of-fact tone—that after that they would not try again! The actual reason was that a baby that small has lungs which are very much like paper and could eventually just disintegrate from the continued trauma involved in the insertion of chest tubes. She also said, “I don’t think she’ll make it through the night.”
Now, we understood the reality of the situation, but I remember thinking she could have said it a little more tactfully. I simply said, “ Can you please just keep her alive until my husband gets here?!!” and then my mom went on to explain to her that he was on a flight back from Brazil as we spoke!
After she left the room I started sobbing and at that moment I wasn’t sure which pain hurt worse—the pain in my incision or the pain in my heart. My mom then prayed with me and read some out of the book of Psalms until I was able to go back to sleep. Throughout that night, we both awoke every time we heard footsteps coming down the hallway; we were never so happy –and thankful to the Lord—to see sunlight peeking through the hospital window as we realized that morning had come without the doctor ever returning.
She had made it through the night!
In another series of events that the Lord worked out, Rudy made it to the States and to the hospital that morning—June, 18 at 9 a.m.—less than 24 hours having receiving the news over the phone! Because I had been too weak and sick the day before, we went to go see our daughter for the first time together.
Upon entering the room situated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we were overwhelmed with the strong smell of hospital grade sanitizer gel accompanied by the sound of continuously dinging alarms. As our eyes scanned the room, we quickly noticed approximately 15-20 small incubator baby beds holding a variety of different sized babies . When we looked down at our daughter we noticed that her tiny fragile body was rapidly shaking from the oscillating ventilator—a HUGE filing-cabinet size machine. We saw too many wires to count along with the 3 chest tubes protruding from her frail body. Seeing her for the first time filled our hearts with so many emotions! I thought she was beautiful and my arms ached to hold or even touch her, for at that point we could do neither.
I remember wishing she was back safe inside my womb.
Over the next six months after her birth, we experienced the NICU journey, a roller-coaster ride as it is so appropriately called. From those few months there are so many additional stories and situations we could share with you, but I honestly think I would have to write a book—or at least another post just as long!
Looking back now, I realize how naïve we both were to the full gravity of the situation upon her birth and the criticalness of her health, as well as just how long a road lay ahead of us. But I think the Lord allows that for a reason, and I am thankful He reveals just enough of something at a time as He gives you the grace to live through it; that’s why I like to think of this experience as a journey of faith. To us, it really was a journey that truly strengthened our faith over and over but only as we chose to allow the Lord to do so. We know that it was a result of the many, many prayers of God’s people. For it was not only our own prayers, but those of so many brothers and sisters in Christ—many whom we had never met, or did not know from various parts of the country and even the world—praying for a miracle on our daughter’s behalf!
Cami came home from the hospital on December 10, 2004—just one week short of six months, but that was not the end of our journey.
In some ways it was just the beginning.
Presently, we are experiencing the journey of faith as parents still dealing with Cami’s needs even today. A lot of her special needs, whether vision or some other aspect, seem to be a learning process as we do not always know specific information, and sometimes we learn or find out diagnoses as we go along. It is a journey of faith because as we trust in the Lord for the unknown or to guide us through difficult and even tiresome days, he pours out His grace as we need it; as a result, we learn to rest completely in Him alone.
I’m very thankful that the Lord does only reveal the pathway a little at a time. To be honest, I don’t think I could have survived the NICU journey had I known what lay ahead in the months then, as well as the years after; I may have turned around and run! Now, as I walk through this journey of daily struggles that may become wearisome at times, it is a blessing to look back on the way the Lord has led us, and at some points carried us through!
As for the children in the photographs? Those were all former NICU patients who are now fully grown and doing well. Each time I saw them—which are more than I can remember—I had hoped and prayed for the day that I would have my own NICU “graduate”. Sometimes as I gazed upon those pictures I would try to imagine what my precious daughter would look like at the certain ages displayed. It was in those quiet moments that I prayed for the Lord to allow her the chance to have her smiling face in a picture someday—even if it just hung in our own living room.
So on this memorable day in June, my heart overflows with gratitude and thankfulness to the Lord for answering that prayer in allowing me to look at the sweet smiling face of a beautiful 7 year old girl; not only today but every day.
Happy Birthday, Cami! We are so thankful that the Lord has entrusted you to our care, that you are a great big sister to Lucas and Sophia, and for how much progress you have made over the past 7 years…we love you!