Bethany Jackman lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and three children. When her second child was born 10 weeks early, she found herself spending a lot of time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), having her faith tested again and again.
In the fall of 2011, my husband and I were expecting our second baby—a girl! Our firstborn, Noah, was a full-term, healthy, and active two-year-old boy, and we couldn’t wait to welcome his baby sister.
The day she was born came unexpectedly. I went in for my routine check-up at 30 weeks with seemingly no complications, and after a whirlwind day at the hospital—where we discovered that her belly was measuring small and that she wasn’t moving—her heart rate began to decelerate and she was born by emergency C-section that very night—10 weeks early, weighing in at 2.5 pounds of pure sweetness. Before I could hold her or see her or even hear her cry, she was given a breathing tube and was whisked away to the NICU. There she remained miraculously stable and well for the next seven weeks.
I was slightly devastated at first. I never imagined I’d have a have a preemie baby with a NICU stay. I assumed it was something I could never bear. I had so many worries, so many concerns. But a few hours after she was born, when I could finally get onto my feet, I took my husband’s hand and walked into the NICU for the first time. The lights were dim, and my new baby slept inside her warm isolette. I took one look at her tiny, fragile, angelic body, a head full of dark blond hair, tubes covering some of her sweet face, and I knew that I would give everything to this—to her. I would love and care for her with every part of me, and no matter what came our way or how difficult it would be, we would get through this together. I trusted that God gave our family this trial, this miracle, for a purpose. It was certainly something I could bear, and with His help, I could bear it with ease. Peace rushed over me and I wept.
We named her Lucy Rose. Over the next few days, she was doing so well that the doctors and nurses were calling her “the rock star of the nursery,” but they still anticipated she wouldn’t go home until right around her due date in mid-January. I quietly hoped and prayed that she would be home by Christmas.
The coming days and weeks were a roller coaster. Lucy had ups and downs, but she continued to grow and impress us all. I visited her every day, at least once a day. I was able to hold her skin-to-skin during her morning tube feeding, take part in her cares and diaper changes, pump breast milk, and—while she slept in her isolette—admire her, pray for her, and sing to her. I hated to be away from Lucy and often felt guilty leaving her behind, but the nurses continued to remind me how necessary it was for her to rest and grow without distraction and how important it was for me to rest and recover at home. My husband had returned to work but was able to visit Lucy on nights and weekends. When I was at the hospital, my toddler was cared for by a rotating group of earthly angels including my own mom, my visiting teachers, and other friends from church. Noah was a rock star too. His flexibility and happy mood was infectious and a blessing from above. Meals were delivered to our home daily, and the outpour of love and support was immeasurable.
I learned a few poignant things during our NICU experience that have really stuck with me.
The first is that when we experience challenges, if we rely on the Lord, our weaknesses will become strong. I am not unfamiliar with challenges, and through each of them I have found that He is always there, ready to carry me through. While in the NICU, I felt similar to Alma being persecuted in Mosiah 24:15: “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” When Lucy was in the NICU, and even when we faced long nights and days after she came home, I found strength beyond my own. Elder David A. Bednar taught that the Atonement of Jesus Christ provides us with not only a redeeming power, but an enabling power (BYU speeches and October 2004 general conference). I was enabled to endure cheerfully something I never wanted or asked for or hoped to experience. I felt like Ammon when he said, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26:12).
The second thing that hit me hard was the amount of love and support and service we were given. People I hardly knew were coming to our door with dinner, thoughtful cards and gifts, or words of encouragement. The babysitting, grocery store runs, messages, flowers, and cards were all tear-jerking acts of kindness. I finally began to understand the kind of love and charity talked about in the scriptures—the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:47). I am usually shy and prone to keep to myself, to only help others when asked, but I became determined to serve others more willingly, to help when someone is in need, without being asked, even when I don’t know them well.
On Christmas Eve, Lucy was ready to come home. She was regulating her own temperature, taking my milk from a bottle, and came home on a small amount of oxygen. It was a Christmas miracle! Our challenges didn’t stop, but our hearts continued to grow. She is now a busy, beautiful, curly-haired three-year-old. She has been a complete joy and blessing in our home, and a day doesn’t pass that we aren’t grateful she is here.