“What the NICU Taught Me about Christ,” Ensign, June 2020
At the beginning of February 2017, we received the exciting news that our little girl would be a big sister to twins. Almost five months later, at only 23 weeks and 3 days along, I woke up knowing something was wrong. My husband rushed me to the hospital, where doctors told us that we needed to prepare to deliver our babies that day. We were also told that we needed to make a decision about the lives of our children.
The neonatologist explained that, at least in the United States, babies are not considered viable until the 24th week of gestation, so we were in a “gray area,” meaning we could choose if we wanted to have the doctors provide lifesaving support or not. She also explained that if we chose lifesaving support, it was far from a guarantee of life; the nationwide rate of survivability was under 10 percent. And the rate of those that survived without severe neurological disorders was less than 5 percent. As I looked to my sweet husband with shock and tears, we knew we would fight for these babies despite the odds.
Through a series of miracles and the help of angels, I was able to keep the babies inside for four additional days, until exactly 24 weeks. Savannah came first, weighing 1 pound, 10 ounces, and was only 12 inches long; next was Memphis, who weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces, and was 13 inches long. I was not even able to see them before they were passed through a window into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Savannah spent 190 days in the NICU and had three intestinal surgeries, three brain surgeries, and a heart surgery. She had severe brain bleeds, a breathing tube for four months, and a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line for five months. She battled three bouts of sepsis, spent three months in an enclosed plastic crib called an isolette, and went two months without being able to be held.
Memphis spent 235 days in the NICU and had three eye surgeries, two intestinal surgeries, and a heart surgery. He had a brain bleed and spent five months with a breathing tube, five months with a PICC line, and three months in an isolette. He had four bouts of sepsis and went nearly four months without being able to be held.
Together they endured countless other medical procedures and interventions. We watched them again and again overcome the odds and continue to fight for life. They taught us the true value of life, even when they knew nothing of life but pain, and even when we were unable to give them the very basic forms of comfort.
Over those long eight months, we also witnessed others going through their own heart-wrenching NICU experiences. We watched some happily leave for home with their baby, only to hear of their return, with their child once again fighting for life. We watched some whose babies had been in the hospital for nearly a year, some longer. We watched some leave the hospital with empty arms and broken hearts. While I trust now that this is all for a reason, I do not understand why sometimes miracles are given and sometimes they are seemingly withheld. I do know that as we sat in witness to others’ pain, and the pain of our babies and theirs, our hearts were forever changed.
In the year that we’ve been home, our babies have had four more surgeries and countless hours of doctors’ visits and therapy. Both have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Both are significantly delayed in growth as well as developmental milestones. Both are nothing short of miracles.
At the beginning of this adventure, I wanted answers. I wanted to know what the experience would look like, what I could expect. At this point, I am so very thankful that I didn’t know the future then and that I don’t know it now; I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to just experience it day by day, to watch their fight and to see the simple daily miracles that ultimately led to their being well enough to come home. From this vantage point, I can clearly see that the hardest days were the ones that taught me the most about myself and about what it means to truly trust and believe God.
For a year and a half now, I’ve pondered in my heart all that this experience has taught me, all that has been asked of me, all the help we’ve received, and all the ways I have been changed by the love of others and my faithful Father in Heaven. Not long ago, I was washing dishes and listening to the book Saints when a phrase struck my heart and mind so powerfully that I listened to it again and again. It’s the part where Joseph Smith is in Liberty Jail, praying for relief. It says: “The Savior reminded Joseph that the Saints could not suffer more than He had. He loved them and could end their pain, but He chose instead to suffer affliction with them, carrying their grief and sorrow as part of His atoning sacrifice.”1
In my mind’s eye, and with my own suffering raw in my heart, I pictured the Savior in the garden. I saw Him atoning for us, looking at our individual lives and seeing our personal struggles. I saw Him look at the reason for it, all that our pain and suffering had the opportunity to teach us and how it could shape and change our lives. Then, knowing He could end our pain and by so doing would decrease His own, He decided instead to carry it with us. I realized that my pain, as well as the incredible pain and suffering of our perfectly innocent babies, was a gift—a soul-stretching, arduous, and seemingly lifelong one, but a gift all the same.
I am far from perfect in my acceptance of and gratitude for this gift, but I am grateful to know that all of my life’s experiences are firmly within my Father’s plan. He knows what will shape my life, what will teach me, and how it will change me into the woman He needs me to be. I trust now that if He knows this for my life, He knows it for my children’s lives as well. All that they have been asked to endure, and all they will still undoubtedly face, has left my mama heart bruised and battered. Yet I don’t have to understand it, or even appreciate it, to know that the God who is all-knowing and, more importantly, all-loving will find a way to use this for their good. I know my life and theirs are in our Father’s hands. And for that I am perfectly grateful.