This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.(Heb. 6:19)(NLT)
I want to tell you a story. I call it The Story of Ethan’s Heart.
I was born with a heart defect. Statistically any children I have are considered to have a higher risk of having a heart defect also. That is why the doctors wanted to do a fetal echocardiogram during my pregnancy. It seemed reasonable to me. It was considered a high risk pregnancy to begin with due to my age, weight, and preexisting type two diabetes and preexisting high blood pressure. I was very nervous and I did every single thing the doctors asked me to (and more) trying to give my baby his very best chance at a normal, healthy life.
The first specialist who conducted the fetal echo was mildly concerned. The blood was flowing a bit fast through the aorta of my baby’s heart. This can indicate a narrowing of the aorta. It was difficult to tell for sure. She wanted to have another more experienced specialist look at it again in a few weeks. She gave me strict orders not to worry about it yet. I agreed, but I could not help feeling some agitation and anxiety anyway.
In the worst case senario my baby would undergo a short surgery to correct a narrowed aorta a few days after birth and then go on to have a perfectly normal life with no restrictions. But that most likely wouldn’t happen so I pushed what seemed unlikely aside. It seemed fairly easy just to keep pushing the worry down and shoving the unwanted thoughts to the back of my mind.
A few weeks later the day came for the next fetal echocardiogram. I went in fully expecting the situation to be resolved. I was depending on answers that would allow me to make my plans one way or another. I reclined as the specialist patiently tried to get the views of my baby’s heart that he wanted to see. The baby wiggled, contrary to being pushed on from the outside world. I watched the screens intensely, trying to see what the pediatric cardiologist was seeing, but it was futile. I recognized the heart pumping, the blood moving through the chambers. Parts of the the picture flashed back and forth between black and white and red or blue for what felt like an hour. I stayed silent, not wanting to distract the man from his work.
Finally he turned off the equipment and the screens. He was silent for a few moments. Then he spoke about agitation and the velocity of the blood in the aorta. It was significantly higher than it should be. He drew me a picture and explained how when a baby is in the womb the oxigenated blood enters the baby’s heart from the plecenta through a special blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. After the baby is born the lungs oxigenate the baby’s blood and the vessel closes. When that happens, if the baby has a narrowing of the aorta, the baby will die unless the issue is not corrected promptly by surgery.
Ultimately, he still could not tell with certainty if the aorta was actually narrowed. We would not know until after the baby was born and they could get a better image. After birth, the baby would need to have a series of ultrasounds. One immediately and then two or more as the vessel closed. (The closing of the ductus arteriosus is a process which can happen very quickly after birth or may take up to 5 days.)
He told me that if the baby’s aorta was narrowed then the child would have to be transported by ambulance to the children’s hospital for surgery before the vessel closed. He also told me that I would be left behind when my baby was transported, possibly for two or even three days.
“Unacceptable!” my heart screamed. I refused to risk a 70 mile separation from my newborn. I declared on the spot that I would deliver at the women’s hospital next to the children’s hospital. I didn’t pray. I didn’t discuss it with my husband. I called my doula and confirmed that she would drive the extra distance. I called my mom. I called my mother-in-law. Soon almost everyone knew the new plan.
When I got home I informed my husband of my decision. He assured me of his certainty that the baby would be fine and that nothing was wrong with his tiny heart. I didn’t have his certainty. Not at all. I started focusing on mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could imagine. In the past having a plan in place for every contingency has effectively eased my anxiety. Nothing feels as frightening when I can convince myself that I am prepared.
I created a best case senario in my mind and began to hope for that. The baby would be born, they would do an ultrasound and the aorta would be fine. The ductus arteriosus would close and the turbulence would disappear.
This worked for me… until I went for my tour of the women’s hospital birthing center. The tour was unremarkable. Seeing the NICU was unsettling but no more so than I expected. After the tour I had my meeting the the neonatologist, and it stopped working.
She seemed youngish, perhaps my age or younger, but she had a manner that portrayed her expertise. For one so young, she had some serious gravitas. She gave me the run down of what would happen. I would check in, labor would be confirmed and I would be admitted to a labor room. I would remain there until it was time to deliver and then I would be transported to the OR. I might be able to bring my doula in to the OR, it would at the discretion of the gynecologist and the neonatologist on call. After delivery my baby would be taken immediately from me to be checked. If the baby was doing well I might be allowed to hold him for a minute and then he would be taken to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Meanwhile I would then be transported back to a patient room. If the baby was doing extremely well I might be permitted to try to nurse him. She warned me that typically with these type of defects it was difficult for the infant to coordinate nursing and breathing so breastfeeding wasn’t possible. If it was determined that my baby needed surgery he would be transported after three or four days to the children’s hospital for the surgical procedure and then transported back to the NICU where he would be for seven to ten days and possibly even as long as two weeks . If he did really well he might be able to be transferred from the NICU to the transitional nursery for the tail end of his stay.
What I immediately took away from all this was that this expert fully expected what I had only thought of as a worst case senario to happen. When I questioned her as to the possibility of my best case senario she gently told me that it was extremely unlikely. I was dumbfounded. I went through the motions of thanking her and saying goodbye.
On the way home my mind was racing. My hormonal body and my emotions fed off each other until I worked myself into a state of full blown freak out. I had to deliver in an OR. I might not be allowed to hold my baby—possibly for hours after giving birth. My newborn baby was going to be pumped full of antibiotics and anesthesia and they were going to cut a hole in his little back to fix his aorta. We were not going to be able to bring him home for two maybe three weeks…
About that time I started praying. I prayed for my baby’s aorta to be the correct size and for his heart to work perfectly. I prayed that the vessel would close in exactly the way it was supposed to and at the right time. I prayed for the amazement of the doctors and that God would be glorified. I prayed that they would be calling me to the NICU immediately to nurse my healthy and hungry baby.
And then I remembered that as this baby’s mother I had spiritual authority over him. My prayers changed. I prayed in the name of YESHUA the MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC AND JACOB. I prayed by my authority as his mother and as a daughter of THE MOST HIGH and I started commanding that little heart to be perfect. I quit begging and started praying with boldness. I did this every day, usually on my way to work. And every day my faith grew a little stronger until I was praying with total confidence that what I was asking for and speaking over my baby was already done. I was taking my hope in God’s word and dropping it like an anchor into the chaos and fear inside me.
It felt irresponsible to change my plan to deliver at the women’s hospital. It probably wasn’t necessary but I didn’t see any harm in it. So I gave birth in an sterile operating room, surrounded by medical staff who were gowned, masked and gloved. They wisked my baby away from me instantly. He soon rewarded them with a hearty wail. They could find nothing wrong. His APGAR score was nine. Both times. They wrapped him in blankets and pulled a little hat down over his head. Then they put a 9 lb 3 oz burrito into my exausted arms. I held him. It’s blurry looking back. It seemed short. It was maybe three or four minutes. They told me the neonatal cardiologist had arrived and they had to take my son to the NICU. I instructed my baby to go show them his perfect heart and they took him.
A short while later the neonatal cardiologist came into the OR to talk to me. He smiled widely as he told me that my son’s heart looked fine. If he had not been told otherwise he would say nothing was wrong. He would repeat the test in 48 hours to see how the heart was doing as the ductus arteriosus closed. I rejoiced as I thanked him.
They took me back to my room and the nurse did her medical stuff. My husband left so he could escort my in-laws to the NICU to see the baby. The nurse left me. I called my workplace and gave them the stats and good news. I tried to rest, for about twenty minutes. The nurse came back in and asked if I would please get in the wheelchair? My baby’s bloodsugar was dropping and they wanted me to nurse him right away. I smiled. You betcha.
Less than 48 hours later the neonatal cardiologist stopped by to tell me that the ductus arteriosus was totally closed and the baby’s heart was fuctioning just fine. “Already?” I exclaimed, shocked. He laughed and assured me, “Yes, already.” He asked me to bring my son back for a follow-up echocardiogram at six months. He also told me that as soon as the neonatologist on duty could sign the papers my son would be released from the NICU and brought to my room to stay to stay with me.
I was stunned. I never thought to ask for things to turn out this well! My Heavenly Father did it for me anyway, over and above my request! The next day we went home. Not two or three weeks later…three days.
This is an important story for me. I have build an Ebenezer monument in my heart so that I will never forget how God came through for me when I believed His word enough to ask for something while fully expecting Him to give it to me.
It’s scary to do that. You risk looking like a fool and you risk getting your heart smashed by disappointment. It can look like a big risk. I decided I would rather trust God and have peace even if I looked like a fool in the end. I traded my fear and pride for peace and hope. I had an anchor for my soul when my outward circumstances didn’t look good.
The six month check-up confirmed that Ethan’s heart was perfectly fine. No abnormalities, no restrictions, no need for more follow ups. The neonatal cardiologist told me to treat my son as if there had never been anything wrong with his heart. I laughed. No problem for me there, as I had been doing that since they released him from the NICU.
(Ethan at about 7 months)