May 30, 2017

Caleb James' Birth Story-- Safe in His Hands


As I write this you are curled up on my arm making soft little baby sounds as you eat yourself to sleep. It is spring outside and the grass is green. Little leaves  are coming out on the trees and the early flowers are blooming. It's the time for new life and your life is new. You are just almost two months old and I revel in your freshness--your delicate little fingers that curl around mine, the silky softness of your baby hair.. Already you are growing and changing. You can pick up your own head and you open those dark blue eyes for longer and longer periods of time. I feel every mother's conflicted struggle between wanting you to grow and wishing you could stay small forever. 

This is the story of your coming to our family. You will hear it time and again, but this written version will be one you can slowly understand more and deeper until, should time last, you hold your own little miracle in your arms and you know fully what it is to love and to be afraid of losing.

You were a planned and prayed for baby. For weeks I prayed and waited and when I finally held the positive pregnancy test in my hand little happy butterflies danced in my stomach and I felt that I would burst from the joy. You were the hardest secret I ever kept, and I often wondered if my happy smile was giving away the news that you were on your way.

The months that you grew inside me were happy months even though they were very hard. My body was very sick and uncomfortable and it was a struggle to eat and to sleep, but always I was happy because it meant you were coming.

I felt you kick me the first time when your daddy took me to Niagara Falls for our anniversary. It was such a soft little tap, but it thrilled me. A couple weeks later your daddy could feel you too, and you seemed to know his voice because you would often kick more when he talked to you. One night you made us laugh when he laid his head on my belly and you kicked him right in the jaw!

I prepared so much for the day you would be born. I wasn't afraid, because I knew my body had been made to birth you and I knew it would do a wonderful job. I wanted to birth you at home in the quiet of our dining room, with the lights dim and a warm tub of water to welcome you in. 

The doctors checked you on the ultrasound machine and you were growing perfect and beautiful. Our doctor was very supportive of you being born at home, and our midwife, Laura, was excited to meet you.

You kept growing and growing and your kicks got stronger and stronger. The third trimester came around and you were right on target for what your weight and growth should be. But I wasn't doing so well. Besides the constant heartburn and the aches and pains that kept me awake at night, I developed a very intense itching. I would scratch and scratch until my skin was red and raw and nothing would relieve it. I thought at first that it was just another normal pregnancy symptom, but I had heard that it could be a symptom for a somewhat rare pregnancy complication called cholestasis and so I asked Laura about it. Laura helped me try a few things to narrow down other alternatives and when none of her suggestions helped she became very concerned. She pushed me to get some bloodwork done immediately.

The bloodwork came back positive in a couple days and by my Monday morning doctors appointment I had been diagnosed with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. What that meant was that the hormones from the pregnancy weren't letting bile flow out of my liver, so it was being released into my bloodstream instead. Normal range for bile salts in the blood is less than 10. Mine were 76! Our doctor was very concerned because she had never seen anyone with levels that high and she was worried about what all that bile would do to you. She gently but matter-of-factly explained that there was a high possibility that if you weren't born by 37 weeks you might not make it. Most times babies like you whose moms have cholestasis show some signs of distress when things are not well. The heartbeat begins to slow but there is a little time to do an emergency procedure and save the baby. Other times, the bile seems to essentially give the baby a heart attack and their hearts just stop beating with no warning.

As we left the doctors office, I couldn't stop thinking about you, helpless and dependent on me to nourish you and help you grow. And I was very afraid that I would fail to give you the thing you needed most--life. It hurt me so much to know that the stream of life I was sending to your little body was poisoned and that my own body was putting you in danger. The tears flowed and flowed and I couldn't stop them.

Your daddy took me to eat at Olive Garden and then we went shopping. I wandered the aisles feeling numb, looking at deals and letting my mind just process all the thoughts. Whenever I would think of you the tears would come again and your daddy would just hold me there in the middle of Hobby Lobby and Target. I fell in love with your daddy more that day than I ever had before. He was such a strong rock for you and I. We bought some decorations for your nursery and a little preemie outfit for you to wear--symbols of our hope that you would be alright. All that long afternoon you slept and didn't kick me a single time, and all afternoon I cried, wondering if I had felt you for the last time. Finally that evening you kicked again and I cried again in relief as you kicked away all night long.

I felt so helpless. There was literally nothing that I could do to fix my body and make it safe for you. But it was in those long, sleepless, dark nights that I fully surrendered you into Jesus hands. Hands that took nails for you. Hands that would carry you safely and hold you tight. Hands that will lead and guide you better than your daddy or I could ever do. You were safe in those hands I knew, because those hands were carrying me too and they were good and strong and kind. Your aunty Lisa sent me a text of Isaiah 40:11, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." Those words were precious words that played over and over in my mind and brought so much peace.

We were going to see a specialist in two days who would help us decide when we should have you. Our doctor had told us that we shouldn't be surprised if he thought it was best to have you immediately since the bile levels were so high. We spent the next two days preparing for your arrival just in case. Your nursery hadn't been set up at all so there was plenty to do. Your Grandma and Grandpa Johns got in their car and started driving up to Michigan the next day, and your Oma Wanda worked a window into her very busy schedule so she could come too. Your Grandma Irene changed her ticket to come a couple weeks earlier than planned.

Everyone was praying for you. The pastor's wives in Michigan were some of the first to know and they poured out so much love and support. Then I posted my blog about it and messages began pouring in from all over. People were praying for you all over the world. You got put on several church-wide prayer chains of people who didn't even know us, but who cared and prayed and sent encouragement. I walked in the strength of those prayers when I could hardly even pray myself. The love carried me until I got my feet under me again and could look at the situation objectively and rationally once more.

The specialist was very reassuring. He did another ultrasound and there you were, beautiful and perfect and kicking. He told us that he had seen many cases of this and had never lost a baby yet. With his help we decided to wait a couple weeks to give you the most time to grow that we could. We monitored you closely during that time so that we would know if you went into distress. It was scary, but it was the best for you.

Miraculously, when we saw our doctor again the next week, she told us that the bile levels in my blood had dropped! From 76 they dropped all the way to 20. She said that she had never heard of that happening before. This was such good news! It meant that you were in a lot less danger. We can only assume that this was an answer to the prayers that were being offered for you. 

Everything about your birth was different from what I had planned and wanted. Instead of the quiet, relaxed and calm home birth, I had to be induced and I was hooked up with all sorts of wires and monitors that were uncomfortable. The wire that was monitoring the strength of my contractions got kinked and wasn't reading properly but no one realized it until the very end of the day so they thought I wasn't having hard enough contractions and they kept putting the pitocin level up until it was too much for me to take. I tried so hard to relax and let the contractions do their job, and for a while I could control the pain with breathing and relaxation techniques. But there reached a point where my body began to fight the pitocin and I was powerless to do anything. The pain skyrocketed out of control and I begged for drugs and finally an epidural. I had wanted so badly to go without drugs because I wanted to have a clear mind for those first moments with you, but it didn't happen that way. I am so glad that I got the epidural though because it relaxed me enough that my body stopped fighting the contractions, and it finally began to open up to let you be born.

I had practiced all the most natural positions for birthing you, but with the epidural none of them were possible. I pushed you out on my back--a position I never would have chosen, and the nurses had to tell me when to push because I couldn't feel the contractions. 

I had spent hours researching how to prevent tearing, and I certainly didn't want an episiotomy (being cut by the doctor) because they are more difficult to heal from. But you came out with your sweet little hand beside your head and you tore me wide open and the doctor and Laura both said it looked just like an episiotomy.

I was shaking uncontrollably as a side effect from the pitocin as you were born, and I was so exhausted from pushing and loopy from the drugs that I was scarcely aware of anything, but I held you and cried tears of relief that it was over. And everything was ok and all the pain was worth it because you were here and you were alive and everything was ok.

Everything I had tried to plan and control didn't happen the way I wanted and it was God's reminder to me, yet again, that He was in charge. You were in His hands, not mine, and you had the birth He chose for you. And it was all ok.

You weren't quite ok yet though. You laid on my chest and cried thin little whimpers and made little grunting noises instead of loud, lusty cries. They took you to the nursery to put you on oxygen instead of keeping you in the room with me.

The next morning I went to see you, and touch your little belly as you struggled to breathe. You were breathing at a rate of around 120 respirations per minute and your doctor wanted to transfer you to the NICU at another hospital. The alveoli in your lungs weren't fully inflated as they should be, and they needed some extra help.

A team came to transfer you. They put you in a little isolette on a big gurney and put wires and monitors all over you. Your face was covered by a CPAP tube and you looked so very little and small and helpless there. They wheeled you out and put you in an ambulance and took you away to the NICU.

Your daddy and I felt so scared for you. You were covered in so many tubes you looked like spaghetti. The machines you were hooked up to were beeping and wheezing and there you were in the middle of it all with your little chest heaving up and down so fast. So very fast. And again, we had to simply trust you to the kind and loving hands of Jesus. He had created your lungs, only He could make them function right.

Jesus helped you progress quickly. After 24 hours they took you off the big CPAP tube and we could see your little face so much better. The next day you were able to get off the IV.

You hated the wires and the tubes on your face and kept tugging at them. You would get mad and your little face would scrunch up when you couldn't pull them off. Finally you succeeded in ripping out your feeding tube right out of your nose. Lucky for you, they decided to see how you did without it, and you figured out how to eat on your own just fine. 

After five days the doctors said you were strong enough to come home, and we were so happy when we got to take all the wires off and put you in your little car seat for the first time and bring you home.

And now you're strong and healthy and cracking your first little smiles and cooing at us and it's so easy to forget that it all happened. But I never want to forget. I want to always remember the sacredness of those dark nights when I gave you up to Someone who loves you more than I ever could. I never want to forget that you're His and not mine, and that I'm just a caretaker to train you and lead you to your true Father.

I'm not going to be a perfect mama, Caleb. I'm going to misunderstand and make promises I can't keep, and miss opportunities and be inconsistent sometimes.. but I'm going to do my best to love you. You are the best gift I've ever been given and I treasure you.

You are beginning a life that isn't going to be easy. You're going to get scraped knees and bruises. You're going to get bug bites and cat scratches. You will face peer pressure and bullies and mean girls who will treat you bad because they secretly like you and then as you get older they may hurt your heart with a pain far worse than any skinned knee. You will suffer being falsely accused and misunderstood. You will struggle because life on this earth is a struggle. But in those moments of struggle, I want you to know that you have a friend Who is carrying you and helping you. He understands when no one else on earth does. He will give you strength and power. You will soar on eagles wings when you are surrendered to Him. He'll be there for you.

I know, because He's been carrying you from before you were even born.


  1. Beautiful Beth. Just, beautiful.

  2. Breathtaking! What an amazing gift for Caleb!!

  3. This IS beautiful indeed, Beth, because it's your story. Yours and Caleb's. I'm sorry for all you had to go through but like you said, it was worth it for him! And God showed Himself faithful, as He always does.

  4. Wow! What an awesome story, Beth! Caleb is truly a gift from God. I'm so glad everything turned out okay.

  5. This is beautiful, and so is Caleb.

  6. WOW. I'm doing all I can to not burst into tears at my job right now. This was so gorgeous, & it gave me chills. I miss you. I can't wait to meet little Caleb.