The doctor pursed his lips. His voice softened when he repeated that I was almost three months pregnant. “Impossible,” I shouted. “I’m forty-four years old.” I shuddered. How can this be?
Still trembling from the news, I drove home to tell Ray he was going to be a father again. We were empty nesters entering a new season of our lives. We relished our freedom and new life together. Our kids will think we’ve lost our minds! Our friends are going to roll on the floor with laughter. My parents might have heart attacks when they hear they’re going to be grandparents again. Diapers, colic, up all night … oh my.
During our first appointment with a neonatal doctor, Ray asked if it was safe for me to have a baby at my age. The doctor’s lips curled up at the corners. He told us he’d delivered several healthy babies to women over forty. He gave us a thumb up and said, “Just think, this will be the first time you will raise a child as adults.” Ray laughed. I choked back tears.
Tests confirmed I carried a normal baby girl, but my subdued fear of pregnancy turned to panic when I began to bleed and cramp. My doctor explained that I had placenta previa. Placenta previa occurs when the placenta implants itself in the lower part of the uterus, too close to the neck of the birth canal. A portion, or sometimes the entire placenta, blocks the birth canal. As the fetus grows and the uterus expands, placental blood vessels rupture, resulting in a painless bright red bleeding that can be severe. This can cause pre-term birth. He ordered bed rest to prevent this possibility.
Sharp pains woke me the morning of July 15—twenty-seven weeks into my pregnancy. It was too early for me to be in labor. Ray was already working his early shift with the Highway Patrol. If he had been home, maybe he could have put me in his patrol car, turned on the flashing red lights, and soothed my fears. Instead, when the pain became severe, I drove myself to my doctor, who sent me directly to the hospital. They monitored my pain level, and after a few hours, doctors decided to transfer me to a hospital that specialized in premature births.
Riding in an ambulance is downright scary!
Ray arrived in uniform. Visibly upset, he told me how scary it was to receive a call from dispatch that his wife was taken by ambulance to a hospital. His trips to any hospital, while on duty, usually meant someone was hurt or dead.
I lied on my left side in labor for three days. On July 18, doctors explained to us that our baby’s lungs would have a better chance maturing if they could get corticosteroids in me for forty-eight hours. (Use of steroids reduces the incidence of hyaline membrane disease by half.) We agreed to the procedure.
On July 20, we were forced to make a decision. It appeared our baby was indeed going to present herself early. She lay in a breech position with her feet already in the birth canal. The umbilical cord tangled at her feet gave them great concern. If the doctors performed a Cesarean section now, they would be working in a controlled situation. Our doctor told Ray that if the already strained water sac broke, there could be complications. He might lose our baby, and me. We opted for a C-section.
Soft music hummed on an intercom in the delivery room. I suppose this was to soothe patients. The anesthesiologist numbed me from the waist down. Even though I was awake, the whole scene seemed surreal. I looked around the room. Anxious eyes peered over the tops of masks that covered noses and mouths. Brows bunched up in wrinkles. Against the wall, two nurses attended to instruments and dials on an incubator.
Minutes later, a two-pound baby girl was whisked from my womb. The radio volume came up suddenly, and I heard Stevie Wonder singing, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” Ray sat behind me praying out loud. Tears flooded his cheeks. He squeezed my shoulder. The song was our song—a title we played over and over during our courtship. Ray’s head fell forward close to mine. He feathered my forehead with a kiss. He whispered, “God is here, Alice. He just called to say He loves us.”
Wheeled to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I wasn’t prepared for the blinking lights, humming machines, and blaring alarms. The maze of machines, wires, and hoses overwhelmed me. The nurse stopped in front of an incubator. In front of me lay a tiny bird-like figure. Wires and needles were attached to many parts of her fragile-looking frame. She was twelve inches long. She now weighed one pound nine ounces. Her jaundiced torso glowed under bilirubin lights providing phototherapy. She looked transparent. Prominent blue veins stood out like a road map underneath her skin. My heart ached.
Doctors and nurses explained that the sensor attached to her skin ensured that she wasn’t too cold or too warm. Our preemie’s nervous system wasn’t developed, so she couldn’t shiver or sweat. If body temperature isn’t monitored, the infant can burn up extra calories they can’t afford to lose. The alarm attached to her monitored apnea. Apnea occurs when the baby forgets to breathe. Undetected, the heart rate can slow down (called bradycardia), and can cause death.
I questioned why we didn’t hear her cry. The nurse explained that a preemies’ cry isn’t heard when they have a tube in their mouth. Later, when it’s removed, their little throats are so sore that crying might be too painful. I had to convince myself that these things were necessary to create an artificial womb for our baby. One of the nurses placed a sign above our baby’s incubator. It read: Please be patient—God isn’t finished with me yet.
We named our tiny girl Lindsey after the performer who played a bionic woman in a popular television series in the seventies. We figured Lindsey needed to be bionic to survive.
Lindsey did indeed survive. She survived blood transfusions, brain hemorrhages, and multiple complications. She remained in the hospital almost three months. She didn’t survive alone.
Hundreds of friends, family, and absolute strangers prayed for her. Ray and I wore calluses on our knees. The nurses admitted they prayed for all the babies during their shifts.
Psalm 139: 13-16 (NIV) reads, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God made plans for Lindsey before we could ever imagine knowing her. Today, she is a beautiful young woman struggling in a world that is turned upside down. I can’t even begin to tip the world on its side to give her hope for her future, but I know God is faithful, and He will provide.
I survived as well. Lindsey is truly a mid-life miracle. Her birth taught me many truths about myself. For the first time, I saw that my priorities were all wrong. They needed adjusting.
I learned that life isn’t all about me. It’s not about my wants and desires. I had been giving God lip service, but I had not given Him my heart. When I reached out and put my trust in Him for Lindsey’s survival, He quieted my fears by letting me understand hope.
Today, concern and empathy are words that throb in my brain. Difficult decisions are easier to manage through my faith in Him. I believe God is compassionate and loving. He gave me a trial, which I thought was impossible to overcome. Then, He proved that ALL things are possible with Him.
I believe God gives us what we can handle. I think He knows we learn something from every trial in our path. My mid-life miracle taught me to love unconditionally, to persevere and to rely on hope. Sometimes, God uses crisis to bring us closer to him.