Some people seem to attract all of the bad luck. I often wonder why God allows the most difficult trials to happen the same individuals seemingly without a break. I know in my head that he “works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28), even when we can’t see it, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap my heart around that concept and believe it.
Over the past week I’ve caught a glimpse of God enlightening people through their trials. I woke up one morning to a text message from one of my best friends, Tracy, who lives in another state:
“Hopefully i’m not waking you but please be praying. My water broke at about eleven last night and i started having contractions. They have been able to slow the contractions down but i will have to deliver w in the next few days that being best case…I’m only at thirty weeks.”
My heart sank. “Oh, no,” I gasped. I texted back optimistically that I was faithful it would turn out okay.
But as faithful as I wanted to be and to appear, I was already bracing myself for the worst. It didn’t seem fair. Tracy is the type of woman who always seemed to be destined for motherhood. When we were in college, she talked about her life dreams to be married and raising her family. I, on the other hand, dreamed of world travels and launching my career. I figured I might get married if I found the right guy in my late twenties or so and think about a couple kids later. Now, at 28, I’m the one who has been married for five years and has two kids. This was her first pregnancy, and it had been very difficult. My eyes brimmed with tears as I was imagining her heartache…all the anticipation and hope built into the pregnancy, and the probability of going home in loss and grief instead of love and joy.
If you’re unfamiliar with pregnancy, 40 weeks is the normal gestation period. Guessing the due date isn’t an exact science, so babies are considered full term after 37 weeks. In the age of modern medicine, many babies are born prematurely and live, but they can have a lot of health complications, particularly with their lungs. If they’re born at about 28 weeks or later they have a pretty good chance of survival with help from NICUs (neonatal intensive care units).
Under normal circumstances, Tracy and her husband Chris’ baby, Jude, would have had good odds, and I wouldn’t have been so anxious that morning. But these circumstances were far from normal. Baby Jude had a tumor called a teratoma growing on his mouth. According to the ultrasound results it probably wasn’t cancerous, but it was blocking his airway. If he were born normally, he wouldn’t be able to breathe.
Tracy planned to have a rare procedure done by a special team in one of the few select locations in the U.S. that it is available. She was scheduled to have a C-section at 36 weeks. During the procedure, the baby would be partially removed but still connected to the placenta. Apparently this is difficult to do because the baby could lose oxygen if the conditions around the umbilical cord weren’t perfect. With the baby still connected, a surgeon would clear the airway. Then the baby would be fully removed.
The main prayer Tracy asked for in the weeks leading up to the scheduled surgery was that she wouldn’t go into pre-term labor. That would have turned a difficult situation into a nearly impossible one. It’s hard enough for a premature baby without undergoing a major surgery. Chances of pre-term survival for Jude were “slim to none.”
I spent the morning her water broke pacing, praying, and trying to act normal. My kids always act strange when I’m in a weird mood, so I tried not to upset them. I received a text around 10 a.m. from Tracy’s sister: “Tracy is in good spirits. She’s been having contractions all night.” Good spirits??? When I was in labor with my textbook pregnancies, I remember thinking very seriously that death would be better than the pain I was feeling. Tracy wasn’t even supposed to experience labor pains at all according to the plan, but here she was, in good spirits.
Then she went into surgery, as the birth couldn’t be postponed any longer. I cried and waited, as did the many, many friends and family who love Chris and Tracy.
An hour and a half later, my phone beeped, notifying me of the text I anxiously awaited yet dreaded. I fumbled with the touch screen and gasped when I read the news. Jude made it, and both he and Tracy were stable. The doctors were amazed. I teared up again, imagining now the pure joy and gratitude that they were certainly feeling.
The story of this little miracle is far from over. In the week since that unforgettable day, Chris and Tracy have experienced a lot of emotional ups and downs as they hold Jude’s little hands and watch and wait. He still has to have the teratoma removed from his face when his lungs get stronger. He may have cerebral palsy. I’m guessing he will continue to need reconstructive surgeries and therapy in the future.
Tracy, certainly groggy and exhausted a few hours after the birth, noted on Facebook the meaning of Jude’s name: “praise and thanks.” And though I’m hundreds of miles away, I can feel her gratitude emanating from every message and update I get. Chris has updated their blog with a similar sentiment and humble remarks about how powerless we are. While my heart aches for them as they undergo these trials, I can’t help but think how fortunate they are for the their faith and the opportunity to know and understand God in a way that few of us do.