By STEVE PICKERING
I couldn’t possibly tell the story of Emma without at least first mentioning Avery, now 6, and Ellie, our sweet angel in heaven. Avery is our determined, driven, protective big sister. She was walking at one and making two sentences at two. In 2013, we were 36 weeks pregnant when the unimaginable happened. Our sweet Ellie was stillborn. Our family was devastated.
In March 2014, Jeanine, Avery, and I confirmed that we were expecting! We were beyond excited—and perhaps no one more so than Avery! Based on what had happened with Ellie, and out of an abundance of caution, Jeanine and Emma were set for more frequent visits and additional attention. In July, during one of our visits, it was discovered that Emma had a potential heart abnormality.
In the early stages, it was thought that Emma was facing a “common” issue—if there is such a thing when it comes to heart issues in the unborn. After several more tests and visits with fetal maternal specialist, it was confirmed that Emma likely had a much more serious heart issue called A/P window.
Several visits later, the team that had been seeing us was certain that Emma would require a heart procedure after birth. As we understood it, there was a hole in Emma’s heart. On a scale of 1 to 5, it was a 3—maybe a 4, but definitely no less than a 3. To this day, I have a hard time putting into words the feelings that Jeanine and I went through. It was simply gut-wrenching.
This hole would require an open-heart surgery. We were informed that this type of congenital heart defect could deteriorate quickly after birth as the pressure levels of the heart and lungs outside of the womb began to equalize. The timing could be anywhere from very quickly up to 6 or 7 days.
Of course we asked all of the questions that parents would ask—Would she be ok? Will the procedure be successful? Is there any chance that this will heal or correct itself prior to delivery?
The news was crushing. The likelihood was that the condition would not heal itself or correct. The good news was that surgery had a very high rate of success and that the long-term complications would not interfere with her quality of life.
If all of this were not enough, we got more discouraging news in our next-to-last visit prior to Emma’s arrival. Emma was in the 5th percentile for growth—meaning that she was small. Based on the readings, it appeared that she would weigh less tan 6 pounds. Of course we were told that the readings could be inaccurate, but we had also been warned that readings like this could be warning signs and indicators that the heart defect was having a negative impact on Emma’s development.
We were warned of many things that might happen or become apparent post-delivery. We wouldn’t be delivering in a normal delivery room. We would deliver in a surgical ward with a team waiting in a separate surgical area in case the baby needed immediate attention.
We were also told that following delivery, we wouldn’t have the traditional opportunity to hold our sweet baby girl like normal deliveries. She would be immediately taken to NICU for close observation. We would have to wait until she had been cleared before we could visit her—and even then we’d have very limited access to her. Immediately following her arrival in NICU, the team would do EKGs to get good pictures of the A/P window and begin the planning process for the surgery.
On October 25, 2014, we welcomed Emma into the world. She did it on her terms despite all of the efforts of doctors setting a date or Jeanine and I trying to pick a delivery date that didn’t fall on Ellie’s one-year anniversary. No, Emma made sure that things happened the way she wanted them to.
Our first hint that things were not nearly what everyone thought they were going to be came when Emma made her entrance. She weighed 6 pounds 13 ounces and was 21 inches long! So much for low birth weight and concerns about her size! Next, we had been warned that her APGAR scores might be low because of issues related to the heart issue. Well, Emma scored as well as many well babies with 9s!!!
I remember clearly the delivery doctor turned to both Jeanine and me in that moment and said, “She’s going to be just fine.” I recall thinking to myself when she spoke to us that I heard her, but at the same time those words spoke to me in a way that resonated in my heart. They weren’t just words of comfort. They had a presence.
Emma was scheduled to receive an EKG day following delivery so that the team could get better pictures of her heart. After a second EKG was ordered, we grew a little concerned. We were told that the first set of EKGs were just perfect pictures; she said our little Emma took great pictures. A second set of EKGs had been ordered to confirm what the first set had shown them.
Our sweet little girl’s heart was PERFECTLY NORMAL. THERE WAS NO SIGN OF THE A/P WINDOW. There wasn’t much explanation for what had happened. This wasn’t something that happened. Our entire family and extended family had piled into the room for the discussion. Everyone agreed—God is most definitely still in the miracle business.
I’ve said many times that Emma’s story is to be told and shared by all. We would not be doing service to the miracle we witnessed without ensuring that all who would listen know her story. I get chill bumps just thinking about it—it’s that powerful.
I have struggled to find words to describe the feeling following the news. Calm or Serene don’t fully do it justice. Peace would only begin to explain the feeling. There is no other feeling I’ve experienced like it; it’s a feeling that can’t be described. And as weird as that might sound, that’s exactly what it is—a feeling that can’t be put into words.
Jeanine and I agree that Ellie was Emma’s angel through this process. Our family desperately misses Ellie but all of us seem to find comfort from everything Emma has provided us. Avery gets to be a big sister, and loves every bit of it. For Jeanine and me, we look forward to the little things.
It sounds so cliché, but “life” can interfere with living. We look forward to little things like walks, tucking in the kids, and coloring. The time we spend together as a family is the time where we feel the most joy. The static and chaos of everything seem to be less distracting. In the end, it’s the little things that matter most.