Life is precious. We hear it all the time, we consider it now and then, but there are moments, or events, when it is driven into the very core of your heart. You look at a child laughing in a new way, the smell of the person you love is gulped in each time you hug and listening to them softly breathe gives new meaning.
My niece, Clarabelle, was born at 24 weeks. Her mom, Maggie, is not only my sister in law but one of my closest friends. Maggie had gone into labor at 23 weeks. I remember the call from my brother telling me she was dilated and being admitted at Munson Hospital in Traverse City. It was devastating, heart crushing and ultimately terrifying. I sobbed and began packing my bags to rush to them first thing in the morning. I knew the odds for my niece at 23 weeks were not in her favor, and as I packed I thought of all the things to fear. I grabbed my camera to make sure if we only had minutes that I would capture every single second. I encouraged Maggie’s sister to bring grandmas baby blanket she made in case this was the only blanket my niece was to ever be wrapped in. (whew crying already people!)
My warrior sister in law fought to keep Clarabelle inside her. I am certain this was out of sheer will power she lasted another 4 days in there). The specialist came in and told us it would be 24-48hours that my niece was born. It crushed us again, we had hopes of prolonging it weeks, or even months. But each hour she stayed in tummy we celebrated, each time morning came and there was no baby we praised God. Because when they are this little every hour, every minute to grow a little longer and get the needed meds counts! She started to beat the odds and disagree with Dr.s before she was even born. Finally it was time, the specialists all agreed she needed to come and she needed to come soon. Brain bleeds in a baby so early is a huge risk facotr, Clarabelle had a nice cushion around her little head of water and if they could get her born with that in tact it would help as a helmet of sorts. So we hunkered down, we called the prayer warriors, and I grabbed my camera. I will spare you all the birth details, but it was magical, heart wrenching, scary, beautiful… all the human emotions in a matter of minutes. The oxygen sucked out of the room as we all prayed for vitals. Clarabelle squawked as they placed her on mommy’s tummy, and the air flooded back in. They gave us 60 seconds to see her and take photos and so for 60 seconds, we drank that baby in. We stared (and photographed) our hearts out. Each of the 3 of us discovering a new little detail on the perfect and tiny human. As fast as she came, they whisked her away and began her lines and more vitals.
My brother followed baby and I stayed with Maggie. We cried, tears of joy and tears of fear. Devos sent an ambulance to transfer Clarabelle to their level four NICU in Grand Rapids. We decided my brother and I would follow Clarabelle down and as soon as Maggie was released she would be brought down by her family. As we followed the ambulance our hearts ached. These 2 hours felt like eternity, if something happened none of us were there, we never wanted her to feel alone in her fight. She arrived and the paramedics told us how impressed they were with her vitals and she was feisty and pulled out one of her lines. “A fighter” they said, “good, we like that” a nurse whispered. For the next 2 days my brother and I took turns sitting beside her. Staring, praying, soaking her in. We sent photos to Maggie and told her every little detail we could. The first 72 hours are vital and all you can do is hope she fights through them. “Mommy is coming” I would whisper to her as she slept, “keep fighting baby girl, we have things to do together.” We would laugh how she decided to force her leg out when the nurses would tuck it in, and back and forth. How she had the biggest poop and we all celebrated (poops are a big deal in NICU people and yes I took pics of it), and anytime they did something she didn’t like she would squawk at them. We noticed big feet like aunt Chey and mama, chunky thighs, and the most beautiful eye lashes.
The NICU road was long. My brother and sister in law spent months in Grand Rapids, fighting beside their baby. I would visit when possible to take milestone photos and document their journey. Each test, and new stage Clarabelle would beat the odds. Each time the Dr.s warned of set backs or things to worry about Clarabelle exceeded and breezed by them. A fighter. To look at her now, one year old (9 months adjusted time) she is sitting up, crawling, laughing, babbling, eating foods, sleeping through the night in her room (that waited and waited for her to come home). She laughs at her Aunt Chey Cheys funny voices, loves listening to old town road and thinks her mama and dada are basically the best there is. Maggie and I gushed through out her one year photo session at all her cute faces and smiles. And again… we sat and soaked her in. Her hands, her feet, her cheekers, her hair, her eye lashes….we soaked her in because we know in the core of our heart, life is precious.