By Daniel Stenberg
Karen gave birth to Elijah Quentin at 9:06 am on February 3rd, 2017.
He didn’t come when we hoped, or how we had hoped. But if he had come according to our hopes, he wouldn’t be here at all.
It seemed like we had been waiting for Elijah forever. True, the nine-month incubation that is pregnancy can drag on seemingly ‘forever’, especially towards the end, but there was more to it this time.
Being in my 3rd year of Seminary it’s time to start interviewing, or ‘candidating’ at churches. We had to wait for Elijah to be born however, as Karen couldn’t travel at the end of pregnancy, and then of course there would be the recovery time after birth. It felt like our future was stalled, like it was just waiting on the baby. So the sooner he came the better.
At least, that’s how it felt.
Also, my parents were visiting in January. My dad would be here for a week, and my mom would be here for three. Being as we don’t live close to each other it would have been nice for dad to be able to hold his newest grandson before catching the plane back to the Pacific Northwest. So the sooner he came the better.
We did all that we knew how to try to convince our youngest that it was time to breathe the fresh Minnesota air. It was time to meet his grandpa. It was time to let mommy and daddy take steps towards the future.
We went for walks. Not easy to do during a frigid Midwest winter. Thankfully the YMCA in town is heated and has a nice walking track. Karen kept working at her cleaning job. She ate spicy food. Short of taking castor oil (no offense dad, but you weren’t quite THAT important) we did all that we knew of to get baby to come.
Nothing worked. There were many occasions of false labor that we hoped would lead to actual labor, but again, our hopes were not realized. The little guy could not be convinced.
Dad left, and the days went by. It was getting close to the time when mom was going to have to leave. Karen went to her Doctor’s appointment the day before her due date and everything looked great. Baby was looking really good, and Karen’s body was ready to have the baby. It wouldn’t take much to set the wheels in motion, and so the Doctor agreed to induce Karen a couple of days later, so that Grandma would have a chance to meet the little guy before she too had to take a plane home.
Karen was pretty excited about this. She had never been induced before, and this meant that maybe she could actually get the drugs! Previous labors had been so quick, that there hadn’t been time. She didn’t regret having children au naturale, but given that this would be the last one, the allure of it being relatively painless was strong. Karen was looking forward to experiencing this side of labor and delivery.
On Feb. 3rd, at 5 am they started Karen’s induction, and everything started out pretty normal. All the vitals were looking good. The Pitocin had begun to get things going and her body was responding well. The Doctor showed up around 8:30, saw that things were progressing well and decided it was time to break the water. The water looked good, and since contractions were going to start getting more intense it was time to get Karen her epidural.
Now I didn’t eat breakfast, we woke up a little too late for that (4:30 am comes WAY too early for me) and since I have an aversion to seeing people stick huge needles into my wife’s backbone I decided it was time to go grab breakfast. Since she was getting an epidural labor should slow down a little, and I should have the 15 minutes it would take to grab a bite to eat.
So I left.
I got down to the car and there, to my intense frustration, my windshield had frozen over. Again. I had scraped it that morning. Well, scraped might be generous. I had cleared sight lines that morning in the frigid cold, and was frustrated that I would have to do so again. It is not a fast process, and it hadn’t warmed up much in the few hours since my last attempts. I decided against it. Who needs breakfast anyway? I headed back up to Karen and the delivery room.
When I walked in the door I was greeted by bloody towels. Everywhere. Not what I wanted, or expected to see. Karen was bleeding, and I didn’t know why, or how, or what was going on.
While I had been down fuming at the cold, my frozen windshield and empty belly, Karen had decided that since the epidural would remove feeling from the lower half of her body that she should get up and use the bathroom.
When she stood up, a gush of blood hit the floor.
That is not supposed to happen.
The nurse had her get right back into bed and called the doctor. I returned seconds before the Doctor arrived. I will never forget sitting in that chair and watching his face. He looked at my wife, he looked at the towels and floor, and back to my wife. His brow was furrowed, with growing worry.
“I know this isn’t what we had planned, but we need to do an emergency C-section.”
Those words tore into me.
They also kicked over a beehive of commotion. Nurses just magically appeared out of nowhere. Suddenly there was another bed in the room and they were moving Karen onto it. Next thing I know we’re being whisked down the hall, and into an elevator. Out the elevator and down the hall, around corners, through doors with keycards. We’re practically running now. Our pace couldn’t match what was going on in my head however. What was going on? Was Karen in danger? Was the baby? Both? Why is this happening? The questions spilled over, filling my cup of panic.
“Swallow it Stenberg, swallow it and listen”, I told myself.
The Doctor was telling me how maybe I could still be in the room, maybe they would have time to give Karen an epidural in the Operating Room (OR), and then I could still be there, and she could be awake. We could go through this together. At least I could hold her hand.
Except when we got to the OR they pushed her into the room, and they left me outside. There was no time. They had to get the baby out as quickly as possible. There would be no epidural. They were going to put Karen under. It had to be quick. The bleeding had to stop. There was no time.
I was ushered into a room that resembled a large closet. There was a patched couch along one wall, some stacked chairs in the corner, an overused desk and a squeaky rolling chair. I slowly sank into the chair, rested my head on the desk and prayed. The rush of the last five minutes washed over me and I began to feel tears carve paths down my cheeks and then fall to the floor. I reached out to family and friends via text and asked for prayer.
“Pray for my wife. Pray for my child. Please, just pray.”
One friend asked if he could come and join me, to be there as a support for me. I laughed ironically to myself. I didn’t even know where I was. I didn’t know where this room was. I didn’t know how to get into, or out of, this part of the hospital. I told him that I didn’t know how to get to him, or how to get him to me, so thanks for the thought, but at this point, just pray.
What else could we do?
Soon, a nurse found me. I don’t know how, but she found me. Maybe they put all the dads in that little storage room? I dunno. Just glad I’m not still stuck in there. She brought me back up through the labyrinth and into the Labor and Delivery department. She took me to the room they had moved Karen’s stuff into and told me that it wouldn’t be too long now. It was probably only 8 minutes, but it felt like an hour. Suddenly she was back at the door, asking me if I wanted to hold my son.
My son. He had made it. Praise God. I was filled with joy, but in the back of my head I couldn’t help but wonder: how was Karen?
I was brought to a room where Elijah was undergoing the battery of tests that newborns are subjected to. They told me he was great. Beyond great. He was an incredibly and surprisingly healthy baby. The awe in the room was almost palpable. For those of you ‘in the know’, Elijah scored an 8 on his first APGAR test, and a 10 on his second. 10s are unheard of. They just don’t give those out. But they did to Elijah.
Soon I was holding my 5th son. This was the first time I had held one of my children before my wife had been able to. Which brought my mind back to Karen.
How is my wife doing?
It wasn’t too long before the Doctor came in. He came in and congratulated me on an amazingly healthy son. He told me Karen was doing really well. She was on her way to the room they called ‘recovery’ and that as soon as she was awake and coherent they would bring her up, and she could start feeding Elijah.
She was OK. It was a good thing that I was sitting down. As the relief flooded my body and the tension that had been building relaxed I felt my legs go weak. Thank God that my wife is OK, and thank God for whoever invented chairs.
So what happened? Why the bleeding? Why the emergency C-section?
The Doctor told me that it turned out that Karen had a condition called ‘Vasa Previa’. It is a rare occurrence, and it is hard to spot during Ultrasounds, unless one is looking for it specifically.
Vasa Previa is a condition where the blood vessels that attach the umbilical cord to the placenta run in between the baby and the birth canal. When Karen’s water broke, the blood vessels broke as well, and that is what caused the bleeding. That blood was supposed to be going to Elijah, and since he wasn’t getting it they had to perform the emergency C-section.
About an hour later, Karen was wheeled into the room that she would spend the next three days in. I brought her Elijah, and they began the mother-baby bonding process. We were both so relieved to have a safe and healthy baby and mother that it took a while for the emotions to settle. It wasn’t until Saturday night that we decided to do a bit more research on Vasa Previa.
I hopped on my laptop and took a stroll through vasaprevia.com.
What I found filled me with a humble thankfulness that I find hard to accurately describe.
Here are a few statistics from vasaprevia.com:
- 95% of vasa previa pregnancies that are not prenatally diagnosed end in the death of the child. (Any instance that I could find of a baby surviving a case where it was not prenatally diagnosed they did so through a blood transfusion.)
- If a pregnancy is diagnosed as vasa previa, the mother is recommended to be put on bed rest between weeks 30-32, and then Doctors perform a C-section as soon as the baby is deemed able to survive outside the womb, typically weeks 35-36.
- It is strongly discouraged to let the mother go into labor and have the baby naturally, but should she decide to anyway, it is necessary to be prepared for a blood transfusion for the child.
The realization of what I was reading began to hit me.
My son was not only in the 5%, my son didn’t require a blood transfusion. Despite the incredible amount of blood that Karen lost he scored higher on the APGAR than any of our other children. He scored higher than children are supposed to score.
Added to that, we had TRIED to get Karen to go into labor. We had gone for walks, worked hard, eaten spicy food, and thankfully passed on the castor oil. If Karen had gone into labor, if her water had broken, anywhere else but in a delivery room, statistics and science say this story ends differently. If we hadn’t scheduled an induction so that Elijah could meet Grandma, if Karen hadn’t decided to get an epidural, resulting in the bleeding being caught right away, if…if….if…All the ‘ifs’ kept piling up.
It began to sink in.
Karen and I began to realize how God had provided for us. How God had blessed us. How miraculous the birth of our little Elijah was. Statistics and Science said that he shouldn’t be here with us. And yet here he was, in my arms. As I watched his chest move with each breath, I felt the tears begin to retrace their steps down my cheeks.
Thank you Jesus. Thank you for my son.
So how do we respond?
The initial reaction is to say, “God is good!” And He is good. But He would still be good even if He had decided to take Elijah that morning on Feb. 3rd, 2017.
Another reaction is to say, “God is faithful!” And He is faithful. But He is also faithful to those who lost their children to vasa previa, or any other complication that takes children too early from this world.
Another response is: ‘Man, God must have some plan for this little guy.” And He does. But it might not be what we would typically classify as ‘amazing’. You see, I believe that it’s similar to conversion, or testimonies. It’s similar to the understanding that those who go through a miraculous ‘Damasacus Road’ conversion experience are not more important to God than those who grow up in the Church, and have always had a relationship with Him. He just used some means that we would deem as ‘miraculous’ to bring them into the fold. I would argue that how he saves each of us is miraculous. In the same way, Elijah does not mean more to God than other babies, God just used means that we would deem as miraculous to bring him into the world.
How God chose to act in this instance doesn’t dictate His goodness, or His faithfulness, or Elijah’s future.
So, again, how do we respond?
With thankfulness that He acted. Karen and I are just so thankful that God chose to bless us with Elijah. We are overcome by humble gratitude. We know that it is not because of who we are as people, or as parents, but because of God’s grace and mercy.
We want to say thank you to all who prayed for us, and with us for the life of this precious little boy. Our God has answered your prayers. We humbly ask that you continue to pray for him as he grows. Pray that he would walk with the Lord all of his life.
It feels like in America, in Western Christianity, we don’t get to see what we would call ‘miracles’ very often. Well, a miracle happened on the morning of Feb 3rd, 2017 in the sleepy little city of Fergus Falls, MN. And if you need a reminder that our God is able to perform miracles, just take a look at this little face and be encouraged.
Praise be to God.
1 Chronicles 29:10-13
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.