On March 22, 2011 my life changed forever.
I learned that I was in preterm labor and would be delivering my daughter within 72 hours. The doctors were right. On March 23rd, around 7:30 in the evening I gave birth to a living baby girl. She was 1 lb 3 oz. She was not able to stay long, but I thank God for literally every second I had with her. This is the story of her birth, written weeks after I delivered her.
Can I take a moment and introduce you to someone? Unfortunately, you will never get to meet her here on this side of heaven. But I want to share her life with the world; she was an amazing little girl who utterly and completely changed my life in only 59 minutes. She has shown me more about love in those precious moments than I could have hoped to learn in a lifetime without her. She has given me a glimpse into the love that our heavenly Father has for us as His children.
I would like to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about Aleah Grace and her story. My husband Jason and I were married on July 21, 2008. It was truly a magical and special day. I always smile when I remember my wedding day. I thought I was as in love with my husband as I would ever be on my wedding day. I was wrong 🙂 We had been married for a little over 2 years when we decided it was time to try to start a family. From day 1 of our marriage, Jason and I had planned for and wanted children. After two years of enjoying each other, we decided it was time.
I remember being so afraid that we would not be able to get pregnant or that it would take much longer than I wanted to wait (patience has always been a struggle for me and I thought that God might use my pregnancy as an opportunity to try to teach me some). However, we were pregnant quickly! My Grammie called my Mom four days before I found out that I was pregnant and asked, “Is Jessica pregnant?” My Mom laughed and said no. We laughed about it together when my Mom told me that Grammie had called. However, 4 days later I discovered that Grammie was right, I was pregnant.
I always thought that I would have some dramatic, special way to tell Jason that we were pregnant. Turns out it wasn’t too glamorous, but I smile every time I think about it. I had taken a pregnancy test on Monday and it came out negative so I was sure that I was not expecting. However, when my period did not come all week I became suspicious. On Saturday morning I could take the waiting no longer. I decided to take a pregnancy test. I fully expected it to be negative and adrenaline immediately began to course through my veins as I watched the stick turned into a plus sign. So being in shock, at 6 in the morning on a Saturday I marched into our bedroom threw on the lights and announced, “Jason, we’re pregnant.” He mumbled and moaned a confused, “What?”. I repeated the news again. He replied, “Are you serious?!?” I ran to him and we joyfully embraced the news that we were going to be a family.
As a little girl, I had always dreamed of the day I would get married and the day I would become a Mama. Even as I grew up, I knew that I wanted a husband and a family. I thought that pregnancy was going to be something similar to a Disney Princess movie. I thought that I would be glowing, radiant, and beautiful. I even thought perhaps little animals might come out to greet me each morning, and I would sing to them in perfect harmony. Well, I was surprised and disappointed to discover that I did not glow or feel radiant and my beauty was being replaced with pimples and frizzy hair.
My first trimester was a very challenging time for me. I was still a full-time student at UNC and had a part time job at the campus Coffee Cart. I felt like I experienced every pregnancy symptom in the book. I was so tired, my breasts were so sore, and I had a lot of cramping and pressure. This in particular caused me to be alarmed because thanks to Google searches, I was sure that my pregnancy was going to end. For the next 8 weeks, I lived in fear. I remember checking sometimes hourly to see if I was bleeding. Jason could tell I was in misery because of the fear I carried around me like a weight. In addition to the constant fear, I also developed a constant state of nausea just in time for Thanksgiving! There was a period of time where I did not eat dinner for over a month. The combination of all these things caused me to be depressed about the pregnancy because it was not matching up with the Disney Princess version I had created in my head years earlier.
The fear and depression exhausted me emotionally. I tried to cry out to God but I felt like I just could not connect to Him. After weeks of trying to somehow keep my pregnancy going in my own power, God gently revealed to me how wrong I was. He asked me how I was liking taking all the responsibility of making the pregnancy work. He then asked me to give Him my baby, to surrender the control I wanted and give it all to Him. I remember journaling at about week 11 in my pregnancy about my fear. I finally agreed that I had to surrender all to Him. I had to give Him the life of my precious child and I finally had to face the worst case scenario, God could take my child. God asked me if I would trust Him even if that were to happen. I said I would. I wrote in my journal, “Even if my worst fears are confirmed, I know that God will give me the grace to get through it.” I had no idea how prophetic those words would be.
Fear is not from God. But God used my fear and weakness to prepare me for what I would walk through 13 weeks later. He took me to a place of complete surrender. Having a child was the dream I held closest to my heart, something I wanted more than anything in the world. And I gave her to Him knowing He could take her away, but not believing He would.
Once I entered my second trimester, my earlier first trimester symptoms began to melt away as did my fear. I loved my second trimester. I began to show in my 12th week which I loved! I was so excited to look pregnant. I began to eat food again…and it tasted good! My little Aleah bug must have been a vegetarian because I still felt an aversion to meat. I loved shopping for maternity clothes. I started student teaching and felt my energy come back to me (thank goodness because the 150 8th graders I taught stole it right back).
Around week 16, I was riding in my parents’ car with them when I felt a “poke”. It was my baby girl. It felt like someone was poking me from the inside. I felt her poke me four more times that day, and I giggled every time she did. I will always treasure and remember that moment. My little girl would go on for the next seven weeks of her life to wake me up each morning with her movements and lull me to the sleep with her dancing inside my womb. I think I will always treasure this part of my pregnancy the most. I felt her growing strength each week which filed me with such great hopes and dreams for her.
On Wednesday, March 2nd Jason and I went to do our 20 week ultra sound. We decided to find out what we were having because I am too much of a planner not to know. I love to plan every detail of my life (yeah I know I have control issues). The whole pregnancy I just knew this baby was boy. I even had 3 dreams in which the baby was a boy so that must have been God telling me, right? We saw our baby kick, twist, and turn all around the inside of me. We saw four chambers of her heart moving beautifully. I fell in love with that baby right then, right there. We had the tech write down the gender of our baby so that we could open it at PF Changs later that night. I remember opening the envelope and being so shocked to see pink pen identifying that my child was a girl! Jason and I could barely speak because we both thought for sure this little Harris would be a boy. Jason said, “Now can I buy a shot gun?”
We went to Target and bought her first outfit. We wrapped it and took it over to my parents’ house to tell them the news. My Dad thought that she was a girl but my Mom also knew she would be a boy (my Dad guessed me, my brother Adam, and sister Sara correctly, Mom only got Sara’s gender right so I should have known who to ask). My Mom was shocked to pull out bows and a pink outfit. My Dad just smiled.
The next three weeks passed uneventfully. I fell in love with my little girl a little more each day. Now that I knew she was a she I began to have the most beautiful dreams for her, of how our lives would be once she came. I bought her the most lovely dresses. I bought her bows to place in her blond hair (well it had to be blond because Jason and I both are, right?). I am close to my Mom so I prayed that Aleah and I would be close as well. I only had 6 more weeks of student teaching left so I began to really think and dream of what my life would be like in a few short months. I pictured us going to see Daddy at work for lunch, of going on walks with Desmond our dog, and spending our days together getting to know and love each other.
But on March 22nd, all those dreams came crashing down around me. The day started out just like any other Tuesday. I woke up at 6 and arrived at school around 6:50. That weekend I had made baby shower invitations and sent them with Jason to pass out to his co-workers. The day was just like any other school day. I taught and went to meetings. I came home around 3:30 and went to the bathroom. It was then that I knew something was wrong. I had felt something that did not feel right. I called my doctor, and they decided that I should come in just to check it out. I told myself that everything would be fine and that I was just over reacting. I texted Jason to let him know I was going in to see the doctor. He works in the same complex that our doctors office was in so he decided to walk over and come to the appointment with me. We waited in the waiting room for 30 minutes and then went back to be seen by my doctor.
The appointment started out like every other appointment. They weighed me, took my blood pressure, and even listened to Aleah’s strong little heartbeat, just like they always did. When my doctor went to check my cervix my world came to a halt when I heard her say, “That’s not good.” My heart sunk and stopped. I could feel the adrenaline start coursing through my veins. My doctor is usually very calm and does not say things like “That’s not good.” She said, “I see membrane.” I didn’t know what that meant so I started asking lots of questions. At that point I was already 4cm dilated and she told me that she would call an ambulance to rush me to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. She also urged me not to move at all. It was then that I knew something was terribly wrong.
Jason and I were left in that small doctors office for what seemed like eternity, it was probably more like 15 minutes but when your world has just been turned upside down your perception of time is altered. I remember staring at the ceiling in unbelief. I was in my second trimester, everything was supposed to be ok! This was not supposed to happen to me! I remember looking over at Jason who was in shock and asking him to come beside me. He grabbed my hand and I tearfully said, “Promise me something. We are not going to be angry we are not going to bitter.” And he nodded. I know that it was God moving on my heart to declare that right then right there because that set the tone for the rest of the journey through the fire.
I heard sirens coming from the street and had the crushing realization, those are for me.
The reality of my situation began to sink in, I was going to a hospital.
Something was wrong.
My worst nightmare was coming true.
The EMTs that came to put me in the ambulance were great. As I was being transported to the hospital, I remembered a dream I had the week before. In my dream I had gone to a doctor’s appointment, and at the appointment my doctor told me, “You are dilated and you are in labor”. In the dream, I remember the date was April 22nd and I cried out to the doctor, “No she’s not ready, she’s not ready yet!” But the doctor looked at me and told me that I would be rushed to the hospital and that I would have to have the baby. I delivered the baby and they told me “it’s a boy”. I said, “No, I am having a girl, it can’t be a boy!”. But they handed me my baby, and he was 7lbs. Then I woke up. The dream disturbed me and I did not know why, after all the baby in the dream was a boy not a girl so clearly my mind was just making things up. But as I was riding in that ambulance I remembered the dream and shook with fear. I told the EMT about the dream and I saw his eyes go wide. I do not know if the dream was from God warning me or if it was a coincidence but the dates are interesting to me. I started labor March 22nd, in the dream I started labor April 22nd. The first part of the dream was exactly what happened to me at the doctors office. I do not know if the second part of the dream means anything or if God is telling me that I will someday have a son, but I will always vividly remember that dream.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I met my first doctor. She told me that I would absolutely be going into labor in the next 72 hours and that they wanted to try to place an emergency cerclage (a stitch to try and keep my cervix closed). However, the only hospital that could do it was Presbyterian St. Lukes down in Denver. They would have to airlift me. My doctor told me that Aleah was not viable so another option was to abort the pregnancy. As soon as she began saying this I started shaking my head no. The doctor reprimanded me and told me I needed to hear all my options. It was then that I decided I didn’t like her, but it probably didn’t help her cause that she had to be the first one to tell me that my baby girl would probably not survive. She told me even if the cerclage would be able to be placed, which would depend on several factors, the success rate was only 15%. The situation seemed to go from bad to worse with every word she uttered.
I started having back pain and the monitors they had on me could not determine whether I was having contractions or just aches. Looking back, I realize now that I had started labor. The doctor walked out of the room and my parents arrived. What happened next will always be one of my favorite and special memories of Aleah’s birth story. My parents and husband gathered around my hospital bed, joined hands and began to pray. The spirit of God was strong in that room and peace and grace began to fall like rain upon us all. I started to pray. I felt like I became a metal rod and the Holy Spirit was electricity because I could feel the current of the Spirit go through me as I prayed. It was one of the most intense encounters with God that I have ever experienced. The Spirit was giving me the words to say; I was just the mouth piece. I began to declare scripture and it flowed out of me like water. One scripture that God gave me through her birth was out of Psalms 34:1 that says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
God was calling me to praise Him in the fire, knowing my child could die.
Jason was incredible. He was my rock. He was by my side every second, always holding my hand telling me how much he loved us, and asking if he could get me anything. He looked at me and at my swollen stomach and said, “Jess, we have to name her.” At that point, I broke. I sobbed. Pain surged through me. We had decided that we would not name her until we saw her. We planned on naming her after what we thought would be a full term pregnancy and delivery. We had ideas and names we liked but nothing was permanent. When he told me we had to name her, to me that meant that I had to deal with the reality that my little girl was coming into this world, like it or not. There was nothing that I would not have done to keep her inside of me. I pleaded, I begged, I cried for her to just stay put and for my body to stop betraying me by contracting. I looked at him and asked, “What do you want to name her?” and he responded, “You already know.” We did not bother to confirm her name to each other because we knew. I looked at my parents and said, “Her name is Aleah.”
Later I found out that earlier that morning before we knew anything was wrong, Jason had to change his password at work. He changed it to a derivative of Aleah. We did not know the meaning of her name when we named her, but God did. Aleah means “to ascend” it literally refers to the Jews returning to their homeland. When I found out the meaning of her name, God revealed to me that she was His all along. She was always destined to go be with Him. Heaven was her home. God named her.
That night my back labor began to progress. Jason stayed by my side, every moment. He slept on a terrible cot and held my hand. The nurses had a fetal heart monitor on my stomach and asked me if I wanted the sound to be turned down so I could sleep. I said no. I knew that it was probably the last time I would be able to hear my baby’s beautiful heartbeat so I drank in every moment that I could. I fell asleep to my sweet Aleah’s steady, strong heartbeat.
The next morning decisions had to be made. PVH did not care for infants above 28 weeks and Aleah was only 23 weeks. If I delivered her there, they would have done nothing to help her survive. The choice was clear. I needed to be airlifted to PSL. Jason left an hour before me so that he could be at the hospital when I arrived. Flight for Life came in and wheeled me out to the helicopter. The helicopter was tiny and we all barely fit (me and the EMTS). All through the flight I fought for her in prayer. I begged God, I cursed the devil, and I cast out unbelief. I even started to rebuke my contractions. I fought for her.
I knew that God could perform a miracle. I asked for her. I begged for her. I knew and believed that my God was big enough to perform a variety of miracles. I knew He could stop the labor, I knew He could make my cervix close, I knew He could develop her lungs, I knew He could allow her to draw breath. I chose to believe.
Jason and I arrived in my hospital room at PSL at the exact same time which was such a blessing. A few minutes later we were taken into a room to do an ultra sound. The ultra sound showed that Aleah’s feet were too far down in the birth canal for a cerclage to even be attempted. The best we could hope for was that the labor would stop. But even if the labor had stopped, she was in danger of dying inside me because of her position. She was breech and her umbilical chord could easily become constricted because how far down she was in the birth canal.
Hope began to fade. I still believed but my dark night began to get darker. My contractions started picking up and becoming more intense so that I could no longer deny that I was in labor. By two in the afternoon my contractions were 2 minutes apart. They tried giving me Magnesium Sulfate to try to stop the contractions but they would not be stopped. The contractions hurt. I had all back labor so I was not even feeling any contractions on my stomach just in my lower back. I would not wish back labor on my worst enemy.
By four, I could take the pain no more and agreed to an epidural. I had always turned my nose up at epidurals. My Mom never had one, my sister in-law didn’t have one, so why would I need one? Well, if you have ever had back labor and have been given Pitocin, or if you ever do my advice to you is: get the epidural! I humbled myself and took the drugs. I am glad I did because at least some pain could be relieved. The emotional hurt and anguish continued to rage inside me with each passing minute.
By six in the evening, my doctor wanted to move the labor along by breaking my water. Aleah was coming. In that moment, I believe my heart completely broke. I felt like my daughter had been given a death sentence and I had to be apart of carrying it out. I had to force her into the world; I would deliver her to die. Jason held my hand with tears in his eyes. I cried out, “She’s not ready!” And he nodded but we had to get her out.
The task before me was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life. It was my darkest hour. I would be asked to bring a little girl into the world who was not ready, not physically prepared to even breathe. But God was there. He gave me the grace to do the unthinkable. He gave me the grace to give birth to the most precious thing in my life. I prayed that she would not suffer. I prayed that she would be able to be out as fast as possible. The doctors warned me that because she was breech her head could become stuck. I did NOT want that to happen. I wanted my baby to come into this world in peace.
God was faithful. At 7:52, I pushed twice and my little Aleah Grace came into this world. She was beautiful, she was whole, she was perfect. I did not know what she would look like at only 23 weeks. I wasn’t sure if everything would be completely formed, so part of me was scared to look at her initially. But when I saw her I could not look away. I saw all 12 inches of her beautiful frame, and the phrase, “fearfully and wonderfully made” took on new meaning for me. She was tiny. She only weighed 1 pound and 3 ounces. When they placed her in my arms I felt like I was holding a feather. I literally held her in the palm of my hand. She was alive! My baby did not come out dead and gone forever, she was there with me. I saw her move four times and each time melted my heart. One of my favorite memories was placing my index finger in the palm of her hand. She had such perfect fingers and toes. In fact, she had Jason’s toes. They are very distinct so there was no denying that she was his daughter. She even had his nose. She had my long fingers. And she had blond eyelashes; yes, she was ours.
As I held my baby girl, I thought, God, you can still do this! You can still save her. Please let her heart keep beating. Let me take her home. Please let me keep her. I passed her to her father who held her with awe and wonder. This was the first time he had been able to really experience her. He had felt her kick a few times from inside the womb but when he was able to hold her and touch her, he was forever changed. Both sets of Grandparents and Aunt Becky were there to hold our little Aleah Grace. They marveled at her and how beautiful she was. They wondered at how someone so tiny could inspire such great love in all of us. That little girl taught everyone in that hospital room how to love. She was so small but she was so mighty! Isn’t it like God to use someone so little and small to have such a big and powerful purpose.
When she came back into my arms, I began to rock her. I wanted to memorize every sweet feature on her little face. As we rocked, my Aleah went from my arms into the arms of Jesus. My baby died in my arms. She had stayed with us for a life-changing 59 minutes. Those were the shortest 59 minutes of my life but oh how special they were! Jason was able to speak a blessing over her. He told her how much he loved her and how special she was. That little girl was held her entire life, she was told countless times how much she was loved and how beautiful she was. She went into the arms of Jesus peacefully. She did not thrash, she did not gasp for breath. She went quietly and with grace.
After she went to heaven, Jason and I were left in the hospital room alone to be a family with our little girl for a little longer. After cuddling her and saying goodbye we gave her to the nurse and she was gone. In that moment God revealed to me His sacrifice. I said to Jason, “I now have a glimpse into Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.” God had sacrificed His firstborn, I had just lost mine. I have been a Christian all my life (I asked Jesus in my heart when I was 3) and sometimes the miracle of the cross has not been able to be as significant for me because I feel like it is a story I have heard one too many times. I know that what I just confessed sounds terrible but its the truth. Recognizing that I did not have the appreciation or understanding of the cross like I should, a few years before I ever became pregnant I talked to God about it. I asked Him to one day help me better understand the sacrifice of the cross; yes, I actually prayed that. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my past self and shove a hand over my mouth. But I know that even then God was preparing my heart. Before the beginning of time God knew that my Aleah Grace would be His, she was never mine. God allowed me to be her mother and carry her for 23 weeks. What a great honor because she was a special little girl with a special purpose. I love my daughter with all my heart and now I know the cost of the sacrifice God gave to save us. There was no higher cost; God payed the ultimate when He watched His son die. I will never charge Him with unfaithfulness to me. Am I upset that He took my child? Sometimes I am. But I will still praise Him. I will still worship. Even in the fire I will proclaim His goodness. I will declare God’s goodness always.
When I was pregnant with Aleah, I prayed over her often. My prayer for her was that above all else she would love God more than anything. I prayed that she would serve and worship Him all the days of her life. And guess what my precious little girl doing right now? Well, she’s experiencing perfect love. She is worshiping her creator and Father, she is serving His purpose by the testimony of her life. How could I ever say that God has been unfaithful to me? Would I like to have her back? YES! I would take her back in heartbeat, but I know that His plans are bigger than my plans. So everyday that I wake up, I have to make a choice. Will I be bitter and angry at what I do not have or will I surrender my daughter to her Father? She is waiting for me in heaven. I tell Jesus to give her a hug and kiss from me everyday. And when I get to heaven I will hug and hold her and never let her go.
If you have experienced miscarriage, infant loss, or child loss my heart is with you. I would love to hear your story. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can do so here.