A little background:
I was in the Army and broke both my hips in a training exercise while I was still in boot camp. This story happens while I was in recovery from that injury....
...I talked to Sarah every day from boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia, asking about her and the baby; then I would hang up while she cried. We weren’t expecting to have these problems. I was only going to be in Georgia 13 weeks, but now I had been there for 8 months due to my broken hips, and had seen my wife only briefly. In July, I convinced my 1st Sergeant to let me go home for the 4th weekend. I spent 4 days looking at printouts of sonograms that showed our baby and hearing all about Sarah’s pregnancy. At the airport, Sarah got mad and said, “I am tired of saying goodbye to you.” Nobody more than me! I had been living in the movie Full Metal Jacket for 8 months!
Later the following month, Sarah called crying. She had developed problems in her pregnancy; her blood pressure was rising. I convinced her that it was no big deal, and that things would be okay. That was in August, the 9th month of basic training. Everyday, things became more complicated at home with Sarah. She was continually having problems with the baby, and soon the doctors put her on bed rest. I was beside myself. Not only that, my chain of command would neither let me go home to my wife nor would let her come to me. I would hear her cry every time I called, which tore my heart out.
Then in September, on Labor Day weekend, I snuck home for a few days to see about Sarah. My personnel supervisor told me that, if I got caught, it would mean I went AWOL, but to call and let her know how Sarah was doing.
When I got home, things were getting worse for Sarah. All I could hear was her begging me not to leave her again. She was scared that the baby was going to die and that I wouldn’t be there for her. I couldn’t bear to leave her again, so I called my supervisor and told her that I was bringing Sarah with me. She was a great supervisor, and quickly pulled some strings to get me permission to stay with Sarah at a hotel for 2 weeks while she rammed my discharge paperwork through the system. After 2 weeks, we were on our own. We managed to keep the chain of command from discovering our secret. Then it happened. Things got worse.
On a Monday morning, Sarah discovered that the baby had stopped moving. She was 28 weeks pregnant on that last Friday. I took her to the hospital where they started running tests on her. They quickly decided that Sarah was dehydrated and admitted her into the hospital. They pumped IV fluid into her until I thought she would pop. On Tuesday, they ran more tests and decided that the baby was not doing well at all. Her heart rate was dropping, and Sarah’s blood pressure was going up. Her body was trying to abort the baby.
On that Tuesday I had to tell my chain of command that I had my wife here with me, and that she was in the hospital. They were mad, but let me have a few days off to be with her.
On Wednesday, Sarah’s condition grew worse, and the baby’s heart rate was dropping fast. The Army doctors were convinced that they could handle the situation, but truly, things were spiraling out of control. The next sonogram was bad news. The baby had stopped responding entirely, and was 6 weeks behind in her development. Instead of developing to 28 weeks, the baby was 22 weeks developed. After we prayed, the Army doctors turned us over to the neonatal hospital unit in Columbus, Georgia (for the Army to release you is a miracle in itself!).
Once there, the tests were underway, and the results were not desirable. The specialist came in and sat down beside the bed. Things were grim. Sarah’s womb had developed a very rare condition; the blood flow to the baby had reversed and was flowing into the mother from the baby. He told us that if they couldn’t fix the problem, then we would have to do an emergency cesarean. On Thursday, I called home to Texas and told all of our families that we were about to have a baby; they all jumped into cars and started driving. To make matters worse, Hurricane Georges was spinning in the Gulf around Mississippi, directly in their path of travel. I settled in to watch the television, thinking that it might be a pleasant distraction. However, the only thing on the news was Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton.
On Friday morning, the baby’s condition grew worse; she was in bad trouble. We would be introduced to our baby that very afternoon, 11 weeks early. The Lord overwhelmed us with peace. A gift of faith sustained us. In fact, the staff often asked what was going on in our minds, but we had faith that God was in control.
The doctor from the neonatal unit visited us. He was concerned. He had seen hundreds of babies come through his care. He said that there was an 80% chance that she (the baby) would live. He also told us of the strong possibility that she would be deformed or damaged in some way. He said that we had some hard decisions to make. I looked at him and said, “Sir, it doesn’t matter if the baby is born without a head, we will not abandon her, and we most definitely won’t abort her. God gave her to us, and we will be grateful for his gift.” The doctor smiled and patted me on the back. He then suggested that I walk through the nursery and see what babies that small look like. He said that I would be shocked to see this baby for the first time in the delivery room without some prior knowledge. At that moment I became concerned. What would she look like? Would she be a monster?
Well, I walked down, and a nurse escorted me through the nursery. As I walked into the room, the first thing I heard was alarms going off, breathing machines humming, IV pumps buzzing, and a mother crying. I tried not to appear disturbed, but babies were struggling to live underneath those incubators. They were little tiny babies, not even big enough to live.
We were expecting our baby to be about 760 grams, about one pound, 11 ounces. The nurse took me to a baby that was one and a half pounds, so I could get an idea what my child would look like. I gasped when she pulled back the blanket covering that little boy. He was so small and fragile that his skin was transparent. I could see his heart beating inside his chest. I could see his muscles flexing as he involuntarily jerked against the IV needle buried inside his leg. His face was covered with a ventilator. The nurse had a tear in her eye when she told me that he was a twin that was born at 25 weeks, and that he and his sister were fighting hard to live. I left that nursery with a heavy heart, but I was ready to see God work on our behalf. Admittedly, I was concerned that this baby was developed 2 weeks longer than mine, but was about the same weight. What would my baby look like?
That afternoon, they prepped Sarah for surgery and wheeled her into the operating room. I was suited up like a doctor and joined her shortly. They gave me a special chair next to her bed, and I held her hand as they started the incision. I prayed and chatted, trying to keep Sarah from being overly concerned. Three doctors from two different hospitals told us that our now 29-week-old baby had only developed to 22 weeks and only weighed 760 grams. We were braced for whatever the Lord chose to lead us into.
I will never forget the environment around us. Thirty people were in the surgery room. Six of them were doctors, and the rest were nurses. To the left, a whole separate team waited with their incubator for the moment the baby was born. Crash carts and emergency equipment were readily available.
I can still hear her little squeak as she was pulled out of her mother’s womb and laid upon a cold metal table. Sarah was dying to look at her, but I could see. Sarah kept asking whether or not she was okay, but I had no answers. What I saw was way too small to be my daughter…
Little Caitlin Elizabeth Inman was born on September 25, 1998, at Columbus Regional Hospital, in Columbus, Georgia at 5:03 in the afternoon. She weighed 940 grams, about 2 pounds, 1 ounce, almost 200 grams bigger than they thought! Somehow between the sonogram and the surgery Caitlin had put on 6 ounces! Truly God was working in our behalf! We aren’t stupid people, so we immediately gave God the glory for answering our prayers to take care of our baby.
The doctors said that Caitlin was doing well considering that she was born under such circumstances. I left Sarah and walked over to the incubator, and saw my baby lying under the bright lights. She had an IV in her head, but she was breathing on her own, something they didn’t expect to be possible. I stared at her, but I can’t tell you what was in my heart. A part of me was lying on that table, and a part of me was lying on that gurney having her womb sown back together. But all of me was looking down at the gift God had given us, a beautiful little girl. No matter how long she lived, she was my special baby, and my life would never be the same. They let me hold her tiny hand when I stood over her. My heart leapt out of my chest. When they wheeled the incubator out of the room, I felt my first loyalty split. Should I stay with my wife, or should I go with my daughter?
My daughter? Does that mean that I am now a father? Wow, things can sure change fast in life.
I walked into the nursery where they were working on Caitlin. I went and looked at her lying helplessly in that incubator…. I have to admit, my fragile heart was not ready to see my daughter seemingly tangled up in wires and tubes, IVs, and respirators. She was by far the prettiest girl ever born, even though I couldn’t really see her.
Forty minutes after she was born, a very tired and disheveled entourage of grandparents stumbled into the door. They didn’t stop once on their 18 hour journey and were dead tired, but full of excitement. We gooed and gawed over our miracle baby, and were content for the moment. Sarah settled in to recovering from her surgery after visiting the nursery in a wheel chair. We sat and stared at our little girl and beamed with joy.
The next morning, we got Sarah out of her bed and wheeled her down to the nursery. Caitlin had done well through the night; in fact everything looked fine. The doctors said that she was doing so well that all she needed was to put on some weight, and she could go home. They said that if she would put on another 3 pounds, then she would be released. Until then, she would remain under their care. I was fine with that idea until I asked them how long it before she put on 3 pounds.
Three months? That is impossible! Maybe 2 and a half, if everything goes okay. Well, I was devastated. Our world was falling apart around us. We were along ways from home, the Army didn’t want Sarah to be in Georgia, and we didn’t have a place to live. How could we afford 3 months of intensive hospital care? Well, the only thing I knew was that God would make a way.
That day passed and no problems looming over us. Caitlin was doing so well that everyone was amazed.
What really hurt my heart was the fact that we had a brand new baby but weren’t allowed to hold her. We could sit and stare at her all day long, and we could hold her hand, but her existence was too fragile to be held. In a rare way, not holding her was a mixed blessing. After all, how do you hold something that small, with all the wires and tubes? I was scared to pick her up, what if something went wrong? What if I pulled some tubes out? What if I looked into her ear and an elephant crawled out? Okay, I can see that I was being a little ridiculous, but I was carrying a heavy stress load and everything seemed amplified.
The next morning, the doctors were more concerned. Caitlin was now having some problems with her stomach. As of yet, she was not given anything to eat, as a precaution; but now there really might be a problem. Her abdomen was slowly swelling, and it was painful to touch.
Earlier that day, we had walked into the nursery and saw that one of the beds was missing. I asked what had happened to the baby, but the nurse whipped a tear from her eyes. She told me that one baby died earlier that day. “It’s hard,” she said, “but he had been dying for a week and we were expecting it.” The baby had been born deaf and never heard his mother’s voice. Can you find a better charity to give to than the Children’s Miracle Network? Every since that day, I never asked where a baby was or what happened to his bed.
On day three, Caitlin’s stomach was horribly swollen. She was in deep trouble. We called and activated the prayer chain. Between all our churches, we estimate that upwards of 2,000 people were praying.
We went down to the cafeteria to eat hospital food. Believe it or not, the food was better than anyone would ever believe. After lunch, all of us parents and grandparents went back to the nursery. I was shocked to see that Caitlin’s bed was gone!
The nurse saw the look on my face and rushed to our side. Everything was okay--they had only moved her to another room. The doctor ordered a culture test and Caitlin showed positive for staff bacteria. She didn’t have an infection, but rather, the possibility existed.
We gathered and held her little hands as she was wheeled off to the X ray department to see if they could find her stomach problem. We didn’t wait long. A portion of her small intestine was dying because of that negative blood flow in the womb, and would be removed. Later that afternoon they started prepping our baby for surgery. We gathered and prayed for our baby again. While we were praying, one nurse got my attention and asked me, “Would you like to hold the baby?” They wrapped Caitlin in swaddling clothes and handed her to me. I was so scared to hold her, but when they turned off the lights in the nursery, Caitlin opened her eyes and looked at me for the first time. I looked into her eyes and told her “goodbye” as they laid her back into the incubator and wheeled her off to surgery. I can’t shake the horrible feeling I experienced that day, wondering if I would ever see her again, but trying not to cloud my mind with doubt. We gathered in the surgery waiting room and waited. We could not pray, or sit, or stand. We could not eat or drink. Okay, we ate Chikfile sandwiches and drank Cokes, but we were useless to the rest of the world. The hours slowly walked by, the hours got to their knees and crawled, the hours got on the floor and slowly rolled past. The surgery was to only last for 2 hours, but we were instructed not to get nervous if it took longer, even up to 4 hours. After three hours, we turned on the TV and watched “Touched by an Angel.” It was a great show about a cop that was hooked on drugs.
After four and a half-hours, the doctors came and visited with us. The chief surgeon said, “She lost 6 inches of her bowels, but she has oodles left.” (He was the first doctor that could speak good old American English.) He assured us that she would recover nicely. We stopped and praised God that things weren’t as bad as they first seemed.
So much more of this story can be told, but for the sake of time, let me tell you that she recovered without too many problems. Several times we were called at night telling us to run as quickly as we could, for our daughter was about to die. God had mercy on us repeatedly; no better God or Father can be found than my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Caitlin is now doing fine. On September 25, 2013, she turned fifteen years old. She is still way under the growth charts, but she is as healthy as any child can be, thanks be to God!
Note: IF you are interested in the rest of the story, including my efforts to walk again, you can read this story in its entirety if you search my earlier posts for Caitlin's Story.