Kaleena originally shared this story on her blog, praying4mypreemie, last fall. She is also the author of the poem, “Stronger Than We Thought”.
How Having a Preemie Saved My Life
God has a way of shaking us up, just enough. It does not happen with the intent to harm us, but only with the intent to get our undivided attention. On April 27, 2012, He successfully got mine. My amazing son, Jharid Lee Smith Jr. was born that day – weighing in at a whopping 1 pound, 5 ounces. He made his entry into this world 16 weeks before his planned due date. Eight weeks before his planned baby shower, 12 weeks before his mother’s planned maternity leave. He was born five miles from his planned hospital, delivered not by his mother’s planned doctor, and not by the planned “push” method. He was not the planned size, we didn’t hear the planned cry, and there was no planned car ride home. He did not spend the first five months of his life sleeping in his planned crib, staring at his planned mobile. I guess the old saying is true; God hears our plans and laughs at them. Thankfully, he doesn’t laugh at our prayers.
The birth of my son 16 weeks premature is not to be pitied. Yes, he came too small to hold or to nurse, and could not breathe without the help of a ventilator. Yes, he could not maintain his blood pressure or kidney function without the help of dopamine for weeks. He could not eat, and therefore needed an IV fluid called TPN to keep him alive. Yes, the stress of it all caused me to eventually lose the breast milk he so desperately needed. He soon developed necrotizing enterocolitis, complete with bowel perforations, and therefore would not know the taste of milk for six weeks. Yes, he has had laser eye surgery, bowel surgery and respiratory interventions. He was born with grade three brain hemorrhages. Not to mention the other preemie regulars; chronic lung disease, retinal of prematurity and cholestasis. At any given time I could tell you his weight, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiratory and heart rate, and how many times he pooped in the last 24 hours. (Still can). I had to keep track of his blood count, platelet count and sugar levels. He did not reach two pounds until he was two months old. Yes, there was countless blood drawn and someone else’s put back in via transfusion, and occasionally he would stop breathing and need to be “revived”. I could not go near him without a mask, gloves and a gown. His nurses would take care of him more than I would. He could not be held by his grandparents, I could not show him off to my girlfriends. There were gallons of tears shed, sleepless nights and guilt galore. In the beginning I felt more sadness in my soul than I had ever felt in my entire life. The carefree life I once took for granted was gone, and that left me questioning God….”What had I ever done to deserve this for my child? Why would you put this burden on me, a first time mother who tried my best to be a good person?”. I searched for an answer to the question, “Lord, why me?” I now know the answers to those questions. For one, He knew I needed it. For two, He knew I could handle it. And for three, why in the world not me?
Without knowing that level of sadness and crying that river of tears, I would have never known the feeling of watching God perform a miracle in my life. I would have never known that the power of a praying mother truly can move mountains. All of those problems mentioned above, my baby overcame. The doctors told me early on that if he made it, it would be impressive. Did they not know the God we serve is just that, IMPRESSIVE! Without this trial, I would have never known that for myself. I would have never known the excitement of seeing my baby breathe without help for the first time, take a bottle at almost four months old, or even the joy of finally being able to hold him at two months. I would have never known how important all of the relationships I had grown over the years would become. How loving and supportive my friends and family are, how invested his grandparents are, how loyal my co-workers are. I would not have known how strong and nurturing his father is. Most importantly, I would have never known how strong I am. Yes, I had to wait a long time for many of the joys that most mothers feel from day one. Yes, I spent most of his life worrying about his life. But the wait made everything far more beautiful, far more spiritual. I worked on the art of prayer without worry. No…my journey into motherhood is not to be pitied. I was chosen for a miracle, and that is truthfully quite awesome.
My son’s birth required a crash course in faith and prayer. The first days were the hardest; a mother who cannot carry a child the needed length of time is immediately overcome with shame and heartache for her failure. You spend your days trying to figure out where you went wrong and what you could have done differently. You have to sit through people playing doctor, telling you ever so kindly what they believe you should have done to prevent this. You are a little angry – and jealous of all the other mothers who are still pregnant. Sometimes you even want to trip them (just being honest). You are a complete and utter mess. But then…..if you know where to turn to, if you know from whom your help cometh, you manage to pick yourself up and accept this new life. You realize that your child is going to the NICU, not the morgue. The reality is…you better start acting like the Christian you always claimed to be. From the moment they cut me open, I began seeking God as if my son’s life depended on it, and quite honestly it did. I prayed and read and kneeled before each alter I could find; I called the prayer warriors in my life and asked them to go before God, for me. I sang every song and wrote every scripture that spoke to my heart. I fasted. I posted on Facebook not only to share my story, but to solicit support and prayers and love for my baby boy. I wanted to be so close to the will of God that I could feel his favor upon my face. And sure enough, my prayers for strength, help, healing, love, kindness, comfort and life…were answered. Over and over again, I watched God work. I cast away doubt and declared at every twist and turn that my baby was sent to this earth with a purpose that could only be fulfilled if he made it. God gave him to me to make me better, not to destroy me. I immersed myself in his medical care and eventually felt myself come back together. God not only saved his life, he saved mine.
And that brings us to today. No the road is not over. We are just back to St. Joseph’s Hospital after staying a week at Columbia Presbyterian for extensive emergency eye surgery due to his retinal of prematurity. There will be countless doctor visits and checkups and early intervention appointments to attend. My son will always be a preemie. But that is the special part: He will always be MY PREEMIE. My miracle child who God saw fit to grow into an awesome, beautiful, healthy baby boy. He will forever be the preemie who has touched so many lives and renewed the faith of so many who have followed our journey. He is the son who taught me the meaning of mercy and grace. He is indeed my Sonshine, the reason I may one day make it into heaven. He is the son I prayed for.
We do not need your pity, but I will take your prayers. I will take your kind thoughts and encouragement and well wishes. I will take your love. He needs every bit of those things that this world can muster. I want God to be so overrun with prayers for Jharid that he assigns an angel just to take them down. I pray that God continues to bless him with health. I pray that he has vision; both physically and spiritually. I pray that we are able to give him an extraordinary childhood. And in return, I promise to make sure that he knows how good God has been to him. Even though he will not remember any of it (thank God), his mother and father will. And possibly so will you. So as we continue this road together, I will share with you all I can because I truly believe you care. What good is a test without a testimony! And to all the mothers who have children that weren’t born perfect, who have struggles and things to overcome at such a young age – please continue to put your trust in God. Our children are not early or abnormal; they are exactly as God planned them to be. We will not strip them of that. We will be sure to celebrate what makes them different, the beautiful things that make them ours. I am proud to be the mother of a preemie, of a miracle baby. Contrary to popular assumption, I would not have it any other way.