Grace Alone: Elijah’s Birth

My wife, Karen, gave birth to Elijah Quentin at 9:06 a.m., February 3, 2017. Elijah didn’t come when we hoped, or how we hoped. But if he had come according to our hopes, he wouldn’t be here at all.

My parents were visiting in January. My dad was to be with us for a week, and my mom for three. We thought it would be nice for dad to hold his newest grandson before he left. So the sooner Elijah came, the better.

We did all that we knew to try to convince our youngest that it was time to breathe the fresh Minnesota air. We went for walks. Karen kept working. She ate spicy food… But the little guy could not be convinced.

Dad left, and the days went by.

Karen went to her doctor’s appointment the day before her due date. The baby was looking really good, and Karen’s body was ready, so the doctor decided to induce labor a couple days later. Karen was excited about this. She had never been induced before, and that meant she could actually get the drugs! Previous labors had gone so quickly that there hadn’t been time for any drugs.

On Friday February 3 at 5 a.m. they started Karen’s induction. Everything started out normal. The doctor showed up around 8:30, saw that things were progressing well, and decided it was time to break the water and give Karen her epidural.

We woke up a little too late for breakfast that day (4:30 a.m. comes WAY too early for me) and since I have an aversion to seeing people stick huge needles into my wife’s back, I decided it was time to go grab breakfast. So I left.

I went down to the car and found, to my intense frustration, that my windshield had frosted 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 now that I would have to do so again. It is not a fast process. I decided against it. Who needs breakfast anyway? I headed back up to Karen in 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.

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 then 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. Next thing I knew we were being whisked down the hall. We were practically running, but our pace couldn’t match what was going on in my head. What was going on? Was Karen in danger? Was the baby? Both? Why is this happening?

When we got to the O.R., they pushed her into the room, and they left me outside. 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.

I was ushered into a room that resembled a large closet. There was a patched couch along one wall, an overused desk and a rolling chair. I slowly sank into the chair, rested my head on the desk and prayed. A rush of emotion 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.

What else could we do?

Soon, a nurse found me. She told me that it wouldn’t be long now. It was probably only eight minutes, but it felt like an hour. I was brought to a room where Elijah was undergoing a battery of tests. They told me he was great. Beyond great, surprisingly healthy.

Soon I was holding my fifth son. This was the first time I had held one of my children before my wife. Which brought me back to Karen.

How is my wife doing?

It wasn’t too long before the doctor came in. He congratulated me on an amazingly healthy son, and he told me Karen was doing really well.

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.

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 blood was supposed to be going to Elijah.

About an hour later, Karen was wheeled into the room. I brought her Elijah. We were both so relieved to have a safe and healthy baby that it took a while for our emotions to settle. It wasn’t until Saturday night that we decided to do a bit more research on Vasa Previa.

Here are a few statistics:

  • 95% of Vasa Previa pregnancies that are not prenatally diagnosed end in the death of the child.
  • If a pregnancy is diagnosed as Vasa Previa, the mother is recommended to be put on bed rest between weeks 30-32.
  • 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 read began to hit me.

Not only was my son in the 5% who survive; he didn’t even require a blood transfusion. Added to that, we had TRIED to get Karen to go into labor. We had gone for walks, worked hard, eaten spicy food. 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.

It began to sink in.

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 God would still be good even if he had decided to take Elijah the morning of February 3.

Another reaction is to say, “God is faithful!” And he is faithful. But God is also faithful to those who have lost their children.

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.”

So, again, how do we respond?

With humble gratitude and thankfulness that God is God. Praise be to God for the gift of his Son Jesus Christ, and for the gift of our son Elijah—God’s miracle on a frosty February morning in the sleepy little city of Fergus Falls.

Daniel Stenberg is a third-year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Upon graduation, Daniel has accepted a call to serve as pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Bergenfield, New Jersey.

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