I am honored and thrilled to share this post today from my friend, Heather Whitley.
I hope that you will be as encouraged as I am by her family’s testimony of God’s faithfulness and power in even the most difficult of circumstances…after you read her story, please head over to hopeinmommyhood to continue following along on their family’s journey!
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… -Hebrews 6:19
Because Jesus is alive, there is always hope. Three years ago, I doubted this. I found myself in what seemed to be a pretty hopeless place. My family was in danger of being broken, my marriage was at a crossroads, and everything I thought I had always known no longer seemed certain. It seemed hopeless. I was in a dark pit, and in that darkness I began to lose sight of Who God is. I began to doubt His power, to doubt His promises, to doubt His ability to heal and restore. I knew He was calling me to fight for my family and allow Him to redeem and restore my marriage, and I begrudgingly and half-heartedly went along with that… But inside I felt hopeless and could not see the possibilities.
Then came an interesting plot twist… I learned I was pregnant with our third child. To be honest, my heart was torn. I knew God had a purpose. I knew He is the Creator of life and that there are no accidents when it comes to His plan. He’s perfect! However, I could not for the life of me understand His timing. It seemed so terribly wrong in my eyes, and I struggled to embrace His will.
As I wrestled with God over His plans and His will, my pregnancy progressed perfectly, and a few months in, another bomb was dropped- my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly all of my problems didn’t seem so big. I was faced with the fragility of life, with the reality of how short our time on earth actually is. I saw the value of family as we joined forces to rally behind my mom. I saw a marriage designed by God as my dad put my mom first, as he sat beside her and held her hand, as he selflessly served her, and as he fought with her and for her.
My mom beat cancer and took her last chemo a couple of months before my daughter’s due date. We celebrated life and life rolled on. A sense of normalcy returned and as I recognized the blessings of my life, I grew less angry and bitter. I slowly swallowed my pride and began to accept His desires for our family. I once again could see the hope we have in Christ.
But on February 12, 2013, that nice, normal life that I had begun to embrace came to a screeching halt. After almost 37 weeks of normal, picture-perfect pregnancy, they discovered a huge problem…there was fluid on our baby girl’s brain, so much that her brain was being compressed. She had hydrocephalus, but no one knew why.
We met with a fetal specialist in Wilmington for scans and detailed ultrasounds, and she was very grave as she sat us down with a counselor in her office. Things did not look good- something in our daughter’s brain was causing the fluid to accumulate, and her brain was an absolute mess as a result. There was no midline, no defined hemispheres, and she appeared to have very little brain matter left. They did not know if she would survive birth, and if she did, there were no guarantees as to her quality of life. We were told to prepare for the worst as they sent us to Duke to meet with another specialist and develop a plan.
We were devastated as we faced what seemed to be a hopeless situation, and we immediately began to call on our prayer warriors. After just one day of prayer, we received good news- the doctors at Duke felt that our baby would indeed survive birth. It was the first glimmer of hope we were given, and we knew God was at work. I returned home with a scheduled cesarean at Duke in two weeks. The doctors wanted our girl to be as strong as possible for the trials she would face at birth, so the plan was to wait as close to my due date as we could. We would then deliver at Duke so that our fetal specialist team and neurosurgery team would be with us, and I could recover from surgery in the same hospital.
But, things never go as planned…that was Valentine’s Day. On February 17 I began to have severe back pain, and I awoke at 5:00 a.m. on February 18 to discover that my water had broken and I was hemorrhaging. We rushed to the hospital in Wilmington and I was immediately sent in for an emergency cesarean due to a placental abruption.
Harper Lynn entered the world around 6:45 that morning, breaking the tension in the room with a loud, strong warrior cry. It was the sound of a fighter, and I knew God had big plans in store. She was absolutely perfect, 8 lbs 3 oz, 21 1/4” long, with a head full of gorgeous black hair. On the outside she appeared to be totally normal, and even scored perfect Apgar scores… but imaging of her brain reaffirmed the reality that she would need surgery as soon as possible to survive.
I spent very little time with Harper before she was airlifted to Duke. There is no pain quite like having your brand new baby taken from your arms into an unknown future while you helplessly stay behind. My husband took off to be with her at Duke, and I stayed behind to recover (a process that took longer than anticipated). I struggled with knowing what to do, or even how to pray at that point, so I continuously called on our incredible family in Christ to pray on our behalf- and pray they did.
Two days after Harper joined the world, she went in for her first brain surgery. The plan was to insert a permanent shunt to drain the fluid off of her brain. But, as we were learning with Harper, things never go as planned, and the plan fell through in the operating room. Incisions were made and everything was ready to go, but at the last minute the neurosurgeon decided to take a look at the blockage in her brain before inserting the shunt- a move that ultimately saved her life.
Harper had a very complex system of cysts attached to the wall of her brain, and a shunt would have caused them to pull away and decrease pressure too quickly, which would have cost us her life. As it was, Harper still suffered a brain hemorrhage during surgery, putting her in a compromising position. They had to perform a craniotomy, removing a section of her skull, and then pack her brain to stop the bleeding while transfusing blood to make up for all of her own lost blood.
The next few days were touch and go. Harper was placed on a cooling machine to drop her body temperature and basically keep her unconscious. She struggled to keep IV lines in, her kidneys stopped functioning normally, her blood pressure kept dropping, a machine breathed for her, and she required multiple blood transfusions to stay alive. It was a terrifying time to be a parent and we lived in a constant state of prayer, begging God to work a miracle. And He did.
Harper became stable enough for a second brain surgery at 10 days old. It was long and complicated, but they were able to remove all of the packing from her first surgery, communicate five areas of cystic systems, and insert an external drain.
Things were hard, but not life or death in the weeks following. Harper had one more surgery to move the drain from one side to the other, and then began the long road to recovery. She had to be weaned off of the respirator, and she had difficulty keeping milk in her belly even while being tube-fed. She developed issues with her voice box from being intubated so long, and her reflux further aggravated that. One night at Duke she decided to stop breathing altogether and had to be re-intubated, but eventually became strong enough to be transferred to the NICU in Wilmington so that we could be closer to home, our family, and Harper’s two big sisters.
We spent another four weeks in the NICU in Wilmington where we fought through morphine withdrawal, began physical therapy, and learned to orally feed, a task that proved quite difficult for Harper. We actually began to consult with another surgeon about placing a feeding tube in her stomach, but God intervened and she began to take a bottle the day after the consultation. Anytime we would face a roadblock, we sent out a call for prayer- and God answered every single time.
On May 1, 2013, after 3 brain surgeries and 72 days of intensive care, we got to take our baby girl home. We were finally a family of five under one roof. We still had a long road ahead of us, but we were home. We learned a new life of complicated diagnoses, medications, therapies, doctors to slow down and live a life of thanking God for the miracle of each moment.
We still face a LOT of unknowns with Harper. Her condition is rare and unpredictable, and we’ve learned to not grow too comfortable. She keeps us on our toes for sure. It can still be scary at times, and it could be easy to ask, “Why?” But in our two years with Harper, I’ve witnessed countless answers to that question. God has used her to show He still works miracles. We’ve had so many doors opened to new relationships because of our experience. We’ve been able to share Him in so many ways that we couldn’t before. We’ve witnessed the power of prayer firsthand and can attest to that.
And as for that wife and mom who felt hopeless three years ago? That marriage that was on the rocks and that family that was so dangerously close to being broken? Jesus stepped in. We were forced to hit our knees in prayer, together. We were pushed to join forces and fight for our baby, together. We faced the most devastating circumstances, together, and saw God conquer, together.
God used what seemed like an awful thing for good- to show that He still works miracles… that He can redeem and restore absolutely anything… that NOTHING is impossible… that because Jesus is alive, there is always, always, hope.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” -Romans 5:1-5
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:31
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.