Watching Everything Play Out From the Sidelines
Elijah’s first birthday fell on Mother’s Day. It was a busy weekend filled with a baby shower and birthday party. By the time Mother’s Day came around I was understandably exhausted, but that didn’t explain the other symptoms I was experiencing.
Sure enough, a quick test later confirmed I was pregnant. Twelve months earlier the same test was embraced with celebration, this time, only fear. I was under strict instructions not to get pregnant due to complications with my first pregnancy. Additionally, as an assistant football coach for a Division 3 college, my husband’s salary was not where we needed it to be to support a family of 4.
I waited as long as I could to share the news with friends. Due to the classification of a high-risk pregnancy and frequent ultrasounds, we shared the news that we were pregnant and having a boy all at the same time.
Celebration from others did little to quell my fears. In fact, with each approaching week I wondered if I would even meet my second child. But I didn’t share much more than that the pregnancy was high risk. It was hard to convey the reality of the situation because in many ways it felt as if I was watching everything play out from the sidelines.
Those last months flew by quickly. It was football season, and that meant that each week we had a game to look forward to, players to love on and playdates with coaches’ kids. Bible study continued, MOPS, dinners with the coaching staff, and a lot of doctor’s appointments.
Every doctor’s appointment I held my breath as I waited to hear if this was the week preeclampsia was starting again. My OB/GYN and I established a birth plan with so many contingencies it was hard to keep them all straight. I was advised to pack my bag for the hospital early, and while most pack for a day or two, my list included supplies for weeks.
Sure enough, at week 34 (the only week my doctor was on vacation) I arrived for my weekly appointment with a toddler in tow to discover I was having real contractions, not Braxton-Hicks, and preeclampsia had started. While the next few days are a whirlwind, I remember entering our second hospital in St. Louis and wondering if I’d leave.
At week 20 or so of my pregnancy I finally told Ordell it was time to start thinking of names. He told me that I could choose the name, but to keep it a secret. We would announce it when the baby arrived. We’d decided on our first son’s name years before his arrival, but with baby number two I had a blank slate.
I Googled “Top Baby Names” and immediately eliminated 1-10. I then listed all the family names I liked and finally moved to Biblical names. When you name your first son after an Old Testament prophet, it’s worth considering Biblical names for number two as well.
As I read stories about each of the names on my list I made notes of the characteristics of each man. And then I turned to Genesis 29:34 “She conceived again and bore a son and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi.” The meaning of Levi is “joined,” and I could think of no better name as a daily reminder this child I carried was coming in God’s timing to join our family.
On a cold day in December, a few hours after our football banquet, 50 miles from friends and family our second son was born. We delivered in an operating room surrounded by nurses, medical students and a NICU team who was prepared to respond to whatever the next hours would require.
Miraculously our 34 week and 5 days son joined our family without any complications, breathing on his own, and for the first time we shared the name chosen only a few weeks prior. As the team held up Levi so we could see him through the layers of glass and signaled thumbs up I breathed with hope for the first time in seven months.
A few hours later a blood draw was ordered and when they couldn’t find a vein on my heavily bruised arms the medical student suggested I refuse the draw and they would begin to process our discharge paperwork. I gleefully accepted the suggestion but a few hours later the door to our room opened and I heard “Nice try kid, you aren’t going anywhere just yet.”
The attending physician had seen enough scenarios to know I was not quite out of the woods, and while he was unwilling to share the full reasons why the tests were necessary, an hour later his suspicions were confirmed.
HELLPS Syndrome coupled with post-partum preeclampsia meant that while our son was thriving, my liver was under severe attack. Only time would tell if I would lose the organ or if my body would stop fighting itself.
The next day things got worse, and the day after that still worse. It was hard to know what was best, but I was in need of new clothes and a few more entertainment options for in between feedings. Ordell went home to relieve my mom of her duties with Elijah and my parents came to meet their newest grandson armed with supplies to get me through the next few days.
When the doctor arrived for rounds, we tried to barter my way out of the hospital. What if we continued blood draws as an outpatient using the hospital closer to home? What if we drove in for office visits? With a firm answer that today would not be discharge day my parents left and the doctor explained two things.
He first explained that the reason I couldn’t leave the hospital is that if my liver did rupture the only chance of survival I had was in the hospital. And then we explained that I needed to understand something about my body.
“Mrs. Walker, you are 29 correct?” “Yes.” “Well, I have to tell you, it’s a miracle you survived this pregnancy, and I need you to understand something. As you age, pregnancy is harder on the body and the combination of a history of preeclampsia, hypothyroidism, and age, well, I’m not sure you would carry another baby to term and if you did, well, Mrs. Walker, it would mean months of NICU care and you likely wouldn’t be around to experience any of it. So, what I’m saying is, you’ve gotten lucky here and you need to be thankful for God’s timing. And, uh, not press your luck again ok?”
At that moment God reminded me of a prayer I’d prayed years before. Early in our marriage, I watched my cousins battle infertility. I prayed that I would complete my pregnancies before age 30 and that my grandparents would meet their great-grandchildren.
As the doctor left the nurse, who had arrived at some point asked if we could do anything to speed to healing process along. “No, unfortunately, this is a wait and see situation.” And with that, my doctor exited the door and Levi was placed in my arms. And we entered yet another season of waiting. The reprieve between the 7 months wondering how my pregnancy would end and wondering when my body would heal was not long enough.
Even in those earliest days Levi had this way of staring intently in a way that you knew he was just taking everything in around him. Early babies sleep a lot which meant I had time to finish crocheting the blanket I’d started for Levi and continue working through a Bible study. I learned that Levi was going to be completely different than his older brother. Those days just the two of us were a gift I never asked for but look back on now with gratitude.
I would never have finished crocheting a blanket with a 20-month-old and infant at home, and I would never have stayed caught up on Bible study. My body healed so well in those extra two weeks in the hospital because I was able to rest and didn’t have to worry about preparing food, or cleaning. And best of all, I learned about Levi without the need to divide my time.
Eventually my blood draws revealed my liver was not 100% rebounded, but certainly was on the right track. As we arrived home, I was able to introduce Levi to his older brother and begin adjusting to the needs of two littles.
Three months later I celebrated my thirtieth birthday and three months after that my Papa, who Levi shares a middle name with passed away unexpectedly. As I remembered again the prayer from year earlier, I thanked God for his timing.
Our sons are now 12 and 13 ½. We’ve moved a few times and with each stage of life a clear picture of God’s timing emerges. When Levi was four the perfect job for me opened up, one I wouldn’t have considered had he been younger. When we moved to a team that required a lot more time from both Ordell and me away from home the boys were both old enough to understand. They are close enough in age that they have been able to experience new things together such as Sunday school at church, a camp in a new community, and even sometimes swimming lessons.
There are still times when I wish our boys weren’t so close in age, or that so much of their toddler years weren’t a blur, but as I’ve learned many times, God’s timing is always right. He knew we would lose my Papa; he knew we would move and that our boys would need each other’s friendship in hard seasons.
When things are stressful with our sons, I often find myself reminding God that we understand his timing is not always our timing, and that he has taught me to trust his timing with my sons over and over. I usually follow it with a “but could you hurry up and fix this?” And you know what? Hindsight always reveals the why.
Beth Walker is a coach's wife and writer who strives to encourage others to live their best lives by finding their voices in the ordinary and extraordinary.
Her daily life currently includes cheering on her husband and sons from the sidelines of multiple athletic events as well as balancing work and writing on her blog Lessons from the Sidelines and contributing to The Glorious Table. She usually has a journal, pen, and a strong cup of coffee close.