It was May and warm and when we walked out of the restaurant the hem of the eastern sky had softened, evening coming on. Jodi was five months pregnant and sunflower beautiful and the world was a good place.

This is a true story and a testimony. And, Lord willing, a candle.

At home later we put AJ to bed and huddled together with the tablet and scrolled through memes of animals. We laughed like children, jaws and abs aching with the effort of it. Then we laughed more, at ourselves this time because we realized we were old people, to be so giddy at these simple captioned pictures. We decided it was fine to be old and not cool if it meant we could laugh like this, and we slept.

In the morning she came from the bathroom and told me something was wrong. She said she was “leaking.” I did not know what that meant and I thought she was saying she would need to rest that Saturday. She called her sister. I was brushing my teeth and helping AJ brush when she found me and mouthed, so AJ wouldn’t hear, that her parents were on their way over to pick up AJ and that we needed to go to the hospital.

I remember the drive, specifically my nonchalance. It was a beautiful day, sky clear and blue as any thought that ever took a man by surprise. I pondered what needed to be done around the house when we returned. Did I have enough fertilizer to do the entire yard? Should I get the hedge trimmers out or could that maybe wait a week? Jodi sat beside me quiet and still as a hunted thing, waiting in desperate hope for the shadow to pass by.

The next hours are confetti memories, at once themed and disparate. I recall her in the emergency room of Durham Regional, feet in the stirrups and the doctor holding litmus paper and saying ‘amniotic fluid.’ I recall an IV of something that turned her blood to lava, lobstered her skin and made her sweat like an August marathoner. I recall watching her rolled away by the EMTs for the ambulance ride to Duke, not quite able to name that thing which had been stolen from her eyes. She looked like she would rather be dead than apart from me. I had to get the car and take it to Duke. Fear rode shotgun and confusion blew from the vents and I let myself cry on the way, one time, good and hard. Doctor’s orders: she would be in the hospital and on her back until our second son, Bailey, was born.

Hospital rooms are the darkest bright places on earth, as you well know. For the first few days I sat on the bed or in a chair beside her and held her hand and we prayed in that bright dark. Talked and prayed. Prayed until the words braided together and became one sound then prayed them apart again. Prayed the room full and then opened the window to make space for more. Prayed myself hoarse.

She asked for her laptop and I brought it and she began to type awful, despondent words into Google, things like “birth at 24 weeks,” opening a new package of worry with each set of results. The nurses spoke of the averages. Rupture to birth was usually 12 days. The ultrasound said she still had some fluid around the baby, so she might get a few days more than that. Bleak news, delivered bleakly. She had contractions and they spread the jelly on her stomach and hooked her up to the EFM and I watched the symmetrical mountain ridges etch themselves across the fidgety screen, listened to my son’s heart beat and felt the world draw in around us, the room somehow quieter with that small rhythm than had there been no sound at all.

My (terrific) boss allowed me to work two days in the office and three days in her room. AJ stayed with grandparents most nights, so I was free to go to the hospital after my office days. One evening during the second week I walked in and the laptop, previously a remora attached below her stomach, rested shut on her bedside table. I asked her if the battery had gone dead. She said no, then asked me why we would ask God for miracles and then limit our expectations by researching all of the potential issues with a baby born far too early. Why would we limit God?

I didn’t have a good answer for that.

The next time one of the nurses began to give us another of the averages, Jodi politely explained that she would just as soon not hear any more averages because we weren’t praying to an average God. The moment is pristine in my mind, crystalline.

Time moved like a drunk sloth, but it did move. Jodi watched television and went to the bathroom, and for fun she rolled from her right side to her left. Every four days they had to change her IV needle and location and she learned to ask for specific phlebotomists, those few she knew to be quick and accurate. Her arms still grew to look like a heroin addict’s. Some of those scars remain to this day.

We were twenty eight weeks and counting ourselves blessed even as we asked God for more time. The ultrasounds continued to show the baby was feet down. Worrisome. Ultrasounds were Tuesdays and Thursdays. On a Wednesday night we held hands and went as one with a united heart to the Lord in prayer, asking for him to help the baby turn. That night he was extremely active, so much so that Jodi had trouble sleeping. Thursday’s ultrasound showed that he was head down. We took the news and Jodi cried and we offered thanks and I walked out of the front doors of the hospital into the sun and looked up at the sky in wonder, like the first man in a new world.

At thirty weeks we fought. I don’t recall the reason, but I’m sure it was stupid and my fault. Something she asked me to do that I didn’t want to do. I look back on it now and realize that her entire existence during that time was ‘don’t want to’ and if she’d asked me for my foot as her dinner I should have retrieved a hack saw and inquired as to her preference of dipping sauce. I left the room in a huff, to get dinner or air or something. When I returned, she was bleeding.

The next minutes were a terrible carnival. Hard voices and terse directions, all manner of damnable beeps, Jodi in a wheelchair again, crying again. My heart doing something tribal in my chest, strumming my bones and pounding any calm thoughts out of my head. I wouldn’t have been more panicked with wolves at my heels. We were in her room and then we were in a delivery room as if by teleportation and they began to push fluids through her IV, as they did any time she had contractions. The resident left the room for a few moments to speak with the attending and I looked at Jodi and told her that the baby was not going to be born that night. I thought it was probably a lie, but it needed saying and she seemed to appreciate the words so I kissed her hand and said it again and did my best to put that Daniel Day Lewis level of conviction in my voice. “I will find you.”

It was a night like a week. When the sun rose, Jodi was still pregnant.

Big brother AJ was three and all he knew about hospitals was that they were for really sick people. He’s ten now, and he still occasionally mentions Jodi’s time at Duke. It is obviously the darkest pit in his memory, and I hope it retains that crown always. His bravery and tenacious faith sustained me, and the brief periods we had together were like coming inside to a warm hearth after wanderings in the cold. Watching him enter Jodi’s room to visit was a healing, radiant affirmation of their bond. Watching him leave was an unspeakable heartbreak, as was holding her afterwards while she cried. “Bye mommy. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.” His little hand opening and closing in a wave. Every day was a gift and a hardship, and nothing brought the duality into greater relief than AJ’s visits.

By the thirty-second week of her pregnancy we were tired, threadbare souls. We’d made foolish promises to each other and to God, promises of change, if only. He had already delivered on every promise we never knew He made, promises written on the other side of the sky before there was a world under it, but then again that’s His nature and the only shocking thing about it is that we continue to be shocked when He does it. Apparently there was a rotation of doctors on the wing, as we would see one doctor for a week or two and then not again for another week or two. On first rounding after being away, he or she would invariably open the door to Jodi’s room and exclaim “Holy cow, you’re still here! That’s unheard of.” It was the rare enjoyable moment, and when it happened it became our habit to simply look at each other and smile.

Bailey Daniel Hogan was born on the night of July 1, 2007. I had been feeling puny all afternoon, and just before Jodi went into bona fide labor I took my temperature. It was over 100 degrees. After all that time spent holding her hand, I would have to let it go at the finish line and let her cross without me. Her mother, an absolute champion, lept at the opportunity to be with her in the delivery room. I sat in her now empty room with her father and my father and felt like a failure and we said random words to each other and the clock didn’t move. I aged and looked at my hands a lot. I drank water because it felt like a normal thing to do. And I prayed because I had been taught its efficacy, patiently, with love, through every moment since that evening in May.

Little man spent a few hours in the neonatal ICU, after which he was breathing on his own and took, as his mother had some time before, a lonely ambulance ride. He would wait for us in the special care nursery at Alamance Regional Medical Center, where he would learn the art of eating while breathing.

Two days afterward, I wheeled my wife out of the front doors of Duke University Medical Center into the warm North Carolina summer, into a carbon copy of the last day she’d spent outside. It must have been strange for her, being such a new thing, shaped by the currents of trial into something only vaguely reminiscent of the person she’d been, going out into an unchanged world. They said we would get twelve days. If we were fortunate, fifteen. If things went insanely well, twenty. God gave us fifty eight days. By any definition, Bailey Hogan is a miracle.

If there is anything that you understand from our story, please let it be this: when our Lord says “all things are possible,” He means all things. Not only those things the medical professionals advise you to expect. Not only those things which are statistically probable or fit neatly within the bounds of hierarchical evidence. All things. All. Things.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that we received outstanding care at Duke. They were compassionate and prompt and honest and very talented in everything they did for us. We could not have been in better hands. It would also be wrong not to mention the granite support of both sets of grandparents. For two months they raised our son and took care of our house and in general kept the home fires burning. I might have needed therapy anyway, but it’s for sure I would have been there without them.

Lastly, there is the lesson of the strength of a woman. Strength to follow every bit of instruction she was given. They told her to drink fluids. She drank so much water I felt like if I put too much pressure on her skin it might trickle out of her. They told her to stay in the bed and to take her pills and to keep the TED hose on and she did and she did and she did. She loved Bailey more before she ever saw him than some mothers love children they can reach out and touch. She taught me that love is a verb. You don’t feel love. You do love, no matter what it costs you. Some people’s heroes wear uniforms and some wear jerseys and some wear tailored suits. My hero sleeps beside me.

Thank you so much for reading this. If you know someone who would be lifted up by it, I hope you will share it. Oh, and below is a picture of what the 58 day miracle looks like these days.

Jamie

Bailey

Advertisements