Elizabeth Martin: When Perfect Pregnancy Plans Go Awry
Meet Elizabeth Martin. She is a 28 year old wife and mother of one.
That ‘one’ is a son named Gideon. Today, he celebrates his first birthday. It’s a day that marks his unexpected entry into this world – an event that catapulted Elizabeth into a place of desperation for God she had never known.
Hand in hand with Jesus, she and her husband have walked into the trenches this past year. Through dark days full of hard questions. And into brighter ones as the light of His faithfulness has begun to shine through.
Here, in her own words, Elizabeth unveils the journey her heart has been on since last November.
As far back as I can remember, if you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: “I want to be a mom.” I may not have been able to give you a definitive answer on what career I wanted, or where I might live, but I always knew one thing for certain: my true heart’s desire was to be a mom.
Due to certain health complications, doctors had been telling me since I was a teenager that I might have difficulties getting pregnant. This weighed heavily on my heart since I always had such a strong desire to have children. I prayed about this often, particularly as Chris and I began having discussions about starting a family.
One Sunday after church, Chris and I went down to the altar for prayer, and some of our dear friends prayed with us about having a child. God released an overwhelming peace over me that day, and I knew in my spirit that when the time was right, I would not have trouble getting pregnant. Shortly thereafter, God did, in fact, answer our prayers. I was pregnant, and we were over the moon excited. My dream of becoming a mom was quickly becoming a reality.
A few weeks later, our pastor was preaching a message on the story of Gideon from the Old Testament. The story is of a man whom, though he was the least in his family, and was from the weakest tribe in Israel, God made into a “mighty warrior” to save His people from the Midianites.
God touched my heart through the message that day. Even though it would be several weeks before I found out the sex of our baby, I knew the Lord was revealing that I was going to have a little boy, and that his name should be Gideon. Little did I know how fitting that name would be for our mighty little warrior.
I was 29 weeks along when Chris and I traveled to Kentucky for a baby shower in my honor. The morning of my shower, I woke up with abdominal pain that would not subside. I was certain when I went to the hospital they were going to tell me I was having Braxton Hicks contractions and send me on my way. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be having a baby just 48 hours later.
At the Hospital:
I was 3 cm dilated when I was admitted. The goal at that point was to try to stop the labor. I was put on strict bed rest and could not even get out of bed to use the restroom. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything either. I was treated with drugs to slow the contractions and a steroid to get Gideon’s lungs to develop as quickly as possible. I was so scared. One of the medicines they gave me made me feel like I had the flu, and the other one would burn terribly going through my IV.
I was miserable. The thought of being on bed rest for the next several weeks sounded terrible… but the thought of him being born this prematurely was even more frightening. After a successful night, and no significant changes, the doctors were hopeful that once the steroid treatment was complete, we could make a mad dash home (or at least back to a hospital in South Carolina).
But that all changed the following night when my contractions worsened and Gideon’s heart rate began to “flatten.” My body began shaking uncontrollably as I experienced my first ever panic attack. I was given an oxygen mask while a team of doctors and nurses frantically searched for my baby’s heartbeat. After several minutes – which felt like an eternity – they were able to get Gideon’s heart rate back under control, and then get me calmed down enough for an exam. I was now 4cm dilated and 100% effaced.
An ultrasound was ordered the next morning to ensure that Gideon was positioned for delivery, and the doctor confirmed that my water broke. All hopes of leaving Kentucky still pregnant now vanished. The steroid treatment to develop Gideon’s lungs was complete, and any efforts to stop my contractions ceased. It was then just a matter of time to see when Gideon would make his arrival.
By later that afternoon, I was 9cm dilated and in active labor. Preparations were quickly made for my delivery, and Gideon had a team of doctors bigger than mine preparing for him in the next room. His heart rate had been dipping. So they did not want me to labor long and risk putting him in even more distress. I was given 3 chances to push, and if I was unsuccessful after my third attempt, I was going to have a C-section. I could tell by the looks on the doctors’ faces after my first two attempts that they were anticipating surgery. Thankfully though, by the grace of God, my third attempt was successful. I was able deliver him naturally.
As soon as Chris cut the cord, Gideon’s team of doctors swept him up and rushed him out of the room. I saw him briefly from across the room, and then he was gone.
Gideon was born Tuesday evening, November 25th, weighing 3 lbs 1oz. He was 11 weeks early.
When Gideon was born, I didn’t get to hold him or even touch him. I barely even heard a cry come from his tiny lungs before he had to be rushed away. This was my miracle…. My dream come true…. But in that moment, it certainly didn’t feel like it.
Later than night, as I was wheeled up to see him, I think I was still in shock. He was the tiniest little thing I had ever seen. He looked so fragile, and I was nervous to even touch him. He wasn’t stable enough yet for me to hold him. So my only contact with him was through two small holes in his incubator that allowed me to reach my hands in to hold his. He had an IV in his hand, an oxygen machine in his nose, a tube down his throat, and was covered in cords that were monitoring his heart rate and oxygen levels. It was far from the picture-perfect moment I had envisioned of meeting my baby for the first time.
Three days after he was born, a head ultrasound revealed that Gideon had suffered bleeding inside his brain, resulting in grades 3 and 4 brain hemorrhages. The blow of this news was insurmountable. Just a week before, we were dreaming of our healthy, beautiful, baby boy, guessing his hair color… and now doctors were sitting down with us, going over brain scans, and trying to walk us through risks. We were told that babies with grades 3 and 4 brain bleeds often have long term effects such as: developmental delays, some degree of cerebral palsy, problems walking, problems talking, problems with reading comprehension, difficulties playing sports, the list seemed to go on and on. We were devastated, heart broken, and scared.
We spent 40 days in that hospital, and they were, without a doubt, the darkest days of my life. I literally cried for 40 days and 40 nights. Not just tears, but uncontrollable, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching sobs, for several hours each day.
My baby was alive, but inside, I was grieving. I was grieving all of my unmet expectations – for my pregnancy, my delivery, and my baby. I was broken, and I felt helpless. I felt like I had failed as a mother. I felt like all of this was somehow my fault. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been able to carry him to term and keep him safe and healthy. Every day, I would hold my stomach and just cry, thinking that if I could have just kept him safe inside me, he wouldn’t be experiencing all of this pain.
I was bitter. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He was supposed to be safe and warm inside my tummy – not hooked up to machines with tubes down his nose and IV’s stuck in his head, hands, and feet.
He wasn’t supposed to be sitting under fluorescent lights and tucked away in an incubator.
There weren’t supposed to be limits to when I could hold him or touch him.
I wasn’t supposed to have to leave him at night and entrust him to strangers.
I wasn’t supposed to lie awake in tears, fearing that he was crying or needed something with no one at his side to tend to him.
I wasn’t supposed to have to worry when I was feeding him that he would forget to breathe.
I wasn’t supposed to have to share my first precious days with my baby with a room full of strangers.
I wasn’t supposed to be panic stricken every time the monitors alarmed, selfishly praying that it was someone else’s child in distress and not my own.
I was so frustrated with God. I kept wondering why God, who loves me and gave me this incredible gift, would allow what was supposed to be my dream come true, to become my worst nightmare.
The NICU would be our home away from home for the next several weeks. No one was allowed to visit him except for Chris, me, and our parents. We had to leave during certain hours each day for sterile procedures and shift changes, but apart from that, we rarely left his side.
Our favorite moments were, undoubtedly, his “kangaroo care” when we got to hold him skin to skin. He was always at peace and would sleep soundly in those moments. There were limits to when we could hold him, especially during the first few weeks. So most days we would sit beside his incubator and read, sing, or play music for him. But most of all we would sit there and pray…. and pray… and pray…. and pray.
After spending Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital, Gideon was released to come home on New Year’s Day. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Our still teeny tiny baby (4 lbs at this point) was being released entirely into our care.
There would be no more nurses an arm’s length away to assist us when we had questions. No monitors to warn us if his stats were dropping. No temperature leads to tell us if he was getting too cold. But what a relief it was when we pulled into the driveway and were finally HOME.
Apart from going to doctor’s appointments, we were basically on house arrest for the next several months, but I didn’t care. I was thankful to have him home and safe, and I made sure to make up for all of the lost snuggles I had missed out on.
The Journey Since Gideon’s Birth
Looking back, I don’t believe I will ever know on this side of heaven why things happened the way they did. But I do know that I would not have the relationship with God that I have today if it weren’t for this experience. I’ve never had to rely on God more than I have this year, and God is teaching me some invaluable lessons as I walk out this journey with Him.
I am learning that I have to relinquish control of my life to Him.
There are some things I know to be true about myself: I know that I am a rule follower. I like to have a plan. I have a tendency to be resistant to change. I am NOT spontaneous. I do not care much for surprises, and I intensely dislike being unprepared. Basically, you could not have handpicked a personality to struggle more at coping with what happened than my own. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around was the fact that this was not a part of my plan. This was not what I had been preparing for, and it was certainly not what I had spent my whole life dreaming about. But what I had to realize was that this wasn’t about my plan. This was about God’s plan. All of the days ordained for Gideon were written in His book before even one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16). I had to get over my unmet expectations, and give my circumstances over to God.
I am learning that I have to walk out each day in faith and not in fear.
The fear I felt when we learned of Gideon’s brain bleeds was crippling. I wanted so badly for it to be a mistake. That they would do another ultrasound and the blood would have miraculously resolved. We would be so discouraged when each new ultrasound came back showing no signs of improvement. The brain bleeds put Gideon at risk for a multitude of developmental issues. Even now, his development is watched closely by doctors and therapists, and thoughts of this are at the forefront of my mind almost daily. But if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that our God is a God of miracles. I know He has the power to heal Gideon so that he will have no long term deficits from this. I believe this with all of my heart. But even though I know this to be true, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel a little anxious with every new doctor’s appointment or developmental assessment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still worry whether he’ll meet the next developmental milestone. The fear and doubt still try to creep in, and I have to make a daily choice to live in faith, not fear.
Gideon turns 1 year old today, and he has been doing exceptionally well. Looking at him now, he is a far cry from the tiny little person we brought home from the hospital. He has come such a long way, and we are overwhelmed by all that God has done in his life already.
Here we are a year later, and in many ways, I am just now starting to work through the fear and anxiety that assaulted me after Gideon’s birth. The emotions are still fresh, and I still have triggers that can take me right back. But now, when I have those feelings of sadness or fear, I look over at Gideon, and I am overcome with joy and thankfulness.
Nothing melts my heart more than to see him smile or hear his sweet laugh. He is a daily reminder of God’s faithfulness and love for me. Gideon is my miracle baby in more ways than one, and being this mighty little warrior’s mother is, without a doubt, my dream come true!
“She is clothed with strength and dignity.”
So where is the Kingdom in this story?
I’m glad you asked. Because our King often makes Himself known in the midst of the unexpected. In the midst of plans gone awry… In the midst of unmet expectations… In the midst of unwelcome surprises…
When the bottom falls out.
When you can’t figure out what’s happening.
When false comforts are stripped away.
There He is, showing us He’s all we had to begin with.
We only thought we could count on our perfect plans.
As any of us would, Elizabeth was resting a lot of hope on a full-term pregnancy. But then her third trimester was pulled out from under her, bringing her to the glaring realization that only God Himself was her hope. Anything less than His very presence was powerless.
We all do this, you know. We attach a little too much hope to things we think are guaranteed in life. And as long as our plans keep falling into place, we never notice that our faith in Jesus in only partial. That it has become more of a condiment. A sweet little add-on to our perfectly planned lives.
But Beloved, there comes a moment in each of our lives when we realize Jesus is all we’ve got. A Living God who hears our prayers is our only hope – and was the only hope we ever had in the first place.
When this realization comes, it brings with it a beautiful opportunity. It gives us the chance to really fall in love with Him. To really see Him come through for us. To discover that we really can count on Him, that His love really is unfailing (Psalm 36:5-9). That He really is faithful to do what He said He would do (I Thessalonians 5:24).
Faith that was once undergirded by false comforts loses its footing… and then comes to stand upon the Rock Himself. The things you used to trust in are smashed to pieces and now, His face has become clear. His presence, which used to be a far-off promise, now explodes onto the scene. The Bible that used to gather dust now brims with the best words your ears have ever heard.
Things that could have easily been missed before are now recognized as the treasures that they are. How precious Gideon’s name became during this uncertain season. Elizabeth’s prophetic unction to give him this name took on an entirely new significance. Before he ever made his premature appearance, God was preparing the way, giving him a name that spoke hope over his journey.
Beloved, it’s in the midst of the unexpected, the unplanned, and sometimes even the unwelcome that our love story with God begins.
In this uncomfortable place, we learn how to cling to Him. How to hear His voice. How to draw closer. How to discern. How to worship. We learn His ways. His nearness. His heart.
Elizabeth is the first to say that her story isn’t finished yet. Gideon’s life has initiated a long-term walk of faith. There are many loose ends that have yet to be tied. So every day is a chance to, once again, reject false comforts and take a stand upon the Rock.
It’s a journey that, as she keeps clinging, is yielding a fuller life and a deeper intimacy with God than her best laid plans ever knew to dream of.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for clinging to Him in uncertainty –
and for reminding us that Jesus is the only sure place to rest our hope.
This Bethel song echoes the centrality of His presence. It’s our only Hope, Friends – anything less is a counterfeit. Let your heart align with these words as you listen…