Seven-and-a-half years ago, I was reading through the book of Job. Day-by-day I’d read at my kitchen table while my two girls napped. I was deeply moved by the life and faith of Job. Something shifted in me. The Holy spirt was stirring my heart. I didn’t want to just have this mediocre faith. I wanted BIG faith, I wanted faith that could endure every horrible thing and still say, “God you’re good!” I prayed at my kitchen table that God would give me faith like Job. That prayer was deep and sincere, because I was wanting more than what I was living.
At the time, I was about 20 weeks pregnant with our third baby. I had recently had my 3rd ultrasound, which had been unusual in that the ultrasound technician kept telling me he couldn’t get a good picture. I thought nothing of it…Until the very next day when I got a phone call from my doctor.
“You are not likely to have a healthy baby,” she said. “There was a lot wrong with the ultrasound. From what we can see, your baby will most likely have cystic fibrosis, CMV or the best case scenario, Down’s syndrome. You will need more testing. I am so sorry.” She told me not to google those things as that would not be helpful, then we hung up.
I was stunned.
No, not me.
Not my baby.
Then I heard a voice inside of me saying, “Have faith like Job.”
In that moment, I knew that I would have to trust God on this one. I had two choices: 1. be bitter, angry, and upset or 2. let go of what I was not in control of and trust that God was the same God that Job leaned on.
Trusting God made me feel so vulnerable. If I was angry I could take it out on someone, likely my husband, which is a very common and destructive response. But I realized that my husband had no more control over the situation or the ability to change it than I did. I would need to do this with him and alongside him.
The testing began soon after.
My husband and I arrived at our first fetal assessment at St. Boniface hospital. The appointments would be weekly from now on. Before we even get our first fetal assessment done, the specialist came in and asked us if we want an abortion. Matt and I were stunned.
NO, we did NOT want to abort our baby!
They did the fetal assessment ultrasound and told us everything that was wrong. Baby’s bowel is the wrong colour, it is showing up very bright which is bad. Her heart didn’t look quite right. She was missing a vessel in her umbilical cord. They pointed it all out to us so we could see what they were talking about.
Next was the blood tests that both Matt and I had to get done to rule out genetic diseases and various viruses we could be carrying. Then we went home and would return the next week for results and another assessment.
My heart was heavy. As a nurse I had seen and cared for sick and deformed babies on a few occasions. I have sat with mothers as they question me why this happened? Why their child has to suffer? And I gave what small and insufficient comfort I could, watching so helplessly as these women’s babies and children needed highly specialized medical intervention simply to continue breathing. I was not ignorant to what the possibilities in front of me were. I was more informed then most what I may face for the rest of my child’s potential life. And it hurt me. What every mother dreams of is a beautiful healthy and whole baby.
To add to this stressful news was the fact that I already struggled with my own health during my pregnancies. One local doctor, who I highly respect and work with, told me my own immune system suppressed itself so that the baby could grow. This meant I was susceptible to every infection. It started with my first pregnancy and showed up as hives. I went to the ER two times thinking I was having an allergic reaction. My second pregnancy was worse, and I was on Benadryl for several weeks to contain the hives. I went into my 3rd pregnancy the healthiest and most fit I have ever been. My expectations were so high for a healthy and great pregnancy. But after I got the news of the ultrasound, the immune suppression showed up with a vengeance landing me in the ER with pneumonia and the doctors thinking that I may also have asthma. The hives showed up not much later, the worst they have ever been. They covered my body from head to toe, to inside my mouth and the soles of my feet.
I felt tormented and utterly out of control.
Faith like Job.
The testing continued. Matt and I went back a week later. Same Specialist. “Do you want an abortion?” was the first thing she said to us. Not “Hello,” not “How was your week?” My jaw dropped yet again, “NO I do not.”
She proceeded to tell us that we were going to have to run more tests as the previous tests came back inconclusive. So off Matt and I went to the lab. More questions, more blood taken, more statistics given to us about percentages and probabilities. Then off for the fetal assessment. Not much had changed. Baby remained the same. We were booked in for the next week then back to Steinbach we went, solemn and unsure of the future.
Faith like Job.
I cried out to God in frustration. How can you expect me to be strong enough for this? I know what it takes to care for a sick baby. My own health was suffering and I was always fighting infections. I had no help and I had a toddler and a baby. My life felt like a hellish nightmare that I couldn’t make better.
I remember Summer, who was almost 3 years old at the time, looking outside our back door longingly at the park behind our house and saying “outside, outside.” I would look at her and apologize and say, “I’m so sorry mommy is too sick and too tired to take you outside today.” And every day for that matter. My baby Sophie lay in her crib so much longer then she should have because I was so physically sick and exhausted to take her out and play with her. The Benadryl that I needed to control the hives worsened the exhaustion to the point I could hardly keep my eyes open at times. Week after week the darkness got darker and life became harder and harder.
People started praying. I thank my mother, my mother-in-law, and our life group who reached out to the women around them to start praying for us and our hard situation. We found out later that the amount of people praying for us spread far and wide, bigger then we knew at the time.
I remember one particular conversation with my older sister Jolene. She was reassuring that God was with me in all this mess. I told her that I knew that, but it did not make the storm any less real, dark or hard. I was in the midst of the storm and saw no way out, all I could do was cling to my God in faith and hope that He would see me though. But I still cried myself to sleep every night because the health struggles were real and not knowing if my child would live or be whole ate me up inside.
Several weeks into our fetal assessments and testing, the doctors were truly stumped. Every result came back inconclusive. We were told this has never happened before and that they were going to send our next round of testing to the highest level at Health Science Center to their genetic specialists to see if they could determine what was going on. We were told by the St. Boniface fetal assessment specialist to come back next week for our weekly appointment and hopefully there would be results.
We also told our specialist to stop offering us abortions. We told her we were keeping this child no matter what. She looked at us a bit surprised at our decision but said OK. She did not offer us another abortion.
My health struggles continued, I had constant chest infections, eye infections, ear and bladder infections. My stomach was always so very upset and my autoimmune response was always active. I laugh now at how I looked like a spotted cheetah from the hives, but at the time I simply refused to go out looking like that, not that I had the energy anyways.
Faith like Job.
At our next fetal assessment Matt and I witnessed a miracle. The same technician that we had week after week greeted us and proceeded to show us everything that was missing or incomplete. We saw our daughter’s umbilical cord, which was not pumping blood through one vessel. She showed up the one vessel and we watched the screen with her. She said, “I don’t understand.” And we saw with our own eyes as our daughter’s second vessel starts pumping blood, literally before our eyes.
We looked at the technician and we said, “We know how this happened. We have a village praying for us.” She smiled so genuinely at us and said, “I have seen this happen to people of faith.”
She left the room and came back with the doctor, the same specialist that kept offering abortions to us. The doctor was speechless. She told us that she could not explain this. She said that it is clearly documented on our chart, which she was holding, that this vessel was not functional and now it was. We told her the same thing we just told the technician. “We have a village of people praying for us.”
Matt and I teared up, having just witnessed the goodness of God. The doctor didn’t know what to say to us, other than we were to come back next week as usual. (I found out years later that she was an atheist and I hope that some part of our story still speaks to her today.)
Matt and I drove home to Steinbach in awe. We just witnessed a miracle together! But we still weren’t certain about what the overall health of our baby would be.
Something stirred my heart. I had to let go. Whatever control I wanted or felt I had, I needed to surrender. Through tears and a raw heart, I surrendered to God. “God, you are good no matter what I get. You are good if my baby is whole or is incomplete, you…are….good!” Tears ran down my face as I let go and choose to accept the unknown.
When Matt came home that night, I told him the same thing. I was choosing to believe the goodness of God, no matter what we got. There would be no more testing, no more statistics, no more weekly fetal assessments. We would surrender it all to God. He sided with me and agreed. I still had my regular prenatal appointments with my Doctor in Steinbach, but no more weekly trips to Winnipeg.
I’d like to say that it was all great from there. And in a lot of ways a massive mental and emotional stress was lifted. But my health continued to struggle. I was very isolated. I did not have many friends, and I had no family that could help me.
At about 39 weeks pregnant, I went downstairs to a room we never used. It had a bunkbed. I curled up on that bottom bunk utterly exhausted. I closed my eyes and had the thought that if I died right here in this moment, the suffering would be over. Baby and I would meet Jesus and I would not have to struggle anymore. Death seemed be so peaceful. Peace, what a beautiful thought after months of suffering physically and emotionally.
But I did not want to die. It was in that moment I realized I needed help. I went upstairs and told Matt to take me to the ER or to take the children and let me sleep. I could not physically go on like this. I slept for three days straight. I got up only to use the washroom and to grab a quick bite of food, then back to sleep I went.
One week later our miracle was born. Emma Brynn Neufeld entered the world perfect, whole, and complete.
Faith like Job.
I look back on that entire ordeal, and with conviction. I believe God answered my prayer that fateful day when I asked to have “Faith like Job.” The faith I expected in the form of a neat box and a bow falling into my lap never came. Those seven months were the darkest and hardest months of my life, but it was where my faith was truly born. So many times I could have turned my back on God, but I didn’t. And God saw me through that storm and forged a faith so big. I saw miracles happen and others around us saw them too.
Our miracle turns 7 next month. She is my living and breathing reminder of God’s goodness and my journey in faith.
About the Author:
My name is Sarah. I am Married to Matt. We have been married for 11 years and have 3 beautiful daughters, Summer, Sophie and Emma. I love sports and being active. Two of my favourite things to do are spending long days at the beach with my family and working out. I also am an ER nurse here in Steinbach. I love to write and speak. I write and mange a blog called www.thedustyroad.org where I feel led to talk about relentless faith, servant leadership and daily authenticity.
If you would like to send a message to Sarah, email email@example.com and put her name in the subject line.
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