Grace Erin is number 5, and she is 12 years old. You might notice that her Bible name and Irish name are in a different order than the others. Yes, that is because all the baby books (that you read for the first kid) said to make sure you check the initials before giving your child a name. I pictured our little girl playing softball someday with E.G.G. on the back of her jersey. We didn’t want to mess up the rest of her life, so we switched the order. This way she can, in a most dramatic fashion, write “G. Erin Gowin” on her autographs and checks someday.
Like Liam’s name, “Erin” just means “from Ireland.” Not necessarily rich in meaning, but we like it. However, “Grace” is loaded with significance for us.
I knew when I was 20 that I might not be able to have kids biologically because of some reproductive issues. Then after Michael and I had been married about 3 years, we decided to go see a fertility specialist. The first 3 months of medication and hormones were not effective and I started to really worry. My biggest lifelong dream was to grow up and be a mommy. But I had a heart to heart with God one day and gave up my dream, choosing to trust him with my life, knowing He knew what was best for me and I was OK with that. I got pregnant that next month. Hence, the “Grace.” This is similar to a lot of people’s stories and why many girls have Grace as part of their name.
But then our little Grace decided to really live up to her name. I had a routine sonogram scheduled for 29 weeks, a week early because Michael was going to be gone that whole next week. Our world started to crumble that day as our doctor said Erin was 3 weeks behind in development and I had very little amniotic fluid. She put me on strict bedrest (“What?? I feel fine!”) and told me what signs to look for: sudden vomiting and upper right quadrant pain (where your liver is). That was a Tuesday. All those things started to happen Thursday night. We went to the hospital, was admitted, and they started me on magnesium sulfate to keep my blood pressure down so I wouldn’t seize. By the next day they had doctors coming to visit me saying I would have the baby within 24 hours and explaining to us what to expect with preemies in the NICU. Wow. It was all happening so fast.
Well, God had other plans. One night, in the middle of the night I was awake—inevitably, since the blood pressure cuff squeezed my arm every 15 minutes. I suddenly had this vision of angels over me in my hospital room and God saying to me, “You are going to be OK. There are many people praying for you.” After 6 days in the hospital, they released me. The doctor who released me told me that I probably just had a virus because people with what they had initially thought I had don‘t get released and go home. I could go to church on the next Sunday (Easter) but I needed to lay low otherwise. Goodbye.
I still vividly remember how that Sunday in church began. Everyone was standing except me (laying low) and the powerful organ began, “Christ the Lord has risen today! Hallelujah!” All those emotions come straight back to me every time I hear that hymn now.
Then, a week and half after the first admittance, we went back to the hospital with the same symptoms. Got there at midnight on a Friday, stayed till 6am Saturday, symptoms died down, sent me home. Then on Sunday morning it woke me at 4am. I couldn’t get comfortable. I was up, I was down, something really hurt. So we head out again to the hospital in Springfield. (Did I mention it is 45 min away?)
I show up at 5am and they give me the first-time-pregnant-can’t-handle-pain-you’ve-been-here-before smile and admit me for some testing. Since it is Sunday morning, the lab is running very slowly (and I don’t think they were in too much of a hurry), and it is after 8:30 when they finally get the results. In the meantime, I want to crawl out of my skin, and I can’t figure out how to lay or sit to make it stop, but I really didn’t complain much. Because of the test results, they start me on magnesium sulfate just before 9am.
That’s when all hell breaks loose. (Sorry, but there is no other good way to describe it.) The baby monitor shows that Erin’s heart rate immediately slows to 60 bpm. Everyone starts yelling. To me: “Turn to your right, turn to your left, try this!” (They were trying to help me find a position where her heart rate would go up. The best they got was 90 bpm with me on my hands and knees on the bed.) To the other nurses: “Page Dr. Guildner! Prep the c-section room!” Lots of other yelling that I don’t remember. Chaos. (I do remember an older man standing calmly on the side with a cup of coffee in his hands. Who was he? Was that an angel with gray hair, dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt tucked in over his plump belly?)
(A funny thing I just have to add here is that I do remember having the cognizance to ask Michael if I was covered up, knowing I was in a hospital gown, on my hands and knees, and about to be wheeled down the hall to the c-section room. He assured me I was fine. Haha sure.)
So Grace Erin Gowin was born by emergency c-section at 9:18am that morning. Yes, that fast. She was 2# 14oz and did decently on her apgar scores from what I heard. However, I was in the operating room for another 2 hours. After they got Erin out, the doctor noticed a lot of extra blood. As it turned out, my liver had ruptured sometime in the previous 24 hours, and I was bleeding internally. (Yeh—show you not to give me those newbie pregnant looks!) As God was watching over the situation, Dr. Guildner had remembered seeing an internal surgeon in the parking lot that morning and knew they could page him and get him there quickly. He reopened me perpendicular to the c-section and patched up my liver. (Dr. Hammer said this at my post-op appointment after examining my incision: “Wow. I did a pretty good job.” He was afraid it would be all crooked because he had cut it in such a hurry. 🙂 )
I evidently had something they call HELLP Syndrome (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Low Platelets). It is a form of pre-eclampsia but much more severe (obviously). It can shut down kidneys, heart, and liver, as well as have major repercussions for the baby. Many women and babies have died from this, often because it is not diagnosed in time. Remember how I said we had a sonogram early and saw the signs? If I had not, I would have called the doctor and she probably would have told me that pregnant women vomit, that I probably have indigestion (which is also in that upper quadrant area), and to call me in the morning. Things go south really quickly with this syndrome, which is why moms and babies often die when they are put off by the doctors, especially since it occurs most often in first time moms.
Besides all that was mentioned above, here are some other notable points along the way where God stepped in to save little “Grace” and I. 1) I had the sonogram early, found out the problem, and knew what to expect. My doctor did not dismiss my symptoms because of that. 2) Since they expected the baby to be born on the first admittance, they gave me a round of steroid shots to help her lungs develop, but those shots take 48 hours to take effect. If we had not had a flare up two weeks previous to her birth, she would not have had those shots because we did not have 48 hours the second time around. 3) That last flare up happened early that Sunday morning before Michael had left for church. If only a few hours later, I would not have had a way to call him while he was playing on the worship team. 4) The right doctors were there at the right time on a Sunday morning.
I was still pretty sick for a while after Grace Erin’s birth. I had to have a blood transfusion and I was not allowed to get out of my bed for a few days because of having major surgery. That was difficult because Erin was so tiny, she had to be in an isolette down the hall. So I didn’t get to see her for two days except for the Polaroid pictures the nurses brought down to my room. Finally, after the second day, the nurses felt so bad for me that they unplugged Erin, wheeled her isolette down to my room so I could stick my hand in the little hole on the side (you’ve seen those machines when you first walk into Wal-Mart?) and touch her for 30 seconds before they wheeled her off again. I went home after a week, though I still had a long way to go to get back on my feet, but Erin stayed for a month till she got her body fat up enough to keep herself warm and till she was able to take a bottle. She was still only #4 when she came home and we had another month or two where we had to work really hard at getting her to take a bottle and teach her to nurse.
Wow. That week was hard. I was so sick and so emotional. One nurse told me that I almost died that day. Then my dad came up from OK earlier than he had planned, and I was convinced that was because they told him to, because I was dying. And my body hurt extra when I cried, so that didn’t help things either. But God got us through. The doctors that day thought we weren’t going to make it, but God had other plans. This story is one of the many reasons why I will forever trust in my God and live my life to serve Him. He has given me (and Erin) another chance and nothing will ever be more important than seeking out his purposes for me.
So, if you are still here and sticking with me through this against-blogging-regulation-length blog post. Here is a little about our Grace Erin, who began our lives as parents with a bang!
She is super sweet, though that is not always manifested in interactions with her siblings. 🙂 She is quiet, but not shy. She loves people, but is an introvert by nature and is often found hiding somewhere lost in a book. Unexpectedly, she loves to perform in plays. She is rarely nervous about being in front of people, though she is more often sitting quietly, minding her own business. She tends toward perfectionism, but she has often reminded me when I was trying to help her do a project, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, Mom.” She is smart and a hard worker. She was awarded Student of the Month in the first month of her junior high career, which she was surprised about since she figured hardly anyone knew her at that point. But I had the opportunity to explain to her that she doesn’t have to announce her presence to make her gentle spirit known. The Holy Spirit is shining brightly through her and others see that even if she is not loud.
Erin too has a heart for justice issues. I remember her, when she was young, telling off some of the big boys during recess because they were being mean to someone. She has often pushed to go around the neighborhood and collect food for the food pantry or to have lemonade stands to earn money for World Vision. As a younger child, her favorite American Girl doll was not the one who looked just like her, but Addy, the little brown girl who escaped from slavery during the Civil War. What she loved most of all about Addy was that she was brave, and Erin has often pushed herself out of her comfort zone in an attempt to be brave as well.
She has plans to be a missionary in Africa some day like Katie Davis, and she says she might not even get married if she doesn’t find a man who wants to go to Africa with her. Ask her—she is very serious about that. The deep dark jungles of Africa would definitely be out of her comfort zone since she is pretty squeamish about many things, but I have no doubt she would push through if she felt it was what God wanted of her.
Grace Erin has already been an example to the world of God’s intimate hand in our lives. We will all be blessed to see what more He wants to show us about Himself, through her. Thank you, Lord, that you had other plans. Thank you for your Grace.