Some of you may already know that I volunteer at the local NICU where I get the pleasure of holding babies. Yup, that’s right-I just get to sit in a rocking chair & hold newborns. Definitely blessed by this; although it is hard to see these precious littles have to struggle just to live in their first days, weeks, and months of life. I volunteer as a “Snuggler”-which is exactly what it sounds like. So, why are Snugglers needed? Well, nurses in the NICU care for 2-3 babies each, and not only do each of these babies need to be fed (typically every two hours), changed, and cared for just like any other baby, but they also have medical needs, procedures, and charting on a daily basis. Parents are quite often there, but with work and just needing a break (or to go home and shower or take care of their children) they can’t always be there. So when one baby has a need that only a nurse can provide and another baby needs holding, that’s where I come in.
Being a volunteer at the hospital means that I have been trained, screened, and have to be in excellent health in order to volunteer (which is why I have missed the past 3 weeks-being sick with bronchitis). I also get to meet amazing families while they’re going through very tough times. At times I have donated a session to a family because I know that finances just wouldn’t allow for photos, yet it’s even more important that they document this little miracle. This is just one of the many stories that I have been able to be even a small part of. This is baby Jack’s story…
I met Ben very briefly after seeing his amazing role as Ben Gunn in Lifehouse Theater’s version of Treasure Island last year. At that time, I had no idea that I would be able to document & share their family’s little love story with you all. Ben & Katie tried for several years to get pregnant until their doctor told them there was nothing more they could do except write them a referral. After rounds of testing with the specialist, they found out that they had an extremely low chance of conceiving naturally and that IVF would be their best chance. By a miracle, the funds came through and they started the IVF process right after their 5th anniversary in September of 2018. There were some complications, but they were officially pregnant with twins on Valentine’s Day, 2019!
Katie said that the first half of the pregnancy was great and they found out that they were both boys and very healthy. Although twin pregnancies are labeled as "high risk" and closely monitored, everything was progressing perfectly and the boys were as healthy as they could be. On Father's Day everything changed. Katie started having strong contractions in the afternoon and as they were heading out the door to meet their doctor at the hospital, her water broke. At the hospital, they found out that the umbilical cord for twin "A" (Henry) had badly prolapsed and he basically had no chance of survival due to being cut off from that life source. Since they were fraternal twins, twin “B” (Jack) had his own separate water sac and that seemed to be intact. However, at only 20 weeks gestation, they were unable to administer anything to stop labor or resuscitate the babies if they were born. The doctors prepared them for the fact that when Katie delivered Henry, they would not be able to stop Jack from being born as well and they would not be able to save him.
That night, Henry passed away and the doctor confirmed it Monday morning by ultrasound. That day they were transferred to Loma Linda University Medical Center while Katie continued to labor throughout the day. Tuesday morning at 9:11 am, Henry was born. Amazingly, the high risk team of doctors had just stepped in the room to discuss moving forward. Even more amazing, as soon as Henry was delivered, labor immediately stopped. Even after 2 days of contractions and with no interventions from the doctors, it all just stopped and Jack stayed put. It's a miracle the doctors couldn’t explain, but Ben and Katie say that they know that it came straight from God.
They both got to spend a couple of days with sweet Henry. He was 10.5 oz, 12" long, and perfectly formed. Ben said “We are so thankful to our church family for covering the cemetery and mortuary expenses. He is buried at Hillside Memorial in Redlands, near his Great-Grandma Iris.” This was no doubt the most painful thing in their lives, but the miracle of Jack remaining in his mother’s womb brought them hope and something to look forward to.
After 1 week in the hospital, Katie was discharged to stay 3 weeks at the Ronald McDonald House across the street before being readmitted at 24 weeks. She was on a very strict diet due to the Gestational Diabetes and had very good care in the hospital. They had hoped to make it to 34 weeks gestation, where they would have induced Katie, but baby Jack had other ideas. Through a pure miracle, Jack survived and stayed inside for 9 more weeks before Katie went into labor again when he was born at 11 weeks premature.
He stayed a total of 57 days in the NICU. Compared to many other stories, he did pretty well. He did have to be resuscitated at birth and was on breathing support even after he came home. He had a brain bleed, 2 blood transfusions, an intestinal blockage (that thankfully did not require surgery), and the usual bradycardia, apnea, and desaturation episodes that many preemies experience.
I had learned of Ben & Katie’s story through our prayer request time while performing in a show. It turned out that Katie is the niece of very good friends of mine-so it was an absolute no-brainer that I would offer to capture memories of this little guy. I reached out to Ben and offered photos and because I’m already approved to be in the NICU, I was able to capture special moments of their time in there with baby Jack. I’m sure this was no doubt the hardest thing they’ve ever been through, but these photos can be a reminder of how strong their baby boy is, how big our God is, and something that I’m sure they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
Jack has been home for a while now, and as soon as he was able to get off of oxygen during the day, I invited him and his parents to my studio for some more formal portraits. It wasn’t my typical newborn session since Jack was 5 months old, but Ben & Katie love these photos and Katie says “I just can’t stop looking at them! Thank you so much, they’re beautiful!” They brought a precious stuffed bear to the session that the hospital gave them that weighs exactly what baby Henry weighed when he was born. What a beautiful way to honor his memory and capture a part of him in these photos.
Jack just turned 6 months old and is still on oxygen at night, but his parents are hopeful that will change soon! When asked what Jack future looks likes and how we can be praying for them, this is what Katie had to say; “Our biggest prayer request right now is just that we make it through flu/cold/RSV season. Jack is immunocompromised due to being premature, so getting sick with anything is a big deal right now and dangerous. Especially with his lungs still being weak. Even once he’s off oxygen, this will be something to be extremely careful of. As far as his future goes, the doctors are pleased with his progress, even though he’s just a little developmentally behind. He meets with a regular teacher and has PT appointments to hopefully get him caught up by the time he is 2 years old!” Jack is just an absolute miracle that inspires so many of us. Through it all, this family’s faith remained strong and they shared this verse that helped get them through.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” Ephesians 3:20