There are moments throughout the day that I feel it deeply — the gift: our heart’s desire fulfilled.
It was only this month last year that I became pregnant again. How many times had I sat in our nursery rocker, surrounded by all the loss in that room while crying out to God for mercy? How painful it was to face that place for the first time.
It is easy to forget the days of longing when the longing is fulfilled. But what a tragedy it would be for me not to recognize God’s faithfulness each time I pick up Caleb from his crib and carry him in my arms: the crib that lay empty after great loss and the arms that longed to be filled in its wake.
I can’t forget it. I mustn’t. For it holds the perspective I desperately need: that God’s purpose goes so beyond our temporal wants and desires. His purpose is eternal.
With that, I decided that it is finally time I share our precious rainbow baby’s birth story so that I may recount His faithfulness in my own heart, with hope that it will allow you the grace to see how He has been faithful in your story, too.
I am writing this in two parts: the first being our road to finally getting Caleb home. The second of journeying through those first weeks home. Both were significant times of growth and healing for us that felt worthy of sharing to shine a light on the Lord’s mercy.
Caleb James arrived in the wee hours of a Thursday morning during the month of November 2020. What began as a smooth labor process ended in an emergency C-section and continued escalating into a difficult and unexpected journey.
Caleb required supplemental oxygen immediately while I was put into post-surgery care, so the first time I got to truly look at our son and hold him close was nearly eight hours after delivery. It was a sacred moment. The years of longing, of grieving the loss of what we’d longed for, and longing again – all crashed into this single moment. Our beautiful rainbow — our second born son. God’s redeeming grace crashed over us in waves of joy.
Just one day into his life, Caleb developed a severe neonatal pneumothorax that caused his lung to completely collapse. At two a.m. on Friday morning, his doctor came in to inform us that he would require a chest tube to save his life. After the procedure, we could not hold him at all. The first four days of Caleb’s life we were only able to hold him twice.
There were many ups and downs during our time at the local hospital, but on Monday afternoon, Caleb was finally well enough to come off the oxygen. After days of nursery visits and lonely nights, we finally got to have him in our room with us. It was surreal to finally be able to stare at and hold our son as long as our hearts desired.
The most surprising thing also happened that night. In the joy of those moments there arose a lingering sadness. Christian and I realized that although we were in love with our son and would not trade this new life with him for anything, we had to grieve the loss of our life with just him and me. I didn’t expect that. After Levi died, we had to transition back into being content as just us, and that was hard. So naturally, I assumed this transition would not be a difficult one to face — yet it was.
But it was a gracious grieving for what it offered: a time to assure each other that we will always be a team; when our children are grown and gone, there will still be us. And nothing, not even our own child, will take the place in our hearts that the other dwells. We also realized in that moment that maybe the most important aspect of entering a new season is allowing yourself to grieve the one that has passed; perhaps it is the only way to truly embrace the one before you.
On Tuesday morning, November 17th, we all awoke from an exhausting – yet, beautiful – first night with our son. It felt like Christmas morning because we knew we would be taking him home that day.
The drive home was surreal as we listened to soft worship music the whole way. When we finally reached our road, the song “Goodness of God” by Bethel music played, one I’d listened to and from so many of Caleb’s appointments while he was still in my belly. I often clung to those words when fear began to creep in during his pregnancy. And now, it played as we passed our fields with streaming tears down both our cheeks, remembering what it was like to be in that moment with no baby boy in the back seat. Grief and joy intertwined as we reached home with different circumstances.
Only a few short hours after being home, we noticed Caleb’s breaths-per-minute were extremely fast. Panic began to set in. After calling his doctor and confirming we needed to come back in, we quickly wrapped Caleb up and rushed out the door. With tears flowing and hearts beating fast, we made the trip back to the hospital. Christian drove fast, breathing into his hands periodically from the sick-inducing anxiety. “How many times must this drive haunt us?” I thought as I sat in the back seat, watching our son intently.
When we arrived, the same nurse who had given us a tour of the hospital when we were pregnant with Levi happened to be outside. She kindly parked our car so we could get in the door quickly, then called two other nurses down who had cared for us during Levi’s birth. All three prayed over us as we waited for Caleb’s x-ray results.
When the doctor called us back in, we could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t good news. He slowly let out, “I haven’t seen this happen in twenty-two years of experience. Your son’s lung has collapsed again.” I immediately threw myself into Christian’s arms with Caleb wrapped in mine as we sobbed together, fearing for our son’s life. One of the doctors prayed over us in that moment — the second prayer over our family that day by medical staff. God’s grace presenting itself yet again.
The next part in this story is truthfully difficult for me to reflect on, much less write. I still get emotional thinking about it.
After the x-ray, Caleb was taken into the ICU where doctors talked amongst themselves about installing another chest tube — a very dangerous procedure to have done once, but twice? As they discussed, medical staff worked to put an IV on Caleb. Due to little experience with babies, they stuck him in multiple places before finding the right spot, while our boy screamed in pain. The most horrifying part was watching his oxygen levels continue to drop with each cry. The only thing Christian and I could do was hold his tiny hands in total desperation as we cried out to God, begging for mercy as our one-week-old son struggled to breathe.
Finally, our pediatrician made the decision to transfer him to UAB to have more specialized care. We still praise God for her foresight.
Hours later, the UAB ambulance arrived to take Caleb. We arrived in Birmingham at probably midnight, and everything in us felt weary. After getting Caleb settled into his room, we went downstairs to a Ronald McDonald sleep room that my sister arranged for us. It was a Godsend, for it was the first time either of us had slept on a comfortable bed in a week.
We ended up spending six, very nerve-wracking nights at UAB. After days of doctors coming in and out, running tests and evaluating what was wrong, we finally got the news that Caleb had a minor second pneumothorax that needed time to heal on its own for him to be taken off oxygen. No second chest tube was required, praise God. We were thankful he would not have to undergo more suffering after what he had already endured.
On November 21st he was finally able to breathe on his own. By November 23rd, he was ready to go home.
Going home the second time carried a different feeling. While the gratitude of being in that moment remained, there was an innocence taken from it — very much like what was taken after losing Levi. No longer are we blissfully ignorant that something can go wrong; instead, we must face the reality that something has and still could yet choose to trust God with our son anyway. That kind of trusting isn’t blind; it requires every ounce of faith we possess.
We would soon realize that taking Caleb home was only the beginning of that faith journey.