a story of hope
I was struggling. I felt like I was failing as a woman and as a wife; like my body was failing me. Somehow I felt ashamed and so I kept it to myself, I didn’t want people to know what we were going through. I couldn’t bear the idea that people would be constantly looking at me and wondering “is she pregnant yet?”….. I felt completely alone.
I didn’t grow up as a Christian and was saved in my early twenties after my boyfriend (and now husband) took me along to an alpha course while we were at university. I started to believe but it was a long time before I experienced any kind of relationship with God. Of course during this time I prayed, asking him to help me to fall pregnant, but he never seemed to answer. Perhaps it was that I didn’t know how to listen.
We have a magnet on our fridge that says “be joyful in hope” Romans 12:12. I had read it a few times and it always made me smile, then one day I decided to go and look up the full verse in the bible – “Let your hope make you glad, be patient in times of trouble and never stop praying!” For the first time, I felt encouraged; maybe God would answer my prayers after all. That was the weekend I went to church alone. While we were praying, a lady, who I didn’t know, stood up and said – “Your father in heaven wants you to know that he feels your pain. He has shed tears with you. He loves you. He is with you. He will give you the desires of your heart. Just be patient”. Those words reduced me to tears of joy, I knew without doubt that He was speaking to me! I left church feeling buoyant and so excited to share with my husband. It was going to be okay, God was going to give us a baby!
I would like to say that from that day everything was easy, that I waited gracefully and patiently. But there were still difficult days; days when I doubted that God had been speaking to me at all, days when I thought I would never fall pregnant, days that a pregnancy or birth announcement on Facebook made me feel a pang of envy. But despite the doubts I felt closer to God. I found another verse in the bible which I clung to with hope and repeated over and over in my prayers – Psalm 113:9 “He will give the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord!” What I now realise is that my struggle to conceive was all part of God’s plan to bring me into relationship with him. It was the first time in my life that I needed him, that I had to wait patiently on him to answer my prayers.
Eventually after two rounds of IVF, the first of which ended in miscarriage, I was pregnant. We were overjoyed but at the same time afraid to be too excited incase something terrible happened. The pregnancy was difficult: I started to bleed at 8 weeks. At 28 weeks we learned that the baby had stopped growing and would need to be delivered prematurely. The private hospital where we were being treated told us they would not be able to provide the neonatal intensive care that our baby would need and that we should consider visiting the government hospital. We were terrified, but God answered our prayers again and through a friend of a friend we were put in contact with the head of the obstetrics department who looked after us herself. I was examined every other day, free of charge. At 32 weeks our baby started to show signs of distress and needed to be delivered.
She arrived by Caesarian section and was rushed immediately to the NICU weighing a tiny 1300g. I met her for the first time 24 hours later; she was the tiniest and most perfectly beautiful thing I had ever seen. This little person that I had prayed and cried so hard and so long for changed my life and my heart instantly. I was finally a mother.
We named our daughter, Hope.
Hope spent the first 37 days of her life in the NICU. It was a challenging time for us as we adjusted to being parents whilst at the same time not having a baby to bring home. I spent every day at the hospital, sitting skin-to-skin with her behind a screen, singing to her, praying over her and returning her to the incubator every two hours to express milk.
On her hospital chart the nurses recorded her weight every morning, and each day we would check to see how much weight she had gained in the last 24 hours, we knew she needed to be close to 2kg before she could come home. One evening we prayed that the next day she would have gained 20g (the expected daily gain), during our prayer time we heard God say to us “why do you have so little faith?” So we said, “OK, 30g then!” The next morning she had gained 60g – God is so faithful!
Hope finally came home weighing 1895g and life became more ‘normal’. I continued to express milk for her, she was never able to successfully latch, and she grew steadily. We moved from Bahrain to Dubai when she was 4 months old. By the time we left I had expressed and frozen 70 litres of excess breast milk. I couldn’t donate it in Bahrain, and I couldn’t bear to throw it away – it was my connection to my daughter, the only way I had been able to help her while she was in hospital. I prayed that God would find a solution, and he did! A courier company generously agreed to ship all of the frozen milk, free of charge, to an AIDS orphanage in South Africa. It was used to feed a little boy, who was just a few weeks younger than Hope. We were able to meet him when we next visited Durban. God works all things for good!
When Hope was around a year old, we started to think about having another baby. I prayed and prayed that God would heal my body and that I would fall pregnant without needing fertility treatment. Late one night while I was walking around Hope’s room rocking her to sleep, I started to pray again, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of peace and heard a voice clearly say “Have faith!” – God had spoken again, I was so excited! We discussed meeting with IVF doctors and I agreed to start making plans for more treatment, but at the same time I felt confident that we wouldn’t need it and that God would heal me. Before going to see the doctor I took a routine pregnancy test, which was positive! Later that day, after phoning almost every hospital in Dubai to try and get an appointment, we had a scan and saw our Ffion’s little heart beating. I was 7 weeks pregnant. We have another magnet on our fridge which says “All things are possible with God”. After discovering I was pregnant we looked up the verse – Mark 10:27, “with men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” A good friend prayed for us when Ffion was a baby and felt that God had sent her to be Hope’s “friend for life, and to help her.” We see this every day in their interactions with each other.
As a result of her prematurity and a condition called sensory processing disorder, Hope suffers from low muscle tone. This has affected her speech and development of motor skills. Finding a school place for her in Dubai has been a challenge and a huge concern for us. After visiting several, we eventually found a school that we really liked and Hope attended two assessments. We waited anxiously and heard nothing for two weeks. Then, at a birthday party, we met a mother who works at the school and she told us that all the places had been allocated. We felt so disheartened and that night Carl was awake worrying. He got up and listened to an HTB podcast; it spoke about God’s favour, that ‘nothing is impossible for God’ and that we as Christians should walk in the confidence of His favour. We started to speak these truths over Hope, telling her that she is loved and highly favoured and that God would provide a school place for her. I phoned the school and they confirmed that all the places had been allocated; Hope had not received a place. Worry crept back in, but we continued to pray that God would provide a place for Hope, in a school where she would thrive. I specifically prayed that the school’s decision would be reversed. We continued to proclaim God’s favour over our lives to try to push the worry away. The next day, Carl read Revelations 3:7, “When I open a door, no one can close it. Listen to what I say. I know everything you have done. And I have placed before you an open door that no-one can close.” We were so encouraged by it, but we still didn’t see any open doors and worry kept hounding us. But within a couple days of that our prayers were answered when the school called to offer Hope a place! We are so thankful to God for his love and favour.
Hope is now 4 years old and is the happiest, funniest, sweetest girl you could imagine, with a laugh that is infectious! She fills our life with joy and has a way of positively affecting everyone she meets. Her life is full of challenges and will continue to be for some time yet, but we know that God is with her, and us, and that he will ultimately have victory and be glorified. We must simply ‘be joyful in hope, patient in times of trouble, and never stop praying!’