When David and Becky Sherwood of St. Louis, Missouri talk about the value of life, it is not theoretical. Their daughter, born at just 26 weeks gestation, has been a precious gift – yet it has not been an easy road.
Becky is also my sister; in walking with her as she takes on each challenge, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the value of life.
As Congress considers a bill today that (when enacted) will save thousands of pre-born lives, Becky recounts how her beautiful micro-preemie baby girl came into the world… and the struggles she's overcome in her life so far.
Bound4LIFE: Becky, what was your journey to becoming a mother?
Becky Sherwood: David and I got married in November 1999. After trying for several months, we became pregnant with our first child in 2008. We were so excited to welcome this new little person into our family; she was due just in time to be our Christmas present!
We went through the preparations many expecting parents go through – choosing a name, selecting baby furniture, buying baby clothes, and setting up the nursery.
Bound4LIFE: When did you first find out something was wrong?
Sherwood: From the beginning of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Other than that, I was very healthy. However, as a precaution, my doctor was monitoring me closely.
As I approached the end of my second trimester, I was referred to a maternal-fetal specialist to be closely watched for possible signs of preeclampsia. Other than the elevated blood pressure, I had no other symptoms.
Bound4LIFE: Tell me about the day Riley was born.
Sherwood: The afternoon of September 16, 2008, I was scheduled for a check-up and ultrasound. At that appointment, the specialist believed my blood pressure was high enough to put me on bed rest. At any other time of the year, this might not have been such an issue, but this happened two weeks before the biggest conference event for my employer (I work in the conference department).
I knew it was terrible timing, especially at that crucial time. I started to cry, knowing how much work still needed to be done.
By the time I got home from that appointment, I was in the worst pain I had ever been. It was late enough that I had to call the doctor's exchange; it became so severe that my husband insisted on taking me to the emergency room. Upon arrival, we discovered that my blood pressure had spiked to 210/110. After some quick tests, it was confirmed that I had severe preeclampsia – necessitating an emergency C-section.
Within just one hour, our Riley was delivered at just 26 weeks gestation with a birth weight of only 1 lb. 15 oz.
Bound4LIFE: What were you praying on that day – and do you believe God has answered?
Sherwood: That day, my body was in shock and my mind was barely keeping up. I didn't panic, and truly didn't understand what was happening to me until weeks later, but my prayer that night was: God, please save me and my baby.
He truly answered. God placed me in the care of some of the top maternal-fetal doctors in the nation, at a hospital with one of the top neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), and they did an amazing job caring for Riley and me.
Bound4LIFE: What were some of the repercussions of such an early birth?
Sherwood: We knew that there was a long road ahead. Though we were blessed that her lungs were fully formed and functioning, Riley still needed to be on a ventilator on-and-off for the next few months. She was born before her brain remembered to take breaths, so sometimes she had to be "reminded."
From jaundice to feeding issues, the first few months were sometimes terrifying, nerve-wracking and heartbreaking. But there were beautiful moments too. We will be forever grateful for the support of family, as well as the nurses and doctors who supported us through nearly four months in the NICU.
At approximately 3 months, we discovered Riley had some microscopic cysts in the left side of her brain that caused her to neglect to use her right side.
The normal pathway the brain would use to send signals to the right side was disrupted, and it was going to take ongoing physical therapy in every stage of her development.
Just before Riley came home from the hospital we discovered she had a slight hearing loss and would need hearing aids.
Bound4LIFE: Without realizing it, moms may dream of having a "perfect" baby. As it became clear Riley wouldn't fit society's view of "perfect," what was going on inside you?
Sherwood: I can't lie, I was devastated and had to go through a period of mourning – which really didn't even begin until we brought Riley home and the reality of what it all meant started to set in.
I had to come to terms with the fact that what I "planned for" was not what was going to happen. But we would still have an amazing journey with Riley – even better than what we had planned – and that we could even let God use our pain and experience to help others.
Bound4LIFE: How is life different since she came home from the hospital?
Sherwood: We are fortunate to live in the State of Missouri, which provides great support for families of babies with low birth weights including various therapies and educational opportunities.
Today, Riley is a smart, creative, thriving six year-old who loves to travel. She is a voracious reader in a mainstream kindergarten – and is at the top of her class.
Most people would never know it, but she still struggles with some of her physical challenges and continues to work hard at her physical therapy. I know there are more struggles ahead. Yet she is the most determined little girl, full of love and compassion. She truly is our miracle baby.
Reprinted with permission from Bound4LIFE.