I’m Caroline Chermely, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
“Just over 10 years ago, I was pregnant with our son Andy. It was a very complicated pregnancy from the beginning. That was for various reasons, including the fact that I have chronic illness. At 23 weeks, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), so they admitted me to the hospital. Andy was measuring small -even for a 23-weeker- on the ultrasound. So they knew he was not doing well. I was not doing well and was really sick. They were actually more worried about me at the time than they were Andy. A lot of people from church (CSPC) started finding out and they came to the hospital and prayed. I was in the hospital for about two weeks and then, on November 11, 2011, I was still not doing well and Andy was doing much worse. They said, ‘Okay, we’re going to have to deliver today. But he is measuring about 14 ounces, and we do not have the equipment to take care of somebody that small. He’s too small for an intubation tube. He’s not going to make it.’ I was terrified. I have never known fear like that. I was just afraid for Andy; not for myself. I was preparing for death- pretty sure that upon the delivery I would lose a child that day. I was thinking, ‘How do you bury a baby?’ So they take me back, they do a C-section, they deliver him and he’s crying. Everyone in the room gasped and said, ‘He’s crying?!’ No one even thought he was going to be living. They could not believe it. They turned the sound down on all the monitors so I could hear him. It sounded like a little baby cat- tiny, tiny cry. It turned out he was 1 pound 3 ounces, which is bigger than 14 ounces and was something they could work with. They took him back to the NICU, and for the first 24 hours, he was breathing on his own all by himself, because they had given me steroid injections to help with his lungs. The nurses had never seen a baby that small breathing on his own. He was not much longer than an ink pen. They were using a cotton ball for a diaper. Andy was in the hospital 108 days before we brought him home, and he was just a little fighter. Everything kept going wrong. He kept getting infections. His lungs were puncturing- they used such a small tube to intubate him, it nicked his lungs. He was just so small.
Even once my husband Lawrence and I left the hospital and Andy stayed, we’d get those phone calls in the night saying, ‘He’s not doing well.’ I lost count how many times they had to resuscitate him because he wasn’t doing well. I think it was 7. But he just kept making it. I was still very nervous, of course. One night I pulled out my Bible and was reading Philippians 4, where Paul says ‘Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer, petition, and thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got the prayer and petition.’ But I was not thanking. So from that point on, we made a point to talk about things we were thankful for that day, even if it was really, really little. We reminded ourselves we may have gotten bad news, but Andy was still here. So thanks became a huge coping mechanism for me, and it just allowed me to see God’s hand. Even the NICU nurses said, ‘You need to celebrate every little thing. That’s how you get through this.’ Once he was about a month old, I was with Andy at the NICU all day every day while Lawrence worked. Then when Lawrence got home we would eat dinner at home together, and then he would go to the NICU for a few hours and hold him at night. All parents learn this, but maybe we learned it a little earlier: God was teaching us that Andy’s not ours, and we just need to hold him with open hands all the time. Even when we brought him home, there were all kinds of questions doctors couldn’t answer: Was he going to walk? Was he going to talk? Would he read? Would he even eat on his own? Every single milestone then, to us, was miraculous. And that is still ongoing. When he was 6 or 7, we had some doctors say, ‘I don’t know if he’ll ride a bike. I don’t know if he’ll ever read.’ But he’s started doing that. We’re still seeing God grow, restore, rewire and repair. All of it still feels really miraculous.
Before we had kids, we didn’t think we would do infant baptism. But when Andy was in the NICU, God gave quite a few people dreams about his life. One of those that about four or five people had was that he was baptized as an infant at CSPC. So we took that as a sign it was something we should do, and we did. I remember in the service, when [Senior Pastor] John Wood took him from my arms, he said, ‘And this little one… who came so early.’ Then once he was baptized, the congregation clapped. They all knew his story, and a lot of people were crying. Many also hadn’t seen him in person- the fruit of answered prayers. I’m really convinced that he’s here because of the prayers of our church. God can do what He wants, but I think He used the prayers of our church to move. Honestly that ‘Chapter Two’ season where we brought him home… it was hard, but I was so happy to have him home. I felt so grateful that he was mine, and I felt honored that God gave me that assignment. I was humbled by it, and just eager to steward that well. So I don’t think it felt like any more of a burden than any new mother feels with a newborn. I don’t remember worrying, and I think that was just God’s grace. I remember another blessing from CSPC, too. When a baby is as small as Andy was, the body doesn’t make blood very fast. They have to take blood from the babies for testing every few hours, but the bodies don’t naturally replace it fast enough, so they get a lot of blood products in the NICU. And that is a very expensive thing to receive. The Red Cross has this program where if you have a blood drive, for every certain amount of blood they collect, they’ll deduct it from your bill that you’re getting from the hospital. So a woman from our church organized a blood drive at CSPC with Medic, and that was so, so helpful to us. That was just another way the church was supportive- they were so giving.
Andy is 10 now and doing amazingly well. I home school him. He had his G-tube till he was 5, but for the past five years he’s eaten on his own fine. He has no restrictions on where he can go or what he can do. I would describe Andy today as very open and very friendly, tender, empathetic, rambunctious, feisty. He’s just a good kid. A lot of people have told me, when they interact with him, there’s just something that makes them feel so loved and special. He’s an aggressive hugger, and he just has a way of loving and connecting with people. Andy is starting to understand what a miracle he is. I’ve explained it to him some, and people who feel like they know him will come up to him at church and say, ‘I prayed for you.’ They feel that connection. So he knows what that’s about, and he responds graciously. But I do not want to put pressure on him that, because God has done so much in his life already, there’s something he has to live up to. I will accept whatever God has for Andy in the trajectory of his life. We just like recounting God’s grace to our family. We don’t ever want to forget that.”