A Mother Chose Life For Her Daughter, and Proved the Doctors Wrong

"Whether she lived nine minutes or ninety years, I was going to give her life."

By Amelia Hamilton Published on May 8, 2015

It was the heartburn that gave Stevie hope. She had a 2 year-old son and, after several miscarriages, was pregnant with a much-wanted baby. She knew it would be different with this baby because, like her pregnancy with her son, there was the heartburn. She knew deep down that this meant the pregnancy would succeed.

In the early weeks, Stevie began having a recurring dream of her son and of a tiny daughter who could fit in her pocket. She would dig into her pocket to bring her daughter out to play, and couldn’t find her. “I knew it was wildly irrational,” she said, “but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.” At her 17-week ultrasound, the baby was a little small, but not alarmingly so.

At 20 weeks, she went for a gender scan, and everything changed.The ultrasound tech got very quiet, and the doctor was brought into the room. Stevie recalls him telling her “Your baby isn’t growing. Something is very wrong. We will do further testing if you want, but it’s my recommendation that we schedule a termination. I’ll step out and you can discuss your options.”

He told Stevie that he suspected her baby had primordial dwarfism which, he told her, is mostly fatal in infancy or early childhood. “I looked at my mom and my then-husband and just repeated, ‘but there is no choice’ over and over again. My mom held my hand and said, ‘there is no choice.’” The doctor wasn’t happy with Stevie’s choice to give her baby life. “The doctor came back in after maybe ten minutes, as if that’s enough time to digest the fact that my perfect baby, whom I thought to be so perfectly safe inside my broken body, was probably not going to live. I told him I had nothing to consider, that whether she lived nine minutes or ninety years, I was going to give her life. He told me to find a new doctor.”

Her second doctor was no better. “That’s no way to live,” she told Stevie of the baby. “I would terminate. You can always have another baby.” Stevie was horrified by the cavalier remarks. “I have never understood how anyone could think babies are as interchangeable as shoes,” she said, “but the doctor told me to kill my daughter just like she was telling me to throw away an old pair of heels.” Again, Stevie needed a new doctor, one that would support her in giving her baby life. Again, she was failed when a third doctor advised her to terminate. Stevie remembers that the third doctor thought that “a dead baby was better than an imperfect one.” Regardless of these setbacks, Stevie kept fighting for her daughter.

“It was the darkest period of my life. I was determined that the little girl I’d prayed for my entire life would not just survive, but thrive, and no one would help me. I searched and searched for another doctor. … One doctor agreed with my decision to decline invasive testing because of the risk of miscarriage, but knew that neither she nor the hospital in our small town was equipped to handle my complicated case. She wanted to send me to Denver to be hospitalized for the remainder of my pregnancy. I had a two year old and a husband who was frequently absent. I couldn’t go to Denver. Thankfully, my mom and grandma live in Minnesota, and the town they live in has a hospital that is an extension of the Mayo Clinic. She found me a high risk obstetrician and a perinatologist, and off I went with my son and my fear. I was twenty-two weeks pregnant. My sweet baby still hadn’t grown.”

Stevie’s son stayed with her mother while Stevie was on bed rest in a nearby hospital. Every day, she had an ultrasound in which the baby was given a score out of eight points. If the baby scored a six or above, she could stay in the womb another day. If she dipped below those scores, she would have to be born to have any chance at life. She scored perfectly for days, right up until April 6, 2009, the day before she was scheduled to be born via c-section.

Stevie recalls that morning. “I was wheeled down to the ultrasound room at nine in the morning, just as I had been every other morning at nine o’clock for all those countless days prior. I felt funny. Not bad, exactly, but just kind of off.  By this time, I knew what to look for, I knew what healthy blood pressures looked like on the screen, I knew that her heart usually beat about 180 times every minute. I knew that she was very active, though she was so small I couldn’t feel much of her movement. When she appeared on the screen, she wasn’t moving. She wasn’t practicing breathing movements. Her blood pressure was very low. Her heart rate was 62. Her score was 2/8. The 2 was a bit of a gift, I think, only because she was still barely hanging on.

“I was rushed from the ultrasound room to the operating room … and she was born in under three minutes. There were so many doctors in the room and I couldn’t see her. … I caught a little glimpse of her ear and the side of her face as my surgeon handed her to the neonatologist. She was blue. The room was silent. It was terrifying.

“We waited and waited to hear her cry. The NICU team was trying desperately to get her to breathe. Their smallest oxygen mask covered her entire face. They decided to intubate her. I watched them prepare as my doctors were stitching me up. Just as they were opening her mouth to insert the tube that would breathe for her, she let out the tiniest, most beautiful cry I have ever heard. She sounded like a little kitten … The neonatologist held her next to me just long enough for me to kiss her sweet face before taking her to the NICU.”

When Stevie finally got out of the recovery room, she anxiously awaited news ofEloise Newborn her daughter who, she had been told, might not survive and, if she did, would probably never walk or talk and would need constant and expensive care. When the doctors returned, Stevie heard the only news for which she hadn’t prepared herself. Her daughter was healthy.

“My little Eloise, whose name means ‘famous in war,’ had proven every doctor she’d ever had as wrong as they could be. She had no form of dwarfism. She had completely normal brain activity. At 3 pounds, 4 ounces she may have been less than half the size of other newborns, but that was one of the only discernible differences between them. She was in the NICU for two hours before they moved her to the regular nursery.” When Stevie’s grandfather met his new great-granddaughter “he held her in one of his great big hands, looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘she’s just a minnow, Steve.’  She certainly was, but she was a tough one. My little fighter lived up to her name from the minute she took her first breath.”

Eloise is now six years old and, aside from a couple of minor issues, is a healthy, happy little girl. The doctors have never determined why she didn’t grow in utero, and she’s still small at only 32 pounds, but that doesn’t stop her. She runs, plays, swims, rides horses, and chats all day, just like any other kindergartener.

Three years ago, Stevie took Eloise to the doctors who wanted her to terminate. “I wanted them to see what they told me to give up. I wanted them to understand that every one of the terrified mothers with sick babies is carrying a tiny person with her own personality, her own future, her own uniqueness. I wanted them to know that they’re not infallible. I wanted them to wonder how many babies they’d terminated after a misdiagnosis. I wanted to change their hearts. I knew that my daughter was destined for big things, and it would be a very big thing indeed to change the hearts and minds of these doctors who convince mothers that ending the lives of their babies is not only necessary, but right.” While they were happily surprised to see Eloise so healthy, none of them apologized or seemed affected by the story. Stevie still prays, though, that meeting Eloise has softened their hearts over time.

Eloise with her brother Josh

Eloise with her brother Josh

The most important thing to remember of her story, says Stevie, is to be an advocate from your child from the moment of conception. “I hope that our story encourages other mothers in this kind of a crisis never to stop fighting, because these little babies sure don’t. My little girl may have forgotten how to grow but she always knew how to fight. She needed me to fight for her, as all babies both healthy and sick need from their mamas. I know that not every baby will have a story like mine was so blessed to have, but every baby deserves a story.”

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