The Story of Wibrandis Samuel Sam
Posted on 24 Dec 2020 by CERC
This post was written by Joni and Sam in recount of the birth of their daughter, Wibrandis Samuel Sam.
On the 31st of July, I folded and tucked away the last few pieces of my baby girl’s clothing. I had spent most of MCO preparing for her arrival and just shortly into my third trimester, I was done with the preparation. Everything was ready, even my hospital bag. Needless to say, we were just so excited to have her! After trying for a baby for some time and having a successful procedure, we were sure she was meant to be. I turned off the lights in her nursery and said to my husband, Sam, “Dear, you know, if she came tomorrow, we’re ready.”
Of course, that didn’t mean I wanted her to come the very next day. She was only 29 weeks. Her lungs had not formed, and she still had 11 more weeks of formation to go.
The next day was meant to be just another antenatal appointment. However, that was when things started to go downhill, up until then, the pregnancy was going well. I was healthy and so was she. On that day, the scan took longer than expected and my doctor’s face was changing; it was Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). Basically, my daughter was starving to death inside of me. What made it worse was that she had been stunted for a while, measuring at only around 23-26 weeks. It was now an emergency, a matter of life and death for my unborn baby. My doctor arranged for me to go to a government hospital and they were already expecting me when I arrived. Although I was already saddened due to my limited knowledge of the situation, the look of pity from the staff that were handling my case indicated to me that maybe it was more severe than I understood it to be. I was scanned again by another specialist here and it was indeed IUGR but the specialist identified that my baby might be even smaller than what my own doctor had measured. They then reviewed my past scans which showed no issues, so we don’t really know what happened.
Following this, a ‘50/50 chance of survival’ of my daughter was what they told us. And even if she survived, she might have lifelong complications because of her severe prematurity; coming into the world way ahead of her due date. This was our dilemma: she needed to be taken out immediately because she could die at any moment, but if she was taken out too early, she might not survive either.
The conclusion was to wait 2 days for the surgery. Medication would be pumped into my body to prepare her lungs and her heartbeat would be regularly monitored. That evening, another specialist met me. It was the same conclusion, she may not survive, but if she did, I needed to prepare for a long and difficult journey at the hospital. After him, a paediatrician would come to visit me for counselling to explain what it meant for my child. Honestly, it was just 10 minutes telling me that, firstly, I needed to be prepared that she might not live. And then it was a list of complications: blindness, deafness, autism, learning disability, cerebral palsy… etc., that I needed to be prepared for as well. Furthermore, there were the infections that she could succumb to from being outside of the safety of my womb. By now, I already knew all these. Three gynaecologists had already said the same things to me. At this point, you can only reply, “Saya faham, thank you, doctor” and hope that they try their best to save her.
Although everything happened quickly, there was enough quiet time to reflect on what just happened. Because Sam wasn’t allowed to be with me the majority of the time due to COVID-19, I had the responsibility of accurately conveying to him what the doctors were saying. This meant that I needed to have understood what was happening to me.
It is in these times that your beliefs are questioned.
As Calvinists, we believe in a sovereign God, a good God who was and is with us every step of the way. His sovereignty extends to even the ordaining of the suffering of His saints. With this understanding, would we detest Him for giving us the joy of having this child, only to threaten to take her away? Could we still love Him, if she did not survive?
And what is the hope that Christians always talk about? Is it the guarantee that God will give us the best life now?
This is when we knew we would need all those years of theology and careful study of God’s Word to prepare us mentally and emotionally to see things with theological eyes. We’re not the only people in this world who suffers. But how do we as Christians understand this? Inasmuch as it was such an untimely birth, we look back now to see that many things were so well-timed by God.
One of the things was that we were already reading the book of Job during the pregnancy; another was that we found out about the complications on the day we heard a sermon at two church members’ wedding about our eschatological hope in Christ. The last one that greatly encouraged us was a sermon that I was able to watch via livestream on Sunday, the day before the surgery. It was a “Wait… What?” sermon titled, “The Prosperity Gospel is wrong about Isaiah 53:5”.
“Your baby WILL be healed” would have probably been the sweetest words at that moment. But that is not the promise that God has made. Instead, He promised us a future where He would judge the world, that sin and death would be no more, and that the pains of this world remind us that we need this hope. Indeed, who could stand if God should expose that we ourselves are rebels deserving of judgment too?
That is why the Gospel that God extends to us before that Day is beautiful if we can see how much we don’t deserve it. With that, we can hope to be saved when that Day comes and to live in a world where things are made right.
So, Sam and I prayed that we would hold fast to this hope however difficult life would get. We prayed for mercy that God would spare our daughter’s life. And we prayed that God would give us the humility to accept whatever He may will for her. In the end, we trust in the God who has changed us and caused us to love Him, that He would keep us faithful until the end.
It was surgery day, and it was not without its own troubles. We had delays caused by needing to wait more than 10 hours for a ventilator and then more than 5 hours for an operating theatre. Also, there were times when her heartbeat could not be detected by the nurses. This made my own heartbeat stop every time it happened.
Nevertheless, we thank God that she was born on the 3rd of August at 740 grams. We are also thankful to the doctors and medical team for their efforts, that modern medicine has improved so much in its ability to give someone like my baby a fighting chance. This then launched us to the beginning of our NICU journey. We learnt quickly that we’d have to take everything one day at a time. Sometimes, even half a day at a time. Every day she breathed was a day of thanksgiving to God. Nothing was predictable. Even the doctors would not say things like, “She will be okay”, because as much as her life was in their hands, even they didn’t know for sure.
We had days that were full of joy and milestones reached. Then there were also days where she deteriorated. It was always 2 steps forward, 1 step back. As parents, we wished we could stand in for all the pains our daughter had to go through because it really pierced us to watch our child suffer at such a young age.
Visitation cut-off times were the worst. You hope that she doesn’t cry when you’re about to leave. You wonder if you said goodbye right now… would you see her again tomorrow? As we dealt with the emotions that came with the NICU journey, we were tempted to just focus on wanting her to survive another day. However, we also knew that what she truly needed was the Gospel. So what if she lives now only to die again one day? If she had the Gospel, then she would truly live.
After 91 days in the NICU, our baby girl finally made it home.
Perhaps it’s easy to say that we’ve steadfastly held to this hope all along and that it was what sustained us because she’s now in our arms. I do think to myself, “What if this story did not end with parents welcoming their baby home? What if she never did make it out of the NICU? Would we be asked to write this story with such an ending, on hope? I would think the answer should be, yes. In fact, even more so.
I am not saying it will be easy to write though. But I am saying that such an experience should give us greater clarity of why we need a hope that is not just wishful or temporal but the true hope that God would make everything right. A mother should not have to bury her child, a baby should not have to grow up in the pain of being separated from her mother, and humanity should not rebel against their Creator. We see in these events the pains of having gone against our Creator and the judgment we have brought upon ourselves when we decide that life would be better without Him.
As we write this during Christmas time, we are reminded that our God has not left humanity without hope. Jesus, His Son, was sent into this world to be born so that many may be born again. If only we would humble ourselves and submit to Him.
Right now, we don’t know how our daughter’s prematurity will affect her life. We still live day by day by the grace of God. As we turn on her oxygen movement monitor every night and say good morning to her the next morning, we thank God and we also teach her to be grateful to be alive. But more than that, we teach her about the true hope that she too might one day come to have.
Our daughter’s name is Wibrandis. She is named after the Bride of the Reformation who was devoted to God both in marriage and in widowhood. She was a woman who remained godly despite the sufferings that came her way. Wibrandis’ middle name is Samuel because it reminds us that her life came from God and we should steward her in order that we may dedicate her back to Him. We named her these wishfully but God willing perhaps she will live up to even just a fraction of her name one day and not waste the life that she has been given.