the unbelievable year that just won’t stop

By Melissa Blakey

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1: 6-7

It’s been a crazy year. People say that, but I really mean it. Crazy. Not busy crazy, but more the are-you-kidding-me-God-is-this-actually-happening-to-me-crazy.

A year ago, I was just returning from my first trip to Maui and my husband and I had our friend over to take pictures of our new surprise–my burgeoning womb where our rainbow baby was growing, 10 weeks strong. We posed like chefs in front of our open oven, pointing to a literal bun placed on the upper rack. We were so cute and so excited. After 3 years of navigating marriage, job transitions, moves, the ups and downs of owning our own business, and a miscarriage, we were thirsty for some joy in our lives.

I knew my pregnancy was going to be different. I was reading all of the natural birth books, listening to birth stories on podcasts, and asking for advice from younger, healthier moms, but I had hypertension from underlying kidney disease I’ve had all of my life and fibroids. I saw a perinatologist early in my pregnancy and I got ultrasounds very frequently and needles in my arm to take blood sometimes 2 times a week. I was told I might deliver early and was fully briefed that I could develop preeclampsia at any time. During week 29, I went to the doctor just like usual and they had a hard time getting the baby’s heart to accelerate. I tried all the juices and tricks, so they admitted me to the hospital. They gave me a shot of steroids in the hip, hooked me up to many machines, and told me I had to stay overnight for observation. We were not prepared and very scared. 29 weeks was crazy early. We prayed hard and told everyone to begin praying. I started meeting nurses who changed shifts every 12 hours, all who asked me the same questions over and over again. And they all had different approaches and personalities. I was released and told to take it easy. From that point on, I was in and out of the hospital, twice for overnight stays until week 33. I got more steroids to help with the baby’s lungs in case I delivered early, which at this point, I knew was going to happen. We were all hoping for at least 36 weeks, but at least our baby made it into December. We had decided on Lincoln Zechariah during this time. Lincoln was after my 2nd cousin 6 times removed, our president Abraham. Zechariah means “God Remembers” and that was in memory of our previous baby and because despite everything, God has been faithful. I went into the hospital on a Monday and was told I was going to have to have a C-Section immediately. My body was taken over by fear. I shook so badly and couldn’t stop crying. I needed time to prepare myself. Just before they wheeled me in, the doctor on call decided to order a 24 hour test to see if my kidneys and liver were okay. I got a reprieve. My doctor was going to be in that Friday morning so I asked after the tests came back in favor of delivery if they could wait until the next morning so that I could have my doctor. I also really wanted my historic baby to be born on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, because it was epic and memorable. The night before we had the NICU doctor come and talk to us for an hour. We were trying to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario. No one really knew how our baby would respond but everyone agreed that he was better outside than in. My placenta wasn’t allowing him to grow like he should and he would have a better chance by being born. We were told he would need to learn to suck, swallow, and breathe. Babies don’t learn that until the next week in the womb. When he came out, he was perfect, just tiny. He only had to be on oxygen for an hour. He still needed a central line and a feeding tube, but he was doing so well. He was 3lbs ,13 ozs and 16.25 inches long. It was a grueling 3 weeks. I was with him as much as I could be. The first week, I was actually in the hospital as a patient because my blood pressure was out of control and high. I recovered really well from the C-section and soon was able to drive myself to the NICU 35 miles in each direction to do skin to skin, learn to pump, and practice nursing with a lactation coach. The nurses in the NICU were amazing. Leaving every night to go home felt so weird. I did it for so many nights, but talking to NICU moms all over the world, we had it easy. Of course it was flu season so our baby could only have two other visitors. We gave one of the spots to my mother-in-law and were going to give the other to one of my parents but they lived in Phoenix and we were in San Diego and my dad caught the flu right as the baby was born. Throughout this, we were reminded that it was Christmas. Our baby presented to us the hope that God gives during dark times. Lincoln was almost representative of Jesus in some ways and for the first time we understood how crazy it was that God came into the world as a helpless child, needed so much care. Also, we were parents but many didn’t see us as parents yet because our little one was still in the hospital. That was completely surreal and delayed us feeling like a family outside of those few moments we all got together in the NICU each night. Lincoln was released on December 30th, 23 days after his birth.

The number 23 has always had a significance to me. I was born on the 23rd. I grew up in Chicago during the 6 year reign of the Bulls, where 23 was the number of the greatest basketball player to ever play the game, Michael Jordan. And so it was that on the 23rd of January, just two days before what would have been Lincoln’s due date, I got the call about my 68 year old dad. He had had a sudden massive stroke along with seizures and it was not looking good. It seemed impossible because less than two weeks prior, he had been in my living room watching B movies and sorting my socks. My parents had driven out from Phoenix to meet their first grandson and help me put our house together since everything was askew from our unexpected delivery and subsequent NICU stint. My dad seemed tired, but he had just recovered from the flu, or so I thought. In the moments after the call, everything became very important. Every word I said, thought that crossed my mind. Lists began forming in my head for what we’d need to pack in order to drive to Phoenix as soon as humanly possible with a 5 lb baby who had just gotten out of the NICU. But I had to be with my mom. I needed to know this was real. It was all too crazy and I didn’t know how to pray, all that I could do was call my friends and relay the situation to them and have them stand in the gap for me and my family. On the day that was supposed to be Lincoln’s due date, I was in the ICU with my dad as they took him off life support. He was supposed to go quickly. That’s the way it always happens on “Grey’s Anatomy.” They get unhooked, they die. You say your goodbyes and that is all. I said my goodbyes– heart wrenching words you never want to say to your parent– three times that week. I told my dad it was okay to leave us. I said we would be okay even though I didn’t really know if that was true. God was there beside me giving me an unbelievable strength and clarity. I told my dad all about Jesus in case he needed to hear it before he left. The stroke happened Monday. He didn’t die until Saturday morning. Those were the longest and weirdest days.  My mom couldn’t go to the hospice. We didn’t even know the hospice would be a possibility and she had seen him through the seizures and couldn’t unsee it. There was a sound machine in his room with birds on it. I think the sound was the same as the one on my son’s machine so now when I hear it, I am taken back to that room where I held my son up to his grandpa for the last time.

When we got back home after that long and terrible week, there was a piece of mail that I had meant to deal with. It was a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. I originally ordered the DNA kit on Black Friday. I had been meaning to do it many years before as I had this thing about my genealogy. I had recently gotten back on my family tree when searching for names for my son and I had discovered the link between myself and Abraham Lincoln. This reignited a passion that I’d had to know my family roots, understand where we came from and speculate about where we were going next. I had actually failed the first DNA test. It was during Lincoln’s NICU stay and you have to give enough spit after not drinking or eating for 30 minutes. I decided to do it first thing in the morning which was a mistake when the air was so dry and I had no saliva. So they sent me a new kit about 8 weeks later. The kit went into the mailpile when everything with my dad happened. But I thought I should finish what I started so I spit again and sent it in.

What I discovered along with the fact that I’m 29% Scandinavian is a 21 year old recent grad of a prestigious California university. “Jake” (his alias)  and I got matched up as possible 1st or 2nd cousins. I thought I knew all of my cousins so I messaged him. Jake, I discovered, was adopted and was looking for his birth father. His adopted parents were completely in support of his search and he knew his birth mother but neither of them knew who his father was for various reasons. We connected on Facebook and I discovered his pictures looked very similar to pictures of my dad that I had seen when I was putting together slides for his celebration of life. I knew that Jake was probably related to me but he wasn’t sure how. I gave Jake some information about my family and an estranged relative, “Kevin”,  that I didn’t know personally but who I thought could be his father. I wasn’t sure of this, but in context it made sense because of ages. I didn’t know where to find the relative, as I had very little information about him, but Jake was able to look him up immediately and wrote to him. After a few weeks, Jake told me that he got ahold of Kevin and although Kevin thought it might be a scam, Jake had details about my family that I had given him to prove to Kevin that he wasn’t lying. Kevin had no idea that Jake existed because Jake’s birth mother had never told him about the baby because she didn’t think it was his and their relationship was short-lived. Suddenly my life was becoming an episode of Maury Povich or a really weird Ancestry.com commercial. Turns out that Kevin IS Jake’s biological father. So because I spit into a tube, a father and son met and connected. Just last week they met for the first time and 21 year old Jake got to meet his 4 year old half sister as well as his father, Kevin, and Kevin’s family. (There’s much more to this story but it’s watered down because this is a public forum and it involves deep issues that are still in the upheaval process.)

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the miracle of life. The suddenness of death. And the fact that we are all grafted into God’s family, adopted, sons and daughters of God. Since December I’ve faced medical uncertainty, premature birth, first time motherhood, a traumatic unexpected NICU stay followed quickly by a more traumatic unexpected ICU visit, the death of my father, the unearthing of family secrets… It’s a lot. Like I said in the beginning, crazy. I don’t always know where God is in the midst of this. I believe He had my son come so that my dad could meet him. I believe He still can use us in the midst our darkest hour for good, as I was able to help connect a father and a son in mine. I know He has good plans for me.

Honestly, some days I feel like my faith is like this: I’m under water in a pool alone. Not drowning, but it’s murky. I don’t feel like myself. I can’t hear or see very well. I know there’s this world above me where everything makes more sense. People are going about their normal lives. I’m in a different world even though I’m right next to them. But I know I’ll surface soon. When the grieving subsides, when I can breathe again. I’m slowly coming up for air.

And some moments aren’t that bad. I can function semi-normally by the grace of God. I can carry on a conversation.

I yearn to invest in friendships but don’t want to explain myself. I want to move forward. Not away from this, exactly. But start fresh. Declutter. I’m so full I’ve started to purge things. It started last week with my clothes and now I’m on to books. Soon papers. It’s a hard purge but a necessary one. I need to create space. My mind is cluttered with too much stuff. Might as well start with the physical and then I can start on the emotional and spiritual.

Wonderful joy is ahead. I know it because my faith has grown strong, even when it feels like I’m under the murky water. I cling to what God has done in my past. I look to those markers and remember and believe what he has done. With that I  faithfully, although a bit trepidatiously, look toward the future. Wonderful joy is ahead.

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Melissa Blakey lives in Vista, CA with her husband, Mark, and baby, Lincoln. She is the Communications Director for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Encinitas, CA. When she’s not figuring out mom life and angling to find the best deals at Target, she enjoys writing, finding new adventures, and being outside.

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