Can I tell you a story? It's a story of faith, of miracles, of love, friendship, hardships, trials, fear, rejoicing... it's a story of life. LIFE. All of my birth stories are stories of life, and each life in itself is a miracle. But Bethel's story is different. And right now, as I type I don't feel adequate to tell it, as it's a story that I want to do justice. Her life and her testimony are so HUGE. This precious girl, she has a story, one she will tell her whole life, one that will hopefully lead people to Christ. I know as long as I live, her story will stay with me. Her life changed me. I watched a miracle not only on the day she was born, but the months leading up to her arrival, and the months since her birth. The prayers were immense, and overflowing for the Price family.
I didn't know Holly and Gill personally. We go to the same church, and have a plethora of mutual friends, but I didn't know them. And then one day a prayer request popped up on Facebook from one of our mutual friends. It was a post about Holly's pregnancy and that something was wrong with Bethel. She was diagnosed with a complete heart block in utero. I know you guys have heard the phrase, "The Lord spoke to me." Well, y'all, the Lord spoke to me that day. It was an immediate, unrelenting feeling to reach out to this stranger, and to love on her. I wanted to DO something. So I prayed that night for God's guidance on what he was trying to show me. I woke up with fresh eyes and knew I wanted to offer her my Birth Photography Services. Little did I know that from that conversation, one of the truest friendships of my adult life would blossom. Holly and I now text nearly daily, our girls are close friends, and play dates happen scattered between our busy lives. My life is SO much richer in SO many ways because of this family. I know now why the Lord laid them on my heart. I was to bless her with this gift of photos, but she and her family were to bless my life 10 fold over what I did for her. God's a funny guy like that. If you listen to those twinges in your heart, if you seek His will and look for the direction he's pointing your compass... my friends, the destination is beautiful.
There were so many uncertainties leading up to her delivery. So many variable that were out of Holly's hands. Would she deliver in Columbus or Atlanta, would she be able to deliver vaginally or have to have a c-section, would Bethel's heart rate maintain, or would she be transferred to the adjacent hospital, would she need a pacemaker immediately, or years from now?
It was recommended towards the end of her pregnancy that Holly and Gill should relocate to Atlanta 2 weeks before her scheduled c-section, due to the complications from the Complete Heart Block. Oh and about that c-section, Holly had previously had two completely normal vaginal deliveries, so this was also a cause for much anxiety. Holly and Gill were away from their two girls for over 2 weeks while they stayed in the Ronald McDonald house in Atlanta. One blow after another, one struggle after another, one speed bump after another. Holly's birth plan was going out the window. She could control nothing. And much less important on my end, I wasn't sure if I could even make the birth, since I was on-call for another client here in Columbus, and by contract couldn't leave the area. Again, God is a funny guy. Innately, our human hearts crave control. It makes us feel safe. But it's moments like this in life, where God takes all of that control out of our hands, He takes us out of our comfort, out of our safe place.... and in doing so we must lean on Him, seek His word, seek His will, seek His grace. And the Price family did just that. They surrendered. I've never seen a more beautiful act of faith, than the days and hours leading up to Bethel's birth. It was tangible, palpable... and thank you Jesus, that I was blessed to be a fly on the wall to it all.
And OH how the Lord showed up for the Price family! Holly made it to her c-section date (she has a history of preterm labor), my other client delivered 2 days prior which put me in the clear to travel (big selfish wooo hooo!). And then the big blessings started flowing in. Holly was covered in prayer by her husband and our pastor's wife, admittedly there was anxiety, but it was beautiful watching the Lord at work. Holly came through the c-section fine, and wait for it..... wait for it.... Bethel was thriving. She transitioned better than anyone could've imagined. She did go to the NICU, but she was breathing on her own, her heart rate was staying steady given her condition, she was ROCKING it. She did come with one little surprise. She was born with Neonatal Lupus, a SUPER rare condition, that even the doctors said they had only read about in textbooks. Long story short, homegirl was born with a superhero mask to go with her mad fighting skills. It has since faded, but not her spunk. She nursed like a champ, with no alarming variables to her heart or breathing. Holly and Gill were told it could be years, possibly not until she's 7 or 8 before she could need a pacemaker. Sweet pea had a short stay in the NICU and was sent home to meet her very excited big sisters.
She defied the odds during pregnancy, she defied the odds at delivery, and she keeps defying the odds as she grows.
Watch out world, Bethel has a story to tell...
Here are a few words from Holly. I encourage you to read on and hear this sweet testimony from her side.
"I’m not quite sure how to start this “explanation” of our journey. There are so many different layers and pieces over the many months of waiting for the day that you’re about to “see” thanks to Neely’s incredible gift.
This pregnancy started off just like my other two, with more morning sickness-induced visits to the ER than I would have liked. Everything looked great at our 20-week ultrasound and we learned that our family would be growing by another little girl. We knew her name immediately: Bethel- “house of God.” Our prayer has been and will continue to be, that she would truly be a place where God dwells, and all who encounter Bethel will encounter the living God.
The second trimester was rolling along and during a routine OB exam things took a quick unexpected turn. I was having this particular visit with a midwife in hopes of pursuing a natural delivery this time around. The midwife was having a hard time finding Bethel’s heartbeat. (I learned later that they thought I had lost her. They thought the heartbeat they were hearing was mine.) After a quick ultrasound they determined that the heart rate was Bethel’s, but that it was half of what it should be. We went from a normal pregnancy to a high-risk pregnancy. In three-days time we saw Maternal Fetal Medicine, the Columbus Pediatric Cardiology Clinic, and were then sent to Atlanta to Sibley Heart Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. We learned that Bethel has a very rare congenital heart disease called complete heart block. The node that tells the atria to beat in rhythm with the ventricles was attacked by autoimmune antibodies from my body- autoimmune antibodies that I didn’t even know I had. This causes her ventricles to beat out of rhythm and much slower than her atria. Instead of a heart rate of 140/150, Bethel’s normal was mid 70’s.
This was all found at 23-weeks gestation, and we had a long way to go to be full term. We were told that IF her heart rate did not drop over the remaining 17 weeks, and IF she did not develop signs of heart failure (fluid retention/etc.) then she would most likely be delivered via C-section and need surgery shortly after delivery – anywhere from hours after delivery to sometime within the first year of life. With this news came a new normal: 3-4 doctors appointments a week in Columbus and Atlanta for ultrasounds to check her heart rate. We decided to deliver in Atlanta so that I would at least be in the same city if she needed immediate surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Those 17 weeks were filled with an army of people praying, praying some more, bringing meals, watching our older girls, offering to pay for hotel rooms in Atlanta during our many travels, providing gas and restaurant gift cards, helping clean our apartment... and that’s just the beginning! As the weeks passed and I mourned the loss of my plans and “picture” of a perfect arrival, our prayers turned to pleas and my preferences for delivery paled in comparison to the longing for a safe, healthy little girl.
As we made it to “the big day,” I was overcome by peace and excitement. In the minutes preparing for the OR, I began to cry uncontrollably. This was the culmination of months of fear, anxiety, excitement, and praying. After our sweet girl arrived and we watched the Lord answer prayer, after prayer, after prayer I waited… for 8 hours to hold our sweet Bethel Grace. It was worth the wait!
Our journey did not look anything like I thought when we found out just a little over a year ago that we were pregnant. The picture I painted in my mind looked nothing like our reality. BUT the Lord in His incredible tenderness and care carried our family and provided abundantly at each turn. What you’re about to see is one of those abundant provisions. This collection of video clips and photos is an abundant, lavish gift and a beautiful reflection of the Lord’s care and kindness to our family."
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All Sons & Daughters - Reason to Sing
All Sons & Daughters - Love is All Around