Article Content

When August arrives, I look forward to meeting the incoming class of nursing students. As lead instructor in our midwestern university, I teach Fundamentals of Nursing and Obstetrics. Our Associate of Science (ASN) students typically are individuals in their midthirties. They are motivated to learn and must balance the demands of nursing school with working, parenting, and everyday responsibilities.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

On the first day of class, I involve students in an icebreaker designed to help them build friendships and identify close proximity for study buddies and carpooling. The students are divided into four groups (married/unmarried, medical experience/no medical experience, age <34 years/>34 years, and location), and faculty members facilitate each group. I stress that the new class members will become a family while in nursing school. It does not take them long to realize what I say is the truth.


Beth was in my "nonmedical experience" and "married" groups. We all gushed when she told us she was a bride of 10 days. This was her second marriage, and she had two sons ages 10 and 6. I sensed Beth was going to be my protegee for the upcoming year. However, I was totally unaware of the impact this novice nursing student would have on my life and the lives of her 33 classmates.


During the fall semester, Beth was assigned to my clinical group. I enjoyed watching her apply the principles and skills she learned to the patients assigned to her care. During that first semester, Beth became pregnant. Beth and her husband Dave were filled with typical new parent excitement, wondering with awe and thanksgiving, "Who will the baby look like?" "Will it have Dave's nose?"


What they were not expecting was the diagnosis they received 20 weeks into their pregnancy. During a routine ultrasound, as the ultrasound technician scanned Beth's abdomen, it became apparent something was amiss. The physician immediately sent Beth to the hospital for a level 3 ultrasound. There, Beth and Dave received the diagnosis that their little boy had anencephaly, a congenital deformity characterized by absence of the cerebrum, cerebellum, and flat bones of the skull (Lowdermilk & Perry, 2006).


Hurt, anger, and denial vacillated through Beth's and Dave's confused minds. The day they received the news, I answered my office phone to a pathetic-sounding caller. "Mrs. O, this is Beth." I instantly knew something was wrong. Through tears, Beth explained the level 3 ultrasound. "The diagnosis was confirmed; the baby is anencephalic!!"


I could not believe what I was hearing. I felt helpless, yet I knew Beth had called me seeking support. As the conversation began to end, I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to pray with her. I knew she could receive the much-needed strength our Lord could give her through the power of prayer. Beth accepted my offer to pray without hesitation. I asked her if I could share my favorite scripture verse with her: "For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NASB). Beth said this also was a special verse for both her and Dave and thanked me for reminding her of that truth.


Beth promised that she would try to rest and would call again the next day after she had talked with her physician. When the phone rang the next afternoon, I was alarmed at the attitude change in Beth. I distinctly recall the conversation.


"We are going to terminate the pregnancy. I can't go through another night with 'IT' inside me!!"


This was not the Beth I had come to know and love that was speaking, but rather hurt and anger doing the talking. Interestingly, Beth's physician was Catholic and held privileges at a local Catholic hospital that did not support termination of pregnancies. Although stunned, her physician was supportive and told them he would check into other alternatives. Another institution was considered, but because the pregnancy was into the second trimester and considered viable, an ethics committee would have to convene. No one knew how long it would be before a decision was made.


Later that evening, Beth and Dave began seeking guidance and comfort from their Lord and Savior. The phone call I received the next morning reflected a 180-degree turn. Beth said, "If we make this decision to terminate our pregnancy we will be playing God. Through our prayers last night, we have decided to 'let go and let God'. We believe God can heal this baby if it is his will to do so. We are going to trust and believe that God has a plan not only for us, but also for our baby."


Beth and I discussed how she wanted to handle returning to class. She asked if she could take a few minutes to address the class all at once instead of having to answer questions individually. It was a good plan. The next morning before class began this beautiful spirit entered the classroom. Beth walked to the front and we hugged and cried together. Then she addressed her classmates. "Dave and I have sought God's help, and we believe it is God's plan for me to continue to carry this pregnancy to term. If God allows us to hold our baby for 5 seconds, 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days, we will be grateful." She continued, "We believe that God, if he chooses, can heal our child, and if that is his plan, then we are going to be the vessels for this to occur." There wasn't a dry eye in the classroom. Beth presented a beautiful living testimony of her faith and trust in God.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

As we entered into the clinical rotation in February, Beth was assigned to the pediatric rotation first. It was not until late March that Beth was again with me for her obstetrics rotation. By this time her pregnancy had advanced to the sixth month. It was a tremendous challenge for her to provide care to laboring women knowing the outcome of her upcoming delivery. But with strength and compassion, Beth managed to complete the obstetrics rotation successfully and pass the second semester of the program.


Beth and Dave knew they would name their baby Mark Jeremiah. Before the pregnancy, God had given Dave a vision that he would have a son named Mark. They chose Jeremiah because of the truth of Jeremiah 29:11-13.


The decision was made that Mark could be an organ donor. Their physician helped Beth and Dave make contact with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO), which worked with them for the remaining weeks of the pregnancy. This selfless act not only validated Mark's life, no matter how short, but allowed others to receive help for their medical needs.


On June 26, 2003 Beth was scheduled for induction of labor. The hospital corridors were filled with family and friends providing love and support for Beth and Dave. I was among them. It was a long day because the physician wanted the delivery process to be as natural and uneventful as possible. At 9:15 p.m., Beth's mom was called back to the delivery suite. Beth was complete and would begin pushing. At 9:30 p.m., Dave's mom's phone rang. Beth was asking for me. I was totally surprised by the request, but quickly went to her room. Upon entering, I took a seat at the foot of her bed. Dave stood at the head of the bed on one side, and Beth's mom stood at the other side. Marnie (Beth's mom) said to me, "Susie, she wants you here."


I responded, "Okay."


Marnie said, "No, she wants you here; you know what she needs." And with that, Marnie returned to the family waiting room, and I assumed the position at the head of the bed.


The physician, the IOPO team member, Dave, and I surrounded Beth as she continued to bring the baby into the birthing position. At 9:56 p.m., Mark Jeremiah came into the world. He was breathing, a short funny squeaky-sounding breath, but breathing nonetheless. His heart rate was steady, and his skin began turning pink. His body was perfectly formed with the exception of his little head. We bundled him in blankets, put a hat on his head, and handed him to his parents. I left Beth and Dave to be alone with their son. I knew family members were waiting their turn to see baby Mark, so I assured them that Mark was holding his own and that they would be called back soon to see him.


Mark lived for three special days. During that time, Beth and Dave remained at the hospital. Family and friends were able to hold this special baby. Many photos were taken, tears cried, memories made, and prayers prayed.


At Mark's death, the IOPO team retrieved Mark's heart valves and kidneys for organ donation. The heart valves were given for another child, and the kidneys were used to help make 1,400 doses of the streptokinase, an anticoagulant medicine that works for patients experiencing arterial thrombosis, embolism, and heart attacks.


The decision to "let go and let God" was not easy, but God supplied Beth and Dave with his love and grace. He gave them Mark Jeremiah for three brief days, knowing the plan for his little life was to be used to provide life for others.


Beth continued in school and graduated in May 2004. She and Dave grew deeper in their love for each other and their Lord. In February 2006, I received a call from Beth. They were expecting another baby. We rejoiced at the news. During the summer, we met for lunch. The pregnancy was progressing, but the fetus was experiencing some cardiac issues. Once again, Beth and Dave were faced with a high-risk pregnancy. What was God's plan this time? In August, I received an email from Beth. She told me that she and Dave had decided on the baby's name. He would be named Oliver Thomas. She explained, "Oliver because of what you mean to us, and Thomas for my grandfather." I could not believe what I was reading!!


September 28, 2006, Oliver Thomas, my namesake, entered this world in perfect condition, a mirror image of Mark Jeremiah.


I believe the words of Jeremiah 29:11-13. I know God has a plan for me to remain in the teaching position I hold at the university. I give thanks each day for the ability to be used for his purpose, to share my faith, and to pray for the students enrolled in our program while they are on their journey through life. God's plan for my life brings with it challenges, accountability, responsibilities, and blessings. The unexpected blessing of having a child named after me is, I dare say, indescribable. And that's just like God!!


Lowdermilk, D. L., & Perry, S. E. (2006). Maternity nursing (7th ed., p. 886). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier. [Context Link]