Written by my mother, Gelene Springston
One Sacred Night
Reflections by a Grateful Grammy
“They’re losing Elliot,” my husband said sadly. Our son, Ryan, had just called with the awful news. Minutes later a call came from a tearful nurse, “Come as quickly as you can!” We were 50 minutes from St. Joseph Hospital in downtown Denver. (This is where our daughter, Heidi, had been a patient for the previous eight weeks in the Antepartum Care Unit before Elliot was born, and for her subsequent recovery from the C-section. Now she was staying in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with Elliot.) Larry and I and were in shock. Elliot was five days old and in stable condition. This couldn’t be happening to our family. We cried out to God as we drove to the hospital. “Please save our little grandson one more time! Just one more miracle, please Lord!” Before we had traveled too far, word came that Elliot was gone.
Elliot truly was our miracle grandbaby. He defied all odds. Early on, Heidi and Dustin made multiple urgent trips to the doctor’s office and one to the E.R. with every indication that Heidi would miscarry. But each time, Elliot’s heart kept going strong. At 20 weeks 5 days, it was confirmed that Heidi was losing amniotic fluid. At that point the doctor asked her if she wanted to continue the pregnancy. There was no question about that decision under any circumstances. So two weeks later on April 9th, Heidi checked in at St. Joe’s for complete bed rest. Even though the road ahead seemed so uncertain and daunting, it was comforting to know that she and Elliot would be monitored 24/7. The goal was for her to carry Elliot for at least another 12 weeks or until the end of June. Even then, there was no guarantee that his lungs would develop properly with little or no amniotic fluid.
Daddy Dustin was amazing through it all. He was holding down his full time job, caring for four year old Sylvia and two year old Valerie, and making many trips with them to see mommy. Between his mother, Camille (grandma “Mimi”), Larry and I, we were able to cover most of the girls’ care during the day. Friends and family pulled together to volunteer their time, food, love and support during this difficult time.
When Elliot William Treibel was born on May 29, 2017, he had reached almost 30 weeks gestation, and weighed close to four pounds. As expected, his lungs were underdeveloped and one was perforated. After a critical few hours, he was stabilized and living among us. It didn’t matter that he would probably spend the next two months in the NICU, or even if he needed extra oxygen longer than that. We were sure he was destined to live!
On the evening of June 3rd, shortly after Elliot died, all of the Treibel and Springston family members gathered at the hospital, along with close friends and Dustin and Heidi’s pastor and his wife. (Grandpa Steve, Dustin’s father who lives out of state was not there, but joined us later for Elliot’s funeral. Dustin’s grandma “G.G.” and Aunt Janet also came for the funeral.) We took turns going in to see the grieving parents and their precious little son wrapped in a soft blanket and snuggled close to Heidi’s chest. He had died in her arms after the doctors realized there was no hope. His perforated lung had collapsed while they were changing a tube. This was the first and only time that Heidi, Dustin or any of us had seen Elliot free from the trappings of the incubator. He was so small and perfect, with a full head of dark hair. Through her tears Heidi said, “He waited for everyone to meet him.” We all had a chance to spend some time with Elliot during his short life, with Uncle Ryan being the last one that afternoon. We were allowed to touch his head and feet thru the incubator portholes.
Towards midnight, everyone left except for Dustin and me. He slept in a NICU guest room while I stayed with Heidi. With all of the monitors, lights and activity removed, Elliot’s little private room was hushed and peaceful. It was transformed into a sacred sanctuary that night. The wonderful nurse on duty spent hours with us. With the gentleness and kindness of an angel, she assisted Heidi in bathing Elliot, and found a little outfit that fit him perfectly. After Heidi powdered, diapered and dressed Elliot, she brushed his hair and cut a piece to keep. I felt so privileged to be there and somewhat useful as I took a few pictures. Then the nurse took Elliot’s hand and foot prints; so little and perfect. I got to hold Elliot some, but Heidi mostly cradled him in her arms the rest of the night.
Early in the morning the doctors and nurses who cared for Heidi in the Antepartum unit for so long, came to admire Elliot and cry with her. They had become good friends. While I rested, Heidi and Dustin were allowed to keep Elliot with them all morning. Around noon a sweet lady came in to help with the final details and to take little Elliot’s body for safe keeping at the hospital.
I am very grateful for the memories we have of our beautiful little grandson. I am grateful that Heidi and Dustin chose to give him every possible chance at life. But this is our family’s story. What about the babies whose lives are purposely ended by a doctor’s hand; possibly late in the stages of their development? How do their grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends say goodbye?
It has been said that it would be better for an unwanted child to go straight to Heaven rather than suffer through a life of possible neglect, abuse and poverty. I cannot even imagine the many desperate reasons that might bring a woman to terminate her pregnancy. Some may fear taking care of a child with abnormalities, or simply may not have the means or family support to care for a child. Whatever the reason, I will not sit in judgment of someone I do not know. But God does know every person he has ever created, including the unborn. In Psalm 139:13-16, God inspired David to write these words: “For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
As a believer in Jesus and his promise of Heaven, I look forward to being reunited with Elliot some day. In the meantime, I will pray that the sanctity of every human life will be recognized and valued in the way our Creator intended it to be.