At 10.35 am on Thursday 18 October 2012, Joy Ann was born. Weighing a tiny 1lb 6.5oz she was whisked into intensive care. The weeks that followed proved an emotional roller coaster for Joy’s parents Daithi and Maria Mac An Bhiocaire from Cork. Here they share their story with VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams.
Sixteen weeks into her pregnancy, Maria had two threatened miscarriages. En route to a holiday in County Derry, Maria and Daithi never made it past Dublin. Instead, Maria spent two weeks in hospital in the Rotunda.
“The doctors and nurses were fantastic but a lot of them didn’t hold out much hope at all,” Maria says. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m glad my hope is not in them’. I knew God was the one who made my baby. He knew what she looked like and every little tiny bit of her.
“I remember asking, ‘Lord, what are you doing?’ Then I thought, ‘Am I going to accept good things from God and not bad?’ I knew I had to trust Him no matter what the outcome.” Daithi recalls, “Maria was put into an isolation room. They were preparing her for a miscarriage but I was convinced that she and the baby would be fine.”
They were preparing her for a miscarriage but I was convinced that she and the baby would be fine
Eventually Maria was released from hospital and the couple returned home to County Cork. All seemed well but then, just 21 weeks into the pregnancy, Maria’s waters broke.Most women go into labour within three days of their waters breaking. There is also a real risk of infection. Maria was put on complete bed rest in hospital but her doctors feared the baby would not survive the birth.
“I remember having a conversation with God lying in that hospital bed at about 6am one morning. I started giving thanks to Him. There was a lot I had to be thankful for, even at that point,” Maria smiles.
“One day, a piece of paper fell out of my Bible. It had Jeremiah 29:11 written on it - ‘I know the plans I have for you… Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I felt that verse was for my baby. God had plans to give her hope and a future.”
As Maria rested, Daithi was faced with gloomy predictions from some hospital staff. “A few of the nurses and doctors were saying she was ‘not viable’ even at 23 weeks but I was trusting all the time that Joy Ann was going to be fine.”
Maria continues the story, “I hung in there for three weeks then she just decided she was coming. As soon as Joy Ann was born, a team of baby doctors rushed her to the intensive care unit.”
“It was that night before I got to see her. She was so tiny, frail and fragile but so perfect. I knew that God could take better car of her than we ever could. People had been praying that God would continue to be the womb around her and that she would continue to grow in His hands. God was holding her even if I couldn’t.”
Just before Joy Ann was two weeks old she contracted a serious infection. As their tiny baby struggled for every breath, Daithi and Maria were faced with the difficult decision whether or not to allow steroid treatment. “Although there were risks involved, we felt there wasn’t really a choice but to go ahead,” Maria says. “Sure enough she was off the ventilator within a couple of days.”
Your prayers are working
“It was a miracle that she pulled through,” Daithi adds. “At one point, a few nurses and parents came up to us and said, ‘We realise the prayers you are saying are working’.”
Looking back over that 16-week journey in ICU, Maria says, “Despite knowing that God had her in His hands, we still had all the up and down emotions to deal with. They told us that having a baby in the ICU was like being on a rollercoaster - that’s a perfect description. I remember one morning when she was fine. I left to go across to the hospital and when I got there they were all around her working on her because she had stopped breathing.
“The staff members were just amazing. They didn’t just take care of the babies - they loved them! And they looked after us as well. We became really close with the other parents and it was wonderful to watch their babies progressing and growing. “Daithi and I were like ships that passed in the night. I went into the hospital during the day and he went in at night.”
November 21 was an emotional day. It was the very first time Maria was allowed to cuddle Joy Ann. “Just to hold her in my arms for the first time was incredible. I can’t even explain it. It was amazing to be able to hear her little baby noises.”
Home at last
Over the next two months Joy Ann began to grow steadily. She was finally allowed home on February 6. “She is such a beautiful little baby and so happy and contented,” says Maria.
Daithi agrees, “Even when she was so tiny, she started smiling when I spoke to her. I thought I was imagining it but one of the nurses said she was responding to the sound of my voice. She would get animated when I prayed with her. Even now when I pray with her or sing a hymn she smiles and opens her eyes wide. It is really beautiful.”
“It is so wonderful to have her at home,” Maria continues. “Her older brother and sister, Shauna and James, had never been able to meet her properly. To have her here, to look after her and be her parents is wonderful.”
Throughout the long journey, Daithi and Maria and their family have been at the receiving end of an out-pouring of love and care.
Friends from LifeFM and the YMCA cooked meals and folks at church gathered around to help in practical ways. Their minister created a Facebook group to keep people updated with news about Joy Ann. This was a real help because it protected the couple from constant enquiries.
And all over the world, people were praying for the tiny baby they had never even met.
“Joy Ann is such an amazing gift from God,” Maria says. “This journey is not what I would have chosen but we have been very blessed and we are so thankful. We are going to have a thanksgiving service in Cork and also in England where Daithi’s family is living. It is pretty miraculous how God brought her through.”
Update (June 2013): ;Joy Ann grew steadily after getting home and reached the milestone of double figrues on May 14 when she weighed in at 10lb and 1 ouce. Later that same day, Daithi and Maria received the news that their baby no longer needed to be hooked up to oxygen during the daytime.