Baby Celeste lived for 22 weeks, but her short life is making an impact

(Ndolo Family Blog) At first, I hadn’t planned on sharing Celeste’s story. At least not publicly.  As the days have gone on, though, my heart has changed.  As we’ve traveled the hard road of grief in the last week, I have been blessed by the stories of other moms who have walked this walk.  If Celeste’s story can comfort  another woman carrying this cross, I will gladly put aside my pain for the blessings I pray our story holds.

As I sit about to write Celeste’s birth story, I struggle to think of the words to best describe that night.  I have gone over it a thousand times in my head, thought about how to explain the emotions, the tears, but most of all the love of that night.  I guess the only way to start is to start. Here goes.

On Monday, February 11th around lunchtime at work I noticed very faint pink spotting.  I immediately called my doctor’s office and left a message for the medical assistant wondering if I should come in. She called me back around 4 pm and said my doctor would like to see me the next morning, unless anything drastically changed.

By this time I was not experiencing cramps and the spotting had stopped. Thankful for the improvement, I finished up my day and headed home.  I remember calling Kemi to let him know I was on my way. I didn’t want to worry him, so I told him what the doctor had said but assured him it was probably nothing and not to worry.  Things began to change however once I was home.  I began feeling the faintest cramps every now and then, but they really weren’t painful and felt more like the round ligament pain so common in pregnancy.  As the evening wore on, the cramps began to increase in intensity.

Around 8 pm, I was a little concerned so I called the on-call doctor.  She said false contractions can usually be corrected by drinking a lot of water and resting. She said to drink at least a liter of water, and if they hadn’t gone away in a few hours, to head to the ER.  I drank a ton of water, and tried to go to bed. I remember pouring over The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy trying to determine if what I was experiencing was normal or not.  The day I came home it brought tears to my eyes and stopped me in my tracks just seeing that book lying open on our bed.

By 9 pm, I was having such intense pains, I had tears in my eyes and finally came to Kemi and said I wanted to go the the ER.  My sister came right over and we headed out. Kemi decided to go to the nearest hospital, rather than the one our doctor practices out of. I remember telling Kemi in the car that I just KNEW they were going to tell me I was pushing it too hard and put me on bed rest and how annoyed I’d be if I couldn’t work.  At the time, that was the worst possible scenario.

We arrived in the ER and were taken to labor and delivery.  We were put in a room and I was attached to a monitor to measure the contractions.  The nurse came back after an hour and said the OB on call wanted to do an ultrasound, but there were several in line for ultrasounds.  we waited another hour through pretty intense contractions before the ultrasound technician arrived.  After the ultrasound, the doctor did a pelvic exam. Seconds after examining me, she pulled away from the table and, expressionless and with no feeling in her voice coldly said “all I can see is a bulging bag of waters. You’re going to deliver tonight.”  I remember my breath catching in my throat. I murmured “ok” trying to keep my voice strong for Kemi.

We were transferred to a delivery room where I was put on medications to stop the contractions. A catheter was put in, since I was now restricted to the bed.  They tilted the bed so my head was pointed to the floor, trying to put gravity on my side.  We wished we were at the hospital our doctor worked in. At this hospital, there was nothing he could do. He had no privileges here, and we felt uneasy with a team of doctors we had never met.  Kemi felt such guilt that he hadn’t driven across town to the hospital where we delivered Evie.  Had we done that, I told him, my water could have broken in the car. We got to the hospital and got the medication we needed, and fast.  We did the best we knew, I assured him.

As the medication took effect and the contractions began to fade, the doctors informed us that our situation was going to go one of two ways: either we’d deliver tonight or in the next few days, with little chance of the baby surviving, or we could be in the hospital for 4, 5, 6 weeks, waiting.  I felt my stomach turn in knots. Weeks?! I can’t be here for weeks, I told them. I have a ten month old at home who needs me. Right now this baby needs you, they told me. I felt sick.

If I remained longer in the hospital, Celeste could continue to grow stronger. But how could I go weeks without rocking Evie to sleep? Giving her a bath? She would forget me, I was convinced.  Hot, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. My shoulders started to shake.  The doctors wouldn’t allow me to eat or drink anything, and I remember my mouth was so dry, my lips cracked and bleeding. The medication that stopped my contractions gave me double vision and made my body feel like a brick, and it was difficult to even raise my arms off the bed on my own. Because of this, I was unable to independently roll from side to side, and even if I could, I was so afraid to, for fear of causing my water to break. Every two or three hours my tailbone was throbbing and we had to call the nurse to have her come and carefully move me to a different side.

Looking back now, I remember nothing from that night. I know we slept on and off.  Thank goodness for the medication or I wouldn’t have slept a wink.  The nurses brought in a cot for Kemi, and I was finally able to convince him to lay down and try to get a few hours of sleep.   Through the night we kept saying it felt like a dream. A terrible, terrible dream.  It seemed like something that would happen to somebody else: I could picture Kemi getting a text message to pray for someone, him telling me about so-and-so’s baby, and how I would react. Sitting on the couch, shaking my head, “I can’t imagine” I would say.  “We’ll be praying for you” he would text back.  But it wasn’t somebody else’s baby. It was us. Our baby. I pictured our story being told in our friends houses. Our friends, sitting on their couch in the comfort of their living rooms. Shaking their heads, “I can’t imagine,” they’d say to each other. I cried harder. Why us?

Morning finally came and the day dragged on.  We prayed, we cried. We saw doctors and nurses change shifts, I was poked and prodded every few hours.  By early evening, friends and family came to distract us, pray with us, to take our mind off of missing Evie, the risks I faced for infection, the danger our littlest girl was facing.  My sister and brother in law brought Evie and finally we had reason to smile. A welcome distraction.

Sometime that evening, I rolled over, and felt a pop inside.  This is it, I thought. My heart pounded, waiting for that rush of warm liquid. I felt nothing though.  Terrified, I had Kemi call the nurse.  After an ultrasound, we learned Celeste was now facing head-down, and had moved further down the birth canal.  It was happening. The very thing that we had prayed against was now the inevitable.  I felt like my heart had fallen like a brick through my body. There was an emptiness inside me I’ve never felt.

And then, the door opened, and our doctor walked in. Our capable, trusted doctor. The man who delivered Evie. The man who took our hands and prayed with Kemi and I the moment Evie was born.  I began to cry harder. An angel might as well have walked through that door.  I felt a weight off my shoulders. Somehow, I thought, he’d know what to do. Maybe he’d know of another option.  Maybe we could finally get approval to transfer me to the hospital where Evie was born…they’d have different equipment, maybe? A different prognosis? I was desperate for someone to tell me this was possible. I was hopeful for the first time that night.  It was short lived.

Our doctor examined me, and gently said, “She’s coming tonight, Corinna.” He informed me I was 6 cm dilated, and her head was about 6 cm. There was no stopping it now.

He told me I could push now, reminding me that our priest was there to baptize Celeste. Our doctor was on call, and I knew he could be called away from us at any moment. What if something went wrong? I needed him there. We decided I’d push, knowing there was no more waiting. My legs were put in stirrups, and with tears pouring, I gave the smallest push and my tiny angel was out, arms and legs flailing.  She was laid on the table with the NICU team where she cried one tiny cry for her papa and squeezed his finger.

I anxiously watched, begging them with my eyes to hurry and bring her to me. She was placed on my chest, just under my gown like a little pouch.  Her tiny body was warm, but by now barely moved.  She rested her sweet fingers against my chest and I breathed her in. Covered her in gentle kisses.  Traced the tiny hairs on her sweet head.  Told myself to memorize her, to remember every second.

We repeated over and over “We love you Celeste. We’ve loved you every second of every day. We love you. We love you.” Three hours later, her heart stopped beating. We held her and held her and whispered to her of our love for her.


And Kemi…my best friend. He never left my side. This isn’t just the story of Celeste. This is also the story of a marriage strengthened. A bond made more unshakable than ever.  A holier family.  My sweet husband who made me laugh when I needed to laugh, and with tears pouring down his cheeks, wiped mine away.  I had never loved him more than I did that night.

In almost ten years, we had experienced so much together, but nothing that would change us like this.  We knew we’d never be the same, but we’d be different together. Celeste had made us better people, and better parents. After coming home, every diaper I changed, every bath I gave, every bite I fed Evangeline, I told Celeste I was doing it for her too. What we would give to take loving care of Celeste too.  Today, a week later, we treasure every second with Evangeline. Every opportunity to parent her is a gift.

In the past few days, Kemi and I have been able to smile sometimes, and pretend we’re not the people who have lost a child.  Sometimes, its even been nice to go places where no one knows you and looks at you like they feel sorry for you.  We know time will pass, and someday those smiles we fake will be more real, genuine, and we will laugh again.

Tomorrow, we will bury our daughter. It feels unnatural, surreal. There is nothing that seems right about having to bury your child.  But, when we examine our hearts, and we ask God earnestly in prayer what can all this mean, we know she points us to heaven. Our family will forever have our sights set on heaven, and on the sweet reunion with our saint Celeste.

We thank you, our dear, sweet Celeste. Our hearts long for you. And in longing for you, we long for heaven.  We are forever changed.  We can’t wait to hold you again.  Pray for us, as we’ll be praying for you.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Ndolo family blog, and is reprinted here with permission.

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