Most expecting parents look forward to their baby’s birth. They eagerly await each ultrasound, cherish the little kicks, marvel at their child’s heartbeat. They decorate the nursery, buy baby clothes, prepare to welcome a new life into the world. Ashley Shirley was planning a funeral.
Ronnie and Ashley Shirley married in 2010, and started their family immediately. They had three normal, healthy pregnancies before Ashley found herself facing a surprise pregnancy. They hadn’t planned to have any more children, but they were excited nonetheless. They had no idea what lay ahead.
At her 20 week ultrasound, they were told that something didn’t look right, and so they were referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. And it was there that they received the awful news: the baby had a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia, a condition many know as dwarfism. Their baby girl’s arms and legs were weeks behind. Her femurs were bowed, her chest cavity was small, and a portion of her brain was missing. Ashley also had very low amniotic fluid. By 32 weeks, doctors were telling her that her preborn daughter would die.
“Her lungs weren’t forming normally because her chest cavity was so small,” she said in an interview with the Daily Advertiser. “Every week, I would go back, and they would look and say the same thing. They didn’t know what to expect, but by the looks of it, they couldn’t even say whether she’d come out breathing.” So she began planning for her daughter’s funeral. She contacted a funeral home, so that her daughter’s remains could be taken back home to Cincinnati, where the Shirleys were from. She also contacted Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a a national organization consisting of photographers who volunteer their services to mothers whose babies are expected to be born still, or die shortly after birth.
On July 7th, it was time for the Shirleys to meet their daughter. She had a scheduled c-section planned at 37 weeks of pregnancy, and Ashley was incredibly nervous. “I almost passed out twice because I was so anxious. All I can remember is my husband holding my hand,” she recalled. “He laid his forehead on mine, and we were praying. All I could do was plead with God to let her come out screaming, breathing. It felt like an eternity. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.” But their prayers were answered: their daughter, Jocelyn, let out a loud scream, shocking the Shirleys and the medical staff assembled there. Ashley and her husband cried, too. A neonatologist was quickly called to look Jocelyn over. And the miracles just kept coming. Ashley explained, “He said to my husband, ‘I came to see a baby with many abnormalities, and I am looking at a completely normal-looking baby.'”
All of the birth defects that doctors found on the ultrasounds were nowhere to be found. “The part of her brain that showed up missing, it was there,” Ashley said. “These are things I saw with my own eyes on the ultrasound. Her legs were showing up completely bowed, and they came out normal. The biggest miracle was that even though her chest cavity was small and her heart was large, she was able to breathe.” Doctors couldn’t understand what happened.
Today, Jocelyn does have some medical problems — she has a G-tube in her stomach to help her get nutrition, and the Shirleys recently were told that Jocelyn is blind. But the most important thing for this family is that she’s alive. “When you get such life-changing news, it’s devastating,” Ashley admitted. “But we’re just holding onto hope, and we know that God has us all in his hands.”