Your mother delivered you too early. You weren’t ready to be born yet. You were supposed to stay in your mother’s tummy another month or two, but your mother came to the hospital with eclampsia, which is a very bad disease. She was seizing and had a very high blood pressure. She would die without an immediate emergency C-section.
When the surgery started, I was in the operating room waiting for you. I checked, and I had everything I would need to try to protect you and save your life. I had a bulb suction to get all of the mucous and snot out of your nose and your mouth. I had a special Delee suction device to suck bad stuff out of your lungs too, if necessary. I had a bag to help me push the air into your lungs in case you weren’t breathing well enough. I had a suture to tie up your belly button. I had sugar to give you in case you were too weak. I was ready for you.
As soon as you were pulled out of your mother’s tummy, we rushed you over to the table and started our work. We sucked the snot out of your nose and mouth. We did everything! But you weren’t breathing very well at all. Your normal oxygen should be 100%, but you only had about 60%. It’s really hard to live with less than 80%!!! You were going to die. But we started blowing air into your lungs with the bag. We started to put sugar into you. And after about thirty minutes, you turned from blue to pink, you started to move, you started to breathe and you even let out a single solitary whimper. God had saved your life!!!
Even though you were too tiny (only 1.7 kilograms, less than half the size of a normal baby!!!) and very weak at your birth, you got a little stronger every hour. You were a good eater when your mother breastfed you, but it was very hard for her. She was still very sick, but she wanted to look at you and see you.
The next day, your mother got even sicker. She couldn’t breathe very well. Her blood pressure was very high. Despite all the medicines, she died. Your father was so sad that he couldn’t even look at you.
When they went home to bury your mother, they left you with us for four days, so we could continue to give you antibiotics and feed you.
When I heard you were coming home, I pulled out a swing, an activity mat, a bouncy chair, an outfit, a hat, a bottle and formula to get ready for you.
We loved you. You were so cute and so adorable (and so little!!!). In fact, everybody loved you. People would fight over who would get to watch you during the day while we worked. Your little body was perfect, just too small.
Each day, you’d get more strength. You ate well. You’d even wake us up at night to feed you and give you your round-the-clock antibiotics with your crying. You were pooping. You were peeing. You were acting like a normal, healthy baby! Just too little still.
After four days, your family came back to get you. I was surprised to find myself feeling a little sad, knowing that you wouldn’t be sleeping in our house that night.
While we were walking with the family to get you, I asked what they would feed you.
‘That’s all we have.’
Isn’t there somebody else in the family or in the village who could give breast milk?
Is it possible for the family to buy formula?
What will happen if you only give the baby water.
‘He will die.’ It was your paternal grandmother talking (like a biological Gamma). She looked so sad. She didn’t want you to die. She also believed, like everybody else in your mother’s culture, that babies born a month too early (like you) will die, but that babies born two months too early will live.
Well what do you want to happen to the baby?
‘We don’t want him to die. Maybe you could take him.’
I should admit, I immediately felt a little excited.
Well for how long do you want us to take him? Days? Weeks? Months? Years?
‘Maybe you could take him permanently. Your family could give him better food, clothing, education and many other things that our family wouldn’t be able to. God has blessed your family and put you in a position to help us.’ It was your grandmother’s brother talking (like a biological great-uncle David).
This was a big decision! It’s not a decision you can make so quickly! Was it the right thing to do for you? Was it the right thing to do for our family? We already had one son and we were about to have another baby! And we work so hard! Who can watch you during the day? And what would the villagers think? Would they think we’re running an orphanage? Would they think we’re letting patients die so we can take their children?
We told your family to go home and pray about it for two weeks and we promised that we would do the same.
The next day your father sent a message to me. He wanted to know how you were doing. He was interested in you! He wanted you to be healthy and strong. I told him that you were. In fact, your father would send me a message almost every day to ask about you and your health.
We thought about and prayed for your future every day until your family came back. What was the best thing for you? We prayed and we prayed and we prayed. We decided that if your family wanted to take you home, they could. We also decided that we couldn’t let you die. If your family didn’t think they’d be able to take care of you, we would adopt you. Above all else, we felt at peace with the knowledge that God would work all things together for good. We left your life in His hands, and trusted that He would make the right decision for you.
We were getting very excited about the idea of adopting you. I even started having dreams about you!!!
Technically, it’s illegal for Americans like us to adopt Tchadian babies. And since it’s illegal in Tchad, America won’t allow it either. But we agreed that we would try our best to adopt you if your family wasn’t able to take care of you.
I started this letter to you March 26, exactly one week after you were born. I thought it would be cute to give it to you someday ‘when you’re old enough to understand.’ But I can’t wait. Below is the rest of your letter:
We talked to lots of people about the adoption process. As it turns out, Americans CAN adopt Tchadian babies!!! We were so excited. We began to think about all the possibilities: Where you would sleep (with Lyol or with the new baby), When we’d be able to take you to America to meet all the rest of your family, If we’d try to surprise your family in America and just show up with you without telling them about you first, If you’d become somebody great, like a teacher or a preacher, If you take care of us when we got old... The imaginations ran wild. We loved to think about our future life with you.
We started to prepare to meet with your biological family. We wrote up a contract in French, outlining our commitment to raise you to love Jesus, to give you nothing but the best of available medicines, food, clothing and education as well as many other things.
We had spent the first week of your life calling you ‘Loaner Son,’ ‘Rental Son,’ ‘Borrowed Son,’ ‘Temporary Son,’ ‘Adopted Son,’ ‘Fake Son’ and even ‘Discount Son.’ But to admit the truth, more than once ‘Son’ slipped out on its own, with no qualifier whatsoever. It just felt so natural.
Now, we started calling you ‘Son’ or ‘Zeke,’ short for Ezekiel. It caught on and everybody started calling you ‘Zeke.’ You were ‘Zeke.’ And ‘Loaner Mommy’ and ‘Loner Daddy’ fell by the wayside, to be replaced by ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy.’
We had a blast. We took you everywhere. We took you to church (where we laughed at the African ladies trying to bundle you up in 100-degree weather). We took you to see the hippos. Lyol enjoyed playing with you. You were part of our family.
And you loved to snuggle your head under my chin and fall asleep on my chest. And I loved it too. It was impossible for either one of us to be fussy in that position.
Your family came to visit us. Well, they actually came to visit you. Fifteen of them walked twelve miles in 100-degree-plus weather to come and see you!!! Man, were you ever loved!!! They doted on you until it was getting dark. They didn’t want to leave, but as it was they wouldn’t be getting home until midnight.
They asked us what we had named you. We told them that it was up to them to name you. They named you ‘Koumagueyakoi,’ which means ‘God wanted.’ It’s true. God wanted you. God wanted you to survive those tough few days after delivery. Your family continued to insist that we give you a name. We told them your name was ‘Zeke,’ short for ‘Ezekiel.’ They loved your new name and called you by it.
Seeing as how it was so late, we borrowed a car, piled all your family in it and drove them back out to their village in the dark. It was so peaceful there. Not an artificial light. Not a radio. Not a TV. Not even a door to the hut! The entire family, no, the entire village came out!!! They brought us two chairs and all sat down on the ground around us. They passed you around, each one so incredibly sad when they had to give you up to the next person. Finally, we excused ourselves to go back home before it got too late. You came home with us.
April 4, Mommy sent me a message that you had a fever of 101. ‘Get a malaria test,’ was my reply. She did and it was positive. We put yet another IV in you (you had so many during your first few days of life) and started giving you quinine.
The next day the IV came out. Mommy told me that you had pooped blood a few times. My brain flashed to one word: NEC. Necrotizing Enterocolitis. Immediately, I prayed that you didn’t have that disease. Nobody’s really sure what causes NEC, but it happens in premature babies under 2.5kg who’s mothers had hypertension. You met all those risks. And it starts 1-3 weeks after delivery. April 5 was your 18th day alive.
NEC is diagnosed with an x-ray, which we don’t have. It’s often treated by a pediatric surgeon, which we don’t have. We don’t even have a naso-gastric tube to give you. We brought over the best nurse we could find to restart your IV. He tried for three hours and couldn’t. I gave you medicines by injection into the thigh. We stopped feeding you. You started vomiting bile and blood.
And you cried. You screamed. You suffered. Oh, God, how you suffered. Any time I would move, any time I would bump your belly, you would scream for minutes. You hurt so badly. Your stomach was so distended and hard.
Your intestines had, for whatever reason, gone without enough oxygen, and the walls of the intestines were dying. Eventually, the entire thickness of the wall of the intestines died. Then gas and poop from the intestines went into your abdomen. And you started bleeding into your intestines. The lining all around your abdomen got inflamed, sensitive and tender. Your intestines stopped working properly and your tummy became exquisitely painful.
You suffered. Not like a teenager suffers when her boyfriend dumps her. You suffered severe physical pain. And you started breathing quickly. An effortless tachypnea. Your body was able to keep up with breathing super fast to make up for the metabolic acidosis running through your blood on account of all the lactic acid building up in your tummy. You were suffering.
I swung you gently back and forth and held you close, up under my chin, in your favorite spot. You tried to enjoy it, you tried to settle down, but you were in just too much pain. Finally, about 3AM, you fell asleep and I tried to sleep too. At 5AM I woke up to check on you. You were still breathing, but not as fast as before. Your body was no longer able to keep up with the metabolic lactic acidosis.
Mommy and I prayed for you, as always. We talked about trying another IV versus letting you go. Mommy and I are like you... we don’t quit easily. I tried putting an IV into your femoral veins, into your external jugular neck veins and everywhere else. Your fontanelle and eyes were sunken, your lips were cracked. You were just too dehydrated. I decided to just put a big IV under your skin and let the sugar fluid run in wherever it happened to be.
After a couple more hours we got some other nurses to come start an IV on you. Finally we could give you fluid and antibiotics properly.
Around 9AM you opened your eyes. You looked at me. I’ve been told that babies that age can barely see, and only a certain distance at that, and then can’t even really comprehend what they’re seeing. But you were looking at me. You were telling Daddy it’s going to be ok. Then you started drooling blood. You didn’t even have the energy to vomit. Then blood started coming out of your nose.
Mommy came. We spent some precious time with you. And you stopped breathing. We couldn’t let you go. Through heavy sobs, we gave you CPR. But every time we pressed on your little chest, more and more blood came out of your mouth and nose. Every time I gave you mouth-to-mouth, I tasted your blood, my face covered in it. Soaked with our tears, you would take the occasional agonal breath, but that was it.
At 10AM, you died, Zeke.
During your 19 days of life, we got to know you. Everybody said that you had the two most important attributes for a baby: You were beautiful and you were easy-going. We got to see you gain 1/3 of your body weight while you were with us. You started filling out. You were getting stronger.
But on day 19, April 6, 2011... this very morning... God decided that he wanted you, Koumagueyakoi Ezekiel. God wanted. That’s your name. That’s your fate. That’s your destiny.
This morning I lost a son. Not a biological son, perhaps, but a son who’s diapers I had changed for the last 18 days of his 19-day-life. A son whom I fed twice a night or more for all his life. A son I looked forward to adopting.
I miss you.
I love you, Zeke.
I don’t understand.
I don’t understand how letting you die glorifies God more than letting you live.
I don’t know.
I don’t know if you ever understood that you were loved.
I don’t know if you ever understood that I was kissing you.
We took you to your family in the village. The entire village came out. They dug a hole right beside the wall of your father’s house, but it wasn’t big enough to put the coffin in. The coffin we brought for you. So you were laid down into the ground directly, then covered over with dirt.
And that’s where you’ll stay. And that’s where we’ll come back to.
And when we come back, we’ll think of you.
We’ll look at the pictures that we took of you.
And we’ll read to you:
‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
‘It is right for me to feel this way about you, since I have you in my heart; for you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for you.
‘And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ -- to the glory and praise of God.’ Philippians 1:3-11.
The first time I read this to you, I wanted you to understand what I was trying to tell you. The second time I read this, I realized that it was you talking to me.
I thank God that we had 18 days with you. You were such a joy to us. I mourn that we lost you so soon.
Zeke, Son, on resurrection morning, don’t worry about finding us. Your Mother and I will already be looking for you.
With every last drop of love in our hearts,
Mommy and Daddy