She Kept Using the Phrase.. To Not Prolong Suffering - The Boy Who Lived
"She kept using the phrase '. . to not prolong suffering."
Nadine Shelley remembers the day her routine ultrasound turned into a nightmare that would culminate in nearly six months of hospital stays and test her and her husband's strength as their new baby fought for his life.
Nadine is a nurse, so when the doctor explained that the amniotic fluid protecting her baby was leaking, she knew what it meant.
"He could be born with severe mental and physical disabilities. He would most likely be born blind, if he was born at all," she explains. With virtually no chance of living -- and a painful quality of life if he survived -- Nadine's doctor urged her to terminate the pregnancy, as it threatened her own life, as well.
It's every potential parent's worst nightmare. "As a nurse, I appreciated what she was telling me. I understood why she would recommend it," Nadine says with a graciousness that must have been difficult to summon at the time of the appointment. But something kept running through her head:
The Boy Who Lived.
Nadine loves the Harry Potter book series. If you're somehow not familiar with the general premise of the story, Harry is a boy wizard who should have died from the dark wizard Voldemort's vicious attack when he was just a baby. But his mother sacrificed her life to protect him, and he became The Boy Who Lived throughout wizarding lore.
"I understood," she reiterates. "But I wasn't having contractions. We were at 23 weeks. What if he made it just a few more weeks until a viable time frame?"
It was a huge 'what if' that branched into several smaller 'what if's that then twisted around each other in a tangled flowchart. There was only one conclusion, a brief, painful life for Brayden and long, painful memories for Nadine and her husband.
Brayden was born five weeks later at a terrifying 28 weeks. He was immediately rushed to the NICU and placed in an incubator where Nadine and her husband could only see him from the doorway for days.
His first breath of air had caused one of his fragile lungs to burst. That sent him into heart failure. Nadine then describes the hours upon hours she spent with her forehead against the cold glass of his incubator, grateful that it was keeping him alive but miserable with the instinct to hold her baby. She remained at his bedside until finally, two weeks later, she was able to hold Brayden in her hands.
In her hands.
"It was the best feeling of my life," Nadine remembers with a hint of the same relief she must have felt at that moment. But it was harrowing, too. "He was about the size of my hand, and I have small hands. My husband has large, burly man hands that just dwarfed little Brayden."
She goes on to describe the arduous process they had to endure each time they held him: breathing tubes that can't slip, monitor sensors that can't pull at his delicate skin, tubes and wires of every kind that were keeping him alive.
But he was alive. And the first time his skin touched his mother's, his eyes opened. His desperate struggle for breath eased. His heart rate slowed. Up until that moment, he had known nothing but pain.
With each passing day, Brayden grew stronger. Finally, Nadine and her husband left the hospital with their baby son after 76 days.
A tormenting six weeks that sent Nadine reeling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But she declined medication from her obstetrician and instead relied upon bonding with her baby. "Every time I looked at him, I was reminded of what we went through. But being with him, holding him and touching him. . . those feelings were so much more powerful than the anxiety and the panic."
She also poured her anxiety into a blog meant to keep a wide network of concerned family and friends up to date on Brayden's condition. One day she sat down to write about what kept her strong during those first weeks and months: "The Boy Who Lived."
"I didn't post it right away," Nadine explains. "It wasn't something I'd normally write. I just thought if I wrote it down, I could get it out of my head."
But when she finally shared it to her blog and to Facebook, her story quickly spread beyond her small network until a friend urged her to submit it to Love What Matters. From there, Brayden's story of hard-won survival spread to millions.
Brayden recently celebrated his first birthday. Surrounded by family and friends, he laid into his little cake like any other one year old. Nadine considers this as we discuss the extraordinary potential his story has to bring comfort to other mothers and fathers facing the same overwhelming uncertainty.
"I'm glad it spread a message that resonated with so many people," Nadine says as if she's thinking out loud. "That was never my intention. I was shocked. I'm still shocked."
It's not the only thing that surprises Nadine these days: not long ago, they were able to take him off of his oxygen tank. Doctors predicted Brayden would need to remain on his oxygen pump until three years old.
But they also predicted that he'd never dive into his first birthday cake.
They predicted he wouldn't make it out of NICU.
They predicted he wouldn't survive.
But he is The Boy Who Lived.
Credits: Nadine Shelley
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