So, the happy threesome was about to become an adorable foursome. God was answering Nichole’s prayers one after the other with no signs of stopping.
A routine blood test showed that Nichole had an antibody that might or might not cause some trouble for her baby. “We didn’t really grasp the magnitude of what my particular antibody meant,” Nichole says, “so we were naive but had enough info to be scared for quite a while.”
Her doctor in Alaska referred them to a perinatologist in Seattle, and they scheduled an appointment for when Nichole was 18 weeks pregnant. She had to get an amnio and was “completely freaked out by the potential of a miscarriage.” She wanted to refuse to have it done and take her chances, but the risk of something happening to her baby was greater without it. “Little did I know that the amnio would be the least of my worries in the weeks to come,” Nichole says.
That was the beginning of June 2010. A few looooooong weeks later they got the results–and they were everything they had been praying against. The baby’s blood had the antigen that Nichole had the antibody to. I’m no scientist, but that pretty much means that Nichole’s body was going to treat the baby as an unwelcome intruder and do everything in its power to get rid of him/her. Can you even imagine?
When Nichole got the dreaded call, her mom, Sandy, was visiting from Ohio, and they were hanging out at the McDonald’s Play Land. “I lost it,” Nichole says. “Right there in front of the ball pit.”
Darby and Nichole left Kylie with Sandy and headed to Seattle to get the baby checked out. They stayed with a woman named Barb whom they’d never met. She turned out to be nothing less than an angel–she’s Auntie Barb to Nichole and her family these days.
The doctor in Seattle did an ultrasound where they were specifically looking at the baby’s blood vessels in its brain. The technician spent a really long time looking at things, then they waited to meet with the doctor. Nichole remembers sitting in the tiny exam room and waiting for an eternity. Darby started to get a little uneasy. “Something must be wrong,” he said. “It’s taking too long.” Nichole tried to brush it off.
Then the doctor came back in with a look on her face that no patient ever wants to see. “She sat there and very gently told us that our baby was already very sick,” Nichole remembers. The antibody was attacking the baby’s red blood cells with a vengeance until there were hardly enough left to survive. “That’s really all I heard before I completely broke down. Darby held me very tight as I sobbed, trying to take in everything the doctor said. One of those things being, “We have to do something. Today.”
The doctor left the room. Nichole started freaking out. Darby started crying. Nichole began pacing back and forth, Darby trying to hold her up because she was about to fall over. “I was hyperventilating from sobbing so hard,” she says, “and it felt like the world was crumbling down around me.”
Nichole was 22 weeks pregnant and kept saying over and over again, “It’s too soon. She can’t live outside of me yet. This can’t be happening. It’s too soon.”
Did you catch the “she?” Because they had found out the baby was a she. A girl. A precious little girl fighting for her tiny little life.
Later that day they had their first “poke”–a procedure called FUBS (fetal umbilical blood sampling). The doctor gave Nichole valium to help her relax and a steroid shot to help mature the baby’s lungs. “I got nice and loopy,” she says (and embarrassed poor Darby half to death). The test would determine the baby’s hematocrit, which would let them know if she needed a transfusion. The procedure was rough. Nichole started contracting from the needle poke and was in an incredible amount of pain. The baby did fine though. They were sent home and found out baby didn’t need a transfusion… yet.
Two weeks later, they repeated the entire process and baby did need a transfusion. Their doctor was straightforward with them. “There’s a one percent chance of stillbirth from doing this procedure,” she said, “but if we do nothing, your baby is GOING to die.” They were told over and over that without medical technology, their baby girl would’ve been stillborn with absolutely no warning.
In the event of complications, the doctor recommended no intervention since babies at 24 weeks gestation don’t fare well outside the womb. Nichole interrupted her mid-sentence. “No. I know she would have a rough road if she were born today, but if something goes wrong I want you to get her out. We are fighting for her and I want you to fight for her too.” They signed their first of many c-section consent forms. That day baby got a whole tablespoon of new blood.
And a name. Audrey Hope. They hadn’t planned on revealing her name until she was born, but they wanted–needed–people to pray for Audrey Hope, not just “Darby and Nichole’s baby.”
The next nine weeks, they clung to hope–their hope in God, the Creator and Sustainer of this baby girl they loved with all their hearts. They moved to Seattle for four months and stayed with an amazing Christian family (Auntie Barb!). Nichole went to the doctor every few days for the last 10 weeks of her pregnancy. Barb found a babysitter for Kylie on procedure days (Audrey got a total of five blood transfusions in utero), picked up Nichole’s mom at the airport, and basically served as Christ’s hands and feet to a young family in desperate need. She also prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. And got everyone she knew to pray.
Then on September 25, 2010, seven weeks before her due date, weighing in at a healthy 5 pounds, 13 ounces, Audrey Hope Mattingly entered the world. She spent about a month in the NICU, got an additional blood transfusion, and spent some time growing while doctors kept a close eye on her. And then she got to go home, sweet home.
And today? Audrey Hope is a happy, healthy, beautiful little seven-month-old–a delight to everyone she meets. You would never, ever know she had endured such an ordeal unless someone told you.
And on Monday, April 25, 2011, Darby’s adoption of sweet, beautiful, big sister Kylie (5) became official. Nichole’s heart is so full she could burst.
And I know I promised this was the end. And it is. Except that it’s not. God has been whispering some exciting plans in Darby and Nichole’s ears lately, and they’re deeply committed to following him no matter what the cost.
As soon as they’re ready to share more of their God story with their adoring fans, we’ll be here waiting with open ears.