Eva Kay Ackerman
Our daughter’s story begins, like so many others, on the day we learned of her amazing presence. On April 24th, 2013, I breathlessly watched as a plus sign appeared in the pregnancy test window. I remember that exhilarating moment with such clarity, and I look back on it as one of the most dramatic turning points in my life.
Two pink lines, initial ultrasound, appointments and announcements: we enjoyed many typical pregnancy-moments during those amazing weeks and months. Interspersed among these were other emotionally-tumultuous, heart-wrenching, and life-giving moments as life with Eva began.
At the end of July, during our mid-pregnancy ultrasound, we learned the most important news; we were expecting a beautiful baby girl who showed so many signs of health and promise. We also heard two words that instantly jarred my world upside down: Spina Bifida.
There are so many reasons why we can’t know the future, but if I knew how perfect Eva would be, I wouldn’t have reacted and worried the way I did. We were certainly scared. Some scary details can come along with such a diagnosis. This was just the beginning of so many lessons that centered around strength, love, and resilience.
Carrying Eva was an amazing experience. I’d see her movements shift my entire stomach so often, and I’d watch in awe feeling that all would be ok. Spina Bifida did not and would not define our daughter. Our check-ups revealed a healthy, growing baby, who showed no signs of complications. Even though anxiety accompanied every appointment, and some people’s words and actions concerned or bothered us, we kept our heads high. We prayed every day that God would watch over us and protect our loved little daughter, keep our pregnancy healthy, obviate all potential complications, guide her impending delivery and surgery, and aid in a smooth recovery.
All of these prayers were answered. On the morning of Monday, December 9th 2013, Eva Kay Ackerman entered the world. A gentle but strong cry suffused a sterile operating room and our hearts filled with ineffable love. She was beautiful. Weighing a perfect eight pounds, our wiggly little girl had long, dark hair, bright, blue eyes, a perfect little nose, a very defined chin, and big, rosy lips about which so many adoringly commented.
We spent an amazing day with her—staring, holding, snuggling, feeding, nursing, loving—before she had surgery to repair the opening in her spine. The love we felt for her permeated emotions we didn’t even know we possessed, as we cried and left her with an exceptional team of pediatric surgeons, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists. I felt more raw than I could ever imagine; a piece of my heart and being, and the most perfect person I’d ever seen, would be going through something I wished with all my might I could do for her.
Indescribable relief accompanied the surgeons’ reports that the surgery had gone very well. They explained to us her prognosis—so promising—and left two parents smiling with relief. We rejoiced as Eva showed all the signs that she was recovering so well. Within a week, Eva had amazed and impressed everyone with her strength and tenacity, and we were discharged from the NICU and sent home as the happiest, most grateful little family.
Having Eva in our arms and in our home filled our hearts with joy, gratitude, and absolute love. Holding her warmth to nurse, feed, burp, cuddle, play with, rock, or carry her never got old. Eva was so easily consoled. She loved to be cuddled. She hated getting her diaper changed; those strong legs would kick with such ferocity when being changed that she would often manage to kick her diaper down and off. Her strong grasp held our fingers in hers. She loved nursing with me and snuggling with her dad. We probably loved it even more.
Eva’s perfection extended to all areas of babyhood. Adorably tremendous hiccups shook her tiny body; little sneezes caused her eyes to open wide in surprise. She loved staring intently at black and white art cards, and she didn’t mind tummy time where she would turn her head from one side to the other and propel herself around her activity mat with her powerful legs. Bath time with Eva left us in tears, as we laughed so hard at her expressions and gestures. We would find our little Houdini in the corner of her pack ’n play after escaping her carefully-constructed sleeping arrangements. A noisy little nurser and feeder, her gulps and sighs surprised our ears and warmed our hearts. With Eva on our chests cuddling, we felt incredible comfort, security, and love.
The time we got to spend with Eva at home was the most precious time we have ever experienced. Everything she did was amazing, to us and anyone who knew her. Eva was the most beautiful and loved little baby.
On Christmas, we held Eva and opened her presents from us: a personalized ornament and a children’s book of the Christmas story. We snuggled with her all morning. I felt so fulfilled; I’ve dreamed forever of being a mommy. Truly, my greatest ambitions have been to be a wife and mom. And I was… and I know in my heart I still am.
As I changed Eva that day, I became worried about some stitches around her incision, so we took her to Urgent Care. In the waiting room, we captured a video of wide-awake Eva looking around, sneezing, and making the sweetest little sounds. The pediatrician, a few nurses, a plastic surgery resident, and finally, the plastic surgery fellow, who ultimately told us that we could go home with a topical ointment, saw us. Relieved that nothing serious was wrong, we took Eva over to my parents’ to continue celebrating Christmas.
Eva slept for a while as we ate and opened gifts. Her typical sleeping and eating schedule had certainly been disturbed that afternoon with the Urgent Care trip, so she nursed well (though she always nursed well) when she woke. Soon, though, Eva began to really fuss. I tried to keep nursing her, but she just cried. She didn’t want to eat, and rocking her wasn’t helping as well as it normally did to calm her. We decided we needed to go home.
We called Urgent Care to tell them that Eva was crying and didn’t want to eat. The nurse spoke with the doctor, and they both agreed that she was understandably uncomfortable, since many people had been examining her and “messing with her” that afternoon. She was not running a fever; I took her temperature different ways, different times. They advised giving her some infant Tylenol and letting her rest, so that is what we did. She took a bit of infant Tylenol, and we hoped it was enough to ease what we thought was her back pain.
Eventually, she got tired in our arms. We rocked her until her eyes were heavy, then we laid her down and applied the ointment we’d been given. We kissed and caressed her. Tired, we all lay down and rested.
Later, my husband woke to check on Eva. She woke up to him holding her but was listless. Very concerned, he put her in her car seat and we rushed out of the house, deciding to go to the Women’s Hospital since the NICU staff knew her there. We never imagined that we’d spent the last night we ever would as the three of us in our home.
Once admitted, Eva was given fluid and the attending doctor decided that the best place for her was Children’s Hospital. As we waited for transport, I held and rocked my precious baby girl and sang to her. I told her—not for the first or last time—that she was the strongest and most beautiful baby I’d ever known and how much I love her.
I rode in the ambulance with Eva and the transport team and my husband followed in our vehicle. In the Children’s PICU, the doctors thought that Eva had some kind of infection. She was immediately hooked up to antibiotics. They said on the drive over her temperature had plummeted, and in the few hours following her admission, her vitals became shaky. By her side, we talked to her, rubbed her hand, and watched helplessly but so caringly.
Eva is an incredible fighter. No words could possibly capture the tumultuous events, emotions, conversations, prayers, pleas, and… moments… that we experienced with our perfect Eva at Children’s Hospital. Attempts to fully capture our experience in words would be futile and wouldn’t do justice to the intimacy of the experience.
The devastating course of events blurs. In little time, we discovered the grim prognosis for our Eva—our perfect, beautiful baby who had conquered so much. Our world and hearts shattered. How? Why? The first of so many possible questions. A fraction of one question was answered by a test result: our baby had late-onset Group B Strep, a rare, unexplainable occurrence. It had been a C-section delivery, so the possibility of this bacteria being transferred from me to her during birth is relatively impossible. She’d contracted it from somewhere—a devastatingly confounding ambiguity—and the germ had done its irreparable damage quickly: Meningitis.
We were blessed with time. 38.5 weeks of a healthy pregnancy and three weeks with Eva after her birth. We had a three-week birthday party at Children’s, when we knew that Eva’s amazingly bright brain was gone, but her strong body was still with us. Our pastor blessed her. Eva’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins— we, the people who love her beyond words—came to celebrate the beautiful gift of her life.
My husband and I held our beautiful baby for hours and hours and hours. She continued to prove her tenacity. Without life support, she gave us more time… so much more time than the doctor had told us to expect. In fact, he didn’t even know what to make of her strength and power to live. He smiled, and said, “this kid just confounds me,” as she continued. Eva continued. Eva continues. In her beautiful, strong life, it became her business to prove people wrong and defy conventions. We rocked her. We held her. We sang to her. We watched her return to Heaven. We told her to go with Jesus and not be afraid. We thanked her for all that she’d given us. We told her how much we love her and that she’ll always be our perfect baby girl, our Eva Kay.
Much like Spina Bifida will never define Eva, neither will Meningitis. Eva is life. Truly: the name “Eva” means “life” or “life-giving.” She has given us, her most blessed parents to have her, and her family and those who know her and of her, so much life. We continue to learn from her. She taught us two seemingly impossible simultaneous lessons: to know what it means to live and to not be afraid to die.
We appreciate every second. We trust that Eva’s future siblings will have a deep understanding of Heaven and Jesus because of her. We agree that Eva has made a more profound impact on others in her three weeks than most people will in a longer lifetime. We take comfort in the promises of God; we know that He understands our questions and will one day answer them and that we will see Eva again… an overwhelmingly beautiful reunion.
We share this abbreviated story of our experience with Eva in recognition of World Meningitis Day, which is on April 24th 2014. Exactly one year, to the day, after we learned we were expecting Eva. We pray that Eva’s story, as well as the many others here and elsewhere, will continue to purpose awareness and benefit future instances of Meningitis, and that soon, Group B Strep infections will be eradicated. This germ robbed our daughter’s physical presence from us, but it cannot take away what we hold dear.
Eva. Her memory. Her teachings. Her life.