Photo courtesy of Ashley & Ben Hawkins.
“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” – Robert Browning
It was Mother’s Day just three years ago when Ashley and Ben Hawkins were filled with anticipation of their life ahead. Ashley was 17-weeks pregnant with twin girls, and their life was about to change dramatically. But that day, their anticipation turned to fear as the amniotic sack holding one of the babies broke. At that moment, they were unsure if either of their children would survive.
The doctor told Ashley that if she could make it to 24 weeks, when the babies had a chance of being viable outside the womb, they would admit her to the hospital and monitor her closely. On the Fourth of July, Ashley was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane where she spent 19 days on bed rest before giving birth to Paisley Jo and Winnie Sue.
Paisley, the daughter whose water broke on Mother’s Day, lived only 12 hours. Winnie, whose water broke during the time Ashley was on bed rest, weighed only 16 oz. That day, the couple began their 291-day journey of praying for and caring for their daughter in the neonatal intensive care unit. Ashley spent her days at the NICU bathing Winnie, holding her, pumping breast milk, singing to her daughter and doing all she could to bond with this new and delicate life. It was a journey that ended in a miracle and made the following Mother’s Day one of the most blessed days of their lives.
“We took Winnie home the day before Mother’s Day,” said Ashley, her eyes filling with tears as she recalls leaving the hospital for the final time.
Those early months in the hospital left much uncertainty, but Ashley and Ben refused to consider the “what ifs?” With the love and support of family and friends, they remained positive.
The couple bought a sewing machine and made small receiving blankets for Winnie. “We would sleep with them before giving them to her so they smelled like us,” said Ashley, who was unable to hold Winnie until she almost 7 weeks old, but would put breast milk on a Q-tip to put on Winnie’s lips, just one of the many ways she cared for her.
Ben and Ashley watched helplessly as Winnie nearly died several times. While Ben commuted from Sandpoint on the weekends, Ashley stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Sacred Heart so she could be near her daughter and assist in her care. “Our goal was always to be home by the next holiday,” said Ashley.
One way the couple coped with the stress of the days in the hospital was through humor. On one occasion, while getting ready to take Winnie for an appointment with a cardiologist, they dressed Winnie up in full scrubs purchased by Ben’s mom. “I loved to dress her up all the time,” said Ashley.
When they were finally able to come home, they brought Winnie home with oxygen and a g-tube. She remained on oxygen for nearly a year.
When it was time for Ashley to return to work, they enlisted the help of a home health-care nurse, Cathy Horton. It was an instant bond that formed between “Nana Cathy” and Winnie.
“I was very moved by Ashley and Ben’s experience as first-time parents, mourning the death of one twin and dealing with the medical issues of the second,” said Horton, who to this day continues to visit with Winnie and take her on special outings.
Ashley and Ben were blessed with the support they received from Ben’s mother, who traveled from California, and Ashley’s parents, who traveled from their home in Wyoming, to offer their support during the time Winnie spent in the hospital and after she came home.
Today, as she approaches her third birthday in July, Winnie, who is named after her great grandmother, is a thriving young toddler. She is cognitively bright, speaking in full sentences, counting and reciting her colors. And although she remains small, weighing only 20 pounds, she is active and happy.
As Ashley and Ben rejoice in their role as parents, they are also grateful to everyone who supported them on their journey over the last three years. Ashley keeps in contact with women she met during her stay at the Ronald McDonald House, and she made many friends from Sacred Heart as well. “One of her nurses comes to visit us when she is in Sandpoint and even comes for Winnie’s birthday,” said Ashley. In fact, Ashley became friends with many throughout the Sacred Heart Hospital.
“The man who was at the parking attendant booth knew we were finally going home and gave me a cupcake on my way out,” said Ashley of their final day there.
Looking back, Ashley said it is important that parents in their situation remember to take care of themselves. “You don’t really get a chance to grieve when you’re working to keep a child alive for a year,” said Ashley.
And while they grieve at the loss of their daughter Paisley, Ashley and Ben are able to celebrate the miracle of their daughter, Winnie, and share her with those who love her dearly and will continue on life’s journey with her.