ELKHART — Born at just 24 weeks and six days, Serenity Miracle Crawford has her middle name for a reason.
Serenity wasn’t due until mid-January, yet there she was on Sept. 29. Her parents, 19-year-olds Sierra Hardy and Javarious Crawford, were in shock. They were expecting three more months to prepare. Instead, they are looking at having their baby at the newborn intensive care unit in an incubator and surrounded by monitors until next year.
Hardy had felt contractions a week before having her daughter, but she was told at the hospital that she had just been working too much, so she cut down at her job. A week later, the contractions were back and stronger.
“I have a son, so I know what going into labor feels like,” Hardy said.
And at Elkhart General Hospital, it became apparent that Serenity was on her way. Hardy had to get a difficult emergency cesarean section.
“It was horrible,” she said. “It was very scary, because they were talking about putting me to sleep, and it all happened so fast.”
The pregnancy had felt different than when she was pregnant with her now 2-year-old son, but when Hardy told people she thought Serenity might be born early, she was told it might just feel that way because “girls sit lower.”
For the family, the situation did not become much easier after the c-section. A newborn baby usually weighs between 7 and 9 pounds, but Serenity was only 1 pound 6 ounces. She even lost some weight after being born.
Serenity Miracle is doing well now, but there are ups and downs, her parents said.
“She opened her eyes for the first time yesterday,” Hardy said on Wednesday. “That was huge.”
But on the same day, Serenity’s right lung collapsed. She shakes in a way that might be seizures, and she has had bleeding in her brain.
So they need to be prepared for anything, Hardy said. That means they need to be thinking about things new parents would rather not.
“I want her to have a normal life. Everybody would want that for their kids. But if it doesn’t go that way, the love will still be the same. I just don’t want her to suffer,” Hardy said.
Doctors told her the premature birth was caused by a Haemophilus infection. Hardy knows it is not her fault that she caught the infection, but it still affects her.
“How did I get this infection ... to know that I made her come early and it was in my placenta and stuff like that. That’s the thing that was bothering me,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared for any of this at all.”
Getting a younger sibling can be difficult to get used to under the best of circumstances. But Hardy and Crawford need to be at the hospital for large parts of the day, making the transition tougher on their 2-year-old.
“My 2-year-old is very attached to me, so leaving him has been hard. He is always with me, so this is the most that I have to ever leave him, and that bothers me. And then I have to diminish my time here at him at home. And I don’t like leaving her, and I don’t like leaving him,” said Hardy.
Serenity has been moved to the NICU at South Bend Memorial Hospital. One of the things there that make the separation a little easier is an “Angel Eye” camera on Serenity, allowing her parents and grandparents to see her when they can’t be at the hospital.
With her daughter in the incubator and attached to multiple wires and tubes, Hardy had only gotten to hold Serenity two times in the first week of her life. Seeing her baby like that and not being able to do much takes an emotional toll, she said.
Exactly how long Serenity has to stay at the hospital is unclear, but a general rule is that babies stay until the date they were due. According to hospital staff, Serenity can be discharged when she is able to maintain her body temperature outside the incubator and take all her food by bottle or breastfeeding.
Until then, Hardy will not be able to go back to work, she said, so the family depends on Crawford’s income and the help they can get from family and friends. With the unexpected hospital bills, that has become particularly important.
“We’ve got a lot of support that helps us keep going,” Hardy said.
She has set up a GoFundMe page, asking for help from anyone who wants to contribute. The page is at www.gofundme.com/f/e79z6-serenity-strong.
The family is also receiving support from the hospital staff and had only good things to say about Memorial.
“They try to share stories about people who’ve been here years before us, who only weighed 1 pound and made it out. So they just try to give you a lot of hope and a lot of stories to keep you going.”
But the most important support, the family said, comes from their faith in God.
“The prayers really work,” said Crawford. “At one point in time – the next day we didn’t’ know if she’d be alive or not. Everybody prayed for her.”
Crawford’s mother, Latonia Jennings, said the entire community at Kingdom Impact Christian Cultural Church is praying for Serenity.
“Strength is made perfect in weakness. That’s what Scripture says,” Serenity’s paternal grandmother said. “So even though all of this looks like it’s just terrible, that’s when your faith kicks in. Even though we can’t see what God is going to do, we have to believe what he is going to do, and you can’t waver in your faith.”
Despite the tough situation that the family is in, they feel lucky and blessed. Had Serenity been born a week earlier, her chance of survival would have been drastically lower. Babies born at 23 weeks have about a one in five chance of survival.
Hardy said she wanted to share their story because of how much it meant to her when she heard of other families who made it through extreme preterm births. After Serenity was born, people Hardy had never met started reaching out to her and offer their support. Hardy wants to pay that forward.
“I want other people to have faith when they’re going through this situation,” she said. “Keep going, don’t give up. Miracles do happen.”
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus