By Josh Ellis
I never imagined I would be praying life over my lifeless daughter, but on December 11, 2017, I found myself proclaiming the breath of God over her as the doctor and nurses were telling me to prepare for the worst.
2017 was a monumental year for our family. We had just moved into our new home and received the unexpected news that child number five would be arriving in December. Any couple who has been surprised with the discovery of a new addition understands the evolution of emotions my wife, Sarah, and I experienced over the next few days. The initial shock that put us on a roller coaster of ups and downs, and twists and turns finally led to peace, which broke forth into elation and joy.
Having five kids was never in Sarah’s and my family plan, but we sensed there would be something special about this little one. We reasoned that God, the Author of Life, the Giver of Good Gifts, had a plan. We had two girls and two boys already. This little one would be the tiebreaker, so the whole family was on pins and needles waiting to discover the gender. Cherishing the special bond I have with my two daughters, I was rooting for a girl. I enjoyed the stage where dad was the superhero and rescuer. I loved our daddy-daughter dances and grieved when my last daddy-daughter dance was over.
For this reason my heart leapt when the ultrasound tech said, “It’s a girl!” Another princess. More “knights-in-shining-armor” play. More tea parties. Another wedding to pay for someday (although I am still in denial about that one).
The day came when the doctor said, “It is time!”
We had all looked forward to meeting this little one. We had already named her Ashlyn, which means dreamer or visionary. We always named our children with intentionality. Their names are prophetic declarations of what we sense God’s call on their lives may be. We believed Ashlyn would bring hope to her generation with prophetic revelation. Jae, her middle name, means songbird. Music runs in our family, and we felt her song would bring freedom.
Nonetheless, that Saturday night became Sunday night. Sunday night soon became Monday morning. After thirty-six hours of labor the tones of the monitors went off, indicating Ashlyn was in trouble. Her vitals were dropping to dangerous levels. Within seconds, the room was swarming with nurses and doctors. Before we could comprehend what was happening, Sarah was being wheeled into the hallway, and nurses were dressing me in a gown and head cover.
Don’t worry about me; you save Ashlyn.
Sarah was already prepped when I entered the operating room. I sat next to her so she could see my face. We locked eyes and reassured each other everything would be ok. The moment of peace was abruptly interrupted with the sound of panic from our doctor.
We heard, “She’s stuck. I can’t get her out.”
I was determined to remain peaceful and calm. Sarah, beginning to show signs of physical distress, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about me; you save Ashlyn.” The anesthesiologist made the decision to put her under.
The next eight minutes were the longest eight minutes of my life. More doctors entered the room to assist our OB/GYN. More blood was ordered for Sarah. Nurses were repositioning themselves around the operating table.
I listened intently for that relieving sound of a cry. It never came. A few moments later, a group of nurses left with Ashlyn to a side room.
Ashlyn’s doctor soon came into the operating room and said, “I want you to be prepared. The baby is not doing well.” She said I was welcome to come see her, and I should bring my camera to get pictures for Sarah.
I knew what that meant.
You never know how you are going to respond in a moment like this until it happens. I had a strange peace. It had to be similar to the peace that Abraham felt when he lifted the knife to sacrifice Isaac. The death of his child would not deter him because he knew God would accomplish God’s own purposes even if that meant He had to raise Isaac from the dead. I did not know that Ashlyn would live, but I knew that even if she did not, God was good and His purposes would be fulfilled. I had faith, but I also had trust in God’s sovereignty. I knew I was going to pray for a miracle, but I was also fully prepared to pray as Job did: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I gave my unconscious wife a kiss on the forehead, stood up, and walked into that side room without my phone. What I saw was the most beautiful baby girl even though bruised, limp, and hooked up to a ventilator. The doctor explained that she had been separated from the placenta and without oxygen for eight minutes or more.
While the doctor was describing the reality of the situation, preparing me for the worst, I cupped Ashlyn’s head and prayed a simple prayer: “Breath of God, come. Bring life.”
I bent over and kissed Ashlyn’s forehead and went back to Sarah. The doctor must have thought I was in shock or denial, maybe because I did not take pictures. Maybe because I was praying for life. Maybe because I spent only a minute or two with Ashlyn. As they began to wheel Ashlyn out to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), her doctor positioned her next to the operating table where Sarah still lay. She asked for my phone and took it upon herself to be sure we had pictures of Ashlyn with Sarah.
Later, when Sarah was in recovery, our doctor told us that Ashlyn had gotten stuck in the birth canal and that Sarah had lost a lot of blood. In tears, the doctor explained there had come a moment when she had to decide whether to save the baby or save Sarah.
As soon as possible, Sarah and I went to visit Ashlyn in the PICU. She was unable to breathe on her own. Sensors on her scalp were monitoring her brain activity. The neurologist showed us a series of readings and said bluntly, “This is the EEG (a test that detects abnormalities in the brain waves) of someone who has experienced severe, traumatic brain injury.”
The lack of oxygen and the traumatic birth had done its damage. He informed us that if she did begin to breathe on her own, we should expect cerebral palsy or worse.
Our prayer points had been defined: she needed to breathe on her own and the brain needed to be healed. Our family, church, and countless others began to lift our baby to the Lord in prayer.
Amazingly, Ashlyn began to show signs of self-initiated breathing that evening. We were told the machines were assisting her at about 60 percent. By the next evening she was breathing 100 percent on her own, and the ventilator was removed!
The neurologist brought us new EEG readings. He showed us what he called “blips.” These blips, he said, were indications that there had been brain trauma. So back to prayer we went. The next series of EEGs gradually improved. We were witnessing answers to our prayers. The sense of awe, relief, and joy was palpable among the medical staff and our family. It was a medical marvel to some — a divine miracle to us.
As we were celebrating God’s goodness, we discovered another meaning of Ashlyn’s middle name. Jae is a Greek root that means “healer.” We were beside ourselves when we discovered this.
Ashlyn will be turning four this year. She is a perfectly healthy, bright, vibrant little girl. There are no signs of lasting damage, no cerebral palsy. Her story is still told by our medical team. We still meet people who say to us, “You’re that family and this is that little girl we prayed for!” We are thrilled every time we get to share God’s story and how He is our healer.
About the Author
Joshua Ellis is the pastor of New Life Church in Petersburg, Michigan. He is passionate about translating the gospel into palpable words and actions that transform lives and culture. He is working to see healthy marriages, strong families, and impassioned individuals who love Jesus and love people.