‘I blacked out and collapsed. ‘We’re taking your baby,’ I heard someone say. I woke up not knowing where I was. I tried to tell them I was in pain, but couldn’t talk.’

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“My husband and I live in the small town of Craig, Colorado with our kids. Population 9,000. My husband and I met back in 1998. I was 13 and he was 12. A little over a decade later, we got married and had our Cinderella wedding. We were so happy.

In 2013, we were pregnant with baby number four. When we went for the first ultrasound, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. So, I went to the hospital. Spotting and cramping, I heard the baby’s heartbeat at 135. But by the time my husband showed up, the heartbeat dropped to 54. We sat there and watched as our baby’s heart got weaker and weaker. 35, 20. Then nothing. We were devastated. We just wanted one more baby.

We kept trying, but I could never get pregnant. To help with the pain, I distracted myself with many things. I homeschooled my kids, made hair bows, scarfs, baby clothes. I did photography and coordinated lady events at our church every month. In addition to this, my husband and I were youth leaders and did weekly Bible studies at my house. I planned birthday parties and community events. I was a very busy person.

Then, in 2017, we got pregnant with our rainbow baby.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

We were more than excited and so were the other kids. We had sold all our baby stuff the summer before, so for my birthday my husband took me to a town two hours away to shop for everything we needed. After having two boys in a row, we were finally getting our second girl.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

At 27 weeks, I started to show signs of preterm labor. At 30 weeks, I was starting to dilate and I had protein in my urine, a sign of preeclampsia, though the only one I had. So, at 34 weeks, I was admitted to the hospital and prepped to stay there until labor.

My second night there, my husband and kids came and had dinner with me. I took a picture and posted it on Instagram. My youngest son made a cross necklace and gave it to me before he left. At 10 pm, I called my husband. ‘They checked me and my blood pressure is normal. Everything’s fine.’

Courtesy of Janet Espino

At 12 am on July 23, 2017, my whole life turned upside down.

I start to get a really bad headache. I called the nurse and told her how I was feeling. ‘I’m tingly and feeling sick my stomach.’ I tried to head to the bathroom, but instantly fell back and couldn’t get up. I yelled to the nurses. ‘Something’s wrong!’ I grabbed onto the necklace my son gave me and held onto it. Everything was blurry and in slow motion. I saw nurses running back and forth. That’s when I began to throw up. In a daze, I heard someone say, ‘Janet, we’ve called for your husband.’

I blacked out. Suddenly, I saw my doctor come in and say, ‘Janet we are taking the baby now, okay.’ Then I blacked out again. Next I heard, ‘Janet, here is your baby.’ I mustered up enough strength to say, ‘She is so cute.’ I rubbed my cheek on her’s and passed out again. My husband Levi said I was talking to him and asked him to hold my necklace for me. And he did until I asked for it. I don’t remember this at all.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

They flew the baby and I to my parents’ house in Denver, four hours away. Levi called them beforehand and let them know what was happening (I didn’t know at the time) and what hospital the baby and I were being transferred to. My parents then started to call all my family members. They arrived at the hospital to wait for the helicopter. Levi and my oldest daughter Jada ran home to pack and prepare for leaving. At one point, Jada passed by the living room and saw Levi just sitting on the couch, crying.

They packed everything and the boys in the van and began their four-hour venture to Denver. Levi said it was the longest drive of his life. My parents called him and kept him updated. In the meantime, in Denver, my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins waited for the helicopter to land.

When we arrived, the doctors pulled my dad aside to tell him the plan. My dad came back to my mom crying. He told her, ‘They have to do brain surgery right now, or Janet will die.’ My dad had signed the papers do this because they couldn’t wait for Levi. It had to be done right away.

My dad wanted to see me before I went into surgery and they said no. My dad, thinking this might be the last time he may see me, fought his way back to see me before they rushed me to surgery. My mom posted on Facebook and called people, asking for prayers. My brother in law and my family members also asked for prayers. My daughter sent a message to her friend on Facebook who was on a mission trip in Africa at the time. She told the pastor’s wife and they soon had someone going from village to village asking for prayers. As the message spread, so many churches all over the world picked up on it and ended up praying for me. Churches in the USA, Africa, Mexico, El Salvador, and Canada joined in.

My parents kept calling Levi to give him updates. When he heard I needed brain surgery, he had to pull over in a little town. He told my daughter to watch the boys and went behind a building and just cried and cried. ‘How am I going to raise four kids alone?’ He talked to God. ‘How can you give me one life, but take another?!’ Soon after, Levi and the kids got back on the road. They finally arrived in Denver around 8am. Levi immediately wanted to see me, but I was in recovery and no visitors were allowed back yet. So, my family took the kids to go eat and then to meet their new baby sister.

Courtesy of Janet Espino
Courtesy of Janet Espino

At 11 am, they started to let Levi and other family members in. They didn’t ever tell my boys Max and Ben what was really going on. But they finally told Jada, my oldest. She was so afraid to see me. Levi told her it was going to be okay, to cry and let it all out. She said, ‘No, dad. I need to be strong for the boys.’  She was only 13 at the time and took on the duty of comforting her little brothers at every given moment.

For several days, I was on a ventilator to help control the swelling in my brain. Levi said that every day Jada would go in my room and talk to me about her day. My stomach was starting to swell from not being able to urinate and my kidneys were failing. I was put on dialysis for two and a half days.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

Countless people visited me each day, but I only heard two people talk to me. My aunt told me, ‘Janet we are here for you and we are praying for you. I also heard my sister say, ‘You look so good today. We miss you.’ All my mind could think was, ‘Why what’s wrong with me?’

While on the ventilator my blood pressure and heart rate would shoot up and down. They found two aneurysms 1mm each and a band around my heart that wouldn’t let it beat a fully. Each day in the hospital, my husband visited me and fixed me up. He turned into quite the hairdresser.

The day finally came to try and take me off the ventilator. I was breathing on my own and doing better. I heard the doctor say, ‘Okay. Come on, Janet. Give me a good cough. Try really hard because I know you have so much to tell us and we can’t wait to hear.’ I coughed and I remember waking up not knowing where I was and who these people were. My husband and dad were standing on my left side, but I could not look or turn left yet. I thought I was alone and didn’t see them.

I then fell asleep and I woke back up in so much pain. Confused, I just wanted to see Levi. I was scared. I kept trying to tell them I was in pain, but I couldn’t talk. Finally, Levi and my dad asked for a piece of paper. When my husband looked down, he said, ‘Babe, you’re not writing.’ When I looked, it was just circles. So they got a sheet with the alphabet on it and that’s how I communicated for a while. I asked about the boys and Jada. I forgot I had a new baby until Levi showed me a picture.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

I kept kicking my right leg. I was so scared that if I stopped I would lose my movement in it. I still didn’t fully understand what was going on or what happened. A couple hours later, I finally got to see my oldest daughter. I just cried and cried. I heard a nurse say something about the ICU. I looked and Levi. By this time, I was writing. I wrote, ‘I’m in the ICU?’ He said yes and told me what happened and why. He then got my finger and ran it down my incision where I had the brain surgery. I just cried with each staple I felt in my head. ‘You’ve had a stroke caused by preeclampsia.’

Courtesy of Janet Espino

The next day, I got a feeding tube put in. I could only get three ice chips every 24 hours. I was so thirsty and cried for a drop of water, but the flaps in the back of my throat were not working and I couldn’t swallow. It seemed like I was in the ICU forever.

When the therapist came, they asked me to sit up on the edge of bed. I was like a newborn baby. I couldn’t hold my head up by myself and needed help. I would get lots of visitors but fall asleep in the middle of their visits because I was so tired. My pain was a constant all day and all night. Levi would go back forth between seeing baby Sadie and me.

Courtesy of Janet Espino
Courtesy of Janet Espino

My parents and other family members kept the kids busy for us and helped watched them. On day three from waking up, I finally let the boys come back to see me. My voice wasn’t very loud. They both walked in the door. Ben, my youngest, ran to me and just hugged me. My oldest son cried. He was too scared to touch me. He finally came and held my hand. ‘I’m scared I’m going to hurt you, mama.’ It was emotional for all of us.

The next day, they finally discharged Sadie from NICU. They finally brought her in and I meet my little girl 11 days after she was born. I wanted to hold her and care for her like a normal mom, but I could barely move. It was hard and I cried a lot.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

They finally moved me out of the ICU and to a regular room where I got more therapy, but still wasn’t able to eat or drink yet. I had horrible nights and many dreams of the stroke happening over and over. I felt lost and just wanted to go home. I told my husband, ‘They’re lying to me. I can walk.’ I started to try and get out of bed and almost collapsed to the floor. I would have fallen if my husband didn’t catch me.

They finally let me take a few sips of water every hour. The first time the water hit my tongue, I felt like I was in a dessert and just found a puddle. I had so much pain in the back of my head, shoulders, and back. The pain killers wouldn’t even touch it. I couldn’t walk or move my arms. It was a lot to handle.

The day finally came for me to get transferred to a rehabilitation center. My husband decided on Craig hospital, which just so happens to be the name of the town where we live. I thought we were going home and was so upset when they told me it was a hospital still in Denver. They transferred me in an ambulance alone. My husband tried to follow them, but they took off before he even got out the parking lot.

When I got to the new hospital, I was measured for a wheelchair. I was going to be there for 6 weeks. Therapy 5 days a week, 6 hours a day. I learned to stand there, get up from a chair, shift my balance. I got the green light to eat again. I had a cheeseburger from McDonald’s for my first meal. The nurses had to watch me eat to make sure I wouldn’t choke. I could only drink out of straws. I had physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. Being there wasn’t easy, but it was easier than what was to come.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

While at the hospital, I would cry and cry and my husband would walk me around their garden over and over again, crying with me, trying to lift me up. At the hospital, it was so great to see people like myself fighting the same thing. We would give each other thumbs up and cheer when we saw each other do something we’d been working on. It helped keep me going.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

One morning, the doctor came into my room, looked me straight in the eye, and said, ‘You’re going home in a wheelchair.’ He immediately walked out. Next, I met with my neurologist. My mom had printed photos of my photography and put them on my wall to cheer me up. He mentioned that my photography was ‘different’ and I shouldn’t do it anymore. I raced back to my room, crying. I got to the wall where all the pictures were and tore them down. Crying and asking, ‘Why?’ I felt like I was ripped out of my life and thrown into this new life I hated.

The next couple of days, they took me back to re-measure me for a custom wheelchair. I cried the whole time. After two and a half months in the hospital, we finally got to go home.

Then, after a four-hour drive in the mountains, we parked in the driveway. My husband went to get my wheelchair. I told him, ‘No, I will not bring that thing into the house. I’m going to walk in.’ And the time, I couldn’t walk. So, my dad and Levi on each side of me, lifted my foot for each step. With the help I am so grateful for, I walked into my house.

My parents helped us settle in and unpacked a truckload of gifts, flowers, and baby stuff for the kids. My first few days home, I got a few visitors from town. I was so embarrassed for people to see me in a wheelchair. Levi was able to stay home for two more months being going back to work. Some of his co-workers even donated some of their vacation time so he could stay with me and still get paid. They are all wonderful people. The community and church also brought us a few meals.

But the work wasn’t over yet. The hardest part was the mental part. I had therapy two times a week. The place in my brain where the stroke hit was a part of my emotions, so they were EVERYWHERE. I cried a lot and felt I wasn’t doing anything but taking up air. I wasn’t caring for my kids like I used to or taking care of my house. I felt useless.

The stroke has changed so many things in my life. Nothing tastes the same anymore and I find little pleasure in eating. I’m a big cry baby now and can’t tolerate pain like I use to.

But throughout this whole journey, I have learned that life isn’t always going to go the way to want or expect. But the trials of today make the lesson worth it all. I have learned so much about myself. My strengths, my determination, my dedication to something. I have learned that even though I say I want to give up, there’s always still a little fire in me to keep me going.

I know it may seem weird, but my self-confidence is way higher than it was before. I have learned to love myself and accept me for me. I can only go up from here. I’ve been in the valley, and with God’s help, I’m still climbing this mountain. And one day I’m going to be standing at the top of this mountain, looking down in the valley seeing all I have gone through to get where I am.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

I have had to re-learn to eat, hold my head up, sit up, close my eyes together, eat, swallow, talk, smile, stand, and walk. I’m still learning to use my arm and hand and certain muscles. But I have also learned to look at the glass half full. After all, it’s never empty. I have learned life is so precious and to make it count every day.

Today, I’m doing photography again, cooking a little more every day. I’m cleaning, folding clothes, homeschooling the kids. I am so thankful for all of the support my family, and especially my husband, has shown to me. I still may not be 100% but I know I will get there.

Courtesy of Janet Espino

I still may not be 100% but I know I will get there. I will continue to remain strong for myself and for my children.

Courtesy of Janet Espino
Courtesy of Janet Espino

A car side mirror states: objects in the mirror are closer then they appear. The same goes for life. Your blessings are closer than they appear.

Life is a journey and sometimes we get stuck the valley and it looks like we will never get out. But keep climbing that mountain. If you need to camp out for the night, go ahead. But don’t ever, ever give up. We will always make it.”

Courtesy of Janet Espino
Courtesy of Janet Espino

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Janet Espino. You can follow her journey on Facebook here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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