In March 2009, Elizabeth Simonis was 21 weeks pregnant. With the exception of some common discomfort, she felt fine. On March 29 she went to bed around 11:00 p.m. She woke at 2:00 a.m. with excruciating pain in her lower abdomen. She never dreamed she would find herself and her unborn son facing death.
Below, she gives a first-person account of what it truly means to value the sanctity of life for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.
A first-person account from Elizabeth
With our three-year-old daughter in tow, my husband and I arrived at an empty emergency room. The doctors realized I had fluid in my abdomen and assumed my appendix was rupturing. Having lost two liters of blood, the surgeon decided to wheel me into the operating room.
Instead of a ruptured appendix, my surgeon found a ruptured uterus. He biopsied some of the ruptured tissue before stitching up the finger-size hole he found in my uterus, likely caused by endometriosis. The surgeon told me I would probably go home in three or four days.
Two days later, the biopsy came back, and the ruptured tissue was the placenta. I was diagnosed with placenta percreta, a very rare and life-threatening condition in which the placenta actually bores a hole through the wall of the uterus. But there was no medical record of a woman rupturing with placenta percreta at 21 weeks. And, definitely, no favorable published outcomes. So I was sent to the Medical University of South Carolina and handed over to a team of doctors of obstetrics who treat high-risk cases.
After examining me thoroughly, my new doctor said, “First of all, you must understand that you are my patient; I must advise you for your well-being, and not that of the fetus.”
Something about that didn’t feel right, because, from the moment I found out my son was inside me, my decisions ceased to be just about me. I thought about him when choosing what to eat or drink – would I really not consider his life in this critical moment?
The doctors gave me the option of going into surgery immediately, having a hysterectomy, and going home in three days, knowing that “the fetus” would not survive.
To this, I responded, “Okay, what’s Plan B? And … his name is Luke.”
I later learned that there was no Plan B, and we began to press forward with a waiting game that was embedded in faith and trust in our Holy Father.
I had prayed for 18 months to conceive this child; I knew his life was from God. There was no doubt that I was going to do all in my power to protect him while he was inside me.
Under the care of a phenomenal medical team, I received steroid injections at 24 weeks to help Luke’s lung development. I received a 12-hour magnesium drip, which greatly reduces the risk of cerebral palsy. I stayed on strict bed rest with two IVs in my arms at all times, just in case I began to rupture and bleed out quickly.
And I prayed – for my son, for myself, and for the family members who were helping us hold things together. But mostly I prayed prayers of thanksgiving.
Many mornings I would wake up and realize that I didn’t die in my sleep, and be overwhelmed with tears at the magnitude of my situation. Then, the Lord challenged me with the discipline of simply counting my blessings. He knew all the “woes” I would pray about it, and He reassured me that He was covering all of those. For my own well-being, He wanted me to tell Him all the things for which I was thankful. Suddenly, I had joy in that hospital room that had become my home for four weeks.
Then one morning my pain started to worsen again, but my vitals were strong. Weak vitals would have indicated another eruption. Still, the surgeon decided that I was probably tearing again, just not bleeding out. He wanted to take me back into the operating room, evaluate the situation and, if possible, stitch me up again in hopes of buying Luke some more time.
Wondering if the next few minutes would be the last of my son’s life or my life for that matter, I said goodbye to my husband and put my trust in my Savior.
It only took the surgeons a few minutes to decide to deliver Luke and remove my uterus. The hole had torn to the size of a tennis ball, much larger than the original fingertip-size hole. However, they were a bit baffled as to why I hadn’t been bleeding. The medical team described my placenta as stuck to the abdomen wall, with no uterus in between. I know Who was holding it there. Massive bleed out could and should have happened at any point.
On April 26, 2009 – 15 weeks before my due date – Luke Victor Simonis was delivered completely free from trauma, weighing 2 pounds, 1.2 ounces. I had a hysterectomy and healed just fine. (See photo of Elizabeth and Luke below.)
Luke spent 64 days in the NICU and came home at 34 weeks gestation. He was on the ventilator for only 24 hours, which astounded the NICU doctors and nurses.
He continues to amaze us, and I am overwhelmed when I try to imagine my life without him. When I first saw him, I was not prepared for how tiny, yet perfectly crafted, he was. Every day, I would remind myself, he just needs time – time to grow.
And, grow he did! Luke is now a bright-eyed seven-year-old who is the tallest in class, has a smile that can light up a room and shares a contagious love for life with all who know him. He loves pizza, golf, his second grade class, and thrives on playing kickball every day at recess.
An interview with AFA
AFA: Why did you decide not to terminate your pregnancy, knowing you could have died?
Elizabeth Simonis: Years earlier, a praying friend told us that he felt our second child – a son – would be very instrumental in the Kingdom of God. We held this word loosely, many times wondering about its meaning. At that moment of decision, it became apparent that this word was to give us strength and hope to believe that Luke was predestined for a greater purpose. We didn't know if he would survive, but we believed we could see the Kingdom of God growing around us as we had opportunities to share our faith. I was seeing his life make a difference, even before he was born.
AFA: How did your decision to choose life for your son give others a glimpse of the gospel?
ES: We were able to spend much time talking with and ministering to many of the nurses and hospital employees. I knew I was already experiencing Luke in action as an instrument for the Kingdom, and what a blessing it was to see other people experience God's presence through our dire situation.
AFA: How have you seen God receive glory through your trial?
ES: Being able to share our story has given people hope to see what God can do. We were really transparent during the whole ordeal. People valued this because we gave them a look into our lives to see that we truly were struggling, but choosing to give God the glory no matter the outcome. Our transparency has been a vessel for God to receive the glory.
AFA: What would you tell a mother who finds herself in a similar situation?
ES: Pray, put your faith in God, first, and secondly, in a strong team of medical doctors. Your child is worth the risk. Do all in your power to save his life. If your baby doesn’t make it, grieve as you need, knowing that the Heavenly Father grieves with you. But, rest in knowing that you chose life for your child. In that decision, you can have no regrets.
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Simonis, her husband Todd, and their two children live in South Carolina. He is a pastor, and Elizabeth is now a speech and language pathologist. Because she was so blessed by the speech services that Luke received, she has recently completed her degree in speech and language pathology and is honored to be able to serve children with speech delays and their parents in her own community. The original version of this story ran in the February 2012 issue of AFA Journal but was republished today in recognition of Sanctity of Human Life Day, which is being observed this year on January 15 and 22.