God gives moms to children because the little ones need help growing up. In the case of a 28-year-old Columbus, Ga., woman, who gave birth to an extremely premature baby a few years ago, it was the child helping the mom grow.
After a stillbirth in 2007, Tira Addie had to take it easy when she became pregnant a year later. Her doctor put a stitch in her cervix and told her to stay in bed. One morning, about 5 1/2 months into the pregnancy, she woke up feeling sharp pains in her lower back and decided to go to her doctor for a checkup.
As a nurse performed an ultrasound, she asked Addie an unexpected question: “Did you feel that?”
“No,” said Addie.
“You just had a contraction,” the nurse said.
Addie felt numb when she realized she was giving birth four months too soon. “I was thinking that he wasn’t going to make it. I thought I was going to lose another baby,” she recalled.
After a day and a half of labor, her baby boy—Casen Joseph Mitchell—was born by caesarean section on Sept. 5, 2008. At exactly 24 weeks, he was 13 inches long and weighed just 1 pound, 10 ounces. Lighter than a half-used bag of sugar.
Only one out of every two preemies born at 24-weeks gestation lives to go home from the hospital. Like others his size, Casen required constant medical attention. He began sleeping with eyeshades under a blue light to treat jaundice and had a breathing tube inserted down his throat. He had to take medicine for a heart defect, called a PDA, which diverted too much blood to his lungs. He had seizures because his nervous system wasn’t completely developed. He needed several blood transfusions. At 2 months old he had eye surgery for a condition called ROP, which could have left him blind by the age of 2.
Addie found the long weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit testing her faith. She spent every day at the hospital and worried when she was away: “If I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, I would go back up to the hospital with him, because it eased my mind.”
Once, Addie was holding Casen when his breathing tube slipped out of his mouth. A monitor display that tracked his oxygen level dropped from 96 to zero within a few seconds, and as Addie watched, Casen turned blue. Hospital staffers grabbed the baby and “bagged” him, placing a green oxygen bag over his nose and mouth until he turned pink again.
“I used to ask and ask and ask, ‘God, why me?’” Addie said. One morning she woke up and told herself, “I’m going to stop asking, because He’s doing this for a reason.” A quote a friend posted on Facebook encouraged her: “If you wonder where God is, remember the teacher is always quiet during the test.”
The mother and son turned a corner when Casen’s lungs, at about 2 months of age, were strong enough to breathe without a ventilator tube down his throat, though he still received supplemental oxygen. “That was a sign that he was going to be coming home,” Addie said. He finally did come home after 88 days in the NICU.
Today, Casen is 4 years old and weighs nearly 45 pounds.
Addie, a single mom, said the hospital experience taught her to be hands-on. When Casen was young and preferred to whine and point instead of talk, Addie searched YouTube, found some sign language videos, and taught Casen how to sign about 25 words. He’s talking now, and finally completing words, saying “black” instead of “blaah.” He attends Head Start and a local preschool, and Addie teaches him at home in the afternoons, using flashcards and a chalkboard. He knows his ABCs, can count to 100, and recently learned to hold his pencil straight enough to write his name.
“He’s my motivation to be a better mom, and to be a better individual myself, for him,” said Addie, who is preparing to start a job as a Georgia child advocate.
Tira Addie still cries when she tells her story: “If I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again, because my Casen is a miracle baby.”