Ashley Toenjes

    04.22.20 | Hope by Ashley Toenjes

    My name is Ashley Toenjes, and this is my story about how my husband and I overcame incredible fear after learning that our unborn baby girl had an abnormality that would make it unlikely for her to be born normal - or even born alive.

    At 10 weeks pregnant, I had an ultrasound to confirm my pregnancy. Instead of the joyful confirmation I was expecting, I received the recommendation that my baby undergo genetic testing. During that testing, we learned that our unborn baby had a cystic hygroma. This anomaly meant it was very likely she would be born with trisomy 13, 18, 23, Turners syndrome, or a major heart defect. Any of these scenarios meant possible intellectual and physical abnormalities, the severity of which could vary greatly. Receiving this shocking news (I was by myself) was stunning. But the shocking news didn't end there. I was told that my baby had a 50-90% chance of being stillborn. Hearing this made it extremely difficult for me to want to go on with my pregnancy or even be excited about it.

    The choice of whether or not to undergo biopsy testing was, by itself, difficult. I struggled with the fact that my happiness about this pregnancy (my heart issues had put even that possibility in question) had been reduced to this sadness. I was mad at God and had a hard time turning to Him for comfort. I put up walls around my heart, and I didn't even want to put together a nursery because the doctors said that, even if she made it to term, she could be stillborn. All of these thoughts made it difficult for me to wake up in the morning, go to work, or play with my son and pretend for him that everything was okay. He was too little to understand.

    After four long months, my husband and I received the test results. They indicated that our baby was most likely going to be okay! All tests had come back normal, and the cystic hygroma had gone away on its own, or so it appeared from the ultrasound.

    But more scary news followed. We learned that she was no longer growing well and might have to be taken early. It felt like one wave of bad news after another kept coming, a total roller coaster of emotions.

    I have a very strong husband, Life Group, and family that is strong in their faith. From the second they first received news, everyone told me that it would be okay, and God would help me get through this. My sister, in particular, had just been diagnosed with Ovarian cancer, and she told me that some days, when she was so depressed that she felt she couldn't function, she asked God to just get her to lunch, not even the whole day, just to the next hour... take the day hour by hour with God.

    Admittedly, I was hesitant to follow my sister's advice because praying was very hard for me to do at that time. But I found the strength to pray. I asked for each hour, each smile for my living son, for my wonderful husband (who never seemed to doubt God for a second with all of this). I remember hearing Hillary Scott's song, "Thy Will Be Done" and just crying.

    Even though my husband and I decided on genetic testing to find out our unborn daughter's situation, versus waiting until she was born to find out, I gave all of that to God and started to come to terms with what life would be like with a disabled child - or a child that may not come home. Slowly but surely, I started to feel like I could handle it, that God created her, and I needed to and could handle whatever He had in store for her. I was so scared, but as time went on, the more I talked about it, prayed each hour, and heard that song, the more peace came... that song has become my theme song.

    Our test results took extra long to come back for extraneous reasons, and sometimes I think that was God giving me more time to learn the lessons of trusting Him and faith. Believe me when I tell you that I was very relieved when the results came back, but I had a lesson to learn before that happened.

    Our baby girl will be 1 year old on May 9 and is perfectly healthy! All that remains is just a small bit of extra skin on her neck where the cystic hygroma was. We named her Lily Johanna because Johanna means that God is gracious and, for us, He truly is!

    Without God, my husband, and family I'm not sure I would have been able to get out of bed each day. God is wonderful and gracious!