As Seen on Kathie Lee & Hoda & TODAY Parenting!
A baby girl was born without a right or left hemisphere of her brain. Doctors said she was essentially in a vegetative state, unable to see or hear—that there was no hope for her. Relinquished under the state’s Safe Haven Law, this two-week-old unnamed baby girl found her way to Cori and Mark Salchert’s home. Despite the infant’s grim medical diagnosis, Cori knew she couldn’t allow this beautiful baby girl to spend her few days on earth alone and unloved. Cori took the baby girl home and named her Emmalynn .
I Will Love You Forever reveals one woman's decades-long quest to find healing and redemption after the accidental death of her sister as a child. God has used hospice babies—those left to live and die without family to care for them—to mend Cori's broken heart. Bringing these fragile hospice babies into their home, Cori and her family have promised to hold them briefly, until their last breath on this side of heaven, but to love them forever and always. The loving actions of Cori and her family show that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
Cori’s poignant story will strengthen your faith. . . It will touch your heart.
Bonus! Features full-color photos of Cori and her family.
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
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About the Author
Cori Salchert is a mother of 15 kiddos and counting. She knows what it's like to love deeply, while holding loosely to the terminally ill children she cherishes in her home for the brief time they live before dying. Her strength and hope is in God, and the pain and grief endured on earth is worth it because she'll have forever to love her children in heaven.
Read an Excerpt
BEAUTY IN THE BROKEN
O Lord, my best desire fulfil,
— William Cowper, "Olney Hymns"
* * *
The first time I laid eyes on the unnamed baby girl, I fell in love.
It was on a Tuesday in August, and the infant was swaddled in a pastel blanket and lying in a standard-issue wooden hospital crib on wheels. She was so still I found myself gazing intently at her chest to see if she was even breathing. She was not making any sound. No crying, no cooing. Her eyes were closed, and she was seemingly unaware of the medical staff bustling about, attending to the other infants requiring immediate attention in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
I had been told over the phone that this tiny two-week-old girl was expected to die at any moment, and I guessed that was the reason there was no flurry of activity or staff hovering closely over her. She was not a typical NICU patient from the looks of her or the traditional crib in which she rested. The other babies, lying in isolettes or radiant warmers, were surrounded by equipment that flashed and beeped. These at-risk infants had wires and tubes attached all over their tiny bodies, and the nurses were expending great effort to make sure they would survive. The lack of life-support apparatus surrounding this particular baby was a telltale sign she was ready to be moved out of this high-energy, high-tech environment. And I was there to move her.
I exercised a great deal of self-control by reining in my eagerness to hold her by waiting about three seconds before I asked for permission to pick up Emmalynn, the name we decided to give her. The nurse assigned to her for the p.m. shift agreed with a cheerful nod that I could. I leaned over the crib, my breath catching in my lungs, a sob in my throat, tears pricking my eyes. I thought, Oh God, is this really going to happen? Then I carefully scooped Emmalynn into my arms and snuggled her close.
I took a breath, catching a whiff of the sweet, distinct newborn scent mingled with Johnson's baby shampoo. Baby Emmalynn was almost feather-light, and her fragility added to my desire to gather her in close and protect her.
Holding her near me and peeking underneath the typical nursery blue-and-pink striped cap, I could tell that her head, although abnormally tiny, was formed with an intact skull and a downy covering of light brown hair. My eighteen-year-old daughter, Johanna, had driven the eighty miles with me to the hospital. This was our initial visit, and I wasn't exactly sure what the protocol was or what Johanna and I would be expected to do. The nurse brought us some guest chairs, and we sat so we could dote on the precious infant. I gently ran the back of my first finger across her smooth pink cheeks.
A neonatologist wearing the usual wrinkled and faded blue scrubs came into the nursery and pulled up a stool next to us. She leaned against the edge of Emmalynn's crib and cocked her head to the side, brows furrowed in concentration and caution. "How did you get into this situation?" she asked.
I think it was a little hard for her to believe we had willingly volunteered to care for this baby. Or perhaps she thought we hadn't understood the gravity of Emmalynn's prognosis. I quickly explained that I had experience as a neonatal nurse as well as a bereavement specialist offering hospice care to families when their babies died on the labor and delivery floor. I shared my desire to come alongside an infant with Baby Emmalynn's lethal condition. I couldn't change the fact the baby would die, but I could care for her and love her for the short time she had on earth.
Once the physician realized I wasn't going to be deterred from taking the baby home, she sat back, relaxed her shoulders in relief, and grew tearful. She said, "When this baby arrived in the NICU two weeks ago, I was so dismayed because I thought she would never have a family. I'm so relieved this is happening. I don't know if you're a person of faith, but you're a godsend for this baby." She had other infants to attend to, so she left us to bond with the newest addition to our family.
Though I didn't want to hand her over, I needed to share, so I cheerfully placed the precious bundle in Johanna's arms. She was beautiful to us, and so still, like a porcelain doll. Johanna held her as gently and carefully as she could while I plied the nurse with more questions about Emmalynn's care routine. I wanted to know everything. I had already decided to give her my all, no holding back, no regrets. This baby was not going to feel the least bit unwanted. For whatever time she spent in this world, my family would give her open arms and open hearts. God had numbered her days before the beginning of time. He was fully aware of when she would be called home. I was confident He would carry us through whatever lay ahead.
After holding the precious infant one last time that evening, I gently placed her back in the wooden crib, promising that, God willing, we would be back soon. We left the NICU hoping and praying this baby would live long enough to come home.
* * *
Earlier on the same sunny day, I had been required to empty my hands of a job I had held dear. After a year of being unable to work because of health issues, I returned to the office of my former employer, a hospital on the eastern coast of Wisconsin, and met with HR staff to collect the personal items I had left behind the previous summer — boxes of photos, mugs, books, and mementos such as a hand-crocheted angel and a plaster-of-paris cast of a baby's foot. I was no longer a confident employee walking through the halls with purpose; instead, I felt beaten down and discarded.
I did not want to keep the appointment; the internal resistance I felt over this door closing in my life was stifling. Fortunately, I didn't have to go into the hospital by myself. My husband, Mark, drove me to the employee parking lot and came inside with me, expressing one of his trademark sentiments as we walked: "I cannot carry it for you, but I can carry you." His presence was steadying, and I said a silent prayer thanking God for Mark's loving support.
Stepping through the automatic doors, I realized the grief was as fresh as it had been ten months before when I learned that the funding for my job had been redirected. There would be no job for me to come back to even if I ever did become well enough to work.
We passed by the office that had once been mine; it was now being used by a different department. Files that I had deemed of utmost importance now languished in boxes stacked on the desk in my old cubicle until someone could find the time to move them to more permanent storage.
My job as a bereavement specialist had been one of my passions. I had even come up with the program's name: Hope After Loss Organization (HALO). I had spent countless hours and had poured a significant amount of personal energy into championing the rights of miscarried and stillborn babies, and those infants who died shortly after birth, as well as their parents. One of my goals was to see that those little ones were treated with dignity and respect.
When the OB doctor needed to tell a mother her baby no longer had a heartbeat or was going to be imminently delivered and wouldn't survive, I was called. If it was possible, I would be present when the doctor shared this news, and I stayed with the family after the physician left to tell them what next steps they needed to take.
My job entailed helping parents make the best choices for their family. While the parents were dealing with the grief of their baby's death or impending death, I informed them of their options. Making funeral arrangements is horrible to contemplate, especially only hours after you thought you were going to take home a normal, healthy child.
One remarkable afternoon a baby boy was born alive after only eighteen weeks' gestation. His parents were completely overwhelmed by his untimely birth and seemed to be in shock during the delivery process. After the baby boy was born, the doctor placed him on a blue sterile cloth and handed him to me, his arms and legs gently wiggling. I had no clue how this was physiologically possible given the immaturity of the baby boy's lungs.
Seeing their tiny son moving but knowing he would die quickly was too much for the parents to bear. The boy's mother sobbed, choking out words between ragged breaths. "Please, take him away. I can't do this." The father responded to the panic in his wife's voice and motioned frantically with his hands that I should move along.
I carried the baby to an unoccupied room just around the corner and stood near the window. I held him in the palm of my hand; his tiny feet were no bigger than the nail on my pinkie finger. I could see his heart beating in his chest; I could see his veins through his translucent skin. At this early age, the nerves were just below his skin, leaving him extremely vulnerable to pain because fat stores hadn't yet covered the nerve endings to insulate them. I eased onto the wide windowsill and sat, pulling my knees up toward my chest, instinctively protecting him by arcing over his precious little body, holding him in my hands only inches from my face, cradling him with the tenderest care, offering what comfort I could. The afternoon sunlight streamed in and created a serene setting. I marveled at how beautifully his tiny body was formed, and my breath was taken away by this miracle of life, in awe that one so young continued to live outside the womb.
Tears splashed on my hands even though I wasn't consciously aware I was crying. In a half whisper I sang a hymn and then "You Are My Sunshine." My voice broke when I came to the line, "Please don't take my sunshine away."
I watched as he shuddered slightly. I whispered, "Oh, baby boy, fly away to Jesus." The fluttering in his chest stopped and his color faded. When he was still, I called my friend Marie who was working downstairs and asked if she would come help me take a photo of this precious boy. I wanted his parents to have something tangible to take home with them. A photo would be a poor consolation when Mom's and Dad's arms were aching to have a baby in them, but it was something, and something in the long run might bring them comfort.
Marie came to help me with Baby Boy without flinching, even though this certainly wasn't her area of expertise. She watched as I reverently dressed him in a small handmade kimono-style robe and then wrapped him in a blanket about the size of a washcloth. The outfit and blanket had been specially created by local church women just for babies his size. The OB nurse knocked softly on the door and poked her head in, "The parents would like to hold him now. Would you take him to them?"
I did as she asked, sighing with relief that they had chosen to hold him. The parents were going to have enough heartache, and creating a memory of their son would ease some of the pain that lay ahead. After settling Baby Boy with his family, I left the room to gather my things that I had left in the empty, hallowed space near the window.
Marie was there waiting. I had reined in my emotions while I'd had to, but now my sobs broke in spite of my best efforts to control them. "I wish I could have done something for him." I groped about in my mind, sorting through options and discarding them just as quickly. "But his lungs — they were too young to work. Any medical procedure I could have attempted would have been futile. And it would have hurt him. I feel so helpless!"
Marie looked incredulous. "You're kidding me, right?" she asked. "All that baby knew outside the womb was your touch and your love. What greater gift could you have given him?"
More than anything, the parents I worked with just needed someone to feel the loss of their child as deeply as they did, a compassionate and steady presence to help them as they learned to cope with their grief.
I loved what I did and the ability to make a difference for good in such tragic circumstances. It was difficult to accept closure, to acknowledge that this job was no longer mine.
As I walked down the hall, the heaviness in my gut was awful, and it had nothing to do with the physical pain I had endured in the past year. I felt weak, drained of energy and of the wherewithal to finish the task ahead of me. On the way to the HR office, one of my former bosses greeted me, and I felt pitied. His expression confirmed, in my mind, that my prayers and the prayers of countless others that I be fully restored to health had failed. What was even more bewildering was how much of my identity was wrapped up in my bereavement counselor role, and now I felt as if my identity had been lost along with my job. One of my worst fears had been to become disabled, and now I was staring it right in the face. My heart soundlessly cried, Dear God, how can this be Your will for me?
* * *
The events of the next day are proof to me that God was indeed working all things together for my good, even before I had any clue of what He was doing. Our home had passed the necessary inspection, and the initial background checks were accomplished. I had been given the go-ahead to bring Emmalynn home, and Johanna and I headed to the hospital once more, but this time we weren't just visiting. We would load this baby up in a car seat and carry our precious new gift to the rest of the family waiting at home to meet her.
On this second trip to the hospital, we found out more about Emmalynn's condition. Only the brain stem was present, which allowed her to breathe on her own, but she wasn't even able to swallow, which is a basic brain stem function. Feeding her was considered a comfort measure, and I was grateful she would not have pain from being hungry. A nasogastric (NG) tube went from her nose to her stomach so she could be fed by allowing formula to gravity feed through the tube with a syringe.
Johanna had brought with her a crocheted hat that was the color of an orange Dreamsicle from her own days as a newborn, and she fitted it over the top of the hospital-issue hat Emmalynn wore. Without this double-wrap effort, hats would fall off her tiny head.
While we were being readied for discharge, we met the neonatologist of the NICU. He was much more clinical than the physician we had chatted with the evening before. He agreed that I could use our family pediatrician, Dr. T, to provide primary care for Emmalynn. Then the doctor informed me that she was in a vegetative state. She would be almost comatose, "unable to see or hear. She will respond only to painful stimuli and have no real quality of life."
My heart rebelled at his evaluation about "quality." In spite of her extreme brain deformity and the resulting physical limitations, Emmalynn was not a mistake, as some would call her. Her body was formed in her mother's womb because God decided it would be so. I love the way the Bible describes it, saying babies are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14 NIV). God doesn't make mistakes, no matter our opinion of His work.
It honestly didn't matter one whit whether we had evidence that Emmalynn understood anything we did for her. Because she was made in the image of God, my family would be the hands and feet of Jesus and care for her as He would. This privilege of loving her even though she was too frail to reciprocate made the joy all the sweeter. God's extraordinary love for us is not contingent on our deserving it, earning it, or even, quite frankly, wanting it.
I drove home, and Johanna sat with Emmalynn in the backseat. Because she was so young and tiny, the car seat had to be rear-facing in the back, which meant I couldn't see Emmalynn's face in the rearview mirror. I was glad that Johanna could monitor the baby's breathing and alert me to pull over if she seemed to be in distress. Not that Johanna was responsible for the little baby's life — we both knew that Emmalynn could pass away in an instant — but we both agreed that if she began to struggle, it would be best for her if someone was holding her, offering comfort and love.
Having my adult daughter with me buoyed my spirits and helped to solidify that this was a team effort because I knew that on my own I wouldn't be able to provide the 24-7 care Emmalynn required. Johanna could also share in the joy of seeing a prayer honored. Three years earlier she and I had attended a Mark Shultz concert for her birthday and we heard his song "What It Means to Be Loved." Mark told the audience the song was about loving a child who most likely wouldn't live very long: "I wanna be her mom for as long as I can. ... I wanna show her what it means to be loved." I realized that the artist had put into words what had been my heart's desire for the longest time. At that time Johanna and I had prayed for an opportunity to do just that: to be a family for a child no one else had the desire or ability to care for.
Excerpted from "I Will Love You Forever"
Copyright © 2018 Cori Salchert.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Beauty in the Broken 13
2 Amie 37
3 Fifty Days 63
4 The Funeral 81
5 Flaws Revealed and Healed 97
6 The Broken Vessel 117
7 The Dark before the Dawn 133
8 The Tight Fist of Fear 153
9 Breath of Life 177
10 Strength Made Perfect in Weakness 197
11 Crazy Amazing Answers to Prayer 213
12 Stained Glass Windows 235