Skin to skin, with her baby, Eloise Blaire, resting against her chest in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., Angie Kuiper reveled in the joy and sanctity of life.
Born a micropreemie at 25-and-a-half weeks on Aug. 26, 2016, Eloise was extremely small and fragile, weighing just one pound, one ounce. But she moved, wiggling her tiny arms and legs as her mother held her, and opening her eyes widely at the sound of her mother’s voice.
“It was a bit scary at first, holding such a tiny baby. But the several hours per day I spent holding Eloise were so precious and beneficial for both of us,” said Kuiper, a marketing specialist for the Christian Reformed Church.
“Babies know their parents’ smells and voices. Spending time skin to skin not only provides a time of bonding for babies and their parents but also dramatically helps the baby’s development in a way that medicine can’t offer.”
Michael Kuiper, Angie’s husband, was also involved in skin to skin time with Eloise, and was able to gently hold her often. Both were involved in her care as often as allowed — changing her diaper, taking her temperature, comforting her during blood draws, and just being there with her. Angie and Michael were able to get to know their daughter.
Sadly, Eloise Blaire Kuiper passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of four weeks from a severe bacterial infection that her young immune system just couldn’t fight.
But the story of this child, shared by her parents, is one that has touched the lives of many people and is featured as part of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which the Christian Reformed Church is marking this Sunday, Jan. 15, and for which the CRC’s Office of Social Justice is providing a range of worship resources.
"Eloise's story shows that there is beauty in every life, at any stage of development, and that's why we wanted to share her life story,” said Michael.
“She was only one pound at birth, but she had a huge impact on this world. She has reminded us that every life deserves to be valued and protected.”
Married for two years, Michael and Angie were naturally excited to welcome their first child into the world.
“It was a mostly normal pregnancy until about 25 weeks, and then everything changed,” said Angie.
At 25 weeks, Angie went suddenly to the emergency room because of chest pain, and doctors discovered that her blood pressure was sky high. She was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and other dangerous symptoms. She was admitted to the hospital to be stabilized and monitored, and she was given steroid shots to help mature the baby’s lungs in case early delivery was necessary.
“The specialist told me I would likely need to deliver the baby within the next day, but we prayed that we’d be able to hold on longer to give Eloise a better chance at life. We just kept praying for one more day,” said Angie.
After four days, Angie had to deliver the baby due to the worsening of her severe preeclampsia.
“I didn’t know that babies could survive at 25 weeks,” said Angie. “But Eloise made it through delivery, and Michael was able to accompany her on her way to the neonatal intensive care unit. He brought me pictures and reports until the next day, when I was finally able to visit her.”
Eloise was in a special room in the neonatal unit for babies born 27 weeks and under, called the “Small Baby Unit,” in which she received around-the-clock specialized care from doctors and nurses. A ventilator helped her breathe, and she received medications and nutrition through various intravenous lines. Although she was so small, measuring merely 11 inches in length, the Kuipers were grateful.
“Her life was a miracle, and we still praise God for the joy she brought to everyone who met her and those who heard her story,” said Michael.
Angie recalls the joy she felt when after a week, Eloise’s eyes opened for the first time and began taking in the world around her. She also recalls those times when she was able to hold Eloise.
There are also the memories of watching their child fight for life, regularly reaching out with her tiny fingers, as if trying to grasp the very air that kept her alive — or perhaps to touch her mother and father who were there, caring and praying for her.
“She was very spunky and was alert for longer periods than many of the babies her age,” Angie added. “She was a fighter, without a doubt. It was amazing for us to see that our baby, who was dealing with all of these issues, had so much strength and will to live.”
As their daughter continued to grow and progress, people from across the country and the world heard about Eloise by word-of-mouth and over social media, and were praying for her. Her story spread quickly.
The Kuipers held their daughter as often as possible and fervently prayed she would grow and thrive.
But one evening, about four weeks after she was born, Eloise began to act lethargic and unlike her typically feisty self. A call from the doctor came in the middle of the night, telling Angie and Michael that Eloise wasn’t doing well and asking them to be there as soon as possible. They rushed to the hospital and got there in time to interact with Eloise and hold her in her final moments.
Afterward, Angie and Michael, their families, and many others began to grieve. Eloise was so tiny yet exhibited such life. Still, as wrenching as it was, there was a sense of sacred beauty in the experience, said Angie.
“She’s a reminder that we need to protect life — even the lives of the tiny and fragile. The story of my Eloise clearly touches on the beauty of creation.”
Michael feels the same way, convinced from the very start that this small baby was a marvelous gift.
“Eloise has changed us forever, and we've been told firsthand of the joy and inspiration she brought to her doctors, nurses, and many others,” said Michael.
“Whenever I held Eloise’s tiny hand, I was reminded of how God knits us together in our mother’s wombs. From the beginning, it was clear that she was fearfully and wonderfully made by her creator — every wiggle of her toes and grasp of her fingers was proof of that."
To read more of Eloise’s story and view information about Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, visit crcna.org/life.