Our Smallest, Biggest Miracle

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The Story of our Smallest Community Member, Who Survived Against All Odds 

 

Frieda Schweky 

 

 

This is a story demonstrating that when ordinary people are challenged, if they have a secret weapon – emunah (faith) – and a strong communal support system, then extraordinary things can happen. 

 

Esther and Albert Cohen had two healthy girls, born after two normal pregnancies, when they learned that Esther was pregnant with their third child. At first, the pregnancy proceeded as expected. Esther had cravings for sweets, felt tired, and experienced the typical first-trimester symptoms.  

 

Summer flew by, and before she knew it, Esther was preparing to host her husband’s whole family for Sukkot. Suddenly, in the final three hours before the holiday – a period known by many as “crunch time” – Esther looked down and saw that she was standing in a puddle of blood. 

 

“I Know This is Good…Because This is From You”  

 

Albert rushed her to the doctor’s office, while Esther prayed repeatedly and nervously under her breath, “Please, Hashem, let it be okay… Somehow. Please.” She did not know how this could possibly be okay, but she placed her trust in Hashem and prayed from the bottom of her heart. 

 

Esther shared that there’s nothing more deafening than the sound of silence when the ultrasound technician checks for a heartbeat – but to her and Albert’s relief, they heard the baby’s heartbeat. Overcome by emotion, Esther let out the cry she had been holding inside her, and she exclaimed, “Thank You Hashem!”  

 

Now the time came to figure out what was going on. The doctor didn’t elaborate, and simply instructed Esther to cancel her company and stay in bed. Little did she know that this would be the beginning of a very long bedrest sentence.  

 

The next few weeks, Esther describes, were a frantic combination of emergency appointments, a ton of bleeding, and even more tears.  

 

In her 16th week of pregnancy, Esther’s doctor delicately shared the dreadful news that her baby tested positive for two very serious disabilities. He urged her to go to her local hospital, Monmouth Medical Center, for a consultation.  

 

“This felt like a punch in the gut,” Esther recalls. “I could hardly breathe.”  

 

But just moments later, Esther mustered the remarkable strength and faith to do something which very few people are able to do in times of distress. She looked up and announced, “Gam zu letovah!” (“Even this is for the best!”). Turning to Hashem, she said, “I know this is good, because this is from You, but I really want a healthy baby. Hashem, by living a kollel life, we are living le’ma’alah leteva – beyond the natural domain, so I’m asking you to treat me beyond nature! Please give me a healthy baby!”  

 

With that, she was whisked away to the high-risk doctor.  

 

This doctor said that the baby’s development was two weeks behind schedule, and the fetus was showing a lot of deformities. Meanwhile, Esther’s bleeding continued, and even intensified. She was experiencing one of the most serious cases of subchorionic hematoma (bleeding in between the uterus’ wall and the sack surrounding the embryo) the doctor had ever seen. He warned Esther that she was at grave risk for preterm labor and miscarriage. 

 

His only advice was: “Stay on bed rest and just wait this out.”  

 

Esther kept thinking, “This can’t be happening…” She felt as if her whole life had just been turned upside down. 

 

“I Was a Mess” 

 

Esther was apprehensive about sharing all this news with her parents. She didn’t want to make them worry. As she debated with herself what to do, she received a text from her mother’s neighbor, Rebbetzin Molly Haber, asking how she was doing. Esther and Albert decided that the rebbetzin would be the perfect person to confide in, so they called her. After that phone call, the rebbetzin frequently visited and checked in on Esther. This was truly a blessing for Esther, as Rebbetzin Haber proved to be precisely the close friend whom Esther needed. 

 

The rebbetzin sensed that the physicians whom Esther had seen might not have been so reliable, and recommended that Esther see Dr. Andrei Rebarber. Dr. Rebarber no longer sees patients himself, other than in extremely rare and urgent cases. Rebbetzin Haber had the doctor call Esther, and to Esther’s surprise, he agreed to take her on as a patient. This gave her an indication of just how serious her case must have been. 

 

Esther chose not to share with her friends what she was dealing with, but they knew she was on bedrest. They arranged meals for Esther and her family each day, a “meal train” that continued until several months after she gave birth. But if anyone tried to call her, she hit the “ignore” button, and she answered texts with one-word, monosyllabic responses.  

 

“I was a mess,” she acknowledges.  

 

Bedrest felt like one long, bad dream. She had to quit her job, which her family depended on for income, as Albert learned fulltime in kollel. She needed to remain in bed the entire day, and was not able to even hold her children. She left her room only to eat. She became extremely weak. Albert suddenly became a mother, a nurse, and an overnight aid – in addition to his usual roles as husband and kollel student. The situation took a heavy emotional toll on Esther, as her inability to work or care for her family made her feel unproductive, unaccomplished and unfulfilled. Esther realized that she had crawled deep into a hole and mentally checked out, falling into depression. 

 

Just then, Hashem dropped her a life vest. Someone on a group chat asked if anyone knew about the situation of undersized babies in early pregnancy. Esther hesitated to respond, but ultimately decided to reach out. As it turns out, the girl who posed this question on the chat was going through an almost identical situation. They decided to be in this together, exchanging names and praying for each other. Additionally, Esther’s husband took on an extra seder (learning session) that he dedicated especially for his wife and unborn infant.   

 

From Bad to Worse… 

 

They went to see Dr. Rebarber in New York City. After a sonogram that felt like an eternity, he finally looked up and said to the young couple, “This is not just a placenta problem; this is a baby problem. This is one of the most deformed fetuses I’ve ever seen.” 

 

Albert and Esther saw the baby right there on the screen, with the spine completely curved. The baby was bent head to toe. They couldn’t see the face or heart, and one leg was backwards and had a severe clubfoot.  

 

In Dr. Rebarber’s office, he had them call their rabbi. They dialed rebbetzin Molly Haber and Rabbi Michael Haber, and the doctor somberly said, “I think we may have to consider terminating the pregnancy. I think It could be affecting the mom’s health.” 

 

Esther had thought she’d be more relieved to hear that it would all be over soon… but she wasn’t. At this point she was 20 weeks pregnant, and her baby was reading 16 weeks old.  

 

They settled on running a series of tests the next day, and then reassessing. They would also be going for echos to test the baby’s heart twice a week. The baby had fluid around the heart, an aortic valve issue, and numerous of holes.  

 

The drive home from this initial appointment right was quiet and somber. Esther was with her mother and her husband, but no one spoke. What was there to say? 

 

Esther says she will never forget how she felt when they came home after this visit. She was feeling so confused, with so many mixed feelings.  Additionally, she describes, she sensed “a wave of unspoken pressure from family members to abort.” At that moment, Esther knew that she was going to love this baby no matter what he or she looked like, and no matter what syndromes he or she suffered from. This was her baby, and she was going to love it unconditionally. 

 

Several weeks later, Esther learned that one of her lab work reports indicated the possibility that she had an autoimmune disease called “Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome.” As if things couldn’t get any worse, she now needed to take lovenox shots in her belly twice a day. And, Dr. Rebarber said that bedrest was only making matters worse. Subchorionic hematoma is a form of a blood clot, and a patient with a blood clot specifically needs to move, and not remain in bed. Unfortunately, Esther at that point felt so weak – both emotionally and physically – that she could not move even if she tried. 

 

“You, Hashem, Can Do Anything!” 

 

That week, Esther returned to her original obstetrician for a checkup. During the appointment, she asked the doctor a question. She doesn’t remember what the question was, but she’ll never forget his answer: “I can’t save your baby until 24 weeks.” 

 

At that moment, everything changed for Esther. It was like the clouds cleared, and she was able to see clearly for the first time since all this started. A song suddenly flew into her mind – a song about an overly self-confident doctor who is convinced that his patient’s fate lies exclusively in his hands. The song goes, “…Listen here, we’ve got a Boss. He’s bigger than me and He’s bigger than you, and He’s bigger than all of us…. The galaxies, the stars or a mosquito taking a swim makes no difference to Him!”  

 

Esther perked up, looked at the doctor, and said, “It was never you! You were never saving my baby!” She walked out of there and never went back.  

 

From that point on, Esther was a different person. She opened her siddur for the first time since her bedrest and started to pray.  

 

“I cried the most bitter, heartfelt tears I ever shed,” she recalls. “I cried and I cried, and I cried. I just vented to Hashem and told Him everything that was going on… The deformity, the terminating pressure, that no one believed I’d have a baby.  And then I said, ‘But none of that matters, Hashem, because You can do anything! You can give me my healthy baby – right down to the clubfoot! And when You do…I’m going to share the story with everyone, so everyone should know what You can do. And, Hashem, if it’s for my benefit that this baby shouldn’t make it, then I know this is good, because everything You do is good, and I will accept Your Will wholeheartedly.”  

 

Esther prayed each and every night. She would tell her husband, “During the day I go to see my high-risk doctor, and at night I have my meeting with the Real Doctor, Hashem.” She truly felt that Hashem heard her. 

 

However, at the next appointment the situation looked even more dire. And it continued looking worse and worse with each subsequent appointment.  

 

A Miraculous Birth 

 

When Esther reached her 29th week, and the baby was reading just 22 weeks, the heartbeat was decreasing, and the placenta showed signs of reversal – meaning, it was taking away from the baby, instead of giving to it. The pregnancy could not continue any longer. Esther went to the hospital. 

 

Dr. Rebarber was on vacation, but he was called back for a family emergency, and he also visited Esther in the hospital. Hashem orchestrated everything perfectly.  

 

The hospital staff prepared to perform an emergency c-section, in a way that would leave Esther unable to have children again. When Dr. Rebarber came to visit her, little did he know that he was Gd’s messenger, sent to plan the c-section for the following morning, in a safer way, that would allow for subsequent pregnancies.  

 

The neonatal staff came to speak with the couple, telling them about what to expect from a micro preemie. After listing every possible thing that could go wrong, the staff member concluded, “But, Mrs. Cohen, I’m afraid that your baby is not going to make it, because it is too small for the ventilator, and just yesterday, it failed the breathing test. I’m really sorry.” Esther thanked the staff for the information, and, recognizing that only Hashem is in charge, continued praying to Hashem for a miracle. 

 

After all the prep for surgery, it happened – and it happened quickly. In what felt like only two minutes, the doctor shouted, “I THINK GIRL!” and Esther literally couldn’t breathe. She looked at her husband and croaked out the word, “Pray.” She could hardly even move her lips. She felt frozen. It was the moment of life or death, and It was right now! Esther looked up and managed to utter one more prayer that everything should be okay.  

 

Suddenly, she saw a bloody glove push aside the blue curtain separating Esther’s face from the doctors who were operating on her. The doctor looked at her and said, “I heard your baby crying.” 

 

Esther’s head was spinning. The baby was CRYING! Crying means breathing. Breathing means life! Hashem gave her life! Her baby was alive! 

 

Albert managed to snap a few pictures of the baby before she was whisked away to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Esther looked at the photo and asked the doctor, “Wasn’t the right foot backwards? Where’s the clubfoot?”  

 

She had kept a detailed document of all the illnesses and deformities that the doctors declared this baby to have – partly in case this information was needed later, but mostly so that she would able to share every detail of Hashem’s miracle. In the hours and days following the birth, Albert and Esther came to realize just how great this miracle was. Cardiology called to tell them they had no clue what the reports were saying, because the baby’s heart was fine. As for the fluid and the holes – orthopedics called to inform the couple that their daughter’s spine was completely straight and they saw no sign whatsoever of clubfoot. And each team had similar phone calls. Baruch Hashem! 

 

Esther was fully expecting her little Miracle to be a baby boy (who would be named Yehoshua). She already had two girls who were named for their grandmothers, so this baby’s name was free for them to choose. After some deliberating, Esther told her husband that she would like to name her baby Simcha.  

 

The next morning, when the rabbi announced her name, he exclaimed. “What a perfect name for Rosh Hodesh Adar!! ‘Mi shenichnas Adar marbim beSIMCHA’ (‘When Adar comes, we increase our joy’)!” When Esther heard that, she cried uncontrollably, feeling this was a clear sign that Hashem was with her. She had no idea that the month of Adar had just begun. (In fact, she was hardly sure what day of the week it was…)   

 

“It felt like a small hug from Hashem, telling me that He’s with me,” Esther reflects. 

  

Dr. Rebarber called Esther in shock, telling her repeatedly, “I can’t believe you have a baby!” At 485 grams (about 1 pound), Simi was one of the smallest babies born in Mount Sinai history.  “Our smallest, biggest miracle.” 

 

A Message of Gratitude 

 

In conclusion, Esther asked to share the following message with the community: 

 

As we approach Simi’s second birthday, we can’t be more grateful. After 188 days (roughly six long months) in the NICU, our Simi came home with a feeding tube, heart condition, and a lung condition, Baruch Hashem, after a few months, it all went away. It took a lot of PT, OT, DI, feeding therapy, speech therapy, and lots and lots of prayers. Now she’s almost two, and she’s totally up-to-par with her age group! If you saw her and didn’t know her story, you would never guess that she had any complications, and that in and of itself is a humongous miracle. Simi’s feeding tube got taken out last May. (Thank you Sophia Hazan Speech to Sprout, and Dr. Judy Dayan! And a HUGE thank you to Dr. Ezra Dayan for putting up with us almost every day!)  

 

Simi is walking and talking. She’s a real fire cracker! If I were to list every person that helped us along this journey, this article would never end. I’ll wrap up by saying thank you to all the therapists who helped rehabilitate Simi, to my family members who basically adopted my kids at certain points, to my husband who is the reason I’m healthy, mentally and otherwise, and who is my rock, my biggest fan, and our superman, and of course my friends and community members who cooked and prayed for a good outcome. We didn’t know how her story would play out, but we are forever grateful to all those who supported and prayed for our miracle – because we got it!