As the child grew in the womb, so did our anticipation and dreams for her life. At 20 weeks we were told that we should expect a girl. Happy for either a boy or a girl, we were excited to now better visualize who this little person would become. As the baby grew inside of Nicole, mother and daughter already began their bonding. Dad got in on the action too; giving pep talks to the baby, singing songs to her, and feeling for kicks. Even so early in her life we knew the little girl was mighty.
Long before we ever thought about actually having a baby, we fiercely debated baby names. About six months into the baby’s gestation we finally started coming to a consensus. We liked the name Eve or Evie, but we couldn’t decide what her full name should be. Then during a late night drive, Nicole had an epiphany. She suggested Evangeline. Matt was sold. The name was versatile for many nicknames, and it had significance. Evangeline means “good news”. We knew this baby was good news for us, and we hoped that her life would help share “good news” with others.
When autumn came and Evie’s arrival was only brief months away we were overcome by the love and excitement that so many shared with us. Our excitement became nearly unbearable. On Friday night, November 16th we were finally off to the hospital to deliver our long awaited baby. Nicole labored through the early morning, and after hours of pushing, Evangeline Marie Gustafson Kennedy was born at 11:13am, November 17th. She came out a beautiful shade of purple with a pointy cone head. We wept with joy. Weighed and measured she was 8lbs 15oz, and 21” long. She was born exactly on her due date. Mother and daughter rested quietly together throughout the afternoon. Though exhausted from a long night of labor, mom and dad could not help but simply sit awake and stare at their beautiful baby girl. She enchanted us.
We had a brief time to start to get to know our child. Evie was a quiet baby. When she fussed, a tight swaddling easily comforted her. In the darkness of early morning, Evie’s eyes opened and mom and baby bonded as they looked into each other’s eyes. The sweet little girl charmed all her visitors, but her parents most of all. We called her “the love dove”.
We only shared a single night at home with Evie, by morning we knew that she was not well and soon that day we discovered that she had a congenital heart defect. She was admitted to the Neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hospital to begin the fight for her life. From the moment she was admitted, Evie was in the care of amazing people. We spent as much time as we could at her bedside; touching her, talking to her, praying over her, and singing to her. Within a few days the care team at the hospital helped stabilize Evie and mom and dad were given opportunities to hold her and care for her even though she was hooked up to monitors. A few days later Evie met her grandparents. With all her family gathered around, Evie was baptized the day after Thanksgiving.
On Tuesday the 27th, Evie had her first surgery. It was then when we learned her heart defects were even more serious than first understood. With hundreds of family and friends supporting her with prayer, Evie had a second surgery three days later. She spent another 10 days in Intensive care on a bypass machine. After a long struggle to restore her health, we had to make the decision to take Evie off the machine to see if her heart was strong enough to make it or not. It was quickly determined that she would not, so we spent her last hour together as a family. Evie passed away in mom’s loving embrace. She was 23 days old.
We could have never predicted how much deep deep love we could have for a person we barely had the chance to know. What we do know about her is that she was both strong and beautiful. More than a few times she bounced back from severe setbacks, and everyday we stood amazed at her beauty. She had daddy’s eyes and nose, mommy’s ears and fingers. We hope that if she only knew one thing about us, that it would be how much we love her.
In the three weeks we had to know Evangeline, she changed our lives. We will never be the same. We were her parents, and we will always be her parents. Evie made us proud as she fought hard against the toughest medical adversity. We find some small comfort in knowing that in her short life she was surrounded by incredibly caring people and that that nurses and doctors worked as hard as they could to save her. Though we spent most of her life with deep heartache, she gifted us with great joy. We are still Evie’s parents, we will never forget her and we will always do our best for her. She will be kept in our hearts until that day when we are all reunited, and there we hope to pick up where we left off.