Mom of three Ashley Shirley was delighted to be expecting again, and at 20 weeks, she learned she would adding a baby girl to her family. But at the same ultrasound appointment, she was also told something was not right with her baby. One week later, she found herself at a high-risk pregnancy doctor, being told her baby would not live outside the womb, and might not even survive the pregnancy. She was devastated, but with faith, she and her husband Ronnie, who are youth pastors in the Chattanooga, TN area, began praying for a miracle.
Ashley told IJR about the day she received her baby girl’s terrifying diagnosis.
“I was sent to high-risk doctor. I didn’t know much, I just knew something was going on. When we went to the high-risk doctor, he said her frontal lobe in her brain was missing, upper and lower extremities were measuring 3 weeks behind and her overall body was measuring 5-6 weeks behind what it should have been.
Her chest cavity was so small, her heart took up half her chest — it wasn’t allowing the proper maturity of her lungs. Her femur bones were severely bowed, too. All these things together gave us the diagnosis that she’d be born with Skeletal Dysplasia and that throughout the pregnancy it can become more lethal, but we were praying against it.
We were told her lungs didn’t have room to grow and that she wouldn’t be born breathing.”
Though she did hope for a miracle for her baby girl, Ashley wanted to document every precious moment they would have together as a family if the baby passed soon after birth. So she called local photographer Jennifer Wilkerson, who volunteers for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which offers free birth photos to families who are expecting a child that may die before, during, or shortly after birth. Wilkerson suggested they also do a maternity shoot to commemorate her baby girl’s life in the womb, resulting in the beautiful photo above.
A few months later, on July 7th, Wilkerson gathered at the hospital with the Shirley family that would bring Ashley’s baby girl into the world. Ashley describes her daughter’s birth, saying,
“We were all praying together, believing God would turn things around.
When we were in the delivery room, Ronnie was sitting at my head. I had a caesarean section. We were all just anticipating and praying, and they told me to basically not expect for her to come out screaming like a normal baby would.
But when they pulled her from me, she just made this little whimper at first, we were holding our breath, then she let out a big SCREAM.”
Photo: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Photographer Jennifer Wilkerson was snapping away, but all the while she was in awe of how perfect, the baby girl, named Jocelyn, looked. Where were her deformities? In a Facebook post about the birth, she says:
“My first thought was that baby’s head looks so big, round and… normal. Then out came her tiny body and amazingly, it also looked quite normal. Let’s just say at this point I was very confused. Mom and dad were praying and holding each other wondering if they would even get to hear her sweet cry, when she started screaming- which doctors had prepared them that this would be very unlikely. That sound was the most beautiful sound I think any of us had ever heard. the NICU team took over, quickly assessing her as I am snapping away. All the while dad and I are standing there uncertain of anything except- she seems okay?!?! The NICU doctor came in and when I heard “Based on all of the reports and scans, I expected to see a very abnormal looking baby, but this baby looks perfectly normal” I wept with tears of joy. I ran over to mom and started showing her the pictures of the baby and saying “I think she’s okay” and mom is crying and we are all crying…. Baby Jocelyn got the all clear and full testing showed the part of her brain that was showing absent was now there, the limbs that were bowed and short were now straight and full , there was no fluid on her brain and her chest cavity which had been deemed too small to support life looked normal from the outside. After a stay in the NICU where even more prayers were answered she is home this weekend in her parents arms. AND she is coming into the studio this week for a session, so stay tuned for our sweet girl’s pictures! The chill bumps I get when I think about the miracles I witnessed still fills my eyes with tears and my heart with faith. God is so good! #joyfuljocelyn“
That’s right…Ashley and Ronnie Shirley got their miracle. Jocelyn was born perfectly HEALTHY – no skeletal dysplasia, and with ALL of her brain.
Ashley described the moment from her perspective, trying to prepare herself to lose her baby:
“I trust God and I try to stay in a place where I trust God at all times, but I’m also a human being. When my baby was moving inside me, I began thinking, ‘I’m not going to hear my baby cry.’ Those were very real emotions to me — I was in a very dark place, just trying to hold onto God.
When we went into delivery room, all I was trying to do was pray. Once I heard her cry and the doctor held her above the sheet and she was screaming, the first thing that came from my mouth was ‘thank you God, thank you God!’ He just increased my faith that much more. He’s a miracle-working God. I was in complete awe.”
Both Wilkerson and Shirley say they pray God will be glorified through Jocelyn’s story—and I think he already has been! Wilkerson’s Facebook post has already been shared over 45,000 times – spreading the news that our God is a God of miracles!
Can you IMAGINE the wonder in that delivery room? I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Can’t wait to see what God has in store for miracle Baby Jocelyn!