A Tennessee couple refused to abort after a medical complication threatened the life of their unborn baby with Down syndrome. Almost two years after the medics told them the baby wouldn’t survive outside of the womb, they are celebrating their miracle girl “wonderfully made in God’s image” and have no regrets.
Talking to The Epoch Times, Brent and Dana Bythewood, from Franklin, shared their journey of witnessing a medically vulnerable child survive with the power of prayer, and the significance of turning to God for comfort and answers.
Dana told The Epoch Times that they have been married for almost five years and blended their families after marriage; Brent had a girl, and Dana had a boy.
While their daughter, Savannah, 12, and son, Ryan, 9, made them a happy family of four, the couple knew they wanted a child together. However, Dana’s two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, leaving the Bythewood family heartbroken, but they agreed to try once more to make their shared dream a reality.
“The third time was the charm,” Dana said, adding that her pregnancy progressed well until alarm bells sounded at 13 weeks.
The growing baby had a severe heart defect, causing fluid to surround her body and put potentially fatal stress on her vital organs.
“The physician told us, ‘This baby will never take a breath outside of the womb,’” Dana said.
The expectant mom was warned that it wouldn’t be safe to proceed beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy. The couple was offered a termination. The Bythewoods refused to abort their unborn daughter with equal conviction. The couple said that there had been many moments when the human part of them would say this isn’t possible; they shouldn’t give themselves hope.
“All we could do was pray, and have others pray, bold and specific prayers,” dad Brent said. “[This] gave us the strength to keep believing … and it really got us through the tough days.”
The worried parents researched all possible outcomes, including stillbirths, funerals, and bereavement counseling.
“We did research on how to cope with stillbirth, how to tell our older kids, and how to emotionally recover after her passing,” Dana said. “We were waiting on our baby girl to pass, but hoping and praying for a different outcome.”
They named their baby girl Emily Hope; the first name means “hardworking and striving,” while the second name is emblematic of their guiding force, their faith. Eventually, on Feb. 15, 2019, at 19 weeks, the Bythewoods had their prayers answered.
“We got our miracle! The fluid that was so detrimental to Emily Hope’s survival had disappeared.[Doctors] told us they had never seen it before and couldn’t explain it,” Dana said.
“Our specific prayers had been answered and our sweet girl had a chance,” she added. “We decided right then and there that we would continue trusting and believing that God is healing our baby girl.”
Dana and Brent welcomed their baby girl at 37 weeks on June 24, 2019.
Their miracle baby, Emily, had two severe heart conditions: a double outlet right ventricle (DORV) and an atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD); she also had Down syndrome.
Incredibly, Emily did not need heart surgery straight away, though the concerned doctors had prepared the couple that she may need one.
Brent said his little daughter finally had open-heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital at the age of 10 months.
“Emily did great in the surgery,” Brent said. “[T]hey repaired three major defects and don’t think she will ever need heart surgery again.”
“We know Emily was made on purpose for a purpose and we can’t wait to see what her life unfolds. She has already touched so many lives,” Brent said.
Seven months after surgery, Emily is a healthy, bouncy toddler with a bright future. Dana and Brent chronicle life with their little “Heart Warrior,” Emily Hope, on Instagram.
The Bythewoods hope to use their life experience to share with others about the power of having faith.
“We feel the need to share her story with others to give hope … spread awareness, and share the power of prayer,” Dana said.
The couple shared a Down syndrome diagnosis is usually seen as a negative thing.
“The doctors don’t tell you the joy, the pride of every milestone, the happiness that oozes out of her, or the light that she brings to everyone,” Dana said.
“Emily continues to beat the odds in all ways, and she is not just surviving, she is thriving. She was truly chosen to be here, chosen for our family, and she makes us all better every day,” she added.
“Daily, we look at Emily and are reminded of her journey, what she means to so many, and that she was wonderfully made in God’s image to be here with us. Joyful, inspiring, worthy, chosen, loving, hopeful.”
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