Girls With Gumption | Chelsea & Edith Brooke Wells
Girls With Gumption was created to be a platform for stories worth telling. These are stories of real women: our strong best friends, mothers, and daughters. I've been thrilled to host stories of dreamers, doers, and creators, and today's story continues to break the mold.
Chelsea and I grew up 6 months apart, cousins and best friends. We lived across the street from each other through most of our childhood, and we've endured junior high, high school, bad relationships, bad fights, first jobs, first cars, college graduations, and weddings together.
When Chelsea and her husband, Brandon, announced they were pregnant, the news came with insurmountable joy! I was living in Austin, a 3-hour drive from her in Fort Worth. It was a Sunday morning when I got the news that Chelsea was in labor, some 24 weeks into her pregnancy. I left town immediately and drove straight to the hospital, where Chelsea and I cried tears of joy together at the birth of their daughter, Edie Brooke.
Edie had a short, monumental and meaningful life.
I sat down with Chelsea 20 months later, unsure what to ask. I told her, "If you were anyone else, I'd be terrified right now. I wouldn't know what to say. But you're my best friend so...why don't you just start from the beginning and we'll see what happens?"
Today's Girl With Gumption was meant to be the story of Chelsea, and it is, in many ways. But by the end of our conversation we were surprised to find that this story was Edie's all along.
And — I challenge you to find any girl with more gumption than this one.
Tell us the story of your daughter, Edie.
I forget the details of it because it’s a lot. The shock you live in when you go through something like this - it protects you a little so you don’t have a knee jerk reaction, but the downside is you don’t get to experience the emotions that you should at that time.
At the start, everything was fine. I was pregnant and we knew it was a girl. Her name was Edith Brooke. We were praying for her; we knew her. One night after we went to bed, I woke up thinking I had gas pain, but then I started bleeding. I was scared, but I tried to tell myself that it was okay and that I was over reacting.
I woke up Brandon and asked him to pray for me and he said yes, but then there was silence. I said, “Babe did you fall asleep?” and he said, “What...no I was praying!”
We knew we needed to go to the hospital. I was trying to hope for the best by essentially denying the truth. We got to the hospital and they rushed me through to the women’s area and I remember as they were wheeling me through, seeing how serious it was, seeing the professionals…it scared me.
They get me in there and hook me up with stuff to slow down the labor. We called our parents and I think my mom and grandma and Brandon’s parents came – it was kind of a blur. After I’m there for a few hours they say, “Here’s the deal, we need to transfer to you to a better facility.”
So they took me by ambulance to Fort Worth – another confirmation that this was a big deal. They got me to the hospital and I was there for two days. I was going to be released the next day because everything looked good, but that night the exact same thing started happening. I just knew something was wrong.
I called my nurse and she didn’t say much, but I knew that it wasn’t good. It was a shift change so she got another nurse and they were like, "you’re going to have a baby today," and they basically rushed me down to the correct floor for delivery. The doctors come in and as they’re doing all this it’s like...panic. Everything goes in slow motion but it’s all a blur at the same time. I remember being wheeled and thinking, this is not okay.
They pump me with medicine that makes me feel disconnected, but I hear them talking. The doctor comes in to prep me for surgery. Just me, my mom, Brandon, and our nurse, Violet. Then I feel something happen and I can tell that I’m basically having a baby and I say, “Violet, something just happened.” She says, “Okay, um, I need you to push. Just give me one more push!” I can hear my mom in the corner praying. So I push – sort of – and I don’t hear anything. I hear silence. It’s silent, which is never what you want to hear, and I see Brandon crying. I can’t see anything from my angle so I say, “Baby, I need you to get it together.” I knew at that point I couldn’t do anything.
The doctors rush in. NICU come in gets her hooked up. We never heard any sound.
I ask, “Can I see her before you take her?” and they move her little box over to me. I look at her and it’s unreal; the tiniest little baby in what looks to be a ziplock bag. They’re wheeling her away from me and I’m like, is this real?
They clean me up, people are there and start coming in, I’m talking to the them...I just had a baby and she’s alive. She looks like a human. At that point I was scared, but I was very protected by the Lord. I got to kind of be happy, I guess. She was everything we prayed for - she had curly strawberry blonde hair, she was beautiful, and she looked just like a tiny, perfect baby.
Then began a roller coaster of events that basically cumulated in her dying.
She very quickly became a favorite to the NICU nurses, which I was thankful for because I knew she was loved. I couldn’t be with her all the time but she was still surrounded by love. I changed her RIDICULOUSLY tiny diaper. I remember the first time I got to hold her. I didn’t know it was going to happen and my nurse said, “Okay, it’s time!” so they pull up a chair, get her all ready, and put her on my chest. She nuzzles into my chest and I will never forget that feeling because it is such a sweet thing for a mom to hold her baby for the first time. It was probably 5 or 6 days into her life. I just held her for two hours and I loved every single second. I will never forget that. Brandon then got to hold her and that touched me in a whole different way, to see my husband hold his daughter for the first time. These are things that normally happen, but in that situation it was such a gift, and it wasn’t a guarantee.
Two weeks in, she started to decline. They would try to fix one thing but something else would happen. Basically, what it was is that she was such a fighter. She would fight whatever was coming her way so hard. By the time she’d show symptoms, it was too late.
From there it was a pretty steady decline. There were all these things going wrong and she just wasn’t getting better. The treatments just weren’t working and they realized they were going to have to do surgery. Our family came to support us, which I am so thankful for. I remember asking the surgeon, “Are you good at your job?” and he said, “Yes.” He needed to know how big of a deal it was and I didn’t want him to forget that this was his job but my prized possession. I prayed with him and they put her in a box again and we walked with them to the surgery. They had to decide was if there was any part of her intestines that they could keep. If so, they would repair them.
Unfortunately, not long after the surgery began, they came out and said there was essentially no good part. They call it dead gut, which is the most brutal sounding phrase, and there was just no part they could save. I asked if they could do anything…and they couldn’t.
All the sudden I was going to have to say goodbye to by my baby. I was hopeful the whole time that God was going to do a miracle and when I found He wasn’t…that hurts. But, like God, He still protected me even in my disappointment. He comforted me and I remember that the family could tell it wasn’t good news. It was silent. No one knew what to say.
We walk back and just wait for them to bring her to us and I remember thinking, This is not real life. They basically told us they’d keep her hooked up to her ventilator as long as we wanted and that we could hold her as long as we wanted. So we prepared to hold our kid for a long time. We invited grandparents in two at a time. My parents came in held her, loved on her, said goodbye, and then we took her to a private room where it was just the three of us for the first time. We sang over her and prayed over her, just like we had the entire time. We looked at each other after awhile and knew it was time to take her off the ventilator, because at that point, it’s just not okay. It was amazing to see her without any tubes or anything attached.
I promise: I watched her go to heaven. It was the coolest and worst thing that I have ever seen. But she was ready, and she held out and fought for us as long as she could and I love that kid for that. Brandon let me hold her as she was breathing her last breaths, and we sang over her as we just watched her, touched her, and held her, and then we knew it was done. We knew she was in heaven and with God. At that point, she’s not with us. So we said to the doctors, “Okay. She’s gone.”
It’s weird, because how do you decide that you’re done holding your kid for the last time? But again God, in His amazing grace, led us through and helped us get ready to say goodbye when we weren’t ready to say goodbye.
In the wee small hours of the morning we took the elevator down and I remember thinking, Am I ever going to understand what this really means? Am I ever going to get this? We got in our car and went home. We woke up the next day like, Okay, we don’t have a kid anymore. Our kid died. To have to say that out loud is still weird; it sounds impossible.
Afterward is kind of a blur. Two days after she passed we had a memorial service and I remember hoping that people would come. It was two days before Thanksgiving and she was a baby that no one knew. She hadn’t made her mark on the world, or so I thought. We got there early and sat at the front and I had no idea if anyone was behind me. When we stood up to talk and I turned around and saw pretty much everyone I’ve ever known there, it took my breath away. God cared for us through His people in a very tangible way. To feel like my child’s life was important, to see people there to support her was amazing. We talked about obedience and her being a fighter. Those were two themes that God, even still, taught us through her life. I believe she waited until her dad and I told her she could go. We let her go, and she obeyed. Even when she came into existence, and she fought so hard as a tiny little baby that it was beyond encouraging and inspiring – it was life changing to see someone so little fight so strongly.
What was your favorite thing about her?
Well, that’s tough. I think I liked that she had gumption - because she did. I mean, if ever anyone did, she did. That girl did. That’s something you can connect with. I guess it was something kind of like…I knew she wasn’t mine to keep. So I sort of got to watch her from a different point of view. Not to downplay the fact that I was her mom, but God just prepared me. I got to keep her for only a little while, so I guess I’m sort of in awe of her, really.
And then came her sister.
Edie passed in November and I found out in April I was pregnant with Lynnleigh. So, 5 months after losing your first baby, you find out you’re pregnant. Which was an answer to prayer, but the start of a whole lot more prayers. Immediately, I was so excited but immediately, I froze. Fear punched me in the face. I wasn’t ready for it; I wasn’t expecting to it. I didn't know that I was going to be scared to be pregnant. When I told Brandon we were pregnant he didn’t believe me because I was so bewildered that he thought I was kidding!
For about 2 weeks every time I’d get excited, I’d become overtaken with fear. I didn’t want to be afraid my whole pregnancy, and I didn’t want Lynnleigh to pick up on that, like somehow she wasn’t important, valuable or anything other than an individual.
I prayed about it on days as I was driving home from work, alone in my car. I was crying because I’d get excited about being pregnant and then I’d miss Edie. The missing her was bigger than the joy and I felt guilty. So I said, “God, I miss her so much, and I know it’s better that she’s with you, but I miss her here with me.” Then I said something like, “But I love you, and thank you for her life.” And then I heard him say to turn the music down, so it was just me crying in my car in silence and He said, “I love you.” I said, “Thank you God. I need that, too,” and He said, “No, that was from Edie.”
Breaking down is an understatement. Because I didn’t get to talk to her and have those moments, it brought a little closure to me. He told me these babies are different – they have different purposes, they are different people – and not to be afraid. From then on, the fear was gone, and the joy came. I got to be happy and just be happy. The only day I got scared was when I hit the day Edie had been born. But we made it through.
And then…then I had a baby. I remember getting to bring her home. I didn’t have to leave her in the NICU or spend a night without her, I got to bring her home and there was never a question that I wouldn’t. Carrying her into the house was almost a victory – it WAS a victory. And everything has been perfect ever since.
Do you talk to Lynnleigh about Edie now?
I guess one of my concerns is making sure that Lynnleigh knows about Edie. It is extremely important for her to know that she has a big sister and who changed her parents. I don’t know how to do it right now because she’s a baby, but I will bring her up: “Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, and you have a big sister in heaven named Edie and she loves you.” I’ll show Lynnleigh a photo of her in my locket and tell her who she is. I want her to be interested and I want to be able to tell her everything about her sister.
What does gumption mean to you?
I guess for me, identifying with gumption means not just laying down, but fighting back and not getting stuck in those very dark places. It’s about fighting every single day to find hope and joy.