Dominique Johnson (May 4, 2017)
David Jerome Johnson, born April 22, 2016 at 11:27 a.m. weighing 5.8 oz.
Kyrie Thomas Johnson, born March 22, 2017 at 1:32 p.m. weighing 7 lbs, 1 oz.
In an 11-month span, she endured close to every emotion in the book from heartache, confusion and anxiety, to joy, comfort and peace. She was a first-time mom to-be along for the crazy, albeit one-in-a-million ride that is pregnancy and motherhood.
“What I’ve learned is that nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed until they place that baby in your arms. It truly is a miracle. I consciously had to tell myself 10 to 15 times a day – I’m afraid, Lord, but I trust you.”
She and her husband heard what no parent wants to hear on the late morning of April 22, 2016 in Hampton, Virginia that their baby boy of 17 weeks wouldn’t make it.
Jump ahead to March 22, 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska and she and her husband heard what every parent wants to hear, that they gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows – with nothing but a complete willingness to surrender, to trust, to believe, to rejoice and to be gracious in defeat and victory that came of it.
Now blazing the path for other women grieving the loss of a child, all while exposing the raw realities of pregnancy and motherhood, she has proven that there can indeed be beauty even among suffering. A world flipped upside down, now right side up.
Meet Dominique Johnson, mother of two.
Dominique was coaching at Drake University at the time she and her husband, Clyde, were pregnant with their first child. It was a heavy recruiting period and she was on the road in Virginia at the same time she started experiencing abnormal symptoms. Something just didn’t feel right – yet a series of phone calls to her doctors said otherwise.
“I only knew what you were supposed to experience once the baby got here. I didn’t know what the process looked or felt like leading up to that. I didn’t feel well, but I had never been pregnant, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Eventually, Nique checked herself into an emergency room in Hampton, Virginia – without the slightest inkling of what was really going on. It was a combination of thinking the worst one minute and feeling like everything was normal the next. She had never been pregnant before, how was she to truly know?
The doctor said they would put her on bed rest, get the bleeding to stop and everything would be just fine. In her mind, for the time being at least, she would spend another five to six months on bed rest until the baby was ready to be born.
This quickly changed after a visit from the OB/GYN. They told Nique the baby had lost all the amniotic fluid – that allows for the proper development of the bones, lungs and protects the infant from heat loss – around him. She had also lost too much blood at that point, leaving the baby with a slim chance of survival. The baby would have to make it to 24 weeks to be okay.
Initially, doctors thought it was a thyroid causing the bleeding. But after a vaginal exam, it was discovered that Nique had been in full-blown labor. Leading up to this devastating news, Nique was still back-and-forth between thinking everything was going to be okay – and that the situation wasn’t going to end well.
It was the latter of the two that the Johnson’s were forced to digest and process – a seemingly unfathomable mountain to climb. And for Clyde, his turn around time to do so was rather abrupt. Clyde booked a last minute flight to Virginia to be there with Nique in the hospital.
She made the decision to wait and tell him everything that was happening until he arrived. Upon Clyde’s arrival, she was induced for the all-natural birth of David Jerome, named after Nique’s uncle who lost his fight with sickle cell anemia earlier that year while taking Clyde’s middle name.
“The chaplain came in to baptize him, and at that point, picking out a name was the last thing on our mind. It was one of those meant to be moments. I looked at Clyde and we both said David at the same time.”
The nurses said they could take as much time as they needed with David and to regroup before heading back to Nebraska. Nique and Clyde woke up the next day, April 23, and held their first-born son one last time before the time had come to leave the hospital. By April 24, they were back home in Lincoln.
“In my mind, I thought I would want to stay longer.”
The sound of crying babies down the hall was too much to bear after an already emotionally and physically draining 24 hours. Nique wouldn’t leave the hospital with her first-born child, but instead be challenged in ways she had never been challenged before. Friends close to her were starting families, and at times, she struggled with the reality of why God gave David, of all babies, his wings so early.
“I had no idea any of this was going to transpire. And to be honest, I just don’t know if I would do it all the same way, but a lot of good has come from it. I’ve learned the power of surrendering. I’m more educated. And it’s been such a blessing to share David’s story with other women going through similar things.”
Nique has what is called an incompetent cervix that ultimately triggered the symptoms she experienced with David and caused her body to go into labor so early. It’s a condition where the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina – is soft and weak. In a normal pregnancy, the cervix is closed and firm, and as the pregnancy progresses, it softens, decreases in length and dilates.
Once diagnosed, preventative measures can be taken to avoid premature birth. Less than two months after losing David, Nique and Clyde would be told exactly what those preventative measures would look like. With baby number two on the way, it was bound to be another emotional chapter – but with a much different ending.
Nique found an online support group with 2,500 to 3,000 women with an incompetent cervix that she joined and found immense comfort in during her second pregnancy. She’s also part of The Compassionate Friends, an organization for families coping with the loss of a child at any stage, whether during pregnancy or after.
“As hard as this last year has been, I have met some unbelievable women through these support groups. It’s one of those things where if you haven’t been through it, you don’t really understand it. And they understand it.”
And thank goodness for that, as Nique’s second pregnancy was far from easy after getting her cervix stitched shut and being put on bed rest from the beginning of November of 2016 until mid-January of 2017 after complications with her liver. It wasn’t just the physical end that made it difficult, either. Fear persisted.
Nique and Clyde decided they weren’t going to tell people until six months in. Anxiety was at an all-time high even with just three months to go until full term. Doubt still consumed her.
“I didn’t think I would feel that way with the surgery, but there was still a chance that something could go wrong. I didn’t feel good until 30 weeks. But even when we had his baby shower at 33 weeks, I thought I did it too soon. You just know too much.”
The goal was to make it to 24 weeks and Nique blew that mark out of the water. After weekly check-ups and injections to protect her cervix leading up to the arrival of Kyrie Thomas Johnson, he was born at 39 weeks. A healthy baby boy who just celebrated his six-week-old birthday and mom embarked on her first day back at work.
Nique has transitioned out of coaching and is now the Re-engagement Coordinator for Lincoln Public Schools, helping high school drop outs navigate their way back into school or other job opportunities.
It was a long nine months of relying on people like her husband and mom, specifically, for emotional support and assistance during her two-plus months of bed rest. Now, Nique is relishing the greatest joys of motherhood and even some of its challenges. Some days are better than others – yet she finds the good in all of them.
“I had some struggles with breastfeeding Kyrie, but I only had the baby blues for about two days. I’m not going to complain. There are so many women with worse problems and we are so blessed just to have him here with us. I know there are so many women who would want to be in my situation.”
She had to say all too early of a goodbye to David, but now understands the value of life in every sense of the word. David’s story lives on through Nique’s unfaltering courage and vulnerability, but also through her and Clyde’s annual donation to March of Dimes, whose motto is ‘a fighting chance for every baby.’ At the end of this year, the two will return to Virginia Beach – the place they visited following David’s passing.
“More than anything, I just want to honor him [David]. Miscarriages and losing a baby during pregnancy can be taboo; nobody wants to talk about it. But I don’t have anything that I’m ashamed of – and I want other women to feel like they can do the same thing.”
A rather grueling journey ended with – but is also just the beginning of – overwhelming joy. Even through a storm that feels as if there is no end in sight, Nique is one to believe good will always come of it. For her, motherhood is hard to put into words… Yet, the way she pulled it all together captures precisely how every parent should feel leaving the hospital and every day after.
“It’s a million times better than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Dana Grenfell (April 19, 2017)
Being drunk in the middle of the week or waking up on the bathroom floor on the weekends wasn’t a rarity. She was fully embracing everything that college has to offer. After all, this was the only time in her life she could really “live it up” and do whatever she wanted.
She justified a lifestyle that revolved around happy hours, house parties and socials with good grades and being involved in nearly every organization on campus from leadership positions, to student senate, to being the vice president of her sorority.
She had the cute, popular boyfriend. She was nominated to the Northwest Missouri State homecoming court. She was one of those people who, on the outside looking in, there were no questions whether she had it all. She did have it all.
“Little by little, probably starting my sophomore year of high school, faith became less and less apart of my life. My junior year in college, I could actually feel that for the first time. I felt empty because I was using people and allowing myself to be used over and over again. The lifestyle I was living just wasn’t fulfilling me.”
For the longest time, Dana didn’t know what she was after. Caught up in partying and doing everything she could to achieve more and look better for her own gain and nothing more, it eventually caught up to her. An email, of all things, was the leap into a life-changing transformation. And she hasn’t turned back since.
Meet Dana Grenfell, FOCUS Missionary at the University of Nebraska Omaha. A career where she relies not on her own abilities, but on God to build His kingdom.
The email was about a Catholic “healing mass” being offered on campus. An act of desperation, Dana attended. It was here she encountered a missionary who walked up to her and asked what she wanted God to do in her life. Caught off guard and not fully knowing what to say, her answer was courage. God, give me courage.
The missionary prayed over her. By the time she was finished, although Dana can’t recall the prayer itself or even what was said, what she does remember are those next few minutes. A prayer that moved her to her core and shook her to tears so heavy she was trembling.
“I just felt overwhelmed by God’s love. He told me He wanted more for me and how I was living. He loved me, but He wanted more for me.”
That feeling wouldn’t ever go away. Although far from perfect, and often falling back to her old ways even after this encounter, Dana signed up for a conference, called SEEK, minutes before the deadline to register was up. Reluctant – and after several missed calls from her missionary friend – she went.
“Jesus rocked my world at SEEK. I always thought that living out your faith would be boring; that you just sit around and pray all the time. I thought you had to become a different person. But I realized I could still be myself and live life to the fullest – in the absolute truest sense of the word. I saw something in the other college students at SEEK that I wanted. I thought to myself, whatever they have, I want it.”
On the second night of the conference, over 10,000 college students gathered for adoration – a special time of prayer in the Catholic faith derived from the belief that Jesus is fully present in the bread and wine that is transformed at mass. It was a moment that, literally, dropped Dana to her knees and sparked another flood of tears. This time, they were tears of pure amazement.
“For the first time in my life, I knew Jesus was really real and I had to change the way I was living. I finally knew and had the desire to get rid of all the crap in my life.”
This was just the beginning. Time passed and Dana’s faith grew, but so did her courage to share her faith and surround herself with other people pursuing a life for Christ – a life deeply rooted in selfless intentions. Being back on a college campus presented its challenges, but with more prayer and more trust, came assurance.
Being called as a missionary came next, although a calling that went hand-in-hand with doubt and uncertainty. Dana did exactly what she had begun to rely so heavily on – prayer. At times, she was convinced becoming a missionary wasn’t in the cards. But the Lord won that battle.
The weekend of Northwest Missouri State’s 2016 National Championship football game was the same weekend Dana stopped fighting what she was being called to do. At a church in Kansas City, her prayers were blunt and straightforward: being a missionary freaks me out, I have no idea what my future looks like, so please, make it clear to me what you want.
The gospel that day was about the Annunciation, the Catholic celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and become Jesus’ mother. The priest went on to explain how Mary had no clue what her life would look like in that moment, but willingly and gracefully said yes to His will. Moments later, one of the petitions offered was for more missionary vocations.
“Okay Jesus, I get it.”
Five months later, Dana got final word she would indeed become a missionary. A relationship with Christ deeper today than ever before has propelled her into a life now revolved around college students and bringing out in them what she experienced at the healing mass as a student.
“Before, I didn’t know He loved me. Now I’m able to see how He provides for me and for other people on a more consistent basis. I’m more aware of how He works every single day in different ways. He loves me through different people.”
What Dana once struggled with being a student on a college campus is now what gets her out of bed everyday. The chance to be a light for others, to open students’ eyes to what authenticity look like, and putting her own desires aside to lead a life of discipleship is precisely what she’s after.
“Most people think about different countries when they hear about missionaries, but FOCUS is on college campuses. There is a huge need for people to know Jesus on a college campus. We build people up in faith through bible studies, mission trips and teach them how to share their faith and to also build those authentic friendships. Our ultimate goal is to make disciples; to help people follow Christ and get to heaven, while also striving to do the same things ourselves.”
A powerful testament to making disciples came during Dana’s recent mission trip to Denver, Colorado with an organization called Christ in the City whose mission is to know, love and serve the homeless. She recalled one particular moment from this trip that will remain with her forever.
The woman’s name was Ruth. She was frail and struggling to pick up her belongings when Dana and one other student offered their assistance. Ruth accepted. Unable to walk by herself, she leaned on the two of them to find warmth at the local library. In the short time it took to walk there, Dana felt and saw Christ.
The stares from bystanders were aplenty. Who would help, let alone touch, a homeless person? This was the harsh albeit real message they were putting off.
Ruth was abandoned by her husband and had been homeless off and on since she was 10-years old. She had previous surgeries that left her debilitated, but she had given her wheelchair to someone else who needed it more. Even in this moment, she apologized relentlessly for needing help.
“Ruth, you don’t need to apologize. You are not a burden and you deserve to be helped.”
By the end of their walk and visit, Ruth was different. And not just because of shelter and warmth, but because of someone befriending her. Because she experienced the joy of Christ in two strangers, however painful Ruth’s past was and will remain.
“Her eyes were bright, she was smiling, laughing, and I could physically see the love we showed transform her. It was a physical transformation. That will stay with me forever because I was able to see and feel what love can do between strangers.”
“It was so simple.”
Simplicity… Not a word used often to describe a life of fulfillment. Let this narrative tell you otherwise.