Drew and Ariann Corpstein spent the last months of pregnancy trying to make memories with the son they would never get a chance to know.
As the Des Moines Register reports, Drew and Ariann met in college and got married in 2013. After a miscarriage in 2016, the young couple from Ankeny, Iowa was thrilled to learn that they were expecting again in December 2017.
But at the 20 week ultrasound, they received devastating news. Drew and Ariann were told that their unborn baby’s brain had not developed. Their son’s head size was abnormally large, but he hadn’t developed more than a brain stem — the rest was just cerebral spinal fluid.
Additional tests and specialists confirmed the diagnosis. Ariann and Drew were told that the best they could hope for was that their son would live for a few days after he was born.
The Corpsteins were given the option to abort or terminate the pregnancy early. But as devout Christians, they felt that they should carry the baby to term and deliver him vaginally. Ariann told the Register that termination “didn’t feel like my decision to make”:
“We knew that our baby was probably not going to be born alive. Whatever happens, it’s in God’s hands.”
Knowing they would be burying their son soon after his birth made the remainder of the pregnancy bittersweet. The couple only shared the news with family and close friends. They avoided baby showers and other celebrations, but tried to create memorable “firsts” with their unborn son. Ariann wrote on their GoFundMe page:
Essentially since half way through our pregnancy, we have been preparing to bury our precious little one, and spend as much time as possible with him or her as we could. While still pregnant, we tried to do as many memory-making things along the way like: baby’s first motorcycle ride, baby’s first vacation, and other fun things to fill our hearts with happiness instead of focusing purely on the sadness that would inevitably come.
At 37 weeks, doctors were concerned about Ariann’s health, as the baby’s head was now larger than normal. Because Ariann didn’t want a C-section, doctors decided to induce labor.
On July 29, after three days of labor, Ariann gave birth to Matthew, a seven pound, 14 ounce baby boy. Matthew didn’t cry when he was born, and Drew told the Register that he recalls telling his wife, “”I think he’s gone,” shortly after the birth.
But then Matthew began breathing more regularly. And when Ariann instinctively went to nurse her son, he latched on right away — something even healthy newborns sometimes have trouble with.
Drew and Ariann had been told their baby would be able to breathe and would have a heartbeat, but wouldn’t feel pain, see, or hear. But as they sat with their son, the new parents noticed that he wasn’t behaving like they expected. Ariann wrote:
After he was born, he was able to latch and nurse right away. He responded to lights, voices, and touch. These were things that he supposedly wouldn’t do.
Hospital staff urged the new parents to get an MRI for Matthew, but Drew told the Register that they were doubtful, not wanting to lose the precious time they had with their son:
“It was going to take a half-hour, and we knew our time with Matthew was limited. That was a half-hour we weren’t going to have to hold him and be with him.”
The couple eventually decided to get the MRI, and the results changed everything.
Matthew had been misdiagnosed. When earlier tests had indicated Matthew had no brain tissue, what had happened was that extra fluid in Matthew’s brain had pushed the brain tissue to the side. As perinatologist Dr. Jona Conklin explained to the Register:
“When you’re using imaging technology, like an MRI, on a baby that’s inside the mom’s uterus, you’re looking at something that’s very small and very far away. If you’re trying to look at a heart defect, for example, you’re looking for something that’s about the size of a quarter or half-dollar through all the tissue that’s a part of the mom’s body and the fetus’ body.”
Matthew was now diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a build up of fluid in the brain and a treatable condition. Ariann told the Register the neurosurgeon who spoke to them, “said he performed 30 of these surgeries a year and that he believed Matthew’s brain would return to its normal position. He said Matthew had every chance at a normal life.”
As Ariann wrote on GoFundMe, going from preparing for your son’s funeral to learning he could live a full life was like “buying a lottery ticket and actually winning the jackpot!” She added:
We know God was protecting us and our beautiful baby boy, and we had put our faith in His hands, come whatever may.
Matthew underwent surgery to put a shunt in his brain to drain off the excess fluid. The procedure went so well that the baby was able to go home on August 4.
A bout of meningitis sent Matthew back to the hospital in late August and he will need to recover and have his shunt replaced before he can return home again. Ariann continues to update Matthew’s status via Facebook and says that doctors are still evaluating treatment options.
Doctors warn that Matthew still faces the possibility of complications, including learning disabilities or neurological disorders. However, his overjoyed parents have started calling him “Matthew the Great” in recognition of the miracle he represents.
As Ariann told the Register: “If you don’t believe in miracles, God sent us Matthew to remind us they’re real.”