For many wanting to start a family, pregnancy is a coveted joy – one that brings with it new hopes and dreams for the future. But for one couple expecting their first child, pregnancy seemed to bring nothing but bad news. Still, after being told that their baby would likely be stillborn, the parents-to-be to simply refused to give up hope.
Johanna and Craig Morton of Cornwallville, New York, were clearly delighted when they discovered that they were expecting their first child. And Johanna duly announced their good news on Facebook on Thanksgiving in November 2015. “I am beyond excited about becoming a mother,” she wrote. “I can’t wait to hold our precious little one in the summer. I know Craig Morton is going to be an awesome daddy.”
But just one month later, what should have been one of the more exciting moments of her pregnancy turned to tragedy. The couple were attending a routine scan when they were delivered some earth-shattering news: their unborn baby was seriously ill.
Specifically, doctors told the Mortons that they had discovered a heart defect. On top of that, moreover, their growing baby had fluid around its neck. The couple were then given the heartbreaking news that their bundle of joy was unlikely to survive to term – and if it did, it would certainly need intensive care.
Furthermore, the situation was so difficult that Johanna and Craig were told to consider aborting the pregnancy. “They told me many times,” Johanna said to Inside Edition in November 2016. “[But] I believe [the baby] was given to me for a reason and it was up to [God] to call her home or not.”
Unsurprisingly, then, the parents-to-be were devastated. “This Christmas we ask for nothing but prayer for our sweet baby,” Johanna wrote on Facebook. “Prayer that the fluid goes down and/or disappears, [and] when we go back in two weeks we will see a miracle.” She continued, “This is going to be the hardest two weeks of our lives not knowing what the outcome will be. We have cried our many tears, but we have faith that the Lord has a plan.”
Indeed, the couple still managed to remain hopeful despite the emotional roller coaster that they found themselves going through. Repeatedly, though, doctors warned the Mortons that their baby might die. And every time the couple went in for a check-up, just listening for their baby’s heartbeat brought about moments of anxiety.
But there were joyful times, too. Like many excited new parents, the pair shared multiple updates about their baby’s progress on social media. They also happily decorated their nursery, and, when the time came, they even had a gender reveal party. The couple planned to name their baby girl Clara Ray.
Against all odds, then, little Clara Ray fought all the way to 37 weeks. Then on June 14, 2016 Johanna delivered their daughter via Cesarean section. But as expected, the parents had little time to bond with her, as she was quickly rushed to Boston Children’s Hospital for specialized treatment.
There, little Clara Ray was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. In fact, not only had she two holes in her heart, but part of the organ was much smaller than it should have been. As a result, she would need to undergo heart surgery in a matter of days if she was to survive.
Congenital heart defects affect around one percent of all babies born each year in the United States. And the severity of the defect, understandably, usually dictates a child’s survival rate. The good news, however, is that in most cases the defect is non-critical and so survival into adulthood is likely.
Unfortunately, though, Clara Ray was deemed critical and would need open heart surgery at just six days old to have the best chance of survival. By all accounts, however, the procedure went well, as the family of three were able to return home just a month later. And it was never even expected that they would get this far.
Nevertheless, Clara Ray still had a fight on her hands. Indeed, in the following months the little baby was in and out of the hospital for check-ups, was fitted with a pacemaker and was on constant oxygen. “Just because she has had heart surgery to repair the problem, doesn’t mean she’s completely fixed. It just means she now has a better chance at life. Clara Ray will have a life-long battle with CHD and heterotaxy, but she will never have to go through it alone,” her defiant mom wrote on Facebook.
Despite the surgery, moreover, Clara Ray’s heart still struggles, and there are fears that the organ may not keep up with her growing body. The infant also relies on medication four times a day, including antibiotics. But, despite not knowing what their future holds, the Mortons enjoy every single minute they get with their daughter.
Speaking of her “miracle” child, Johanna said to Inside Edition, “We just have to take it one day at a time.” This outlook has meant that the family has been able to rejoice in even the most mundane tasks that other parents might take for granted.
“I am so thankful I had to wake up at 3 a.m. to give meds,” Johanna also wrote on Facebook. “I am thankful for the hard days and nights. I am thankful for the tears I cry, while holding my baby. I am thankful I get to be thankful for these things and so much more. Without all these things to be thankful for, Clara Ray wouldn’t be here today.”
Indeed, Clara Ray has incredibly continued to defy medical expectations. Furthermore, in November 2016 her parents were making preparations for her first Thanksgiving when it started snowing. Noticing their daughter’s reaction to the festive weather, the Mortons decided to share her experience online.
“She absolutely loved it,” Clara Ray’s mom wrote alongside an image of her baby looking wide-eyed out the window. “I can’t explain the emotions we felt, as we watched that smile come across her face. Pure. Joy.” The heartwarming post has since received over 118,000 reactions on Facebook.
What’s more, Johanna said that the moment would live on in their hearts forever, no matter what happened to Clara Ray in the future. “She wasn’t sick for those few seconds and it was just like everything was perfect,” the proud mom told The Weather Channel later that month. “Just to see that mesmerized look on her face was amazing.”
So, given the year that the family has had, this festive season is due to be very special indeed. After all, not only did Clara Ray beat all the odds to be born and survive as long as she has, but soon she may even get to experience her very first Christmas. And as for her parents, they’ve already got the greatest gift they could ever imagine – their baby girl.