The smallest gifts: Families of preemies spending Christmas in Macon

jkovac@macon.comDecember 24, 2012 

Five days ago, a mother of three tapped out an e-mail to the newspaper.

One of the editors passed the e-mail on to a reporter. The message mentioned how this woman and her kids, ages 7, 5 and 1, were planning to cook Christmas Eve dinner for families spending the holiday at Macon’s Ronald McDonald House. The mother, whose e-mail address ends in “cheerful.com,” felt that the world could use some “good news” for a change.

When the reporter read this, visions of saccharin plums danced in his head.

Be honest, when’s the last time you read a story about a family fixing food for total strangers that you kept reading past, oh, right about here?

So let’s go ahead and get to the good part.

Let’s say he figured most any good Christmas story starts with a child.

Better yet, four of them.

* * *

Their names are John Mark, Zachariah, Jeremiah and Sophia.

They were all born months premature.

Their parents have been eating meals provided by strangers for weeks. A lot of days, food has been the last thing on their mama’s and daddy’s minds.

When your baby weighs a pound or so at birth, you live in a minute-to-minute bustle without gift wrapping.

When John Mark Sewell checked into the world a couple of ounces shy of 2 pounds Nov. 14, his father, a Pentecostal evangelist in Fitzgerald, knew what that meant.

“This was gonna be a long road,” John Sewell, 30, said.

Since then, he has had ministers he has never seen before stop him in the hospital to pray. One man he’d never met walked up and said, “You’ve got a baby up here, don’t you?” Then the man handed over $40 cash.

Thinking back on it Monday morning in a playroom at the McDonald house, Sewell said, “Every time somebody brings something through those doors, it’s an example of compassion, that, ‘Hey, you ain’t in this by yourself.’ It makes you feel good when somebody reaches out to you.”

* * *

Shyahn McCoy of Warner Robins almost died giving birth.

Her blood pressure skyrocketed. Her pulse sank.

She was 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Her twin sons, Zachariah and Jeremiah, were born in mid-August.

Jeremiah, a foot long, weighed a pound and a half.

Zachariah, an inch and a half shorter, weighed a pound. He died two weeks later.

McCoy had just held Zachariah for the first time, and here she was giving him a kiss goodbye.

There was a tiny blue casket, a burial.

“You never let go of your faith,” said McCoy, who has been staying at the McDonald house the past couple of months.

“You wonder every day what’s gonna happen,” she added Monday. “Because after losing one, you’re wondering if the other one is still gonna be here.”

But little Jeremiah has hung on.

He’s up to 5 pounds, 10 ounces.

* * *

Twenty-seven weeks pregnant, Julie Jaques was at her baby shower at the Savannah Tea Room.

Next thing she knew, she was in an ambulance from Fort Stewart bound for Macon.

Her husband Charles, an Army staff sergeant, was away in Afghanistan.

She sent him an e-mail from her phone: “I’m gonna deliver the baby and I’m scared.”

When baby Sophia, all 2 1/2 pounds of her, arrived three months early Nov. 8, her mother had never heard of a micro-preemie.

“You get excited over the small things, like if she’s grasping your finger or if she’s sucking on her clothes,” said Jaques, 23, who grew up in Wyoming. “It makes you more aware as a parent.”

But things like the holidays became a blur.

She and her husband, who came home for two weeks in November before shipping back out, are kind of ready for Christmas to be over already. She knows that might sound a little glum, but said, “We’re ready for our first Christmas together, which will be next year.”

Besides, she has already gotten her gift.

Make that gifts.

There are, of course, the nice things the McDonald house people have given her -- like the Barbie doll that she’ll one day present to Sophia and say, “You know where this came from?” Or the generosity of a prayer group that gave her a baby blanket.

But the best thing of all may have come from Sophia herself.

When she was two weeks old, she opened her big, dark eyes and gazed at her mother.

* * *

So there was enough bratwurst to serve 35 sizzling at the McDonald house early Monday evening.

The woman who sent the newspaper the e-mail last week was there with her kids.

She wasn’t much interested in having her name in the paper. Nor was her husband.

They just wanted people to know there are folks out there like the Sewells and the McCoys and the Jaqueses.

“I wasn’t born rich, and I’m not rich now,” the husband said. “But so many people have so much less than we do. ... It’s Christmas. It’s the least we could do.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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