Our Family's Story

By Summer Hermann

Let’s start at the very beginning...at least from my perspective.

Dan and I have been together since high school. We met in choir class and started dating shortly after we met. I think it’s safe to say we both fell pretty quickly for each other. Dan was one year ahead of me in school. Neither one of us had a relationship with the Lord, we struggled with wanting to rush into marriage and be “grownups” despite our parents encouraging us to wait awhile. We dated during Dan’s senior year and into his first year of college, most of my junior and senior year before, we broke up. We broke up and got back together a few times before I ended up pregnant. This was a defining moment for us both. We were young, not ready to be grownups and not sure we wanted to stay together.
We were a MESS. 

Looking back now I can see how the Lord used this rebellious time to draw me close to Him. I had always been a fearful person. From a pretty young age I did not want children and the thought of labor freaked me out! I had no idea what a “normal family” looked like, never having known my own father. I held so tightly to my relationship with Dan thinking he would become my everything. I was scared, uncertain and I didn’t know what to do next. I never really considered not having my baby. Some may call that fear and yes there was fear in considering any other option but I know better now…It was God’s incredible GRACE. He used fear to get my attention. He used the birth of my son Isaac to change my whole life and through that experience I found Jesus and that changed my whole world. I began to attend church and with my family’s help I began to live a new life. Dan and I struggled after Isaac was born, we were still not together and we fought over everything. We dated other people and didn’t know how to communicate; we were so incredibly ugly to each other. 

Through this season of time learning to be parents and responsible adults was one of the most difficult times in my life. Once again I can look back now and see God’s grace because as ugly as Dan and I were to each other we both loved Isaac more than anything. We were both so young and foolish. The only thing we agreed on was that we wanted Isaac to have a good life. We nearly ended up in court to decide custody and child support but just before we had to make those decisions…The Lord intervened and rescued us from ourselves! I began to see a softening in Dan; how he was treating me. Coming around more often and strangely enough he began attending the same church as me! I will admit I doubted his sincerity for a while but Dan still came. Sunday after Sunday, he would sit in the back of the church and slowly we began to talk and become friends. Dan always wanted to be a good father and was just as scared as I was about how to be a parent. He surrendered his life to Christ and it changed him from the inside out. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were in love and we needed to make things right for our family, so we were married on February 11th of 2000.

This was definitely the beginning of such a beautiful time in our lives. The three of us were so excited to begin our lives together. We were having the time of our lives as we grew together in our relationship with Jesus. We had a wonderful church family and Dan had a really good job and hey – we had cable TV! In my opinion we were living the American dream! How funny, right? I had no idea how things would change for us. Dan and I were excited to expand our family and were thrilled to be expecting another baby boy in September of 2001. I had a fairly easy pregnancy feeling the usual fatigue and nausea nothing really unexpected. I had several ultrasounds due to having a Bicorniant Uterus that caused my babies to be in the breach position; nothing looked out of the ordinary to the doctor. I did most of the usual blood tests which all came out fine but mid to late pregnancy the doctor ordered one more blood test to be done. I figured I would do it the next day…but can you believe I forgot all about it? It never came up again. My pregnancy went on as normal…I was scheduled for a repeat C-section on September 5th. Imagine my surprise when my water broke on August 13th! It was the beginning of a new adventure for our family…a journey that would change us forever.
The night that Matty was born was a whirlwind of excitement. I remember that when I saw him for the first time…he looked so different and so fragile. I also remember that I thought his face and eyes looked so different from Isaac’s almost like he was Asian. Honestly I thought maybe I was just imagining things embarrassingly enough I remember saying “He looks like a little alien!”

It was funny to me at that moment because when I had Isaac I wasn’t able to see him right away so I wasn’t prepared for what a new newborn looked like. 

Today… I think my comment was just the beginning of many “funny moments” that would be such a help to me as I would face so many tough and challenging moments on this road. The beginning of Matty’s life was rough. We were told the day after he was born that the doctors strongly suspected that he had Down’s Syndrome. Our precious baby was discussed in such clinical and cold ways from a parade of doctors who came in and out checking him from head to toe for any of the “common” problems associated with Down’s Syndrome children. We were handed a packet with information about all the potential issues our child may face through the years. I affectionately call it “The Packet of Terror!” We had a lovely discussion with a geneticist who told us that Matthew would most likely die at a young age and that our marriage was definitely at risk and most marriages buckle under the strain of raising a child with special needs! Now to be fair, I bet there were other things that we were told, some positive things somewhere in the midst of the scary and uncertainty. My mind and heart were completely unprepared for any of this. Not to mention that this all occurred before we even left the hospital. I remember feeling like I had been punched in the gut.
Where was the Lord? How in the world did he expect us to do this? Let me tell you that Jesus was by our side every moment. He gave us strength that could have only come from Him. I remember my sweet husband grabbing my hand and telling me “We are going to do this.” We didn’t now how but we knew the Lord was there. What followed over the next few months were several hospitalizations for breathing problems. Matthew was born with an airway the size of a coffee straw. Kids with Down’s Syndrome have low muscle tone so everything is kind of weak and floppy – for lack of a better description. Every time he would take breaths things got a little smaller and every cold he caught, made it so hard for him to manage breathing on his own. He had his very first surgery at 2 months old to try to enlarge his airway. What a terrifying time for our family. 

Matthew went through the surgery fine but the recovery was very difficult. He remained in the pediatric ICU for weeks and was kept sedated while they let his airway stretch and heal around the breathing tube to hopefully make it easier to breath and deal with infections when they came. It was very difficult to wean him off of the ventilator and during one of his trials off the ventilator I was able to hold him for the first time in weeks only to have him stop breathing and nearly die while I stood by watching, helpless to do anything but pray. Matthew came through that experience with a punctured lung and more recovery time but he became stronger and made a pretty good recovery. At that point Dan and I realized that this was the beginning of the unknown. Our baby was fragile and we were uncertain what his future held. The only thing that was certain was the Lord. He definitely grew our faith in Him through all that we would face. That surgery was the first of many. Things didn’t get better for quite a while; Matthew was hospitalized countless times for high fevers and breathing problems. Just after his 1st birthday it was decided that Matthew would need a Tracheotomy and a feeding tube. It was a hard decision and one that came with a whole new set of needs and risks. We spent nearly two months in the hospital for the surgery and recovery time. 

Our little family was under a lot of strain, one of many blessings during this time was having our family help us out in any way that they could. Isaac spent most of this time with my older sister. We missed him and he missed us but we were able to go back and forth from the hospital and spent as much time with him as possible. Isaac looks back at that time and remembers how much fun it was to be at “Aunties” house :) another gift of grace! Though it was hard to be away from him for so much of the time the Lord was there and provided everything that we needed and more! Our life became about survival, doctors, specialists, nurses and medical equipment. It was a crazy hard time but through it all the Lord held us up in incredible ways. We never had to go far to see our need for him, we only had to look at our baby and know how desperate we were for Jesus. 

As we looked at each challenge and saw the Lord provide for us through His word – which became so real and necessary, through people who came to encourage, help, provide meals and through laughter and tears we learned to trust in a deeper way and we learned how good the Lord was in the small things and in the HUGE things. I am often asked if I wished we knew that Matty had Down’s before he was born. Honestly, I believe that this was another gift of grace. I am glad we didn’t. I would have worried so much and tried to plan more for everything, which if you know me I try to plan everything to the detriment of all! Yes – it was me who before Matty was even born tried to make a schedule of how things would go to ensure that we spent enough time with Isaac, homeschooled enough (Isaac was still 3!!) and had a perfectly clean house at all times…..in 15 minute increments!! Someone definitely has control issues :) Anyways I am glad we had no idea because for us (and I am sure others might feel differently and handle things better :) it meant we were able to see the Lord’s provision clearly and we learned to become dependent on him because we were forced to. 

Where we are today….Our lives today can easily be categorized as BEFORE and AFTER... We started out as parents of 3 boys. We fully believed that Matty's psecial needs were our "epic season of struggle" but we can laugh now knowing that this was all preperation for our life as the parents of 8 children - all of whom are amazing! We now navigate different waters as we learn about mental illness, drug and alcohol exposure and much, much more! We have grown and changed and been streched far past what we ever imagined but we an say that Jesus contunues to work in us - making a beautuful tapestry that we won't ever see or fully understand here on this earth. For now we are completly blown away grateful and amazed with how the Lord loves us and we look ahead with hope at the adventure that is most definately ahead with kids ranging from 19-2 years old! 

What a life we get to live!!!  Dan and I are more in love today than ever before! This is just one part of our story, another beginning really of all that the Lord continues to do in our lives. A verse we have come to love and hold tightly to over the years is from Psalm 66, "You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through the fire and through the water ; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment."