Hope and prayer - holding on to both changed the lives of Abby and Jeremy Barta and their precious daughter Juniper. Abby and Jeremy are incredible parents. They have a heart for service and helping others and are no strangers to emergencies. Jeremy is a firefighter and Abby works for North Memorial Ambulance Service. I had the privilege of doing a photo session for this family as a volunteer for an organization called Hope Kids. Hope Kids provides support for families who have a child with a life-threatening medical condition. Abby’s pregnancy and Juniper’s life are a testament to the miracles that God can bring about through any situation or challenge that life can bring. Abby’s pregnancy was far from easy, but through it all she constantly clung to hope and learned to surrender everything to God even when things seemed incredibly dark. Abby had an excruciating pregnancy in which she faced chronic bleeding and pain, continual doctor and ER visits, yet no clear answer to what was going on. She was facing a potential diagnosis of Uterine Cancer, fainting spells, and pain. When she was home, she would lie upside down in a chair just to make sure Juniper would not come too soon. The fact was that she had a complete placenta previa and Juniper was lodged in her pelvis – the thing that was causing her the most pain, was actually keeping Juniper in place and prevented her from being born even sooner than she was at 23 weeks. Despite being born at 23 weeks and weighing only 1 lb 1.6 oz, Juniper’s fighting spirit and God’s incredible way of carrying out His plans brought about the miracle of this little girl’s life.
Juniper is now 19 months old and only 15 pounds, yet she has an incredible spirit. She seems to be bursting with an incredible joy and a certain toughness despite the odds she has faced and the trials she faces every day just to survive. The list of Juniper’s health challenges is long. She was born with a genetic disorder called Septo Optic Dysplasia/Optic Nerve Hypoplasia resulting in extremely poor eyesight and a pituitary gland that does not function properly. There's no cure for this disorder. As a result, Juniper has growth hormone replacement therapy. She also struggles with diabetes insipidus and adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency is an extremely dangerous condition in which even a simple childhood fall could result in death. "Being able to talk about our journey is a big part of my coping abilities." These are the words of Abby - an amazing mom, wife, and friend. Her story brings hope and encouragement to others who may be facing similar challenges while also blessing her in return. When we share our stories, we realize we are not alone, our voices are heard, and the blessings that shine through the darkness become even more real.
Every day is an adventure for this family. Caring for a toddler under normal circumstances keeps parents on their toes and is exhausting, but continual injections, therapy, monitoring of sodium and insulin levels, nutritional supplements, while making sure a normal fall doesn’t result in the need for an adrenaline shot and a trip to the emergency room, seems impossibly overwhelming. Although there are days when, yes, this is the case for Abby and Jeremy, they don’t see it this way. Abby says that despite everything they have gone through, they are thankful for everything that has happened in their lives. They have learned that prayer is powerful and hope is unconquerable. Their view of life has changed. Things of this world which were priorities before have faded in the light of the miracles which God has done in their lives. They have learned to be thankful in all circumstances and for things which before they took for granted. Getting through the day safely is something to rejoice in. Seeing the joy in their child’s eyes is a precious gift. Having a peace that surpasses understanding is a reassurance that God is with them and leading them through each moment. Finding strength in their weakest moments is a testament that God is working all things out for good and is always by their side.
Juniper is a rambunctious toddler who lives each day to the fullest. Her zest for life is contagious and her smile is full of joy and love. My goal in this photo session was to capture that joy and the incredible connection that this family has. What a gift it is to preserve these simple moments in this family’s life. Aren’t these the things that we want to remember when we look at our family photos? Not the perfect poses or outfits, but the connection, the laughter, the hugs, and the joy we have just knowing that God has blessed us with these fleeting moments in time together.