People’s stories have always spoken to Christina Eppink.
Her teenaged bedroom wasn’t plastered with posters of distant celebrities. Instead she clipped images of ordinary people and news events from her dad’s Newsweek magazines, and taped those to her walls.
“I just cut out pictures I thought were interesting,” she said. “I wanted people to come in and be drawn to the pictures like I was.”
She wasn’t a performer herself, but she hung out with the theatre kids—the storytellers—in high school.
She studied psychology — specifically behavior patterns — in college and graduate school.
She shares missing person notices that cross her path on social media. She wonders and worries: Who are they? What happened?
Watching how people react to life circumstances and evolve — it’s her life’s work as a behavioral scientist. It’s also sort of in her blood.
So when her own life took a dramatic turn, she can look back now and see pretty clearly how it changed her.
Her family’s story began just after high school, when Christina met Miguel.
“It was back in the days of AOL instant messenger,” she said. “He messaged me because he thought I was a different Christina. But then we just started chatting.”
Eventually they met in person. They dated all through college, married, and had baby Grayson. They also withstood several miscarriages. That was a dark time for Christina. “I felt like a failure,” she said.
Grayson was attending preschool at BPC, and although his mother hadn’t really ever attended church regularly, Grayson said he wanted to check it out.
So the family did. They attended a new members’ class in February 2015.
And then Christina found out she was pregnant. She was both terrified and ecstatic.
Things progressed normally, and they learned they were having a girl.
At 23 weeks, everything seemed fine.
Until it wasn’t.
At a routine checkup, she was told that her cervix was open and she was already dilated. Her baby could literally fall out, she was told. That’s what it felt like was happening to Christina’s own life in that moment: The bottom was falling out.
It was a steamy July afternoon, and Christina had to drop everything and go to Fairfax Hospital. She was to be on her back, in bed, for an indefinite period of time while her baby girl continued to “cook.”
“They treat you like you’re in labor, so suddenly I was hooked up to all these machines and they started giving me steroids and magnesium, things to help the baby’s brain and lung development in case she is born on the spot.”
Christina was alone when a white-coated doctor came into her room and explained that the odds of Christina’s baby surviving, much less thriving, were slim.
But Christina’s story wasn’t supposed to end this way. On some level she knew that.
Within a few days, people from BPC started stopping by. People she’d never met, in most cases. They brought flowers and lip balm and admired Grayson’s crayon drawings. They prayed with her.
“People were reaching out, left and right, without my asking,” she said. “People genuinely wanted to know how we were doing. It wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before.”
Doctors told Christina and Miguel that the goal was for their baby to stay in utero until 28 weeks. And Marley was born at 28 weeks, almost to the hour. She was healthy and strong, but for her tininess. She stayed in the NICU for 73 days, and was home in time for her first Thanksgiving.
Marley beat the odds.
For Christina, that summer and fall unfolded in a kind of fog. “I just needed to hold it together, and I think I did it with a smile on my face.”
But the weight of the experience took its toll. Managing intense anxiety and fear creates traumatic stress, no question, Christina said.
One thing that helped was returning to BPC, the place she had first connected with because of her children. “Grayson brought us here and Marley drew people from here to us.”
Christina took on a leadership role in the Sunday school program. She organized Mom’s group gatherings with Muslim women from a local mosque, and became active in BPC interfaith events.
“It has been therapeutic for me, helping people,” she said. “This place has given me a way to do that.”
Marley today is a vivacious, dark-eyed, dark-haired toddler who has just started walking. It’s a happy ending.
But even the dark parts of Christina’s story created space for light, she said.
“I’m not saying I am glad the two of us went through all of that exactly,” Christina said. “But it shaped who I am today. And that’s a good thing.”