DECATUR, Ga. – Emmanuel Hawkins celebrated a birthday Wednesday that he was never supposed to live to see. For 16 weeks after his mother lapsed into a coma brought on by an assault, Emmanuel continued to grow inside her womb. Doctors tried to persuade his grandmother, Nonnie Hawkins, to end the pregnancy. They warned her that even if Emmanuel was born, he could be severely deformed — or stillborn.
"I told them, 'I rebuke you.' I have the final say," Hawkins said. "I'm believing my child is going to wake up and have this baby."
But after 114 days, Tara Hawkins-Bottoms never woke up. The 18-year-old did, however, stay alive long enough to give birth on March 16, 2004, to a 2-pound, 10-ounce boy.
"God delivered him," Hawkins said.
Her daughter was taken off life support two days later.
Born three months premature — very weak and barely breathing — Emmanuel was not expected to survive 24 hours. He was hospitalized for 10 weeks with medical problems that included a bacterial infection and low blood pressure, and he had to have heart and eye surgery.
"He was as close to death's door as you can get without entering," said his doctor, neo-natologist Bridget Cobb. "To come from those circumstances is just miraculous to me. It was a reminder to me that I am not in charge."
Emmanuel's struggles from his first months of life are fading into a memory as he slips into the routine of a normal toddler.
He is trying to take his first steps. He likes peek-a-boo, apple juice and classical music. Hawkins says he is now "completely healthy."
Last week, he left his grandmother's apartment for the first time on an outing other than a doctor's visit. It was a trip to the toy store and mall.
"He was just kicking and laughing and talking to himself," Hawkins recalled, smiling.
She says the boy is her saving grace after the death of her daughter, who was attacked in November 2003 by a neighborhood acquaintance.
"This whole thing has been a nightmare," she said. "I would lose my mind if I didn't have Emmanuel."
Tara Hawkins-Bottoms had been helping her mother run a ministry that serves the needy, including the homeless, prisoners and nursing home residents.
In August 2003, the Georgia Perimeter College freshman met a homeless boy named Stephen Davis, who was living with friends of hers.
"She came to me and said, 'Mommy, we need to help him,'" Hawkins said.
The mother and daughter tried to find Davis clothes, and Hawkins had him in her home for dinner.
On Nov. 26, 2003, Davis assaulted Tara Hawkins-Bottoms — who was three months pregnant. The attack left her in a coma.
Davis, 19, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison and three years' probation.
A year after her daughter's death, Hawkins is turning her focus toward raising her grandson and speaking out against teen violence.
"Emmanuel doesn't have a mother because some teen didn't think and act," Hawkins said. "Even though my child is gone, I've got to do something."