When Stella was about 18 months old, I became pregnant with our second daughter, Nora. As you can imagine we were a little nervous that Nora would be born with the same congenital defect that Stella had, so I pleaded with my doctor to let me have an anatomy ultrasound at 16 weeks (instead of the usual 20 weeks). Once again we were excited to find out if it was a boy or girl, but this time we were much more concerned about the health of our new baby.
I remember telling the ultrasound tech Stella’s story and assuring her to not hide anything, just tell us if you see ANYTHING wrong! After finding out that Stella was going to have a little sister, the tech looked at the baby’s diaphragm and let us know that it was intact. We each breathed a sigh of relief but once again at the end of the appointment we asked, “Does everything look alright?” Once again the tech looked at us with same look of sympathy and said, “It looks like her lip may not be complete, the doctor will take a look and talk to you more about it.” [Que the tears]
We met with my doctor, who delivered the news like it was no big deal, but to me, it was huge. All I kept thinking was, not again! I remember getting into my car and calling my Mom. She cheerfully answered the phone, excited to find out the gender.
“It’s a girl!” I said trying to hold my emotions together.
“Oh yay! It will be so fun having sisters! Did the doctor say everything looks healthy?” she asked me. I couldn’t get the words out. “Jamie, everything is okay right?” she asked again, this time more nervously.
“No” was all I could choke out between tears, “It looks like she has a cleft lip, they will know more when they do a level 2 ultrasound at 20 weeks”
At 20 weeks we went back to Minnesota Perinatal Professionals, the same high risk pregnancy clinic we went to for Stella, to have our level 2 ultrasound. It showed that Nora would be born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. I remember sitting down with one of the doctors we had seen during my pregnancy with Stella. Mike asked him how often he saw parents with two children who had different defects. “You are only the second family in my 20 year career,” he told us. We weren’t sure if we should buy a lottery ticket or just cry. He told us that while Stella’s case was crisis level 100, literally life or death, this baby was really only crisis level 10, but emotionally this baby will feel like a 100 because it is such a visual defect and because it is our second time planning for a baby with complications.
I was crushed. I prayed so diligently and specifically for a healthy baby this time, I couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen again. Soon my grief turned into anger and that is where it stayed for the next 6 weeks.
Over the next 6 weeks I would let my anger at God spill into everything else in my life. Why again? Why us? I had trusted him to give me a healthy baby this time. I became irritable at everyone and nothing was good enough. Mike didn’t help me enough with Stella. Stella was two and didn’t listen to me. My job was boring and I was frustrated with my boss. Literally nothing in my life brought me joy. Finally after another argument with Mike I realized everything I had been frustrated and unhappy about was a reflection of me, and that the real person I was angry at was God.
That afternoon I finally gave in to my anger, dropped to my knees and started to cry. I prayed my first honest prayer since learning about Nora’s cleft. I had been so mad at him but really I was broken hearted. It had been easier to be angry than sad or scared, but it wasn’t making me feel any better. In fact, it was preventing me from healing and moving forward.
I realized it was time to let it go, (que the Frozen theme song) but I was going to need strength I didn’t have. I asked God to help me release my anger and start to see the positives in my life. I prayed for patience, strength and wisdom. I remember taking a deep breath when I had finished praying and instantly feeling lighter.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6
Next I worked on thanking God for what I did have. As I took a step back, I realized God had set me up perfectly to deal with Nora’s Cleft. I had an amazing support system already built – great family and friends, who were already praying for us. I had amazing parents who loved and trusted God and had shown me that all their lives. I had a fantastic husband who was my partner in life, who understood all that I was feeling, and was willing to hold my hand through this next phase.
We had one, now healthy, daughter who was scheduled to have her feeding tube removed before Nora was even born, providing us with just one battle at a time. We both had jobs, so we had insurance. Even more important we lived in an area that allowed Nora to get the care she needed. And since this was the second time we would have a child with a birth defect, we knew the system, the doctors, the NICU and the nurses.
By looking at all the things I had to be thankful for, God showed me all the things I had to be joyful about and that gave me the confidence to face this next battle head on. I finally had my head and heart in the right place and I knew that God would be walking along with me as he did with Stella.
We are all allowed to have a pity party from time to time. It isn’t fair that our children were born with birth defects or that they struggle with their health. It’s hard to stay joyful when you feel like are constantly putting out fires. But have you ever noticed that ungrateful people are usually miserable people? Nothing makes them happy. They’re never satisfied and it’s never good enough. So my challenge today is to create an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks in everything, even when we don’t want to, because I believe that being thankful is going to bring us one step closer to being a joyful mama. 🙂