Giving thanks, even when we don’t want to…

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”

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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. 🙂

SongoftheBlog_10.27.17To listen to Faith to Believe click here!

It Could Always Be Worse…

Shortly after we received the news about Stella at our 20 week ultrasound, they scheduled an appointment for us to meet with a Neonatologist that would be part of the team caring for Stella after she was born. The doctor talked to us about what to expect on delivery day and in the weeks after her birth. I remember feeling overwhelmed by all the information and the weight of what was coming. Many times during that meeting she told us that Stella had a 50% chance of survival. This doctor was doing her best to make Stella’s diagnosis a reality for us.

Finally I asked the question I was dying to get an answer to, how long would she be in the hospital.

“I would say at least 6-8 weeks, but sometime longer. It just depends on her lung development and how she does after she arrives….” said the doctor.

Mike and I were both in the room and were told the same statement; however we both interpreted it differently. I pride myself in being a “glass half full” type of person, so I heard “6 weeks”. Mike prides himself on being a “realist” so he heard, “AT LEAST 6 to 8 weeks, PROBABLY MORE”. For the next couple of months we would have conversations with people leading up to her birth and they would ask, “How long will she be in the hospital?” and we would both fight to get our answer out first. I would get frustrated at Mike for not staying positive.

“Why you can’t think positively, we are praying for only 6 weeks,” I would say to him.

“I am being positive, but I am also being realistic, she said AT LEAST 6-8 weeks and most of the babies’ stories we’ve read spent much more time than that in the NICU,” he would point out. This is typically when I would tune out because I was in denial! Haha!

Fast forward to Stella’s 6 week birthday. It was Good Friday and God delivered a Good Friday miracle. That day they removed Stella’s breathing tube.  For the first time we were able to see her whole face without any tape or tubes in her mouth and we were able to hear her cry for the first time, as the breathing tube never allowed her to make a sound. It was a wonderful day and a huge milestone for all of us.

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The next day the doctor made his rounds and I asked again, “So how much longer do you think we have until we can take her home?”  He looked at my hopeful face and gave me a look of sympathy.

“I would say you have at least another 6 weeks until she will be able to go home. She needs to ….”

I stopped listening after that. I was instantly feeling all my emotions at once. I was heartbroken and then mad. I remember walking down the hall shortly after he left to have a quick conversation with God.

I remember crying and pleading to God, “Lord, I can’t do another 6 weeks. I only have 12 weeks of maternity leave and that would be my whole leave. I wouldn’t get any time at home with her or worse, I would have to go back to work while she is still in the hospital.”

Then I remember a soft, firm voice fill my mind and heart, “Yes you can Jamie, and you will. And I will be here with you the whole time.” I begrudgingly accepted this through tears and went back to our dark, windowless NICU room.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. – Isaiah 41:13

 About an hour later, our favorite nurse was in the room with us, trying to cheer us up, when alarms started going off for the baby across the hall. She took off for his room which was soon filled with hospital staff – nurses, doctors and lots of equipment. From our room I could see our nurse giving CPR to the little boy, who was only a few months older than Stella.

I could see his Mom standing in the hallway, having only left his room for a couple of minutes to get some lunch. She was hunched over in sobs while another nurse slowly rubbed her back.

My heart broke and the thought, “see it could always be worse” filled my head. Suddenly I was thankful for 6 more weeks.

Now let me be clear, I don’t say, “It could always be worse” as a way to look down on others. In fact, to many people I am their “worse”; many of my friends felt nervous going to their own 20 week ultrasound appointments, fearing what happened to me would happen to them. “Sure my child may not sleep well but at least they didn’t spend 3 months in a NICU…”

Instead, when I have an “it could always be worse” moment, I use it to stop and reflect on the good in my own life. Many times throughout my journey with my girls, I have gotten wrapped up in the way I think it should be or the way I think it should go.

I always tell people to pray for the miracle but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t look the way YOU planned or expected. YOU are not God and YOU can’t see or understand all the things he can.  However when I think back to the way I thought things should go, I realize that I would have missed out on seeing all the miracles he performed or the way a little infant could change so many lives. I would have missed the way she changed our own life. I’ve had to stop and trust that God has a bigger purpose for me and for my girls; and let’s face it, his plans usually work out better than mine anyway.

The following day was Easter Sunday. I was distracted by our news the day before and sad that I didn’t have our new born baby home with us for Easter. I kept thinking about the little dress I had bought for Stella all the months ago before I found out she had anything wrong. It would never be worn. It was odd to go to a family event with the biggest part of my life missing.

That afternoon we brought my parents back to the NICU with us so that they could hold Stella for the very first time. Now that she wasn’t intubated, they could hold and snuggle her more easily. I remember my Dad slowly rocking our sleeping baby girl when I turned around to look out the window of our room into the hall. Across the hall from us the same Mom we watched the day before walked into her little boy’s room with his Dad and siblings. A little while later we watched a priest go into the room and then a doctor.

Our nurse turned to me and said, “They are taking him off life support today.”

My heart broke and soon everyone in our room was crying too. It’s amazing how only a hallway a part, the world could be so different. Once again, I was reminded of how blessed we were. We all held hands and said a prayer for the baby boy and his family, then we all held Stella a little tighter and gave her a few extra kisses.

When our kids get sick AGAIN, or the medicine didn’t work or they want to try one more surgery, we get so mad that God isn’t doing this our way and soon we feel defeated. It becomes really easy to focus on all the things that aren’t working or what we’re missing out on. But I have found that those are usually the moments that God chooses to show me how good I really have it. Time and time again he has shown me that it could always be worse.

So today I encourage all of you to make your grateful list – what are the things that are going well right now? When you look back a couple of years, months, weeks, or even days – what are the things  you’re grateful you are past or that have gotten better? I bet the list is longer than you think. Next I encourage you to praise God for that list and ask him to help you see the little joys that are already in your life right now.

SongoftheBlog_10.19.17To listen to Need You Now (How Many Times) click here.